Liquid Batteries to Pour on Green Energy?

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Banks of scorching hot batteries filled with molten metals may be the long-sought silver bullet to make large-scale adoption of wind and solar energy a practical, purely green reality. Such a storage solution is needed because, as we know, the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine where and when it’s needed. “Right now, if you run a solar farm or a wind farm and you want to deliver electricity when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining, the cheapest way is to get a gas-fired peaking unit,” Donald Sadoway, a materials chemist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told me Monday.

Gas-fired peaking units are mini power plants that can be turned on and off quickly to meet demand for electricity when other sources are unavailable or maxed out. “Those things are cheap to buy, they are cheap to run, and the price of natural gas has been falling recently in the United States. So the way people have been looking at (shoring up) renewables is to turn to natural gas,” Sadoway explained. “And that’s fine. It’s not illegal. There’s nothing immoral about it,” he added, “but it is not 100 percent green at this point.” For the industry to adopt the greener battery technology, the cost of the battery has to be as cheap, efficient, and reliable as state-of-the art natural gas-fired peaking plants. Read more »

Kuwait’s future ‘through green energy’ – ‘What you plant now, you harvest later’

KUWAIT: Amid a never-ending struggle of a government that cries for decreasing mind-boggling consumption of electricity through awareness campaigns and consumers who cannot let go of their daily dependency on electricity, one man might have found common grounds to address this problem by utilizing what nature has to offer. The use of renewable energy resources derived from sunlight and wind might have been a familiar sight in Europe and other parts of the world; However, to see windmills and solar energy panels of various shapes and sizes in Kuwait is like watching a scene from a science-fiction movie; that is what one notices when passing by Mohammad Ali Al-Naki’s house in Salwa area.

Al-Naki, an environment enthusiast and a renewable energy advocate, has been pioneering the usage of alternative energy since the mid-1980s. Al-Naki, Chairman of Kuwait Industries Company, believed that there was an ongoing quest to make the most of renewable and clean energy resources. He is also a member of the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) and the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), has set up wind turbines and solar panels to provide power to his home, hence, offering an idiosyncratic experience into the world of alternative energy in the country.
Read more »

Walmart Erects Its First Massive Wind Turbine

Shortly after Walmart announced the installation of solar panels on its 100th store in California, a 265-foot-high wind turbine was erected in Red Bluff, bringing the retail giant one step closer to obtaining 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources.

“It looks like our renewable energy strategy is going to take a lot of tools,” Greg Pool, a director of energy for Walmart, told Forbes. “We are pursuing wind energy and renewable energy at a lot of different levels.”

Supplied by General Electric, the 1-megawatt turbine is the company’s first installation of its kind, whereas other stores in California and Massachusetts have smaller turbines, generating under 3 kilowatts of electricity. GE’s full sized turbine at Red Bluff is expected to supply 15 to 20 percent of the store’s energy and the energy produced from the turbine will be purchased under a 15-year agreement with Foundation Windpower in Silicon Valley.

Walmart is examining other opportunities at locations where turbines would make sense. For many areas, the 25-story machine with blades stretching 250 feet would generate more electricity than a store typically needs—not to mention the headache involved in obtaining permits to install the massive structures. For that reason, it has been suggested by Pool that the wind industry could use more medium sized turbines (400 to 800 kilowatts).

With 180 renewable energy projects in operation, Walmart continues to aggressively pursue renewables. In West Texas, a 90-megawatt wind farm provides 15 percent of power for more than 300 stores and Sam’s Clubs, while 17 percent of power in 348 stores in Mexico comes from wind power. In addition to over 140 solar installations in six states, 27 more stores are set to have solar panel installations by 2014.


New Wind Power System Claims 70% Increase in Wind Speeds, Triple the Power Output

Mass Megawatts/Screen capture

One wind technology company is taking a different approach to low wind speed power generation with its multi-axis turbines and what they call a wind “augmentation system”, which claims to increase the wind speed at the turbines and triple their power output.

Mass Megawatts Wind Power, of Worcester, MA, says that combining their Multi-Axis Turbo system (MAT) and MMW Augmenter will create a wind power technology for profitable electricity generation at sites with lower wind speeds, and increase production to peak levels at high wind sites.

The wind augmentation system uses a fairly simple and inexpensive wind-focusing device to increase the wind speeds directed at the turbines by about 70%, which is said to triple the electrical power generated by those turbines. Mass Megawatts claims this could eliminate the need for towers over 80 feet high for turbines in some areas, reducing the costs for both materials and installations and enabling wind turbines to generate electricity profitably in areas of lower wind speeds.

Courtesy: www,

IBM Squeezes More Power from New Solar Cell

Phto Courtesy of IBM Research, and Agua Caliente

The more sunlight a solar cell can convert into electricity, the cheaper the solar power. Companies like IBM are turning to new materials to try to break efficiency barriers for solar cells.

Wringing more solar electricity from low-cost materials is a major focus for scientists and those who want the world to get away from using fossil fuels for electricity. Researchers at IBM recently announced that they were able to do just that with a new type of compound that uses cheaper ingredients than what goes into some of the solar panels today.

The researchers reported in Advanced Energy Materials that they fabricated solar cells with copper, zinc, tin and sulfur (CZTS) that for the first time could convert 11.1 percent of the sunlight that falls on it into electricity. That’s a 10 percent improvement from the 10.1 percent efficiency IBM achieved last year and published in Progress in Photovoltaics.

The more electricity you can squeeze from the same set of materials, the lower the generation cost. So increasing the efficiency of solar cells is important to lower the price of solar electricity, which is currently more expensive than generating electricity from coal or natural gas. Coal and natural gas technologies have already benefited from decades of improvements, so replacing them with equally cheap power will take time.

Researchers at IBM and elsewhere are exploring the use of the CZTS compound partly because zinc and tin are more abundant and found in more diverse regions in the world than indium and gallium, which are used to make some of the solar cells today. Recent conflicts over rare earth elements have shown that the path to building a world of clean energy technologies, such as batteries for electric cars and wind turbines, can have major geopolitical roadblocks.

I caught up with IBM’s solar researcher David Mitzi, who also is a co-author of the new paper on CZTS, earlier this year to find out why IBM is investing in CZTS research. Aside from the benefit of cheaper and more available materials, the CZTS compound, because of its crystal structure, also could lead to thinner solar cells than those made with silicon, which is the most common material for making solar cells today. Thinner cells means using less materials and doing so, presumably, at lower costs.

The pace of efficiency improvement in CZTS cell research since the mid-1990s also is a big draw for IBM, Mitzi told me. In 2008, the most efficient CZTS cell achieved 6.7 percent efficiency, and IBM reported a record 9.7 percent efficiency in 2010. A year after that, the company pushed that figure to 10.1 percent.

Mitzi and his fellow researchers are gunning for 15 percent efficiency in order to position CZTS cells competitively against other solar cell technologies. Several companies that produce copper-indium-gallium-selenide (CIGS) solar cells are getting efficiencies in the mid-teens. First Solar is making solar cells in the lower end of the mid-teen range but claims to be on its way to increase that to 17.3 percent some day. Most of the silicon solar cells can get a bit higher efficiency except for SunPower, which is rolling out cells that can hit 24 percent at times.

The goal is to get to 15 percent in about two years, Mitzi said. Achieving that milestone won’t be easy, he acknowledged. Being able to get higher efficiency isn’t enough. Figuring out how to make those high-efficient cells cheaply is key, and that will involve a lot of trial and error in designing and running factory equipment.