Thursday, December 17, 2009
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory have refined a technique to manufacture solar cells by creating tubes of semiconducting material and then "growing" polymers directly inside them. The method has the potential to be significantly cheaper than the process used to make today's commercial solar cells.
Here is the rest: Thousand Suns Blog
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Although some electric cars were pushed back to 2010, hybrids and electric cars are clearly not going away. Ford says that in 2020, 25 percent of cars coming out of factories will drive in part or wholly on electricity. A massive surfeit of solar panels also made it cheaper to put panels on your house.
And some interesting trends and surprises emerged along the way. Here are some of the best.
1. Solar Fixes Its Plumber's Crack: The solar industry has primarily focused its attention in the last few decades on driving down the price of panels and driving up efficiency. In the past year or so, many have begun to try to reduce the cost of installation – that manual construction project goes along with every solar project that can eat up 30 percent or more of the budget. Companies didn't concentrate as much on installation on installation because, after all, how many scientists does it take to make sure a contractor shows up on time for a job.
But it's changing. Zep Solar showed off a modular racking system that it claims cuts costs by 50 to 80 cents a watt. Armageddon Energy debuted a racking system and novel panels that let homeowners assemble a solar system in minutes. (see video here of founders Dmitry Dimov and Mark Goldman slap one together in three minutes.) Others have started to diversify their offerings, tailoring panels for different customers and different roofs. It will be like the PC industry.
2. Greentech (and Michigan) Go Global: In the past, people discussed green being a global industry to underscore how nations like Denmark and Germany had already created thriving renewable industries. In 2009, it took on a new meaning. Many of the largest American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant winners turned out to be joint ventures funded or managed by foreign companies willing to open facilities in the U.S. Spain's Iberdrola was one of the big winners for grants for wind farms while two battery ventures with South Korean partners got $312.4 million.
Even without grants, Chinese companies began to flock to the U.S. Suntech announced (finally) that it will open a module assembly plant in Arizona while China's A-Power Generation and a consortium of Chinese and U.S. companies announced plans to build a wind farm in Texas along with a turbine factory.
3. The Utility Industrial Complex Emerges: In his final address as President, Eisenhower warned the country against the potential dangers of the military industrial complex. The Obama administration, however, is cutting back on large, futuristic weapons contracts in favor of conventional forces. Partly as a result, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Bechtel, Raytheon, BAE Systems and Bechtel all moved more aggressively into smart grid and solar.
In a lot of ways, it makes sense; these companies are equipped to handle large, complex construction and fulfillment projects. Still, it will be interesting to see if the cost-overruns and lobbying shenanigans these companies are often associated with begin to occur here.
4. Algae Isn't Fuel: Although I've spoken to over 60 algae companies and have been told by people in the industry that there are over 100 out there that want to turn pond slime into car fuel, a few companies have begun to emphasize their non-fuel products. Why? Chemicals and food additives sell for one heck of a lot more. Solazyme, one of the early leaders, started selling – repeat, selling for real money – algae oil to the food market. It even released an algae-based substitute for almond milk. It's not bad, although not as good as the algae brownies. Ternion Bio Industries says nutraceutical algae can fetch $10,000 a ton. Cellulosic ethanol makers are doing the same: start-up Zeachem is working on bugs that could emit chemicals for plastics.
5. Do You Guys Accept Euros? Conglomerates began to open their wallets in what could be a long string of acquisitions and so far many of the big buyers so far are foreign. Philips, already No. 1 in lighting due because of strategic acquisitions, bought two lighting companies, including one founded by Segway inventor and all-around eccentric Dean Kamen. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp. set up a $50 million fund to move into solar and lighting and has been discussing its plans with Silicon Valley VCs. Samsung said it wants to be number one in solar by 2015. Panasonic wants to participate in smart grid, green homes, solar, batteries, green IT and energy efficiency.
6. Black is the New Black: In the never-ending quest for cheaper raw materials, some companies began to tout trash, waste streams and sewage as the foundation of their businesses. Although refuse and discards often aren't free, it can cheaper than a lot of things, like oil from a deep well in the middle of the ocean.
Just as important, doing a Sanford and Son and repurposing trash eliminates the costs of storing it in landfills. Axion International has created plastic bridges from discarded milk jugs that can hold up trains and tanks. Start-up Sollega debuted a solar rack (see plumber's crack at No. 1) made from recycled plastic.
7. Water is the New Weather: Everyone talks about it but no one does anything about it. Energy Recovery, an Oakland, California-based maker of desalination equipment that remains one of my favorite green companies, had one of the few green IPOs in 2008. Still, investors and entrepreneurs are not exactly flocking to the field. Only five water companies were funded in the third quarter to the tune of $20 million. That was barely more than the money that flowed into tidal and wave energy, a more distant technology.
The hopeful sign is there are a lot of great ideas out there—like Statkraft's plan to turn seawater into energy and the proposal from Mark Shannon at the University of Illinois to recycle toilet water. More on this in a future column.
8. Practicality Rules: At the Cleantech Open, a contest that seeks out new companies, the big awards went to EcoFactor and Adura Technologies, two companies that have already released energy management systems for home and offices. They work, they save money and no one had to earn a Nobel prize to figure them out. The "new" green industry is over five years old now in the U.S. so it is about time we moved from the lab to the execution phase.
9. Efficiency Became Cool: Efficiency was often ignored by investors and entrepreneurs for more sexy fields like wind or cars, but with Steve Chu, efficiency's number one fan, moving to Washington to become Secretary of Energy, the dialog has changed. Retrofitting homes, schools, office buildings will become huge industries. This many hammers haven't swung in American since golf course and library building frenzy of the New Deal.
10. Waiting for Godot's Karma: Some things we thought we might see, but didn't, graduate to general commercial availability in 2009: The fancy Fisker Karma sports coupe, cap and trade legislation, the capacitors from EEStor that allegedly can recharge in minutes and let electric cars run for miles and the oft-hyped fuel cells from Bloom Energy that apparently will let you take your home off the grid.
