Batteries Full of Renewable Energy Could Spell the End for Fossil Fuels

Commercial and domestic battery storage is on the rise, moving energy off the grid and into our homes

By: Oliver Bennett

After the UK government’s scrapping of renewable-energy subsidies in 2016, it sometimes seems as if green-energy initiatives were in retreat. In fact, the opposite is true: in 2017, the renewables sector was up eight per cent on the previous year, indicating that it’s become a truly mainstream concern.

In 2018, investors will increasingly look towards storage, rather than supply. Yet despite this urgent gap opening in the market, storage solutions for renewable energy have been elusive. Excess energy has had to piggyback on the infrastructure created for fossil fuels. Moreover, entrepreneurs in the renewables sector have focused on big-picture supply factors – wind turbines, waves, Sun and estuary power – without resolving the supply-and-demand balance. The essential conundrum that solar plants don’t produce energy without sunshine, nor wind farms without wind, has led to intermittent supply.

In 2018, these problems will be ironed out as battery storage becomes widely available.

“We will see a tipping point,” says Alasdair Cameron, renewable-energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth. “Even IKEA has launched a renewable solar battery power storage for domestic use.” Add this to Tesla’s Powerwall domestic battery (launched in 2015) and, as Cameron says, “Storage is moving from the grid to the garage to the landing at home.”

As energy storage for home use becomes more commonplace, mass storage will also grow. In 2016 there was 24mW of commercial-battery storage in the UK; there will be over 200mW by the end of 2018, located in battery installations around the country. Unsurprisingly, investors have followed this growth industry with interest. With headwind provided by The National Grid, companies such as EDF, E.ON and Dyson are investing in storage evelopment. Elsewhere, energy multinationals including Exxon Mobil, Shell and Total are planning for renewable and battery twin systems. The race is on to be the market leader in renewables storage, similar to the contest in electric vehicles, an industry with which it is inextricably linked.

This won’t mean the end of fossil fuels or fracking just yet. But there’s cause for optimism. In the summer of 2017, renewables achieved their highest-ever output, meeting more than half of the UK’s electricity demand. Each year, the scales tilt further towards renewables. There is healthy competition between nations and regions to become the first fully renewable zones. In 2017, a major South Australian campaign was launched to find mass storage, with (among others) Tesla’s Elon Musk and Ecotricity’s Dale Vince to help the region become a renewables-only state. It’s an industry in which names are being made.

Battery storage is scaleable, from domestic to grid size, with land owners and big companies realising the potential economic benefits. It can help more remote regions as well as population centres: a model is provided by Ta’? island in American Samoa, which has relied on oil tankers to import energy, but is now supported by Tesla’s Solar City, a battery-storage installation. Norwegian energy group Statoil is installing the world’s first offshore wind-farm battery system, under the name Batwind, at the Hywind installation off the coast of Scotland. We’re seeing a new generation of battery gigafactories being built in Europe and growing interaction between homes and the grid.

According to Hugh McNeal of the wind industry’s trade body RenewableUK and solar expert Simon Virley of KPMG, this storage revolution is capable of transforming the industry. In 2018, it will become even more competitive and reliable – and will sound the death knell for fossil fuels in the process.

Courtesy: http://www.wired.co.uk/

 

Living Ink Solar Panels Could Power Small Devices

Agency for Science, Technology and Research

By: Lou Del Bello

Cyanobacteria have been around for billions of years. They manufacture their own food through photosynthesis, absorbing solar light and turning it into energy. Much like plants, they release oxygen in the process, and their presence may have changed our atmosphere so much that bigger creatures could eventually breathe and thrive on Earth. Now, they’re being used to create tiny bio solar panels.

These tiny creatures have been used to create a living ink that can be printed on paper and work as bio-solar panels. Researchers at Imperial College London, the University of Cambridge and Central Saint Martins used an inkjet printer to draw precise patterns onto electrically conductive carbon nanotubes, which were also printed on the same surface.

Not only did the resilient bacteria survive the printing process, but produced a small amount of electricity that the team harvested over a period of 100 hours through photosynthesis.

This may seem to be a relatively short lifespan compared to the solar panels we install on our roofs, but “paper-based BPVs [microbial biophotoltaics] are not meant to replace conventional solar cell technology for large-scale power production,” Dr. Andrea Fantuzzi, co-author of the study (published in Nature) from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial College London, said in a statement.

Image Credit: Imperial College London

Instead, he explained, they could be used for small devices that require a small and finite amount of energy, such as environmental sensing and wearable biosensors. They are disposable and biodegradable, and they also work in the dark, releasing electricity from molecules produced in the light.

