Follow the Patents: For Solar Power, the Devil Is in the Details

Alec Schibanoff for Electric Light & Power:  There actually is a crystal ball that permits you to see into the future. All you have to do is follow the patents. The latest patents in any technology will show you where that technology—and the businesses that use that technology—are going. This month, we take a look at the future of solar panel installation.

The first solar power generator was displayed at the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1878. The first U.S. Patent for a solar power device was awarded the next year to Edward Weston. He actually received two patents: U.S. Patent No. 389,124 for an “Apparatus for Generating Solar Radiant Energy” and U.S. Patent No. 389,125 for the “Art of Utilizing Solar Radiant Energy.” It was not until 1954 that Bell Labs developed the first silicone-based solar panel.  Cont'd...

High-tech canopy helps generate solar power while providing shade

Barbara Eldredge for Curbed:  Imaginative architect and designer Carlo Ratti has had some bonkers ideas over the past year, including an exercise-powered gym barge and a mile-high skyscraper park. But his latest project is on the sunnier side of feasibility. Literally.

The Sun&Shade is a light-reflecting canopy made of mirrors that automatically rotate to catch the sun’s rays and fling them at a photovoltaic panel, “located a safe distance away.” This generates clean electricity up top while cooling the shaded area beneath. A working prototype of the mirrored structure just debuted at Dubai’s Museum of the Future as part of its “Reimagining Climate Change.”  Cont'd...

Stanford engineers create a low-cost battery for storing renewable energy

Jackie Flynn for Stanford News:  A battery made with urea, commonly found in fertilizers and mammal urine, could provide a low-cost way of storing energy produced through solar power or other forms of renewable energy for consumption during off hours.

Developed by Stanford chemistry Professor Hongjie Dai and doctoral candidate Michael Angell, the battery is nonflammable and contains electrodes made from abundant aluminum and graphite. Its electrolyte’s main ingredient, urea, is already industrially produced by the ton for plant fertilizers.

“So essentially, what you have is a battery made with some of the cheapest and most abundant materials you can find on Earth. And it actually has good performance,” said Dai. “Who would have thought you could take graphite, aluminum, urea, and actually make a battery that can cycle for a pretty long time?”  Cont'd...

Record-breaking solar panels could slash power costs

Reuters Jim Drury:  Swiss start-up Insolight says its solar panels double the yield achieved by other sun-powered technology. In independent tests the panels reached an efficiency of 36.4 percent. "Traditionally the market sits at around 18 percent and we can double this. Therefore we can double the return on investment for the final client....Our key innovation is that you do not need to rotate the panel in order to follow the sun. We can follow the sun in a flat manner, like any other solar panel, which makes it that our panel can be installed on standard rooftops, with standard mounting technology." Tiny square super cells capture all of the sun's rays, underneath round lenses, using a patented microtracking system.   Watch Video.

Battling corrosion to keep solar panels humming

Sue Holmes for  People think of corrosion as rust on cars or oxidation that blackens silver, but it also harms critical electronics and connections in solar panels, lowering the amount of electricity produced.

"It's challenging to predict and even more challenging to design ways to reduce it because it's highly dependent on material and environmental conditions," said Eric Schindelholz, a Sandia National Laboratories materials reliability researcher who studies corrosion and how it affects photovoltaic (PV) system performance.

Sandia researchers from different departments collaborate to accelerate corrosion under controlled conditions and use what they learn to help industry develop longer-lasting PV panels and increase reliability. For example, work by Olga Lavrova of Sandia's Photovoltaic and Distributed Systems Integration department demonstrated, for the first time, a link between corrosion and the risk of arc faults in PV systems' electrical connections. Research by Erik Spoerke of Sandia's Electronic, Optical and Nano Materials department focuses on developing new nanocomposite films that could dramatically increase reliability.  Cont'd...

Two for the Price of One: Russian Scientists Build Solar+Wind Power Generator

Sputnik News:  A team of enterprising Russian scientists managed to develop a unique power generator that uses both solar and wind energy at the same time to produce electricity.
There have been numerous attempts before to produce a combo solar+wind power generator, but so far none have met success. Solar panels tend to wear out rather quickly due to the powerful air currents generated by wind turbines, which drastically limits the system’s efficiency. But now, the combined efforts of the Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute, the Moscow Power Engineering Institute and a Zelenograd-based solar panel manufacturer have finally borne fruit.  Cont'd...

World's first solar panel road opens in Normandy village

Kim Willsher for The Guardian:  France has opened what it claims to be the world’s first solar panel road, in a Normandy village.

A 1km (0.6-mile) route in the small village of Tourouvre-au-Perche covered with 2,800 sq m of electricity-generating panels, was inaugurated on Thursday by the ecology minister, Ségolène Royal.

It cost €5m (£4.2m) to construct and will be used by about 2,000 motorists a day during a two-year test period to establish if it can generate enough energy to power street lighting in the village of 3,400 residents.

In 2014, a solar-powered cycle path opened in Krommenie in the Netherlands and, despite teething problems, has generated 3,000kWh of energy – enough to power an average family home for a year. The cost of building the cycle path, however, could have paid for 520,000kWh.  Cont'd...

