“We have seen an extraordinary increase in global energy demand in 2018, growing at its fastest pace this decade,” says Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director.
To meet that demand, largely fuelled by a booming economy, countries turned to an array of sources, including renewables. But nothing filled the void quite like fossil fuels, which satisfied nearly 70 percent of the skyrocketing electricity demand, according to the agency, which analyzes energy trends on behalf of 30 member countries, including the U.S.
now responsible for the majority of coal-fired power generation globally, and the
average age of power plants there is now just 12 years, meaning they have
decades to go before reaching their planned end of production in about 30 to 50
can also be considered another golden year for gas. But despite major growth in
renewables, global emissions are still rising, demonstrating once again that
more urgent action is needed on all fronts.”
emissions last year — 560m tonnes — is equivalent to the entire annual
emissions from the aviation sector.
the second consecutive year of rising emissions, after a period during which CO2
emissions were mostly flat between 2014 and 2016.
“It seems like a vicious cycle,” said Mr. Birol, pointing out that in India air conditioning had become a big factor in power demand. “Heating and cooling are one of the biggest drivers of energy demand growth.”
a new analysis shows that
around three-quarters of U.S. coal production is now more expensive than solar
and wind energy in providing electricity to American households.
“Even without major policy shift we will continue to see coal retire pretty rapidly,” said Mike O’Boyle, the co-author of the report for Energy Innovation, a renewables analysis firm. “Our analysis shows that we can move a lot faster to replace coal with wind and solar. The fact that so much coal could be retired right now shows we are off the pace.”
study’s authors used public financial filings and data from the Energy
Information Agency to work out the cost of energy from coal plants compared
with wind and solar options within a 35-mile radius.
found that 211 gigawatts of current U.S. coal capacity, 74 percent of the coal
fleet, is providing electricity that’s more expensive than wind or solar.
By 2025 the picture becomes even clearer, with nearly the entire US coal system out-competed on cost by wind and solar, even when factoring in the construction of new wind turbines and solar panels.
Oxford PVTM – The Perovskite CompanyTM, the leader in the field of perovskite solar cells, announced a new, certified, world record for its perovskite-based solar cell.
Oxford PV’s 1 cm2 perovskite-silicon tandem solar cell has achieved a 28% conversion efficiency, certified by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The achievement edges out Oxford PV’s own previous certified record of 27.3% efficiency for its perovskite-silicon solar cell, announced earlier this year.
Dr. Chris Case, Chief Technology Officer at Oxford PV commented, “Today’s record demonstrates the unprecedented pace of our technology development. We are continuing to push our perovskite-silicon solar cell technology, with a roadmap that extends beyond 30% efficiency. The solar cells we are developing are not only efficient but also stable. Similar devices from our research and development facility have passed at least 2000 hours of damp heat reliability testing, in line with IEC 61215 protocol.”
Frank P. Averdung, Chief
Executive Officer at Oxford PV added, “2018 has been a significant year
for Oxford PV. Alongside the pace of our technology advancements in both
efficiency and stability, our pilot line is routinely producing
commercial sized tandem solar cells for validation by our development
partner – a major manufacturer of silicon solar cells and modules. With
new collaborations with key industry players strengthening our
manufacturing capabilities, the foundations are in place, to move
perovskite photovoltaics into commercial phase.”
new study has revealed that the language used by the global climate
change watchdog, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC),
is overly conservative – and therefore the threats are much greater than
the Panel’s reports suggest.
Published in the journal BioScience,
the team of scientists from the University of Adelaide, Flinders
University, the University of Bristol (UK), and the Spanish National
Research Council has analysed the language used in the IPCC’s Fifth
Assessment Report (from 2014).
“We found that the main message from the reports—that our society is in climate emergency—is lost by overstatement of uncertainty and gets confused among the gigabytes of information,” says lead author Dr. Salvador Herrando-Pérez, from the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute and Australian Centre for Ancient DNA.
“The IPCC supports the overwhelming scientific consensus about human impact on climate change, so we would expect the reports’ vocabulary to be dominated by greater certainty on the state of climate science—but this is not the case.”
The IPCC assigns a level of certainty to climate findings using five
categories of confidence and ten categories of probability. The team
found the categories of intermediate certainty predominated, with those
of highest certainty barely reaching 8% of the climate findings
“The accumulation of uncertainty across all elements of the climate-change complexity means that the IPCC tends to be conservative,” says co-author Professor Corey Bradshaw, Matthew Flinders Fellow in Global Ecology at Flinders University. “The certainty is in reality much higher than even the IPCC implies, and the threats are much worse.”
