July 17, 2012
These days it seems that no one can resist showing off their fancy new alternative fuel vehicle. I posted a little while ago about an electric car race around the world. Now it seems we have a similar situation, only this time via solar airplane.
The team attempting this feat is Solar Impulse. Flow first covered their adventures in April 2010, when they took the plane for a test drive. Their plans back then for an around the world journey in 2012 are still on track. So far their solar plane has been the first to complete an intercontinental flight. With this prototype’s success they are designing a new plane to circle the globe. These planes run day and night powered solely by the sun. It really is a marvel of modern technology, and something that should by followed by any solar fan, or any fan of technology for that matter.
I first found this story through National Geographic, which has an excellent selection of pictures from the missions, and some brief information. For a more in depth look at the project, including some amazing pictures and even video from the flight deck, check out the Solar Impulse website.
May 9, 2012
The U.S. is back on top of the clean energy investment race. But the position might be short lived.
Five clean energy initiatives in the States ended in 2011 including three tax credit programs, the Department of the Treasury Section 1603 Grant Program and Department of Energy Section 1705 Loan Guarantees.
Pew Environment Group recently released their annual report on clean energy investment. With a primary focus on investment, the report also looks at technological trends related to the clean energy economy of G-20 members.
The United States attracted $48.1 billion in clean energy investments in 2011. It led the way in venture capital financing (70 per cent of the G-20 total) and was second in public market offerings and asset financing (behind China). The U.S. also has 93 GW of installed renewable energy capacity, second only to China, which continues to lead the world in clean energy capacity with 133 GW installed.
2011 was the first year that the U.S. installed more that 1 GW of solar energy and a portion of its 2011 investment dollars were directed towards solar. Investments in large, utility-scale solar power plants are expected to add to America’s installed capacity count in the years to come.
In Canada, our clean energy investment grew by four per cent last year and totalled $5.5 billion. That puts us 11th amoung the G-20 nations. This is were our investment dollars were spent in 2011:
- 56 per cent of total – wind
- 19 per cent – solar, both residential and commercial
- 13 per cent – other renewables like geothermal, biomass and small-hydro
- 8 per cent – biofuels
- 4 per cent – efficiency and low carbon technology and services
Canada has 9.6 GW of installed renewable energy capacity, which is 1.9 per cent of the G-20 total. That breaks down into four sectors: 5.4GW of wind power, 2 GW of small hydro power, 1.8 GW of energy generated by biomass and waste and 0.47 GW of solar power. Interestingly and as is sometimes the case, our 2011 solar energy investment contrasts sharply with a lag in deployment.
Read the executive summary or full report on the Pew Environment Group website.
February 10, 2011
In our recent post on the World Future Energy Summit, we discussed the need for policy change in order to achieve current climate change targets. Two scientists in the United States have taken that one step further. Mark Z. Jacobson, professor of civil and environmental engineering, Stanford University and Mark A. Delucchi, research scientist, Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Davis; believe that all that is needed to achieve a totally carbon free, totally renewable, wind, water and solar (WWS) based energy system by 2030 is political will.
Well, maybe a bit more than that. We’ll also need:
- 490,000 tidal turbines, each with an installed capacity of one megawatt
- 5,350 geothermal plants, each with an installed capacity of 100 megawatts
- 270 additional hydroelectric plants, each with an installed capacity of 1,300 megawatts
- 3.8 million wind turbines, each with an installed capacity of five megawatts
- 720,000 wave powered turbines, each with an installed capacity of 0.75 megawatts
- 1.7 billion rooftop photovoltaic systems, each with an installed capacity of three kilowatts
- 49,000 solar focusing steam power plants, each with an installed capacity of 300 megawatts
- 40,000 photovoltaic power plants, each with an installed capacity of 300 megawatts
Basically, to achieve a totally renewable WWS energy system, we’ll have to totally renew the existing system. And that includes building a new, super-interconnected electricity transmission grid. It also involves scrapping all internal combustion engine vehicles and replacing them with electric or fuel cell vehicles.
And the cost estimate is only about $100 trillion.
The most fascinating aspect of this theory is that it might just be doable.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that by 2030, world energy demand will be 16.9 terawatts (TW), or enough to power 47 60-watt light bulbs for every person on earth. But Jacobson and Delucchi point out that in a carbon-free world there would be no internal combustion engines, and internal combustion engines are far less efficient than electricity, so the actual requirement drops to 11.5 TW.
And if you think 3.8 million wind turbines is a lot, consider that auto manufacturers make 73 million cars per year. Also consider that much of the world’s electricity generation and transmission infrastructure is aging and will have to be replaced in the not too distant future anyway. And without all the transportation-induced air pollution, medical and environmental costs would decrease significantly.
As far as reliability of the system is concerned, a thoroughly interconnected grid will be able to re-route surplus electricity to wherever it is needed. Jacobson and Delucchi point out, perhaps a little simplistically, that if it’s raining in one place, it’s sunny someplace else, or if there’s no wind, it’s probably sunny. In other words, electricity will be generated somehow, somewhere.
