New Solar Cell Device Surpasses Theoretically Predicted Efficiency Limit

Thomas Burton for Energy Technology Matters:  A team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) published a paper last week in the journal Nature Energy that described how they built a working solar thermophotovoltaic device (STPV) that enables solar cells to break through a theoretically predicted ceiling on how much sunlight they can convert into electricity. With this revolutionary new technology, the researchers show the potential of how solar panels can generate even more energy than theoretically determined by harnessing some of the panels’ waste. To learn more about the STPV technology, read on!

Since 1961, the Shockley-Queisser Limit established an absolute theoretical limit on traditional solar cell efficiency regarding energy conversion. A single-layer of silicon cells—the type of cells most widely used in today’s solar panels—has an upper limit of 32 percent. But currently, researchers are studying ways to increase this overall efficiency by using multiple layers of cells or converting the sunlight first to heat before generating electrical power. This latter method uses devices called STPVs, which the MIT team used in their study.  Cont'd...

Saving the Earth by Making Energy Industry's Boardrooms Diverse

Ainslie Chandler for Bloomberg:  The U.S. energy sector accounts for 83.6 percent of the country’s carbon emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, so tackling climate change effectively requires their participation. Some experts worry the lack of diversity in their leadership is hindering that shift.

Energy-sector boards are the least diverse of any industry globally, with 8.2 percent of seats occupied by women, compared with an average of 10.5 percent for all businesses, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That translates to an average of just 0.7 women on the board of each of the 650 energy companies in Bloomberg’s review.

More than 170 countries signed the Paris Agreement in April, which aims to limit the global temperature increase to below two degrees Celsius. If this target is going to be met and the transition to a “de-carbonized” economy made, companies will need to fundamentally change, so leadership teams also have to change, said Rachel Kyte, chief executive and special representative of the UN Secretary-General at Sustainable Energy for All.

“It’s like this bus is coming toward us,” Kyte said of climate change and the transition to renewable energy. “If you keep asking the same people and they keep coming up with the same answer, we’re not going to manage this transition very well.”  Cont'd...

Dubai Is Building the World's Largest Concentrated Solar Power Plant

George Dvorsky for Gizmodo:  They like to do things big in Dubai, including a newly-approved concentrated solar power project that will generate 1,000 megawatts of power by 2020—and a whopping 5,000 megawatts by 2030.

The Dubai Water and Electricity Authority (DEWA) has announced the launch of the world’s largest concentrated solar power (CSP) project. Located on a single site within the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, the plant will consist of five facilities. The first phase of the project is expected to be completed either in late 2020 or 2021, at which time it’s expected to generate 1,000 MW of power. By 2030, this plant could be churning out five times that amount—enough to raise the emirate’s total power output by 25 percent.

By comparison the Ivanpah CSP in California (which is currently the world’s largest) generates about 392 MW of power. Morocco’s Ouarzazate solar power plant will provide about 580 MW of power once it’s complete in 2020.  Cont'd...

Construction of the largest land-based wind turbine ever built in the United States.

“Reaching New Heights” uses a combination of time-lapse footage, aerial photography and behind-the-scenes action shots to document the steps involved in building MidAmerican Energy’s first concrete wind turbine tower, located at the company’s Adams wind farm in Adams County, Iowa. At 379 feet from ground to hub, the concrete turbine is more than 100 feet taller than its neighboring turbines constructed with steel towers.

Australia's Carnegie Wave Energy Project Sets World Record

Joshua S Hill for CleanTechnica:  Australia’s Carnegie Wave Energy Project has set a new world record after completing 14,000 cumulative operating hours, the highest ever recorded.

The news was announced by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) this week, which provided $13.1 million in funding. The $40 million project uses CETO wave energy technology, and was the world’s first array of wave power generators to be connected to an electricity grid. For the past 12 months, the CETO 5 project has used an array of three offshore wave power generators to provide electricity and potable desalinated water to Australia’s largest naval base, HMAS Stirling, on Garden Island in Western Australia.

“ARENA is proud to help local companies, like [Carnegie Wave Energy Limited], develop new renewable energy solutions that have the potential to change the way the world generates electricity,” said ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht. “We do this by providing Australian innovators with the support they need during the critical RD&D period, when patient funding is essential.”  Cont'd...

Offshore Wind Arrives in U.S. Waters

By Daniel Cusick, ClimateWire for Scientific American:  The first offshore wind farm in the United States is set to begin delivering power to Rhode Island’s electricity grid by year’s end, a milestone that could help reshape energy markets from New England to South Florida, experts say.

