In the previous blog post, we wrote about the issues that are holding back solar energy. However, as we said, solar may have its problems, but it also has its champions. In this article, we will be writing about some of the recent innovations that are working to make solar energy a more viable option.
Using AI To Build Large-Scale Solar Farms
Large-scale solar farms are huge. More than a million solar panels can cover up to 16 square miles. Installation involves placing several hundreds of thousands of piles over this large area.
Solar farms can be so large that manual oversight of construction is almost impossible. Traditional surveying methods can’t keep up. This can lead to missed problems during construction and delays.
A company who focuses on automatic analytics for construction projects, AI Clearing, has developed business intelligence reporting and AI-powered predictive analytics specifically for large-scale solar farm construction.
AI Clearing has developed a platform, AI SurveyorTM, that uses GIS, drone data, and design information to give daily reports on progress and problems.
Unlike traditional oversight, where inspectors would manually count items, AI SurveyorTM, has been designed to recognize and count objects like piles, racks, and modules. The model then is able to generate a number of each key item installed and summarize this into the daily report.
Delays on the construction of solar farms can be especially costly to stakeholders. This is because before the farms are built, the energy has already been sold. If there is a delay, the developer and general contractor could end up paying fines to cover the energy that has already been sold.
AI Clearing saw an area where their expertise could be of great benefit to stakeholders and contractors. Their fully-automated program helps identify mistakes and reduces the surveying and construction time.
Harvesting Salad Under the Panels
One main issue with large solar farms is they are large. Their size means they gobble up large sections of land – land that could be used for important things like growing food.
New systems, called Agrivoltaic energy systems, could be used to provide energy and a food source. Developed in collaboration between the University of York, World Agroforestry (ICRAF), Stockholm Environment Institute, Teeside University, Centre for Research in Energy and Energy Conservation, and African Centre for Technology Studies, Agrivoltaic energy systems are built higher off the ground and with more spacing than traditional solar arrays.
This allows the growth of crops underneath the solar farm. In areas like East Africa, with strong sunlight, high temperatures, and low rainfall, the systems help grow better crops. Thanks to the shade from the solar panels, which helps prevent heat stress and evaporation/transpiration, farmers can even grow types of crops that weren’t possible before.
This is still in development. Researchers are doing more studies to find out exactly how their systems can increase access to energy and income through growing high-value crops. They are also researching ways to increase the local uptake of the technology.
Concentrated Solar Power
As we went over in the previous article, it is hard to get an efficiency over 22% with photovoltaic (PV) panels. And battery storage during times of no sun gets complicated and costly. This is where concentrated solar power (CSP) comes in.
Unlike PV, CSP uses mirrors to concentrate the sunlight onto a receiver. This concentrated sunlight is very powerful.
PV only collects the visible light and the rest of the energy from sunlight is wasted in heat. As we wrote about in last week’s article, this excess heat could cause problems for the local and global climate. CSP actually use this heat to create vapor and drive a turbine.
CSP has a higher efficiency – up to 38% in some cases. It also can store energy for longer – up to 16 hours. This might make it better able to replace traditional energy sources than PV.
However, this technology isn’t new. In fact, CSP was the leader at the start of the solar power development in the 80s.
Where CSP is in desperate need of innovation is its design and sensitivity. The mirrors need to point directly at the receiver and something as small as a gust of wind could knock them out of alignment. The solution has been complicated and expensive metal structures to keep the mirrors in alignment. This has kept PV in the lead so far.