DigitalBTC’s New Mining Centre Powered 100% by Renewable Energy

By: Nermin Hajdarbegovic

Australian bitcoin firm digitalBTC has announced a multi-year hosting and power supply agreement with Verne Global – a UK-based company specialised in “power-conscious” data centre solutions.

Under the agreement, digitalBTC will instal mining hardware at Verne Global’s data centre campus in Iceland, which is powered exclusively by renewable energy, and will source approximately 50% of its power needs from the company.

The remainder of its Icelandic electricity requirements will also be sourced from green suppliers, digitalBTC indicates.

Iceland geothermal image via Shutterstock

Cutting operating costs

DigitalBTC highlights a number of advantages provided by the new deal. It expects significant savings on power costs of up to 40%, which will in turn help increase the return on investment (ROI) from its bitcoin mining operations.

The savings will also enable the company to extend the life of the mining hardware, as cheaper power means mining hardware remains economically viable for longer periods of time.

Lastly, using dual-sourced renewable energy will significantly reduce the carbon footprint and allow for more expansion.

By Nermin Hajdarbegovic

Zhenya Tsvetnenko, digitalBTC executive chairman, said the agreement would provide the company with stable, cheap and green power in the long run:

“As well as basing our operations on clean renewable energy, we are also able to drive significant power cost reductions, which will flow straight through to our bottom line, and significantly reduce our carbon emission through the use of green energy. Additional power is very hard to secure in many locations, where the capacity has already been reached.”

Tsvetnenko concluded the contract with Verne Global gives digitalBTC more room to grow and will be factored into the company’s decisions on potential expansions.

Green power, free cooling

Verne Global sources power for its data centre campus from Iceland’s power grid, which almost completely relies on geothermal and hydroelectric power.

Furthermore, the company uses ‘free-cooling’, which essentially means it relies on the naturally low air temperature to keep server temperatures down. This helps the firm save money on cooling, as server rooms usually need a lot of costly air-conditioning to avoid overheating.


Spray-on solar cells take less energy to make and can be put on everything from jeans to cars

via Flickr user Andrew Magill

Scientists are one step closer to spray-on solar power. Instead of traditional bulky solar cells encased in glass–which can be awkward to put in places other than a roof, and take a lot of energy to produce–we may someday be able to easily spray paint low-cost, low-energy solar cells on everything from a pair of jeans, to a car, to the side of a skyscraper.

Research on painted solar cells isn’t new, but it has been challenging to make these solar cells efficient enough to actually be useful. Now, scientists in a lab at the University of Sheffield have discovered a trick to making them work better: A material called perovskite, which can be almost as efficient as silicon, but cheaper to make and, in theory, more environmentally friendly.

Making silicon–the main component in most solar cells today–takes a huge amount of energy as silica rock is heated up to about 3,000 degrees. Ironically, solar-cell manufacturing is usually powered by coal or other fossil-fuel-powered plants. Perovskite, by contrast, takes little energy to produce, and spraying it on saves even more energy.

It’s going to take a little longer in the lab before it’s actually ready to use, however. At the moment, the spray-on solar being tested at the University of Sheffield is only about 11% efficient–a huge step up from the 1% efficiency of similar spray-on solar a couple of years ago, but far from perovskite’s potential of 19%, or silicon at 25%.

It also doesn’t last as long as conventional solar cells, so it’s unlikely to start replacing rooftop solar panels anytime soon. But it may start to show up on different types of products where traditional solar panels wouldn’t work as well.

“First applications could be in more low-lifetime products in which long-term stability is not required, i.e. on clothing, or for various indoor applications to scavenge energy,” says lead researcher David Lidzey. Later, the technology might be used in stable places like the gap between two windows, and eventually, on the facade of buildings.

For now, the researchers are working on making the technology more efficient. Perovskite may keep evolving as well. Today, it’s made from a not-so-environmentally-friendly lead chloride, and other researchers are working on finding a better material.

The fact that perovskite is so cheap might mean that it can help bring solar power to people who might not otherwise have been able to afford it. “The technology offers the ultimate potential of very low-cost solar energy, with photovoltaic devices built into many varied environments,” Lidzey says. “This will be particularly important in the developing world, where access to low-cost, carbon-free energy will be an important part of making sure that economic and population growth happens in a sustainable fashion.”


Origami might change the way NASA builds solar panels

By Ryan Whitwam

Engineers have to take many things into account when designing a payload destined for orbit. Of course you want things to be as light as possible, but creating equipment that is compact and reliable is also very important. This becomes a problem when you want to equip a satellite or probe with large solar panels that can gulp down lots of photons. The key to making it all work could be an artform that predates space travel by several centuries: origami.

Researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) are working on ways to fold up components like solar panels into neat little packages like origami that can then be deployed easily when the time comes. JPL’s Brian Trease is leading the research in partnership with researchers at Brigham Young University in Utah. You’ve probably seen video of a traditional solar panel being deployed. They usually launch on spacecraft folded up accordion-style in small, squat boxes. This works well enough, but it’s not a very efficient use of space, and they can’t get much smaller as each layer of the accordion is stacked on top of the last one. As you move to larger panels, the deployment becomes increasingly prone to failure as layers of panel expand. Despite the more complex appearance of the prototype origami folding solar panel, it’s actually much easier to deploy.

Designing a solar panel with origami folds required some clever engineering — origami is intended to work with paper, but even the thinnest solar panels are several times thicker than heavy-weight paper. Each bend causes the thickness of the folds to go up, which needs to be accounted for in all subsequent folds. The team managed this by utilizing a variety of folds instead of a single repeating one to collapse the panel.