You can't find those fancy copper indium gallium selenide solar cells that investors have plunked more than $2 billion into at Home Depot either. Maybe in 2010.
You can read the original article here
You can find our other blog on Solar Energy on Thousand Suns
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Are you the type of person who likes to handcraft your Christmas gifts? This year, perhaps you can make someone's Christmas Day just a little bit brighter and happier when they unwrap their very own iPhone-controlled, solar-powered Arduino tank.
As you can view in the video above, the tank is pretty impressive in its current form; it could be used to strike terror into the hearts of unsuspecting senior citizens or small animals. It was built by Chris Rojas, a Colorado-based geek who used the iPhone TouchOSC app [US$4.99, iTunes Link], various parts from SparkFun including XBee modules and robot kits, and the Arduino open-source electronics prototyping platform to create this cool little tank. The tank can be charged by exposing a belly-mounted photovoltaic panel to the sun.
Maybe it's just me, but I'd love to see one of these modded out with a spinning saw blade, lasers, and maybe a paintball gun... What would be your accessory of choice for your iPhone-controlled tank?
You can find our other blog on Solar Energy on Thousand Suns
Monday, December 7, 2009
Researchers from Tel Aviv University (TAU) have made a discovery that may one day lead to more efficient batteries, solar panels and windows that clean themselves. The researchers grew a forest of nanosize peptides in the range of 100 nanometers. The so-called peptide forests are able to repel dust and water and have the potential for a very effective self-cleaning coating for windows and solar panels.
Both windows and solar panels are less efficient as they get dirty. This is a particularly big issue for solar panels since many of the world's largest solar energy plants are placed in deserts where dust is a very big concern. The researchers on the project include graduate student Lihi Adler-Abramovich and a team working under Prof. Ehud Gazit in TAU's Department of Molecular Microbiology and Biotechnology.
Adler-Abramovich said, "This is beautiful and protean research. It began as an attempt to find a new cure for Alzheimer's disease. To our surprise, it also had implications for electric cars, solar energy and construction."
Like many discoveries that turn out to have great implications, the peptide forest coating was discovered by accident. The researchers were working on a project for drug company Merck to find a treatment for Alzheimer's disease.
Adler-Abramovich said, "We are not manufacturing the actual material but developing a basic-science technology that could lead to self-cleaning windows and more efficient energy storage devices in just a few years. As scientists, we focus on pure research. Thanks to Prof. Gazit's work on beta amyloid proteins, we were able to develop a technique that enables short peptides to 'self-assemble,' forming an entirely new kind of coating which is also a super-capacitor."
She continues saying, "Our technology may lead to a storage material with a high density. This is important when you need to generate a lot of energy in a short period of time. It could also be incorporated into today's lithium batteries."
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Sunshine and jail are two things that don't usually go together, but there could soon be a close connection in Charleston County.
The huge, flat roofs of the county's detention center complex could become home to the largest array of solar panels in the Lowcountry, if the county's plans are successful.
The detention center is responsible for the county's largest electricity bills, and its $100 million expansion now under construction is expected to roughly double power consumption, to around 8.5 million kilowatts yearly.
Covering the roofs with hundreds of American-made solar panels could offset a portion of the power needs, an estimated 640,000 kilowatts, and the county has applied for more than $1.1 million in federal stimulus grants to make it happen.
The panels would more than pay for themselves and would save taxpayers money, according to county estimates.
Deputy Facilities Manager Gilbert Pohl believes the value of the project could be greater than the projected cash benefits, because it could help attract clean energy companies to the area.
"I really believe the government needs to take the lead on this," Pohl said. "We need to get the seed planted."
The city of Charleston separately is taking a similar approach, seeking a smaller federal stimulus grant to put solar panels on the roof of 75 Calhoun St., a building that houses city offices and the Charleston School District's administrative offices.
"What I've been calling it is a market transformation program," said Brian Sheehan, Charleston's recently-hired director of sustainability. "The goal is to use this potentially high-profile project to learn some lessons about our permit and approval process."
Charleston has requested a $93,000 grant for the project, which has a total cost of $169,000.
The solar panels account for most of the expense, but the project also includes an education and outreach component, and is aimed at reviewing city regulations that would affect anyone who wants to install a solar power system.
The county's larger initiative would come in several phases, the first two of which have been recommended to the South Carolina Energy Office by the Berkeley-Dorchester-Charleston Council of Governments.
The county is requesting $325,000 for those phases, for design work and a 157-kilowatt solar array.
The county estimates the solar panels in the first two phases would save county taxpayers more than $1.4 million over the course of 30 years.
The county is competing for that money only with other applicants from the tri-county area that were reviewed by BDC-COG, and the county's application was among the top-ranked proposals.
"We feel pretty good about the first two," Pohl said.
John Clark, director of the state Energy Office, said the South Carolina Research Authority will review the proposals to make sure the scientific assumptions and projections of cost savings are sound.
"We're trying to spend money on stuff that makes sense, from the standpoint of cost-effectiveness," he said. "If that money is going to be repaid three or four times over, then that is a good use of taxpayer money."
The grant applications for the larger third and fourth phases of the county's solar initiative, along with Charleston's grant application, will face greater competition. They are among about $8 million in statewide grant requests competing for $2.8 million in federal funds for renewable energy projects.
Clark said a decision on the first-round grants for the tri-county area should be made by mid-December, and the statewide grant requests could be decided upon in January.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
After years of secret meetings and planning, Thousand Suns is finally open for business...
here are the importnant links:
We wish ourself the best future.
We will continue this blog in parallel with Thousand Suns...
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
As world leaders converge in Pittsburgh for a major economic summit this week, one of the biggest questions they face is this: How do you begin to replace the millions of jobs destroyed by the Great Recession, now that the worst of the crisis has potentially passed?
