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Solar Cells | Green and Alternative Energy Information

Why isn’t the world using more solar energy?

Using more solar energy to cut our dependence on fossil fuels, and improve our energy security and energy independence seems like a very logical solution, especially since the Sun is the most abundant source of energy on our planet. Solar energy can provide us with over 1000 times more energy than we currently need but despite this enormous potential, in 2008 solar power accounted for miserable 0.02% of the world’s total energy supply.

There are several reasons why world isn’t using more solar energy to satisfy its huge energy demand. When talking about solar power technologies we need to know that these technologies are still in the very early phase of development, which explains why solar power still fails to achieve efficiency comparable with fossil fuels. An average solar panel has an efficiency of around 15 percent, which means that large amount of solar energy gets wasted, and ends up like a heat instead being turned into some form of useful energy.

Improving efficiency of solar cells won’t mean much unless science also finds the solution on how to make solar panels cheaper. The only way solar power can really prosper in years to come is by finding highly efficient solar panels that would also be commercially viable. This is by all means a difficult task for science, but several latest researches have given us at least some hope that finding this solution isn’t a mission impossible.

There is also one other issue that solar energy sector will need to resolve, namely the intermittency issue. Solar energy is an intermittent energy source because Sun doesn’t shine all the time which means that solar energy is not continually available throughout the whole day. In order to tackle the intermittency issue solar energy (again) needs science to find some cheap solar energy storage solution. Using molten salts as the storage medium has so far proved to be quite effective, and many energy experts have great expectation of this solar energy storage method.

Solar power will also need to have strong political support, and big funding to become dominant energy source in years to come. Powerful fossil fuel lobbies will no doubt use their huge political influence to slow down the development of solar power technologies as much as possible because they are well aware that once science presents cheap and efficient solar panels, they will lose their last big advantage over solar power, the cost-competitiveness.

The future of solar power depends heavily on science but politics cannot be overlooked because science needs large funds to continue with researches, and these funds can not be obtained without the strong political support. Solar power has currently strong public support which should result in favorable politics toward further development of solar power technologies in years to come. Doing otherwise would mean fewer votes on elections, and this is something politicians will try to avoid at almost any cost.

The correlation of science, adequate funding and strong political support should in years to come turn solar energy into one of the world’s most widely used energy sources.

Posted byNed Haluzan

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Efficient, inexpensive plastic solar cells coming soon

ScienceDaily (Oct. 11, 2010)  Physicists at Rutgers University have discovered new properties in a material that could result in efficient and inexpensive plastic solar cells for pollution-free electricity production.

The discovery, posted online and slated for publication in an upcoming issue of the journal Nature Materials, reveals that energy-carrying particles generated by packets of light can travel on the order of a thousand times farther in organic (carbon-based) semiconductors than scientists previously observed. This boosts scientists’ hopes that solar cells based on this budding technology may one day overtake silicon solar cells in cost and performance, thereby increasing the practicality of solar-generated electricity as an alternate energy source to fossil fuels.

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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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Self-healing solar cells

Via MIT

One of the big stories this week about renewable energy came from MIT, where scientists have succeeded in replicating a natural process to increase the durability of solar cells.

Why is that important? Well, the sun’s rays can be highly destructive to many materials. And sunlight leads to a gradual degradation of many of the systems developed to harness it. So the MIT brains had an idea: to imitate the process whereby plants cope with the impact of sunlight.

Plants are always breaking down their light-capturing molecules and reassemble them from scratch, so the basic structures that capture the sun’s energy are, in effect, always brand new. This action all takes place inside tiny capsules called chloroplasts that reside inside every plant cell where photosynthesis happens.

The research was led by Michael Strano, a Charles and Hilda Roddey Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering, and his team of graduate students and researchers. They have created a new set of self-assembling molecules that can turn sunlight into electricity; the molecules can be repeatedly broken down and then reassembled quickly, just by adding or removing an additional solution.

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Building-integrated photovoltaics

Building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) are by definition photovoltaic materials that are used to replace conventional building materials. What this means is that photovoltaic materials actually become an integral part of the building, and in most cases they are planned together with the object as its integral part though they can be also built later on.

The global interest in the building integration of photovoltaics is constantly growing, and in the last couple of years BIPV are being increasingly incorporated into the construction of new buildings as a principal or ancillary source of electrical power. Some energy experts even argue that BIPV is currently the fastest growing segment of the photovoltaic industry.

A Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV) system’s main concept consists of integrating photovoltaics modules into the building envelope such as the roof, skylights, or facades. This means that BIPV not only serve as power generator but also as building envelope material, which in the end results in both savings in materials as well as reduced electricity costs.

A complete BIPV system consists of photovoltaic modules, a charge controller, a power storage system, inverter and other power conversion equipment, backup power supply, and different supporting equipment.

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Renewable Energy Monitoring Systems – the next big thing in residential solar?

If micro-inverters are the current craze in the solar industry, then I predict that solar energy monitoring systems will be the next big thing.  Micro-inverters (and other parallel technology) were given lots of attention because they can increase the efficiency of a system by up to as much as 10%-20%. Similarly, solar electricity systems that are hooked up to monitoring systems have a 10% energy production increase over systems that are not hooked up to monitoring systems, according to Will Shortt, CEO of Deck Monitoring.   PV solar panels last at least 25 years, where as inverters only come with an 8-10 year warranty.

