Just Released! “Energy, Biology, Climate Change”

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Our newest book just Released! “Energy, Biology, Climate Change” and available at Amazon.com for $19.95.

The focus of this book is the interactions between energy, ecology, and climate change, as well as a few of the responses of humanity to these interactions. It is not a textbook, but a series of chapters discussing subtopics in which the authors were interested and wished to write about. The basic material is cutting-edge science; technical journal articles published within the last year, selected for their relevance and interest. Each author selected eight or so technical papers representing his or her view of the most interesting current research in the field, and wrote summaries of them in a journalistic style that is free of scientific jargon and understandable by lay readers. This is the sort of science writing that you might encounter in the New York Times, but concentrated in a way intended to give as broad an overview of the chapter topics as possible. None of this research will appear in textbooks for a few years, so there are not many ways that readers without access to a university library can get access to this information.

This book is intended be browsed—choose a chapter topic you like and read the individual sections in any order; each is intended to be largely stand-alone. Reading all of them will give you considerable insight into what climate scientists concerned with energy, ecology, and human effects are up to, and the challenges they face in understanding one of the most disruptive—if not very rapid—event in human history; anthropogenic climate change. The Table of Contents follows: Continue reading

Solar Energy in India

by Deborah Frempong

The Indian government’s desire to increase solar power installations comes from a combination of factors, namely, a growing economy with an expanding middle class, the declining costs of Photovoltaic panels, and the rising costs of grid power. The need for more affordable sources of energy is felt greatly by India’s industries, and with its dense population and high solar insolation, it is a more than suitable area for solar energy. Continue reading

Hybrid Social Solutions: Innovation in Distributing Solar

by Liza Farr

In the past two years, Jim Ayala, Founder and CEO of Hybrid Social Solutions (HSS), has come to the forefront of entrepreneurs in solar technology. His company is a social business, with the mission to “Develop practical applications for existing technologies by understanding localized conditions and co-developing new product lines with customers” (World Economic Forum). Specifically, HSS works in the Philippines to provide solar-powered electricity access for the many remote, impoverished villages, 25% of which do not currently have access (World Economic Forum. Ayala gathered a solar energy network to do the negotiating with solar supplies to tailor products to local needs. The company’s work has increased household cash flow by 25%, and improved health and safety conditions by eliminating kerosene fumes, fires, and accidental ingestion (World Economic Forum). Children are able to study 45% longer, and 97% feel safer (Energyboardroom, Jan 30, 2014). Using solar to power off-grid communities is not new, but HSS’s personalized method of distribution and technology will change the way solar energy is pursued in developing nations. Continue reading

One Step Closer to Organic PV

by Briton Lee

Recently, researchers were able to produce organic photovoltaic (OPV) cells in a way that can be scalable to an industrial level. One of the barriers facing the widespread adoption of solar power is the cost-prohibitive nature of its production. Additionally, the conditions used to create inorganic solar panels, such as crystalline silicon are harsh; for instance, they must be produced at very energy-intensive high temperatures. Organic solar cells are being explored precisely because the organic materials characteristic of the product have a low production cost, with the added benefit of being flexible. Some of the drawbacks of organic solar cells are that they are not as durable as inorganic solar cells, and have a lower conversion efficiency. These drawbacks are attenuated by the potential of both scaling up the efficiency of the cells and robust mass production of organic solar cells with minimal resource input. While it may have a relatively low conversion efficiency, we have to take into account the amount of energy it can potentially create relative to the energy input; the net return on energy is substantial. Continue reading

Solar Power Duo: A Perovskite and Silicone Based Semiconductor

by Alison Kibe

A 2013 article for Nature by Michael McGehee puts forth that perovskites (CH3NH3PbI3) – a family of semiconductor crystals – would quickly change the world of photovoltaics with their cheap and simple design. Solar cells produced for commercial use typically contain silicone semiconductors that can easily incur defects during the production process that cause efficiency losses over time and reduce the life span of a solar panel. However, they have shown the highest rates of efficiency (17 – 23%) compared to other potential semiconductor materials – until now. Continue reading

