The world is quickly abandoning coal, the dirtiest of fossil fuels. But that’s not the end of the road for coal mines—in many countries they’re coming back to life as solar farms. Over the weekend, the world’s biggest floating solar project began operating in the eastern Chinese city of Huainan, which accounted for nearly 20%…
Tag Archives: Solar
I don’t usually wear sunglasses, but I’d definitely wear these:
The frames are standard, but the lenses collect solar energy which is transferred to the electronic gadgetry hidden in the arms. That gadgetry could be enough to power small wearables such as hearing aids. For me though, the most exciting part is this:
‘Organic solar cells were chosen instead of more traditional silicon cells because they’re transparent, flexible, lightweight, and can be manufactured in a variety of shapes and colors. Each solar cell lens weighs about six grams, is 1.6 mm thick, and was made to fit into a set of commercially-produced sunglass frames.’
The blue highlights are mine, and they’re exciting because the same cells could also, in time, be used on windows. Imagine how much energy could be harvested if windows became solar panels as well as roofs? And think of all those huge skyscrapers – perfect realestate for solar farms. 🙂
You can read the complete article on NewAtlas. Just follow the link below:
Happy Friday 🙂
Just found this amazing article on New Atlas. It concerns a small island being powered almost exclusively by a micro-grid made up of solar panels and Tesla batteries. The batteries can be fully charged in 7 hours and can keep the grid running for 3 days without any sun at all:
Why do I find this so exciting? Distributed systems, that’s why.
“And what’s that?” you ask, eyes glazing over as you speak.
In computing, which is where I first heard the term, a distributed systems is:
… a model in which components located on networked computers communicate and coordinate their actions by passing messages. The components interact with each other in order to achieve a common goal.
Distributed computing also refers to the use of distributed systems to solve computational problems. In distributed computing, a problem is divided into many tasks, each of which is solved by one or more computers, which communicate with each other by message passing.
Okay, okay. Here are some nice, juicy examples instead:
- the internet,
- your mobile phone network
- MMOs [massively multiple player online games] like the one I play,
- virtual reality communities, and even
- the search for extra terrestrial intelligence [SETI].
There are heaps more examples I could name, but the point is that all these systems rely on the fact that the power of the group is greater than the power of its individual components. In fact, the world wide web could not exist at all if it had to be run from just one, ginormous computer installation.
So distributed systems can be insanely powerful, but when it comes to powering our cities, we seem to be stuck on the old, top-down model in which one, centralised system provides energy to every component in the system – i.e. to you and me and all our appliances.
Opponents of renewables always cite baseload as the main reason why renewables won’t work in highly developed countries. What they don’t tell you is that to create baseload, they have to create electricity all the time. That means burning fossil fuels all the time and creating pollution all the time.
Centralised power generation also does something else – it concentrates the means for producing this energy in one place, so if there is a malfunction, the whole grid goes down. But that’s not all. If all power is produced in one place, it’s all too easy to strike at that one place to destroy the ‘heart’ of the whole system. It can happen. If you read the whole article on New Atlas, you’ll learn that the supply of diesel to the island was once cut, for months. When the diesel ran out, so did the electricity. Now imagine an act of sabotage that destroys the power supply to a city of millions. It hasn’t happened yet, but I think it’s just a matter of time.
By contrast, distributed processing means that you would have to destroy virtually every component of the system to shut it down completely. A good example of this is our road system. In most areas, if one part of the road is closed for whatever reason, we can still get where we want to go by taking a detour. It may take us a little bit longer, but we get there in the end. Something very similar happens with the internet. Digital information is sent in ‘packets’ which attempt to find the quickest route from point A to point X, usually via point B. However if point B goes down, the packets have multiple alternate routes to get to X. Why should power generation be any less efficient?
In the past, electricity could not be stored, so it had to be generated by big, expensive power plants. That volume of electricity still can’t be stored, but in the future, it may not have to be. I foresee a time when neighbourhoods will become micro-grids, with each house/building contributing to the power needs of the whole neighbourhood. Surplus power generation will be stored in some form of battery system [it doesn’t have to be Tesla batteries, but they obviously work well in distributed systems] to provide power 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. More importantly, the type of micro-grid used could be flexible. Communities living inland with almost constant sunshine would obviously use solar, but seaside communities might use wave power, others might use hydro or geothermal.
But what of industry?
I may be a little optimistic here, but I think that distributed power generation could work for industry as well. Not only could manufacturing plants provide at least some of their own power, via both solar and wind, but they could ‘buy in’ unused power from the city. The city, meanwhile, would not generate power but it’s utilities companies could store excess power in massive flywheels or some other kind of large scale storage device. And finally, if none of that is enough, companies could do what utility companies already do now – they could buy in power from other states.
In this possible future, power generation would be cheaper, cleaner and much, much safer. All that’s required is for the one-size-fits-all mindset to change.
