Turning the Kinetic Energy of Everyday Movements into Light

by Nina Lee

What would happen if we thought of energy not as a resource to be saved up, but as a resource to be constantly created and used? Uncharted Play, the brainchild of Jessica O. Matthews, is a company that challenges the way our society values energy. Matthews is a Nigerian-American Harvard graduate, inventor, and CEO who was inspired to create alternative energy sources after an experience with her family in Nigeria. During her aunt’s wedding, there was a power outage- a very common occurrence- and diesel generators had to be used to supply energy. The generators were emitting toxic fumes that everybody but Matthews seemed to be used to. When she later returned to the United States and continued her education, she wanted to create a cleaner alternative to the energy sources her community in Nigeria were utilizing. Continue reading

Nanowires are Hot

by Griffin Merians

A study conducted in Taiwan and published in Nanoscale Research Letters, found that the use of silicon nanowires can be used to improve solar thermal energy efficiency. Solar energy is the most abundant source of renewable energy on our planet, and using thermal energy to capture this energy could play a key role in increasing our use of this form of alternative energy. Solar thermal energy is comparatively inexpensive, easy to implement, and efficient compared to many other forms of energy, and using silicon nanowires could be the latest breakthrough in improving this efficiency. Silicon and silicon nanowires are used extensively in photovoltaic electrical energy generation, but have not traditionally been used extensively in thermal energy collection. However, new research into the thermal properties of silicon nanowires has found they are significantly more efficient in thermal conversion than traditional silicon plates. Continue reading

Switzerland’s Transition to Sustainable Energy

by Aurora Silva

Switzerland has a long tradition of using nuclear energy. With no reserves of coal, oil, or natural gas of its own, the country had to turn to other sources to meet its energy needs. As a result, a nation of only 8 million people— a bit larger in population than the state of Massachusetts— has five nuclear power plants, making Switzerland one of the top seven nuclear-powered nations on the planet on a per capita basis. Another telling statistic is that nearly 40 percent of Swiss electrical generation comes from nuclear power. To give a sense of what that proportion means, only 19 percent of US electricity is generated from nuclear power. The burning of coal has been of almost no consequence in Switzerland’s total energy mix for the past 50 years—in sharp contrast to the United States, where 44 percent of the nation’s electricity comes from coal. The country’s famed train and trolley systems are all electric, with the energy to power them coming nearly entirely from a combination of hydro and nuclear power. Continue reading

Analyzing Bird Use of Photovoltaic Installations at US Airports

by Jincy Varughese

Recently, multiple airports in the US have installed photovoltaic (PV) solar energy systems in large areas of undeveloped grasslands commonly found on their grounds. The potential environmental and economic benefits have been well documented but to date there has been no research on the effect such systems will have on birds. DeVault and a team of researchers from the US Department of Agriculture and Mississippi State University begin filling this knowledge gap by comparing bird use of PV arrays to that of nearby airport grasslands. Continue reading

Microgrid Micromanagement

by Briton Lee

One of the issues with the integration of alternative energy, such as solar and wind power, into the electricity grid is their volatile load swings. Automation and microgrids seek to address this issue of fluctuating energy and make renewables more amenable to integration. Solar and wind power are unpredictable, and fluctuations occur simply when a cloud passes over a solar grid. Another problem is that solar energy is generally produced during the day and not during the night, whereas human electricity use peaks in the evening. Generally, humans have to manually monitor and balance energy production and consumption in order to manage the electrical loads. The entire grid is tightly monitored, and the formulas used to keep the grid in check are thrown off when renewables are included. Renewables are unpredictable because it’s unclear when the energy will come in, since energy is not stored but rather threaded directly into the grid. Continue reading

Our Future in Feces: Vehicles Fueled by Biomethane

by Briton Lee

The British company Geneco has begun implementing prominent buses with a cartoon graphic detailing its power source: human waste. The concept of using waste to produce fuel is not novel, and is termed biomethane or renewable natural gas (RNG). It is most commonly used to power vehicles. The biomethane is collected from sewage treatment plants that process human waste while producing methane and carbon dioxide as byproducts. Typically, the resulting gases are simply released into the atmosphere, with plants in Oslo, Norway producing and releasing approximately 17,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year (Demerjian 2009). Continue reading