Solar Fabric is the Second Generation of Solar Technology

by Liza Farr

After seven years of research and development, Perry Carroll’s Solar Cloth Company is putting its lightweight, flexible solar panels on the market (Solar Cloth Company). While sailing his yacht in the Atlantic Ocean, he was inspired to combine solar energy and fabric to enable solar power to cover more types of structures (Hickey, Mar 22, 2015). The new type of panel can be rolled and fitted on curved structures, as well as roofs that are not able to sustain the weight of glass panels (Hickey, Mar 22, 2015). The thin film photovoltaic is being called the second generation of solar technology (Hickey, Mar 22, 2015). The panels are 20 percent of the weight of standard panels, but also produce 15 percent less power and cost twice as much (Hickey, Mar 22, 2015). One parking lot cover, for example, costs $19,000 (Hickey, Mar 22, 2015). Perry assesses the economic viability of the product based on opening new markets with new siting possibilities for solar panels.

The company is marketing these panels for non-load bearing roofs and car parking structures, as well as for data centers, super markets, and warehouses (Solar Cloth Company). According to the Solar Cloth Company, there are 834 million square meters of non-load bearing roofing and 353 million square meters of car parking in the United Kingdom alone. These two potential markets are valued at $250 billion and $100 billion respectively (Solar Cloth Company). Much of the United Kingdom factories are also potential sites for the solar rolls, and they account for 13 percent of national energy consumption, making these panels a way to significantly reduce carbon emissions (Hickey, Mar 22, 2015). The company has already received over $1 million in orders (Hickey, Mar 22, 2015). However, investors were hesitant to fund the new technology, so the company crowd-funded $1.5 million (Hickey, Mar 22, 2015). Perry is a strong advocate for more research and development into solar energy in general in the United Kingdom (Hickey, Mar 22, 2015). Additional funding for his own research and development, as well as rising electricity prices will likely make the product more successful moving forward. If all else fails, Perry has a backup plan to make solar underpants. He made one pair for a Japanese businessman who gave them to his boss with the note “I told you the sun shone out of my backside” (Burn-Callander, Dec 6 2014).

 

Burn-Vallander, Rebecca. New solar ‘cloth’ to turn UK rooftops into batteries. December 6, 2014. [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/businessclub/technology/11274131/New-solar-cloth-to-turn-UK-rooftops-into-batteries.html].

 

Hickey, Shane. Solar Sails Set Course for a New Journey into Renewable Energy. March 22, 2015. [http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/mar/22/solar-sails-set-course-for-a-new-journey-into-renewable-energy]

 

The Solar Cloth Company [http://www.thesolarclothcompany.com]

 

 

Hydrogen Hungry Bacteria Bring Artificial Leaf One Step Closer to Viability

by Liza Farr

In 2011, Daniel Nocera engineered an artificial leaf that uses only sun and water to produce energy (Chandler, Sep 30, 2011). The leaf was made of silicon solar plates with different catalytic materials bonded on each side (Chandler, Sep 30, 2011). When the plate is placed in water and exposed to sunlight, one side produces hydrogen bubbles, and one side oxygen bubbles, which can be stored and used for energy (Chandler, Sep 30, 2011). Although this was an important innovation in renewable energy, major shortcomings of the invention was that it produced hydrogen, which does not easily fit into our existing energy infrastructure, rather than liquid fuel. Recently, Nocera has collaborated with biologists at Harvard University to engineer bacteria that convert hydrogen into an alcohol-based fuel (Nunez, Feb 9, 2015). Continue reading

Hamburg is an Industrial City Reborn with a Renewable Energy Economy

by Liza Farr

Increasing regulation of fossil fuels and pollution, and the shift of jobs from industrial to tech has left many industrial cities with struggling economies. In Germany, the industrial city of Hamburg has fought this trend and is now known as the center of renewable energy for the nation. This past October, HusumWind, one of the world’s largest wind power conferences, was held in Hamburg (Hales, Oct 9 2014). There are already 5,000 wind industry employers in the city, and that number is expected to double with the expansion of offshore wind facilities (Hales, Oct 9 2014). Nearly all the leading international wind companies have offices in the region (Hales, Oct 9, 2014). Twenty five thousand people are already working in renewable energy in Hamburg, and experts predict this number will grow by 40% by 2015 (Renewable Energy Hamburg, October 2012). Nineteen hundred and eighty green tech companies with 33,400 employees are based in the city (Hales Oct 9, 2012). The city is the central planning location for solar farms in Germany and across the world, and the most important development and management location for wind power in Germany (Renewable Energy Hamburg, October 2012). Continue reading

Google Makes New Clean Energy Purchases After Abandoning R&D Efforts

by Liza Farr

During the last few years, Google has had a roller coaster ride with clean energy. In 2007, they started their RERomm, Dec 4, 2014). In 2011, however, Google stopped this program completely, with the reasoning that they determined this effort would not actually reverse climate change, or make new renewable energy cheaper than existing coal. Critics argued that both of these goals are widely considered impossible, and chastised the company for ending the R&D program. Likely, Google realized with plummeting global renewable energy prices, there was more money to be made in renewable energy deployment than in research and development (Romm, Dec 4, 2014). Continue reading

“Bio-bus” Runs on Treated Sewage and Food Waste

by Liza Farr

In November, GENeco, a subsidiary of a UK utility company, debuted a new bus line that is powered by human and food waste (BBC, Nov 20, 2014). The so-called “poo bus” carries about 10,000 passengers each month between the Bristol airport and the Bath city center. The 40-seat bus can travel up to 186 miles on one tank, which can be produced from the annual waste of about five people. The combustion engine on the bus similar in design to diesel equivalents. The gas is generated through anaerobic digestion, where oxygen starved bacteria breaks down the biodegradable material to produce methane-rich biogas. The gas is processed over 12 to 18 days, where it also undergoes upgrading, where carbon dioxide is removed and propane added, and impurities are removed to produce virtually odour-free emissions (Frangroul, Feb 3, 2015). By the end of processing, the composition of the biogas is the same as natural gas. The compressed gas is stored in dome-like tanks on the roof of the bio bus (BBC, Nov 20, 2014). Continue reading