But for U.S. offshore wind power to achieve its full potential, as much as 4 gigawatts of capacity, it will need a major influx of capital and know-how, much of which will come from Europe, where the technology has a 25-year performance record and now accounts for 11 GW of generation capacity on the continent.

Representatives of top U.S. and European wind firms—including executives of Deepwater Wind, the firm building the 30-megawatt Block Island Wind Farm off Rhode Island—told industry peers gathered on the Gulf Coast last week that the industry should act now to establish the technical, logistical and policy frameworks to build more offshore wind farms in the United States.  Cont'd...

Energy Storage: It's About the Software

Carl Weinschenk for EnergyManagerToday:  Renewable initiatives rely on the ability to save the generated energy for a rainy – or windless – day. It follows that the software driving the pivotal task of managing the energy storage system is of paramount importance, says Gabe Schwartz, the Director of Marketing for Stem, which describes itself as an intelligent storage company that combines hardware and software storage platforms.

The core storage technology itself is important, of course. But the linchpin – the secret sauce – is the way in which that energy is handled once it is generated. “It is not a solar panel…where if the sun is shining you are in good shape,” Schwartz said. “It must shift use from one time to another knowing exactly when most valuable time to do that is and have the ability to act quickly when those opportunities present themselves both to the customer and the grid.”

The market for storage – and the software that drives it — is growing.  Cont'd...

Nanomaterials could double efficiency of solar cells by converting waste heat into usable energy

Devin Coldewey for TechCrunch:  An experimental solar cell created by MIT researchers could massively increase the amount of power generated by a given area of panels, while simultaneously reducing the amount of waste heat. Even better, it sounds super cool when scientists talk about it: “with our own unoptimized geometry, we in fact could break the Shockley-Queisser limit.”

The Shockley-Queisser limit, which is definitely not made up, is the theoretical maximum efficiency of a solar cell, and it’s somewhere around 32 percent for the most common silicon-based ones.

You can get around this by various tricks like stacking cells, but the better option, according to David Bierman, a doctoral student on the team (and who is quoted above), will be thermophotovoltaics — whereby sunlight is turned into heat and then re-emitted as light better suited for the cell to absorb.  Cont'd...

Futuristic device is helping scientists break solar-efficiency record

Ariel Bogle for Yahoo News:  Looking a little like the world-saving stones from sci-fi classic The Fifth Element, a new device is expected to have a big impact on renewable energy.

Built by Mark Keevers and Martin Green from the University of New South Wales (UNSW), the unique prism could help make solar panels cheaper and more efficient. In fact, it's already broken a world record for the amount of solar energy it can create from unfocused sunlight.

The prism has a sunlight-to-electricity conversion efficiency rate of 34.5 percent, Keevers told Mashable Australia. That's about a 44 percent improvement in efficiency on the previous record, he said, which sat at 24 percent efficiency but over 800 square centimetres (124 square inches). The UNSW team's record was achieved over a smaller surface area of 28 square centimetres (4.34 square inches).

Importantly, it does this with normal, un-concentrated light — the type household solar panels already use.  Cont'd...

Gone with the wind: Surprising potential to improve reliability in wind power

Science Daily:  Despite the rigors of scientific inquiry and the methodical approaches of the world's most talented researchers, sometimes science has a surprise in store.

Such was the case when a group of researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Akron discovered that a particular form of carbon coating not necessarily designed for wind turbines may indeed prove a boon to the wind industry -- a serendipitous finding that was recently highlighted in the journal Tribology International.

Due to the strenuous environment inherent in wind turbine drivetrains, key components such as actuators, bearings and gears are prone to failure, meaning turbines require regular maintenance that helps drive up the price of wind energy. Prolonging the life of these components could greatly reduce the cost of wind power, the fastest growing source of energy in the world, thereby making it an even more attractive energy source.  Cont'd...

Can we Save the Algae Biofuel Industry?

Christian Ridley for Newsweek:  Algal biofuels are in trouble. This alternative fuel source could help reduce overall carbon emissions without taking land from food production, like many crop-based biofuels do. But several major companies including Shell and ExxonMobil are seemingly abandoning their investments in this environmentally friendly fuel. So why has this promising technology failed to deliver, and what could be done to save it?
Algae are photosynthetic organisms related to plants that grow in water and produce energy fromcarbon dioxide and sunlight. Single-celled microalgae can be used to produce large amounts of fat, which can be converted into biodiesel, the most common form of biofuel. There are many possible ingredients for making biofuels, from corn to used cooking oil. But algae are particularly interesting because they can be grown rapidly and produce large amounts of fuel relative to the resources used to grow them (high productivity).  Cont'd...
 

