Solar Panel Made with Ion Cannon Cheap Enough to Challenge Fossil Fuels

Twin Creeks, a solar power startup that emerged from hiding today, has developed a way of creating photovoltaic cells that are half the price of today’s cheapest cells, and thus within reach of challenging the fossil fuel hegemony. The best bit: Twin Creeks’ photovoltaic cells are created using a hydrogen ion particle accelerator.

As it stands, almost every solar panel is made by slicing a 200-micrometer-thick (0.2mm) wafer from a block of crystalline silicon. You then add some electrodes, cover it in protective glass, and leave it in a sunny area to generate electricity through the photovoltaic effect (when photons hit the silicon, it excites the electrons and generates a charge). There are two problems with this approach: Much in the same way that sawdust is produced when you slice wood, almost half of the silicon block is wasted when it’s cut into 200-micrometer slices; and second, the panels would still function just as well if they were thinner than 200 micrometers, but silicon is brittle and prone to cracking if it’s too thin. Read more »

4 Ways to Cut Down on Consumption and Be Genuinely Green

Guest Post by Angelita Williams

While I’m absolutely ecstatic that so many people are jumping on the “green” bandwagon, as evidenced by the growing number of blogs that deal specifically with green lifestyles, there is one bone I have to pick with the green establishment—and that’s the advocating of consumption, even though it’s supposedly “green” consumption. In my mind, the best that we can do for the environment is not to buy green, but to buy substantially less. Here are a few simple ways you can do just that.

1. Set aside one week a month in which you make absolutely no new purchases.
This is a fun challenge, one I thought I would never be able to do. It’s both easier and harder than I thought it would be. Before doing your monthly spending fast, stock up on groceries and other necessary items like gas. Then, just do your best to make do without spending money. Instead of buying a cup of coffee at the café next door to your workplace, bring coffee from home. If your gas tank won’t last a week, ration it carefully and take public transportation or carpool when you can. There are tons of other ways that you can avoid making new purchases. You just have to make it a priority.

2. Don’t buy new gadgets until your old ones are completely unusable.
Electronics are the one purchasing are in which most people, Americans especially, just cannot get enough. With the relatively new business idea of “planned obsolescence,” in order to increase profits, businesses will create products that aren’t built to last. This creates a sick cycle of constant consumption after the new release of essentially the same product every few months. Don’t buy into this scam. Keep your electronics as long as they will still work, and not a moment before.

3. Stay away especially from products produced by companies with large carbon footprints and unsustainable business practices.
If you are at all into green living, then you probably know the worst culprits when it comes to consumer businesses. Stay away from products from companies like Tyson Foods and McDonald’s. Here’s a good list to start, but do as much research as you can. You’d be surprised by how many huge, unsustainable corporations produce products that are only marketed as environmentally friendly.

4. Think before you buy anything.
Perhaps the very best piece of advice when it comes to reducing your consumption substantially is to be mindful about any and every purchase you make. Ask yourself, “Is this product absolutely necessary?” Will it add substantially to your level of happiness? Or is it just another impulse buy? When you begin cultivating this type of mindset, you’ll reduce your consumption without even trying too hard.

This guest post is contributed by Angelita Williams, who writes on the topics of online courses.

New Approach Aims to Slash Cost of Solar Cells

Ampulse’s pilot production line is nearly complete at NREL’s PDIL. If the line can make highly efficient solar cells at low cost, the next step will be a full-sized production plant.
Credit: Dennis Schroeder

Solar-powered electricity prices could soon approach those of power from coal or natural gas thanks to collaborative research with solar start-up Ampulse Corporation at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

Silicon wafers account for almost half the cost of today’s solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, so reducing or eliminating wafer costs is essential to bringing prices down.

Current crystalline silicon technology, while high in energy conversion efficiency, involves processes that are complex, wasteful, and energy intensive. First, half the refined silicon is lost as dust in the wafer-sawing process, driving module costs higher. A typical 2-meter boule of silicon loses as many as 6,000 potential wafers during sawing. Second, the wafers produced are much thicker than necessary. To efficiently convert sunlight into electricity, they need only one-tenth the typical thickness.

NREL, DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), and Ampulse have teamed on an approach to eliminate this waste and dramatically lower the cost of the finished solar panels. The aim is to create a less expensive alternative to wafer-based crystalline silicon solar cells.

By using a chemical vapor deposition process to grow the silicon on inexpensive foil, Read more »

(Solar) Power to the People

Like many environmentally-friendly products, rooftop solar power is a luxury that most Americans can’t afford: Before subsidies, it costs tens of thousands of dollars to power a typical house.*

GRID Alternatives, an Oakland, CA-based nonprofit, is trying to change that–and making headway.

Launched in 2004, GRID Alternatives has grown along with the solar industry. This year, it expects to install solar on the rooftops of about 1,000 California homes owned by low-income people. It has seven offices, a staff of about 100 people and a budget of about $25 million. The organization will soon expand to Colorado and beyond.

GRID Alternatives relies on volunteers, panels donated or sold at low cost by the solar industry, subsidies from the state of California and donations to make the model work. “It’s a barn raising model,” says Erica Mackie, the co-founder and executive director.

This month, GRID Alternatives announced partnerships with two big solar panel manufacturers that should drive its growth further. SunPower, with headquarters in San Jose, Ca., and Yingli Solar, a Chinese manufacturer with US offices in San Francisco, are supporting GRID Alternatives with a combination of donations and “fair market value sales” to bring clean energy to as many as 600 low-income families in California and Colorado, and to provide hands-on solar experience to thousands of green job seekers. Many who volunteer with Read more »

China’s Economic Boom – A Serious Threat to the Environment

Guest Post by Mathias Maehlum

China has had a tremendous growth in renewable energy sources the last few years. Official numbers show that solar power capacity has tripled during the last year wind wind power and hydroelectricity not far behind.

However, China keeps constructing power plants that uses coal as fuel, and is still on top in the world when it comes to carbon dioxide emissions – In fact, this country is soon accountable for half the coal consumption on the entire planet.

Apart from being an obvious threat against the fight on global warming, coal power plants also possess a serious health threat by polluting the air.

China has yet to set a cap on how much energy the country consumes a year, but the National Energy Administration has been working on this. A limit of 4.1 billion tonnes coal equivalent (TCE) by 2015 has been announced; it remains to see if they follow through. The announcement has caused a lot of discussion in China since an energy-cap like this will also stun economic growth.

Jack Perkowski, the Wall Street veteran known as “Mr. China”, claims that the country’s economic boom is far from over:

“Those predicting a hard landing didn’t take into account of the fact that the Chinese government has all of the monetary and fiscal tools at its disposal.”

Note that Perkowski also states that the best investment potential can be found in energy efficiency and green technologies. An important factor in limiting energy consumption is also to improve energy conservation/efficiency.

Wen Juabao, the sixth and current Premier of the State Council, has previously stated that China will not trade a high economic growth rate for harming the environment.

In 2009, China surpassed the United States when it comes to investing in renewable energy. It is clear that this growth will not decline anytime soon, however, this might also be true for the massive amounts of climate gases in the atmosphere that China is responsible for. Putting a cap on China’s energy consumption is a very important factor in fighting global warming.

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