Saturday, May 18, 2013

Australian Scientists Develop Printable A3-Sized Solar Cells

Solar energy sounds like a dream, but buying and installing the equipment necessary to harness the power of the Sun can be expensive.

But what if you could print your own solar panels?The researchers at Australia's Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium (VICOSC) — a collaboration between the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the University of Melbourne, Monash University and industry partners — have managed to print photovoltaic cells the size of an A3 sheet of paper. "There are so many things we can do with cells this size. We can set them into advertising signage, powering lights and other interactive elements. We can even embed them into laptop cases to provide backup power for the machine inside," said CSIRO materials scientist, Dr. Scott Watkins.

These cells produce 10-50 watts of power per m2, and could be used to laminate the windows of skyscrapers, giving them an additional source of power. Or they could be printed onto materials such as steel, meaning they could be embedded into roofs of buildings. Photovoltaic cells — the building blocks of solar panels — have been printed before, but the printing process was different.

For their printable solar cells, the VICOSC team used photovoltaic ink, a $200,000 printer, and techniques similar to those you'd use "if you were screen printing an image on to a t-shirt." One of the most important aspects of this approach, claims Watkins, is accessibility. "We're developing our processes to be able to use these existing printing technologies so that the barrier to entry for manufacturing these new printed solar cells is as low as possible," he said. More


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Rooftop Solar Owners vs Utilities – The Battle Begins

You don’t have to go too far into a document prepared by the US-based Edison Electric Institute (EEI) to realise what is at stake for centralised utilities from the threat of rooftop solar.

The EEI, a trade group that represents most investor owned utilities in the US, said solar PV and battery storage were two technologies (along with fuel cells and storage from electric vehicles) that could “directly threaten the centralised utility model” that has prevailed for a century or more.

How worried should they be? A lot, said the EEI. The ability of rooftop solar, battery storage and energy efficiency programs to reduce demand from the grid would likely translate into lower prices for wholesale power and reduced profits. Worse still, customers were just as likely to “leave the system entirely” if a more cost-competitive alternative is available.

“While tariff restructuring can be used to mitigate lost revenues, the longer-term threat of fully exiting from the grid (or customers solely using the electric grid for backup purposes) raises the potential for irreparable damages to revenues and growth prospects.”

In the US, utilities are now seeking to protect their business models by pushing hard against net metering and seeking to influence the pace and manner of deployment of other technologies and new energy market concept that don’t fit the decades old model.

In Australia, much the same has been happening. RenewEconomy reported on the concerns of utilities in this article last month. Feed-in-tariffs have been wound back, as they were supposed to have been as technology costs fell, but now the pendulum is swinging the other way, and utilities – with the apparent complicity of state-based pricing regulators – are now trying to extract as much revenue from solar customers as they can.

It is a dangerous game. Leading electricity executives and market analysts suggest the rollout of rooftop solar is inevitable and “unstoppable” – unless, of course, by regulation and changing tariffs.

Little wonder then, that solar consumers and rooftop solar providers are starting to organise themselves to protect the interests of individual consumers, and the industry as a whole.

In Australia, a new solar campaign initative known as “Solar Citizens” is being launched this week to ensure the interests of solar owners are protected from changes to laws and policies by power companies and governments.

Solar Citizens sees its mandate as helping existing and would-be solar owners to advocate for their rights as energy investors and aims to push for panels on every Australian rooftop.

Solar Citizens Manager Dr Geoff Evans says 2.5 million Australians now live under a solar roof (one million homes have rooftop solar PV systems), and have invested about $8 billion. Some forecasts expect those numbers to triple by 2020.

“That’s an amazing show of support for solar,” Evans said. “But to date, when the interests of solar owners have come under threat, there has been no way for them to come together and protect their interests. With Solar Citizens that will change.”

One of Solar Citizens initial targets will be Queensland, there the local competition authority has canvassed a range of controversial tariff structures that appear to favour government owned utilities over consumers, as RenewEconomy highlighted in March in this article, and again two days later. In other states such as NSW, individual homeowners have to negotiate with retailers to get a price for the power that retailer then sells to their neighbours.

