technology Posts

Space-based PV plants: the next big step for photovoltaics

Space-based PV plants: the next big step for photovoltaics

Building solar power plants in space will be possible in the not-so-far future according to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Indeed, JAXA has announced that they have achieved a major technical breakthrough, which would eventually make the construction of space-based solar power plants possible. Concretely, the JAXA team has succeeded in converting and transferring electricity using microwaves for a distance of 55 meters.

German researchers develop photovoltaic concrete

German researchers develop photovoltaic concrete

Germany has added a new technological contribution to the renewable energy sector with a new invention developed by researchers at the University of Kassel: Photovoltaic Concrete. Named “DysCrete”, this concrete is still in prototype stage but it would be able to generate electricity by converting solar energy into an electric current.

Photovoltaic Innovations: Future Challenges

Photovoltaic Innovations: Future Challenges

Despite the decrease in demand that the photovoltaic market is currently experiencing, universities and other institutions continue to invest in research and development in the field of solar PV. The sector is driven by the desire to achieve better performing and more efficient technologies that can help produce more green electricity than ever before. We will introduce some of the most promising innovations that will, in the near or far future, enter the solar PV market and help us optimise our environmentally conscious behaviour.

Interview with UK’s Green Party Jason Kitcat

In May 2011, Jason Kitcat was elected member of UK’s first Green party led council administration. He represents the Regency Ward in central Brighton. Before being elected to Leader of Council, Kitcat was Cabinet Member for Finance & Central Services. He has been a Green city councilor for six years and a Green candidate for European Parliament in 2009. He is known for leading successful campaigns including his own by-election and the 2009 European Elections. His special interests include technology, politics, and the environment.

Milk the Sun is interviewing Jason Kitcat, Leader of Brighton & Hove City Council.

Jason Kitcat from UK

Milk the Sun: What are the Green Party goals for implementing renewable energy in the UK and how will you try to achieve these?

Kitcat: We already know that green industries are creating more jobs than any other part of the economy. So we believe that investing in renewable energy, in all its forms, would benefit the environment and create much needed jobs. We believe that instead of subsidising nuclear power and a dash for gas, government should be properly incentivising energy efficiency, new renewables plus retrofitting homes and offices.

Milk the Sun: How has the decrease in Renewable Energy Feed-in Tariffs (FiTs) impacted investment into renewable sources?

Kitcat: In Brighton & Hove the FiTs cuts had a significant impact on the council’s ability to move to a wide-scale roll out of solar panels. The uncertainty over government policy also made it incredibly difficult for the many solar businesses in this area to keep developing and attracting customers. Fortunately solar panel prices have kept falling so the business case for installing them is often still viable. As a council we are rolling out panels as best we can, but the finances aren’t as attractive as they were.

Milk the Sun: There are several community energy projects in Brighton such as the Brighton Energy Co-operative and the Brighton & Hove Energy Services that is making it easier for communities to get involved in renewables. How do energy projects such as these benefit the community and the individuals? Will there more projects coming up soon?

Kitcat: I think they are a fantastic example of the more democratic nature of renewable energy technologies. Communities can take local ownership and responsibility for energy generation, and reducing their carbon footprint. It’s also brilliant for children to see and understand what the renewable future can be like with panels and wind turbines going up around them.

The move to smaller scale local renewables isn’t just about devolving power (in all its meanings) but it is also an economic shift, like that from analogue to digital. We have exciting new co-operative and social business ideas like the ones you mentioned coming forward. They can viably compete with well established ‘factory’ model energy suppliers. These new groups are from their communities and often contribute back to their localities in many ways. I think we are going to see many more of these ideas blossom as renewable technologies continue to evolve.

Milk the Sun: There have been many new developments in solar technology such as better storage capacity and new materials like organics for solar panels that are sure to improve solar energy technology.  What kinds of technological innovations do you believe are essential for the future of solar energy?

Kitcat: Reducing cost, easing installation and ensuring reliability have to be key goals for renewable technology development. Often the business cases for installing solar depend on 25 year models, so we need to have confidence that the technologies will keep delivering as promised over that period and beyond. In Brighton & Hove we are seeing lots of innovation in this area, we recently hosted the second Eco-Tech Show and Conference in the city focusing on all the great developments in the field. The 2014 show promises to offer more insights into these innovations, see http://www.ecotechnologyshow.co.uk

Milk the Sun: What do you think are the possibilities and benefits that will come with initiatives in Europe and the North African deserts like Desertec and EU-MENA supergrids to provide renewable energy to the world?