Here on the sun-drenched and windy Iberian Peninsula, Spain thinks it has an answer: create new jobs and save the Earth at the same time.
Green jobs have become a mantra for many governments, including that of the United States. But few nations are better positioned -- or motivated -- to fuse the fight against recession and global warming than Spain. The country is already a leader in renewable fuels through $30 billion in public support and has been cited by the Obama administration as a model for the creation of a green economy. Spain generates about 24.5 percent of its electricity through renewable sources, compared with about 7 percent in the United States.
But with unemployment at 18.5 percent, the government here is preparing to take a dramatic next step. Through a combination of new laws and public and private investment, officials estimate that they can generate a million green jobs over the next decade. The plan would increase domestic demand for alternative energy by having the government help pay the bill -- but also by compelling millions of Spaniards to go green, whether they like it or not.
In the long term, the government envisions a new army of engineers and technicians nurturing windmills and solar farms amid the orange orchards and carnation fields of Andalusia and Galicia. In the short term, officials say, the renewable-energy projects and refurbishing of buildings and homes for energy efficiency could redeploy up to 80 percent of the million construction workers here who lost their jobs in 2008.
Spain's ambitious effort is being closely watched by the Obama administration and other governments forming their own green-job plans. The U.S. stimulus bill is dedicating billions in grants and loans to renewable-energy projects, marking a shift away from Washington's more passive approach to green growth, which relied largely on tax incentives.
But the bid for governments to take an ever larger role in creating jobs in the private sector -- which many leaders gathering in Pittsburgh see as their mission -- is also fraught with risks.
Though the Spanish government estimates that the alternative-energy sector generates about 200,000 jobs here, about double the number in 2000, critics contend they have cost taxpayers too much money.
In some instances, the government's good intentions have distorted the energy market.
Take, for example, the recent Spanish solar bubble.
Though wind power remains the dominant alternative energy here, the government introduced even more generous inducements in recent years to help develop photovoltaic solar power -- a technology that uses sun-heated cells to generate energy. Lured by the promise of vast new subsidies, energy companies erected the silvery silicone panels in record numbers. As a result, government subsides to the sector jumped from $321 million in 2007 to $1.6 billion in 2008.
When the government moved to curb excess production and scale back subsidies late last year, the solar bubble burst, sending panel prices dropping and sparking the loss of thousands of jobs, at least temporarily.
"What they're talking about now -- creating a new sustainable economic model through alternative energy -- is going to be exactly the opposite of sustainable," said Gabriel Calzada, a Spanish economist and critic of the government's alternative-energy policy. "You're only going to create more distortion, more bubbles. It isn't going to work."
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Here is a good piece I found on EDN...
In spite of their high lighting efficiency, the cost of high-brightness (HB) LEDs for commodity applications is not low enough yet to compete head-on with older forms of lighting such as incandescent and high-intensity discharge (HID). However, certain applications can justify paying a premium for high-efficiency, long life, ruggedness, and light-color temperature control, and these applications are the sweet spot for HB LEDs.
Here’s a good example (pictured in the brochure): Solar-powered outdoor lighting for off-grid applications. This Solar Vision Pole’s lamp post is especially novel, because rather than use a standard rigid solar panel that requires additional bracing for wind shear (and can attract the attention of scavenging thieves), the pole itself is wrapped with a flexible solar panel that charges 4 gel batteries located in the base of the pole. The size of the panel and the number of batteries limits the lighting to 50W which would be a pretty weak traditional light source, but makes for a strong cool-white LED light. 6 hours of charging is enough to run the light all night.
Each pole/light/battery combination sells for about $5,000, which seems steep, but imagine lighting, say, a parking lot where there’s no access to electrical power. This approach can be a practical, low-maintenance lighting solution.
For more ideas on what the future holds for LEDs, catch Cary Eskow’s keynote speech at EDN’s free “Designing with LEDs” Workshop in Chicago next week on October 6.
Monday, September 28, 2009
The photovoltaic sector will see a supply of 7.1 gigawatts this year and about 10.8 GW the next, compared with demand of roughly 4.3 GW this year and some 6 GW in 2010, Johnson told the weekly business newspaper.
Manufacturers of crystalline polysilicon, which is used in some solar cells, could also face lower demand, even as plants that take three years to build come online, Johnson told Barron's in an interview.
Johnson told the paper that polysilicon prices, now $50 per kilogram to $60 per kilogram, are likely to fall and might dip below the break-even level -- $25 per kg to $28 per kg -- which is bad news for producers like MEMC Electronic Materials and Wacker Chemie .
Johnson has a price target of $9 on MEMC. It closed at $17.29 on Friday on the New York Stock Exchange.
Johnson told Barron's that solar companies have seen their stocks rise of late on expectations of demand from China this year and the next, but those hopes were overblown.
He downgraded one such company, China-based Suntech Power Holdings Co Ltd, to "sell" this year because of accounting and other risks, according to Barron's.
Suntech faces certain cost disadvantages compared with some rivals as Yingli Green Energy Holding Co Ltd and Trina Solar , Johnson said.
Suntech has committed to buy polysilicon at higher than current market prices and it outsources a part of the manufacturing process, which is more expensive, he told Barron's.
Johnson has a target of $9 on the stock and expects the company to make 7 cents per share this year, and 12 cents per share in 2010, according to Barron's. Suntech closed at $15.75 on Friday on the New York Stock Exchange.
Among other stocks, Johnson told the paper investors had become bullish on First Solar Inc because of a memorandum of understanding for a solar project in China.
But he also told Barron's the project was subject to a key government decision and did not yet have financing.
He sees the company make a profit of $6.56 per share and revenue of $1.8 billion this year, and $3.07 per share and $1.9 billion in revenue in 2010, the paper reported.
San Jose, California-based SunPower Corp's advantage of better quality products is eroding as the quality of Chinese modules has gone up while their costs are lower, Johnson said.
