MIT Startup Creates Camouflage Solar Panels

By: Alexander Walter

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Founded at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Sistine creates custom solar panels designed to mimic home facades and other environments, with aims of enticing more homeowners to install photovoltaic systems.

Sistine’s novel technology, SolarSkin, is a layer that can be imprinted with any image and embedded into a solar panel without interfering with the panel’s efficacy. Homeowners can match their rooftop or a grassy lawn. — MIT News

The product caters to the growing “aesthetic solar” market which tries to attract homeowners that are considering going solar but fear the aesthetic impact of the traditional, bleak-looking dark solar panels on their home’s appearance. Just last fall, Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed a line of glass, photovoltaic cell-embedded roof tiles that mimic (currently) four common roof covering styles.

Here a few more examples of Sistine’s SolarSkin technology that allows—so the company claims—the panels to either completely blend in with the existing roof or display any desired image, like business logos or advertisements.

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Solar-Powered Drone Switches from Helicopter to Plane Mode

Cells lining its long wingspan will extend its flight time.

By: David Lumb

Bobby Schulz / University of Minnesota

Ever since the wobbly autogyro went out of fashion, engineers have tried designing a craft that gets the vertical lift of a helicopter’s blades with the horizontal thrust of a plane is difficult to pull off. Popular successes, like the AV-8 Harrier series and V-22 Osprey, angle thrust down for takeoff and behind during flight. Researchers at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis are building a drone that similarly transforms and is stocked with solar panels to prolong its deployment.

That longer flight time should make it viable for farmers to use it for aerial surveying of their land, pinpointing spots to irrigate or fertilize. The Solar Unmanned Air Vehicle: Quad (SUAV:Q), as the drone is named, takes off vertically and unfolds to a six-foot wingspan for flight. It needs to be that large to carry its multispectral camera for measuring crop health, as well as provide flat space for more solar cells, but can be folded up to fit in the back of a pickup truck.

Unfortunately, there’s no sweet videos of the SUAV:Q lifting into the air and switching to plane mode (with appropriate sound effects), so we can only presume it’s still being tested. But extending flight time is a perpetual goal for drone makers, which continue to boost battery life and try out hydrogen-cell alternatives.


Storing Wind Power in a Giant Flow Battery

By: Tessel Renzenbrink

A 100 m tall wind turbine is being erected at the German Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology (ICT) test facility. Once construction is completed the testing of one of Germany’s largest batteries can begin.

Storing Wind Power in a Giant Flow Battery Image by Ad-liftra. CC BY-SA 3.0 licence.

Under the header of RedoxWind project, ICT has been developing a large-scale redox-flow battery. The aim is to use the battery to store wind energy. The 2 MW power and 20 MWh capacity battery can supply the power needs of a village for up to ten hours. An industrial hall at the test facility in Pfinztal, Baden-Württemberg houses 45,000 liter tanks to store electrical energy in liquid electrolytes.

The tanks have been waiting patiently for the arrival of the custom-build wind turbine. The ICT scientists, however, are less patient. They have been planning the project for years. Now, finally, large trucks have been arriving at the facility to deliver the components of the 2 MW wind turbine. Once the turbine with its 82 m rotor diameter has been erected, they can finally get their hands on the real thing.

Industrial Scale
is the missing link in the transition to renewable energy. It is the necessary component to integrate intermittent sources like wind and solar into the grid at a large scale. With the RedoxWind project, ICT is building a generator-storage unit that can contribute to balancing power generation and demand, or function as a stand-alone device in remote areas.

The goal of RedoxWind project is twofold: to scale-up redox-flow battery technology so that it can be manufactured at an industrial scale. And, secondly, to tweak the wind turbine to find the optimal mode of operation for the battery. The battery will be connected directly to the intermediate DC circuit of the turbine. Compared to a grid connection, This direct connection eliminates the need for an additional conversion step in power transfer, and reduces the investment costs needed for the conversion technology.


Solar panels Make Morocco’s Mosques a Model for Green Energy

Renewable energy is becoming increasingly viable worldwide. But how can governments spread the message to the public? In Morocco, the authorities have been looking to religion for the answer.

Revving engines and hooting horns – sounds from Marrakesh’s busy street filter up to the rooftop of one of the Moroccan city’s biggest mosques.