“Uncertainty is to science what the score is to music—but it’s a two-edged sword: what the IPCC and the majority of the scientific community regard as a paradigm of rigour and transparency is exactly what the ‘merchants of doubt’ put forward as a weakness,” says Dr. Herrando-Pérez.
“However, climatic uncertainties are nothing but an expression of the climate risks we face, and should inspire action rather than indifference.”
The team says the IPCC reports should incorporate a clear connection between the certainty of thousands of scientific findings and the certainty that humans are vastly altering the Earth’s climate. The team recommends a new IPCC working group of communication specialists to oversee the language and effective dissemination, and convey the message accurately.
“Our evolutionary history tells us Earth will ultimately survive more aridity, more hurricanes, more floods, more sea-level rise, more extinctions and degraded ecosystems, but our society as we know it today might not unless we clearly articulate the magnitude of the threat it poses,” says Dr. Herrando-Pérez.
The novel wind and solar energy-harvesting flags have been
developed using flexible piezoelectric strips and flexible photovoltaic
The aim of
the study is to
allow cheap and sustainable energy harvesting solutions which can be
deployed and left to generate energy with little or no need for
The research has been published in the journal Applied
strips allow the flag to generate power through movement, whilst the photovoltaics is the best known method of harnessing electric power
by using solar cells.
study, conducted by researchers at The University of Manchester, is the most
advanced of its kind to date and the first to simultaneously harvest wind and
solar energies using inverted flags. The research has been published in the journal Applied Energy.
developed energy harvesting flags are capable of powering remote sensors and
small-scale portable electronics which can be
used for environmental sensing such as to monitor pollution, sound
levels and heat for example.
The aim of the study is to allow cheap and sustainable energy harvesting
solutions which can be deployed and left to generate energy with little or no
need for maintenance. The strategy is known as “deploy-and-forget”
and this is the anticipated for model that so
called smart cities will adopt
when using remote sensors.
Silva-Leon, from Manchester’s School of Mechanical, Aerospace & Civil
Engineering and lead-author of the study,
says: “Under the action of the wind, the flags we built bend from side to side
in a repetitive fashion, also known as Limit-Cycle Oscillations. This makes them perfectly
suited for uniform power generation from the deformation of piezoelectric
materials. Simultaneously, the solar panels bring a double benefit: they act as
a destabilizing mass which triggers the onset of flapping motions at lower wind
speeds, and of course are able to
generate electricity from the ambient light.
Cioncolini, co-author of the study, added: “Wind and solar energies typically
have intermittencies that tend to compensate each other. The sun does not
usually shine during stormy conditions, whereas calm days with little wind are
usually associated with shiny sun. This makes wind and solar energies
particularly well suited for simultaneous harvesting, with a view at
compensating their intermittency.”
used and developed unique research techniques such as fast video-imaging and
object tracking with advanced data-analysis to prove their flags worked. The
developed harvesters were tested in wind speeds varying from 0 m/s (calm) to
about 26 m/s (storm/whole gale) and 1.8 kLux constant light exposure,
simulating a wide range of environmental conditions. Under these operation
conditions, total power outputs of up to 3-4 milli-Watts were generated.
Mostafa Nabawy, co-author of the study, says: “Our piezo/solar inverted flags
were capable of generating sufficient power for a range of low power sensors
and electronics that operate in the micro-Watt to milli-Watt power range within
a number of potential practical applications in avionics, land and sea remote
locations, and smart cities. We hope to develop the concept further in order to
support more power-demanding applications such as an eco-energy generating
charging-station for mobile devices.”
Dr Alistair Revell, co-author of work, highlights current and future research directions saying: “We are currently making use of a novel computational framework for modelling and simulation developed at The University of Manchester, building on a long tradition of Computational Fluid Dynamics in the group. The use of computers to model fluid-structure interactions is increasingly referred to as virtual engineering, and plays a key part in device development by reducing the number of models which need to be physically manufactured and tested.”
Saturday, March 16, California set a new solar energy record. Just before 3 o’clock in the afternoon, solar output peaked
at 10,765 megawatts, the highest amount ever, though just a smidgen more than the previous record set last June.
According to the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), demand at
that time, not including behind-the-meter solar, was around 18
gigawatts. Los Angeles and Sacramento are not part of the CAISO grid.
