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.