2016? Mexico’s year for Solar Energy?

by Tyler Hoyle

In 2014, Mexico approved promising energy reforms, which predicted a 9 billion dollar increase in investments in the electric power sector by 2019. Mexico was anticipated to lead the market growth in Latin America. Yet two years later, solar growth is slower than predicted. Mexico struggles to adjust to catch up with the country’s growing demand for power. On January 27th-28th, Greentech Media held a two-day long Solar Summit in Mexico City to analyze the risks and opportunities of Mexico’s future in the global Solar market. Greentech posted an article shortly after the Solar conference [https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/an-illustrated-guide-to-mexicos-solar-market] to try to explain Mexico’s solar market. Why has Mexico’s solar market growth declined? And what obstacles must Mexico overcome to fully reach its potential in the future? Continue reading

Bringing Electricity to Off-The-Grid Communities by Micro-Financing

by Sharon Ha

According to a New York Times article published in January 2016, there have been several solar power companies hoping to provide renewable energy to the 300 million people in rural India who do not have access to electricity. The article focuses on the efforts of Selco, a solar power company that is targeting the rural village of Paradeshappanamatha in Southern India, and urban settlements in Bangalore. By utilizing creative financing solutions, Selco, which was founded in 1995, hopes to disprove the myth that only wealthy people can purchase or use solar energy. Continue reading

An Off-Grid Renewable Energy Generator

by Alex Elder

Although solar energy is an appealing form of clean and renewable energy, not all areas of the world have the technology or the infrastructure to utilize it. Most modern solar panel installations require a connection to the existing energy grid in order to function properly. Many remote communities, however, do not have this grid infrastructure in place and thus cannot use modern solar technology at a large scale. SunEdison, a major player in the energy world, recently developed a new piece of technology called the Outdoor Microstation which aims to make renewable energy in rural and off-grid areas sustainable. The Microstation is a standalone power generator that can provide a renewable energy source to remote areas of the world. The unit includes photovoltaic solar panels to harness clean and renewable energy from the sun as well as a battery system to store unused energy. The 3,500-volt ampere model can power a rural community of 25 homes for 5 hours each night, including street lighting (SunEdison 2014). It is even scalable and modular, which provides consumers the ability to connect several systems. All Microstations are monitored remotely by SunEdision. The unit can also be installed quickly (in 4 to 6 hours) and is very low maintenance. The Microstation is also extremely durable and able to withstand extreme weather conditions, with a lifetime estimation of over 10 years. The low maintenance and durability aspects of the Microstation are just as important as its ability to generate power since a quick deterioration of the technology would ultimately fail to provide the promised energy source. Continue reading

Brightness in the Desert: Reflective Overshot in Ivanpah Power Towers


by Emil Morhardt

Flying back to LA from New York the other day, just when I thought we should begin descending, a bright light flooded the cabin from the north. It was emanating from the ground, I’d estimate 50 miles or so away, and was too bright to look at directly—it seemed about as bright as the sun. I couldn’t take a picture until we were way past it, and then through a dirty window, from 35,000 feet, on my iPhone, but you can get the idea from the picture above. I don’t know what my fellow passengers who were actually looking out the window thought…UFO maybe…but I knew just what it was: light reflected past the collectors from the three power towers BrightSource Energy (http://bit.ly/1pkD6D80) has erected in Ivanpah Valley, along Interstate 15 just west of the Nevada state line. Fully on, which the must have been, they produce 377 MW of electricity by using a semicircular array of mirrors to reflect sunlight onto boilers at the top of three towers. From the ground, the tops of the towers are lit up, but nothing else. From 35,000 ft at the right location they produce a powerful beacon reflecting a good deal of light back into space. Why? Continue reading

Self-Biased Solar-Microbial Device for Sustainable Hydrogen Generation

by Allison Kerley (Photo above of Hanyu Wang, first author of this paper at the University of California, Santa Cruz.)

Most hydrogen generating devices require an external addition of a 0.2 to 1.0 V electric potential in order to sustain the hydrogen generation. Wang et al. (2013) explored the feasibility of a self-powering photoelectrochemical-microbial fuel cell (PEC-MFC) hybrid device to generate hydrogen. The PEC-MFC was a combination of a photoelectrochemical fuel cell and a microbial fuel cell. The Hydrogen production of the device was tested when powered by a ferricyanide solution inoculated with a pure strain of Shewanellla oneidensis MR-1 and when powered by microorganisms found naturally occurring in the municipal wastewater. In both scenarios, given replenishments of fuel, the device produced enough voltage to be self-sustaining. However, when the device was powered by wastewater it produced both a lower current and a smaller hydrogen production than when powered by ferricyanide solution. Continue reading

Are Electrical Utilities in a Death Spiral?

by Emil Morhardt

In the prior century, electricity sales in the US characteristically increased by 10% each year. No longer; since 2000, annual increases have been constrained to about 1.5%, and since the depression of 2007, have been decreasing rather than increasing at all. I am tempted to say “Good for us!” Saving energy seems like an entirely good thing, except that to modernize our aging grid, not to mention transitioning to a smarter grid, the utilities are going to require money. Since sales are down, this probably means increased electricity prices, and if customers are offended and install solar panels and wind turbines to compensate, prices could increase further. You get the idea.

Steven Nadel and Garrett Herndon of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy have just released a comprehensive report discussing this dilemma. They used 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

Solar Panels Might Not Help CO2 Reduction Any Time Soon

by Emil Morhardt

The main considerations in whether and where to install photovoltaic (PV) panels are how much sun there is, and how much the panels cost. Right? Not necessarily. Engineers at Arizona State University have just published a paper pointing out that if a goal of installing photovoltaics is to decrease greenhouse gas emissions, it would be prudent to consider the emissions from manufacturing—which vary significantly by panel type—how long they stay in the atmosphere, and whether or not the installation is competing with other renewable energy sources rather than with fossil fuel burning. Because of the greenhouse gases associated with manufacturing, all panel installations increase greenhouse effects in the short term, although the initial two-year effect is to reduce them owing to sulfur and nitrogen oxides released from power plants during manufacture.

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