Tag Archives: clean energy

Why transparent solar cells could replace windows in the near future

No matter how sustainable, eco-friendly, and clean sources of energy they are, conventional solar panels require a large setup area and heavy initial investment. Due to these limitations, it’s hard to introduce them in urban areas (especially neighborhoods with lots of apartment blocks or shops). But thanks to the work of ingenious engineers at the University of Michigan, that may soon no longer be the case.

The researchers have created transparent solar panels which they claim could be used as power generating windows in our homes, buildings, and even rented apartments.

Image credits: Djim Loic/Unsplash

If these transparent panels are indeed capable of generating electricity cost-efficiently, the days of regular windows may be passing as we speak. Soon, we could have access to cheap solar energy regardless of where we live — and to make it even better, we could be rid of those horrific power cuts that happen every once in a while because, with transparent glass-like solar panels, every house and every tall skyscraper will be able to generate its own power independently.

An overview of the transparent solar panels

In order to generate power from sunlight, solar cells embedded on a solar panel are required to absorb radiation from the sun. Therefore, they cannot allow sunlight to completely pass through them (in the way that a glass window can). So at first, the idea of transparent solar panels might seem preposterous and completely illogical because a transparent panel should be unable to absorb radiation. 

But that’s not necessarily the case, researchers have found. In fact, that’s not the case at all.

Professor R. Lunt at MSU showing the transparent luminescent solar concentrator. Image credits: Michigan State University

The solar panels created by engineers at the University of Michigan consist of transparent luminescent solar concentrators (TLSC). Composed of cyanine, the TLSC is capable of selectively absorbing invisible solar radiation including infrared and UV lights, and letting the rest of the visible rays pass through them. So in other words, these devices are transparent to the human eye (very much like a window) but still absorb a fraction of the solar light which they can then convert into electricity. It’s a relatively new technology, only first developed in 2013, but it’s already seeing some impressive developments.

Panels equipped with TLSC can be molded in the form of thin transparent sheets that can be used further to create windows, smartphone screens, car roofs, etc. Unlike, traditional panels, transparent solar panels do not use silicone; instead they consist of a zinc oxide layer covered with a carbon-based IC-SAM layer and a fullerene layer. The IC-SAM and fullerene layers not only increase the efficiency of the panel but also prevent the radiation-absorbing regions of the solar cells from breaking down.

Surprisingly, the researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) also claim that their transparent solar panels can last for 30 years, making them more durable than most regular solar panels. Basically, you could fit your windows with these transparent solar cells and get free electricity without much hassle for decades. Unsurprisingly, this prospect has a lot of people excited.

According to Professor Richard Lunt (who headed the transparent solar cell experiment at MSU), “highly transparent solar cells represent the wave of the future for new solar applications”. He further adds that these devices in the future can provide a similar electricity-generation potential as rooftop solar systems plus, they can also equip our buildings, automobiles, and gadgets with self-charging abilities.

“That is what we are working towards,” he said. “Traditional solar applications have been actively researched for over five decades, yet we have only been working on these highly transparent solar cells for about five years. Ultimately, this technology offers a promising route to inexpensive, widespread solar adoption on small and large surfaces that were previously inaccessible.”

Recent developments in the field of transparent solar cell technology

Apart from the research work conducted by Professor Richard Lunt and his team at MSU, there are some other research groups and companies working on developing advanced solar-powered glass windows. Earlier this year, a team from ITMO University in Russia developed a cheaper method of producing transparent solar cells. The researchers found a way to produce transparent solar panels much cheaper than ever before.

“Regular thin-film solar cells have a non-transparent metal back contact that allows them to trap more light. Transparent solar cells use a light-permeating back electrode. In that case, some of the photons are inevitably lost when passing through, thus reducing the devices’ performance. Besides, producing a back electrode with the right properties can be quite expensive,” says Pavel Voroshilov, a researcher at ITMO University’s Faculty of Physics and Engineering.