That means that sometime in the 8-10 year range the inverter will die and the system will stop producing energy. With a monitoring system in place the installer or homeowner will know immediately that the system has been compromised. Otherwise it could be weeks or months before the homeowner looks at their energy usage statement from their utility company and realizes that their solar electricity system is not longer producing energy. Monitoring systems currently cost around $1,000, which seems like a small price to pay for installers to be able to ensure that a homeowner’s system is working properly.

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Good news on grants and feed-in tariffs

Many schools and community groups are being told they can claim the feed-in tariff and keep grants received under the Low Carbon Building Programme, following months of uncertainty.

Under threat of having to pay back their grant many organisations faced financial difficulty. Their calculations prior to investing in wind turbines or solar PV panels had anticipated receipt of grant and the feed-in tariff. For those who had fundraised for years to get the project off the ground, the idea of more fundraising to pay back the grant was devastating.

So, after months in limbo, waiting for a ruling on EU law on state aid, last week’s  announcement from DECC, has brought relief to many.

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Graphene: Solar Cells of the Future?

A southern California University team has come up with what could be the alternative new breed of economical and flexible solar cells. For some decades now, organic photovoltaic cells (OPV) have been acclaimed as the new solar cell prototypes and extolled for their light weight, flexible substrates, low cost and easy manufacturability. Research is now being done on them.

Features of OPV cell:
The most unique aspect of the OPV cell devise is the transparent conductive electrode. This allows the light to react with the active materials inside and create the electricity. Now graphene/polymer sheets are used to create thick arrays of flexible OPV cells and they are used to convert solar radiation into electricity providing cheap solar power.

New OPV design:
Now a research team under the guidance of Chongwu Zhou, Professor of Electrical Engineering, USC Viterbi School of Engineering has put forward the theory that the graphene – in its form as atom-thick carbon atom sheets and then attached to very flexible polymer sheets with thermo-plastic layer protection will be incorporated into the OPV cells. By chemical vapour deposition, quality graphene can now be produced in sufficient quantities also.

Differences between silicon cells and graphene OPV cells:
The traditional silicon solar cells are more efficient as 14 watts of power will be generated from 1000 watts of sunlight where as only 1.3 watts of power can be generated from a graphene OPV cell. But these OPV cells more than compensate by having more advantages like physical flexibility and costing less.

More economical in the long run:
According to Gomez De Arco, a team member, it may be one day possible to run printing presses with these economically priced OPVs covering extensive areas very much like printing newspapers. In Gomez’ words

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First Factory Built to Order Solar Charging Station

International Green Energy Expo Korea 2010 was chosen as the venue where SunPods SP-300 was first displayed. This is the first factory built-to-order solar-powered integrated electric-vehicle charging station – ready for powering up immediately. This ready-to-use solar power platform from SunPods is called EV Plug-N-Go.

Perfect launch pad:
Deagu, South Korea, played host to the Green Energy Expo Korea 2010. This provided the backdrop for showing off to advantage the EV Plug-N-Go. The Pacific Rim (South Korea, China and Japan) is the chosen arena for marketing this power platform. Realizing the huge potential for growth, the plan is to utilize the growing interest here in transportation systems fed by green-power.

SunPods & Semi-Materials Inc alliance:
The SunPods electric vehicle charging system is the combined brain child of SunPods, San Jose, CA and of the Semi Materials, Inc. of Seongnam City, Korea. Co-founder of SunPods & Executive Vice President, Business Development, Michael Gumm is positive about the product and the success of the launch.

Power on the go from EV Plug-N-Go:
This solar-power platform has been made especially for the public agencies, institutes and companies with infrastructural utilities powered by solar power. For use of plug-in-hybrid electric vehicles, electrical industrial utility vehicles and other electric vehicles, this solar powered platform is the ideal companion to provide powering on the go.

Versatility of EV Plug-N-Go:
These SunPods SP-300 modular solar power platforms are ideal for both on-grid and off-grid installations. They are capable of compensating carbon-based grid power as well as optimal power storage in utility grid and distribute the power as needed to the EVs. Called as ’smart-grid capable’ and ’smart-grid enabled’, the SP-300 allows power input and output from both grid-connected power sources and solar power sources as efficiently at peak demand.

A boon to green-powered vehicles:
Across the world, SunPods EV Plug-N-Go export kits can be shipped ready for installation. Already assembled and ready to use, these are ideal companions for a wide range of environmentally friendly renewable energy-fed solar applications.

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Feed-in tariffs boost growth of UK solar panels

The feed-in tariff is expected to boost growth of solar panels on British roofs fivefold this year, and 30 times over by 2015 according to a report from Price Waterhouse Coopers.

By 2015, the researchers estimate that 1,000 MW of electricity will be generated by solar photovoltaic (PV) panels. Even with this rapid growth, Britain will not catch up with the levels of solar electricity generated in Germany today until 2020.

Most existing UK solar PV installations are small domestic panels, which is similar to Germany (DECC forecasts that by 202 98% of total solar PV installations in the UK will be domestic). However, growth in other European countries has led to annual increases of more than 300% during the first year of feed-in tariffs. This may not happen in the UK, as respondents to PWC’s survey expressed concern that there are too few certified installers to meet potential demand.

The analysis found that growth of solar photovoltaic panel installations in the UK to date has been slow because of the lack of incentives for domestic installations, complexity of funding, and planning restrictions. The feed-in tariff should remove these barriers to entry.

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