Price Premiums for Homes with Rooftop Solar

by Liza Farr

The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory recently released a study on solar PV systems housing premiums using the largest data set to date (Hoen et al. 2014). PV costs have dropped drastically in the past several years, and innovative financing options such as Power Purchase Agreements and solar leasing have made solar an increasingly popular addition to residential homes. The new study, using a hedonic pricing model, reveals an average of around $4 per watt increase in housing price for a PV home over a non-PV home. This approximates to about a 0.92% increase in value for each kilowatt installed. There also appears to be a “green cachet,” meaning buyers are willing to pay a base amount for having PV at all, with incremental increases in willingness to pay with increases in the size of the system. Unfortunately, although to be expected, there is a clear decrease in price premiums as the systems age. Since one of the biggest drawbacks of solar panels are the high input costs, this return in the form of a housing price premium could convince many homeowners to make the purchase (Hoen et al. 2014). Continue reading

Instead of Flaring Natural Gas at Fracked Oil Wells, Use it to Treat Fracking Fluid

by Emil Morhardt

Seems like a good idea. Yael Rebecca Glazer just suggested it in a Masters Thesis in Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. A major issue with fracking is that sometimes a lot of the fracking fluid that was pumped down the well to create the fractures comes back up, sometimes along with additional “produced” water, sometimes twice as much as was pumped down in the first place. On top of that, it is often so contaminated that it exceeds the capabilities of industrial treatment facilities, so it gets trucked to a nearby injection well and is reinserted. But injection wells are not always handy, and anyway, the water itself would be valuable if it weren’t so polluted. Meanwhile, although a fracked well might producing mainly oil, there is also often a fair amount of natural gas produced; but if there isn’t enough gas to make it economical to capture it and sell it, it is commonly flared—burned right there at the wellhead. This converts the natural gas to CO2 without using the energy released for anything at all. Maybe, thought Ms. Glazer, that free energy could be used onsite to power wastewater cleanup technologies that normally wouldn’t be considered because of their high energy costs. It also occurred to her that since lots of these wells are in the sunny, windy southwestern US, local photovoltaic panels or wind turbines might supply energy as well. This latter option is attractive when there are no convenient transmission lines to take the power offsite, even though solar or wind energy is abundant. Continue reading

How to Maximize Renewable Energy in California

by Emil Morhardt

The looming problem with renewable energy—especially in California where there is potential for a great deal of solar energy—is finding the right balance between attractive new, but intermittent, solar and wind power plants, and some other source of generation large enough that dispatching it will meet any energy demand, even if the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining. A new paper by Abebe Solomon, Dan Kammen, and Duncan Callaway, researchers in the Energy & Resources Group at the University of California Berkeley, calculates that if energy dumping doesn’t occur, the best we can hope for in California without energy storage, is meeting 29% of our energy needs with solar and Continue reading

Measuring Impacts of Solar Development on Mojave Desert Plants

by Emil Morhardt

The massive development of wind and solar generating facilities in California’s Mojave Desert puts California way out in front of the rest of the US in generation of renewable electricity, but at the same time the development drastically alters the desert ecosystem. Installation of photovoltaic arrays seems to require grading the land flat, removing all existing vegetation, and since there will be nothing to eat, all of the animals as well. To those who haven’t travelled this wild desert during a verdant spring—something that happens only every few years—it might seem barren. But I’ve camped out in the middle of it many times in the spring when it is lush, covered with desert flowers, and alive with birds and other animals; to me it is the epitome of virgin wilderness. (My wife and I even wrote a book about it and took a lot of plant pictures…see reference below.) So, one question to ask is Continue reading

High Power Density from Extremely Thin Solar Panels

by Allison Kerley

Bernardi et al. (2013) investigated the absorbance of graphene and three different monolayer transition metal dichalcogenides (TMDs)—MoS2, MoSe2, and WS2—alone and in various combinations as the active layer in ultrathin photovoltaic (PV) devices. In calculating the upper limits of the electrical current density (measured in mA/cm2), each material can contribute to the total absorption of a device. The authors found that subnanometer thick graphene and TMD monolayers can absorb the equivalent short-circuit currents of 2–4.25 mA/cm2, while 1 nm thick Si, GaAs, and P3HT (commonly used materials in current PV devices) were found to generate currents between 0.1–0.3 mA/cm2. Further testing suggested that the high absorption of the monolayer MoS2 is due Continue reading