“For our experiments, we took a solar cell based on small molecules and attached nanotubes to it. Next, we doped nanotubes using an ion gate. We also processed the transport layer, which is responsible for allowing a charge from the active layer to successfully reach the electrode. We were able to do this without vacuum chambers and working in ambient conditions. All we had to do was dribble some ionic liquid and apply a slight voltage in order to create the necessary properties,” adds co-author Pavel Voroshilov.

Image credits: Kenrick Baksh/Unsplash

PHYSEE, a technology company from the Netherlands has successfully installed their solar energy-based “PowerWindow” in a 300 square feet area of a bank building in The Netherlands. Though at present, the transparent PowerWindows are not efficient enough to meet the energy demands of the whole building, PHYSEE claims that with some more effort, soon they will be able to increase the feasibility and power generation capacity of their solar windows.   

California-based Ubiquitous Energy is also working on a “ClearView Power” system that aims to create a solar coating that can turn the glass used in windows into transparent solar panels. This solar coating will allow transparent glass windows to absorb high-energy infrared radiations, the company claims to have achieved an efficiency of 9.8% with ClearView solar cells during their initial tests.

In September 2021, the Nippon Sheet Glass (NSG) Corporation facility located in Chiba City became Japan’s first solar window-equipped building. The transparent solar panels installed by NSG in their facility are developed by Ubiquitous Energy.  Recently, as a part of their association with Morgan Creek Ventures, Ubiquitous Energy has also installed transparent solar windows on Boulder Commons II, an under-construction commercial building in Colorado.

All these exciting developments indicate that sooner or later, we also might be able to install transparent power-generating solar windows in our homes. Such a small change in the way we produce energy, on a global scale could turn out to be a great step towards living in a more energy-efficient world.

Not there just yet

If this almost sounds too good to be true, well sort of is. The efficiency of these fully transparent solar panels is around 1%, though the technology has the potential to reach around 10% efficiency — this is compared to the 15% we already have for conventional solar panels (some efficient ones can reach 22% or even a bit higher).

So the efficiency isn’t quite there yet to make transparent solar cells efficient yet, but it may get there in the not-too-distant future. Furthermore, the appeal of this system is that it can be deployed on a small scale, in areas where regular solar panels are not possible. They don’t have to replace regular solar panels, they just have to complement them.

When you think about it, solar energy wasn’t regarded as competitive up to about a decade ago — and a recent report found that now, it’s the cheapest form of electricity available so far in human history. Although transparent solar cells haven’t been truly used yet, we’ve seen how fast this type of technology can develop, and the prospects are there for great results.

The mere idea that we may soon be able to power our buildings through our windows shows how far we’ve come. An energy revolution is in sight, and we’d be wise to take it seriously.

California goes electric on school buses

The state of California is seen by many as the model to follow when it comes to climate action and clean energy. Now, it’s taken this a step even further by announcing it will replace more than 200 diesel school buses with new, all-electric school buses.

Credit: Torbakhopper (Flickr)

 

The California Energy Commission has awarded nearly $70 million to state schools to replace their buses, which will eliminate nearly 57,000 pounds of nitrogen oxides and nearly 550 pounds of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) emissions annually.

“School buses are by far the safest way for kids to get to school. But diesel-powered buses are not safe for kids’ developing lungs, which are particularly vulnerable to harmful air pollution,” says Patty Monahan, energy commissioner.

“Making the transition to electric school buses that don’t emit pollution provides children and their communities with cleaner air and numerous public health benefits,” she added.

Owing to a recent law, the state will have a zero-carbon electricity matrix by 2045 and Governor Brown issued an executive order to totally decarbonize economy by the same date. It’s a huge challenge considering that between 2006 and 2016 the economy grew 16%, the population expanded 9% and emissions were only reduced by 11%, according to a recent report.