That meant solar was meeting 59% of the grid’s power needs at that moment.That’s wonderful news, but what should get solar proponents really excited is that CAISO was a net exporter of electricity to other systems at the time the record was set. As PV Magazine points out, CAISO is required by its existing contracts with out-of-state energy suppliers to import a certain amount of electricity even when it doesn’t need it.
happens, some of the locally generated electricity has to be exported, and in
extreme cases, the generation is just shut off or dumped, a process known as
curtailment in the industry. Since it is more difficult to decrease output on a
moment-to-moment basis from traditional energy sources like hydro or gas-fired
generating stations, the electricity curtailed most often comes from renewable
energy facilities, especially solar.
on market considerations at the time, sometimes CAISO actually has to pay other
utility operators to take its excess electricity, particularly during the
mid-afternoon when solar output is at its peak. But that didn’t happen in this
instance. Growing battery storage capability in California is one of the
from CAISO only tells part of the solar record story, however, since
behind-the-meter solar — which is estimated to be half as much as grid-scale
solar — is not included in those numbers. That means at that time on Saturday,
March 16, total available solar energy within the CAISO system was closer to 16
data from the US Department of Energy, PV Magazine calculates that 14%
of California’s annual demand for electricity was met from in-state solar
resources last year and that number is expected to be far greater this year as
California once again adds more solar generating capacity than any other state.
of solar and other renewables like to point out the cost of electricity in
California has gone up steadily in the past decade, which they attribute
entirely to the expense of building wind and solar generating facilities. What
they ignore completely is the money utility customers have been forced to
expend to keep unprofitable conventional generating facilities running and the
burden that existing contracts impose on everyone.
They also totally exclude any intangible but very real health and environmental impacts from drilling for, transporting, and burning fossil fuels to make electricity. In today’s superheated political sphere, half-truths and outright lies are considered business as usual. Despite their distortions, renewable energy is rapidly displacing conventional generating plants, something that means we can all breathe a little bit easier.
Members of the European Parliament voted last week on a non-binding resolution endorsing a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions target for 2050 and increasing the European Union’s 2030 target.
a wide-ranging text adopted by 369 votes to 116 (and 40 abstentions),
Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) expressed their support for
only two of eight strategic pathways “for the economic, technological
and social transformation needed for the Union to comply with the
long-term temperature goal of the Paris Agreement” — the only two
pathways which, according to the MEPs, “would enable the Union to reach
net-zero GHG emissions by 2050 at the latest.”
The text adopted states that achieving
net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 “requires swift action and
considerable efforts at local, regional, national, and EU level, also
involving all non-public actors.”
If the European Union is to achieve this
target of “net-zero GHG emissions by 2050 at the latest” then,
according to the adopted text, the 2030 ambition level must be raised
“and aligned with net-zero 2050 scenarios.” Specifically, MEPs supports
an update to the European Union’s Nationally Determined Contribution
(NDC) — the mechanism embodying “efforts by each country to reduce
national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change” (according to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) — to an economy-wide target of 55% domestic greenhouse gas emissions reductions by 2030 (compared with 1990 levels).
“With people turning out in record numbers for the climate, MEPs have shown they take citizens’ concerns seriously, and want to step up climate action,” said Imke Lübbeke, Head of Climate and Energy at WWF European Policy Office. “Their support for net zero greenhouse gas emissions in the EU by 2050 latest, and higher cuts by 2030, is an encouraging sign to EU Member States, who are currently considering the EU’s long-term climate plans and preparing their national climate and energy plans.”
The MEPs also welcomed demonstrations and student strikes across the EU, welcoming “the calls from these activists for greater ambition and swift action in order not to overshoot the 1.5°C climate limit.”
There are two persistent and overlapping trends in American
discussions of climate change, nuclear energy, and renewable energy. The first
is American exceptionalism, the idea that the USA is doing better than any
country in the world despite denying climate change and walking away from the
Paris Accord. The second is that Germany is awful, choosing to shut down its
nuclear plants, resulting in massive increases in greenhouse gases.
The US is not exceptional. Germany is.
Let’s look at some of the common types of statements that emerge. Michael Shellenberger, environmentalist and ardent fan of nuclear energy as the solution to global warming, likes bold statements like the following in a Forbes opinion piece:
All that German will have gotten for its “energy transition” is a 50% increase in electricity prices, flat emissions, and an electricity supply that is 10 times more carbon-intensive than France’s.
In the midst of a still struggling and fragile global economy, Germany has announced that it will shut down seven nuclear plants by the end of the year–which means that Germans will be left to run their factories, heat their homes, and power their economy with 10% less electrical generating capacity. Nine more plants will be shut down over the next decade and tens of billions of dollars in investment will be lost.
Equally, US exceptionalists such as the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute, release glowing statements about the USA when it gets something right, but are silent on its failures and miss a lot context, and naturally these statements are picked up and trumpeted by conservative outlets as a reason for not actually doing anything:
Declines in CO2 emissions in 2017 were led by the US (-0.5% and 42 million tons, see chart above). This is the ninth time in this century that the US has had the largest decline in emissions in the world.
