These flexible solar cells bring us closer to kicking the fossil-fuel habit

Last December, researchers in a lab in Oxford, England, shined a sun lamp onto a tiny solar cell, only about one centimeter square.

The device was actually two cells, stacked one atop the other. The bottom one was made of the type of silicon used in standard solar panels. But the top was perovskite, a material with a crystal structure that’s particularly adept at turning light into electricity.

A pair of probes attached to the so-called tandem solar cell measured its performance. Other researchers in the lab at Oxford PV, a company spun out of the university in 2010, gathered behind a flat-screen monitor, waiting expectantly for a calculation of the cell’s efficiency to appear. When it did, they exchanged high fives. The cell had converted 28% of the energy in the light into electricity, a new efficiency record for a perovskite-on-silicon device. An independent test confirmed it a few days later, after the tiny cell was put on a plane to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado.

Oxford PV’s commercial-sized solar cell (left), and the one-centimeter-square version (right).

Oxford PV

While silicon panels might dominate the market—with around 95% market share—silicon is not an especially good solar material. It mainly uses light from the red and infrared end of the solar spectrum, and it has to be fairly thick and bulky to absorb and convert photons. The most efficient silicon solar panels on the market achieve less than 23% efficiency, while the theoretical maximum for a single layer of silicon is around 29%.

Perovskite, on the other hand, can use more of the light that reaches it and can be tuned to work with different parts of the spectrum. Oxford PV has opted for the blue end. Paired in a cell, the two materials can convert more photons into electrons together than either can deliver on its own.

Oxford PV plans to deliver solar cells based on perovskite and silicon to the market by the end of next year, using a German factory it acquired in 2016 from Bosch Solar. The two materials will come in a package that otherwise looks, ships, and installs the same way as a standard solar panel, in a kind of half step that the company believes will make it easier to introduce the technology to the market.

Oxford PV’s manufacturing plant in Germany.

Oxford PV

“It’s technology disruption without the business disruption,” says Chris Case, Oxford PV’s chief technology officer.

Dozens of startups that had sought to supplant silicon about a decade ago wound up in bankruptcy instead or were relegated to a niche market. But venture capitalists have invested tens of millions of dollars into perovskite ventures in recent months, heating up what had long been a frosty market for alternative solar materials. The question now is whether perovskites will fizzle too, or will finally beat silicon panels in the marketplace.

“There’s a whole set of things that make it a potentially transformational technology,” says Joe Berry, who leads the perovskite research program at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. “But the list of technologies that have tried to compete with silicon is long and distinguished, so you have to be humble in that sense too.”

“A solar cell on steroids”

In the late 2000s, a number of well-funded startups attempted to commercialize new and more flexible solar materials, including thin-film technologies like cadmium telluride and copper indium gallium selenide (remember Solyndra?), as well as things like organic solar cells. The promise was that cells made from such materials would be far cheaper to manufacture and could be produced in various shapes.

But silicon solar panels were a fast-moving target. Efficiency levels continued to improve and prices plummeted, thanks to government-funded research efforts, market stimulation policies, and economies of scale.

Commercial photovoltaic system costs (US dollars per watt of direct current for fixed-tilt systems)

Source: National Renewables Energy Laboratory | Chart created by MIT Technology Review

China, in particular, employed aggressive subsidies and strategies to accelerate manufacturing and exports in a quest to dominate the market. The nation’s module shipments and global market share took off starting in the mid-2000s, prompting allegations of illegal dumping aimed at knocking out overseas rivals. Prices for commercial silicon panels dropped by more than half from 2010 to 2013, and the market for alternatives sank.

So these days, to justify the vast expense of building new factories, supply chains, and distribution channels, any new material has to be better in crucial ways: more efficient, cheaper to manufacture, more versatile, longer lasting, or ideally all of the above.

Perovskite shines in some of those categories. A single layer can theoretically reach 33% efficiency, while a tandem perovskite-on-silicon device could achieve around 43%. High efficiency matters because you can produce more electricity from the same number of panels, or the same amount with a smaller footprint and lower costs.

Perovskite solar modules should also be cheaper to make, at least eventually. Producing silicon panels is a multi-step fabrication process that entails refining the silicon under high heat, infusing it with other materials, and precisely slicing it into wafers that must then be precisely patterned in a clean room to create a photovoltaic cell.

Perovskites, on the other hand, can be produced at low temperatures and used in liquid form to coat flexible materials like plastic, enabling a roll-to-roll manufacturing process similar to newspaper printing.

By repurposing Bosch’s thin-film manufacturing plant, Oxford PV expects to be able to mass-produce silicon-and-perovskite cells by the end of next year, and package them together into standard-looking panels.