California still has to face big challenges and one of the biggest is in the transportation sector, which accounts for 41% of the state’s emissions. According to official statistics, there are 32 million vehicles in operation for a population of 40 million, of which only 400,000 are electric.

Emissions from transportation have increased in the past four years, due to residents traveling further as a result of increasing property cost in the major cities. In addition, the number of public transport users has decreased in four out of five of the state’s biggest metropolitan areas.

Encouraging the use of electric vehicles instead of diesel-based ones could help point the state in a better direction. With that goal in mind, a California lawmaker, Phil Ting, recently introduced a bill that would increase state-funded electric car rebates up to as much as US$7,500, rising from today’s top rebate of US$2,500.

E-cars don’t emit climate-damaging greenhouse gases or health-harming nitrogen oxide and are quiet and easy to operate, leading governments to encourage the transition to them. But while they may seem like it, they are not the perfect solution to our environmental challenges.

If they are running on electricity produced by burning dirty fossil fuels, climate benefits are limited. Because of the complex batteries they use, it currently takes more energy to produce an electric car than a conventional one. And, disposing of those batteries creates an environmental hazard.

Under present conditions, the overall carbon footprint of a battery-powered car “is similar to that of a conventional car with a combustion engine, regardless of its size.” That’s the conclusion of a 2011 study by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IFEU) in Heidelberg.

According to a study by the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics, it takes more than twice the amount of energy to produce an electric car than a conventional one, largely due to the production of the battery. However, in the long run, that can be easily compensated through clean energy, which makes up for the production costs and makes electric buses extremely attractive.

Silently, Portugal just produced 100% of its electricity from renewables for a whole month

Unbeknownst to many, Portugal has become a leader in terms of renewable energy production. Thanks to its geographical location and ambitious, healthy policies, Portugal has consistently produced a sizeable part of its electricity through renewables. In March, massive rain brought a boom to renewable energy production, allowing the European country to produce more energy than it consumed through wind, solar, bioenergy, and hydro energy alone.

Portugal is both a sunny and a windy country, but policy played a key role in the development of clean energy. Image credits: Carlos Paes.

In 2013, renewables accounted for 25.7% of the country’s energy consumption. By 2016, that figure more than doubled, reaching 55.5%. In 2017, the figure dropped, largely due to a severe drought which affected the production of hydroelectricity. Now, the drought has ended, and hydroelectricity is pouring in.

According to Portuguese grid operator, REN, renewable energy output over the month reached 4,812GWh, surpassing the total energy needs, which are 4,647GWh.

“Last month’s achievement is an example of what will happen more frequently in the near future,” said the Portuguese Renewable Energy Association and the Sustainable Earth System Association in a report published last week.

“It is expected that by 2040 the production of renewable electricity will be able to guarantee, in a cost-effective way, the total annual electricity consumption of mainland Portugal.”

Of course, this is a reminder that sources of renewable energy can still fluctuate greatly, but even so, the overall trend is clear — Portugal is producing more and more clean energy, even though it is compensating here and there with fossil fuels. Essentially, the country has shown that 100% (or nearly 100%) clean energy production is not only possible, but achievable in a reasonable amount of time.

“There were some hours when thermal fossil power plants and/or imports were required to complement the electricity supply of Portugal,” the Portuguese Renewable Energy Association (APREN) reported. “These periods were nevertheless fully compensated by others of greater renewable production.”

It’s not the first time Portugal can brag about its renewable achievements. In 2016, Portugal ran on 100 percent renewable energy for 107 hours straight — for more than four days, the country was powered by solar, wind, and water (with minor contributions from bioenergy, geothermal, and wave power). The country also uses an interesting solution to address the matter of energy storage. Portugal combines wind and hydropower by using nighttime winds to pump water uphill. The water flows back through the generators when energy is needed  — the so-called Pumped-storage hydroelectricity, which is also employed by stations in other countries.

