New Leaf-Like Nano Surface Could Boost Solar Panel Efficiency

By: Darrell Etherington

We often look to nature for tips on how to build better tech, and few things in nature are better at harnessing the power of the sun than the leaves of ordinary plants. Researchers at the University of Oulu in Finland have discovered a way to build coatings that can mimic the surface of the leaves of plants, which could eventually lead to solar panels that lose less of their captured energy to reflection. And that could be very interesting to tech companies, including Tesla.

The new nano-scale surface can’t make solar panels receive any more light – but they can prevent more from bouncing off and failing to transfer their energy into a usable form. This could lead to an increase of up to 17 percent using the coating. And because of its size (researchers have created a coating with a thickness of only one millionth of a millimeter) and broad applicability, researchers say it can be applied to a number of materials, including glass and silicon, without altering their outward appearance.

Tesla unveiled its own glass solar roof tile earlier this year, and at the event during a Q&A with reporters after the main presentation, Tesla CEO Elon Musk noted that the company was pursuing tech that would do exactly what this Oulu research team has accomplished – enable panels to capture more of the light normally lost to reflection, in order to boost overall panel efficiency to beyond what’s possible even with traditional panels today.

The Oulu researchers suggest that even further increases in efficiency may be possible, since they can take the work they’ve done mimicking natural light-gathering surfaces and try to “exceed the results of evolution” by combining different applicable models.

Musk said that Tesla is working with current solar roof tile partner 3M on its future coatings, so this could be a process in development simultaneously in multiple organizations. But the tech, should it be commercialized, would do lots to help push the solar market forward, given the value of any significant efficiency increases in panel design.



5 Industries That Are Working to Help the Planet


The responsibility of keeping the planet healthy and green falls on the entire globe’s population. Despite this reality, only some of the world’s citizens are working to make a difference. Most of this work comes from specific industries that have made a commitment to look for greener and more sustainable practices. A variety of public and private sectors have focused on the future of the world and its potential. Here are five industries that are leading the way in working to help the planet.

1. Science
The industry that is pioneering the way in developing greener practices for the world is the science field. Within the sciences, individuals working in chemistry, biology, ecology, zoology, and other subjects have all realized the importance of sustainability for the future of the planet. One example of a science field doing its part is in the development of green chemistry. The chemical industry has spent a huge amount of money and resources on finding chemical solutions that are not harmful to the planet for society’s problems.

2. Health
The health industry is also working to transform some of its practices to help ensure the planet’s future survival. Researchers in the health and medical field are looking for new ways to improve the environment. When specific regions of the environment are contaminated with pollution, heavy metals, or other additives, the community’s health suffers. Graduate degree programs from institutions like
USC are working towards solutions to these and other public health problems.

3. Informatics
The future of things like medical care and the environment are also affected by the next industry that’s beneficial to the planet, informatics. Informatics uses data to help industry leaders make decisions about best practices. Data-based tools may help researchers find even better ways to solve the planet’s problems with pollution, overpopulation, and diminishing resources. Programs like
UC Online take a look at the role of informatics in the healthcare industry and examine the future of this promising field.

4. Technology
Those who work in the technology sector are also highly engaged in finding sustainable solutions for the world’s need for energy and other resources. Leaders in some tech firms have expressed an interest in developing new tools to help bring clean water, greener farming practices, and more energy-efficient vehicles to the world. Expect to see more innovations in renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar, and geothermal, in the future.

5. Education
The last industry that has taken cues from the others regarding being earth friendly is the education sector. Educators have taken the idea of sustainability and added it to their practices in teaching and facility management. With a rising student population of billions of young people, more educational districts are building and renovating their schools with greener features. Educational leaders are designing buildings equipped with recyclable materials, green roofs, sustainable energy sources, and other eco-friendly features. Teachers are taking the idea to heart and incorporating these practices into their lessons as they help mold the ideology of tomorrow’s population.

As many different types of industries work together to help preserve the health of the planet, more of the world’s citizens may take notice. Then, the future generation may inherit a healthier place to live.

Sponsored Guest Post


New Tool Prevents Conflict Between Wildlife and Renewable Energy

By: David Miller

WWF-Canada has developed a new tool to build habitat protection into the renewable-energy development process, so that conflicts with wildlife can be prevented before significant investments are considered.

Renewables for Nature, an interactive digital tool, makes it easy to identify areas where renewable-energy potential is high and conflict with nature is comparatively low.

While the tool is most valuable for renewable energy planners, I invite you dive in. Where would you put a solar or wind farm?

A tidal turbine being lowered into the Bay of Fundy. © Cape Sharp Tidal

A tidal turbine being lowered into the Bay of Fundy. © Cape Sharp Tidal

Why We Need This Tool
We witnessed a historic moment this week: Nova Scotia flipped a switch to allow the flow of electricity from an underwater turbine into the energy grid, proving it’s possible to harness the power of Bay of Fundy’s world-famous tides. This in-stream tidal demonstration project is now in the testing phase, with electricity flowing and scientists and fishermen watching carefully to measure effects on wildlife.

