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Electric | Green and Alternative Energy Information

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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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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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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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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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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How Does Solar Impact Home Value?

Let’s be honest – in our current economic climate, undertaking extensive home renovation projects is probably not on the top of your list.  Consider holding the new fireplace or the underground swimming pool project for another year in favor of one home improvement that will not only drastically increase your property value, but also help you sell your home faster:

Installing Solar Panels.Why does solar increase your home value?

Imagine that your electricity was going to get more expensive and your utility would raise its rates at any given time. Imagine that national demand for that expensive electricity was going to keep growing, and had already grown 25% since 1990.  Finally, imagine that generating this traditional, expensive electricity was creating pollution and hurting the environment.

You’re not imagining. The above are all realities that explain why solar homes sell faster, and for more money. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, a solar home will sell twice as quickly as a home without solar.

SunRun recently published a report on the impact of solar panels on home value. Here are the take-home points:

Homes with lower electricity bills sell fasterEnergy saving improvements increase potential resale value of propertyValue of solar system increase over time, as electricity prices increaseHaving home solar can be easy with third-party ownership, e.g. SunRun’s solar service modelSolar panels have location and timing advantages since your home’s electricity is produce on-site & production peaks when demand is highest (middle of the day).Want to learn more? Check out SunRun’s Solar Home Value Report for more in-depth analysis and statistics.

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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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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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Selling the electricity you generate

The feed-in tariff has made it simpler to sell the electricity you generate, but don’t use in the house, back to the grid. It has set standard rates to be paid for electricity generated which are dependent on type of technology and size of system, and all exported electricity is paid at 3p per kWh.

Choosing your energy supplier is the key to selling excess. The reason it is simpler now is that under the previous system all the suppliers offered different buy back rates, and these had to be weighed up against the rates at which they sell electricity, so it was complex to work out the best deal.

Now all the big energy companies must buy back exported electricity from microgeneration, and some of the smaller ones have chosen to. If price is your key factor, then there’s no shortage of price comparison sites available.

If it’s important to you that the electricity you buy from the grid is from renewable sources you can use our guide How to buy renewable electricity.

 

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