Wearable electronics are quickly becoming the fashion. And there could soon be a way to power those electronics indefinitely, now that scientists in China have developed a solar cell 'textile' that could be woven into clothes. The textile retains a power-generation efficiency close to 1% even after been bent more than 200 times, and can be illuminated from both sides. Scientists have been looking into flexible solar cells for decades, partly for coating irregularly shaped objects but also for integrating into wearable fabrics. One popular line of investigation has been dye-sensitized solar cells, in which a pigment absorbs sunlight to generate electrons and their positive counterparts, holes, before passing on those charges to inexpensive semiconductors. These solar cells are cheap and flexible, but the liquid nature of their pigments means that they must be well sealed. Bend a dye-sensitized solar cell more than a few times and the seals are likely to break, destroying its light-harvesting properties. That is why Huisheng Peng at Fudan University in Shanghai and colleagues have been exploring another option: polymer solar cells. Although their maximum efficiencies fall below 10% - about half that of crystalline silicon, the most prevalent solar cell - polymer solar cells are lightweight, flexible and easy to manufacture. Peng and colleagues' solar cell textile consists of microscopic interwoven metal wires coated with an active polymer (to absorb the sunlight), titanium dioxide nanotubes (to conduct the electrons) and another active polymer (to conduct the holes). The researches coated each side of the textile with transparent, conductive sheets of carbon nanotubes, which complete the circuit.
Researchers at Michigan State University have created a fully transparent solar concentrator, which could turn any window or sheet of glass (like your smartphone’s screen) into a photovoltaic solar cell. Unlike other “transparent” solar cells that we’ve reported on in the past, this one really is transparent, as you can see in the photos throughout this story. According to Richard Lunt, who led the research, the team are confident that the transparent solar panels can be efficiently deployed in a wide range of settings, from “tall buildings with lots of windows or any kind of mobile device that demands high aesthetic quality like a phone or e-reader.” Scientifically, a transparent solar panel is something of an oxymoron. Solar cells, specifically the photovoltaic kind, make energy by absorbing photons (sunlight) and converting them into electrons (electricity). If a material is transparent, however, by definition it means that all of the light passes through the medium to strike the back of your eye. This is why previous transparent solar cells have actually only been partially transparent — and, to add insult to injury, they usually they cast a colorful shadow too. Cont'd..
An unpopular government’s legacy has become a burden for the new one, which could potentially lead to the scrapping of what has been planned as the world’s largest solar power project. The Rajasthan state government in India has reportedly asked the central government to scrap plans to set up a 4,000 MW solar photovoltaic power project. The state government claims that the proposed project will threaten thousands of migratory birds that flock near the proposed project site every year. Sources close to the government, however, claim that the Rajasthan Chief Minister is not too keen to pursue a project that had been planned during the tenure of the previous government, which was led by the United Progressive Alliance. The proposed project is supposed to come up near Sambhar Lake in eastern Rajasthan. Officials of the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy claim that about a fourth of the planned project area has been listed as environmentally and ecologically sensitive, and that area had already been excluded. According to reports, the state Chief Minister wants to scrap the 4,000 MW solar power project, and pursue an ambitious state-directed solar power policy. Gujarat, under now-Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had earned global limelight after it established one of the largest solar power farms. To date, Gujarat continues to lead all Indian states in terms of installed capacity.
olar energy is one of the greatest investing opportunities of our generation with well over a trillion dollars in annual market potential around the world. But with all that potential comes tremendous risk, particularly as new technologies emerge. Over the past decade, we've seen solar technologies rise and fall and companies have risen and fallen along with them. Now that this industry is competing with fossil fuels on a cost per kW-hr basis it's important to look at what technologies dominate the industry and what investors should be betting on in the future. Massive solar farms like this one from SunPower are now competitive with other energy sources on the grid, opening up a huge opportunity for the solar industry. Source: SunPower. Silicon solar, the leader in the clubhouse The vast majority of solar panels today are made using silicon semiconductor technology. At its core, this technology has been around for decades, it just hasn't been efficient or cheap enough to be economically viable versus the grid. But that's changed in the last few years as panel prices have plummeted below $1 per watt. Inside a silicon solar cell the sun's energy excites the semiconductor, knocking an electron loose. If properly built, a cell then captures that electron and turns it into a voltage potential and electric current. cont'd..