“It’s an ordinary solar cell on steroids,” Case says.

In March, Oxford PV said it had raised more than $40 million to get its products into the market, bringing its total funding and financing to around $100 million. The factory will pump out 250 megawatts’ worth of cells every year.

Another perovskite startup, Energy Materials, is also looking to use roll-to-roll manufacturing. Based in Rochester, New York, it’s using film equipment originally built for Eastman Kodak to mass-produce perovskite-only solar panels. At full scale, the process will cost half as much as manufacturing a traditional solar module, while the capital costs will run an order of magnitude cheaper, because silicon requires costly, precise machines and plants, says Thomas Tombs, the company’s chief technology officer.

Swift Solar’s flexible perovskite solar cell.

Swift Solar

Since perovskite can be flexible, semitransparent, and lightweight, it could also be used where heavy, rigid solar panels wouldn’t work—on windows, creakier rooftops, irregularly shaped surfaces, or even moving vehicles.

Swift Solar, a NREL-affiliated startup that has raised nearly $7 million in recent months, is looking at putting perovskite-perovskite tandem solar cells—which use two perovskite layers, each tuned to a different part of the spectrum—on drones and electric vehicles to extend their range, according to its CEO, Joel Jean. Such a cell could be highly efficient, as well as more flexible and lightweight than one with a thick silicon layer.

Unlocking new uses for solar power

In his book Taming the Sun, Varun Sivaram, chief technology officer at ReNew Power, argues that new solar technologies like perovskites may be essential for ultimately displacing fossil fuels.

But why do we need even cheaper solar power if silicon panels are already competitive with, say, a coal plant?

One of the biggest problems with solar is that once it’s generating a significant portion of the electricity on the grid, the additional value of the next panel or plant begins to drop off sharply.

That’s because at night, solar farms don’t generate electricity at all, meaning the rest of the system still needs to be capable of meeting total demand. On sunny days, on the other hand, there may be more electricity than the system can use or store. That’s already happening in regions with lots of solar power, like Germany, China, and California.

Grid operators regularly have to force or incentivize solar farms to throttle back their production, often by pushing prices down to zero or even below. That can squeeze the solar plants’ profits, which eliminates the economic incentives to build more of them and continue reducing the use of fossil fuels.

In a paper published in Nature Energy in 2016, Sivaram and Shayle Kann, now managing director of private equity firm Energy Impact Partners, calculated that to preserve the economic incentives to keep building more plants, the cost of developing solar would need to fall to 25 cents per watt. The all-in costs of the cheapest commercial systems are $1.06 per watt, according to the latest NREL report.

Much of that is due to the high price of installing and wiring the bulky hardware. So cutting the price that dramatically will likely require not only dirt-cheap solar cells but also lightweight, flexible ones that are easier to deploy. Perovskites are the most promising material for making anything like that leap today, Sivaram says.

Cheap solar electricity could also drive down the cost of things like seawater desalination, artificial trees that can pluck carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, or electrolysis plants that can convert surplus energy into hydrogen fuel.

“It unlocks all these other new applications we never thought about before,” Sivaram says.  

The instability problem

The tougher question surrounding perovskites is their durability. Efficiency leaps don’t much matter if the material lasts only a few months or even years—and so far, perovskites have tended to degrade quickly when exposed to ultraviolet light and moisture.

That’s a very big problem for a material that needs to lie under the sun for a few decades. And if companies roll out perovskite panels that end up failing too soon, it will tarnish the material’s reputation even if they later develop more durable versions.

An Oxford PV worker examines commercial-sized perovskite-silicon tandem solar cells.

Oxford PV

For now, Oxford PV’s market plan depends on whether its perovskite-silicon cell can be made to work and look like a standard silicon solar panel, which includes packaging it in a glass casing that will help it last longer.

But the company did have to work hard on the stability of the material itself, employing computational modeling and rapid screening to pinpoint promising compositions among some half a million possibilities. The company’s recipe for perovskites is proprietary, but its CEO, Frank Averdung, is bullish. “We have solved the reliability issue,” he says. “We have nailed it, and this is the reason we can move into manufacturing mode now.”

Avoid The ICE Makers, Invest In EV-Related ETFs Instead

The internal combustion engine (ICE) has reigned supreme for 100 years and auto lore is firmly ingrained in American culture.

Television’s Duke boys used (and destroyed) over 250 Dodge Chargers. Millions thrilled over James Bond’s exploits with his Aston Martin. Corvette clubs, antique auto shows, drive-throughs and more exemplify the love affair Americans have with their cars and trucks.

