news & trends

Solar solutions shine at CES 2024

The year 2022 was an inflection point for solar energy, with rooftop installations growing rapidly in both the commercial and residential sectors. However, current solar panel design limits the options for integrating this technology into buildings. Several examples of novel solar solutions that would allow for better integration of solar technology into buildings were on display at the consumer technology trade show CES in January 2024.

Transparent solar technology wins ‘Best of Innovation’

Silicon solar panels traditionally come in two formats: polycrystalline (blue) cells, which are less efficient but more affordable; or monocrystalline (black) cells, which are more efficient but less affordable. These cells capture energy mostly from the visible light spectrum (400–700 nm).

In contrast to these opaque cells, transparent solar technologies made from various materials capture energy mostly from the ultraviolet (100–400 nm) and infrared (760+ nm) wavelengths. This absorption spectrum makes transparent solar cells much less efficient than traditional ones. But their transparency opens new opportunities for integrating solar cells into the built environment, for example, as windows, screens, and even smartphone displays.


Ad: TevTech

At CES 2024, the Best of Innovation award went to a transparent solar technology called SQPV glass, which is currently only available in Japan. This technology is based on initial research and patents from Japanese company International Frontier Technology Laboratory Inc., and the company’s subsidiary inQs Co. Ltd. developed it into a commercial product.

The SQPV glass consists of strategically arranged nanomaterials sandwiched between two conductive glass sheets. Light is captured from both glass surfaces while maintaining a visible light transmittance of 75%.

In a CNET article on the invention, inQs chief international officer Rike Wootten notes that the glass is made of “very, very easy to find materials” and can be “easily and safely disposed of,” in contrast to conventional solar panels.

inQs' solar technology

Japan-based solar technology company inQs used a stained-glass window display to demonstrate their transparent solar technology at CES 2024.
Credit: TBW Advisors LLC, YouTube

Panasonic demonstrates printing of semitransparent perovskite cells

Japan-based Panasonic Group also showcased (semi)transparent solar technology at CES 2024 in the form of inkjet-printed perovskite coatings.

As explained in a CNET article, Panasonic’s goal is to directly deposit the perovskite coatings onto windows, walls, and facades, thus turning these surfaces into solar-energy generators. Panasonic can vary the coating’s transparency depending on a customer’s preference for efficiency or see-through ability.

Panasonic expects it will take several more years until deployment of this technology. However, the company reports that its coatings can already achieve 18.1% conversion efficiency.

Ambient Photonics showcases wide array of solar-integrated household products

In its booth at CES 2024, California-based Ambient Photonics demonstrated the potential to replace batteries with solar cells in a wide array of small household devices.

Solar-powered calculators, originally introduced in the late 1970s, are a prime example of how solar cells can be used to power small household devices.

The new Ambient Photonics solar cells, which are specifically designed for low-light environments, deliver about three times the energy than the cells found in old calculators. The cells come in several sizes, ranging from slightly larger than a thumbnail to about the size of a dollar bill.

Though not yet commercially available, the cells may be sold later in 2024 thanks to partnerships with Primax, to develop an ambient solar mouse, and Google, to create a “new consumer product.”

Rising costs necessitate recalibration of offshore wind power projects

The future of wind power is big, both figuratively and literally. In addition to growing investments in the wind sector, wind turbines grew physically larger since the early 2000s, allowing them to capture more wind and produce more electricity.

In the past year, however, the wind sector experienced some setbacks compared to other renewable energy technologies. According to BloombergNEF’s 2H 2023 Renewable Energy Investment Tracker report, onshore wind investment declined for four straight quarters due to grid constraints, permitting challenges, and faltering policy support. While offshore wind investment fared better, posting a strong 47% increase relative to the first half of 2022, the translation of this investment into tangible products is not such a rosy picture, as detailed in a CNBC article in November 2023.

As the CNBC article explains, specialist wind energy firms often find themselves outbid for seabed licenses by traditional oil and gas players. If they do win a contract, electricity prices are often too low to justify the manufacturing costs, “leaving companies looking to their governments in Europe and the U.S. to deliver greater subsidies and restore balance to the market.”

This situation puts projects at risk of being abandoned if governments do not offer the support that wind energy firms believe is necessary for project completion. Such a situation is already playing out with several projects along the East Coast of the United States, as detailed by The New York Times.

South Fork Wind Offshore Wind Turbine

The South Fork Wind project along Montauk Point in Long Island, New York, opened in March 2024. Pictured is one of the wind turbines under construction in November 2023.
Credit: New York State Energy Research and Development Authority

The most egregious example occurred on Oct. 31, 2023, when Danish energy developer Ørsted backed out of two projects off the southern coast of New Jersey, citing “macroeconomic factors” such as inflation and rising interest rates. The news generated a lot of anger because the state had already approved a tax break to let the company keep as much as $1 million in tax credits that otherwise would have been returned to electricity ratepayers.

The trend toward so many wind energy firms attempting to renegotiate their contracts for established projects is due to several economic factors, as explained by Jacob Pedersen, senior analyst at Sydbank, in the CNBC article.

“We know a huge part of the problem is related to the projects that were won back in 2019/20 and at low prices. Since then, inflation and interests have gone up, it’s become much more expensive to realize these projects, and that has left an order book of deficits, and that order book is now being smaller and smaller as time goes by,” he says.

Pedersen argues that there is a “huge need for recalibration” on the cost of the planned energy transition, but there are indications that governments are taking action. For example, several offshore wind projects launched in the last year were awarded on “much, much better terms,” according to Pedersen, which should allow companies to generate a profit in the future.

Some older projects are still proceeding as planned, however, despite the setbacks described earlier. For example, in November 2023, Ørsted confirmed it would proceed with construction of the South Fork Wind project, an array of 12 offshore wind turbines along Montauk Point in Long Island, N.Y.

In March 2024, Ørsted announced that all 12 turbines had been installed and the wind farm was officially open.

Corporate Partner news

  • AGC and AIST collaborate to achieve cost reduction in green hydrogen production: AGC Inc. and AIST Group began a collaborative research project in April 2024 aimed at understanding the characteristics of proton exchange membrane water electrolysis technology in high-pressure environments. Hydrogen produced in high-pressure environments has lower moisture content, which can lead to a reduction in investment costs. Read more.
  • Almatis celebrates 20 years of innovation and excellence: Almatis, a global leader in the production of high-performance specialty alumina products, celebrated its 20th anniversary on March 1, 2024. Founded more than a century ago, Almatis officially became an independent company on that date in 2004. Read more.
  • Corning celebrates the impact—and continued promise—of its environmental technologies: Corning Incorporated recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of its Environmental Technologies business. Spurred by the U.S. Clean Air Act of 1970, Corning researchers developed the world’s first ceramic substrates that set the standard for catalytic converters worldwide and launched the global emissions control industry. Read more.
  • STC Material Solutions purchased by IDEX: STC Material Solutions entered into an agreement to be acquired by IDEX Corporation, a diversified global manufacturer. STC Material Solutions specializes in the design and manufacturing of technical ceramics and hermetic sealing products for the most extreme, mission-critical applications. Read more.