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Common to all solar industry innovations are attempts to mould cells to new materials or environments.
The usual conception of a solar farm, which consists of rows of panels lined towards the sun on the landscape, is being challenged by a number of companies seeking to float panels on water.
Solaris Synergy, a Jerusalem-based company, is currently floating a solar 'array' on a reservoir in the south of France in a joint trial with French utility EDF. The idea is to overcome the need for vast land areas needed for traditional solar cell systems.
The pilot project at Cadarache experiments with stream technology by placing floating panels on moving currents. The pilot has begun on reservoirs where there is less shift in the water flow, but a second stage of the research will see greater flow released under the panels.
Elyakim Kassel, business development manager at Solaris, said: "If panels could be successfully used over moving streams, this would enable their application to a range of specific purposes. These include Mediterranean countries, where there is water scarcity and where reservoirs of industrial water and waste water could be adapted as solar farms."
Solar entrepreneurs including Solaris are also trying to persuade Californian authorities to cover the 400-mile Californian Aqueduct with photovoltaic panels.
Weaving solar cells into materials that can actually be worn is the challenge facing the so-called 'Solar Soldier' project, a two-year research venture funded by the UK's Ministry of Defence which comes to an end later this year.
It is the first time that energy generating materials have been woven directly into a soldier's battle dress, according to project leader Duncan Gregory of the University of Glasgow.
The project team is trying to build a prototype uniform where solar photovoltaic cells and thermoelectric devices are combined to harness natural sunlight and the temperature change between the outside and inside of a soldier's clothes.
Gregory said that the reduced weight of the material – compared with battery packs, which are currently used to charge up military equipment in the field – will lead to improved troop mobility, and make soldiers less visible to night vision equipment using infra-red technology.
Gregory is not aware if the search to allow soldiers to harness the power of light – akin to superhuman Captain Marvel – is under way in rival defence ministries.
Solar building blocks
Of most interest to the construction industry is research under way at Germany's Fraunhofer Institute, where a method of coating a special solar-sensitive dye onto glass panes has reached prototype stage.
Project leader Andreas Hinsch said: "The important aim is to upscale such a dye-coating technique so that the glass panels can be incorporated into architectural construction. With the current size we have already reached a stage at which prototype construction can begin, but we are also aiming to get the panels even bigger."
This would pave the way for skyscrapers – as well as smaller houses – to harvest power as they reflect the sun.