So according to nuclear advocates such as Shellenberger, fossil fuel
advocates such as Epstein, and conservative think tanks, the USA is green and Germany
is black and sooty. Oh that this were true. Of course, this is kicking in again
with AOC’s Green New Deal, which in an early fact sheet omitted to mention
either nuclear or fossil fuels with carbon capture as possible solutions.
As I pointed out in an article in early March, the USA is responsible for 26% of all of the excess CO2e in the atmosphere, is still the second biggest total emitter of CO2e after China, and has twice the emissions per capita as China. The article also pointed out the massive program of decarbonization of electricity and transportation that China is undertaking, built on the back of a lot of wind and solar generation installation.
But let’s compare the USA to Germany, shall we? First, how is Germany doing? This chart is from the Clean Energy Wire (CLEW), a German non-profit foundation funded by Stiftung Mercator and the European Climate Foundation, to provide evidence-based support for journalism about the energy transition.
What does this tell us? Well, a few things. First, Germany has been on a
steady decline of CO2 emissions in absolute terms since 1990, currently about
28% off of 1990 emissions. Second, the country has had a steady increase in GDP
since 1990. Third, its actual power consumption is relatively flat in
comparison to GDP increases and GHG decreases.
What did Shellenberger claim? “Flat emissions” due to its policies. That’s
wrong both on the electrical generation front and on the overall GHG emissions
Shellenberger claim busted
What did Epstein claim? “During a struggling and fragile global economy,”
Germany was going to suffer due to shutting down nuclear and lose “tens of
billions of dollars in investment.” Well, the country shut down half of its
nuclear generation, and its economic growth has continued unabated with exactly
zero blips showing up in the economic results.
Oh, wait, the USA is up slightly from 1990? Not down 28% in a relatively
straightforward decline as Germany is?
What was the claim of the US conservative think tank again? The “US has had
the largest decline in emissions in the world.” But since 1990, emissions are
up in the US and down in Germany. That’s called cherry-picking from most
American Enterprise Institute claim busted
Maybe there’s a reason for that?
Oh, while Germany’s primary energy consumption is down 10% since 1990 due to
excellent efficiency programs, the USA’s primary energy consumption is up about
20%, heading in the opposite direction?
Why is this important? Another one of Shellenberger’s claims, that one of
the only things that Germany received from their policies was “a 50% increase
in electricity prices.” However, even the World Nuclear Association admits the
reality of Germany’s electricity prices.
Germany has some of the lowest wholesale electricity prices in Europe and some of the highest retail prices, due to its energy policies. Taxes and surcharges account for more than half the domestic electricity price.
Correct. Germany pays very low prices for its electricity yet charges its
consumers quite a bit more. This is called a market price signal, something you
would think that conservative commentators would understand. If you have
something that has negative externalities, you want to include the cost of
those externalities in the price paid by consumers to reduce consumption.
Germany’s price of electricity paid by businesses and citizens has made it much
more efficient in its use of electricity than the USA, exactly what a policy
should do. That Germany has very low wholesale rates alone kills
Shellenberger’s argument, but the result of the high consumer prices puts a
nice headstone on its grave.
Shellenberger claim busted
But did the USA and Germany start out from the same place? No, of course not. To give us absolute numbers, let’s look at an equivalent chart to US GHG emissions from the German EPA equivalent, the German Environment Agency (Umweltbundesamt – UBA).
Germany’s total emissions in 1990 were 1,251 million tons of GHGs. What were
the United States’? About 6,200 million tons, about 5 times greater. Was this
because the USA had five times more people in 1990? Well, Germany had a
population of 80 million, and the USA had a population of 250 million then,
about 3 times the difference. Even in 1990, Germany’s GHGs per citizen were 36%
below USA’s emission levels. But what about today?
Germany’s population is about 83 million now, and the USA’s population is
326 million. Today Germany’s emissions per capita are about 43% below the
USA’s, so Germany continues to move further into the lead in absolute terms and
by this metric.
But what about GDP measurements? Surely the economic engine of the free world must be doing better based on GDP? Well, S&P maintains statistics on inflation-adjusted GDP for Germany and the USA. In 1990, Germany’s real GDP was $2.41 trillion USD, while the US’ was $9.31 trillion. Germany’s GDP to GHG ratio in 1990 was about 20% better than the USA’s. Today with GDPs of $3.38 and $18.22 trillion for Germany and the USA respectively, Germany’s lead on this ratio has increased to about 21%. To be clear, the USA’s GDP has grown more than Germany’s but as the first chart shows, Germany is an economic powerhouse and grew just fine.
