Tech Insights

Microsoft, Costco Make Solar Strides as Research Heats Up

January 24, 2024 by Ellie Gabel

While Microsoft and Costco adopt major solar installations, researchers are investigating space-sourced energy and more efficient solar panels.

As the quest for renewable energy expands, recent installations by Microsoft and Costco demonstrate how companies are going off-grid in using solar power to meet their goals.

 

Solar panels.

Solar panels. Image used courtesy of Pexels

 

Meanwhile, researchers are considering harnessing solar energy from space and developing materials to improve solar panel efficiency. Here’s a review of the latest developments in solar energy.

 

Qcells and Microsoft

South Korean corporation Qcells will supply Microsoft with 12 GW of solar panels over the next eight years. Discussions between the tech leviathans began with a 2.5 GW agreement that ballooned into an ambitious promise to provide an equivalent to 1.8 million households of renewable electricity to Microsoft.

The numbers allow Microsoft greater chances of obtaining 100% renewable energy by 2025. 

Qcells built a manufacturing plant in Georgia with tax credits from the Inflation Reduction Act, and it remains the only solar enterprise in the nation that does everything on U.S. soil. It gathers raw materials and produces everything from wafers to panels. The deal with Microsoft will push Qcells into more states to expand its reach in 2024.

 

The Solspace Project

The most notable detractor in the adoption of solar energy is inconsistent output. Households use more power in the mornings and evenings, and panels charge most at noon. Engineers and energy experts have attempted to mitigate this concern with supplemental tech like battery energy storage systems. But what about orbital reflectors in space?

 

Solar panels on NASA’s Hubble Satellite

Solar panels on NASA’s Hubble Satellite. Image used courtesy of NASA

 

Researchers at the University of Glasgow are taking a century-old idea and making it a financially promising reality by placing solar reflectors on satellites. As the reflectors orbit the Earth, operators can steer and automate them to redirect light to solar farms. 

Each mirror in the orbit could deliver an additional 17 minutes of sunlight to panels on the ground daily. Around €2.5 million in funding and grants are going toward research and development to find the best designs and positions for them.

 

Costco’s Electric Vehicle Fleets

Megagrocer Costco is collaborating with Trinity Structures to power off-grid solar for Costco’s electric vehicle (EV) fleet in California. The project’s timeline only took four months to complete. Most solar projects take up to two years to complete because of state and federal regulations.

 

Trinity’s facility for Costco’s EV fleet.

Trinity’s facility for Costco’s EV fleet. Image used courtesy of Trinity Structures

 

Trinity’s facility includes solar power, inverters, batteries, and EV charging infrastructure. The system will provide Costco with 100 MW of solar energy, enough power to give its off-grid fleet 11,750 hours of recharging. The installation will help Costco offset its carbon dioxide emissions by 3 million tons.

Costco plans to phase out its diesel trucks by 2035 by transitioning to vehicles using renewable fuels. 

 

Empowered Glass-Ceramic Materials

Current solar panels are efficient, and varying material compositions and coatings make them even better. However, researchers at Shanghai University of Engineering Science want to capitalize on gathering even more light.

The scientists have created a shield made of glass-ceramic materials to place over solar cells. This transparent material will capture ultraviolet rays and convert them into the spectrum range usable by solar cells. 

The shield is multipurpose, harnessing otherwise wasted UV rays while adding environmental defense to next-gen perovskite panels.