He sees a profit of 98 cents per share and revenue of $1.3 billion this year, and $1.11 per share on $1.8 billion in revenue in 2010, but added SunPower has one of the highest stock-option expenses in the sector.He has a "sell" rating on the stock with a $15 target, Barron's said. It's stock closed at $30.53 on Friday on Nasdaq.
Johnson said that Trina was the best placed among these firms. He has a price target of $24. Trina closed at $31.44 on the New York Stock Exchange on Friday.
For Yingli, Johnson told Barron's he sees a risk of write-downs on inventory for the third and fourth quarter.
He has a price target of $9 for Yingli, it said. Yingli closed at $12.60 on the New York Stock Exchange on Friday.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Twelve months ago, anticipating that the global photovoltaic (PV) industry would return to a demand-constrained market in 2009, Solarbuzz commenced a year-long project to analyze downstream PV markets around the world. Today, they released the results of that research in three reports that set out the activities and opportunities in each of the major photovoltaic markets around the world.
The suite of PV Market 2009 reports addresses the current status and future prospects for the European PV markets, the United States On-Grid PV Market and the Major Asian and Pacific PV markets. These three regions will account for 96% of global PV demand in 2010.
After extremely challenging industry conditions in 2009, characterized by excess manufacturing capacity and accentuated by a 2 GW demand reduction in Spain after a major policy adjustment, the PV industry will return to a growth path in 2010, resulting in a global market of 7.4 GW in that year, based on a mid-range scenario*. This is up from the 5.95 GW market in 2008.
Underpinning that growth will be a more than doubling of the US market size to well over 1 GW in 2010, together with a mid-range German market size of 3.2 GW.
Major global factory-gate module price reductions in the first half of 2009 have established the foundation for rapid demand growth in feed-in tariff driven European markets, in both 2009 and 2010. European country markets are characterized by wide variation in customer and application segments as well as differing barriers to market development. Germany, Italy and Spain will claim a 83-88% market share in Europe by 2010, while emerging European PV markets will contribute 2.9 GW to market demand by 2013.
In the Asian and Pacific region, emerging PV markets in Australia, China and India will soon join Japan and South Korea as major regions contributing to global market demand over the 5 year forecast period. This will transform China and India's primary industry role from just being a manufacturing hub to an engine for PV market demand growth. The project pipeline for Asia Pacific (defined as identified project proposals not necessarily yet possessing confirmed financing and incentive structures) has already surpassed 7 GW. Meanwhile, Japan is also set for a steady return after four years in the wilderness.
In India, there are now 67 distinct projects proposals over one megawatt, while in China, the project pipeline has grown to 45 identified megawatt-scale project proposals. With over 70 distinct funding programs and incentive policies at the national and local level collectively in India and China targeting systems smaller than one megawatt, these countries represent a significant market opportunity over the next five years. This leaves the primary industry challenge to ensure that the existing suite of policies, and those under development, allow these projects to reach fruition.
In the US, 97% of the market size of the mid-range forecast in 2010 is already backed up by identified funding sources, projects under development and Renewable Portfolio Standard driven demand. This means that the pace of growth in that market will primarily be determined by financing, permitting and regulatory issues, rather than by product supply or PV subsidy constraints, factors that impacted market size over the last four years. A listing of over 60 large planned projects contributes to the 2.3 GW order book and together with planned Stimulus Bill-driven PV projects, provide the basis for rapid demand growth in the US. Nonetheless, companies all through the downstream US PV chain will need to reshape their strategies in response to significant changes in both end-market trends and supply mix over the next 5 years, in order to preserve their market shares.
Friday, September 25, 2009
I'll give it to you, this is not 100% related to solar energy but big enough to change the rules in the battery world...
In news that could greatly extend the range of electric cars, researchers have shown that replacing the conventional graphite electrodes in lithium-ion batteries with silicon nanotubes can produce a battery that can store ten times more charge. The researchers developed a silicon anode that, aside from extending the range of electric cars, could also make gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles more efficient by allowing them to run in electric mode for longer periods.
The researchers say that, if the new silicon anode can be matched to a cathode with similar storage capacity, the resulting battery should be able to power a car for three or four hours without recharging. This is a marked improvement of six to eight times on today’s technology, which sees the battery in a current, typical hybrid car lasting only 30 minutes.
The silicon anode developed by researchers at Stanford University and Hanyang University in Ansan, Korea, in collaboration with LG Chem, a Korean company responsible for producing the lithium-ion battery used in the Chevy Volt, can store much more energy than graphite electrodes because they absorb higher levels of lithium when the battery is charged. In fact, the silicon can take up to ten times more lithium by weight than graphitic carbon.
But the ability of the silicon to absorb more lithium has a downside. Since it takes up so much lithium, it can increase in volume by as much as four times. This places so much mechanical strain on the brittle material that the silicon anodes tend to crack after only a few charge/discharge cycles. To combat this the researchers turned to nanostructured silicon.
Jaephil Cho, professor of energy engineering at the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology in Korea, and Stanford materials scientist Yi Cui, had made silicon nanowire anodes and nanoporous silicon anodes before teaming up to develop the silicon nanotube anodes that boast better storage capacity than either of those previous nanostructured materials.
The performance of the silicon nanotube anode lies in its shape, which looks like a bunch of hollow straws. This provides more surface area exposed inside and therefore, much more area for the lithium to interact with. Also, because the shape provides extra space for the silicon to expand and contract, there is a reduction in the mechanical strain caused when the battery is charged and discharged.
Cho believes that batteries incorporating the silicon electrodes could be on the market in as little as three years because the process to produce them is simple and the template used is already available commercially. It involves repeatedly immersing an aluminum template in a silicon solution, and then heating it and etching the structure in acid to remove the aluminum. Along with LG Chem, Cho is also working with the template manufacturer to make a template compatible with large-scale manufacturing.