Distributed is the way of the future, start thinking about it today. 🙂
Yet another example of solar technology surging ahead for use in under-developed countries. This particular device is super efficient at distilling pure water from contaminated or salt water:
Rather than heating the bulk of a body of water, the new device focuses its energy on just the surface water, which evaporated at 44° C (111° F). That allows the still to reach a reported efficiency of 88 percent, which the team believes is a record for thermal efficiency. As a result, the device could produce between 3 and 10 liters (0.8 and 2.6 US gal) of purified water per day, compared to the 1 to 5 liters (0.3 to 1.3 US gal) per day possible with most commercial stills of comparable size currently available.
The device also does something else, it provides self-sufficiency:
“The solar still we are developing would be ideal for small communities, allowing people to generate their own drinking water much like they generate their own power via solar panels on their house roof,” says Zhejun Liu, co-author of the study.
I live in a big city with all the amenities required for modern living, but a part of me longs to go off grid. Ah well, maybe one day. 🙂
Large, corporate power suppliers often cite baseload [the amount of energy needed to satisfy the minimum energy demands of a given society] as the reason for dismissing solar power. Solar panels/arrays don’t work at night so solar must be useless for baseload.
On the surface, the need for baseload power does appear to leave solar out in the cold, but…all baseloads are not the same. In India, there are tens of millions of people for whom baseload equates to just one light bulb. These are the people living in distant rural areas, or city slums, or simply on the pavement. They are poor in a way we in the West cannot even imagine because, despite their poverty, they have to spend a significant portion of their tiny monthly incomes on kerosene for their lamps, or batteries for their torches. All because they are too poor to tap into the electricity grid.
And this is where Piconergy comes in. Founded by a group of young, well-educated, clever young men, Piconergy has created a super small-scale solar power plant called the Helios [from the Greek word for ‘sun’]. This is the product description from their website:
– Strong and sturdy Power Box which can be easily carried around and/or wall mounted, housing our battery management system & a 6V 4.5 Ah Absorbent Glass Mat (AGM) technology based sealed maintenance free battery.
– 5 Watts-peak Solar PV Module with 4m cable & connector.
– Three LED Light Bulbs producing up to 200 lumens each with 3m cable & switch to cover maximum area for illumination.
– USB port for charging mobile phones.
– Optional SMPS Adapter to charge battery from grid supply.
And this is the product:
Piconergy are making the Helios available to families in the slums of Mumbai:
- so the children can study at night,
- so cottage industries can make more products to sell,
- so families do not have to live in the dark
I cannot tell you how much the dedication and commitment of the young men at Piconergy warms my heart. They are not just talking about social inequality, they are doing something practical to help. But my admiration for them goes beyond questions of social conscience – I want a Helios for myself!
Why? Why would a middle class woman in Australia with solar panels on her roof already want such a small-scale solar device? I’ll tell you why. I want my own Helios because the solar panels on my roof are tied in to the grid. When the grid goes down, my solar panels are turned off as well. In a word, they become USELESS.
I cannot tell you how many times we have sweltered during a 40 degree day because the grid was down. No aircon, no fan and no landline telephone. If our mobile phones aren’t charged then we are literally isolated from the outside world. And then there are the nights when we need torches and candles just to get to the bathroom. Again, because the grid is unreliable.
After the fire that destroyed homes south of the river a couple of years ago [in Warrandyte], SP Ausnet is finally putting in heavy duty powerlines and some underground cabling, but for now we continue to lose power, and I continue to keep torches and candles dotted throughout the house.
For us, the potential for sudden, energy poverty is very real, and I intend to do something about it. More on that later.
For now, though, if you care about those less fortunate than yourselves, may I suggest you give Piconergy a boost in social media. After all, ‘Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.’
I first read about floating solar power plants in Quartz, and just had to share. Here are a couple of amazing video clips that prove this is not sci-fi!
The second video clip is not as slick as the first and has no sound at all. BUT. It shows time lapse photography of the plant being put together in a week!
And just in case you think these are just weird one-offs, here’s one from India. 🙂
The thing I like most about this concept is that it is cheap. So cheap, in fact, that it puts clean, green energy within the grasp of the poorest countries. With it, they can embrace technology and make a better life for their people without having to go the dirty-fossil-fuels path.
I predict that these countries will be leading the way in clean energy within 30 years while my own country will still be talking about waiting for the rest of the world ‘to do something’ about climate change…
The current Liberal government tries hard to sell it’s Direct Action policy on Climate Change, but apparently all that Direct we-give-you-money-to-create-less-carbon rhetoric only applies to big corporations. Incentives for small scale solar, wind and thermal brought in by the previous Labor government have been slashed, perhaps because they worked too well.
The history of small scale energy generation began in 2009 when Labor used a kind of small ‘d’ direct action policy to encourage private individuals, community groups and business to go ‘green’. Not only would we receive a generous rebate for the cost of the energy generation systems we installed, those systems would then be connected to the grid and the excess energy they generated would be sold to electricity retailers! Win-win.
This description of the Premium Feed-in Tariff is taken from the Victorian government’s own website:
The Premium Feed-in Tariff (PFIT) started in late 2009 and closed to new applicants at the end of 2011.
The scheme offered eligible households, businesses and community organisations with small-scale solar systems of five kilowatts or less a credit of at least 60 cents per kilowatt hour for excess electricity fed back into the grid.