But times and culture change. Wheels may no longer be a top priority with young people. Technology, as manifest in the smartphone, appears to be the new idol.

And, complicating things even further, there is now a new kid in town: the electric vehicle (EV).

This article explores why EVs are likely to displace ICEs in the near to mid-term future and how investors can profit by avoiding traditional auto and investing instead in ETFs holding EV related companies.

Was 2018 the year of peak ICE sales?

Global auto sales appear to be on the skids. Nothing particularly new there; vehicle sales usually decline as economies falter. But in the past, auto sales have snapped back when times improve. Will it happen again? Several analysts think not, at least not for ICEs.

The future, of course, is very difficult to predict. But let’s look at the reasons why EVs will likely displace EVs in the near to mid-term future.

EV sales are now quickly growing

Electric car sales have grown each year since the introduction of the Nissan Leaf in 2010, especially in the last 2-3 years.

EV sales were 64% higher globally in 2018 than in 2017; they now comprise roughly 2.2% of all sales. In the U.S., EV sales were a little over 2% of car sales in 2018. In China, the world’s largest auto market, January saw EV sales at 4.8% of all sales, while in Norway, the top EV sales county, EV sales were 31% of 2018 sales.

The Tesla (TSLA) Model 3 was by far the world’s best-selling EV in 2018. China’s BAIC-EC series was second, and the Nissan Leaf third. It’s expected that in 2019, EV sales will hit 3.5 million vs. 2 million in 2018, up 75%.

Five reasons consumers are, and will, pick EVs over ICEs

For starters, a Tesla Model 3 Standard Plus today costs $39,500. The car goes up to 140 mph, accelerates from 0-60 in 5.3 seconds, has a 240-mile range, and gets 133 mpge. You may say, “Well, that’s a Tesla.” The thing, however, is the other EVs aren’t far behind in those numbers.

There’s more, read on.

Fuel, Technology, and Maintenance

EVs never need gasoline or oil changes. And, with 80% fewer moving parts, they require a lot less maintenance.

Tesla has a dedicated smartphone app which gives you the ability to remotely lock/unlock the car, control charging, turn on/off cabin climate, and give the car’s location at all times (good if the car is stolen, maybe not so good when your spouse tracks you). The app automatically unlocks the car when you approach and then locks and turns everything off after you exit.

Tesla uses its website to sell its vehicles. Since an encounter with a fast-talking salesman at a dealership ranks right up there with a root canal in popularity this appeals to consumers. Tesla is not the only company using the internet to buy and sell; fast-growing Carvana (CVNA) also does.

Electric, internet-connected vehicles can use over-the-air software upgrades for repairs, and enhancements such as battery upgrades. Tesla, again, appears to be the leader here but I suppose others will soon follow.

The Wow Factor

When I was a kid, back in the early 1960s, whenever a family brought home a new car all the neighbors showed up to ooh and aah over it. In our jaded times that just doesn’t happen anymore. Yet, when I took delivery of my Model 3, it was deja vu all over again. Neighbors and friends all wanted a look and get a ride. The excitement is back.

You know the ICEs’ days are numbered when a $60,000, 5-passenger, 4-door Model 3 sedan outruns a $294,250 built-for-the-kill Porsche 911 GT2 RS. Of course, most of us don’t race but I wonder just how enamored folks will be with their ICEs when they regularly get left behind at the light by funny-looking EVs.

Climate change is the elephant in the room, the one that no one in the fossil fuel industry wants to talk about.

The facts, however, are indisputable: Levels of CO2, a greenhouse gas, are rising relentlessly. Not surprisingly, the earth’s temperature is going up right along with the CO2 levels. New records for both are set each year now. No, these are not procrastinations from wild-eyed ecofreak groups as climate change deniers would like you to believe. Rather, almost every mainstream scientific organization which studies the subject agrees: Climate change is not only coming, it’s here already.

Oceans are hotter than they’ve ever been in recorded history, coral reefs are dying, ice sheets are melting at unprecedented rates, extreme weather events are on the rise. Now the arctic environment appears to be falling apart. No one, not even scientists, knows how this will play out.

As stuff like this sinks in many will want to do something and one thing many can do is switch to an EV.

Falling Prices

Currently, unsubsidized upfront costs for EVs are higher than that for ICEs. However, EV prices (especially batteries) are steadily falling. Bloomberg claims that the unsubsidized upfront cost of EVs will soon (starting in 2024) be competitive with ICEs.

Once EV costs reach parity (and then fall below ICE prices) it will be pretty much over for ICE sales – the vehicles will fade from the roads. Not right away of course; 98% of the vehicles out there today are ICEs.

