Buildings could soon be able to convert the sun’s energy into electricity without the need for solar panels, thanks to innovative new technology.
Renewable Energy experts from the University of Exeter are developing a pioneering new technique that could accelerate the widespread introduction of net-zero energy buildings through the latest Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV).
These products, similar to the solar tile created by Tesla, can become a part of a building’s architecture to generate electricity. The team have created an innovative glass block, which can be incorporated into the fabric of a building and is designed to collect solar energy and convert it to electricity.
It is thought that buildings consume more than forty percent of the electricity produced across the globe. This new technology would allow electricity to be produced at the site of use, whilst being seamlessly integrated into the building.
The blocks, called Solar Squared, are designed to fit seamlessly into either new buildings, or as part of renovations in existing properties. They are similar to existing glass blocks by allowing daylight to resonate around a property by replacing traditional bricks and mortar with transparent glass bricks.
Crucially, however, the Solar Squared blocks have intelligent optics that focus the incoming solar radiation onto small solar cells, enhancing the overall energy generated by each solar cell. The electricity generated will then be available to power the building, be stored or used to charge electric vehicles.
The Exeter team, which has created a start-up company Build Solar to market and produce the pioneering product, is now looking to encourage investment to carry out commercial testing of the product, and then aims to take it to market in 2018.
Dr Hasan Baig, founder of Build Solar and Research Fellow from the University of Exeter’s Environment and Sustainability Institute said: “BIPV is a growing industry with a 16% annual growth rate. Setting up a company, which can cater to this growing market shall prove beneficial for the UK economy in the long term.”
“We are aiming to build integrated, affordable, efficient and attractive solar technologies, which have the smallest impact on the local landscape. It’s an exciting venture and one that should capture the imagination of the construction industry, when looking to develop new office blocks and public buildings or infrastructure projects such as train stations and carparks,” said Professor Tapas Mallick, chief scientific advisor for Build Solar.
The Build Solar team believe their blocks have better thermal insulation than traditional glass blocks, as well as providing power to the building. The patent pending technology is at prototype stage and the team are now in the process of fine-tuning their designs in order to test the technology at pilot sites.
Co-inventor and Exeter’s research commercialisation manager in Cornwall, Jim Williams, believes that the timing of the technology is favourable. “It’s now clear that the world is moving to a distributed energy system, of which a growing proportion is renewable. This, coupled with the shift to electric vehicles means that there are substantial opportunities for new ways of generating electricity at the point of use”.
NASA has created a visualization of the worlds surface temperatures from 1880 until today
Climate change and climate science are huge areas of science with huge amounts of data and information that can be difficult to wade through, particularly when the issue has become so political in many parts of the world. This brilliant video from NASA shows the history of Earth’s surface temperatures since they began to be recorded in 1880 up until today.
In just 36 seconds you can see the steady increase in temperatures that scientists say are linked with our global use of fossil fuels. The data is gathered from a huge network of 6,300 weather station, buoys, and research station located across the world. The NASA representation is one of three major representations of temperature data, all three closely agree in the data they represent.
NASA describes how the temperatures are analyzed to create the visual representation. “These raw measurements are analyzed using an algorithm that considers the varied spacing of temperature stations around the globe and urban heating effects that could skew the conclusions. These calculations produce the global average temperature deviations from the baseline period of 1951 to 1980.”
To learn more about the data set used to create the representation go to the NASA GISS site.
Devastating UN Report: CO2 emissions must go to zero by 2050 to avoid worst effects of Climate Change
The IPCC’s ‘1.5 Degree Report’ paints a dire picture that suggests we must fundamentally change the nature of society in the next decade.
World leaders have 12 years to fundamentally change the structure of our society in order to avoid the most cataclysmic effects of global warming, according to the world’s most important consortium of climate scientists.
Carbon dioxide emissions must reach net zero by 2050 in order to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius according to the “1.5 Degree Report,” compiled by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a coalition of climate scientists working for the United Nations. For perspective, we emitted over 32 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide last year (a gigatonne is one billion metric tonnes.) The report also claims that national pledges from the 2015 Paris Climate Accord are not enough to meet these targets.
In order to reach net zero emissions, according to the report, carbon dioxide use has to fall by 45 percent by 2030, less than 12 years from now. Then, coal use will have to be reduced “substantially” by the middle of the century, and the use of technology that removes carbon from the atmosphere is “unavoidable,” Jim Skea, the Co-Chair of the Working Group III of the IPCC, said at a press conference.
If we fail to meet these goals and the earth warms by 2 degrees Celsius, according to the report, hundreds of millions of lives are at stake. Twice as many people would have unreliable access to water as do today. Food shortages in Saharan and Sub-Saharan Africa, the Mediterranean, central Europe, and the South American Amazon will intensify. The range of heat-driven diseases like malaria will spread. Maize, rice, wheat will become about half as productive, and rice and wheat will become less nutritious. But 2 degrees of warming isn’t even a worst-case scenario. If we keep releasing emissions at our current rate, the earth will warm by 4.8 degrees compared to pre-industrial levels by 2100.
