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...
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...
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...
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...
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...
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...
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...
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:
Phys.org: Wind energy is to have a major share in the future renewable energy mix. The Germany-wide TremAc project is aimed at improving the planning, development, and acceptance of wind power plants and at developing objective criteria for their emissions. For this purpose, experts will study the interaction of acoustic and seismic vibrations of wind power plants and plan to generate a model to compute both emissions. TremAc is funded with EUR 1.85 million by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy.
"We want to compute the complete chain of effects from the plant to the population," Theodoros Triantafyllidis, coordinator of the TremAc cooperation project and Head of the Institute of Soil Mechanics and Rock Mechanics of KIT, explains. Within the framework of the TremAc cooperation project, a single chain is to be developed for modeling all vibrating plant components and the surroundings, i.e. the rotating rotor blades, drive shaft, gondola suspension and tower structure, foundation, and the ground, various topographic terrains and airflows as well as adjacent residential buildings and workplaces.
John Downey for Charlotte Business Journal: A Charlotte energy executive surveying the scene at the third day of the Energy Storage Association’s Annual Conference and Expo expressed satisfaction and a little surprise at the bustle and buzz the event produced.
On a large scale, the conference put top storage developers and vendors together with power producers and systems operators looking for sparks. But there were interesting stories on a smaller scale as well. Here are a few of those quick shots:
David Szondy for GizMag: Sea-based wind farms are becoming a common sight in many parts of the world, but why not floating solar power stations? Engineers at the Vienna University of Technology foresee a future where platforms 100 m (330 ft) long and covered with solar panels float on even heavy seas thanks to a new floatation system called Heliofloat. Still under development, Heliofloat uses flexible, open-bottom floats that are capable of standing up to rough seas that would destroy such a platform sitting on conventional tanks.
Solar energy has a great potential for helping solve the world's energy problems, but among the factors hindering its general application is that suitable land is not always available. Relocating panels offshore could make for installations of incredible size and generating potential, but the seas isn't always a placid place. Even relatively calm areas can suddenly become tempests with waves that can pound a floating platform to kindling in a matter of minutes. Cont'd...
Justin Worland for Time: Crescent Dunes looks and sounds a bit like an invention lifted from a science fiction novel. Deep in the Nevada desert more than 10,000 mirrors—each the size of a highway billboard—neatly encircle a giant 640-foot tower. It looks like it might be used to communicate with aliens in deep space.
But the engineers and financiers behind the facility, located in the desert about halfway between Las Vegas and Reno, say the power plant’s promise is anything but fiction. The solar power facility built and operated by the company SolarReserve can power 75,000 homes. What sets it apart from other big solar projects is that this plant can store power for use when it is most needed, including cloudy days and after dark—a major advance for renewable energy technology. Cont'd...
PEG BRICKLEY and ANNE STEELE for The Wall Street Journal: Solar-energy Company SunEdison Inc. on Thursday filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, a dramatic move for a company whose market value stood at nearly $10 billion in July.
SunEdison said its publicly traded entities, TerraForm Power Inc. and TerraForm GlobalInc., aren’t part of the filing. The two so-called yieldcos—separate entities that buy operating projects from developer SunEdison and pay out cash flow to their shareholders—said Thursday they believe they have sufficient liquidity to run their businesses and meet financial obligations, although SunEdison’s bankruptcy “will present challenges.”
Bankruptcy has been a near-certainty for SunEdison for some time. The company borrowed heavily to buy up wind and solar developers, accumulating a pile of debt that worried investors. Disappointing earnings didn’t ease their fears about the pace of SunEdison’s growth, and an accounting move last year that reclassified more than $700 million worth of debt heightened anxieties. Cont'd...
WattJoule Corporation, a developer of next-generation liquid electrical energy storage systems, has developed and built a new system demonstrating a major industry cost breakthrough. The new storage platform is called ElectriStor™ and will be offered to system integrators as the preferred core component for storing large amounts of solar and wind energy.
One of the major barriers preventing the widespread adoption of large-scale energy storage has been cost. WattJoule has engineered the ElectriStor™ platform based on the redox flow battery concept where electricity is stored in a liquid. WattJoule's proprietary liquid electrolyte is mostly water, and the company has developed a new, inexpensive process to make it in large quantities. Early liquid energy storage systems have suffered from a number of technical and cost limitations. Recently there have been several technical breakthroughs to overcome these constraints. WattJoule has both developed and exclusively licensed key technologies that, in combination, dramatically lower energy storage costs to $150 per kilowatt-hour in its first-generation energy storage product. Full Press Release:
Brady Dennis for The Washington Post: The U.S. wind energy industry had a memorable 2015, from installing thousands of new turbines across the country to supporting a growing number of jobs.
But perhaps one of the most noteworthy brights spots of the past year, according to an annual report released Tuesday by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), was the growing demand for wind energy from major corporations. High-tech firms such as Google Energy, Facebook and Amazon Web Services, as well as more traditional companies such as Procter & Gamble, General Motors, Walmart and Dow Chemical, have signed contracts to purchase increasing amounts of wind energy in coming years.
Corporations and other non-utility customers — including some municipalities and universities — accounted for more than half of the wind power capacity sold through so-called power purchase agreements in 2015, according to the AWEA. The group said that corporate and other non-utility buyers have signed contracts for more than 4,500 megawatts of wind power capacity, or enough to power the equivalent of about 1.2 million American homes. Cont'd...
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