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2010 September | Green and Alternative Energy Information

Mimicking nature, water-based ‘artificial leaf’ produces electricity

A team led by a North Carolina State University researcher has shown that water-gel-based solar devices — “artificial leaves” — can act like solar cells to produce electricity. The findings prove the concept for making solar cells that more closely mimic nature. They also have the potential to be less expensive and more environmentally friendly than the current standard-bearer: silicon-based solar cells.

The bendable devices are composed of water-based gel infused with light-sensitive molecules — the researchers used plant chlorophyll in one of the experiments — coupled with electrodes coated by carbon materials, such as carbon nanotubes or graphite. The light-sensitive molecules get “excited” by the sun’s rays to produce electricity, similar to plant molecules that get excited to synthesize sugars in order to grow, says NC State’s Dr. Orlin Velev, Invista Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and the lead author of a paper published online in the Journal of Materials Chemistry describing this new generation of solar cells.

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Hydropower in United States – Things to know

Hydropower is the most important renewable energy source in United States, which currently accounts for around 8% of nation’s electricity.

The biggest hydroelectric dams in the United States are found in the Northwest, the Tennessee Valley, and on the Colorado River.

United States is currently fourth largest producer of hydroelectricity in the world, behind China, Canada and Brazil.

The United States currently has more than 2,000 hydroelectric power plants which supply close to 50% of its total renewable electricity.

The largest U.S. hydroelectric power plant is the 6,800-megawatt Grand Coulee power station on the Columbia River in Washington State.

Idaho, Washington, and Oregon are US states that use hydroelectricity as their main power source, and hydroelectric plants exist in at least 34 US states.

State of Washington leads the nation in hydropower and accounts for around 31% of the total U.S. generated hydropower.

Hydropower has very long history in United States as the first U.S. hydroelectric power plant was opened almost 130 years ago, on the Fox River near Appleton, Wisconsin, on September 30, 1882.

Most dams in the United States were built mainly for flood control and irrigation, and only a small percentage of all dams in the United States generates electricity.

US can currently generate enough hydropower to supply electricity needs for close to 29 million households.

In 2008, hydropower represented 2.5% of the total energy consumed in the United States.

Posted byNed Haluzan

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Abandoned Sites to Become Solar Fields

Brownfields like this may become solar fields. Via Srwenvironmental.com

Brownfield sites are abandoned or underused industrial and commercial facilities available for re-use. Often, redeveloping such sites is hampered by real or perceived environmental contamination.

But a new partnership may change that. OPEL Solar, a supplier of high concentration photovoltaic (HCPV) solar panels and advanced solar trackers and TRUENORTH Solar & Environmental, a designer and installer of high quality solar industry products, have teamed up to install utility-scale solar fields on brownfield sites across North America that have been deemed otherwise unusable.

One of the attractions of doing that is that blighted areas of land can be turned into renewable energy fields to meet growing demand, besides helping utilities to meet their clean energy mandates.

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Green energy – Definition and meaning

The simplest green energy definition would be energy produced from energy sources that are environmentally more friendly (or “greener”) compared to fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas). Green energy therefore includes all renewable energy sources (solar, wind, geothermal, biofuels, hydropower), and by definition should also include nuclear energy though there are many environmentalists who oppose the idea of talking about nuclear energy as the green energy because of the nuclear waste issue, and its harmful environmental effects.

Green energy term was coined to separate highly polluting fossil fuels from other less polluting, environmentally friendlier energy options such as renewable energy sources. Climate change has become a global threat, and world needs to find cleaner (less emitting) energy options, and thus the importance of green energy keeps growing.

Green energy is still not powerful enough to compete with fossil fuels. This is mostly because green energy is still significantly more expensive energy option compared to fossil fuels, and thus many countries, especially developing ones, rather stick with cheaper fossil fuels such as coal.

