With the price of photovoltaics having plunged dramatically, solar is likely to become a major contributor to the electrical generating mix in many countries. But the intermittent nature of photovoltaics could put a limit on how much they contribute to future grids or force us to develop massive storage capabilities.
But photovoltaics aren’t the only solar technology out there. Concentrated solar power uses mirrors to focus the Sun’s light, providing heat that can be used to drive turbines. Advances in heat storage mean that the technology can now generate power around the clock, essentially integrating storage into the process of producing energy. Unfortunately, the price of concentrated solar hasn’t budged much, and photovoltaics have left it in the dust. But some materials scientists may have figured out a way to boost concentrated solar’s efficiency considerably, clawing back some of the photovoltaics’ advantage.
The research focuses on a composite material: tungsten and zirconium carbide. These have extremely high melting points: 3,700K for both materials. Both of them conduct heat extremely well, and neither of them expands or softens much under these conditions, meaning they would hold up better to the mechanical stresses.
While the stats are impressive, the amazing part of this is how they fabricate the material.
Despite the fact that the price of photovoltaic solar power is going down, one factor against it is its intermittency.
Transfer of heat through liquids is the rationale behind solar thermal energy. This means higher temperatures would produce more energy.
“Above a certain temperature, it becomes possible to replace the steam with supercritical carbon dioxide.”