By: Ian Clover
Company claims new solar module prototype sets new world record for module-level efficiency based on mass-production technology. New HIT N330 high-powered module set to debut in U.K.
Mere days after U.S. solar company SolarCity claimed to have produced the world’s most efficient rooftop PV module – achieving 22.04% module-level efficiency – Japan’s Panasonic has raised the bar even higher with today’s announcement that it has produced a 22.5% efficient solar module based on mass-production technology.
The electronics giant revealed that its latest commercial-sized prototype panel has been produced using solar cells based on mass-production techniques, utilizing a 72-cell, 270-watt prototype that incorporates Panasonic’s enhanced technology that can be immediately scaled into volume production.
The panel’s 22.5% conversion efficiency was verified by Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), and builds upon the 25.6% efficiency record the company set in 2014 at cell level.
“The new panel efficiency record demonstrates once again Panasonic’s proven leadership in photovoltaics and our ongoing commitment to move the needle in advanced solar technology,” said Panasonic Eco Solutions Europe senior business developer Daniel Roca.
Panasonic will also introduce its HIT N330 solar panels to the U.K. market next week. The high powered modules are mass produced with a conversion efficiency of 19.7% module-level efficiency, and a nominal power output of 330 watts, making them – Roca added – ideal for mature solar markets going big on self-consumption.
“For solar installers, the HIT N330 represents the ideal complement to their existing Panasonic solar portfolio, delivering the missing tool to achieve more power on any roof, and to maximize BOS savings and lower installation costs,” Roca said.
Think of wind turbines and massive blades spinning above Kansas prairies or off Danish coastlines are probably what comes to mind, but Minnesota-based Janulus has developed something a little more portable. Having found crowdfunding success in 2014 with its 12-inch (30 cm) cylindrical vertical axis (Savonius) type Trinity wind turbine, the company is now returning to the well for an updated version that is available in four different sizes and switches between horizontal and vertical axis form factors.
Last year’s Trinity 50 wind turbine included an internal 15-watt generator with USB ports and would generate enough power in one hour from a 10 mph (16 km/h) breeze to charge a cell phone. Janulus (previously known as Skajaquoda, which proved too difficult for many to pronounce) has now redesigned the Trinity 50 to convert into a three-blade, horizontal type wind turbine with 50-watt generation that sits alongside three new additions – the Trinity 400, 1000 and 2500. These are basically larger versions with increasing size and levels of power generation, and which also convert from horizontal to vertical axis turbines.
The Trinity 2500, the largest of the line, is especially compelling for its power generation and portability. Standing at 39 inches (100 cm) without its 40-inch tripod stand unfolded, the unit weighs 42 pounds (19 kg) and comes with a 2,500-watt generator that charges a 300,000-mAh lithium-ion battery pack. According to Agust Agustsson, vice president of Janulus, the Trinity 2500, “generates and stores power to run small appliances or to charge your home, electric car and laptop, phone or other gadget.” Folded up in its cylinder tube carrying case, each Trinity fits easily in the trunk of an electric car.
Besides portability, other features of the Trinity wind turbines are their ease of use and low cost. Inverter, batteries and controllers are built in to the unit, while the wind turbine is essentially plug-and-play. This allows the Trinity to plug into a wall socket and convert the power it generates and stores to provide power to all other outlets – no electrician is required. The unit also switches automatically between charging devices from the battery or directly from the turbine, depending on how much electricity is being generated.
“We come from a country that is completely run on renewable energy,” said Agustsson of his native Iceland. “After spending a few years in the USA we witnessed both the high cost of electricity and the harmful effects of the carbon fuels used to create it. We built our first wind turbine to lower the energy bill and that was the beginning of the development process of the Trinity. We wanted to design a portable product that gave people easy access to sustainable energy.”
Wind turbines are especially advantageous for the company’s home in the upper Midwest of the U.S., with its long, cloudy winters and higher than average wind speeds. The minimum speed for the Trinity to work is 4 mph (6.5 km/h). Once speeds reach 25 mph (40 km/h), the turbine can be converted to the vertical setting.
The Trinity also comes with a smartphone app, which allow users to monitor the battery level, turn the blades on or off, see how much electricity is being generated as well as the historical data of wind and energy generated.
Agustsson expects the Trinity to begin shipping at the beginning of 2016 if all goes to plan. Pledge levels range from US$399 for the Trinity 50, to $5,999 for the Trinity 2500.
By: Andrew Tarantola
Current solar panel technology has enough trouble as it is converting sunlight into useable current, what with their paltry 20 percent average efficiencies. And it certainly doesn’t help matters that up to a tenth of every solar panel’s active collection areas are obscured from the sun by electrical leads called “contact fingers.” But researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have developed a novel workaround: they’re wrapping the finger contacts in little invisibility cloaks.
Like other invisibility cloaks, this system works to wrap light around the object. The fingers are still visible to the human eye — I mean, they’re not really invisible — but the light that hits the top of the contacts is redirected to the solar panel underneath through some tricky physics. The team is currently looking at two alternative methods for accomplishing this feat. The first method involves wrapping the fingers in a polymer coating with a precisely tuned refractive index. The other involves etching grooves into the fingers themselves that refract light around the components. Current computer models of both methods suggest that panel efficiencies would increase by about 10 percent should the contact fingers be made to disappear.