Safety

EVs are safer to drive and ride in than ICEs. Why? With no engine, gas tank, and fuel system space is freed up which can be used to add more safety to the passenger compartment.

It’s true, EVs have large batteries but they can be configured in advantageous ways. For example, Tesla has, and Volkswagen AG (OTCPK:VWAGY) plans on having, table-shaped batteries under the seats which have the additional advantage of lowering the vehicle’s center of gravity, making rollovers less likely.

With no engine in the front, EVs have a larger Crumple Zone. In a frontal collision, it’s better to have a suitcase thrust toward you than a hot iron engine.

Then, of course, EVs do not generate noxious combustion products such as carbon monoxide and cancer-causing particulates. (Though in high traffic areas you pick up those things from adjacent ICE vehicles.)

Another safety feature I wasn’t really aware of until I began driving my Model 3 is the regenerative braking. Think of it: Lose control of an ICE vehicle and the only thing that will stop the vehicle will be other cars, telephone poles, people, buildings, you name it. Lose control of an EV and the regenerative braking quickly slows the vehicle, even if you’re nowhere near the brake pad.

Not surprisingly, once people own electric cars the vast majority of them never go back to ICEs.

Invest in these ETFs instead of legacy auto

Avoid legacy auto companies such as General Motors Company (GM) Ford Motor Company (F), and Toyota Motor Corporation (TM). Sales for these companies will, for reasons noted above, stagnate or fall.

Tesla is the leading EV company and only pure EV play. I feel Tesla will do well but if you don’t like the drama, look at ETFs which hold companies which are involved in EV-related businesses. Here are two.

First Trust NASDAQ Clean Edge Green Energy Index Fund (QCLN), as you might guess, invests in clean energy companies. (See the ETF summary here.) This fund has net assets of $103 million with holdings in 41 companies. The top 3 holdings are ON Semiconductor (ON), Universal Display (OLED), and Albemarle (ALB).

QCLN’s top holding, at 8.36%, is ON Semiconductor which provides EV solutions and products for autonomous driving, vehicle electrification, battery power management and lighting.

Albemarle, the fund’s third-largest holding, at 6.60%, supplies, among other things, lithium compounds for the batteries used in electric vehicles and consumer electronics.

Tesla, the fund’s 4th largest holding, at 6.23%, designs, develops, manufactures and sells electric vehicles.

QCLN has returned 21.9% YTD, compared to the S&P 500’s SPDR S&P 500 Trust ETF (SPY), up 17.7%, and the Invesco QQQ ETF (QQQ), up 23.5%.

ARK Innovation ETF (ARKK) For the more adventurous. This ETF, as its name implies, invests in innovative technologies. (See ARKK’s summary here.) ARKK has net assets of $1.6 billion and holds 34 companies. The top 3 holdings are Tesla, Invitae (NVTA), and Stratasys (SSYS).

Though Tesla is the fund’s largest holding at 10.5%, the bulk of ARKK’s holdings are in other innovative and disruptive technologies such as 3D printing, data and machine learning, molecular diagnostics, industrial innovation, and other leading-edge technologies.

ARKK is up 31% YTD, beating both the S&P 500 and NASDAQ.

Conclusion

Likely, the first indication that EVs are displacing ICEs will not be what you see on the road (ICE vehicles last an average of 11 years) but rather a falling off in ICE sales while EV sales climb robustly.

We already know consumers are fascinated by EVs. Even if they don’t lease or buy one immediately they may put off buying an ICE while they think it over.

I suspect that once unsubsidized EV prices reach parity with ICEs, in a few years the floodgates will open and EV sales will rapidly climb and surpass ICEs’ sales. Some legacy companies, such as Volkswagen see the writing on the wall and are preparing for the transition.

Disclaimer: As always, investors should do their own research and exercise due diligence before investing in any of the companies or funds mentioned in this article.

Disclosure: I am/we are long QCLN, TSLA. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

New desalination method could get industry – and the environment – out of a very salty pickle

In contrast, the TSSE method – developed by a Columbia Engineering team led by assistant professor Ngai Yin Yip – is beautifully simple. It uses a solvent with temperature-dependent water solubility. Vary the temperature, and you vary the solubility. This solvent is added to the brine, where it floats above the denser salt-laden liquid. At room-temperature, water from the brine is drawn into the solvent. After this stage, the solvent is drawn off and warmed via low-grade heat under 70° C (158°F). The “temperature swing” nature of the solvent subsequently demixes it from the water (remember, this is a temperature-dependent solvent, where at higher temperatures, it holds less water). The resulting desalinated water then settles to the bottom, and is collected.