Portugal also enjoys a useful distribution of renewable energy potential, with the most wind capacity being located in the north, and the most solar potential in the south. However, solar energy is lagging significantly behind wind and hydro energy, though several large-scale photovoltaic projects are currently underway.

 

Light Bulb.

Green living at home: a list of techs to hack your house into clean energy

Society as we know it today couldn’t exist without energy. If you boil everything down, energy directly translates to how much we can shape the world around us into the things we want and need — houses, food, warmth, ZMEScience.

Light Bulb.

Throughout our history, we got this energy by burning stuff — first it was food in our muscles, followed by firewood, and modern times dawned with the burning of fossil fuels, then atoms. This way of going about it wasn’t such an issue while humanity used a little energy overall and the environment could absorb both the byproducts and our limited ability to alter it.

But today we churn out a lot of energy. There has been a huge growth in the amount of energy we can bring to bear towards this goal of crafting a cozy world for ourselves, and our effects and emissions scale accordingly. Natural systems today are left weakened by millennia of human exploitation, and all over the world they’re buckling under the pressure we place on them today — which, according to our needs and energy generation potential, is greater than ever. These systems can’t come anywhere near scrubbing all the CO2 our pursuit of energy releases, and they can’t regenerate because we take out more and more from them.

We’re already seeing the effects in the shape of climate change and environmental breakdown. We’re living better than ever before — but doing so at the expense of everything else on the planet.

This needs to change

The matter of fact is that we can’t go back to how things were. The industrial revolution changed our society drastically, and it was made possible by an energy revolution. We need a lot of goods today, on a level only mass producing on assembly lines can supply. We simply can’t make enough medicine, clothes, or any other type of goods, by hand, for everyone. But hypothetically, even if we all decided to tighten the collective belt, forgo the comforts of modern life and go back to pre-industrial levels of energy use, we couldn’t do it. And food illustrates best why.

The sprawling cities of today depend on foodstuffs being shuttled in to feed their inhabitants. But without factories, we wouldn’t have any fuel or spare parts. Which means there will be no equipment to till soils, only oxen and plows, no pumps for irrigation, no industrial fertilizers — just good old fashioned back-breaking work. We could fish or hunt, but only with ships and tools you can build by hand and which don’t use engines. Considering how depleted natural stocks of game and fish are today, this way of doing things would probably net us fewer calories than we’d put into it.

Overall, de-industrialization would translate into an immense drop in food production. Going down this line of thought, we’d have no way to transport our limited food from farms to market beyond what a human or pack animal could carry, no cement to make proper roads, and only a limited capacity to quarry stone to build half-proper roads.

Dirt Road.

Pretty practicable. Until it rains.

It keeps going on like this.  So, could we do it? Back in 2009, Jon Bosak of TCLocal looked at one question:

“If New York State produced what it did a hundred years ago, before the arrival of gasoline- and diesel-fueled equipment, could it feed its present population?”

Apart from his own not-exactly-exact but still illustrative calculations, Bosak draws heavily on two papers published by J. Peters et al. in the journal Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems between 2006 and 2008. His conclusion can be best summed up as ‘no’, even when considering “that we still had substantially more arable land than we actually do now” and that “the vastly greater resources of animal power available a hundred years ago” would still be available today.

The first of Peters’ papers take a more thorough approach looking at how dietary choices impact the carrying capacity of New York State, finding that it could support around 30% of its current population with radical changes in diet, and just 21% of its current population on a “balanced diet” (which still requires significant changes in diet) with the full means available today. The second one reinforces the findings of the first in broad lines, while also showing that NYS could theoretically reduce the farm-to-consumer distance far below its current average of 1300 miles (2100 km), but fully supplying its population with food would still require shuttling goods over great distances — which, in the absence of mechanical means, may not be feasible since food tends to spoil.