The mosaic-decorated, stone minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque, towers above the flat roof, providing little shelter from the strong sun that beats down onto a row of giant solar panels. That is precisely what Jan-Christoph Kuntze is counting on.

A project manager for GIZ, the German society for international cooperation in Morocco, Kuntze tells DW the panels were only recently installed but are already proving a success.

“It’s basically for covering lighting needs and a couple of other energy needs in the mosque,” he says.

Although the roof panels are not visible from the street, a panel standing in front of the mosque informs passers-by how much electricity is being produced by the solar panels at any given time, and how many carbon emissions have been avoided.

Something Old, Something New

It’s all part of a scheme being pioneered by Morocco’s Ministry of Islamic Affairs. Of around 50,000 mosques dotted across the country, the ministry is responsible for energy and water in approximately 15,000. The government plans to install electricity producing PV, or photovoltaic panels, LED lighting and solar thermal water heaters at around 600 mosques by 2019 and more after that.

Koutoubia is one of the country’s first mosques to have solar panels installed and one of the most-high profile, says Kuntze.

“This is a very old mosque, one of the oldest in Morocco. There’s a lot of awareness-raising potential via this mosque, because it’s so important for Moroccans.”

The changes taking place at mosques are just some of the measures Morocco is taking in developing its renewable energy sector. A frontrunner in the region, the country has already rolled out large wind farm and solar energy projects. In 2015, the King of Morocco announced the country would aim to get more than half its electricity from renewables by 2030.

Solar panels help to power LED lights inside the Koutoubia Mosque in Marakesh

Getting Use to Green

The project was showcased at the UN climate conference in Marrakesh in 2016.  Said Mouline, general director of AMEE, the National Agency for Energy Efficiency Morocco, told the international community how the mosques can help achieve energy targets and raise public awareness.

“We want to show that even in mosques we can have efficient lamps, we can have solar water heaters, we can have even solar PV,” he told DW. “The big deal is to have people sensitized about energy efficiency –  seeing technology in the mosque, and then hoping they will install that technology in their houses.”

Currently, Morocco is heavily dependent on energy imports. AMEE estimates that more than 95 percent of its energy comes from outside the country, which makes it vulnerable to energy price fluctuations.

The government believes that energy efficiency and renewable energy are the key to reducing the country’s dependency and providing people with an affordable source of power, at least in the long run. But the initial costs for installing solar panels or measures to make their energy more efficient are beyond what many Moroccans can afford.

“We are looking for financing for citizens, for implementing energy efficiency. We have to convince them that it’s better…,” added Mouline.

The panel shows Moroccans how much electricity is being produced by the solar panels and how much carbon dioxide emissions have been avoided

Calling all Moroccans

The call to prayer echoes across the square outside the Koutoubia mosque. People make their way quickly towards the building to take part in Friday prayers, one of the most important days of the week for Muslims.

Few mosque-goers here seem to be aware of the mosque’s solar panels – not visible from street level. Still, people seem to be optimistic about the future of renewables.

“The good thing about solar energy is that unlike electricity, it is always available. It’s from God,” says one man.

A young girl outside the mosque says that she could imagine using renewable technologies in her own home. “This could be the future for Marrakesh to depend only on solar energy,” she says.

There is still a long way to go before Morocco meets its renewables targets. But the future for Morocco’s mosques at least, is looking decidedly greener.


The Dutch Are Testing LED Crosswalk Lines to Prevent Pedestrians From Getting Run Over

HIG via The Verge

When your nose is buried in a smartphone while crossing busy city streets, you’re going to get hit by a car. To limit that, a Dutch city is testing a system that lights up a line on the ground informing pedestrians when it is safe to cross the street.

Together with HIG Traffic Systems, the Dutch city of Bodegraven is testing Lightlines, or Lichtlijn. The system illuminates a strip of LEDs strategically placed in the line of sight of those who would otherwise be distracted by their phones while crossing the street. The lights turn red or green with the walk signals.

“Social media, games, WhatsApp and music are major distractions in traffic,” said town alderman Kees Oskam to Dutch News. “We may not be able to change this trend, but we can anticipate problems.”

Currently, the lights are installed at just one crossing that is located near a handful of schools. If the test is successful, HIG will try to expand by working with other town governments.

Check out the video below for some shots of the light strips in action.