The authors have determined that the only technical barrier might be the availability of rare-earth metals needed for batteries, solar films and fuel cells. But if we recycle old batteries and buildings, we should have ample supply of steel, concrete and things like neodymium and indium.
Which means the real barrier is political will, which ultimately means getting everyone onside. Most of us agree there’s a problem, but maybe it’s a little far fetched to try and achieve all this by 2030. Maybe it’s more realistic to try for 2050. Implement a more gradual shift, replacing old infrastructure as needed with new wind, water and solar generation. Maybe people will be a little more comfortable with that and a little more willing to put one of the 1.7 billion photovoltaic systems on their own roof.
October 21, 2010
Ontario’s focus on promoting long-term, greener power generation has consistently been one of the biggest Canadian energy stories over the last few years. But if the province’s prominent feed-in tariff (FIT) program was designed to encourage the development of more local renewable power, it’s also had the effect of bringing in some international criticism. Japan has filed a complaint with none other than the World Trade Organization, alleging that the local procurement requirements of Ontario’s Green Energy Act represent a prohibited subsidy. And Japan isn’t alone: both the U.S. and the European Union want to join consultations on the claim, saying they have a “substantial” stake in the discussions.
Under the FIT program, producers are offered guaranteed rates, which depend on whether the project produces less (34 KB PDF) or more (16 KB PDF) than 10 kilowatt. Under its complaint, Japan is contending that these guaranteed prices constitute a “prohibited subsidy.”
For the complaint to proceed, Japan must first enter into consultations with Canada, the same consultations that the U.S. and EU want to join. The complaint will only proceed if the two (or more) countries are unable to reach a resolution.
And The FIT program hasn’t been immune to internal criticisms either. In July, the provincial government added a new category — ground-mounted solar PV — that distinguished solar PV by its location (roof or ground). With lower prices being offered for ground-mounted power, and some producers already having begun installations, those would-be producers cried foul. With Japan’s WTO complaint, another, larger voice of protest is being added to the difficulties of one of Canada’s most ambitious energy projects.
October 19, 2010
You’ve heard of solar power, and you’ve heard of wind power, but what about solar wind power? It’s not just a convenient mash-up of two of the most familiar sources of renewable energy: it’s a hypothetical technology with mile-high potential for power generation.
Solar winds are streams of charged particles that are ejected from the upper atmosphere of the sun, carrying 6.7 billion tons of mass away every hour. Propelling this matter through space, solar winds can move at anywhere between 400 and 750 kilometres per hour. Consider that modern wind turbines turn with wind speeds between 13 and 90 kilometres, and you have some sense of the enormous amount of energy available.
Just how much energy could a satellite harnessing solar winds generate? As much as 100 billion times as much power as the Earth currently uses.
Now, a pair of researchers from Washington State University has suggested that such a so-called a Dyson-Harrop satellite is possible. As Popular Science explains: A 0.4-inch-wide copper wire pointed at the sun, and attached to a solar sail (the wire — which can range in length from 980 feet to more than half a mile) would generate a magnetic field that would capture electrons from the solar wind. The particles would be funneled into a spherical receiver, which produces a current.
The main issue of a solar-powered satellite capable of returning solar wind power to the Earth isn’t a simple one though. Somehow, the satellite would have to be capable of beaming all that power back to the Earth, which would require an intense beam of energy that’s currently beyond our technical ability. If scientists were able to harness all this power, though, it could very well be the last energy solution that the planet requires.
That, or the greatest death ray ever designed by science. Hopefully just the power thing, though.
September 27, 2010
Image: Decker Yeadon LLC
Solar panels are becoming common sights in our daily lives: from our backpacks to the tops of our neighbourhoods. But one thing that nobody’s accused solar panels of being, thus far, is pretty. But that’s going to change if one project has its way.
The Light Sanctuary would be a solar plant with style. Using 80,000 square km of incredibly thin solar panels, the installation would look like a giant, deep brown maze placed in the middle of desert, producing up to 4,592 MW-hours annually.
Designed by the American firm Decker Yeagan, the sculpture is an entry into the Land Art Generator Initiative, a contest sponsored by none other than Masdar, the body responsible for the United Arab Emirates’ energy showcase. The contest is designed to reward installations that also happen to provide large scale clean energy generation. According to the initiative’s website: “The works will serve to inspire and educate while they provide renewable power to thousands of homes around the world.”
The UAE also recently announced a similarly ambitious project: the Shams 1 solar power plant. At 100 MW, the Shams 1 has a far a higher capacity than its more artistic brother. At this stage, it’s just not practical to sacrifice functionality for attractiveness, leaving the Light Sanctuary as more of a visual demonstration than a bona fide power plant.
And while the Light Sanctuary and the Shams 1 are baking in the sun, researchers in the UK are finding ways of cooling power down.