More than 88,000 Victorian households, small businesses and community groups are now benefiting from the PFIT.
60 cents per KWH. That’s more than twice what we were paying the retailers for electricity back then, and those lucky enough to join the scheme during this initial phase will continue to receive 60 cents per KWH until 2024.
Then, from December 2011 to December 2012, small scale generators were offered a reduced tariff of 28 cents per KWH. This was more or less on a par with the cost of electricity generated from coal.
But from January 2013, the FIT plummeted to 6.2 cents per KWH. Now have a look at this pricing schedule published by Origin Energy:
So let’s say you’re on the Residential 5-Day Time of Use plan. From 7:00am to 11:00pm, Monday to Friday, you will pay 39.732 cents for every KWH you use. But any electricity you generate and feed into the grid will only earn you 6.2 cents per KWH.
Yes, your eyes did not deceive you – your electricity created no carbon, but it is worth 6.4 times less than the dirty stuff produced in the La Trobe valley.
Proponents of coal-fired power say that solar, wind and thermal are no good because they do not provide baseload energy, but what exactly do they mean by that?
As I understand it, baseload energy is essentially the capacity to produce the minimum amount of energy required during a 24 hour period.
At the moment, baseload power is provided by coal fired power stations that are belching out carbon pollution at peak capacity, all the time, because:
- it takes so long to get them going, and
- it’s cheaper to run them full on, all the time
There are other energy production systems that are more flexible, but they tend to be more expensive to run. Here in Victoria I believe we rely almost exclusively on coal fired energy.
Now, while it is true that green energy is produced at the whim of the elements, and hence not completely predictable, it can reduce energy consumption at the local level. In fact, the installation of solar panels on roofs since 2009 has reduced demand for baseload energy. So why isn’t it being valued? And why aren’t governments bending over backwards to get more of it?
The problem, essentially, is a clash of cultures. At the moment, coal is king because the operators of coal fired power stations do not have to factor in the cost of the pollution created by that coal. If pollution became a cost like any other, a number of interesting things would happen:
- the price of energy would go up in the short term,
- everyone would scramble to minimize their use of this expensive energy source
- and new technologies would spring up to make other energy generation systems more cost efficient – this would include not only renewables but also batteries capable of storing energy produced from all sources, including coal. [Because coal fired power stations run at full capacity all the time, much of the power they produce is actually wasted].
Unfortunately, none of this is likely to happen in the near term because we are still only paying lip service to the problem of Climate Change. Once the $hit hits the fan, things will change in a hurry, but it won’t be efficient change, and all the forecasts suggest it will be a LOT more expensive than voluntary change now.
So in terms of you and me, are solar panels worth doing any more? From a purely financial perspective, probably not. 😦 You will still save some money off your energy bills by using your own energy, but the truth is we all use more than we generate, and it often tends to be at times when solar is not available [e.g. at night]. So then you have to balance up the savings against the cost of the solar panels and their installation…
When I installed my solar panels and solar hot water, I hoped to have everything pay for itself in about five years years. Not gonna happen, folks. I started out getting the 60 cents per KWH then a strange administrative ‘blunder’ meant that the paperwork proving I’d joined in time disappeared. Now I’m on 28 cents per KWH but apparently that will only last until December 31, 2016. After that I’ll get next to nothing.
Am I bitter? Yes, I am. The Liberals are going to give large corporations lots of money for doing the wrong thing while I am going to lose money for doing the right thing. I really truly wish the Libs would throw some of that Direct Action loot in my direction for a change. 😦
I’ve had solar hot water since July 2011, and solar panels since November of the same year, but the experience has not been all sweetness and sustainability.
My electricity retailer, Origin Energy, apparently had some difficulty adjusting their processes to the sudden influx of people with solar. I can only assume the wholesaler – SP Ausnet – had similar difficulties because neither company seems to have any knowledge of my solar panels. Which is rather odd when you consider that they have been paying me the top level Solar F.I.T. [Solar Feed In Tariff] since April 2012, off and on.
I would have thought that if Origin knew they had to pay me for my solar contribution they must know that I have solar panels in the first place. Logic, however, is sadly missing in this saga.
Back in 2013, Origin reduced the value of my solar contribution from 66 cents per unit of whatever to 28 cents – all without a word of explanation. It was left to me to query the bill and try to make sense of FIT vs CoGen. That was when I first heard that I was officially a non [solar] person because some documentation was missing.
What followed was months of frustration. I sent snail mail letters via registered mail, demanding answers. They responded, when they did, via phone calls …and nothing in writing.
And then, when I threatened to go to the Ombudsman, suddenly my solar F.I.T. was restored, again without a word of explanation. By this time I was so sick of the whole thing I just gave a silent cheer and let sleeping corporations lie.
Now, almost a year later, Origin and I are back to square 1. I have just received a letter saying they have been overpaying me and would I please sign the attached forms so they can pay me the measly 28 cent payment.
Well, guess what? Having just spent the entire day sorting through old files [that’s them carpeting my kitchen floor], I’m going to bundle up everything relating to this mess and send it to my solicitor. Win, lose or draw, this time I want answers.
Not happy Origin!