Wind, Solar Power Output To Surge

Technicians check solar power generation facilities in Datong, Shanxi province. (Photo by YU JIARUI FOR CHINA DAILY)

Wind and solar energy will account for about 50 percent of the total power produced in the world by 2050, aided largely by lower production costs, with China leading the revolution, a new report said.

According to the report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, China will be at the forefront of the increased generation of clean energy, while power storage will benefit from the rapid advances in battery technologies. By 2050, China will take pole position in wind and solar energy market share, as well as the storage batteries market, the report said.

By 2050, China’s total installed capacity in wind power (onshore and offshore) and solar power (utility-scale, distributed and photothermal) will reach 1,003 gigawatts and 1,137 gigawatts, accounting for 30 percent and 21 percent of the market share respectively. Its total installed capacity of storage batteries, including small and large-scale ones, is estimated to surpass 154 GW, which will be 14 percent of the global total.

“Setting up new wind and solar power plants will be less expensive than building new coal plants due to the lower production costs in China. By 2028, new wind and solar power plant costs will be less than those for existing coal plants,” said Yvonne Liu, an energy analyst with BNEF.

BNEF forecasts that by 2025, China will no longer build new coal plants, owing to the cost factor.

Furthermore, the report points out that between 2020 and 2050, coal-fired power generation will see a sharp decline from 62 percent to merely 16 percent, while wind and solar power generation will increase significantly from 6 percent to 31 percent and from 4 percent to 15 percent. Other renewables such as hydro and nuclear power will also witness substantial growth.

According to the nation’s renewable energy guidelines for the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20), issued by the National Energy Administration, the country will invest 2.3 trillion yuan ($337 billion) in energy development from non-fossil sources. By 2020, non-fossil sources will account for 15 percent of the total energy consumption, and the same will rise to 20 percent by 2030.

During the first quarter of 2018, China’s newly added renewable energy installed capacity increased 15.35 million kilowatts to 666 million kW, with wind and solar power taking up 25.2 percent and 21 percent respectively. The installed capacity generated by renewable energy accounted for 36.9 percent of the total power generation, up 0.3 percent from the end of 2017.

Traditional coal plants have already felt the pressure of the energy transition. In 2014, China’s coal-rich Shanxi province issued guidelines urging coal plants in Shanxi to eliminate coal-fired generators of over 300,000 kW capacity to cater to the ultra-low-emission standards set for 2017.

Shanxi Xingneng Power Co Ltd, a traditional coal company in the region, completed the transformation as early as 2015.

“The investment in the first phase was 165 million yuan, while 135 million yuan was spent on the second phase. Our operating costs rose due to the higher standards,” said Wang Zhiqiang, vice-president of the company.

However, he noted that the energy transition project has totally paid off. The company’s heating reform, another energy transition project, cost roughly 500 million yuan, and the final profit was as high as 600 million yuan. “Power generation costs declined sharply,” he said.

Wang told China Daily that coal enterprises must acknowledge the benefits of renewable energy. “However, thermal power generation is fundamental for China as it ensures energy security. Its characteristic of stability is irreplaceable at present.”

Li Li, energy research director at ICIS China, a consulting company that offers analysis of China’s energy market, noted that given the advantages of wind and solar power, such as cost-efficiency and nonpolluting, energy transportation security should also be considered.



Green Energy Is The Future, According To New Report

The UK should move away from fossil fuels, towards cheaper, greener energy sources, according to report launched this week, published by the National Infrastructure Commission. Credit: Shutterstock

The UK should seize a ‘golden opportunity’ to move away from fossil fuels, towards cheaper, greener energy sources, according to a new report, published by the National Infrastructure Commission.

The National Infrastructure Assessment (NIA) is the first long term view of the UK’s infrastructure needs, and is underpinned by analysis produced by a consortium of the UK’s leading universities, including Oxford University, who led on the work.

The report calls for a more joined up view of infrastructure, with significant investments to tackle road congestion, deal with water shortages and provide secure low-carbon energy supplies. It proposes ways of promoting greater innovation, for example through the roll-out of 5G mobile services and the uptake of autonomous vehicles.