That’s not taking into account how the lack of goods, electricity, running water, and a myriad of other things we take for granted but require constant power to operate would impact society, production, transport, and communications. People would eventually stabilize into agricultural groups in farms and some actually impressive cities, maybe. But no power — no internet, no phones so you can’t order takeout. Light switches would basically be stress relievers and there’d be no running water. At the same time, we know that a business as usual model basically takes us the same way, so we need to make some changes.

Now that we have our “why,” let’s look at the “how”.

Clean sources of power

The lion’s share of the problem lies in how we source that power. Much attention has been brought to fossil fuels and greenhouse emissions lately as the effects of climate change become more wide-spread and more pressing. But even if these resources weren’t as dirty as they are they would still be finite, meaning we’d have to shift away from them at one point or face those problems we’ve talked about earlier.

It’s on our governments to fully detach industry from fossil fuels. Other stuff like electric cars or wind farms fall on the shoulders of the industry. But there are things each of us can do to make the world a little bit greener, one tiny step at a time. Here’re a few of the going-ons in the field of renewable energy which could power home without burning anything.

Solar

Solar Panels.

Solar energy has gained huge popularity with domestic users because it scales down really well, it’s relatively cheap to install and easy to maintain. It can also generate a lot of power — if you want to get a rough estimate of how well solar would work for you, Google can help. Some countries also offer compensation for any extra energy that consumers pour into the grid, meaning you can make a little money on the side. It’s also ideal for the tiny anarchist in you — solar panels only need a bit of sun to churn out energy, meaning you can bolt some on your car or even carry them around with you and have power wherever it’s sunny.

Sounds good? I know. Here’s how you can incorporate solar in your home:

Among other things they dabble in, Tesla is a big promoter of solar energy. Since merging with SolarCity last year, it has announced that their Solar Roof will power your home with clean energy and be cheaper than the average roof. Musk says the company can deliver at a lower price because the current roofing supply chain is “incredibly inefficient”.

They’ve also made huge progress in battery technology, which would allow the system to store power whenever the sun shines and keep waste to a minimum.

“The roof would be integrated with Tesla’s house battery system, allowing the roof to store energy for a longer time,” Andrei wrote about the system last year.

An alternative to Tesla’s tech are the inconspicuous solar panels that startup Sistine Solar has developed. These panels can display whatever color or image you want — so you can install them on your roof to match the tiles or use them to display an ad or logo at your business. They bring the benefits of regular solar panels while keeping your advertising/decorating space unaffected.

Sistine Solar Roof.

Image credits Sistine Solar.

If your crib somehow lacks roofing, fret not. We’ve also talked with Solar Window CEO John Conklin about their proprietary coating which can turn windows and other transparent surfaces into power-producing panels — churning out energy even from ambient or artificial light. The product isn’t commercially available just yet, but Conklin wants it to be something everyone can use.

“SolarWindow doesn’t rely on direct sunlight like normal PV does. Any coated side of the two buildings will generate electricity even just from diffused light,” he said.

“We don’t want this to be something only for the rich and powerful,” John said. “[SolarWindow] works with natural or artificial light so it’s not just sunlight. All that light coming from your fixtures, for example, can be used to generate power.”

These windows can be installed at home to produce some power, but they truly shine on larger surfaces where they can capture a lot of light. Still, between them, these technologies could provide for all your energy needs at least during the sunny parts of the year.

Wind

Wind applications aren’t the best for small users because they usually cost a lot of money up front. They also usually require large blades and are relatively maintenance heavy, since there are a lot of moving parts. For these reasons, wind power is most often employed in medium-large scale applications, such as the Dutch’s iconic windmills to sprawling wind farms which can power whole cities.

Wind Farm.

Image via Imgur.

Still, they do have a number of advantages. For starters, wind can potentially work around the clock, unlike solar which is obviously limited to daylight hours. A turbine typically churns out more power than a single panel and wind works really well to complement solar in temperate areas or replace it altogether in cold or windy regions. However, because of their price tag wind generators would be more attractive to communities rather than individuals or families.

