Solar Innovations Offer New Inroads to Renewable Energy

A photovoltaic array on a water retention pond in Walden, CO    Photo: Dept of Energy, NREL/Flickr

A new study by the Department of Energy provides an interesting new concept for blending solar and hydropowerThe study found that by placing solar panels on reservoirs and feeding the solar power generated into the same substation, both the hydropower and solar power generated could be more inexpensive, more efficient, and more reliable.  For example, using the reservoir-based solar power during “dry” seasons would allow water managers to conserve water in reservoirs for a time when it might be needed for other uses.  And similar to The Ray here in the U.S., the city of Tel Aviv, Israel is part of a pilot program testing a wireless electric road that would power electric busses while they are moving thus creating a more sustainable public transportation system.

Why This Matters:  It may be obvious, but we will need innovations like these to make the transformations needed to have a sustainable and feasible renewable power system.  Combining solar and hydropower, according to the study, could produce the equivalent of as much as 40% of the world’s electricity.  And a self-charging roadway would allow EV makers to use smaller, lighter batteries that would be replenished as we drive, making the whole system more efficient, inexpensive, and reliable.

Hybrid Hydro

According to the Department of Energy, the floating solar arrays technology is still in its infancy, but the research and development are farther along in Europe because they have less space for solar arrays on land.  Thus far, the only actual installation of floating solar panels is in PortugalE&ENews reported that “if floating solar panels were arrayed on more than 379,000 hydro reservoirs globally, the resultant hybrid could generate anywhere from 16% to 40% of the world’s 2018 electricity production, according to the study.”  In addition, in places where there is evaporation in reservoirs due to extreme heat and lack of rainfall, such as the Southwestern U.S., such solar arrays sitting on the water’s surface might cut down on some water loss, one of the study’s authors surmises.  Earlier  NREL work estimated that installing floating solar panels on man-made U.S. reservoirs could generate about 10 percent of our annual electricity.

Solar Roads 

Besides here in the U.S. and now in Israel, solar road technology is being piloted in Sweden.  The pandemic slowed down a project there, but it is getting back on track and when finished will involve 2.5 miles of road on the Baltic Sea island of Gotland. The electrified road will support an airport shuttle and an electric truck.   How does it work?  Copper coils installed under the pavement transmit energy from the grid wirelessly to a receiver attached under the EVs as they drive over it the vehicle charges.  The company installing the solar road technology in Israel, Electreon Wireless, says nearly two-thirds of a mile of road can be outfitted during a single-night construction shift.

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