Glow-in-the-dark dye could fuel liquid-based batteries

Charlotte Hsu for University of Buffalo:  BUFFALO, N.Y. — Could a glow-in-the-dark dye be the next advancement in energy storage technology?  Scientists at the University at Buffalo think so.

They have identified a fluorescent dye called BODIPY as an ideal material for stockpiling energy in rechargeable, liquid-based batteries that could one day power cars and homes.  BODIPY — short for boron-dipyrromethene — shines brightly in the dark under a black light.

But the traits that facilitate energy storage are less visible. According to new research, the dye has unusual chemical properties that enable it to excel at two key tasks: storing electrons and participating in electron transfer. Batteries must perform these functions to save and deliver energy, and BODIPY is very good at them.  In experiments, a BODIPY-based test battery operated efficiently and with longevity, running well after researchers drained and recharged it 100 times.  Cont'd...

DOE energy innovation hub backs two key future battery technologies

Nick Flaherty for EE Times:  After four years of evaluation, the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (Chicago, IL) is backing two key technologies for the future of battery systems.

The Center was set up four years ago with a five year remit to explore new battery technology for transportation and the electricity grid that, when scaled to commercial production, are capable of delivering five times the energy density at one-fifth the cost of commercial batteries available in 2011.

The Center has investigated 1,500 compounds for electrodes and 21,000 organic molecules relevant for liquid electrolytes as well as filing 52 invention disclosures and 27 patent applications, says director George Crabtree. Five techno-economic models created by JCESR for designing virtual batteries on the computer are being used to evaluate the best pathways for beyond-lithium-ion systems to reach 400 watt hours per kilogram (400 Wh/kg) and $100 per kilowatt hour ($100/kWh).  Cont'd...

Reducing Wind Energy Costs through Increased Turbine Size: Is the Sky the Limit?

Berkeley Lab study shows significant potential for further turbine scaling.

Could depleted oil wells be the next step in energy storage? - Quidnet Energy is hoping to revolutionise energy storage with its underground pumped hydro concept, which uses abandoned oil and gas wells to store and release pressurised water, driving turbines and feeding electricity back into the grid. How does the concept work and how far could it go? Quidnet co-founder Aaron Mandell explains.

As the cost of renewable energy continues to decline and intermittent clean power sources such as wind and solar gain ever an ever larger foothold in the global energy mix, the ability to store energy that can be quickly dispatched when needed has become as important as the development of renewables themselves.

Robust storage options could allow for greater integration of intermittent renewables, as they facilitate flexible capacity-building that relies far less on coal and gas-fired plants for baseload generation, meaning energy storage is a key step in the journey to wean the world off its fossil fuel addiction.  Full Interview:

Want to boost wind and solar power? Bring them together

Ben Jervey for GreenBiz:  What’s keeping solar and wind power from fully taking over the electric grid? For starters, the sun only shines during the day. Wind blows intermittently, is seasonally variable, and is not always blowing when the energy is needed.

But what if solar and wind work together?  "Wind resource tends to complement solar resource," said Sarah Kurtz of the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory. "Here in Colorado, for instance, the windiest time is during the winter and spring months. In winter, we don’t have as much sunshine, but we tend to get more wind and stronger wind."

A handful of enterprising renewable energy developers are exploring how solar and wind might better work together, developing hybrid solar-wind projects to take advantage of the power-generating strengths of each — with the two technologies in tandem serving as a better replacement for climate-warming fossil fuels than either could be alone.  Cont'd...

Solar Power Turns Water and Carbon Dioxide Into Fuel

Seeker:  Finish researchers are building a demonstration power plant that would use solar-generated electricity, water and carbon dioxide extracted from the atmosphere to create gas and liquid fuels.

The Lappeenranta University of Technology and VTT Technical Research Centre are working together on the SOLETAIR project, which is being built on the university campus and is scheduled for completion in 2017. Germany's Karlsruhe Institute of Technology also is a player in the project.  The project involves several different innovations. VTT will design equipment that will capture CO2 from the air and store it, while Lappeenranta researchers will build a device to produce hydrogen from water via electrolysis. Karlsruhe has developed a a microstructured, chemical reactor to convert the hydrogen produced from solar power together with carbon dioxide into liquid fuels, according to a press release. The reactor will be built by INERATEC, a spinoff company created by Karlsruhe.  Cont'd...

Using Nanotechnology to Improve the Efficiency of Solar Cells

Nanostructure-based coating technology provides increased energy efficiency while minimizing costs.

Is The Best Analogy For The Energy Storage Business--Eeek!--Hard Drives?

Michael Kanellos for Forbes:  The optimism in the energy storage industry is based on soaring demand, rapid technological advances, expanding capacity and, for some, what will likely be a scary competitive environment.

First, the good news. Lithium ion battery packs over the last ten years have declined faster than the cost of solar, said John Carrington, CEO of Stem, which makes behind-the-meter storage systems for hotels and other commercial customers looking to shave peak power costs, during a hallway meeting at Finance West sponsored by the American Council of Renewable Energy this week.

Solar panels have declined by 50% or more in the last five years. Batteries have declined by 80% in three years, he said. Battery packs hit the under $300 per kilowatt hour mark last December, Carrington added. By 2020, battery pack prices could drop to $190 per kilowatt hour. (In 2007, lithium ion battery packs in the wholesale markets sold for around $1,000 per kilowatt hour.)  Cont'd...

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