Innovation and the rise of solar energy

The sun is an infinite source of energy for all life on earth. For several decades, we humans have been able to convert the light of this star into electricity and heat. In time, we can be independent of the use of fossil fuels. A smart approach is required to lead our pathway forward to a positive solar future. TNO is therefore innovating in order to make solar energy affordable and available to all.

In order to achieve national and international climate objectives, we can and must harvest much more energy from the sun than we currently do. The about 10 gigawatt-peak (GWp) of installed solar energy capacity in the Netherlands could be increased to 50 GWp by 2030 and 200 GWp by 2050 with minimal impact on spatial and ecological environment. To install this huge amount of PV power solar panels must be applied on much larger scale. An important aspect is install PV on already existing functional surfaces such as roofs, facades, windows, roads, noise barriers along roads and railways, cars, dikes, inland water area and the sea. This requires technical ingenuity in order to incorporate solar cells which are attractive or barely visible at acceptable costs and with high energy yields.

Innovating together with partners

Development and assessment of novel technologies and applications is always performed in close collaboration with industry, governmental partners and other knowledge partners in The Netherlands and abroad. This works both ways: we give each other ideas and thus accelerate the energy transition while industry brings innovative products to the market. Creation of a sustainable future and new business activities go hand in hand.

Interested to learn more about solar energy?

Please contact Wim Sinke.

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Integration of solar energy into the environment

Today's solar panels are, in a way, the T-Ford of solar energy. They are reliably and have brought the technology within reach of many but offer little choice in terms of colour or shape. This puts a limitation on the application possibilities. Therefore it is important to expand the range through the next generation: panels and foils that lend themselves to versatile integration in our living environment with variations in colour, size, shape and weight. The application of panels in buildings has been a priority topic in our research agenda for years and it remains as important as ever – but much more is possible.

Solar farms with respect for the environment

Another TNO research topic is how a large rollout of photovoltaic (PV, a word combining photon, which is light, with voltage, corresponding to electricity) modules can be realised on both land and water without a negative effect on the landscape, water quality or ecological values. Floating solar systems at sea, between wind turbines, may develop into an attractive option but this requires an extensive research programme in cooperation with knowledge partners and companies.

Solar farms with respect for landscape and nature

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Solar energy in the built environment

Following successful tests with solar cells in noise barriers and a cycle path, we are now taking major steps to utilise as many surfaces as possible in and along our infrastructure for transport and mobility. Our road network covers some 140,000 kilometres, a significant proportion of which can be fitted with this technology in order to power millions of electric cars. Another example is the more than 100 square kilometres of roof surface of distribution centres and industrial buildings on which we could install at least 10 GWp of PV.

Growing potential for solar energy on buildings and infrastructure

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Mobility and trainsport using solar energy

Having succeeded in curving solar panels in two directions, the Dutch company Lightyear is developing a passenger car that generates solar energy while stationary or driving. But we are also working on integrating solar panels into the roofs of trucks and buses. We are investigating which materials are suitable and the design that this should take.

First solar-powered cars on the road this year

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affordable tailor-made products

Our ambition is to make solar energy available for a wide range of applications and in every conceivable format, colour, packaging and curved or flat shape. A great deal is already technically possible but production is still too expensive for large-scale use. We need tailor-made solar energy for a large number of different applications and must realise this affordably, efficiently and with proven reliability. We call this mass customization. It combines the cost advantages of the large-scale production of standard PV basic elements (semi-finished products) with a high degree of flexibility and customisation in terms of end use. PV companies produce these basic elements and companies active in construction or other sectors integrate them into construction elements, vehicles, infrastructure and other surfaces. 

Mass customization: affordable, tailor-made solar energy on a large scale

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Technological opportunities and challenges in solar energy

In order to maximise the use of the sun as a resource, a lot remains to be done to further increase the yield of solar panels and to reduce the production (and therefore purchase) costs. We are working on a range of materials and technologies to achieve this, including silicon, thin-film perovskite and tandems. We are well on the way to getting the most out of solar cells, panels and foils and are working with manufacturers to enable these innovations to reach large-scale production.

Solar panel efficiency continues to improve as costs fall

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New technologies

In the development of all these technological innovations, the emphasis lies on energy yield, stability, costs, sustainability and the ability to scale up quickly from the lab to concrete products. Alongside knowledge partners and companies, we have built test environments at various locations in order to trial new PV elements and constructions under real conditions. Solar panels must continue to function under tough conditions for at least 25 years, even if they are integrated. At the same time, we are investigating how solar panels can be constructed in such a way that all of the components and materials can be fully reused at the end of their lifecycles.

New technologies make PV more versatile

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Interested to learn more about solar energy?

Please contact Wim Sinke.

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