What was Shellenberger’s claim again? “All that German will have gotten for
its “energy transition” is a bunch of things which have so far been debunked.
But Germany has also started well ahead of the USA and moved further ahead on
every measure of absolute and relative emissions.
Shellenberger claim busted
There’s one claim outstanding, Shellenberger’s claim that one of the only
things Germany received was “an electricity supply that is 10 times more
carbon-intensive than France’s.” You’ll notice that Shellenberger didn’t choose
USA for the comparison. His point is that nuclear is the only game in town for
carbon emissions — obviously false as Germany’s absolute and relative results
show — and that if Germany had only invested solely in nuclear, life would be a
bowl of already pitted cherries. Is he right?
Well, at one point he was close to right. In 2016, many headlines screamed things like “German electricity was nearly 10 times dirtier than France’s in 2016.” But what was that headline from? An Environmental Progress press release, which is to say the organization Shellenberger runs, which is pretty much devoted to pro-nuclear advocacy. But let’s give the numbers the benefit of the doubt for now. 560 grams per kWh vs 58 grams per kWh is close enough to 10 times that we could probably given Shellenberger this one, although trust in the numbers can’t be that high given their provenance.
But of course, time marches on, and it’s worth looking at what’s actually happening, especially from sources which aren’t run by Shellenberger.
The generation of one kilowatt-hour of electricity has produced an average of 489 g of CO2 in 2017, which is 36 percent less than in 1990, the Federal Environment Agency has calculated in a new publication on CO2 emissions trends in the power sector in Germany. A growing share of CO2 emissions is associated with energy exports, the UBA said. In 2017, electricity exports rose to an all-time high of 55 terawatt-hours (TWh). Between 2012 and 2017, the increase in power exports was higher (32 billion kWh) than the increase in net power production (25 billion kWh), the UBA added. If Germany cut its net power exports to zero, this would reduce emissions by 25 million tonnes, the researchers found.
So a 36% improvement over the years. And a drop of 71 grams per kWh in a
year, a drop of 13%, if we were to take Shellenberger’s 2016 claims at face
value. Power is actually one of the sectors in Germany which is on track to
meet 202o and 2030 emissions targets, and Germany started well ahead of the USA
and is pulling away.
That 25 million tons is interesting too. It’s about 3% of Germany’s total electrical generation emissions, so it would have been doing even better.
Germany’s electrical generation continued to shift rapidly to renewables.
Over 40% of Germany’s electricity in 2018 was supplied by renewables.
So what else did Germany get? 55 TWh of exported electricity for cold hard cash. That’s something Shellenberger and others tend to sweep under the rug. Germany has a lot of excess capacity and is well ahead of the transition compared to much of the rest of Europe. It’s supporting other jurisdictions with a lot of electricity. Including France.
In 2017, Germany exported a net of 13.7 TWh to France. And Germany’s exports
account for a substantial percentage of its emissions as discussed. France
soaked up just under 1% of Germany’s total electrical generation emissions.
That’s unsurprising. Nuclear is an inflexible form of generation and very
expensive to use for load following. As a result, France depends on other countries
for load following to a great extent, both with night time exports and daytime
imports. It’s cheaper for the country, and something that it can do because it
is surrounded by countries which don’t have inflexible forms of generation.
What did France’s electricity do in 2017? Well, EDF’s results for direct
generation for the year were 88 grams of CO2e per kWh (not 58, interestingly,
and going up). And France bought about 13.7 TWh from Germany too. But let’s
just take the 2017 numbers we have: Germany at 489 and France at 88. Hmm…
that’s only 6 times the emissions, not 10 (which Shellenberger had rounded up).
That’s a massive improvement in relative performance in a single year, and yet
the conservative press is dead silent on this. Surely Shellenberger issued a
Well, no. When all the numbers came in, Shellenberger managed to say that the situation had gone in exactly the opposite direction that primary sources show. He’s now claiming that Germany’s electricity is 12 times dirtier than France’s. At least that’s what he says in articles, but the source he points to is his own Environmental Progress site and it doesn’t support the numbers he cites either.
Okay, even his 2016 numbers are now highly suspect. Basically, he cooked the
books in 2016, overstated the cooked numbers, promoted them massively and
ignores net energy imports and exports.
Is 6 times better good? Absolutely. But the ratio is declining fast,
probably wasn’t even close to 10x, and it’s not what Shellenberger is saying.
Shellenberger claim busted
Shellenberger is fighting a rearguard and quixotic action to save an
expensive, slow to build, inflexible form of generation in the face of massively
better competitors, wind and solar. He cherrypicks his data, massages it
carefully, overstates it, and ignores a lot of important factors.