Forget ice! This off-grid cooler uses the sun’s rays to chill your food

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A few years ago, the Coolest Cooler burst onto Kickstarter and quickly raked in more than $13 million to bring it to market. While lengthy delays turned into a controversial project, a new type of cooler just landed on a crowdfunding platform with its own goal of reinventing the humble food and drink chiller. And this one promises to be with customers in just a few months.

This time around, however, it’s taking a somewhat different approach. While the Coolest Cooler focused on party features like in-built Bluetooth speakers, the GoSun Chill’s innovation involves its method of keeping food chilled. Rather than relying on anything as boring as ice, it uses brushless compressor motors and lithium-ion batteries for cooling. You can charge it using a power cord, or — more impressively — using solar panel charging to keep your beverages icy. Where else could you use the sun’s rays to cool things down? Heck, you can even use the excess power from the detachable 144wh Powerbank to charge your devices multiple times.

“Portable fridges have demanded large power needs and must be plugged into a running vehicle — typically trucks — or a generator,” Patrick Sherwin, CEO of manufacturer GoSun, told Digital Trends. “GoSun’s engineers brought together an efficient brushless compressor with a compact, high output battery pack to create a cooler that never needs ice. With the flexible solar panel or solar table, you can continue to power the GoSun Chill, so you don’t need to resupply throughout the day.”

gosun chill cooler chilldisplay 03

GoSun isn’t known for its coolers. Its best-known products are the opposite of a cooler: Its solar ovens, which have shipped more than 30,000 units, including 1,500 to the American Red Cross. Pushing the fuel-free frontier, GoSun now wants to offer the next step in what it says as its dream of an outdoor kitchen. “The GoSun Chill provides both cooling and power for devices, plus it is compatible with our latest hybrid solar and electric oven, the GoSun Fusion,” Sherwin continued.

Although GoSun Chill is cool (no pun intended) from a technological point of view, there are other reasons to consider it, too. While it’s similar in size to a standard cooler, the 40-liter cooler can fit 40% more food and drink inside, since there’s no ice using up valuable internal space.

As ever, we offer our usual warnings about the risks inherent in crowdfunding campaigns. However, if you’re happy to take the risk, head over to Indiegogo and pledge your cash. Prices start at $549 for the early bird model with solar panel, while a version without the solar tech comes in at $479. Shipping is set to take place in August.

Editors’ Recommendations

The cost of generating renewable energy has fallen – a lot

It’s the moment the global sustainable energy market has been waiting for. Battery technology, the essential element in ensuring continuity of supply from weather-dependent sources such as wind and solar, has suddenly become cost competitive.

For lithium-ion batteries, the ‘levelized cost of electricity’ (LCOE) – the total cost of building and operating an electricity-generating plant – has fallen by 35% since the first half of 2018, analysis by research company BloombergNEF (BNEF) shows.

At the same time, the LCOE for offshore wind has dropped by 24%. Onshore wind and solar’s benchmark costs fell 10% and 18% respectively from last year.

“Looking back over this decade, there have been staggering improvements in the cost-competitiveness of these low-carbon options, thanks to technology innovation, economies of scale, stiff price competition and manufacturing experience,” says Elena Giannakopoulou, head of energy economics at BNEF.

Image: BloombergNEF

Powering change

Since 2010, the benchmark price for solar has dropped 84%, offshore wind by more than half and onshore wind by 49%. The price of lithium-ion battery storage has dropped by more than three quarters since 2012.

Batteries provide the opportunity to cover peaks in demand and to bridge periods when the wind is calm and the sun does not shine. Until now, gas and coal-fired power stations have filled the gaps. But battery storage is increasingly being added to solar and wind plants to help maintain supply.

Earlier this year, Abu Dhabi switched on what it said was the world’s largest virtual battery plant, able to store 648 MWh to balance demand on the grid and keep the city supplied for up to six hours in the event of a generating outage.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Battery Alliance says a low-carbon future is unthinkable without batteries, describing them as a core technological enabler for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Batteries could be harnessed to help 1 billion people globally who lack access to electricity, the Alliance says.

Looking offshore

“Solar and onshore wind have won the race to be the cheapest sources of new ‘bulk generation’ in most countries,” says Tifenn Brandily, energy economics analyst at BNEF. “But the encroachment of clean technologies is now going well beyond that, threatening the balancing role that gas-fired plant operators, in particular, have been hoping to play.”

Offshore wind, once relatively expensive compared to onshore wind or solar, has seen a sharp reduction in capital costs thanks in part to the use of much larger turbines, more than halving its benchmark cost. The UK has the world’s largest offshore wind capability with 34% of global installed capacity.