The move to renewables has long been framed to be an expensive one, however, the report highlights renewable energy as being a “golden opportunity” to make the UK greener and make energy in general more affordable.

The academic research that informed the report’s development includes advanced modelling and analysis which scenarios of the future. This adopted methodology has been proposed by the UK Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium, a consortium of seven of the UK’s leading universities, led from the University of Oxford. The ITRC has developed the UK’s first National Infrastructure Model (NISMOD) which was used by the National Infrastructure Commission to conduct the National Infrastructure Assessment.

NISMOD was used to model the changing demand for infrastructure services, including energy and water. The NIC used NISMOD to explore options for provision of secure water supplies in the face of growing water use and uncertain climatic changes. The NISMOD analysis demonstrated that secure water supplies can be provided in future, but doing so requires action to reduce leakage and manage water demand, as well as investment in strategic water supply infrastructure, including pipes and canals to transfer water around the country.

Prof Jim Hall, who leads the UK Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium and is Director, Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University, said: ‘We are very pleased to see the models that we have developed being taken up by the National Infrastructure Commission to conduct the National Infrastructure Assessment. NISMOD has taken us several years to develop, but it now provides a unique capability to simulate Britain’s national infrastructure in the future and to inform the difficult choices that the National Infrastructure Commission is having to make.’

The report calls on government ministers to set out a low-carbon route for the economy after previous reports from the Committee on Climate Change warned that it is set to miss its climate targets, despite multi-billion pound efforts to clean up the power sector.

It also cautions that low-cost renewables will only be possible if the right decisions are taken now by government, such as continuing to invest in wind and solar resources, ramping up efforts to improve the energy efficiency of the U.K.’s buildings and enabling a rapid switch to electric vehicles.



Designing A ‘Solar Tarp,’ A Foldable, Packable Way To Generate Power From The Sun

By: Darren Lipomi

The energy-generating potential of solar panels – and a key limitation on their use – is a result of what they’re made of. Panels made of silicon are declining in price such that in some locations they can provide electricity that costs about the same as power from fossil fuels like coal and natural gas. But silicon solar panels are also bulky, rigid and brittle, so they can’t be used just anywhere.

In many parts of the world that don’t have regular electricity, solar panels could provide reading light after dark and energy to pump drinking water, help power small household or village-based businesses or even serve emergency shelters and refugee encampments. But the mechanical fragility, heaviness and transportation difficulties of silicon solar panels suggest that silicon may not be ideal.

Building on others’ work, my research group is working to develop flexible solar panels, which would be as efficient as a silicon panel, but would be thin, lightweight and bendable. This sort of device, which we call a “solar tarp,” could be spread out to the size of a room and generate electricity from the sun, and it could be balled up to be the size of a grapefruit and stuffed in a backpack as many as 1,000 times without breaking. While there has been some effort to make organic solar cells more flexible simply by making them ultra-thin, real durability requires a molecular structure that makes the solar panels stretchable and tough.

A small piece of a prototype solar tarp. University of California, San Diego, CC BY-ND

Silicon Semiconductors

Silicon is derived from sand, which makes it cheap. And the way its atoms pack in a solid material makes it a good semiconductor, meaning its conductivity can be switched on and off using electric fields or light. Because it’s cheap and useful, silicon is the basis for the microchips and circuit boards in computers, mobile phones and basically all other electronics, transmitting electrical signals from one component to another. Silicon is also the key to most solar panels, because it can convert the energy from light into positive and negative charges. These charges flow to the opposite sides of a solar cell and can be used like a battery.

But its chemical properties also mean it can’t be turned into flexible electronics. Silicon doesn’t absorb light very efficiently. Photons might pass right through a silicon panel that’s too thin, so they have to be fairly thick – around 100 micrometers, about the thickness of a dollar bill – so that none of the light goes to waste.

Next-Generation Semiconductors

But researchers have found other semiconductors that are much better at absorbing light. One group of materials, called “perovskites,” can be used to make solar cells that are almost as efficient as silicon ones, but with light-absorbing layers that are one-thousandth the thickness needed with silicon. As a result, researchers are working on building perovskite solar cells that can power small unmanned aircraft and other devices where reducing weight is a key factor.

