Dec
4
2018

Upcycled R.I. Waste Sites Now Produce Solar Power

This solar panel field in West Kingston, R.I., is located on a capped waste disposal site. It was developed and is owned by Kearsarge Energy as part of the South Kingstown Solar Consortium, which includes the towns of Narragansett and South Kingstown and the University of Rhode Island. (Nora Lewis/URI)

The University of Rhode Island and the towns of South Kingstown and Narragansett have created the South Kingstown Solar Consortium to develop an ambitious solar-energy project that will boost the amount of renewable energy flowing into the regional power grid.

In the works for more than three years, the project is among the largest solar power initiatives in New England. When complete, it will cover 267 acres in West Kingston, South Kingstown and West Greenwich.

URI and its private, municipal, and state partners unveiled details of the initiative at a Nov. 29 ribbon-cutting ceremony for the West Kingston and South Kingstown sites. A similar celebration is planned for the West Greenwich site when it becomes operational.

The consortium solicited proposals from private developers to build and maintain the solar facilities at no net cost to members. It signed 25-year contracts with Kearsarge Solar to develop the West Kingston and South Kingstown sites, and with Energy Development Partners to develop the West Greenwich site.

The capacity of the installations is 40 megawatts, which is expected to deliver 48,000 megawatt-hours of energy to the grid annually — enough energy to power 750 homes and offset the fossil-fuel consumption of 1,500 cars.

The project is also an excellent example of upcycling — a superior secondary use of a product or material, in this case, the land. Of the 42 acres at the West Kingston and South Kingstown locations, 28 are non-farmable, capped waste disposal sites: the former South Kingstown town dump and URI disposal area on Plains Road in West Kingston; and the onetime South Kingstown/Narragansett dump on Rose Hill Road in South Kingstown.

The initiative is a “virtual net metering project,” in which the solar energy generated flows into the electrical supplier’s grid rather than being directly used by any one of the consortium partners, according to David Lamb, assistant director of facilities services and utilities at URI.

State law requires that developers of such projects must be able to offload net metering credits to a public or quasi-public entity; in this case, the consortium members. The value of credits issued is determined by the number of kilowatt-hours generated by the solar facilities times the Public Utilities Commission set rate applicable to solar-generated electricity.

“We are supporting the development of renewable energy that will be supplied to the grid and, in turn, the consortium members receive credits that will reduce costs on their monthly utility bills,” Lamb said.

URI expects to receive credits worth $1.2 million in savings annually on its electric bill when all the sites are operational, according to J. Vernon Wyman, the university’s assistant vice president of business services.

As a consumer of more than 75 million kilowatt-hours of electricity a year, which translates to an annual electric bill of roughly $9.4 million, the university provides its town partners with the assurance that they can transfer their net metering credits to URI if they one day consume less energy than their share of what is generated, alleviating their long-term financial risk while further reducing URI’s energy costs.

For the first 10 years of operation, the private developers receive renewable-energy certificates for the electricity generated that they can trade or sell to offset their costs. The credits are non-tangible commodities, with each one worth one megawatt-hour of electricity generated from a renewable source. In the 11th year of the contracts, these renewable-energy certificates transfer to the consortium members.

“The value of collaboration through the consortium is the ability to manage our consumption and maximize the benefits for the members,” Wyman said.

The West Kingston site includes 14 acres of adjacent open land owned by URI. The solar panels at this location, as well as at the West Greenwich location, which includes a former sand and gravel operation, will be installed on pile-driven structures. All locations will be surrounded by high fences.

Courtesy: https://www.ecori.org/renewable-energy/

Dec
2
2018

New Brilliant Iron Molecule May Be the Key to Cheap Solar Energy

The novel molecule can function both as a photocatalyst to produce fuel and in solar cells to produce electricity, replacing the expensive and rare metals in use today.

New Brilliant Iron Molecule May Be the Key to Cheap Solar Energy
Photo Courtesy: Nils Rosemann

Scientists are looking at some of the most unlikely sources for energy production, partly motivated by academic and research objectives, and partly to create a new framework of energy production and extraction.

Though some raise eyebrows due to perceived feasibility challenges like China’s artificial sun ambitions, or the device that was developed to convert exhaust into renewable energy, the sheer number of examples of creative energy generation are truly inspiring.