But if you have around US$23,000 burning a hole in your pocket, the Wind Tree will keep the lights burning with artistic grace — and very silently. One major advantage of the Tree over other wind-harvesting methods is that it can work with wind speeds as low as 2 m/s, so it will “be active more than 280 days of the year, with a predicted power output of 3.1 kW,” Andrei explained.

“The steel tree stands 11 m (36 ft) tall and measures 8 m (26 ft) in diameter and the operation is completely silent. New Wind also believe that the trees could be hooked up to buildings via the main switchboard or connected to the grid with an inverter,” he adds.

Spanish startup Vortex Bladeless have also demonstrated an “asparagus” turbine that turns oscillating movements into electrical energy. The company boasted that its Vortex Mini costs only half what a conventional turbine would, required little to no maintenance since there were few moving parts, and is totally silent. It also looks cool. While the Vortex is limited in how much power it can generate (30% less than conventional systems), it can function in average wind speeds of between 3-15 m/s.

Altaeros BAT.

Image credits (c) Altaeros.

If you dream of taking a merry band of friends and living it out off-grid, the Altaeros BAT (buoyant air turbine) might be just the focal point your little community will band together — primarily to charge their phones. This flying wind turbine is designed to float up into the more powerful winds at higher altitude (about 1,000 feet) for up to 18 months at a time, potentially allowing it to produce more power than its land-locked counterparts.

There are three reasons why I’d primarily suggest the Altaeros to a community rather than an individual consumer. The first is the fact that it can produce way more energy than one single family needs. Secondly, it was designed primarily with isolated communities and disaster relief in mind, and you can get a lot of utility out of this thing.

“Besides generating power, these floating power plants can provide data coverage, cell service and local weather data and can be deployed in harsh weather conditions, so they serve multiple purposes,” Tibi explained.

But there’s also a caveat. The Altaeros is basically a fancy blimp. I haven’t been able to find any definitive numbers on its price but it stands to reason that manufacturing and installing the Altaeros would be cheaper than a regular turbine. Here comes the third reason, however: with a regular turbine, you can plop it down and it will produce power for 15, 20, maybe 25 years with maintenance. The BAT, on the other hand, has a hard cap of 18 months after it needs to to be refilled with helium in the best case scenario, where there’s no damage or leaking. The price of helium, however, has been rising steadily, although this is always subject to change based on the market. Altogether, this means the BAT should cost less up front but produce a ‘more expensive’ kilowatt-hour as it has higher running and maintenance costs compared to regular turbines.

Heat

Heat (in the form of temperature) is annoying because nature never gets it just right — there’s either too much or too little of it and it’s always changing. So the issue of heat has to be approached from a few angles: heating (getting more heat), cooling (getting rid of heat), insulating (holding onto the heat you have) and transforming waste heat into other useful energy types.

Direct exchange geothermal heat pump.

A direct exchange (dx) geothermal heat pump, one type of home geothermal application.

Geothermal is an awesome way to cover both heating and, in the case of very hot reservoirs, energy generation. It basically consists of drilling pipes deep into the ground and pumping water through them, which will come back up nice and hot. This is probably the most conventional and widest-used heat-based method of energy generation, but it (usually) suffers from pretty big upfront costs (since digging the wells is expensive) and it’s highly dependent on local geology, so it may not be implementable everywhere. On the upside, it’s almost maintenance-free and will generate a lot of power to keep your home or greenhouse warm and supplied with ample bathwater throughout the year.

One really cool thing Paris-based architect Stéphane Malka did to insulate an old residential building in the French capital was to cover it in “parasitc cubes” made of wood. These were mounted onto the structure to create a beautiful, blocky, comb-like facade which was further decorated with plants. The wooden parasites reduced the total energy expenditure on heating to almost a quarter, from 190KWh/sq. meter to 45KWh/sq. meter. It also extended “useful space horizontally through openings in the exterior” to boot.

