American electrical utilities do a pretty fantastic job of getting us electricity when we need it. In 2006, the power was out on average for just 0.03% of the year in the U.S. But right now, this system depends on getting most of its power from coal, nuclear and gas plants: big, dependable power plants that can be turned on and off when needed.
The world’s first “solar battery”, invented by researchers at Ohio State Univ., is a battery and a solar cell combined into one hybrid device. Key to the innovation is a mesh solar panel, which allows air to enter the battery, and a special process for transferring electrons between the solar panel and the battery electrode. Inside the device, light and oxygen enable different parts of the chemical reactions that charge the battery.
The key to creating a material that would be ideal for converting solar energy to heat is tuning the material’s spectrum of absorption just right: It should absorb virtually all wavelengths of light that reach Earth’s surface from the sun—but not much of the rest of the spectrum, since that would increase the energy that is reradiated by the material, and thus lost to the conversion process.
A new report prepared by analysts from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory examines the potential impacts of customer-sited solar photovoltaics on electric utility profitability and rates. The report shows that these impacts can vary greatly depending upon the specific circumstances of the utility and may be reduced through a variety of regulatory and ratemaking measures.
A collaboration between scientists in the Univ. of Chicago’s chemistry department, the Institute for Molecular Engineering and Argonne National Laboratory has produced the highest-ever recorded efficiency for solar cells made of two types of polymers and fulllerene. Researchers identified a new polymer that improved the efficiency of solar cells and also determined the method by which the polymer improved the cells’ efficiency.
For decades, the power conversion efficiency of organic solar cells was hampered by the drawbacks of commonly used metal electrodes, including their instability and susceptibility to oxidation. Now for the first time, researchers at the Univ. of Massachusetts Amherst have developed a more efficient, easily processable and lightweight solar cell that can use virtually any metal for the electrode, effectively breaking the “electrode barrier.”
Yale Univ. associate professor of electrical engineering Minjoo Larry Lee has been awarded $2,540,000 to develop dual-junction solar cells that can operate efficiently at extreme temperatures above 750 F. In addition to converting a portion of the sunlight directly into electricity, the solar cells will use the remainder of the light to heat high-temperature fluids that can drive a steam turbine or be stored for later use.
The price of solar energy in the U.S. continues to fall substantially, according to the latest editions of two annual reports produced by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab). A third Berkeley Lab report, written in collaboration with researchers at Yale Univ., the Univ. of Texas at Austin and the DOE, shows that local permitting and other regulatory procedures can significantly impact residential photovoltaic prices.
The most familiar photovoltaic (PV) designs use rigid layers of silicon crystal, but recently inexpensive organic semiconductor materials have also been used successfully. At this time, organic PV devices are hindered by low efficiency, in part because quantifying their electrical properties is a challenge. Researchers have now developed a method that allows the prediction of the current density-voltage curve of a photovoltaic device.
Lighter, more flexible and cheaper than conventional solar-cell materials, carbon nanotubes (CNTs) have long shown promise for photovoltaics. But research stalled when CNTs proved to be inefficient, converting far less sunlight into power than other methods. Now a research team has created a new type of CNT solar cell that is twice as efficient as its predecessors.
A research team investigating an important cofactor in photosynthesis, a manganese-calcium complex which uses solar energy to split water into molecular oxygen, have determined the exact structure of this complex at a crucial stage in the chemical reaction. The new insights into how molecular oxygen is formed at this metal complex may provide a blueprint for synthetic systems that could store sunlight energy in chemical energy carriers.
A team of researchers at Michigan State Univ. has developed a new type of solar concentrator that when placed over a window creates solar energy while allowing people to actually see through the window. It is called a transparent luminescent solar concentrator and can be used on buildings, cell phones and any other device that has a clear surface.
This could be a classic win-win solution: A system proposed by researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology recycles materials from discarded car batteries—a potential source of lead pollution—into new, long-lasting solar panels that provide emissions-free power. The system is based on a recent development in solar cells that makes use of a compound called perovskite.