Image: Global Wind Energy Council

“The low prices promised by offshore wind tenders throughout Europe are now materializing, with several high-profile projects reaching financial close in recent months,” says Giannakopoulou. “Its cost decline in the last six months is the sharpest we have seen for any technology.”

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EGEB: Clean Energy for America Act, North Dakota and Vermont solar, and more

In today’s EGEB:

  • New legislation would streamline the tax code to boost clean energy.
  • North Dakota is last in American solar capacity, but the state is looking to make progress.
  • A Vermont policy designed to spur solar development on landfills seems to be working.
  • Britain sets another record in consecutive hours for coal-free power.

Electrek Green Energy Brief: A daily technical, financial, and political review/analysis of important green energy news.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., introduced the Clean Energy for America Act in Congress last week. The proposed bill aims to get rid of the current “patchwork” of expiring incentives for renewables in the US, and opts to replace it with a different system. From the bill’s summary:

The bill creates a performance-based incentive that would be neutral and flexible between clean electricity technologies. Taxpayers are able to choose between a production tax credit (PTC) and an investment tax credit (ITC), which are scaled based on the carbon emissions of the electricity generated – measured as grams of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e) emitted per kilowatt hour (KWh) generated. Power plants that emit at least 35 percent less carbon than the current nationwide average begin qualifying for a small incentive, which increases for power plants that are progressively cleaner. Zero emission facilities qualify for the maximum credits – a 2.3 cents per KWh hour PTC or a 30 percent ITC. The PTC is available for the 10 years after a facility is placed in service.

The Clean Energy for America Act also touches upon clean fuel, energy-efficient homes and energy-efficient buildings, among other things. The Union of Concerned Scientists has expressed its strong support for the bill, though there’s plenty of overall skepticism about it being passed.

North Dakota Solar

For a number of reasons — including its fossil fuel resources and wind power — North Dakota hasn’t been a big solar state. In fact, it ranks last in the US for installed solar capacity, with less than 0.5 MW installed at the end of 2018.

But Morning Consult reports on how the state recently approved its first commercial solar project, and North Dakotans may be becoming a bit more receptive to solar’s potential.

Brian Kroshus (R), chairman of the North Dakota Public Service Commission, voted in favor of the project. He believes North Dakota’s lack of a Renewable Portfolio Standard hasn’t incentivized state utilities to pursue solar energy.

When paired with the northern state’s preference for wind, it’s clear why solar has lagged behind, but there appears to be room for at least some solar development going forward.

Vermont Solar

It’s a different story in Vermont, home state of “Solar Star” city Burlington. Energy News Network took a look at the state policy which aims to put solar in areas like landfills and brownfields — and away from undeveloped land — by incentivizing developers to do so through a “premium rate” for such projects.

One example cited in the report is a 500 kW solar array that’s been set in a remediated brownfield. The state has received more than 100 applications for these projects since the program came about in July 2017. It’s been so successful, officials are now thinking about ways to further refine the program to make it more effective.

No Coal for Britain

Another week, another record for British energy use without coal. Britain was powered completely by sources other than coal for more than 100 hours straight over the recent weekend, according to The Telegraph.

A National Grid spokesman said it seems to be becoming a “regular occurrence,” and that does seem to be the case. A few weeks ago, Britain went more than 90 hours without coal. During a week in March, 35% of British electricity was generated by wind power alone.


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America's renewable energy usage set to surpass coal production for the first time ever

America’s renewable energy usage set to surpass coal production for the first time ever

  • Coal is falling out of favor as renewable energy poises to surpass it this month
  • While solar and wind energy use rise, coal has steadily declined over the decade 
  • Expert say renewables will soon pass coal in energy production this month

In the U.S., coal-fired power is running out of steam as renewable energy is poised to eclipse the amount of energy produced by coal plants.

A report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), has projected that as of this month, power derived from hydro, biomass, wind, solar and geothermal, will generate more energy than traditional coal-powered plants.  

Should that occur, it would mark a first for the renewable energy sector. 

A report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), has projected that as of this month, power derived from hydro, biomass, wind, solar and geothermal, will generate more energy than traditional coal-powered plants

A report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), has projected that as of this month, power derived from hydro, biomass, wind, solar and geothermal, will generate more energy than traditional coal-powered plants

A report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), has projected that as of this month, power derived from hydro, biomass, wind, solar and geothermal, will generate more energy than traditional coal-powered plants 

IEEFA says the trend could potentially extend into the month of May, in a promising signal for renewable energy adoption. 

