05/30/2017 12:06 EDT | Updated 05/30/2017 12:06 EDT

4 Solar-Energy Innovations That Make Fossil Fuel Obsolete

If you are wondering about the efficacy of solar as a source of energy, just take a look at the logic of visionary entrepreneur, Elon Musk: "The important thing to appreciate is if let's say the only thing we had was solar energy, that that was the only power source, if you just took a small section of Spain, you could power all of Europe. It's a very small amount of area that's actually needed to generate the electricity we need to power civilization. Or in the case of the U.S., a little corner of Nevada or Utah, power the entire United States."

solar roof tile

(Photo: Panic_Attack via Getty Images)

And he's right -- enough solar energy reaches the earth's surface every hour to power the whole planet for an entire year. Thanks to incredible improvements in the harvesting and storage of solar energy, manufacturers are creating increasingly efficient systems which makes solar the most viable alternative to fossil-fuel energy.

Tesla roof tiles

Two major drawbacks of residential solar systems are the cost and the aesthetics. While residential solar systems have enjoyed an enormous drop in price and an excellent return on investment, many homeowners balk at the initial investment a move to solar requires. Now Tesla have come up with a game changer -- a solar roof tile that costs less than a regular roof and looks just as good.

"It's looking quite promising that a solar roof will actually cost less than a normal roof before you even take the value of electricity into account," Musk said in a recent interview. "So the basic proposition would be, 'Would you like a roof that looks better than a normal roof, lasts twice as long, costs less and by the way generates electricity?' It's like, why would you get anything else?"

Solar paint

Canadian researchers have come up with a spray-on paint that can turn any surface into a solar panel. Made from zinc and phosphorus nanoparticles, the spray paint is able to gather energy from the sun. Cheaper than silicone-based cells, this research shows enormous promise for the future.


Actuators work by translating the revolutionary motion of a motor into linear movement. Actuators enjoy a long life, and generally do not require maintenance as they have few moving parts. So using actuators is another way in which solar energy is more efficient because it allows freestanding panels to track the sun as it moves across the sky to maximize solar gain.

Large-scale energy storage is gaining traction.

Energy storage

To date, one of the biggest impediments for solar energy is that the sun doesn't always shine. Large-scale energy storage is gaining traction which means that towns and cities can store solar gain during the day for use at night. And some of the ideas for solar storage are pretty innovative!

Compressed air: Using abandoned mine shafts or salt caverns to pump gas into during daylight hours. The compressed air is then released at night which drives turbines and generates energy.

Pumped Hydro: Another way to store energy is to pump water uphill into a large storage reservoir during the day. The water is then released at night to flow downhill where it drives turbines.

Molten Salt: When the grid is producing more energy than it needs, tanks of molten salt are heated to temperatures in excess of 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. When electricity demand increases, the heat from the molten salt is utilized to create steam which drives turbines and generates energy.

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