Flexible Solar Cells. Is It Too Futuristic To Be True?

Flexible solar cells are now fast becoming a part of the present lifestyle. You may not be aware but the device you are using maybe integrated with one. Since its inception, the solar cell has become a promising breakthrough in science as an alternative source of energy.

However, the rigidity of solar cells of the past had been too rigid for its own good. People were virtually unaware of solar technology and those who knew it shy away from using it because it was (1) too costly and (2) hard to integrate to home projects.

Flexible Solar Cells Technology

If you still do not get the idea, a solar-powered calculator of the 80’s has rows of “cells” that trap solar energy to power it. More often than not, you have to place it under direct sunlight for it to work. The flexible solar cells of today, on the other hand, have a much better accuracy and precision in trapping solar energy.

Scientists have also found a way to make it available in a flexible housing. The result is a more useful commodity that skyrocketed the solar cell industry. The product has been made possible with the birth of new semiconductor materials as well as a new substrate. An example of a substrate is a silicon wafer.

Today, new plastic substrates are more flexible than ever. Amorphous silicon or crystalline silicon is more absorbing of solar energy and therefore more effective in trapping solar power for use.

Flexible solar cells are not only lightweight and paper-thin but also durable. It would not easily break even if it falls to the ground. But these solar cells are also provided with protection if used against the elements. For example, a different solar cell should be used for aircraft or permanent weather applications.

In an aircraft application, the solar cell is vulnerable to weather and fuel contamination. Usually, these solar cells are protected with an edge seal. On the other hand, weather-proof solar cells are created by integrating the flexible solar cells with UV stabilization as well as coating the entire surface with a sealing compound.

Furthering the technology

Flexible solar panels in thin films resulted to a cheaper manufacturing process. This process includes a reduced price of material, of energy costs, of capital expenses and even costs of handling. Consequently, this would result in more funding for research about the technology.

To date, the military has been conducting more researches and experiments to discover how flexible solar panels can be. There is this research that the military is currently funding. It involves integration of flexible solar panels (lightweight at that) in military uniforms. This is to afford powering carried equipment during tactical missions without carrying extra load of batteries.

In sum, flexible solar cells have a wide variety of uses and their applications are expected to double over time. Its advantage over the traditional solar panel is very evident; the flexible solar panel is a low cost material, lightweight as paper and durable enough that the panel would not break even after a fall. It is not far-fetched that the solar panels of today would become the source of power of many devices and gadgets of tomorrow.

‘Out of Earth’ Solar Power Military

When it comes to innovation, of course the US military is always in the forefront. And in its quest for source of electricity that is totally independent of fuel, it is considering an ‘out of earth’ solar power military.

The buzz about a space-bound solar power for military use has been around since 2007 and the US military doesn’t deny it. In fact, the project has gained the approval of the Pentagon, with an estimated 10 year plan and $10 billion funding to beam down 10 megawatts of electric power down to earth.

How would this space-bound solar power for military work?

The solar ‘satellites’ are envisioned to have kilometer-wide solar panel arrays and will float on space to gather power from the sun 24/7. It will then beam down electric power in a form of microwaves or laser to a power-collecting hub on earth that converts the energy into consumable electricity.

Advantages of space-bound solar panels

The military has been using solar energy in and out of the battlefield. Solar energy cuts the cost, lessens reliance to fuel and lightens the load of officers and soldiers when in a tactical mission.

Although the military has been using commercial-grade solar panels and portable solar power for years, it believes that these ‘earth bound’ solar panels have their limitations. When it gets cloudy, the amount of energy that these solar panels stores would be limited; and when it’s night, no energy could be stored at all.

However, with the proposed space-bound solar power, the military would have access to sun’s rays day and night, sunny or cloudy, storm or no storm. Anytime there would be a need for electricity the military would get it. In fact, not just anytime, but anywhere.

Theoretically, with the proposed solar power military technology, whenever a group of US military officers and soldiers are in need of power, they can anytime generate more than enough electricity that they need with the help of equipment that could receive beams of electric power from the space-bound solar panels.

Also, fuel-powered generators aren’t just the sole source of power whenever blackout happens.

Can we use it?

There are many technologies that only the military (or special agencies in the government) enjoys that eventually became an integral part of regular household. Take the case of the internet, for example. Before, only federal researchers and the US Department of Defense got to experience the intricate and inter-connecting virtual world of web. More than two decades after, the internet was introduced for commercial use, of which at this point is being enjoyed by every household around the world.

In time, when space-bound solar power military technology has been created, perfected and calibrated for commercial use, the earth might not anymore be in need of fossil or fuel-based energy to get electrical power from. Even without solar panels on roof, every home can enjoy unlimited supply of power, day in, day out. And when this time comes, there would be no more fumes, oil-spills or contaminants that would pollute the earth and no more oil or fossil-based fuels for countries to fight over for.

Solar Energy and Military. Why Uncle Sam Dabbles on It

We all know that everyone is going Green and many groups have been picketing at the US Congress to stop people and industries from adding more fumes on the earth’s atmosphere. Although solar energy meets the need of people who shout “Save the Environment,” you would be surprise to know that Uncle Sam and the high-ups are into solar energy and military is a big part of it.

The Federal Government has built the largest solar power center yet in the Air Force base in Nevada. The Nellis Air Force houses 140 acres of solar panels. The Nevada solar power plant beats out Serpa Power Plant in Portugal, which previously held the record as the largest solar farm in the world. Portugal’s power plant can generate 11 megawatt of power a day while Nevada boasts of 14.2.

Solar Energy and Military in tactical missions

The Solar energy and military relationship is not limited to powering up bases; it is eyed as the power source that the troops can use during tactical missions.

In today’s world wherein the best army or naval troops are those who have the latest gadgets in tow, the biggest problem that should be solved is how the troops (who are in mission) could power their telecommunication and tactical gadgets without carrying bagfuls of batteries.

Today, with the advent of flexible solar panels, the US Military uses tents with flexible solar panels that power all the sophisticated equipment under the solar tent. Their troops, on the other hand carry a universal solar recharger connected to flexible solar cells to power up some of their carried equipment.

Space-bound solar panels

The most ambitious project in mind to date is the space-bound solar panels that is expected to be created and in full-commission within the next ten years.

It is true that the US Military could just create solar power plants in strategic areas to power their camps and bases. However, this type of energy generating farm has its limitations: its energy storage is limited when it is cloudy and it cannot store energy at night; when there’s no sunlight, there would be no energy.

This is where the space-bound solar panels come in. It is envisioned to be a solar energy source that the military could enjoy all day long, whether it be sunny or cloudy. The 1-kilometer solar panels in space are expected to absore energy emitted by the sun, without any physical (or work of nature) barriers. It will then beam electrical power in a form of microwaves or laser down to the base camp receiver

And since the solar panels are in space, it could be available for use anywhere. That’s something the US Military greatly needs: a portable solar power source that never dries up even when nightfall comes.

We can expect more project on solar energy and military is (undoubtedly) would be behind it. It would be great thing especially if they perfect this technology. Energy from home would be free forever until the sun stops shining.