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.


An Ancient Cathedral in England is Getting Solar Panels

By: Anmar Frangoul


Mypower Canon Celia Thomson bolts in the first solar panel on top of Gloucester Cathedral, in south west England.

For more than 1,300 years the site of Gloucester Cathedral, in the south west of England, has been a place of continuous worship. Rich in history, it is home to the tomb of King Edward II, who died in 1327. Now, it has become one of the oldest cathedrals in the world to have solar panels.

“The Church of England… has a campaign which is called Shrinking the Footprint, and it’s a very ambitious campaign to reduce carbon emissions throughout the Church by 80 percent by 2050,” Anne Cranston, Project Pilgrim manager at Gloucester Cathedral, told CNBC in a phone interview.

Commenting on the Shrinking the Footprint project, the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, has previously said that the Church is “committed to mitigate the effects of climate change which will fall disproportionately on the poor and vulnerable in the world.”

Solar power is becoming an increasingly important part of the planet’s energy mix. In the U.S., for example, data from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association has shown that the solar industry there installed 7,286 megawatts of solar power in 2015, an increase of over 1,000 megawatts of solar photovoltaic installations compared to 2014.

Back in Gloucester, Cranston explained why solar was seen as a viable way of making the Cathedral a beacon for clean energy.

Chris Rose | Photographer's Choice RF | Getty Images

Chris Rose | Photographer’s Choice RF | Getty Images

“We have bought clean energy for the past few years, but churches and cathedrals have the benefit of being west-east aligned and therefore a lot of us have these south facing roofs,” she said. “It seemed somewhat of a gift if we could take advantage of it.” Cranston went on to state that the Cathedral “will continue to go green, there is lots more that we need to do.”

The installation is now complete and Monday saw the solar panels switched on, with the 38 kilowatt solar array set to help cut energy costs by 25 percent.

“From a green perspective, it’ll save them about 16 tonnes of carbon dioxide … per annum,” Ben Harrison, from Mypower, told CNBC in a phone interview.

Mypower oversaw the installation of the panels on the Cathedral’s roof, and Harrison went on to explain that the carbon dioxide savings would be equivalent to planting several acres of woodland per year.

Harrison added that working on the project had proved to be “the opportunity of a lifetime. Very few people get the opportunity to go on the roof of Gloucester Cathedral, let alone be part of creating its future.”

“In terms of the sustainability, the energy production, it’s been extremely satisfying.”




Since solar panels aren’t particularly aesthetic, their use has been limited to out-of-the-way places like rooftops … but here’s a tech breakthrough that will make solar panels blend into their surroundings.


Tesla Converted an Entire Island to Solar with New Microgrid Product Developed by SolarCity

By: Fred Lambert

The island of Ta’u in American Samoa has been using diesel generators and burning over 100,000 gallons of fuel per year in order to supply its nearly 600 residents with electricity. That’s no longer the case and the island is now virtually energy independent thanks to a new solar and battery installation by Tesla and SolarCity, which is now officially part of Tesla since the merger closed yesterday.

The company deployed a 1.4-megawatt solar array and a 6-megawatt hour energy storage system with 60 Tesla Powerpacks. The system is what is called a microgrid and it’s now the island’s main source of energy.

Tesla’s energy storage system could cover the island’s electricity needs for 3 days if the sun was to not shine for that long for some reason.

SolarCity announced the completion of the project today. The company wrote:

“Ta’u is not a postcard from the future, it’s a snapshot of what is possible right now. Renewable power is an economical, practical solution for a growing number of locations and energy needs, and islands that have traditionally relied on fossil fuels can easily transition to microgrids powered by solar and storage today.”

The project is being described as one of the most advanced microgrids ever deployed and it is located about 4,000 miles from the West Coast of the United States:

The transport of the diesel alone was a signficant part of the cost of the electricity supplied to the resident of the island and it wasn’t always a guarantee that the boats will come.

SolarCity quoted Keith Ahsoon, a local resident whose family owns one of the food stores on the island:

“I recall a time they weren’t able to get the boat out here for two months. We rely on that boat for everything, including importing diesel for the generators for all of our electricity. Once diesel gets low, we try to save it by using it only for mornings and afternoons. Water systems here also use pumps, everyone in the village uses and depends on that. It’s hard to live not knowing what’s going to happen. I remember growing up using candlelight. And now, in 2016, we were still experiencing the same problems.”

But now the solar and battery system is much more reliable and creates energy independence for the island. Ahsoon added:

“It’s always sunny out here, and harvesting that energy from the sun will make me sleep a lot more comfortably at night, just knowing I’ll be able to serve my customers,”

The project was funded by the American Samoa Economic Development Authority, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Interior, and is expected to allow the island to save significantly on energy costs.

Tesla is using the project as an example of what microgrids can do for communities in remote areas. The company is also invested in similar smaller projects in Africa through the startup Off Grid Electric.




Renewable Energy to Hit 9 Percent of U.S. Total in 2017

By: Stephen Edelstein

U.S. renewable-energy generating capacity is not only growing, but it is beginning to erode coal’s share of the electricity-generating mix, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

The agency predicts renewable energy—particularly solar power—to continue growing.

At the same time, a combination of renewable energy and natural gas are expected to further decrease the amount of coal used to generate electricity.

In 2017, renewable energy should account for 9 percent of U.S. electricity-generation capacity, according to the DOE’s most recent Short-Term Energy Outlook.

That’s up from 8 percent this year, the agency says.

Solar power is expected to account for most of the anticipated growth.

Total solar generating capacity is expected to reach 27 gigawatts next year, up from 10 gigawatts in 2014.

Congress renewed a solar tax credit earlier this year, which may have helped increase demand.

Uncertainty over whether the tax credit would be renewed created pent-up demand, which in turn has helped solar achieve record growth in 2016, Doug Vine—senior energy fellow at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions—told Grist.

Aside from solar, wind generating capacity is expected to grow about 8 percent in 2017, compared to 15.5 percent growth for 2016.

Despite the anticipated growth in wind and solar, though, natural gas is likely doing the most to displace coal, according to the data.

It is anticipated that natural gas will account for 35 percent of the 2016 U.S. generating mix, while coal will account for 30 percent.

Natural Gas Flaring from Oil Well. via Flickr

Natural Gas Flaring from Oil Well. via Flickr

Coal is expected to rise slightly to 31 percent in 2017, owing to higher prices for natural gas, which the DOE believes will account for 34 percent of the generating mix in that year.

Natural gas’ low average price has helped it gain ground against coal in recent years.

It produces significantly lower levels of greenhouse-gas emissions than coal, but is still not as clean as solar or wind.

The DOE report follows a recent survey by the International Energy Agency (IEA) that also returned good news for renewable-energy advocates.

The IEA anticipates 13 percent greater renewable-energy growth between 2015 and 2021 than another forecast published last year.