“Imagine a paper-based, disposable environmental sensor disguised as wallpaper, which could monitor air quality in the home. When it has done its job it could be removed and left to biodegrade in the garden without any impact on the environment,” Dr. Marin Sawa, a co-author from the Department of Chemical Engineering at Imperial College London, said in a statement.

According to Fantuzzi, the paper-based bio solar panels could be integrated with biosensor technology to monitor health indicators, such as blood glucose level in patients with diabetes. He said that because the new technology is so cost effective, it could “pave the way for its use in developing countries with limited healthcare budgets and strains on resources.”

Hazel Assender, Associate Professor at the Department of Materials with the University of Oxford in the UK, told Futurism: “Using bacteria opens up new possibilities [in the field of sensing], but the challenge, as so often, will be selectivity: what is it about the ‘atmosphere’ that such a sensor might monitor, and how will it react to all the other environmental changes?”

The team agrees that the discovery is, however exciting, just a proof of concept for now, and the next challenge is to make panels that are more powerful and long-lasting. The current bio solar panel unit is small, the size of a palm, and the researchers are confident that it could be scaled up to the size of an A4 sheet of paper.

Courtesy: https://futurism.com/solar-panels-power-small-devices/

Making Solar Energy More Efficient

This is Mohammed Alshayeb (left) and Afnan Barri. Credit: Rick Hellman / KU News Service

With global warming an ever-present worry, renewable energy — particularly solar power — is a burgeoning field. Now, two doctoral students in the School of Architecture & Design (Arc/D) have demonstrated methods of optimizing the capture of sunlight in experiments at the Center for Design Research.

Green-roof boost

Mohammed Alshayeb started by asking himself what might be done to boost the performance of solar panels. “The efficiency of a photovoltaic panel is measured under standard testing conditions — at 77 degrees Fahrenheit,” he said. “Every degree that the temperature increases decreases performance.”

Alshayeb wondered if there was a way to “extract the heat out of the panels” when the temperature rises above 77. Because most solar panels are installed on building roofs, Alshayeb decided to compare the effects of three different types of roof materials — highly reflective (i.e., white), conventional (black) and vegetated (green) — on the panels’ performance.

The CDR roof is mostly covered with sedum, planted in trays. So Alshayeb established his test bed there, installing a solar panel monitoring system over the green roof, as well as nearby white and black portions. He also installed temperature, humidity and light sensors and a weather station to record conditions like wind speed. The sensors made recordings every five minutes for a year, and Alshayeb then analyzed the data.

What he found was that, contrary to industry practice, which favors white roofs over black, white roofs actually slightly decreased the efficiency of the solar panels due to the heat they reflected up toward the panels. However, compared to the vegetated roof, the high-reflective and conventional roof materials were not significantly different from one another. Panels installed over the green roof performed best, generating an average of 1.4 percent more energy as compared to those over the white and black roofs.

“There is a lot of research in this area, but nothing as comprehensive as he has done,” said Alshayeb’s faculty adviser, Associate Professor of Architecture Jae D. Chang. “The next step is to see the effect of increasing the height of the panel over the roof.”

Bending light

Another of Chang’s students, Afnan Barri, wanted to see whether she could improve the performance of light shelves. A traditional light shelf is a fixed, horizontally mounted plane that can be placed either outside, inside or on both sides of a window in order to reflect and redirect sunlight inside a building. Light shelves can thus reduce the use of artificial lighting and electricity.

Traditional, fixed light-shelf systems have limited effectiveness, as they are only capable of functioning while the angle of the sun to the earth is just right. Previous experiments have shown that movable light shelves and ones with curved surfaces can diffuse sunlight with greater efficiency than traditional fixed, flat systems. This is where Barri’s idea of a Dynamic Thermal-Adaptive Curved Lightshelf (DTACL) came about. She thought: “What if there were a system that could combine all these methods to enhance the delivery of natural light into buildings throughout the day without the use of mechanical and electrical controls, and unlike existing movable systems?”

Her project includes computer simulations and a field experiment to collect a year’s worth of data on the performance of the DTACL system through different weather conditions on the KU campus. She created and placed on the lawn of the CDR four experimental rooms the size of refrigerators fitted with sensors and light shelves. Three of the rooms have fixed light shelves in various configurations, while one, the DTACL, uses an adaptive, composite material called Thermadapt, invented by Ronald P. Barrett and commercialized by a company he runs with his son, KU Professor of Engineering Ron Barrett-Gonzalez. Thermadapt changes shape in response to heat and sunlight, curving upward. When it cools, it flattens back out.

Barri theorized that the DTACL system would transfer light inside a building more efficiently than the fixed systems, and her initial results have proven that to be the case.

“I am still in the process on collecting, comparing and analyzing these data,” she said. “However, based on a two-month pilot study and computer simulations, the indoor light intensity of the DTCAL system is twice as great as the intensity of a fixed, traditional light shelf.

