Upcycled R.I. Waste Sites Now Produce Solar Power

This solar panel field in West Kingston, R.I., is located on a capped waste disposal site. It was developed and is owned by Kearsarge Energy as part of the South Kingstown Solar Consortium, which includes the towns of Narragansett and South Kingstown and the University of Rhode Island. (Nora Lewis/URI)

The University of Rhode Island and the towns of South Kingstown and Narragansett have created the South Kingstown Solar Consortium to develop an ambitious solar-energy project that will boost the amount of renewable energy flowing into the regional power grid.

In the works for more than three years, the project is among the largest solar power initiatives in New England. When complete, it will cover 267 acres in West Kingston, South Kingstown and West Greenwich.

URI and its private, municipal, and state partners unveiled details of the initiative at a Nov. 29 ribbon-cutting ceremony for the West Kingston and South Kingstown sites. A similar celebration is planned for the West Greenwich site when it becomes operational.

The consortium solicited proposals from private developers to build and maintain the solar facilities at no net cost to members. It signed 25-year contracts with Kearsarge Solar to develop the West Kingston and South Kingstown sites, and with Energy Development Partners to develop the West Greenwich site.

The capacity of the installations is 40 megawatts, which is expected to deliver 48,000 megawatt-hours of energy to the grid annually — enough energy to power 750 homes and offset the fossil-fuel consumption of 1,500 cars.

The project is also an excellent example of upcycling — a superior secondary use of a product or material, in this case, the land. Of the 42 acres at the West Kingston and South Kingstown locations, 28 are non-farmable, capped waste disposal sites: the former South Kingstown town dump and URI disposal area on Plains Road in West Kingston; and the onetime South Kingstown/Narragansett dump on Rose Hill Road in South Kingstown.

The initiative is a “virtual net metering project,” in which the solar energy generated flows into the electrical supplier’s grid rather than being directly used by any one of the consortium partners, according to David Lamb, assistant director of facilities services and utilities at URI.

State law requires that developers of such projects must be able to offload net metering credits to a public or quasi-public entity; in this case, the consortium members. The value of credits issued is determined by the number of kilowatt-hours generated by the solar facilities times the Public Utilities Commission set rate applicable to solar-generated electricity.

“We are supporting the development of renewable energy that will be supplied to the grid and, in turn, the consortium members receive credits that will reduce costs on their monthly utility bills,” Lamb said.

URI expects to receive credits worth $1.2 million in savings annually on its electric bill when all the sites are operational, according to J. Vernon Wyman, the university’s assistant vice president of business services.

As a consumer of more than 75 million kilowatt-hours of electricity a year, which translates to an annual electric bill of roughly $9.4 million, the university provides its town partners with the assurance that they can transfer their net metering credits to URI if they one day consume less energy than their share of what is generated, alleviating their long-term financial risk while further reducing URI’s energy costs.

For the first 10 years of operation, the private developers receive renewable-energy certificates for the electricity generated that they can trade or sell to offset their costs. The credits are non-tangible commodities, with each one worth one megawatt-hour of electricity generated from a renewable source. In the 11th year of the contracts, these renewable-energy certificates transfer to the consortium members.

“The value of collaboration through the consortium is the ability to manage our consumption and maximize the benefits for the members,” Wyman said.

The West Kingston site includes 14 acres of adjacent open land owned by URI. The solar panels at this location, as well as at the West Greenwich location, which includes a former sand and gravel operation, will be installed on pile-driven structures. All locations will be surrounded by high fences.

Courtesy: https://www.ecori.org/renewable-energy/

New Brilliant Iron Molecule May Be the Key to Cheap Solar Energy

The novel molecule can function both as a photocatalyst to produce fuel and in solar cells to produce electricity, replacing the expensive and rare metals in use today.

New Brilliant Iron Molecule May Be the Key to Cheap Solar Energy
Photo Courtesy: Nils Rosemann

Scientists are looking at some of the most unlikely sources for energy production, partly motivated by academic and research objectives, and partly to create a new framework of energy production and extraction.

Though some raise eyebrows due to perceived feasibility challenges like China’s artificial sun ambitions, or the device that was developed to convert exhaust into renewable energy, the sheer number of examples of creative energy generation are truly inspiring.

Now, researchers have produced an iron molecule with photocatalytic promise, and it could provide large benefits in terms of both (1) electricity generation in solar cells and (2) fuel production. As iron is a more plentiful and cheaper to supply source of metal, this will also have an impact in the industry.

Advanced Molecule Design Leads to Progress

A growing body of research in the last decade has shown the strong potential that other metals can have in photocatalysis, with scientists focusing on iridium and ruthenium more and more “due to the access they provide to new synthetic spaces through new reaction mechanisms”. The challenge, however, lies in how rare they both are.

The team produced its results by altering their approach to the molecular coordination, which allowed them to create an iron molecule that resulted in iron-based light that was observable at room temperature, a first in science, although their work builds on previous studies in the same area.

“The good result depends on the fact that we have optimized the molecular structure around the iron atom”, explains colleague Petter Persson of Lund University, who was also part of the study.

Next Steps in the Research

A revised, or expanded, roadmap of solar energy production could be in the works, according to the researchers. This could also mean developments in another number of areas which rely on iron molecules.

“Our results now show that by using advanced molecule design, it is possible to replace the rare metals with iron, which is common in the Earth’s crust and therefore cheap”, says Chemistry Professor Kenneth Wärnmark of Lund University in Sweden.

Beyond the promising potential of the iron molecule, the fact that the breakthrough came now is what surprised the researchers the most. Wärnmark summed it up best when he said, “We believed it would take at least ten years.”

Still one wonders, however if, given the rate at which we are consuming materials, that one day a similar team will be announcing a cheaper alternative to the very rare iron.

This research serves as good news in the sense that, although we are aware of the powerful and undeniable benefits of solar energy, we must also ensure that the materials behind the technology also support a realistic and sustainable vision. With no end in sight to the momentum behind solar energy, this breakthrough is an important step.

Details about the study appear in a paper, titled “Luminescence and reactivity of a charge-transfer excited iron complex with nanosecond lifetime”, which was published November 29th in the Science journal.

Courtesy: https://interestingengineering.com/