Icelandic turf house.

A cozy turf house.
Image via Jeff and Terry.

Icelandic turf house design also makes for very well insulated buildings. Although the huts were designed from the ground up to maximize insulation, since Iceland can be a dreadfully cold place, you probably live somewhere warmer so even a modest turfing of your house’s walls will help keep the cold out. On the bright side, this type of house is literally dirt-cheap so if you’ve ever planned on building a vacation home but never got the money together, now’s your chance.

Ok so now you have all this heat on your hands, what can you do with it? Well, you could use it to power your fridge. One team of researchers from the Department of Prime Mover Engineering at the Tokai University in Hiratsuka, Japan, have developed a thermoacoustic engine which harnesses waste heat to cool things down. This ‘sound wave refrigerator’ can turn waste heat from  270 degrees C (518 F) upward into loud sound waves at resonant frequencies to compress gasses, cooling them down to a maximum of -107.4 C (-161.3 F).

If you live in a place where the summers are really warm and you miss all that heat during the winter, you’ll be glad to find out that Swiss engineers have put together a way you can pickle heat. The method relies on a concentrated sodium hydroxide (NaOH) solution which releases a lot of heat when it comes in contact with water. So you tap into the compound’s stored chemical energy during the cold months, and when summer comes around you leave the (now watered down) solution out in the sun to dry.

“This substance can be stored for several months, even years, between uses. And tanks of the stuff can be shuttled wherever they’re needed.”

NaOH heat storage.

This is what the system looks like in the lab.
Image credits EMPA.

Effectively, this allows you to ‘store’ the sun’s energy as heat for use whenever you need it. Currently still in the prototype phase, EMPA (the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research) is looking to create a compact version of the system for domestic use.

And in case your home is just too warm, a team of the engineers from Stanford University in Palo Alto has just the way to cool you down while expending zero energy — reflective roofs.

“[The team] placed a surface made up of seven layers alternating between silicon dioxide (SiO2) and hafnium dioxide (HfO2) onto a silicon wafer. At the very top, a thin silver coating was applied to act as a first line of reflection. The first four ultra thin layers of SiO2 and HfO2 reflect nearly all the rest of the energy that wasn’t reflected in the first place by the silver layer.” Tibi explained.

“Together, this stack reflects 97% of incoming radiation. The bottom three layers – two thicker SiO2 layers separated by a thick HfO2 layer – absorbed heat from below and radiated it.”

“When tested, even during full sunlight, the coating cooled surfaces below it by 5 degrees Celsius.”

You’ll be glad to hear that while not as effective, painting your roof white will also help alleviate a scorching day’s heat. Given that air conditioning accounts for 15% of all electricity consumed in the US, I’d say this is a pretty good place to start — cheap, simple, and huge stacking potential.

That’s our list of home energy improvements to keep an eye out for. Some of these are commercially available right now, others are almost there, and a few still need some polish. But if you’re looking to become energy self-sufficient and do your part in decarbonising our economies, they’re a good place to start.

Japan plans to make solar panels mandatory for all buildings

Japan shows us yet again that they are leading the world in terms of renewable energy, in taking a plan that would make solar panels mandatory for all buildings no later than 2030. The plan, expected to be unveiled at the upcoming G8 Summit in France, aims to show Japan’s resolve to encourage technological innovation and promote the wider use of renewable energy, the Nikkei daily said.

After the dramatic earthquake that struct Japan and the even more terrible tsunamis that followed and led to the situation at the Fukishima powerplant, Japan is running low on options for energy, which is probably the decisive reason why they are putting this plan into motion.

The huge installation of solar panels will bring a much needed grow in the amount of energy produced, and Japanese officials believe that this is possible because of the huge technological advances that will occur until 2030. Prime minister Naoto Kan is expected to announce Japan’s intention to continue operating nuclear plants after confirming their safety, the Nikkei said without citing sources.