To Make Fresh Water without Warming the Planet, Countries Eye Solar Power

Richard Martin for MIT Technology Review:  At the giant Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park under construction near Dubai, a desalination facility goes into operation this month. Run by an array of solar panels and batteries, the system will produce about 13,200 gallons of drinking water a day for use on site. That’s insignificant compared with desalination plants elsewhere, but it’s a start toward answering a pressing question: can countries stop burning fossil fuels to supply fresh water?

Hundreds of desalination plants are planned or under way worldwide because fresh water is increasingly precious. According to a report from the International Food Policy Research Institute, more than half the world’s population will be at risk of water shortages by 2050 if current trends continue.

In drought-ridden California, a $1 billion plant at Carlsbad, north of San Diego, will produce 54 million gallons of fresh water a day. The giant Sorek plant in Israel can crank out more than 160 million gallons a day (see “Megascale Desalination” and “Desalination Out of Desperation”). But these plants are a devil’s bargain; they use power from plants that, in most cases, emit greenhouse gases, ultimately worsening the problem of drought. Saudi Arabia, for instance, uses around 300,000 barrels of oil every day to desalinate seawater, providing some 60 percent of its fresh water supply. That’s not sustainable. Finding a way to produce fresh water without burning fossil fuels is critical not just for the desert countries of the Middle East but for a growing number of places around the world.  Cont'd...

Riding the 'Solarcoaster' as Shares Plunge Even More Than Coal

Joe Ryan & Brian Eckhouse for Bloomberg:  For all the upbeat forecasts about the growth of solar power, this is a punishing year for the industry. And it won’t improve anytime soon.

SunEdison Inc., the world’s biggest clean-energy company, is bankrupt. Yingli Green Energy Holding Co., once the top panel maker, warned it may be inching toward default. And SolarCity Corp., the largest U.S. rooftop installer, plunged as much as 27 percent Tuesday after scaling back its installation forecast for the third time in seven months. 

They’re not alone. A Bloomberg index of 20 major solar companies has slumped more than 30 percent this year. Soaring installations and growing global demand for clean energy is being trumped by investor concerns that the debt-fueled strategies employed by SunEdison, Yingli and SolarCity are endemic to the industry and dangerous for shareholders.

“They call it the solarcoaster for a reason,” said Nancy Pfund, managing partner of DBL Partners and a SolarCity director. With so much happening, both positive and negative, “it’s been hard for investors to follow.”

At a time when falling prices, renewed U.S. tax breaks and the Paris climate deal are fueling solar sales worldwide, solar shares are performing even worse than coal stocks.  Cont'd...

Solar Cell "Wonder Material"-Perovskite-Falls Short of Expectations

Hugh Cowley for Scientific American:  Perovskites have arguably transformed solar energy more in the last few years than other technologies have in decades. But British researchers have called into question optimistic predictions of undiscovered perovskites.

Hybrid perovskites are a mix of organic and inorganic ions with the same crystal structure as calcium titanium oxide (CaTiO3). Halide perovskites are a subset of these structures containing halide ions such as fluoride or chloride. Iodide perovskites such as methylammonium lead iodide (CH3NH3PbI3) can convert sunlight to electricity.

Researchers use a decades-old geometric 'tolerance factor' to propose new combinations of ions that will form stable perovskites. Now, Robert Palgrave and his team at University College London, UK, have reassessed the validity of the tolerance factor in predicting new hybrid perovskite structures.  Cont'd...

Solar power is contagious. These maps show how it spreads.

Brad Plumer for VOX:  Rooftop solar is expanding rapidly in the United States — by some estimates, a new system goes up every four minutes. There are plenty of reasons for that, from falling prices to generous federal subsidies to innovative leasing schemes.

But there's another, little-discussed factor here: Residential solar power is contagious. Yep, contagious. Studies have found that if you install solar photovoltaic panels on your roof, that increases the odds that your neighbors will install their own panels.

SolarCity, the largest solar installer in the United States, just published some fascinating data on this "contagion" effect. The company has installed 230,000 rooftop systems nationwide (often by allowing customers to lease panels rather than buy them upfront). It says fully one-third of customers were referred by a friend or neighbor.

SolarCity has also made some neat animations showing the "contagion" effect in action.  View here:

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