Now, researchers have produced an iron molecule with photocatalytic promise, and it could provide large benefits in terms of both (1) electricity generation in solar cells and (2) fuel production. As iron is a more plentiful and cheaper to supply source of metal, this will also have an impact in the industry.

Advanced Molecule Design Leads to Progress

A growing body of research in the last decade has shown the strong potential that other metals can have in photocatalysis, with scientists focusing on iridium and ruthenium more and more “due to the access they provide to new synthetic spaces through new reaction mechanisms”. The challenge, however, lies in how rare they both are.

The team produced its results by altering their approach to the molecular coordination, which allowed them to create an iron molecule that resulted in iron-based light that was observable at room temperature, a first in science, although their work builds on previous studies in the same area.

“The good result depends on the fact that we have optimized the molecular structure around the iron atom”, explains colleague Petter Persson of Lund University, who was also part of the study.

Next Steps in the Research

A revised, or expanded, roadmap of solar energy production could be in the works, according to the researchers. This could also mean developments in another number of areas which rely on iron molecules.

“Our results now show that by using advanced molecule design, it is possible to replace the rare metals with iron, which is common in the Earth’s crust and therefore cheap”, says Chemistry Professor Kenneth Wärnmark of Lund University in Sweden.

Beyond the promising potential of the iron molecule, the fact that the breakthrough came now is what surprised the researchers the most. Wärnmark summed it up best when he said, “We believed it would take at least ten years.”

Still one wonders, however if, given the rate at which we are consuming materials, that one day a similar team will be announcing a cheaper alternative to the very rare iron.

This research serves as good news in the sense that, although we are aware of the powerful and undeniable benefits of solar energy, we must also ensure that the materials behind the technology also support a realistic and sustainable vision. With no end in sight to the momentum behind solar energy, this breakthrough is an important step.

Details about the study appear in a paper, titled “Luminescence and reactivity of a charge-transfer excited iron complex with nanosecond lifetime”, which was published November 29th in the Science journal.

Courtesy: https://interestingengineering.com/

Nov
30
2018

A New Record Breaking, Flexible Solar Cell Could Power Cities of the Future

A major stride towards solar-powered urban areas.

By: Danny Paez

Traditional photovoltaic solar cells are getting relatively effective at converting light to electrical power. These usually silicon-based devices already power millions of homes around the world. But they are also frustratingly rigid, which makes it difficult to incorporate them into packed, heterogeneous urban environments. To solve the problem, a team of researchers has developed a flexible solar cell that recently broke an efficiency record in its category.

It’s called a solution-based organic single-junction solar cell, which means it’s made of two types of two different layers of polymer deposited on a bendable film. Scientists at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany and the South China University of Technology were able to achieve 12.25 percent conversion efficiency on a surface area of one square centimeter, a notable step up from the previous 9.7 percent record. The group published their results in the journal Nature Energy.

Conventionally-used photovoltaic cells are still largely winning the conversion competition, with a maximum theoretical efficiency of 29 percent. But improved flexible solar cells offer a compelling trade-off: That they’re flexible means that we could one day have buildings in densely-packed cities literally wrapped in a layer of solar panels. Being able to cover much more surface area could make up for what the cells presently lack in efficiency.

Solar farms have proven useful, but take up a lot of space to be fully effective.

Massive solar farms from China to California have revolutionized how we can make use of the incredible amount of light energy the sun beams at Earth every day. But these kinds of arrays are astronomically expensive and require vast swaths of unused land.

The flexible alternative presented by this research uses fewer materials — thus bringing down manufacturing costs — and can be implemented over existing infrastructure. Dr. Ning Li, a materials scientist at FAU, said this collaborative effort has found a formula that will likely lead flexible solar cell research moving forward.

“I think the best way to describe our work is by imagining a box of Lego bricks’, explained Li. “Our partners in China inserted and adjusted single molecular groups into the polymer structure and each of these groups influences a special characteristic that is important for the function of solar cells.”

Future skyscrapers could be embedded with flexible solar panels.

The next step for this project is to develop a larger prototype to begin testing. These flexible cells won’t replace reliable silicon-based cells, instead, they’ll complement them. Rural and suburban homes with more space will probably continue using highly-efficient, but rigid cells. But when future skyscrapers move imperceptibly to accommodate the wind, the solar panels of the future could some day bend along with them.

