While bare eyes can readily identify today’s central power plants due to their electrical structure, cables and transformers, we expect the future to bring changes to the general power generation infrastructure. Large generation sites of diversified energy sources give, often inadvertently, a certain distinction to their surrounding landscape. Yet, a technology leap involving solar PV, energy storage and the integration of AI will have an impact on the power generation layout in the near future.
We expect a move away from the predominant power grid toward self-sustaining feed-in microgrids. As a result of incentives to equip roofs with solar panels, microgrids will become increasingly popular, partly as a result of AI. One piece of the puzzle to kick off microgrids is the widespread usage of large storage units, implemented in basements as well as BEV charging stations built-in to every house. We expect storage solutions to pick up the pace towards mass roll-out, but it might take another five years to reach full economic feasibility.
Within a couple of years, we expect houses to become independent power plants, sustaining themselves and operating as part of a smart microgrid connected to their neighbors. Such projects are already reality in Basalt Vista, Colorado, for example, where virtual power plants can redistribute the power produced to the off-taker in most need. That could be the battery pack in your basement, the plugged-in EV in your garage, your neighbor’s house or even the regional grid.
Microgrid scenarios like these will likely work best in semi-rural areas of constant power demand. Even so, we asked ourselves whether there will be some changes to cities as well. One exciting innovation for megacities might be solar PV glass.
Solar PV glass follows the same principle as solar PV panels by using the photovoltaic effect to generate power from sunlight. The difference is that solar PV glass is transparent and can be used to replace conventional construction materials such as glazing or cladding, while also generating electricity on-site.
The technology behind solar PV glass is based on thin-film appliance of the PV layer onto a conducted glass layer. Whist the appliance process can be done via a vacuum chamber or liquid-printing, research within this field is being pushed forward to find cost-effective solutions for this promising opportunity. Currently, solar PV glass provides up to 160 Watt peak per square meter with efficiency rates up to 16%.
To fully grasp the numerous advantages solar PV glass brings along, we have prepared a short example and visualized the landmark Shard office tower, in London, to be modified with solar PV glass:
Apart from being emission-free and generating enough electricity to cover its whole consumption, and with a return on investment somewhere between 8-10 years for the additional CAPEX compared to standard glazing, the versatile coloring/transparency options deliver further savings for air conditioning in summer due to shading options as well as heating in winter due to its slight temperature release when generating power. Sound protection is another advantage achieved through the multi-layered structure of the glass.
As with every new technology that struggles with cost and economic feasibility, the same applies to solar PV glass. Hence, we think that although this innovation will likely require initial funding subsidies to help it reach economies of scale (as seen with conventional solar PV panels) and gain market share enabling it to emerge into standard use for construction materials.
Would you consider storage and solar PV glass solutions to become energy autarkic?