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Monday, 8 December 2008

Renewables-the revived hope, November, 2008

In today's edition:

  1. UU seeks to expand energy grids
  2. Could ‘energy islands’ power the future?
  3. Mini nuclear plants to power 20,000
  4. Solar power game-changer: 'Near perfect' absorption of sunlight, from all angles
  5. New spray-on solar cells invented
Renewables are complicated and often political field. Today, I offer you some of the latest developments on the issue. All the articles offer a new way of dealing with the problem and if you ask me, they are all pretty exciting.

EU seeks to expand energy grids

The European Commission has unveiled plans to diversify the EU's energy imports and reduce dependence on Russia, the main gas supplier.

The EU will remain dependent on imported fossil fuels for many years to come, the Strategic Energy Review says. It urges the EU to develop energy infrastructure in the Baltic states and the Mediterranean region.

It also wants the EU to build a North Sea offshore grid, to link up national electricity grids in north-western Europe and plug in the numerous planned offshore wind farms. This new grid along with the Mediterranean Ring(gas and electricity) and the Baltic Interconnection project are parts of the future European supergrid.

Currently imports account for 61% of EU gas consumption - and 42% of those imports come from Russia. By 2020, the commission says, gas imports are expected to grow to 73% of consumption.

Another priority is to get firm commitments from gas suppliers in the Middle East and Central Asia, including their involvement in gas pipeline construction.

Two major gas pipeline projects - Nabucco and South Stream - are being developed to deliver gas to southern Europe, from Central Asia and Russia, respectively.

Meeting the targets on renewables and energy efficiency would cut EU energy imports by 26%. source

My comment: Kind of political news, but it also give a good idea of European policies to people outside Europe. It's a good resume of the hope of the EU for a better and "warmer" future, although Nabucco (and South Stream for that matter) are far from complete (or near completion). In any case, the supergrid sounds so cool. Just imagine it! Even if it won't be wind-grid, but gas from North Africa, it's still pretty big.

Could ‘energy islands’ power the future?

By Michael Schirber, Nov. 12, 2008

The ocean harbors abundant energy in the form of wind, waves and sun. All of these could be sampled on something called an Energy Island: a floating rig that drills for renewables instead of petroleum.

The Energy Island that inventor Dominic Michaelis and his son have designed would have an OTEC plant at its center, but across the 600-meter-wide platform there will be wind turbines and solar collectors. Additionally, wave energy converters and sea current turbines would capture energy from water moving around the structure.

One of these hexagonally-shaped islands could generate 250 megawatts (enough power for a small city), Michaelis said. Even more power is possible by mooring together several Energy Islands into a small archipelago that could include greenhouses for food, a small harbor for ships and a hotel for tourists.

To attract possible investors, the Energy Island team will present their concept this week at the U.S. China GreenTech Summit in Shanghai.

OTEC is based on the temperature difference between warm water at the sun-heated surface and cold water in the deep, dark ocean- in tropical seas the maximum is 25 degrees C.

The warm water is drawn in from around the Energy Island and used to evaporate a working fluid, which might be seawater or ammonia. The resulting vapor pushes a turbine that produces electricity. The vapor is condensed to fluid by cold water from around half a mile below the surface. This condensation creates a pressure drop that helps suck more vapor through the turbine blades.

The exported electricity might run 9 to 13 cents per kilowatt-hour, depending on how the project is financed, Michaelis said. A single Energy Island has an estimated price tag of $600 million.

Beside electricity, those plants can provide freshwater and nutrients for fish farms. © 2008 source

My comment: I really like that idea, even more, I think it can become profitable with a good design. Of course, I'm not a designer, but the ocean is so big, if you can produce the islands for less money (like at least 10 times less), you can have many island floating offshore. Just imagine how much electricity they will produce, especially if the effectiveness can be raised.

Mini nuclear plants to power 20,000 homes

Nuclear power plants smaller than a garden shed and able to power 20,000 homes will be on sale within five years, say scientists at Los Alamos, the US government laboratory which developed the first atomic bomb.

The miniature reactors will be factory-sealed, contain no weapons-grade material, have no moving parts and will be nearly impossible to steal because they will be encased in concrete and buried underground.