Kitcat: Personally I’d prefer to focus on smaller scale, decentralised and local energy solutions. I’m yet to be convinced that these super-scale projects are the answer. There is also a risk that such projects could be exploitative and won’t actually meaningfully benefit the local communities in which they are being placed.

Milk the Sun: Solar energy is especially popular in Southern UK, will you expect to see that popularity extend to the rest of the UK? How are renewable energies perceived in the UK?

Kitcat: Technology always needs to be applied appropriately, and the same is true for renewables. There is no point putting up solar panels if they aren’t going to return a reasonable amount of energy. I certainly wouldn’t characterise renewables as being focused only on the South. Yes there might be more sun for solar down south, but there are viable spots for wind, solar and tidal across the UK. Ultimately we need to challenge the NIMBY (not in my back yard) attitude to installing renewables. A well insulated, energy efficient home is going to be more comfortable and cheaper to run. To me that should be an easy argument to make to those yet to be convinced.

Milk the Sun: What should the UK expect to see in regards to renewable energy in the next decade?

Kitcat: What I’d like to see is a far more significant switch to renewable energy and a radical programme of energy efficiency retrofitting. However I fear that the state of the current big three parties in central government means much of the drive and funding that could deliver these is being diverted elsewhere to things like new nuclear and gas exploration. That’s extremely disappointing but we shouldn’t give up the fight to change minds in government.

Milk the Sun would like to thank Mr. Kitcat for his interview. You can find out more about Jason Kitcat on his personal website and blog.

Using DNA to Create a Nanoantenna to Harvest Solar Energy

The Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg has found a more effective way to collect sunlight for artificial photosynthesis. By combining DNA that is able to assemble itself with certain dye molecules, the researchers were able to create a system quite similar to that of nature’s antenna system. The energy industry has begun to turn to natural phenomena to create more efficient technologies. In this case, artificial photosynthesis has begun a new trend in the energy industry and its success could help solve many energy issues worldwide.

Using DNA for the scaffolding is much more stable than the natural structure in plants. iStockphoto.com©Mehmet Hilmi Barcin

This new finding attempts to imitate the efficiency that plants have in converting light into energy. Earth receives enough solar energy in one hour to support the world energy demands for an entire year. With greater efficiency, solar energy could easily power the world. The nanoantenna is a new technology that is in the works that is used to convert light into energy. Self-assembling DNA can be used to form the scaffolding to create an artificial system that collects light.

The study was published in the Journal of American Chemical Society. Scaffolding in natural plants and algae is quite complex. It requires many proteins that organize the chlorophyll, which allows a plant to absorb light for energy, to collect light in the most efficient manner. However, to artificially copy this exact model is almost impossible. Jonas Hannestad, a Ph.D. in physical chemistry, stated that if just one of these bonds broke, the entire system would collapse. Instead, by using DNA to organize the light collecting molecules, a self-assembling and dynamic model is created rather than one that requires complete precision to function. When using a DNA-based model, if one of the light-collecting modules does manage to break, it is replaced by another within seconds.

In both plants and algae, sunlight moves to the photosynthetic reaction centre which leads to several chain reactions. The photosynthetic reaction centre is composed of proteins, pigments, and other co-factors. It is where the plant synthesizes sugars and other energy-rich molecules from sunlight for energy. A professor of physical chemical and the head of the research team, Bo Albinsson describes that they have the capability to move energy to the reaction centre but are still unsure about how the reactions take place there. He says it is one of the most difficult aspects of artificial photosynthesis.

However, the new research has allowed for the combination of artificial photosynthesis with DNA nanotechnology. Using DNA molecules for nano-technologies is ideal as DNA binds in a very predictable manner. When the instructions for assembly are given correctly, DNA molecules can be made to twist and bend into any form within a test tube. Essentially, one is able to draw a picture on paper to generate the exact structure that is desired, thus, maximizing light collection as well. By creating a structure out of DNA, the researchers have been able to take advantage of nature’s complexities and efficiency.

Sources: phys.org, Science Daily

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