By: James Dulley
Dear Jim: We are empty-nesters and have decided to build our dream home. What are some of the most efficient home-construction methods? Severe weather is a concern in our town, so options that offer strength and ruggedness would be best. — Ian P.
Dear Ian: There are several relatively new home-construction methods that are much stronger and more efficient than typical insulated, wood framing built to code. Some of these methods use more than double the insulation value of typical framed walls and can even withstand hurricane- and tornado-force winds.
If you decide on a wood-framed house, use staggered, double-stud walls on 24-inch centers. This construction method not only provides double the insulation value, but by staggering the wall studs, it minimizes thermal bridges (direct, uninsulated heat flow paths from indoors to outdoors through the wood studs).
For a wood-framed home, install rigid foam wall sheathing on the exterior so that all of the lumber’s thermal mass is inside the insulation envelope. This can be covered with any type of exterior finish such as siding, brick or stucco. Use a relatively square or circular shape to minimize the exterior wall and roof area. With similar insulation levels, a wall that is twice as big as another will lose about twice as much heat. Generally, square and circular-shaped homes resist the forces of storm winds best. This is why animals typically build round nests and dens, which can withstand major storms.
“Stay-in-place” home construction uses concrete and rigid foam insulation; this method is efficient and strengthens the home. The insulation forms, which hold the wet concrete, are not removed, and they provide the insulation and substrate surface for installing the interior and exterior wall coverings. Wall insulation values are as high as R-40.
A similar method uses hollow foam blocks made to fit your home’s plans. The blocks are designed so there is an open cavity throughout the inside. Concrete is pumped into the openings at the top of the walls and flows throughout the blocks, creating a strong, efficient structure.
SIP (structural insulated panel) systems are a subset of standard foam insulated panels that have a thick foam core sandwiched between two rigid sheets of various materials. The standard panels are often used for the exterior walls to enclose post-and-beam-framed and steel-framed homes for some of the highest insulation levels possible.
The rigid sheets in SIP panels are unique because they are made of OSB (oriented strand board), which creates a strong, highly insulated panel. The panel is self-supporting and does not require additional basic wall framing. Once the panels are attached to the foundation and then connected, the SIP panels support themselves and the floors, ceiling and roof.
Steel-framed construction is an excellent method if strength is the goal. Steel is strong. Unlike lumber, it neither burns nor changes shape, and each steel piece is nearly identical. Also, much of the steel used today in home construction is recycled from scrap materials.
From an efficiency standpoint, steel is superior to most other framing materials. Although steel is not a good insulator, its strength allows for thinner studs and wider spacing. This leaves much more room for additional insulation inside the walls and fewer thermal bridges.
Efficient straw bale homes date back more than a century in the United States. When placed on its side, each three-string bale is about 23 inches wide. When packed to a normal density, it produces an insulation value greater than R-50. The bales are stacked and bolted to a concrete foundation with vertical threaded rods. Properly compressed straw bales are fire-resistant when the exterior is covered with materials such as concrete or stucco. Soft plaster and gypsum interior finishes are attractive and durable. The plaster has a comfortable feel and is easy to work with. When completed, straw bale homes look like any conventional framed house, other than the thick openings at windows and doors.
Although it may look unusual, a geodesic dome design makes for an efficient and strong home. The most efficient models are constructed with thick foam panels. Concrete is sprayed over the exterior, completely covering the panels and filling the gaps between panels for strength. Another plus: The spherical exterior allows high storm winds to flow smoothly over it without causing damage.
Entrepreneur Richard Branson outlined a vision of the world powered by renewable energy and said it would be “pretty dreadful” if a forthcoming UN climate summit is not a success.
“It would be, I think, pretty dreadful if we don’t have a big success in Paris,” the billionaire British founder of Virgin Group told a gathering of business leaders in New York.
The Paris conference will gather together heads of state and government from November 30 in a bid to crown a six-year effort by 195 nations with a post-2020 pact on curbing greenhouse gases.
He called for an end to subsidies for dirty fuels and oil drilling in the Arctic, and for a cap on coal and a carbon tax, saying that he was prepared to shoulder the short-term cost.
“Obviously I’ve got three airlines, it won’t be great news in the short term, but it definitely needs to see a global carbon tax,” the businessman said.
He urged governments and businesses to come up with big innovations to counter climate change. Money from taxing “dirty industries,” he said, should “go into a big innovation pot.”
“The end result by 2050,” said Branson “will be a world where we’re powered by sun, we’re powered by wind… we’re powered by other innovations.”
It would be a world, he said, where fuel would be cheaper than today to benefit hospitals and schools.
“Countries that are big oil producers, coal producers are going to have to adapt but the vast majority of the world will benefit. It will pull everyone out of poverty and it will be a really exciting world to aim for.”
Branson is one of Britain’s most high-profile businessmen, whom Forbes estimates to be worth $4.9 billion.
He is also co-founder of The B Team, a coalition of global business leaders working to advance the wellbeing of the planet.
Branson spoke on a panel of business leaders as the UN General Assembly in New York prepares to adopt Sustainable Development Goals, a new 15-year agenda to eliminate poverty.