There are, however, other challenges that will need to be overcome before silicon anodes find their way into electric vehicles. Although Cui and Cho have demonstrated their anode’s performance after 200 charges, the technology needs to be proven over hundreds of thousands of charges to become viable for use in vehicles. The problem lies in getting back from silicon all the energy that is put into it – a condition that worsens over time.
Additionally, to receive the full benefits of silicon anodes, they need to be paired with cathodes whose storage capacity is also ten times greater. To match the capacity of the silicon anodes in a working battery for testing their technology the researchers have been using large-volume cathodes made of conventional materials. However, Cui and Cho are working on developing new cathode materials in collaboration with LG Chem.
The team’s research is detailed in the study, Silicon Nanotube Battery Anodes, which appears in the journal Nano Letters.
One of the most common ways to turn the sun's energy into electricity is by persuading silicon to give up some of its electrons. But it's also quite expensive, so any innovation that helps reduce the cost of solar cell production is welcome. Researchers in Israel have come up with a cell that uses only 20% of the silicon in a standard cell yet yields similar amounts of electricity. It does this by diffusing any light that falls on its surface and sends it off to photovoltaic collector strips on each of its sides. And it doesn't even need bright sunlight to operate.
In a nutshell, traditional solar collectors are made of thin strips of silicon covered by transparent plates. As the sun hits the plate, electrons are knocked out of the silicon atom producing current. A team of researchers led by internationally-renowned solar guru Prof Renata Reisfeld have taken a glass plate, given it light diffusing properties and attached strips of silicon to its edges.
According to the researchers, a mixture of different flourescent dyes concentrates visible and UV light (but not heat) onto the surface of the plate. Rather than simply passing through the plate, the light is persuaded to flow to the sides by metal nanoparticles, where thin strips of photovoltaic silicon wait to surrender their electrons. The interaction of the dyes and the nanoparticles helps ensure that just the right amount of energy hits the silicon to knock out the electrons, leading to improved cell efficiency.
This effectively means that as a cell doesn't need direct sunlight to operate - it can go on producing power long after traditional full silicon cells have stopped, albeit less efficiently under cloud or partial shade conditions. As you can see in this video, no matter where the light source comes from, the colored glass disperses it to the edge where photovoltaic collectors wait to convert it into electricity.
Even if a plate is cracked or chipped, light should still get dispersed to the edges without significant loss of efficiency. It also means that panels need not track the sun as it crosses the sky or be restricted to domestic roof applications - windows and walls could also house solar collecting panels.
The researchers are currently working on a cell capable of achieving 20% conversion efficiency (traditional silicon cells tend to be about 12-17% efficient, although some have recorded much higher rates). So not only could the new colorful innovation be more efficient than existing technology but, as less silicon is needed, it can be manufactured for about a fifth of the cost.
A 200 watt panel, for instance, can currently be manufactured for USD$189 but the researchers believe that even this is too high and are aiming for the solar nirvana of grid parity.
In 2006 Professor Reisfeld formed GreenSun Energy with her team to help bring the product to the marketplace. The company established a research laboratory in Jerusalem in 2007 and has been working to improve its model ever since. Professor Reisfeld told Gizmag that project funding will determine how long it will be before the technology reaches the marketplace, but is hopeful that it will be ready within the next year or two.
Thank you to GizMag for this one
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Rendering credits: Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.
Solar in a Box
Solar in a Box is the world’s first completely pre-assembled, all AC solar electric system. High quality and leading edge components are assembled in a factory controlled environment. This significantly reduces the complexity of design and installation of a solar electric system.
In addition to reduced installation costs, the unique Solar in a Box design offers homeowners distinct performance and aesthetic benefits:
- Microinverters convert DC electricity into AC at each panel. This feature reduces losses due to shading, increases production by up to 25%, makes the systems safer, and eliminates unsightly exterior wall mounted inverters and DC disconnects.
- The sleek and patented frame makes systems look like dark skylights on a roof.
- One year of web-based performance monitoring is included at no cost.
A Solar, one of the big players in the solar industry, is working with Innovalight to commercialize the latter's method for making silicon-ink-based, high-efficiency solar cells, the companies said this week.
Innovalight first got noticed in 2007 for perfecting a process in which it could essentially ink-jet-manufacture solar cells using a proprietary silicon ink it had developed. The solar cells are created by pouring an ink solution incorporated with silicon nanoparticles and then decanting the excess liquid to leave behind a crystalline silicon structure.
At the time of the 2007 announcement, Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Innovalight claimed its method not only resulted in solar cells that were cheaper to produce by as much as half, but that the crystalline structure resulting from the process made its cells more efficient at converting electricity.
Those claims now appear to be validated.
On Tuesday, Innovalight announced that an independent study of its method by the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems in Germany confirmed that its silicon ink-based cells "demonstrated a record 18 percent conversion of efficiency."
Shanghai, China-based JA Solar said the process will lower its production cost for this type of solar cell.
"Innovalight's silicon ink in conjunction with JA Solar's leadership in high-volume solar cell manufacturing with demonstrated yield, conversion efficiency, and low production costs, provides a very promising solution to enhance the conversion efficiency of solar cells utilizing our existing solar cell manufacturing lines," Qingtang Jiang, JA Solar's chief technology officer, said in a statement Tuesday.
JA Solar plans to further develop the process at its research and development plant in Yangzhou, a city on China's coast about 630 miles south of Beijing.
Suntech Power said Wednesday it has outdone itself by setting a new world record for multicrystalline silicon solar panels that could convert 16.53 percent of the sunlight that fall on them into electricity.
The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems in Germany measured the efficiency, an independent verification that is crucial for Suntech to stake the claim.
Just last month, the Chinese company said it had broken a 15-year-old record held by the Sandia National Laboratories by achieving 15.6 percent efficiency with its multicrystalline silicon panels. Sandia's measured at 15.5 percent.
The solar panels used for both tests made use of Suntech's Pluto cells, a new product that the company began shipping earlier this year.