New Stanford Univ. research outlines the path to a possible future for California in which renewable energy creates a healthier environment, generates jobs and stabilizes energy prices. Among other metrics, the plan calculates the number of new devices and jobs created, land and ocean areas required, and policies needed for infrastructure changes.
A new material structure developed at Massachusetts Institute of Technology generates steam by soaking up the sun. The structure—a layer of graphite flakes and an underlying carbon foam—is a porous, insulating material structure that floats on water. When sunlight hits the structure’s surface, it creates a hotspot in the graphite, drawing water up through the material’s pores, where it evaporates as steam.
One of the major road blocks to the design and development of new, more efficient solar cells may have been cleared. Researchers with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have developed the first ab initio method for characterizing the properties of “hot carriers” in semiconductors. Hot carriers are electrical charge carriers with significantly higher energy than charge carriers at thermal equilibrium.
The solar panels that Idaho inventor Scott Brusaw has built aren't meant for rooftops. They are meant for roads, driveways, parking lots, bike trails and, eventually, highways. Brusaw, an electrical engineer, says the hexagon-shaped panels can withstand the wear and tear that comes from inclement weather and vehicles, big and small, to generate electricity.
Researchers at Princeton Univ. joined with experts at Liquid Light Inc. to devise an efficient method for harnessing sunlight to convert carbon dioxide into a potential alternative fuel known as formic acid. This type of acid is already being explored as an alternative in fuel cells. The new process takes place inside an electrochemical cell, which consists of metal plates the size of lunch-boxes that enclose liquid-carrying channels.
Despite five months of below-average temperatures and twice the normal amount of snowfall, NIST's Net-Zero Energy Residential Test Facility (NZERTF) in Washington, D.C. ended its one-year test run with 491 KW-h of extra energy. Instead of paying almost $4,400 for electricity, the experimental all-electric house actually earned a credit by exporting surplus energy to the local utility.
Experts don't fully understand how “plastic” solar panels work, which complicates the improvement of their cost efficiency and hinders wider use of the technology. However, an international team has now determined how light beams excite the chemicals in solar panels, enabling them to produce charge. Their findings were made possible with the use of femtosecond Raman spectroscopy.
Concentrating solar power (CSP) could supply a large fraction of the power supply in a decarbonized energy system, according to a new study of the technology and its potential practical application. For this research, scientists simulated the construction and operation of CSP systems in four regions around the world, taking into account weather variations, plant locations, electricity demand, and costs.
Rice Univ. scientists have created a one-step process for producing highly efficient materials that let the maximum amount of sunlight reach a solar cell. The Rice laboratory of chemist Andrew Barron found a simple way to etch nanoscale spikes into silicon that allows more than 99% of sunlight to reach the cells’ active elements, where it can be turned into electricity.
Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers have demonstrated an almost four-fold boost of the carrier multiplication yield with nanoengineered quantum dots. Carrier multiplication is when a single photon can excite multiple electrons. Quantum dots are novel nanostructures that can become the basis of the next generation of solar cells, capable of squeezing additional electricity out of the extra energy of blue and ultraviolet photons.
Researchers the world over are investigating solar cells which imitate plant photosynthesis, with the goal of using sunlight and water to create synthetic fuels such as hydrogen. Scientists in Switzerland have developed this type of photoelectrochemical cell, but this one recreates a moth’s eye to drastically increase its light collecting efficiency. The cell is made of cheap raw materials: iron and tungsten oxide.
Think those flat, glassy solar panels on your neighbor’s roof are the pinnacle of solar technology? Think again. Researchers at Univ. of Toronto have designed and tested a new class of solar-sensitive nanoparticle that outshines the current state of the art employing this new class of technology.
Wouldn’t it be nice to use solar- or wind-generated electricity to turn excess carbon dioxide into fuels and other useful chemicals? The process would store up the intermittent solar or wind energy in a form that could be used when and where it was needed, including in transportation applications, all while getting rid of some greenhouse gas.
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