Bill Gates explains on clean energy: China won’t lead the way

China’s attempts to move towards nuclear and renewable energy is admirable, but the US will be the driving force behind innovations and development, in the field of clean energy – that’s what Bill Gates told a sold out crowd at a Seattle breakfast, where the topic was climate change.

“China is very important and can be part of the solution here,” Gates said. “But as for the power to innovate in sciences, the U.S. still has the dominant position.”

Since his (partial) retirement from Microsoft, Gates has become significantly involved in the clean market field, and he has invested in several clean energy companies, including an innovative nuclear power company TerraPower. He obviously knows what he’s talking about, and he keeps giving out more and more speeches, which I warmly recommend you watch; this time, he really put the situation in China into perspective.

“For solar, a lot of the manufacturing is happening in China, but a lot of the innovation is taking place in the U.S. The innovation will happen where there are great universities” doing basic research, Gates said. “I know of 100 great new energy ideas. I’d say 70% of them are based here in the U.S.”

His remarks at a discussion hosted by the nonprofit Climate Solutions were carried in a live video feed on Grist.org. China is currently getting 2% of their energy from nuclear plants, and they plan to double this number by building more plants. However, when considering the fact that they intend to increase their power output 4 times in the next 20 years, this can only mean that they want to build more coal plants.

Gates said on numerous occasions that he hopes to bring down energy costs to half and dramatically reduce CO2 emissions.

“It’s not going to be easy to get wind up to 30%, or solar, or solar thermal. Nuclear’s difficulty is the cost of plants is very, very high,” he explained. “Given this uncertainty, we have to go full speed ahead on every one of them.”

Gates also gave a piece of advice for the US government, explaining why its role is crucial in the following years.

“The energy sector is going to be underinvested unless the government comes in.” He also called for the government to make its energy policy clearer. “Some days when I meet with scientists, I feel very optimistic,” he explained. “Then I step back and look at the politics” and that optimism fades.

After years of semisuccessful experiences with Microsoft and my personal computer, I can finally truly say that I’m beginning to love Bill Gates – I really am.

Solar-thermal flat panels up to eight times more efficient than existing technology

A typical solar thermal energy installation

Researchers from Boston College and MIT have managed to develop a new kind of thermo-solar technology by applying a new technique which involves high-performance nanotech materials arrayed on a flat panel – they’re results have proven to be as much as eight times more efficient than current solar thermo electric generators, at little to no advance in cost.

Thermo electric panels is a very expensive and difficult to implement technology, which requires huge installations of a number of panels and works simply with sunlight to heat water and produce thermal energy. Now, with this latest research in mind, the cost of developing huge solar-thermo installation might become worthwhile with its almost tenfold improvement in efficiency.

The team of researchers managed to do so by combining two new measures which enhanced electricity-generating capacity to solar-thermal power technology – better light-absorbing surface through enhanced nanostructured thermoelectric materials, which was then placed within an energy-trapping, vacuum-sealed flat panel.

“We have developed a flat panel that is a hybrid capable of generating hot water and electricity in the same system,” said Boston College professor of physics, Zhifeng Ren. “The ability to generate electricity by improving existing technology at minimal cost makes this type of power generation self-sustaining from a cost standpoint.”

Cheap and Efficient Solar Thermal Energy

I have great faith in this latest research, which might finally bring clean technology to veritable industrial usage and the masses, and also impact the rapidly expanding residential and industrial clean energy markets, according to Ren. Hot water and electricity, it’s all clean energy and now finally it might also become cheap, and expand to mass production.

“Existing solar-thermal technologies do a good job generating hot water. For the new product, this will produce both hot water and electricity,” said Ren. “Because of the new ability to generate valuable electricity, the system promises to give users a quicker payback on their investment. This new technology can shorten the payback time by one third.”

The report was published in the journal Nature Materials.

via physorg.