The team created a design for a solar panel that’s 8.9 feet in diameter when folded up, but expands to be 82 feet across when deployed. A scale model version of this panel can be seen in the video above opening up like a flower to its full 4.1-foot diameter with a light tug on the edges. Apparently, the crane version failed to live up to expectations. In all seriousness, though, the way it opens is actually just as important as the efficient packing. A smaller satellite (like the increasingly popular Cubesats) might need reliable solar power, but the economics don’t allow for a complicated mechanism to deploy panels. The simple and reliable origami folding panels could be just as good for small spacecraft as large ones.


See-through solar panels provide power and a killer view

While we’ve seen some pretty big advancements (and even bigger installations) in solar-energy collection lately, unless you’re looking for privacy, one of the biggest light-catchers — windows — have to go largely under-utilized. Researchers at Michigan State University might have a solution for that, though. The Spartan scientists have developed a transparent, colorless method for collecting the sun’s rays and converting them to electricity, claiming that the tech’s applications could be used pretty much wherever clear materials are needed. The system relies on a coating of organic molecules that soak up ultraviolet and near-infrared rays. From there, the rays are pushed to photovoltaic solar cells at the edge of the surface where they’re converted into electricity.

The tech isn’t as efficient as it needs to be, though. As of now its solar conversion rate is only about one percent versus the 19 percent ideal of other methods. MSU College of Engineering’s Richard Lunt knows this is inadequate and says that it’s targeting a “greater than five percent” yield for the final product. While the energy produced might be lower than with other formats, the tech’s strength could lie in its flexibility — every window a solar cell or a smartphone that could possibly never run out of juice, for instance.


New study finds price of wind energy in US at an all-time low

“Wind energy prices—particularly in the central United States— are at an all-time low, with utilities selecting wind as the low cost option,” Berkeley Lab Staff Scientist Ryan Wiser said. “This is especially notable because, enabled by technology advancements, wind projects have increasingly been built in lower wind speed areas.”

Key findings from the U.S. Department of Energy’s latest “Wind Technologies Market Report” include:

Wind is a credible source of new generation in the United States. Though wind power additions slowed in 2013, with just 1.1 gigawatts (GW) added, wind power has comprised 33% of all new U.S. electric capacity additions since 2007. Wind power currently contributes more than 4% of the nation’s electricity supply, more than 12% of total electricity generation in nine states, and more than 25% in two states.
Turbine scaling is boosting wind project performance. Since 1998-99, the average nameplate capacity of wind turbines installed in the United States has increased by 162% (to 1.87 MW in 2013), the average turbine hub height has increased by 45% (to 80 meters), and the average rotor diameter has increased by 103% (to 97 meters). This substantial scaling has enabled wind project developers to economically build projects in lower wind-speed sites, and is driving capacity factors higher for projects located in given wind resource regimes. Moreover, turbines originally designed for lower wind speeds are now regularly employed in higher wind speed sites, further boosting expected capacity factors.
Low wind turbine pricing continues to push down installed project costs. Wind turbine prices have fallen 20 to 40% from their highs back in 2008, and these declines are pushing project-level costs down. Based on the small sample of 2013 wind projects, installed costs averaged $1,630/kW last year, down more than $600/kW from the apparent peak in 2009 and 2010. Among a larger sample of projects currently under construction, average costs are $1,750/kW.
Wind energy prices have reached all-time lows, improving the relative competitiveness of wind. Lower wind turbine prices and installed project costs, along with improvements in expected capacity factors, are enabling aggressive wind power pricing. After topping out at nearly $70/MWh in 2009, the average levelized long-term price from wind power sales agreements signed in 2013 fell to around $25/MWh. This level is lower than the previous lows set back in the 2000-2005 period, which is notable given that wind projects have increasingly been sited in lower wind-speed areas. Wind energy prices are generally lowest in the central portion of the country. The continued decline in average wind prices, along with a bit of a rebound in wholesale power prices, put wind back at the bottom of the range of nationwide wholesale power prices in 2013. Wind energy contracts executed in 2013 also compare very favorably to a range of projections of the fuel costs of gas-fired generation extending out through 2040.
The manufacturing supply chain has experienced substantial growing pains in recent years, but a growing percentage of the equipment used in U.S. wind projects has been sourced domestically since 2006-2007. The profitability of turbine suppliers rebounded in 2013, after a number of years in decline. Five of the 10 turbine suppliers with the largest share of the U.S. market have one or more manufacturing facilities in the United States. Nonetheless, more domestic wind manufacturing facilities closed in 2013 than opened. Additionally, the entire wind energy sector employed 50,500 full-time workers in the United States at the end of 2013, a deep reduction from the 80,700 jobs reported for 2012.Despite these challenges,trade data show that a decreasing percentage of the equipment used in wind projects has been imported, when focusing on selected trade categories. When presented as a fraction of total equipment-related wind turbine costs, the combined import share of selected wind equipment tracked by trade codes (i.e., blades, towers, generators, gearboxes, and wind-powered generating sets) is estimated to have declined from nearly 80% in 2006–2007 to approximately 30% in 2012-2013; the overall import fraction is higher when considering equipment not tracked in wind-specific trade codes. Domestic content has increased and is high for blades, towers, and nacelle assembly; domestic content is considerably lower for much of the equipment internal to the nacelle.
Looking ahead, projections are for solid growth in 2014 and 2015, with uncertain prospects in 2016 and beyond. The availability of federal incentives for wind projects that began construction at the end of 2013 has helped restart the domestic market, with significant new builds anticipated in 2014 and 2015. However, as noted by Mark Bolinger, Research Scientist at Berkeley Lab, “Projections for 2016 and beyond are much less certain. Despite the attractive price of wind energy, federal policy uncertainty—in concert with continued low natural gas prices and modest electricity demand growth—may put a damper on medium-term market growth.”

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