Solar-thermal power plants in the U.S. are less likely to kill birds than automobiles, cats or communication towers, despite reports that say the facilities pose a significant threat to avian life. There were 321 “avian fatalities” in the first half of this year at the 392-megawatt Ivanpah solar project in Southern California, according to a statement Aug. 19 from NRG Energy Inc. (NRG), which co-owns and operates it. Of those, 133 were scorched by heat produced by the plant. That’s far fewer than reported in an Associated Press article on Aug. 18. It cited federal wildlife investigators who estimated that one bird was burned every two minutes by concentrated sunlight at the Mojave Desert power plant. The estimates for birds killed by solar power are “inflated,” NRG spokesman Jeff Holland said in an interview. A greater risk comes from cats, which are estimated to kill hundreds of millions of birds each year. Cars are responsible for about 60 million deaths, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and communication towers add another four million to five million. Wind turbines killed 573,000 birds in 2012.
The solar industry is bracing for a global drought in photovoltaic panels after a series of high supply years that pushed prices to all-time lows and encouraged installations. Solar panel adoption is supposed to increase as much as 29% this year, which has top manufacturers and installers anticipating a drop in availability of panels. This would be the first such shortage since 2006 when the nascent solar energy industry was just taking hold, reported Bloomberg News. Eight years ago, only about 1.5 gigawatts of solar energy capacity was installed. This year as much as 52 gigawatts is expected to be hooked up and another 61 gigawatts in 2015, according to estimates by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. That is compared with about 70 gigawatts of production capacity currently available, though that estimate could be high since some manufacturers’ equipment is out of date or obsolete. The shrinking supply could hinder the growing rooftop solar panel industry. The scarce supplies often get routed to larger-scale utility projects and leave the residential side with limited availability.
China has bet on solar energy as a cleaner alternative to coal, but whether installed solar panels can meet the country's need for energy is becoming a troubling question. China had installed nearly 19.5 gigawatts of solar panels as of the end of 2013. However, "many solar installations failed to generate as much electricity as planned," said Ji Zhenshuang, deputy director at the Beijing-based China General Certification Center, which examined 472 Chinese solar projects over the past four years. Ji would not specify the percentage but said the figure is not small. The solar projects his company examined include those under Golden Sun, a government-led program that was introduced in 2009 to demonstrate the use of solar energy, as well as utility-scale solar farms run by Chinese energy giants. Although China in recent years has surpassed many countries in adopting solar technology, in a move to help Chinese factories survive tougher export markets and to cut the country's dangerous reliance on coal, there is little public information available on how well the Chinese solar projects function. However, some experts did not seem surprised by Ji's findings. Cont'd..
Grappling with its worst energy crisis in more than a decade, Brazil is making its first big move to develop a local solar power industry that could help reduce its dependence on a battered hydro power system. In October, Brazil will hold an auction to negotiate energy to be produced exclusively by solar farms, the first ever of the kind in the South American country. Power companies have registered some 400 projects for the auction, but many remain wary of the outlook for solar power in Brazil and say they need more clarity on investment conditions and financing before signing any deals. The auction could negotiate up to 10 gigawatts (GW), although industry sources estimate final volumes at a much smaller level, varying from 500 megawatts (MW) to 1 GW. Sun-kissed Brazil has one of the highest solar radiation factors in the world and plenty of land for solar farms, plus large reserves of silicon, used to make solar panels. Yet the country has almost no solar power generation, while its BRICS partner China, for example, added 12 gigawatts last year alone – enough to supply around 10 million homes. cont'd..
Few places in the country are so warm and bright as Mary Wilkerson's property on the beach near St. Petersburg, Fla., a city once noted in the Guinness Book of World Records for a 768-day stretch of sunny days. But while Florida advertises itself as the Sunshine State, power company executives and regulators have worked successfully to keep most Floridians from using that sunshine to generate their own power. Wilkerson discovered the paradox when she set out to harness sunlight into electricity for the vintage cottages she rents out at Indian Rocks Beach. She would have had an easier time installing solar panels, she found, if she had put the homes on a flatbed and transported them to chilly Massachusetts. "My husband and I are looking at each other and saying, 'This is absurd,'" said Wilkerson, whose property is so sunny that a European guest under doctor's orders to treat sunlight deprivation returns every year. The guest, who has solar panels on his home in Germany, is bewildered by their scarcity in a place with such abundant light. Florida is one of several states, mostly in the Southeast, that combine copious sunshine with extensive rules designed to block its use by homeowners to generate power.
