Updated: Mar 11, 2019
Solar power was in a constant state of innovation in 2019, with new advances in solar panel technology announced almost every week. In the past year alone, there have been milestones in solar efficiency, solar energy storage, wearable solar tech and solar design tech.
There are two main types of solar technology: photovoltaics (PV) and concentrated solar power (CSP). Solar PV technology captures sunlight to generate electric power, and CSP harnesses the sun’s heat and uses it to generate thermal energy that powers heaters or turbines. With these two forms of solar energy comes a wide range of opportunities for technical innovation. Here are some of the latest emerging solar panel technologies for 2019
“ What are the new solar panel designs and aesthetics?”
In today’s fast expanding solar industry, there are already hundreds of different panel models and designs available to the modern day solar shopper. A growing number of premium technology brands have entered the residential solar market, leaving homeowners across the country wondering: what’s next? What new technologies can we expect for solar panels in 2019? In this article we will discuss all of the new developments with photovoltaic (PV) panels, including new aesthetics like clear solar panels, bi-facial (double-sided) panels, efficiency improvements and solar inverter integration.
Frameless solar panels
A major factor in the critique of solar’s aesthetic is the solar panel frame, which many homeowners find to be the least attractive part of a PV panel. To solve that problem, major manufacturers are producing frameless solar modules. The main hinderance for these aesthetic panels is the lack of suitable mounting equipment that can work without a frame. As a result, manufacturers are producing specialized mounting apparatus to match their frameless panels.
Clear solar panels
Many frameless panel designs are entirely enclosed in one material, typically glass. Glass solar panels use the same silicon cell technology and materials of a standard panel, but rather than being mounted on an opaque backing material, the cells are sandwiched between two glass casings. In most scenarios, glass panels are bi-facial, but we will save that concept for later in the article.
Glass solar panels are an innovation in multiple ways because, in addition to being more visually attractive, glass panels are more durable than a typical silicon cell panel. These panels are known to be significantly more resistant to fire hazard and are also less prone to erosion. Though glass-on-glass panels are often integrated into a skylight or building window (as in the image below), they are not truly “building integrated photovoltaic” because they are attached to the building rather than incorporated into the building envelope.
Tesla solar tiles
Tesla’s new roof panels are a unique, distinct product and should be placed in their own category of panel innovation. The four PV shingle designs, announced at the end of October, offer a design promise entirely unique from any other product coming to the solar market: they are unequivocally non-recognizable. The latest from Elon Musk allows homeowners to go solar without any noticeable difference on their roof. As demonstrated at Tesla’s launch event, these solar tiles are significantly more durable than the standard roof materials commonly used today. The solar roof product is designed to blend in with typical roof aesthetics and thus will come in the following product lines: Tuscan glass, slate glass, textured glass and smooth glass tiles.
New solar panel product improvements
With global growing of PV's industry, it’s no surprise that new panel efficiencies and product improvements are announced practically every week. In some cases, it’s difficult to stay up to date on all of the developments in solar panel technology. In the past two years, the concept of “average solar efficiency” has risen from the 14-15 percent range up to 16-17 percent – a significant margin. In 2019, there are 60-cell solar panels that have comparable outputs to 72-cell panels. Efficiency is changing the affordability of solar and the residential market is set to reap the benefits.
Double-sided solar panels
Formally known as bi-facial solar panels, double-sided PV is a hot topic in solar and will continue to be an attractive product option for homeowners in 2019. Double-sided panels offer the value described in their name: they can harness sunlight through both surfaces of the panel. The simple premise is that double-sided panels can capture light as it reflects off of the roof or ground surface below the panel. Because the majority of roofs in the residential market are black, installers will typically paint a white border around the solar panel system before installation to maximize light reflection. In the case of ground mount solar, the light will naturally reflect off the ground (especially during winter, when the modules will benefit from a naturally white ground surface due to snowfall).
PV integration: solar panel with inverter
A big factor in the world of PV is the concept of solar efficiency, which refers to the rate at which silicon cells can convert rays of sunlight into electricity. And while panel efficiency gradually increases every year, the efficiency of solar panel manufacturing and installation is also improving.
Innovative solar installer
A new innovation seen across the industry is the concept of a solar panel plus inverter. For solar installers, inverter installation and connection can add significant time to a typical rooftop installation.