This wouldn’t matter that much if nuclear could be built quickly and cheaply. But even Shellenberger admits it takes ten years to build a reactor these days (the nicest possible interpretation of the numbers) and that innovation has only made nuclear slower to build and more expensive. His arguments on why nuclear really isn’t 3-5 times more expensive to build than wind and solar are equally lacking in merit. He admits freely that wind and solar are really cheap and then wraps himself around an axle to make that sound like a bad thing. He ignores the maintained or enhanced grid stability that Texas, Germany, and other high-renewable penetration places have been seeing empirically while wholesale electricity prices drop in favor of arguments that renewables are inherently unreliable.
I continue to assert that I’m happy for every nuclear plant that continues
to operate, for every nuclear plant China builds, and for every plant which is
refurbished. The alternatives in a lot of jurisdictions would be more
greenhouse gas emissions.
Epstein is merely a fossil fuel apologist, as is the AEI. It’s clear where
their interests lie. But Shellenberger claims to be an environmentalist, to
understand energy, and to care about global warming. If he did, he’d work from
facts, not the fictional narratives he creates. He’s an unreliable narrator.
He’s an unreliable analyst. He’s a nuclear advocate, not an environmentalist.
He’s shooting for a nuclear future when it’s a wind and solar future. He’s pretending that the conditions of the 1970s that favored nuclear in France exist today when even he admits that they don’t, speaking carefully from both sides of his mouth at once. He pretends that the nuclear non-proliferation and proscribed technology treaties should be ignored so that every nation on earth can enjoy the benefits of nuclear weapons, never mind nuclear generation. Yes, South Sudan, Congo, and Afghanistan would be immeasurably enhanced by nuclear technology. This is a truly surreal opinion, one that brings to mind Dr. Strangelove.
solar cells may sound like shrinking violets — after all, they are thin — but
they are about to get an acid test in the subzero climate of Antarctica, where
they will equip researchers from the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and Polar
Meteorological Science Research Institute of
Chinese Academy of Meteorological Science. Got all that? If all goes
well, the cold-weather deployment could provide the thin film solar industry
with the push it needs to play with the big boys of the photovoltaic world.
Why thin film solar cuts the
of you new to the topic, the solar conversion efficiency of thin film solar
technology is far below the gold standard set by silicon-based photovoltaic
thin film costs less to manufacture and it can be applied over a greater range
of surfaces. Depending on the application, it could be a reasonable bottom-line
alternative to conventional solar cells.
The thin film market has a lot of catching up to do, but signs of growth are in the offing. Last December, the firm Research and Markets took a look at the prospects from 2018 to 2022 and decided that a compound annual growth rate of 16% was a pretty good bet.
According to our friends over at Energy Sage, thin film solar may not gain much traction in the residential rooftop field, but it does have good potential when larger arrays are in play. That’s consistent with the Research and Markets report, which highlights microgrids as a growth area:
Increased adoption of microgrids to gain traction in the market. A microgrid can connect and disconnect from the power grid to operate in grid connected mode and island mode. The increased adoption of microgrids will enhance the use of renewable energy sources, which will drive the thin film solar PV modules market.
the market, Research and Markets observed:
The market appears to be fragmented and with the presence of several companies including First Solar and Hanergy Holding, the competitive environment is quite intense. Factors such as the increasing investments in renewable energy and the increased adoption of microgrids, will provide considerable growth opportunities to thin film solar PV modules manufactures.
Thin film solar & cold
Speaking of Hanergy, that finally brings us to Antarctica. The thin film solar leader has had some ups and downs but it is still alive and kicking, and it is very excited about Antarctica. Hanergy emailed a press release with the news:
…As per the agreement, Hanergy’s thin-film solar panels will be utilized in the equipment and observation station in the Antarctic region which will aid the meteorology research…it’s the first time thin-film solar panels will be supplied to and installed in Antarctic work stations, which proves the quality of its products.
quite a jump up from Hanergy’s previous project in the Antarctic, which
provided solar-powered chargers for a member of China’s mountaineering team to
use for cameras and other handheld equipment.
research station is located in East Antarctic ice sheet and Hanergy graciously
provided some additional details for CleanTechnica readers:
will the solar panels be applied. To a building? To tents?
Hanergy: The solar panels will be applied to their observation shelters which are buildings.
CleanTechnica: What is the combined capacity of
the solar panels?
Hanergy: The total capacity of the solar panels has not be confirmed yet, it will depend on the technical check-up conducted later.
energy storage unit and/or microgrid also part of the project?
Hanergy: The research team already has a vendor for energy storage unit and Hanergy is going to collaborate with them for this project.