“Limiting warming to 1.5 degrees is not impossible,” IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee said at a press conference. “But [it] will require unprecedented transitions in all aspects of society.”
In essence, all of the ways that we create energy, govern industries, construct buildings, cities, and transit systems, and use land for agriculture and resource extraction will have to change. The report even states that the changes that would have to occur ”have no documented historic precedent.”
The 1.5 Degree Report, which synthesized 6,000 scientific studies and had 133 contributing authors, basically summarizes all of the existing knowledge we have about climate science, and it considers how various policies could impact global warming. The report has been in the works since 2015, when diplomats negotiating the Paris Climate Accord mandated a report to determine exactly how the world can keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to before the industrial revolution. Although the U.S. agreed to the terms of the Accord in 2015, President Trump said in June 2017 that the U.S. would not recognize the terms of the Accord.
These changes that the 1.5 Degree Report considers would monumentally change our society. In order to stop using coal and fossil fuel as a primary energy source by the middle of the century, we will have to transition to using electric, solar, wind, and nuclear power, as well as bio-energy and bio-fuels (fuels produced from crops like maize.) Carbon capture technology that sucks up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – which at this point remains an emerging tech that hasn’t been implemented at a large scale – would have to be used heavily in order to compensate for carbon pollution and bring net emissions down to zero.
The report also says that limiting individual transportation (such as cars), airplane use, and shipping on a large scale, and improving access to electric transportation, public transit, and non-motor transit (like walking and biking), as well as restoring forests and non-human ecosystems will need to happen at a large scale in order to limit warming to 1.5 degrees. Although the renewable energy sector is growing, it’s not currently growing fast enough to replace the fossil fuel industry by the middle of the century.
To be clear, the 1.5 Degree Report is purely a scientific review. It’s up to the governments of the UN to come to enact policy change this December, when the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meet in Poland to negotiate policies.
“Frankly, we’ve delivered a message to the governments,” Skea said at a press conference. “We’ve done our job, we’ve now passed the message on, and it’s their responsibility—having invited us produce this report—to decide if they can gonna act on it.
The big question is whether world leaders are willing to act. Climate historians such as Nathaniel Rich have argued that climate change exposes a limit in the human capacity to envision the future and plan for it. However, there might be a simpler explanation:
1.5 degrees of warming is not an environmental threshold, but a talking point coined in 2009 in order to incentivize political action. But it’s still a devastating amount of warming: At 1.5 degrees of warming compared to 2 degrees of warming, 90 percent of coral reefs will bleach, as opposed to 98 percent. Sea levels will rise by 40 centimeters, as opposed to 50.
According to the 1.5 Degree Report, world leaders would also have to agree to give power to many stakeholders in order to effectively craft policy solutions, and they may be less than eager to do this. The report recommends “accountable multi-level governance that includes non-state actors such as industry, civil society, and scientific institutions,” which basically means consulting with scientists and citizens rather than lobbyists from the fossil fuel industry. The US government pumps about $20 billion into the fossil fuel industry each year in the form of subsidies.
Financial interests in the fossil fuel industry have been arguably the biggest obstacle in saving the most vulnerable populations on the planet from global warming. In the U.S. and Canada alone, the fossil fuel industry rakes in almost $260 billion in profit. But how do you confront a $260 billion industry?
Some economists have proposed carbon pricing—which charges companies for carbon use—as a way to both confront and compromise with the fossil fuel industry. But the report unequivocally states that carbon pricing is an insufficient solution.
“Evidence and theory suggest that carbon pricing alone, in the absence of sufficient transfers… cannot reach the levels needed to trigger system transitions,” the report states.
As IPCC Chair Dr. Hoesung Lee put it: “Every bit of warming matters.” But we’re not even close to curbing warming to an already-devastating 1.5 degrees Celsius, and the only solution is inconceivable social and economic upheaval.
T’Sou-ke First Nation Solar and Greenhouse Initiatives
“In order to achieve sustainability, it needed to embrace traditional values, including deep respect for Mother Earth.” Chief Planes
In an effort to build a stronger, more sustainable economy the T’Sou-ke First Nation is “setting the table for future generations” with their sustainable energy and food initiatives. This is how Chief Gordon Planes describes how the community is transitioning to renewable energy. T’Sou-ke First Nation, located in the Sooke Basin of Vancouver Island, began its journey of becoming a sustainable solar community in 2008, when the community developed a Comprehensive Community Planning (CCP) process based on the Seven Generations Teaching. The Seven Generations Teaching is part of the Law of the Iroquois, and involves the principle that each decision a community makes should benefit future members approximately 100 years into the future. By following traditional values, such as only taking what they need from the land, members of the community maintain a respectful relationship with the land. As Chief Planes explains, “the whole territory used to be used in a way that was sustainable. We only took what we needed and we need to get back to that.” For Indigenous communities, looking to teachings from ancestors is essential to build a link between knowledge held in the past and the future. What emerged from CCP process was a vision for the community with 4 key goals: energy autonomy, food self-sufficiency, cultural renaissance, and economic development.