It also has to be said that term green energy doesn’t include only renewable energy sources but can in more broader term also include the conservation of energy (for instance a green energy example is also a building constructed in a way that it keeps itself cool in the daytime and heated in the night through its architectural design instead of relying on air-conditioning or a heating system).

The promotion of green energy does not only include using more renewable energy sources in years to come but also to make currently dominant fossil fuels energy technologies more greener and less polluting (such as clean coal technologies).

Term green energy is sometimes identified with the term sustainable energy but this is not entirely correct because sustainable energy also includes technologies that improve energy efficiency. Green energy doesn’t refer to efficiency of renewable energy sources but is only interested in their positive environmental impact (compared to fossil fuels).

Posted byNed Haluzan

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Solar energy vs fossil fuels

Many people wonder how come we still so heavily rely on fossil fuels when we could use free, environmentally friendly, and almost unlimited solar energy to satisfy our energy needs. The answer is quite simple, fossil fuels are still considerably cheaper energy option compared to solar energy, and energy consumers are still not ready to pay higher prices, even if this means reduced environmental damage. Also, fossil fuels technologies have far better efficiency compared to currently available solar power technologies.

Solar energy industry still searches for its holy grail in form of cheap and efficient solar panels. There are many ongoing researches that offer some interesting solutions, but none of these solutions have the sufficient commercial component that would make it economically viable, and thus competitive with fossil fuels.

Standard solar panels installed on a house may convert only up to 15% of the sun’s rays, meaning that large potion of solar energy remains untapped and instead becomes waste heat. Even the most efficient solar panels available on the market today have efficiency of only 22%.

Scientists use different approaches in their research of efficient and inexpensive solar photovoltaic panels. Some believe the key may lie in complex nanomaterials and semiconductors, while others focus on the process itself, not giving total attention to materials used in process.

How difficult it is to improve efficiency of solar panels with currently available technologies? Many energy experts will tell you that improving efficiency of solar panels by only 5% would be a massive achievement, and this certainly answers the above question.

Photovoltaics are complicated technology, and in many cases when scientists try to improve efficiency their end result it even worse then it was in the beginning. The discovery of cheap and efficient solar panels is definitely one of the greatest scientific and technological challenges of our time.

Though fossil fuels currently have big advantages in terms of costs and efficiency compared to solar panels, fossil fuel industry still wakes up each day in fear thinking “what if today is the day when solar panels will become less expensive and much more efficient?”.

That day will no doubt come, and hopefully more sooner than later.

Posted byNed Haluzan

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The Difference Between Renewable and Sustainable

Via Campaign Against Climate Change

Climate change, renewable energy, green this, eco that … We are constantly flooded with information about the need to shift towards a different, planet-friendly economy in order to preserve the atmospheric condition in which life as we know it can thrive.

And it’s true.

However, the media is fragmented, conflicting interests clash and everyone is learning and making mistakes in the process. Just remember how much controversy there is about climate science and you get an idea as to how complex thinking about these issues, let alone writing and legislating about them, is.

The concept of renewable energy is also multi-faceted. Renewable, in the context of energy, refers to fuels whose supplies are not based on a finite reserve, like fossil fuels are. For instance, solar power is renewable because the sun will probably outshine the human presence on this planet for millions and millions of years

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Financing Renewable Energy

Stephen Lacey’s podcast this week on Crossing the Valley of Death was simply terrific. In the first 10 minutes or so, he delivered interview snippets with several top players in the financing of energy innovation, each pointing to a singular basic fact:

There is a gap between the interests of venture capitalists (who want to invest a few million dollars in projects that are likely to produce large short-term profits) and the interests of institutional investors and banks (who, while they will take long-term positions, do so only in mature, risk-free technologies).

The show went on to discuss a variety of different work-arounds to the challenge, including an initiative now working its way through Congress: the creation of a new entity housed in DOE, the Clean Energy Deployment Administration (CEDA). Supporters claim that CEDA would bring strong financial expertise and a specific purpose to create an attractive investment environment for the development and deployment new clean energy technologies.