This trend will happen sporadically throughout the next several years, says the IEEFA, as renewable energy becomes cheaper and the world’s attention focuses on mitigating the effects of carbon-fueled climate change by turning away from fossil fuels. 

Growth in both solar and wind power has been particularly stark with the former producing 48 times more electricity than it did a decade ago due to cheaper equipment and government incentives. 

Though renewable energy is aided in its displacement of coal by a seasonal dip in the resource’s usage – coal plants typically decrease output in Spring as energy consumption decelerates and some plants shut down for maintenance – the positive trend is significant, especially when factoring in a struggling coal industry. 

Coupled with a rise in renewables has been a diametric trend of declining coal consumption. Last year, coal hit a nearly 40-year low in terms of proportional usage in the U.S. 

Coal has fallen out of favor in part due to decreasing costs of natural gas.

Renewable energy has closed the gap on coal which has fallen out of favor throughout the last several decades. However, they still constitute a relatively small portion of U.S. production

Renewable energy has closed the gap on coal which has fallen out of favor throughout the last several decades. However, they still constitute a relatively small portion of U.S. production

Renewable energy has closed the gap on coal which has fallen out of favor throughout the last several decades. However, they still constitute a relatively small portion of U.S. production

In 2016, coal was dethroned as the America's fuel of choice by natural gas, a feat aided in part by a thriving hydro-fracking industry that continues to pump abundant fossil fuels

In 2016, coal was dethroned as the America's fuel of choice by natural gas, a feat aided in part by a thriving hydro-fracking industry that continues to pump abundant fossil fuels

In 2016, coal was dethroned as the America’s fuel of choice by natural gas, a feat aided in part by a thriving hydro-fracking industry that continues to pump abundant fossil fuels

In 2016, coal was dethroned as the America’s fuel of choice by natural gas, a feat aided in part by a thriving hydro-fracking industry that continues to pump abundant fossil fuels out of the Bakken Oil Shale in North Dakota. 

The decline has continued even despite renewed interest from President Donald Trump in reinvigorating the coal industry.  

Even with the rapid ingress of renewable energy, solar, wind, and hydroelectric still constitute a relatively small portion of U.S. production. 

According to the Energy Information Administration, renewable energy supplies about 11 percent of America’s energy while fossil fuels supply 80 percent.

With the decline of coal, however, more players in the fossil fuel industry are transitioning to renewable energy in hopes of ensuring their futures both economically and otherwise. 

In March, Excel energy – a $30 billion company that generated half of its energy using coal – announced that it will close a quarter of its plants and aim to produce zero-carbon energy by 2050 according to CNN.

HOW CAN SCIENTISTS TURN SUNLIGHT INTO FUEL?

Scientists have developed a way to transform sunlight into fuel that could lead to an ‘unlimited source of renewable energy’.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge have done this by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen.

They did this through using a technique called semi-artificial photosynthesis that is based on the same process plants use to convert sunlight into energy. 

Artificial photosynthesis has been around for decades but it has not yet been successfully used to create renewable energy.

This is because it relies on the use of catalysts, which are often expensive and toxic. 

Researchers used natural sunlight to convert water into hydrogen and oxygen using a mixture of biological components and manmade technologies. 

Researchers reactivated a process in algae that has been dormant for millennia.

They did this using hydrogenase, an enzyme present in algae that is capable of reducing protons into hydrogen. 

‘During evolution, this process has been deactivated because it wasn’t necessary for survival but we successfully managed to bypass the inactivity to achieve the reaction we wanted – splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen’, said Katarzyna Sokół, first author and PhD student at St John’s College.

Ms Sokół hopes the findings will enable new innovative model systems for solar energy conversion to be developed.

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Let’s move the whole state of Illinois to 100% clean, renewable energy.  Tell your legislator to support the Clean Energy Jobs Act (HB 3624/SB 2132). 

This bill will:

  • Set a goal of 100% clean energy for IL by 2050
  • Clean up the state’s electric sector by 2030
  • Create jobs and economic opportunities, especially for disadvantaged communities
  • Electrify the transportation sector

This is big. Send a message to tell your State Rep and State Senator to support and co-sponsor the Clean Energy Jobs Act!

The cities of Chicago and Evanston have already committed to go all-in on renewables — now, it’s time for all Illinoisans to have clean air, affordable energy, and access to the clean energy economy!  Join the movement for 100% clean energy and ask your State Legislators support the Clean Energy Jobs Act.

Earlier this year, Sierra Club & the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition introduced the Clean Energy Jobs Act.  Seventh Generation is partnering with Sierra Club to grow revolutionary, grassroots climate activism in the U.S.  Climate change may be a global challenge, but right now some of the most inspiring progress is happening in local communities and states around the country. Let’s make history, Illinois!

