The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) is lending its expertise on the atmosphere to help improve solar energy by creating a prototype system to forecast sunlight and the power it produces every 15 minutes for a number of solar facilities. This system will allow utilities to anticipate the amount of solar energy that will be produced.
NCAR has the experience and data to offer predictions about clouds and particles in the atmosphere that have a tendency to reduce energy coming from the sun. In the end, the technology and information NCAR provides will help make the entire electric grid and the role of renewable energy in it more dependable. It will also make solar energy more competitive with other energy sources.
Another group of researchers is testing the use of mirrors to help make solar energy more cost-efficient. If solar energy isn’t competitive with other forms of energy, it will fall behind. These mirrors take the form of Concentrating Solar Power (CSP). This project, created by researchers at Virginia Tech, is part of SunShot, a program to help solar energy technologies reach parity with other energy generation sources by 2020.
Finally, roboticists believe they can provide more efficient solar cells through the use of robots. In the video below, at a test facility in Silicon Valley, robots on a monorail move around 20 solar panel arrays using mechanical arms to change the angle of photovoltaic panels. According to the manufacturer, startup QBotix, which unfortunately went out of business last year, solar power plant efficiency could be improved by as much as 45% through the use of its Robotic Tracking System (RTS).
The failure of companies like QBotix is to be expected in such a challenging industry, which has a crowded field of competitors.
The following video shows QBotix in action.