The underlying technology for Pluto came from research at the University of New South Wales in Australia, where Suntech's CEO, Zhengrong Shi, earned his Ph.D. in electrical engineering and where he was a researcher for years. The company's chief technology officer, Stuart Wenham, also is a professor and research director at the university.
Suntech is eager to distinguish its Pluto cells from the host of other competing products in the market today. Most of the solar cells on the market today use silicon, and multicrystalline silicon cells are more common than the more expensive monocrystalline silicon cells.
Boosting Pluto's efficiency is key to making it attractive to buyers and in lowering its production costs. It should be noted that efficiency records touted by solar companies tend to refer to the best that they can produce, rather than what they could roll out of factories consistently.
Whether the costs are low enough for Suntech to put a competitive pricing on its solar panels remains to be seen.
Deploying a new technology requires new equipment and efforts to fix manufacturing glitches that typically crop up early on, and those factors generally make the initial volume of products more expensive.
In August this year, Shi told financial analysts that the company had to overcome an automation problem with assembling Pluto cells into panels, an issue that prompted Suntech to lower its shipment forecast (see Suntech: Chinese Market No So Large This Year).
In March, Suntech said it expected to ship 50 megawatts of panels featuring the new Pluto cells by the end of 2009.
Now it expects to ship 10 megawatts to 15 megawatts instead. The company had installed 100 megawatts of cell production capacity by the end of the second quarter.
The company is set to have both 300 megawatts of cell production capacity and panel assembly capacity by the end of this year, Wenham said earlier this year.
Before launching Pluto, Suntech, which is one of the largest solar panel makers in the world, had already built 1 gigawatt of production capacity with its older technology. The company plans to convert existing lines for producing Pluto cells and panels.
Although Suntech has manufacturing might, it still faces fierce competition from fellow silicon solar cell and panel makers such as SunPower, Sharp and SolarWorld.
Silicon prices have fallen by as much as 50 percent over the past year, making it possible for companies to wage a price war in key markets such as Europe.
The competition has been so intense that some Germany solar companies and lawmakers have rallied for policies to deal with what they believe are artificially low prices set by some of the Chinese companies to flood the German market, which is the largest in the world.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
A press release from Cincinnati Sub-Zero highlights an interesting new testing chamber for solar panels.
CSZ's new solar panel testing chambers can provide up to 66% energy saving using CSZ's patented Tundra system. These chambers meet the temperature cycling, damp heat and humidity freeze test specifications for solar panel testing.
Cincinnati, OH September 17, 2009 -- Cincinnati Sub-Zero (CSZ) will be releasing their Solar Panel Test Chamber, model SPH-100 with over 2,800 liters of workspace. The test chamber is designed to accommodate multiple solar panels for testing all three sections of the IEC temperature cycling, humidity freeze and damp heat test specifications. Available with a temperature range of -45°C to 190°C and humidity range from 20% to 95% RH. Chambers are designed to accommodate up to ten 3' x 5' (91cm x 152cm) solar panels with a floor load rating of 600 lbs (272 kgs).
These state-of-the-art environmental chambers are designed for increased performance, energy efficiency, ease of service, reduced utility and maintenance costs. Documented energy savings of 47-66% are obtained by using CSZ's proven & patented Tundra system.
System includes CSZ's advanced EZT-560i controller for easy operation & virtual control. Standard features include data logging, data-file access via USB stick, Ethernet control and monitoring, alarm notification via email or phone message, data-file backup, and more. Product is available for sale worldwide. Smaller and large size models are available to accommodate various size solar cells & panels.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
"This 15% increase in efficiency (going from 15 or 16% to 18%) is a big cost lever," says Craig Lund, 1366's director of business development. "It effectively will cut costs by 15% across the entire supply chain," he explained. "This is because you have fewer module racks, workers, etc. to deliver the same amount of power."
1366 Technologies is far from the only company to develop high-efficiency solar cells. Sunpower produces solar cells that are at least 20% efficient, and Kyocera's multicrystalline models are over 18% efficient. But 1366 claims that its cells are cheaper to make, with a production cost of just 80 cents per watt--little more than the price of electricity (read: coal power) during peak hours. And while thin-film panels boast low prices now, 1366 is betting that shortages of materials necessary for thin film production, including indium, telluride, and cadmium, will become a problem in the future. Silicon, in contrast, is in no danger of running into a shortage.
1366 is designing machines to produce its solar cells now, with commercial production expected in less than two years. The company is also in talks with a number of major solar cell companies that hope to license its technology.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Ideas for conserving energy and tapping into renewable energy sources are all the rage right now as people look for ways to cut their power bills—and help save the planet. With oil reserves dropping, developers and scientists are also in a rush, looking into ways to optimize the use of renewable or alternative forms of energy. From satellites in space down to pedestrians on the street, some green energy ideas are so wacky that—they just might work.
Out of thin air
For over 700 years, people have captured the energy from the wind in only one way: by going around in circles. One of the oldest accounts was from Hammurabi, the Babylonian emperor, who planned to use it in the 17th century BC for his irrigation project, which for the time seemed to be ambitious.
More ambitious are the plans of a Michigan-based startup to develop a new wind energy device that would be able to generate electricity without the moving parts of a wind turbine. The company calls their technology “Aerovoltaic generation” and people are expecting it to be something big.
They claim that their device can harvest electricity at twice the rate per square meter of a photovoltaic solar panel, as stated in the Michigan Business Review. How exactly this works is still under wraps until the release of a prototype next year.
Inspired by nature
Leaves sure are a natural wonder. Plants use it to convert sunlight into energy efficiently to stay alive through photosynthesis. Now scientists are racing to create artificial leaves and trees to power our lives as well.
One of them is London-based Solar Botanic Ltd (SB). Their design uses nano-engineered photovoltaic (PV) leaves that they claim are able to pick up any light, from the visible spectrum to the invisible spectrum, like infrared. The leaf is also made of thermovoltaic materials that enables the leaf to produce electricity even long after the sun has set.