A group of artists, scientists and engineers have proposed a novel solution to help Copenhagen's achieve its goal of becoming a carbon-neutral city: a 12-story-high solar energy farm in the shape of a duck. Energy Duck is the brainchild (brainduckling?) of the Land Art Generator I nitiative (LAGI), which designs public art installations that also function as utility-scale clean energy generators. So, why a duck? According to LAGI: The common eider duck resides in great numbers in Copenhagen; however, its breeding habitat is at risk from the effects of climate change. Energy Duck takes the form of the eider to act both as a solar collector and a buoyant energy storage device. Solar radiation is converted to electricity using low cost, off-the-shelf PV panels. Some of the solar electricity is stored by virtue of the difference in water levels inside and outside the duck. When stored energy needs to be delivered, the duck is flooded through one or more hydro turbines to generate electricity, which is transmitted to the national grid by the same route as the PV panel-generated electricity. Solar energy is later used to pump the water back out of the duck, and buoyancy brings it to the surface. The floating height of the duck indicates the relative cost of electricity as a function of citywide use: as demand peaks the duck sinks.
Britain, a land of cloudy skies and reliable rain, is fast becoming the hottest spot in Europe for many investors in solar energy. Germany is overcrowded with panels. A sudden end to subsidies killed Spanish solar. A sluggish economy is dragging on Italy. But the U.K. has benefited from a combination of stable subsidies since 2011, public support for solar, amenable planning authorities and creative finance. In 2010, there were under 100 megawatts of solar capacity in the U.K.—barely enough to power the homes of a modest town. Now, there is between 3.2 and 4 gigawatts. This year, market-research firm Solarbuzz projects that the U.K. will overtake Germany as Europe's largest installer of solar panels, putting in 6% of the world's new solar.
The expected recovery in China, which accounts for more than 60 percent of global solar panel output, offers an early sign that manufacturers are succeeding in soaking up supply by building their own projects. The government’s push to promote developments closer to regions where electricity is needed most -- so-called distributed solar projects -- may also spur orders. Panel prices in China declined about 10 percent in the first six months of the year compared with the second half of last year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Higher tariffs imposed in the U.S. have had the opposite affect to what’s happened in China. Panel prices have increased about 15 percent since early June when the U.S. decided to apply preliminary duties on Chinese solar equipment imports, according to a global measure of panel prices. The U.S. Commerce Department acted again on July 25, proposing expanded penalties on some Chinese solar-energy imports in a victory for the U.S. unit of SolarWorld AG, which accused China of shifting production to Taiwan after it lost an earlier case.
China is the world’s largest producer of electricity, surpassing the United States in 2011, with demand increasing alongside its strong, sustained growth in GDP. Electricity generation in China has increased 9.6% annually, from 2005 to 2013, reaching 5,425.1TWh of electricity. Coal-fired plants currently make up over two-thirds of power generation, which is partly the result of an abundance of coal in China. Despite this growth, the country expects demand to continue to increase at a rapid pace, reaching 7.295TWh of demand in 2020 and 11,595TWh in 2040. However, the growth in electricity production from coal-fired plants has resulted in an increase in air pollution and general lack of efficiency. China is now moving aggressively to curb pollution and increase the supply of renewable power. The central government has prohibited new coal-fired plants to be built around Shanghai, Guangzhou and Beijing, which is currently in the midst of having all of its coal plants being converted to natural gas. Its 12th Five Year Plan, running through 2015, targeted non-fossil fuel energy to account for 15% of total energy consumption. One of the key industries expected to help meet these goals is wind power.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a significant ruling handed down today, a panel of judges at the World Trade Organization (WTO) accused the United States of violating global trade rules when it imposed punitive import duties in 2012 on many Chinese products, including solar panels. After the decision was announced, Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), issued the following statement: "We are continuing to follow developments closely, but today's WTO decision is not expected to impact either the 2012 U.S. solar countervailing duty (CVD) order against China or any new CVD tied to the ongoing investigation until 2016, at the earliest. It's also important to remember that this decision is subject to an appeals process, which could take approximately 120 days. Assuming the decision is upheld on appeal, the United States would then have approximately one year to implement the decision. But even then, it's not clear whether the decision will result in any substantive modification of a solar CVD order against China."
Texas has more wind power generation than any other state, so it’s only fitting that Texas regulators are starting to ask some tough questions about wind power subsidies. The head of the state’s Public Utility Commission, Donna Nelson, is calling for a study to consider whether wind generators should start paying their share of transmission costs. Texas already invested $7 billion in high-capacity power lines that the state built to connect West Texas wind farms with the more populous cities in the east — such as Dallas and Houston. But wind power, as an intermittent resource, can create additional transmission costs, and those costs are borne by all the electricity customers in the deregulated market, which is about 85 percent of the state. Part of the study will determine the amount of the extra transmission costs and what, if any, remedy is needed, a PUC spokesman said. Wind power developers warn that making wind companies pay the same transmission rates as other generators will destroy Texas’ lead in wind power and undermine the economics of wind generation. Nelson, however, claims that giving wind companies a pass is no longer necessary because the industry has been around long enough to figure out its economics.
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