The only thing I would add is that this entire discussion is occurring in the context of renewable energy that is currently expensive vis-à-vis fossil fuels. A few of the folks Stephen interviewed mentioned this casually, but it’s really at the crux of the entire issue; I know I’ve mentioned this “level playing field” concept before, but this is where the central problem lies. If you a solution that makes a bloated government even bigger, go for it. But if you you believe that “that government is best that governs least,” and you want market-based capital formation to drive the clean energy industry, all you really have to do is remove the subsidies given to fossil fuels, the problem will take care of itself more or less instantly.

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Biofuels from waste has excellent potential in EU

In world where there are one billion hungry people it is unacceptable to use food crops to produce biofuels. The world is already finding it very hard to produce enough food, and using food crops to produce biofuels would not only cause severe food shortages but also higher food prices, which would in the end lead to even more hunger and more poverty in the world.

Producing biofuels from trash and plant waste is completely different story, something that actually looks like the positive solution from not only energy point of view but also from environmental and even social point of view.

According to the latest analysis by the Bloomberg New Energy Finance biofuels made from plant waste and municipal trash could replace more than half of gasoline used in the European Union by 2020.

In order to achieve this EU would need to build at least 100 refineries a year from 2013, and by doing so EU would make around 90 billion liters (24 billion gallons) of ethanol in 2020, which is roughly around 65% of predicted fossil gasoline use in 2020.

This however, despite the excellent potential, doesn’t look likely to happen in EU in the upcoming years. EU still has uncertain energy policy with no clear incentives for biofuels. In this case, EU can even learn something positive from US (for a change), where lot of government initiatives have been taken with mandates on certain amounts of biofuel to be consumed.

Biofuels have excellent potential in EU but with current energy policy this potential will mostly remain untapped. Without the clear incentives EU biofuels industry won’t be able to compete with US and Brazil, and EU will lose a chance to build one very promising renewable energy market.

Posted byNed Haluzan

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Worst Excuses for Not Using Solar Power

Over the past couple of months as the team at Clean Energy Experts has talked to a number of friends and other colleagues about solar power, we’ve been hearing a lot of the same excuses for not going solar.  Time and time again, we have to explain to them why their reasoning is unfounded but still we find the same excuses wherever we go.  So we thought we’d take a little time to dispel the four most common excuses for not utilizing solar power.

First Excuse: It’s Too Expensive

Everyone seems to know that federal and state governments have significant financial incentives in place to help promote the adoption of solar power.   Even after these incentives, the average residential solar system costs between $10,000 and $30,000 and for most people, this represents a major capital investment.  As a result, most people stop there and say, “I can’t afford it.”

What they don’t know is that there are a number of financing options available to help ease the cost of solar.  For example, a number of solar installers offer financing programs, similar to small loan or mortgage, where there is little to no up front cost and finance the balance of the purchase price through a loan.  As a result, the homeowner does not have to come up with cash upfront but can amortize the cost of the solar system over time.  What’s great is that when you factor in a your reduced utility bill from solar and the amortization cost of the panels, this amount is most likely still less than your electric bill without solar power.  So you save immediately and that savings grows over time as electricity rates increase.

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Renewable energy investments – US behind China

According to the latest Ernst & Young ranking China has overtook the United States to lead a quarterly index as the most attractive country for renewable energy projects. To some people this may come as a surprise but to those who follow global energy market more thoroughly this shouldn’t be at all surprising.

There are several different reasons why China is currently an ideal destination for renewable energy investments and new renewable energy projects. Unlike United States China has national renewable energy policy, and China is definitely putting serious efforts to achieve its goal of generating 15 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

China is well aware that this goal can only be achieved by rapidly developing renewable energy market for its own manufacturers. China is world’s largest manufacturer of wind turbines and solar panels, and this is something that will likely last for many years to come.

China not only has enough capital to achieve its renewable energy goal but it also has strong government will, and large enough market to support more investments.

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