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Blockchain Is The Next Big Thing For Renewable Energy

If you are interested in this story then read also Meet The Companies Spearheading Blockchain For Clean Energy.

Blockchain has been touted as the next big technological advance – impacting everything from online transactions to e-government. But what does it mean for renewable energy?

Essentially an online register that securely stores information, blockchain serves as a repertoire of knowledge accessible to everyone. Rather than being controlled by one entity, blockchain is spread across multiple computers and uses a form of data logging to ensure that the information cannot be changed or corrupted by anyone else. By decentralizing data and protecting the way it is manipulated, blockchain promotes transparency and the sharing of information. As such, the record has immense potential in helping shape a wave of new technology and our ability to interact with it.

 Read Also: Cruise Ship Pollution Is Causing Serious Health And Environmental Problems

Solar Bankers uses blockchain technology to develop digitalized electricity systems. Decentralized energy system on the foundation of novel solar modules can create highly efficient energy, even in places with weak infrastructures or conflict areas. This enables less developed countries and emerging nations to avoid high setup costs of a traditional, centralized electricity network.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Blockchain has served as the go-to platform for the online currencies that have created a lot of hype as an alternative form of legal tender. Whilst they are often mentioned in the same breath, blockchain is far more than just a platform for cryptocurrency. While energy-intensive cryptocurrency mining has caused a spike in carbon emissions, blockchain is a blank canvas capable of driving innovation in the field of green technology . Startups and major companies alike are looking to unlock the potential that blockchain holds to catalyze the transition to green energy.

Consumer Driven Smart Grids

Many startups are already using blockchain as a tool to make energy grids more accessible and sustainable by promoting data-sharing in real time. The idea behind creating energy grids linked to blockchain is fairly simple: by giving consumers total control over where they source their energy as well as the information behind the production itself it drives competition and promotes sustainable energy.

Consumers using a smart-grid that relies on blockchain will be able to compare their energy providers and buy directly from them. In Estonia, a blockchain-powered smart grid called WePower has been testing just how well a choice-driven energy market could work by teaming up with an independent energy provider who shares their energy data in real time. Consumers helping pilot the program have bought into the grid and been given credits to spend on specific energy sources, giving them the freedom to alter their choices based off of real-time power generation and their prices.

A wind turbine replaces an old coal power plant.

Getty

Estonia’s fully digital grid made it easy for a WePower to test its blockchain project as well as using it to help promote clean energy . WePower’s CEO Nick Martyniuk told Wired that “blockchain provides the necessary trust for data sharing and creates liquidity as well as accountability between energy buyers and producers.”

 Read Also: The European Union Is Helping These Islands To Go Renewable

Should the blockchain-based grid take off and become more mainstream, it could open up a whole new market for clean energy as Martyniuk points out, “Even though the cost of renewables has dropped significantly, small to medium size companies don’t have a good way to start buying green energy.”

An Opportunity for Clean Energy

A smarter electricity grid giving consumers transparent energy choices could push for more integration of clean energy. As Yvo Hunink points out, cheaper forms of energy, such as renewables, are set to be the market’s favorite choice and could help propel clean energy as a mainstream option.

Based off projects in India, Hunink illustrates what a blockchain-driven grid could look like: “A biomass plant owned by a farmer in rural India could start delivering the backup power to the grid as soon as the central grid fails, for a price that may vary dynamically according to the rest of available energy in the system. If the blackout is during the day, many solar panels would also be able to cover the load, however, at night, the biomass plant operator has better leverage to sell his energy for a higher price. The market dynamics of supply and demand could all be automatically contracted within a smart contract blockchain environment.

Solar panels containing photovoltaic cells float on water at the hydroelectric dam project by EDP-Energias de Portugal SA’s renewables unit.

© 2018 Bloomberg Finance LP

The decentralization of energy systems democratizes information and allows individuals to make their better-informed decisions. As a tool, blockchain smart grids could help to reduce inequality and provide cheaper, cleaner energy to both areas with developed electricity grids and those lacking any energy access. Blockchain could be one of the many solutions to long term reduction of carbon emissions and help promote sustainable development across the world.

 Read Also: The New Age Of Electricity – Utilities In 2019

However, in order to be successful, smart grids will require everyone to share their information, a move that many companies and private citizens alike have refused to do. Blockchain will need everyone on common ground in order to truly reach its potential as a global tool, but until then, startups will continue to pioneer the technology and help small communities and developing nations take charge of the clean energy revolution.

If you are interested in this story then read also Meet The Companies Spearheading Blockchain For Clean Energy.