The 2000 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to the researchers who first found they could make another type of ultra-thin semiconductor, called a semiconducting polymer. This type of material is called an “organic semiconductor” because it is based on carbon, and it is called a “polymer” because it consists of long chains of organic molecules. Organic semiconductors are already used commercially, including in the billion-dollar industry of organic light-emitting diode displays, better known as OLED TVs.

Polymer semiconductors aren’t as efficient at converting sunlight to electricity as perovskites or silicon, but they’re much more flexible and potentially extraordinarily durable. Regular polymers – not the semiconducting ones – are found everywhere in daily life; they are the molecules that make up fabric, plastic and paint. Polymer semiconductors hold the potential to combine the electronic properties of materials like silicon with the physical properties of plastic.

The Best Of Both Worlds: Efficiency and Durability

Depending on their structure, plastics have a wide range of properties – including both flexibility, as with a tarp; and rigidity, like the body panels of some automobiles. Semiconducting polymers have rigid molecular structures, and many are composed of tiny crystals. These are key to their electronic properties but tend to make them brittle, which is not a desirable attribute for either flexible or rigid items.

My group’s work has been focused on identifying ways to create materials with both good semiconducting properties and the durability plastics are known for – whether flexible or not. This will be key to my idea of a solar tarp or blanket, but could also lead to roofing materials, outdoor floor tiles or perhaps even the surfaces of roads or parking lots.

This work will be key to harnessing the power of sunlight – because, after all, the sunlight that strikes the Earth in a single hour contains more energy than all of humanity uses in a year.



Book-Sized Solar Panels Could Power A Whole Home In New Breakthrough

By: Colm Gorey

Image: kkays2/Shutterstock

In our efforts to make solar panels even more efficient, a team of scientists has found a way of funnelling the sun’s power.

The technology around solar power is experiencing a major boom at the moment, with it now increasingly becoming cheaper to run than traditional fossil fuel energy sources in some instances.

But it is still a long way from achieving the efficiency we want it to, which has led a team of scientists to develop a pioneering new technique that could effectively ‘funnel’ solar energy in greater amounts than before.

In a paper published to Nature Communications, the team from the University of Exeter detailed its breakthrough, which could see the potential for three times the amount of solar energy generated than traditional systems.

This, the team believes, could see the creation of solar panels that are no bigger than a book being used to power an entire home.

“The idea is similar to pouring a liquid into a container – as we all know, it is much more efficient if we use a funnel,” said Adolfo de Sanctis, lead author of the paper.

“However, such charge funnels cannot be realised with conventional semiconductors, and only the recent discovery of atomically thin materials has enabled this discovery.”

Key ingredient

The physicists achieved this major feat with a chip made from an atomically thin semiconductor called hafnium disulphide, which was oxidised with a high-intensity UV laser.

The team was then able to engineer an electric field that funnels electrical charges to a specific area of the chip, where they can be more easily extracted.

Breaking it down into figures, the new technique has the potential to convert around 60pc of the raw power of the sun into usable solar energy, compared with 20pc found in existing systems.

Until this technology can be implemented into existing panels, innovators such as Eden Full Goh are attempting to find ways of overcoming the challenge that Earth’s rotation around the sun poses for harnessing solar energy.



Power To The Pupils: Solar Panels Keep Kenya’s Kids In School

Mihingoni is one of eight mostly off-grid primary schools in the southeastern coastal county of Kilifi that have been fitted with a solar array.

New Delhi: From a mile away, the roof of Mihingoni Primary School glitters in Kenya’s midday sun. The effect, though, comes not from the roof but from what is on it: a sparkling array of solar panels.

Mihingoni is one of eight mostly off-grid primary schools in the southeastern coastal county of Kilifi that have been fitted with a solar array.

The key task of the 800-watt panels is to power tablet computers that pupils use under the government’s strategy to integrate e-learning into primary education.