The objective of energy autonomy led to solar projects in the community that were twice as large as any other in BC at the time, and involved the installation of solar photovoltaic systems and solar hot water systems that were completed in 2009. The Nation’s work was assisted by a $400,000 award from the BC Government ICE Innovative Clean Energy Fund. For the solar hot water systems, ten members of the community received training for the installation and worked with contractors to install systems in half the houses in the community, as well as the community kitchen.
Community interest and involvement in energy conservation initiatives increased when members realized that the cost of saving energy is one-tenth of the cost of producing energy (T’Sou-ke First Nation, 2013). This zero-emission solar initiative substantially reduces electrical consumption and supplies power when hydro systems are down. All T’Sou-ke First Nation administration buildings are Net Zero. In the summer, the community sells surplus solar electricity to BC Hydro, and in the winter buys it back to reach zero consumption (and costs) over the whole year. Hydro bills have plummeted for community members. By providing clean and sustainable energy to the community and training and employment opportunities, this initiative upholds the Seven Generations Teaching.
In addition to energy autonomy, the T’Sou-ke First Nation developed sustainable farming systems towards its goal of food self-sufficiency. In 2012, the Nation received $250,000 from the Nuu-chah-nulth Economic Development Committee (NEDC) to build a commercial greenhouse. The community’s garden initiatives have encouraged children and youth to get involved through learning programs and member gardens. For the T’Sou-ke First Nation providing a space where children and youth can learn about clean energy and sustainable food programs is very important. These greenhouse and garden initiatives, according to Christine George, provide a space to teach respect for our lands, and how we harvest it (George, 2017). T’Sou-ke First Nation, working in partnership with a Chinese company, currently operates an 80 hectare Oyster Farm in the Sooke Basin producing 4 Million Oysters a year.
T’Sou-ke First Nation has been a leader in demonstrating how a community can embrace renewable energy with positive outcomes for the local economy. Every year, over 2,000 visitors from all over the world travel to the T’Sou-ke Centre for Sustainability for tours and workshops. Their work is part of a greater momentum of First Nations communities who are leading the way to a just transition. According to a 2017 Lumos Energy study, medium to large renewable energy projects with Indigenous involvement in Canada have increased from 20 to 152 since 2008. The same study reported an additional 1,200 smaller projects built with Indigenous participation to generate electricity for local communities. The experience and expertise of communities such as T’Sou-ke First Nation that have implemented renewable energy initiatives, will strengthen Canada’s broader just transition to clean energy. Indigenous teachings as well as the lessons learned from their experience offer a unique perspective to other communities. As Chief Planes says, “The Creator provided resources for us to take care of ourselves… all of us can prosper together.”
New Shuswap Solar Energy Society receives enthusiastic response to alternative form of energy
Let the sun shine! Salmon Arm is embracing solar power, if only in its preliminary stages.
The newly formed Shuswap Solar Energy Society held its first public meeting in January to gauge how widespread the interest in solar is, in hopes of setting up a demonstration project that models the production and use of solar energy in public and private settings throughout the Shuswap.
Warren Bell, one of a core group of four who formed the society, says the group has been meeting about every two weeks. They’ve heard a strong expression of interest, albeit preliminary, from the City of Salmon Arm, the Columbia Shuswap Regional District as well as eight landowners.
He says it’s been first a question of knowing what to do, which has been aided by a couple of people with direct experience in setting up solar. The group has also been approached by installers from Vernon and Kelowna.
“Overall it’s gone quite rapidly forward,” Bell says. “It’s clear there’s a hunger for moving away from fossil fuel dependency, both economically and environmentally.”
He says the price of solar has improved dramatically. While the payback might be 15 years, “in the meantime, there’s a remarkable independence from the electrical grid. And with prices going up, people are thinking about it all the time.”
He adds that the approval of the Site C dam has soured some people from BC Hydro.
In the local government realm, Coun. Tim Lavery, who chairs the city’s environmental advisory committee, gave council notice on March 12 of a motion he’ll bring forward for council to discuss on March 26.
The motion suggests that the city consider initiating a “grid-tied net metering Solar Photo Voltaic Plot Project on a city property…” with data to be shared with the public.
The motion also suggests that the costs associated with the pilot project, including auditing of potential sites, installation, connections and three years of annual maintenance, be funded from the Climate Action Reserve.
Lavery’s motion recommends that city staff report back on a number of issues including viable sites, cost estimates, energy generation and payback length, as well as “how best to structure usage agreements where tenants of leased city properties currently pay for the electricity they use if that city building is a potentially viable site.”
In January, the Salmon Arm Arts Centre’s director-curator Tracey Kutschker told city council she is researching a solar power project to meet the needs of the arts centre, which is a city-owned building. Her hope is to have a 48-panel solar array sit atop the roof of the newest portion of the structure.
The solar array would be in keeping with the centre’s focus for the next three years on climate change.