World’s first fully transparent solar cell (Day 328)

The UN General Assembly designated 2015 as the International Year of Light. A global initiative to highlight the importance of light and lighting technologies to societal development.

It provides an opportunity to inspire, educate, and connect people on a global scale. It is anticipated that the International Year of Light will inspire people to think of new ideas, new solutions and new products for the future.

transparent luminescent solar concentrator moduleWhich brings me rather neatly to a solar project that caught my eye recently.

Richard Lunt, an assistant professor from the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at Michigan State University, US, and his team have developed the world’s first fully transparent solar cell.

Continue reading World’s first fully transparent solar cell (Day 328)

Making solar energy cheaper (Day 267)

The development of methods to produce greener, cleaner energy plays on the minds of many of us. However, our ability to take the next step and move these strategies forward is often stopped by the dirtiest of all things – money.

Money resting on a photovoltaic panelSo I was interested to read a recently published article in Materials Today discussing methods to bring about ‘Cost reduction in the solar industry’.

Professor Andrew Barron, Ser Cymru chair in engineering at Swansea University, indicates that costs can be reduced up to 20 per cent through changes in the manufacturing process of photovoltaic (PV) panels.

I hope that work like Andrew’s will help us to better understand all the costs and benefits associated with the many different strategies of producing energy and enable us to make more informed decisions based on what is financially possible, as well as what is environmentally viable.

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Energy – night and day (Day 222)

The British have a reputation for being obsessed with the weather. It’s not uncommon to have what feels like four seasons in a day. And because of this, regardless of subsidies, solar energy hasn’t always been the first choice with the equivalent of just one-in-six days of sunshine each year,

But that doesn’t mean that solar energy isn’t important, especially if there are storage solutions on the horizon.

Around about now, a new solar farm in Hadley, Telford and Wrekin, will be plugged into the UK’s National Grid. It will have 15,000 solar panels ready to generate enough energy to power 800 homes.

Solar farm construction
Construction of Telford and Wrekin Council’s solar farm, UK. Image by Telford and Wrekin Council

This might be modest in comparison to the £1.4 billion (US$2.2 billion) Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the Mojave Desert, USA, with its 170,000 panels capable of powering 140,000 homes – but it is still significant for a ‘cloudy’ country.

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Chemical engineers ‘borrow’ chemical engineering techniques to solve problem (Day 168)

SunriseYes, you did read the title correctly! Chemical engineering is such a big area that sometimes we need look no further than our colleagues to come up with the right solution.

Collaboration and multidisciplinary study have been the buzzwords of research for a long time. But sometimes we forget how broad the field of chemical engineering is and that sometimes it is enough just to learn from other chemical engineers.

One of the common gripes I hear is that major companies are not willing to recruit chemical engineers from different sectors.

Perhaps this research from chemical engineers at Stanford University, who are applying petrochemical processing techniques to store solar energy, will make them think again!

Continue reading Chemical engineers ‘borrow’ chemical engineering techniques to solve problem (Day 168)

Window power (Day 99)

WindowIn theory, there’s enough light from the sun to provide all of the world’s energy needs. Clean, limitless and renewable it is a very attractive proposition.

Of course, it is not as simple as that. It doesn’t work at night and seasonality, atmospheric conditions and variable climate conditions (mostly clouds) mean it is less viable in some parts of the world.

There are other practical challenges too. Solar farms need to cover large surface areas to be commercially viable. This demand for space is also reflected for home-based solar power generation. Large solar panels are dotted on house roofs and buildings – not pretty and certainly not integrated into house design the way architects would prefer.

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Spray-on solar cells (Day 81)

Blue and yellow sprayAs we advance our knowledge of renewable energies is it important that we are able to reduce the cost of producing them, to make them affordable and widely available.

In an earlier blog I discussed charities working to alleviate energy poverty by building a new economy around solar power.

Researchers from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering and Department of Physics and Astronomy have developed a method to produce spray-on perovskite solar cells.

This is very exciting as it offers a way of developing a low-cost method of producing solar energy cells.

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Finding a way out of energy poverty (Day 36)

Kenya Solar Panel project
Kenya Solar Panel Project

Energy poverty can mean different things in different parts of the world. In Europe, the debate is most often about the spiraling cost of energy. For some it means cutting-back on their heating and living in colder homes.

But for the one in four people around the world who don’t even have access to an energy grid, the issues are even more acute. It’s a problem that one charity – Village Infrastructure – is determined to help solve.

Village Infrastructure’s (VI) mission is to make energy affordable for the 1.3 billion people who live without electricity. Their innovative approach has already been recognised by the G20, who have provided grant funding.

Continue reading Finding a way out of energy poverty (Day 36)