Last year more than 1 million of the devices were distributed to primary school students across the country – among them Mihingoni’s pupils. But tablets require electricity, which many rural schools lack.

Mihingoni primary is connected to the national grid, but power is expensive, and only its computer room has electricity, limiting charging of the devices.

But “since the solar panels were fitted (in January), pupils can have access to their tablets any time, and the cost of power has considerably gone down,” said Kuchanja Karisa, headmaster of the school, about 35 kilometres (22 miles) north of the coastal city of Mombasa.

In his impoverished area, he said, access to electricity boosts access to education, not least because the cost of power is factored into school fees.

“Poverty levels in this area are high, and any slight increase or decrease in school fees affects school attendance,” he said.


The panels are part of a project run by two British-based organisations to provide solar power to primary schools and clinics in remote, off-grid communities.

The OVO Foundation – the charitable arm of a green-leaning energy firm – provides funding, while Energy 4 Impact, a charity that works on accelerating access to energy, does the installation.

The need is great: thousands of Kenyan schools lack access to the national power grid.

Figures from the education ministry show the country had 29,460 primary schools as of 2014, of which nearly 22,000 were state schools.

As of last December, about 24,000 primary schools were connected to the grid, according to Simon Gicharu who chairs the government’s rural electrification program.

A lack of power at unconnected schools, however, makes it difficult for students to take full advantage of tablets provided under the e-learning programme, Karisa said.

At Mihingoni, for example, pupils unable to access the computer lab to charge their tablets – which have an eight-hour battery life – ended up using them less, the headmaster said.

At the school, students previously paid 1,500 Kenyan shillings ($15) a year for electricity. But today, with the solar panels, there is a much lower fee – 500 shillings ($5), which goes to pay for more grid power in the rainy season when the solar panels work less effectively.

Cutting costs “has seen a sharp increase in the number of students who have since joined the school”, Karisa said.

In 2017, the school had about 50 pupils in each class, he said. Now it has 140, with the lower cost encouraging more parents to send their children to school.

Annual fees at the school are about 700 shillings ($7) per primary school student, apart from the energy supplement.

“Every coin counts for area locals,” Karisa said.


Fifty kilometres north is Migodomani Primary School, which also had solar panels installed in January.

Headmaster Ngala Kahindi Luwali told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that until the panels were available, his pupils had been unable to use tablets at all.

“With the solar panels we have been able to catch up with other schools in urban areas that have already incorporated e-learning,” he said. “Pupils are enthusiastic with e-learning since it’s a new method of teaching.”

The panels power not only the tablets, but projectors and a television – none of which the school previously had been able to use.

The array also provides lighting to the school’s boarding facilities, where students once relied on costly and polluting paraffin lanterns.

Gaby Sethi, who heads the OVO Foundation, said she believes providing access to clean electricity in parts of the world without power can help people get ahead.

“We think we can have a significant impact on people and children’s lives if we’re electrifying schools and health clinics,” she said.

Under the project, the panels and installation are free, with the schools paying for ongoing maintenance costs, Karisa said.

Gabriel Katana, the county’s head of education and information and communications technology, said the local government wants to see solar panels installed to power hospitals and other social amenities too.

“In the future we will … purchase solar pumps to use in irrigating food to be grown in the schools to feed the pupils,” he said.

The ambition is to use solar power for all of the county’s primary school needs – not just powering information technology, he said.


Relying on solar panels has some drawbacks, however – including that they can be less effective in rainy and cold seasons, said Mihingoni Primary School’s Karisa.

At those times, the school has to revert back to using kerosene for lighting and grid power for electricity, he said.

Daniel Kuria, who manages Energy 4 Impact’s solar programme in Kenya, agreed there is a need for a solar array that generates sufficient power in the rainy season.

Mihingoni primary will get an improved battery system to store solar power and help bridge the gap, he said.

For now, the solar panels – and lower school fees as a result – are helping keep students in school, Karisa said.

Parents “can use the flimsiest of excuses to keep their children home, so it’s important to have cheap, reliable energy, like solar, that will not expense the parents,” he said.