“I’d like to take it overseas and perform an experiment like this in more extreme temperatures,” said the native of Saudi Arabia.

Courtesy: https://www.sciencedaily.com

Decoupled Algae-Powered Solar Cell Has Promise for Rural Communities

Cambridge team separates charge generation and power delivery in algae solar cells, enabling energy storage function

While most research into photovoltaic technology focuses on mineral-based mechanisms, from crystalline silicon to the promising perovskite materials, there are other possibilities. One of these exploits the most successful type of solar energy generation, photosynthesis, which has been powering the planet’s plants for aeons.

Biological solar cells generally use single-celled plants — algae — to harvest solar energy. The Cambridge team, comprising chemists, biochemists and physicists, now claims to have overcome one of the biggest obstacles to developing this technology: the conflicting demands of generating electrons and converting them into useful electric current.

Previous biophotovoltaics (BPVs) have co-located these two functions in the same chamber; algae absorb sunlight, generate electrons, some of which are secreted outside the algae’s cell walls, and immediately inject these electrons into an electrical circuit. But this is not an efficient method, explained Kadi Liis Saar, of the Department of Chemistry. “The charging unit needs to be exposed to sunlight to allow efficient charging, whereas the power delivery part does not require exposure to light but should be effective at converting the electrons to current with minimal losses.”

The team designed a system where the two functions are separated into distinct chambers, using microfluidic technology in the power delivery chamber. “Separating out charging and power delivery meant we were able to enhance the performance of the power delivery unit through miniaturisation,” explained Professor Tuomas Knowles from the Department of Chemistry, also affiliated to the university’s Cavendish Laboratory. “At miniature scales, fluids behave very differently, enabling us to design cells that are more efficient, with lower internal resistance and decreased electrical losses.”

In a paper in Nature Energy, the researchers explain how the power conversion chamber uses laminar flow to separate fluid streams containing positive and negative charges, allowing it to work without membranes. Moreover, the algae used were genetically modified to minimise the amount of charge generated that could not be converted to current. Together, these innovations allowed the cells to generate power density of 0.5W/m2, five times that of previous designs.

This is still well below power densities of inorganic photovoltaics, the researchers admit. “While conventional silicon-based solar cells are more efficient than algae-powered cells in the fraction of the sun’s energy they turn to electrical energy, there are attractive possibilities with other types of materials,” said Professor Christopher Howe from the Department of Biochemistry. “In particular, because algae grow and divide naturally, systems based on them may require less energy investment and can be produced in a decentralised fashion.” This might be particularly useful in rural Africa and South Asia, where established grids may not exist and cells could be made in local communities without the need for the hjgh-tech factories required by inorganic PV technology.

Separating electron generation and power conversion also allows the energy to be stored, for example for transmission during hours of darkness. “This a big step forward in the search for alternative, greener fuels,” said Dr Paolo Bombelli, from the Department of Biochemistry. “We believe these developments will bring algal-based systems closer to practical implementation.”

Courtesy: https://www.theengineer.co.uk/

Can Green Gas Help Us Meet Energy Targets?

The need to make the transition to a low-carbon economy means using all the renewable technologies in our toolbox. While wind and solar power often gain the most attention, and investment, it’s important to recognise the potential contribution from all sources, including bioenergy.

For example, anaerobic digestion (AD) plants across the UK already have enough capacity to power over a million homes, according to the technology’s UK trade body. In addition, government statistics show that in the UK last year, all bioenergy technologies produced 31 terawatt hours of electricity, a 9.4% share of generation. In comparison, wind power provided 14.6% and solar 3.4%.

In particular, Scotland has set itself a new target of providing at least 50% of all its energy consumption through renewable sources by 2030. The devolved government’s new Energy Strategy sees a strong role for bioenergy in replacing the traditional role that coal and gas has played for many years, and Edinburgh has committed itself to developing a new action plan to further developing the technology.

The policy document, however, states the need for bioenergy schemes to “represent good value for money, deliver benefits for communities, and help tackle fuel poverty”.

Ahead of a national conference on the issue, Charlotte Morton, Chief Executive of the Anaerobic Digestion & Bioresources Association, commented: “The Scottish Government has set itself ambitious but necessary targets for generating renewable energy in its new Energy Strategy, and renewable heat and electricity produced through AD can make an important contribution to these goals, as well as reducing emissions from landfill, creating rural jobs, and helping to restore degraded soils.

There are now over 50 operational AD plants spread across Scotland, recycling a range of wastes. With more than half of these plants commissioned within the last four years, farmers, businesses and government are increasingly seeing first-hand the multiple benefits that green gas delivers”.

Courtesy: http://www.climateactionprogramme.org/news/