The twigs and branches of the artificial tree are not just for show. Equipped with nano-piezoelectric elements (which produces an electrical charge when stress is applied to them), it produces thousands of picowatts of energy whenever the leaves flap in the wind or rain. A picowatt is one-millionth of a microwatt. The stronger the wind, the more energy the tree can produce.
According to SB, a kilometer can occupy around 70 wind-solar trees which could generate approximately 350,000 kilowatt-hours per year. That is enough electricity to power approximately 60 houses. It also protects the environment by preventing the release of up to 500 tons of CO2 annually.
Vibrations from passing trucks, the rumbling of speeding trains and even the footfall of trudging commuters in a busy city are often seen as an urban nuisance. But a London-based architectural firm says that opportunity lies in the urban jungle.
Facility:Innovate, a sister company of The Facility, says that movement associated with footsteps or transport vibration could be captured and converted into electricity. To capture heel-power from pedestrians, floors are wired with hydraulic compression cushions. Every footstep pushes fluid through a micro-turbine, generating power that is stored in a super-capacitor.
Conversely, vibrations caused by crisscrossing vehicles could be harvested to power light fittings by using a magnetic beam and a coil arrangement. The beam vibrates in tune with the ambient vibration within the generating coil. This electricity is then used to power the LED installed.
The BBC said the Victoria underground station in central London was estimated to have 34,000 travelers passing through every hour which could power 6,500 light bulbs using the technology.
Space: Energy’s next frontier?
Some researchers think the an¬swer to our energy needs rests in the stars. Even if solar power is at our fingertips, scientists see benefits in looking up, literally, for inspiration. Aside from the more obvious reason of avoiding the large land-use footprint of most solar arrays, the sun actually does shine brighter in space. In this case, five times as much powerful.
PowerSat, based in Washington, is one such company that pioneers in space solar power introduced by American scientist Peter Glaser in 1968. It works by sending solar power satellites, called Powersat, clustered into groups of 300 keeping pace with the earth’s orbit. Each Powersat satellite is made up light weight PV solar panels that are as thin as aluminum foil and are printed on one-micron-thin titanium.
Electricity is beamed down to earth via wireless power transmission. Hundreds of smaller satellites could team up to produce a very powerful transmission signal. The receiving station collects the power, which is then fed into a conditioning station and put directly onto the local power grid.
Unlike other sources of renewable energy, space solar power is not limited by geography, climate or even time of day being able to produce clean grid-quality electricity 24/7. The company says that Powersats are comparable to very large ground based energy plants in that they will produce a minimum of 2,500 megawatts (MW).
PowerSat Corporation estimates roughly US $3-4 billion for a 2,500 MW plant. This fares better than expensive large hydro projects or nuclear power plants of the same capacity. PowerSat said it is expecting to transmit power to commercial customers in 10-12 years.
In the end, while the sources of energy might be finite, the human capacity for innovation is not. We can hope that some of these innovations can actually work.
Monday, September 14, 2009
Call for Papers: American Society of Mechanical Engineers 2010 4th International Conference on Energy Sustainability
In case, some of you out there have a few good ideas to share... I found this news on The Green Economy Post...
The American Society of Mechanical Engineers will be hosting the 2010 4th International Conference on Energy Sustainability on May 17-22, 2010 in Phoenix Arizona. They invite researchers, engineers, scientists architects, consultants, and policy-makers in universities, industries, research laboratories, and government establishments to participate in this exciting event meant as a forum for exchange of innovative ideas, leading edge concepts, new technologies and devices, ongoing R&D efforts, prototype and demonstration projects, commercialization technologies and projects, and visions of the future related to the general theme of Energy Sustainability. The conference will consist of plenary talks, invited talks, panel discussions, workshops, tutorials, technical sessions, poster presentations, and exhibitions. The conference provides a unique opportunity for communication and collaboration between academia, industry and planners in the areas of Solar Energy, Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy and Advanced Energy Technologies. The Conference will feature a special track for students interested in solar and energy efficiency consisting of technical and poster sessions, networking, and a job fair.
Papers accepted for publication in the ASME Energy Sustainability Conference Proceedings will be assessed for recommendation for publication in the ASME Journal of Solar Energy Engineering or the ASME Journal of Energy Resources Technology. Abstracts are invited in any relevant policy and technology areas including the following:
* Track 1 Policy, Education, and Legal Aspects of Energy
* Track 2 Climate Control and the Environment Biofuels
* Track 3 Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Energy Technologies
* Track 4 Energy Systems: Design, Integration, Implementation
* Track 5 Renewable and Alternative Energy Technologies
* Track 6 Low/Zero Emission Power Plants & Carbon Sequestration
* Track 7 Transportation Energy Systems
* Track 8 Micro and Nano Technologies in Energy Systems
* Track 9 Exergy applications: Sustainability, Renewable Energy
* Track 10 Geothermal Energy, Ocean Energy & Other Emerging Technologies
* Track 11 Thermoeconomic Analysis
* Track 12 Combined Energy Cycles, CHP and CCHP
* Track 13 Solar Thermochemistry
* Track 14 Solar Heating and Cooling
* Track 15 Advances in Solar Buildings and Conservation
* Track 16 Low/Zero Energy Buildings
* Track 17 Photovoltaics
* Track 18 Concentrating Solar Power
* Track 19 Advances in Solar Thermal Storage
* Track 20 Wind Energy Systems and Technologies
* Track 21 Water Desalination & Distillation Systems
* Track 22 Sustainable Cities and Communities
Submission of Abstract: September 30, 2009
Author Notification of Abstract Acceptance: November 13, 2009
Submission of Full-Length Draft Paper for Review: January 10, 2010
Author Paper Review Complete and/or Acceptance Notification: March 12, 2010
Submission of Revised Draft Paper: April 2, 2010
Submission of Copyright Form (1903): March 30, 2010
Copyright transfer forms are requested upon acceptance of the draft and prior to submittal of the final paper. Click here for details.