The US government has licensed the technology to Hyperion, a New Mexico-based company which said last week that it has taken its first firm orders and plans to start mass production within five years. Each reactor will cost approximately $25m or a $2,500 per home for a 10 000 households community.

The company plans to set up three factories to produce 4,000 plants between 2013 and 2023.

The first confirmed order came from TES, a Czech infrastructure company specialising in water plants and power plants. The first one would be installed in Romania. There is a six-year waiting list.

The reactors, only a few metres in diameter, must be refuelled every 7 to 10 years. The reactor is based on a 50-year-old design that has proved safe, few countries are expected to object to plants on their territory. An application to build the plants will be submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission next year.

Other companies are known to be designing micro-reactors. Toshiba has been testing 200KW reactors measuring roughly six metres by two metres. source

My comment: That's even nicer! I don't particularly like the fact that the first ones will be in Romania-even if they are so small, it's not fun to test your products in another country, especially a poor one. If those reactors are so safe for use, they ought to be set up in USA first. And even more, even if the reactor cannot blow up, it still can leak, and we know that such events happened on the oh-so-safe US reactors. I don't want to be mean, just fair. They should have tested it home first. But I must say it's good to see Czechia to want to install such-they are too coal dependent anyway.

Solar power game-changer: 'Near perfect' absorption of sunlight, from all angles

Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have developed a new antireflective coating that boosts the amount of sunlight captured by solar panels and allows those panels to absorb the entire solar spectrum from nearly any angle. This could lead to high-efficiency, cost-effective solar power.

After a silicon surface was treated with Lin's new nanoengineered reflective coating, however, the material absorbed 96.21 percent of sunlight shone upon it (compared to
67.4 percent in ordinary solar panels). This means that only 3.79 percent of the sunlight was reflected and lost. This huge gain in absorption was consistent across the entire spectrum of sunlight, from UV to visible light and infrared, and moves solar power a significant step forward toward economic viability.

Also, unlike most surfaces which absorb light from a specific range of angles , the new antireflective coating absorbs sunlight evenly and equally from all angles. This means that a stationary solar panel treated with the coating would absorb 96.21 percent of sunlight no matter the position of the sun in the sky.

The new coating has seven of layers (50nm-100nm, made from silicon dioxide and titanium dioxide), one on top of the other, in such a way that each layer enhances the antireflective properties of the layer below it. These additional layers also help to "bend" the flow of sunlight to an angle that augments the coating's antireflective properties. This means that each layer not only transmits sunlight, it also helps to capture any light that may have otherwise been reflected off of the layers below it. source
My comment: Marvelous, huh? Now this sounds utterly great. Even if it actually increases the effectiveness with only 1/3, it's a 1/3 that is won! I only didn't see the cost of that new coating. Because if it's very expensive, it will be useless. But in any case, this discovery certainly has a potential. Especially the angle independence- I'm not sure what proportion of the light is lost trough angle, but if current solar panels get the light from only 10 degrees of the sky, it leaves 170 unharvested. Ok, it's an approximation, but still. That's a lot.

New spray-on solar cells invented

By Andrea Thompson, Nov. 6, 2008

An inch-long array of some of the tiniest solar cells ever built has been successfully tested as a power source for microscopic machines by Xiaomei Jiang of the University of South Florida and her colleagues.

Instead of using silicon, Jiang and her colleagues turned to a polymer (a long organic molecule made of repeating structural units). The polymer they selected has the same electrical properties as silicon wafers, but can be dissolved and printed onto flexible material. These materials could be sprayed over different surfaces.

Slicon cells convert about 12 percent of the sunlight that hits them into electricity. Typical organic cells only manage about 3 percent.

Jiang and her colleagues made 20 tiny cells — each the size of a lower case "o" in standard 12-point print — and joined them together in an array to power the microscopic detector.

So far Jiang's solar cell array can provide up to 7.8 volts in the lab tests she and her colleagues did.The goal is 15 volts by the end of the year source

My comment: Now, the voltage provided by those cells is obviously ridiculously small, but the important thing with them is that they can be sprayed over different surfaces, thus turning them into solar cells. This is pretty exciting-imagine the top of the laptop covered with that cells (or the keyboard)-you leave it on standby and it charges. My adapter outputs 19V wich means that the 15Volts are not that little. Though, it matter also how many Ampers it produces. Still, it's very exciting!

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