Researchers at the University of Leeds in the U.K. and the Chinese Academy of Sciences have proposed using excess electricity to chill nitrogen and oxygen. The idea is that the stored gases could be reheated by waste heat, and their gaseous forms could drive turbines. Like a smart grid, this system would directly address one of the most fundamental problems with the way we currently use electricity: peak demand. In those periods where we have more energy than we know what to do with, we’d simply cool it down.
So whether we’re trying to put a pretty face on our solar power, or using our excess power to keep things cool, one thing’s clear: If the future’s certainly going to look different, it’s nice to know that it might look prettier too.
July 28, 2010
Air travel by dirigibles enjoyed a brief golden age in the early 20th century, evoking images of giant blimps crossing the Atlantic like airborne luxury liners. (There’s an urban legend that says the Empire State Building was even originally supposed to have a refuelling station built into its top, but as fanciful as it might seem, it’s also not true). But eventually, with the mounting logistical issues inherent in flying around in giant balloons, and the very public Hindenburg accident, the era ended. Now, when we’re talking about hydrogen fuel we’re talking about an entirely different way of travelling.
Still, the image of a lighter-than-air aircraft has continued to intrigue us, even if it’s not really feasible as a mode of mass transportation. That’s why it’s intriguing to see a manned solar-powered blimp designed to fly for an hour over the English channel. It’s a year behind schedule and will only carry a single passenger, but the Nephelios is slated to make its maiden, hour-long journey from Calais to Dover within the summer. Hope they get a sunny day.
Transportation continues to account for a huge share of our country’s greenhouse gas emissions (36 per cent in 2007), so it’s no wonder that even modest attempts at emission-free vehicles of tend to stimulate our optimism. Other public projects designed to produce solar-powered vehicles in recent years have included the Solar Impulse project and its round-the-world trip, and the University of Calgary’s Schulich I solar car, one of the participants in the North American Solar Challenge.
And while it won’t sail through the air like the Nephelios, or the fish-like prototype blimps we’ve covered previously, the Physalia, a floating river purifier and environmental museum, shows that the air isn’t the only place for fantastical vehicles powered by renewable energy. Even if the golden age of the dirigible never really did launch, there’s definitely room for emission-free transportation that could prove every bit as fantastical.
April 21, 2010
Was the six-year wait worth it? Test pilot Markys Scherdel seemed to think so. He recently kept the Solar Impulse, a solar-powered airplane, in the air for over an hour. It’s a big step towards the ultimate goal of flying this plane around the world planned for 2012.
With the wingspan of an Airbus A340, total solar cells numbering 12,000, weight of a mid-size car and average flying speed of 70 kilometers per hour, this electric-powered prototype won’t be breaking any land speed records. But that’s not stopping pilots Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg from boldly going where no emissions-free vehicle has gone before.
April 7, 2010
Let’s face it, roofs are pretty lazy. They just lay around above us all day and night without moving an inch, and you can be sure that when winter hits won’t knock the snow off themselves. And the eavestroughs? Forget about any help with those.
Maybe that’s why a team of American scientists funded by the Department of took it upon themselves to create a bona fide “smart roof” that refracts heat during the summer and retains it during the winter.
“White” roofs are already capable of refracting sunlight, while darker roofs retain its heat. But by enabling a roof to switch between the two states at a preset temperature, researchers are hoping to create a more robust solution to so-called “passive” solar energy. Here, the change was made using a coating applied to a roof’s shingles. The developers of the coating found that they could either reduce roof temperatures by about 50 – 80 percent in warm weather, or increase roof temperatures up to 80 percent in cooler weather.
What’s more, the roof’s not just smart, it’s also responsible. Created using leftover cooking oil from fast food restaurants — a waste product that’s already being used in the production of biofuel — the “bio-based” material coating these new roofs wouldn’t require us to do anything more than continue to eat the fatty, fatty foods we already love.
Hey, if we’re making our roofs work harder, why shouldn’t we get to kick back a little ourselves?
November 13, 2009
Solar power is difficult to do on a large, nation-wide scale. Doesn’t that make it a perfect thing to do in your own home?
Simple Solar Heating Ltd. thinks so. Based in Okotoks, Alberta, this company makes use of solar thermal technology, which traps heat and uses photovoltaic technology to convert it to electricity. Currently, they focus on producing domestic hot water.
They believe that if one quarter of the houses in Alberta installed these panels, it would equal the power generated by a nuclear plant – at half of the cost. In sunny Alberta, this would constitute a reliable source of energy.
Solar thermal panels, once installed, require little or no maintenance, and can heat water for showers, laundry, and dishes. Even better, it can cut energy bills down by as much as 75 per cent. Even better, Simple Solar is just one of many solar companies to consider.
In BC, SolTrak modular roofing by MSR Innovations builds photovoltaic panels right into the roof. Their idea is simple. If a homeowner needs a new roof, and wants to save on utility bills, why not combine those needs (as well as the cost) and do it all at once?
There are also government rebates available to homeowners interested in solar power. Consider the Eco Energy Program, good for a maximum of $1,250, and a Home Retrofit incentive for up to $1,350 of relief.
If it’s cleaner, better for the environment, and cheaper in the long run – where are your panels?