CleanTechnica: What kind of fuel does the research station currently rely on?
Hanergy: The research station mostly relies on diesel right now with supplement of silicon PV.
CleanTechnica: What is the advantage of using
Hanergy: Solar power is sustainable and doesn’t need constant fuel supply which is costly in the Antarctic. It also brings much less harm to the environment compared to diesel.
Hanergy anticipate that the solar panels will replace a significant proportion
of the existing fuel?
Hanergy: In the short term, we are providing thin-film solar panels mainly for the portable equipment and lighting system. In the long term, the solar panels will replace the major proportion of the existing fuel, meeting the energy needs for most aspects of the research team.
Onward & upward for thin film
bottom line is that solar power can take a significant bite out of diesel, even
in extremely harsh conditions.
Here in the US, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory is a huge fan of thin film solar. Last November the lab identified growth areas for thin film applications including aerospace and unmanned aerial vehicles, portable chargers, and range extenders for electric vehicles, so stay tuned for more on that.
Chinese scientists are building a new research facility in the southwestern city of Chongqing to study whether solar power generated by satellites in space can be transmitted down to the ground using microwaves to help provide electrical energy to the Earthlings below. According toChina Daily, the 33-acre installation will take about two years to build and will be funded initially by a $15 million investment provided by the Bishan district of the city.
theory, satellites equipped with solar panels would be placed into orbit high
above the Earth. They would then be assembled into an enormous solar collector
array that would beam electricity down to the Earth 24 hours a day. Think of it
as giant wireless EV charger in the sky. One problem is current technology
limits the transmission of electricity via microwaves to about 100 meters.
Another problem is focusing the microwave energy so it doesn’t turn the Earth
into a giant microwave oven, cooking everyone and everything below.
Gengxin, deputy head of the Chongqing Collaborative Innovation Research
Institute for Civil-Military Integration, says, “We plan to launch four to six
tethered balloons from the testing base and connect them with each other to set
up a network at an altitude of around 1,000 meters. These balloons will collect
sunlight and convert solar energy to microwave before beaming it back to Earth.
Receiving stations on the ground will convert such microwaves to electricity
and distribute it to a grid.” If the tests are successful, researchers
will launch new tethered balloons into the stratosphere for further tests, he
the electricity back to Earth is only one of the challenges lying ahead. First,
the weight of the solar panels being shot into space must be reduced
dramatically while maintaining current efficiency levels. Second, the entire
system will be enormously expensive, with each solar satellite costing several
billion dollars. Xie says he thinks a space-based power station could be in
place by 2040.
of collecting energy from sun and beaming it down to Earth was first proposed
by American aerospace engineer Peter Glaser in 1968. Since then, it has been
studied by others from time to time, including NASA, but the technical
challenges have been too daunting to get much beyond the imagination stage. Now
with advances in space travel and solar panel technology slashing costs over
the past decade or so (shout out to Elon Musk and SpaceX), the idea is back on
predicting the number of people on Earth will soar to 9 billion or more by
2050, the demand for electricity is expected to grow exponentially by then. Of
course, it can be argued that limiting the human population to a number the
Earth can support sustainably would also be a good idea, but that is an
entirely separate conversation, one fraught with complex social and political connotations.
Mankins, a physicist who led research by NASA into the idea of space-based
solar energy in the 1990s, tells NBC News, “If
you look at the next 50 years, the demand for energy is stupendous. If you can
harvest sunlight up where the sun is always shining and deliver it with
essentially no interruptions to Earth — and you can do all that at an
affordable price — you win.”
electronic “nets” covering 4 square miles would need to be built on the ground
to capture the microwaves beaming down from above. Mankins believes a solar
facility in space could generate up to 2 terawatts of power. In 2013, the world
consumed about 18 terawatt-hours of electricity, according to ZME Science.
That number could easily double by 2050.
concept of making electricity in space and beaming down to the Earth is
certainly appealing. “You don’t have to deal with the day and night cycle, and
you don’t have to deal with clouds or seasons, so you end up having eight to
nine times more power available to you,” Ali Hajimiri, a professor of
electrical engineering at the California Institute of Technology, tells NBC
News. He is the director of the university’s Space Solar Power Project.
wouldn’t it be easier and cheaper to simply add more terrestrial solar plants
and connect them with high voltage direct current super grids? As written on Quora and
published on Forbes
in 2016, it would take about 43,000 square miles of solar panels to generate
17.4 terawatts of electricity. Sounds like a lot, right? Actually, it’s not.
The Sahara desert is 3.6 million square miles.