Courtesy: https://www.inverse.com/

 

Nov
28
2018

Renewable Energy Might be Able to Green a Desert

Wind turbines and solar panels appear able to boost nearby rains — and plant growth

By: Alison Pearce Stevens

Large wind and solar farms could change the amount of rain in nearby areas. ZHAOJIANKANG/ISTOCKPHOTO

Wind turbines and solar panels that create electricity are examples of environmentally friendly — or “green” — technology. A new study finds that these forms of renewable energy might be green in another sense, too. Large collections of those turbines or so-called farms of solar panels appear capable of bringing rains to the desert. And that would allow more plants to grow.

Eugenia Kalnay is an expert on weather and climate. She works at the University of Maryland in College Park. She also has worked for the National Weather Service and NASA. In each place, she has used computers to model weather and climate. Such models help scientists understand how temperatures and rain might change over time. Day-to-day changes are known as weather. Longer-term patterns, such as seasonal trends that persist for years, describe a region’s climate.

Wind turbines and solar panels can change how air moves. As winds move through the spinning blades of a turbine, some of their power is converted to electricity. This weakens those winds. Turbines may also change the path of the winds, directing some share of them around the outside of the wind farm.

Both technologies also can affect nearby temperatures. Solar panels can raise the adjacent temperature by 3 to 4 degrees Celsius (5 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit). Turbines also boost temperatures, largely by keeping the nights warmer. Warm air rises. If it rises high enough, and holds much water vapor, it could eventually condense into clouds that produce rain.

In these ways, wind and solar farms could affect climate. But would the changes be large enough to matter? That’s what Kalnay and others wanted to know. Their new computer models show that a mix of these energy technologies might boost rainfall and eventually transform deserts into plant-rich areas.

Putting it to the test

Kalnay teamed up with Safa Motesharrei, a systems scientist at Maryland. Systems scientists study how complex systems, such as climate, function. The Maryland pair recruited Yan Li, a geoscientist at Beijing Normal University in China, to join them. These three brought in other scientists from Maryland, Italy and China to join in their study. Building large wind or solar farms just to study their question was not an option. It would be too costly. It might also create unexpected climate issues. So the team instead used computer models to probe how wind turbines and solar farms might alter a region’s climate.

Weather and climate models work from data collected over decades. They include data on the weather that developed when certain conditions were in place. These conditions included temperature and rains or snowfall. They also included the air pressure, winds, sunlight and the movement of heat into and out of the ground and large bodies of water.

For their new study, the researchers developed a model of North Africa’s Sahara Desert. The world’s largest desert, the Sahara supports little life. Although few people live here, many reside in the areas around it. So putting wind and solar farms in this area could help meet their electricity needs.

The Sahara is the world’s largest desert. Immediately south of its border is a not-quite-so-dry region known as the Sahel. Rainer Lesniewski/iStockphoto

The southern edge of the desert is an area called the Sahel. In this transition zone, the desert becomes a grassy savanna dotted with trees. There isn’t much rainfall in the Sahel, and climate change has reduced those rains in recent years. Because growing crops helps Continue Reading »

Nov
26
2018

Superconducting Tape Could Lead to Lower-Cost Wind Power

You may see smaller, more effective turbines

By: Jon Fingas

 

EcoSwing

Wind power is limited in part by how expensive it can be to make each turbine. You may need roughly a ton of rare earth metals per machine… and that adds up. It could soon be much less expensive, however. The EU-backed EcoSwing project recently upgraded a wind turbine in Denmark with superconducting tape that reduces the required amount of rare earth elements to as little as 1kg (2.2lbs). That not only dramatically reduces the costs (down from $45.50/kg to $18.70/kg), it reduces weight and size requirements. You can produce the same power for about half the weight and volume of a conventional turbine, the University of Twente’s Marc Dhalle told Chemistry World.

The tape is made using a ceramic superconducting layer with gadolinium-barium-copper oxide, with a steel ribbon at its back and protection against metal poisoning through layers of magnesium oxide and silver. And cooling isn’t an issue — the EcoSwing team used the same sort of cryo-cooling you normally see in MRI scanners.

The technology is still in the experimental stage. The next step is a more aggressively designed turbine that takes fuller advantage of the lighter, smaller technology. The benefits for real-world use are already evident, mind you. This could lower the costs of building wind farms, and might lead to less obtrusive farms with smaller turbines. All told, it could make renewable energy more accessible.

Courtesy: https://www.engadget.com/