Widespread adoption of renewable energy from sources like this turbine is essential to slow climate change, a key threat to species and habitat the world over. In adopting green power, however, we risk harming the wildlife we seek to protect. A major wind project in Saskatchewan was halted recently out of concern for migratory birds. Others in Ontario were stalled to protect at-risk bat and turtle species. A small-scale hydro project in British Columbia is facing criticism for potential harms to the rare coastal giant salamander.

Across the country, stalled renewable energy projects show that a key piece of the clean-energy puzzle has been overlooked: The transition to renewable energy must be habitat friendly for the sake of all wildlife and the communities that depend upon them. The where Renewables for Nature comes in.

How it Works
Users hone in on a region and select an energy type. The mapping tool reveals areas with high energy potential and whether they are in low, medium, high or critical conflict with conservation and community needs.
While it doesn’t preclude the need for environmental assessments and effects monitoring, Renewables for Nature gives a degree of certainty to commercial-scale development before significant investments are made.

We chose New Brunswick and neighbouring Bay of Fundy as the region in which to pilot this tool, which incorporates 75,000 individual pieces of data on more than 700 at-risk species, plus 35 datasets covering environmental attributes and related community uses. We overlaid it all with potential for six energy types (wind, offshore wind, solar, tidal, hydro and biomass).

The result: simultaneous mapping of renewable energy economic opportunity and environmental values for the first time in Canada.

What’s Next
Adoption of this habitat-friendly approach will help prevent conflict with communities, speeding the transition to a low-carbon future in a way that protects biodiversity while positioning Canada as a world leader in renewable energy development.

With another warmest year on record globally, and Arctic sea ice at a record low, it’s critical that we all act to speed the transition to a low-carbon future. WWF-Canada is proud to share a tool that will make that shift smoother and faster, and eager to extend this approach to the rest of Canada.



India Unveils the World’s Largest Solar Power Plant

The country is on schedule to be the world’s third biggest solar market next year.

Images have been released showing the sheer size of the new solar power plant in southern India.

The facility in Kamuthi, Tamil Nadu, has a capacity of 648 MW and covers an area of 10sq km.

This makes it the largest solar power plant at a single location, taking the title from the Topaz Solar Farm in California, which has a capacity of 550 MW.

The solar plant, built in an impressive 8 months, is cleaned every day by a robotic system, charged by its own solar panels.

At full capacity, it is estimated to produce enough electricity to power approximately 150,000 homes.

The project is comprised of 2.5 million individual solar modules, and cost approximately $679m to build.

The new plant has helped nudge India’s total installed solar capacity across the 10 GW mark, according to a statement by research firm ‘Bridge to India’, joining only a handful of countries which can make this claim.

As solar power increases, India is expected to become the world’s third-biggest solar market from next year onwards, after China and the US.

Despite the fast-growing solar power industry, India will still need to increase its take-up of solar panels if it is to achieve the ambitious targets set by the government.

By 2022, India aims to power 60 million homes by the sun. It is part of the Indian government’s ambitious targets to produce 40 percent of its power from non-fossil fuels by 2030.

This goal has been praised by environment groups and is hoped will also help reduce the country’s problem with air quality. At the beginning of this month, the pollution in New Delhi reached its worst levels in 17 years.



Solar Power Could Become Cheaper and More Widespread

  • WSolar cells can be made with tin instead of lead, Warwick scientists find
  • Breakthrough to make solar power cheaper and more commercially viable
  • Solar power could be used in mobile phones, laptops and cars

A breakthrough in solar power could make it cheaper and more commercially viable, thanks to research at the University of Warwick.

In a paper published in Nature Energy, Dr Ross Hatton, Professor Richard Walton and colleagues, explain how solar cells could be produced which are more adaptable and simpler to produce than their current counterparts.

This could lead to a more widespread use of solar power, with potential uses in products such as laptop computers, mobile phones and cars.

Solar cells based on a class of semiconductors known as lead perovskites are rapidly emerging as an efficient way to convert sunlight directly into electricity. However, the reliance on lead is a serious barrier to commercialisation, due to the well-known toxicity of lead.

Dr Ross Hatton and colleagues show that perovskites using tin in place of lead are much more stable than previously thought, and so could prove to be a viable alternative to lead perovskites for solar cells.

Lead-free cells could render solar power cheaper, safer and more commercially attractive – leading to it becoming a more prevalent source of energy in everyday life.

The team have also shown how the device structure can be greatly simplified without compromising performance, which offers the important advantage of reduced fabrication cost.

Dr Hatton comments that there is an ever-pressing need to develop renewable sources of energy:

“It is hoped that this work will help to stimulate an intensive international research effort into lead-free perovskite solar cells, like that which has resulted in the astonishingly rapid advancement of lead perovskite solar cells.

“There is now an urgent need to tackle the threat of climate change resulting from humanity’s over reliance on fossil fuel, and the rapid development of new solar technologies must be part of the plan.”

Perovskite solar cells are lightweight and compatible with flexible substrates, so could be applied more widely than the rigid flat plate silicon solar cells that currently dominate the photovoltaics market, particularly in consumer electronics and transportation applications.

The paper, ‘Enhanced Stability and Efficiency in Hole-Transport Layer Free CsSnI3 Perovskite Photovoltaics’, is published in Nature Energy, and is authored by Dr Ross Hatton, Professor Richard Walton and PhD student Kenny Marshall in the Department of Chemistry, along with Dr Marc Walker in the Department of Physics.