Mehran Moalem, a physicist at UC Berkeley, wrote the Quora article. He
says, “That means 1.2% of the Sahara desert is sufficient to cover all of the
energy needs of the world in solar energy. There is no way coal, oil, wind,
geothermal or nuclear can compete with this.”
that be terribly expensive? Not really. Moalem explains, “The cost of the
project will be about five trillion dollars, one time cost at today’s
prices without any economy of scale savings. That is less than the bail out
cost of banks by Obama in the last recession. Easier to imagine the cost is 1/4
of US national debt, and equal to 10% of world one year GDP. So this cost is
rather small compared to other spending in the world. There is no future in
other energy forms. In twenty to thirty years solar will replace
or land-based, solar is the ultimate solution to the world’s needs for
electrical energy. The choice will come down to simple economics. Right now,
one could argue that a land-based system would be much cheaper and far more
practical than assembling a gaggle of satellites in space. And it’s something
that can be done starting today, not 20 years from now, which is the best case
scenario for space-based power.
$5 trillion may sound like a lot to some people, especially the Jackass In Chief and his coterie of fossil fuel loving sycophants in Washington. But isn’t keeping the Earth habitable for humans worth at least as much as bailing out banks and insurance companies? It’s all a matter of perspective and getting our priorities straight.
Incorporating solar generation in commercial building materials may finally become a mainstream practice, with both solar windows and solar panels used to create net-zero buildings. Evolving regulations in leading jurisdictions like California and Germany are driving the building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) with adoption deadlines as early as next year.
The estimated $3 billion global BIPV market may only amount to around 1 gigawatt now, but analysts at n-tech Research recently suggested that the market could reach $5.7 billion by 2023 before it then doubles to $11.6 billion in 2027.
slightly different forecast suggests that by 2021 the global production
of building integrated photovoltaics is projected to mushroom to over
10 GW, with the sales market expanding at an average growth rate of
nearly 16%, according to a new report from Market Research Vision.
Thanks to advanced legislation in California, Net Zero Energy Building (NZEB) regulations will kick in next year for new commercial building construction. “The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has set several NZEB goals, including targeting all new residential construction and all new commercial construction within the state to be net zero energy building by 2020 and 2030, respectively,” reports n-tech Research.
On top of the new California building requirement, 50%
of existing buildings in the state also will be required to be
retrofitted to meet NZEB goals by 2030.
Since the US solar Investment Tax Credit will not expire until the end of 2021, projects moving quickly may be bolstered by tax equity investors. State incentives pop up in different jurisdictions from year to year, but already well-developed state goals of 50% to 100% green energy consumption over the next two decades may be the primary driver in the US BIPV market.
Similarly, countries like Germany are driving the growth of BIPV with regulations that assure the industry will be well certified, documented, and regulated to a global standard. “As of 2021, an EU Directive goes into effect requiring that all new buildings to achieve an NZEB annual energy balance. This measure is designed to support the German government target to achieve a climate-neutral building stock by 2050,” note BIPV researchers at Fraunhofer ISE.
The BIPV market in Germany also is supported financially by feed-in-tariffs and interest-free loans, helping the market to develop more quickly than any other country markets due to its early focus on BIPV, n-tech observes.
Globally, the BIPV market will be led by the United States, China, and Japan, by 2023, according to the n-tech analysts. Together, these three countries will account for 75% of the BIPV market revenues, with China and Japan each expected to generate well over $1 billion and the United States is expected to generate $2.0 billion in sales.
The first mass wave of BIPV adopters may be driven by architects. “In order to stimulate the mass market, BIPV products must be integrated into all phases of the building process. This includes the planning, construction, operation and maintenance. Planners and architects must be able to use solar building components easily in their daily work, in the best case with just a few clicks,” Fraunhofer surmised.
Architects will be aided in this effort through the use of Building Information Modeling (BIM), a software-based method for the database-optimized planning, operation and management of buildings and other structures, Fraunhofer says. The group is currently involved in the design of such software with other commercial building development players.
Costs will need to decline for BIPV to reach a mass market level, but a reasonable return on investment is already achievable, Fraunhofer notes. “Mass-produced standardized BIPV modules could make a larger contribution, and this market is emerging,” the analysts there said.
“Although building-integrated photovoltaics is more expensive than other types of building envelopes, the additional costs are reduced appreciably if a renovation or new envelope is necessary anyway. A payback time of about ten years for the additional costs is possible in the meanwhile,” the Fraunhofer analysts said.
Not all buildings will need to be retrofitted to NZEB standards for high renewables goals to be met. A 2017 study by the Karlsruhe Institute for Technology (KIT) and Fraunhofer ISE, found that “the building area suitable for PV in Germany is more than five-fold the area required for PV in an energy system based completely on renewables.”