Submission of Final Paper: April 16, 2010
In accordance with ASME final paper requirements. Publication in the conference proceedings is not guarantted if materials are received after April 16, 2010.
Improvements to conventional solar cell manufacturing that could significantly increase the efficiency of multicrystalline silicon cells and bring down the cost of solar power by about 20 percent have been announced by startup 1366 Technologies of Lexington, MA.
Such cost reduction would make solar power more competitive with conventional sources of electricity. In sunny environments, this could bring the cost of solar down to about 15 or 16 cents per kilowatt hour, says Craig Lund, 1366 Technologies's director of business development. That's cheaper than some conventional sources of electricity, especially those used during times of peak electricity demand.
1366 Technologies has developed three processes that can be incorporated into existing solar cell manufacturing lines to improve cell efficiency. It has shown that these technologies can be used to produce multicrystalline solar cells that are 18 percent efficient at converting sunlight into electricity. The current industry standard for such solar cells is 15 percent to 16 percent, according to Joonki Song, a partner with Photon Consulting, based in Boston, MA, although higher efficiencies have been reported. The company has demonstrated the new technologies before, but only with very small, experimental solar cells in a laboratory. Now it's made full-size solar cells using the type of equipment used in large-scale manufacturing.
The key to the startup's technologies, however, isn't the efficiency that it's achieved, but how little that efficiency costs. Lund says that the new processes add only a few cents per watt to the cost of fabricating solar cells, but this investment leads to much greater cost savings in the final product. Improving the amount of power each solar cell generates lowers materials costs, solar module manufacturing costs (in which cells are assembled into solar panels), and installation costs. In the end, Lund says, the cost of an installed solar panel will be reduced by 50 cents to 80 cents per watt.
The new processes, which were invented by Emanuel Sachs, the company's chief technology officer and a professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, all increase the amount of light that solar cells can absorb.In a normal silicon solar cell, electrons generated in the silicon must make their way out of the material to produce an electrical current, traveling first to the top layer of the silicon and then along this layer to narrow silver lines called "fingers." The fingers then conduct the electrons to the busbars, two or three prominent silver bands seen on the surface of most silicon solar cells. These bands shade the silicon under them, reducing the amount of light the cells can absorb.
The first new process developed by 1366 Technologies produces grooved busbars that prevent light from being reflected out of a solar panel. Instead, the grooves causes light to be redirected along the glass on top of solar panels. That light can then be absorbed by unshaded areas of the solar cell.
The second process improves the cell's electron-conducting fingers. Although these silver lines are much narrower than the busbars, there are many more of them on a solar cell, and together they shade a significant portion of the silicon. Sachs developed a process for making much narrower lines without sacrificing their conductivity. Instead of using conventional screen-printing technology, his process involves etching troughs into the surface of the silicon and depositing silver particles into the troughs. Metal is then added to these particles via electroplating to build up the fingers. The trough keeps the lines narrow but allows the silver to be stacked relatively high, maintaining conductivity. Typically busbars and fingers shade 9 percent of a cell surface, 1366 Technologies says, but with the company's new processes, this shading can be reduced to 2 percent. Others have developed techniques for reducing shading, but these have been expensive.
The third process decreases the amount of light reflected off the surface of the cell's silicon by texturing its surface. This is an approach that's been taken by others, but the texturing is done in a very regular pattern that creates less surface area than other approaches. Surface area is a problem in solar cells, because electrons are often trapped at the surface of materials, Sachs says.
Because 1366 Technologies's processes can be incorporated into existing manufacturing lines, they could be adopted by solar cell manufacturers quickly and inexpensively, Sachs says. The company is working to further decrease the width of the silver fingers and improve the texturing, with the goal of reaching an efficiency of 19 percent.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Distributed energy generation, using a variety of renewable power technologies, is one of the most important tools for addressing the
challenge of meeting the world's growing electricity demands. Within the Renewable Distributed Energy Generation (RDEG) market, sub-utility scale solar photovoltaics (PV) systems are by far the largest and most significant segment. According to a recent report from Pike Research, the distributed solar energy market is poised for dramatic growth over the next few years, and the cleantech market intelligence firm forecasts that global installed capacity will approach 2.5 gigawatts by 2012, with annual system revenues surpassing $55 billion.
"Residential and commercial solar energy remains a subsidy-driven market, but we expect the reliance on government and utility incentives to subside over the next several years as cost structures improve with economies of scale," says senior analyst David Link, who authored the report. "The dependence on feed-in tariffs and other incentives will be far lower in Europe within 3-5 years and in the U.S. within 5-10 years."
Distributed solar PV growth has been spearheaded in recent years by markets such as Germany, Japan, Spain, and the United States. Pike Research forecasts that the U.S. will become the largest market for small solar energy installations by 2011, surpassing Germany.
Momentum is also strong in other European countries, and China and India show significant promise in the long term.
Friday, September 11, 2009
The US Department of Energy just gave $100,000 to upstart company Solar Roadways, to develop 12-by-12-foot solar panels, dubbed "Solar Roads," that can be embedded into roads, pumping power into the grid. The panels may also feature LED road warnings and built-in heating elements that could prevent roads from freezing.
Each Solar Road panel can develop around 7.6 kwh of power each day, and each costs around $7,000. If widely adopted, they could realistically wean the US off fossil fuels: a mile-long stretch of four-lane highway could take 500 homes off the grid. If the entire US Interstate system made use of the panels, energy would no longer be a concern for the country.
In addition, every Solar Road panel has its own microprocessor and energy management system, so if one gives out, the rest are not borked. Materials-wise, the top layer is described as translucent and high-strength. Inhabitat says it's glass, which seems odd, especially since Solar Roadways claims the surface provides excellent traction. The base layer under the solar panel routes the power, as well as data utilities (TV, phone, Internet) to homes and power companies.
Still, this is a ways away from actual implementation, seeing as a prototype has yet to be built. But we can be excited, right?