“There’s a real power imbalance in those negotiations” said Evans. “The situations in NSW and Queensland highlights the trend we have seen across the country,” said Dr Evans. “We will soon be working on campaigns with solar owners in every state to make sure all Australian solar owners are ensured a fair go.”

“Network operators and energy retailers don’t want to see Australian’s take back control of the grid. They are making it harder for Aussies to go solar in order to protect their profits.

The Solar Citizens campaign is emerging in Australia just as solar companies in the US are organising themselves to counter the same potential threats to their business.

Last week, Bloomberg reported, SolarCity, Sungevity, Sunrun and Verengo, which accounted for the majority of US rooftop solar installations (most of which are financed by leasing arrangements)) formed a lobbying group called the Alliance for Solar Choice to combat efforts by “monopoly utilities” to quash programs that support renewable energy in 43 states.

The alliance is seeking initially to preserve net metering policies that require utilities to purchase surplus electricity at retail rates from customers with rooftop solar systems, and says it is responding to “the coordinated utility attack on net metering throughout the country.” More



Sunday, May 12, 2013

Bladeless, funnel-based wind turbine claims huge efficiency gains

As governments all over the globe continue inching towardrenewable energy sources, there continue to be a few sticking points. One company out of Minnesota claims to have a new wind power generation technology that can alleviate most of the world’s concerns. SheerWind says its Invelox system can operate in a wider variety of conditions and is up to 600% more efficient than traditional wind turbines.

Those large wind turbines you’re used to see dotting the skyline in rural areas rely on fairly swift winds to function. Invelox can generate power from winds as gentle as 1-2 MPH. It does this by capturing passing breezes in large scoops at the top of its 40-50 foot tower. The wind is funneled down toward the ground through an increasingly narrow space. When the air is compressed, it speeds up and is used to power a small turbine generator.

The claim that Invelox is six-times more efficient than a turbine is more than a little shocking, so SheerWind is trying to prove its case, but it’s currently doing so with internal testing (so keep that in mind). The company tested its turbine both with and without the Invelox cowling. When it compared the values over time, that works out to energy production improvements anywhere from 81-660%. The average was 314%, but it should be noted this is actually the advantage SheerWind’s turbine gets from being inside the Invelox system. It’s not quite a comparison with “real” wind power turbines.

Fuzzy math aside, the company says it has been able to produce wind power at a cost of $750 per kilowatt, including installation. This brings it in-line with the final cost of energy from natural gas and hydropower. The energy industry is all about value, so if the Invelox technology is legit, it’s going to be huge. Invelox takes up much less space than traditional windmills, and it poses little to no risk to birds or curious children. More


Thursday, May 2, 2013

Why Are We So Stupid ?

So it seems that global carbon dioxide levels will likely reach 400 parts per million within days.

And it didn’t even make the news here. This will be a level unprecedented in human history since our atmosphere has probably not contained so much C02 since the Pliocene Epoch which precedes any people by about 2 million years.

This forecast is based on data from the Mauna Loa Observatory (MLO) in Hawaii, a highly institution in such things.

How quickly we have changed things and how little action we are taking

Trying to get real action at a Federal level in the US seems to be about as plausible and sensible as trying to get some gun control.Seems we much prefer our own destruction.

So why are we so stupid ?

Why would we actually want to be the architect of our own demise. And take so many other species with us. Man is the only species that can do that.

Is it the same reason that gun control just simply does not take root in the US. That vested , strong, moneyed interests have got control of the political process and we are but mere puppets to their greed?

Or have we got some fundamental evolutionary flaw that means that we simply can’t see beyond the end of this month ?

Bad news guys- Governments are not going to fix this. In the case of the US Government it seems powerless despite the rhetoric. China actually seems to be pushing into a position of leadership.

But either way it comes down to each one of us. What is it that we love more than our kids, and grandkids? Is there anything ?

Well if not….you have no choice but to act. More