Friday, September 30, 2011

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World’s Engineers: Technology We Need to Address Global Warming Already Exists!

Posted: 30 Sep 2011 04:00 PM PDT

This is another great repost from our friends over at Climate Progress:

by Joe Romm

future now

The technology needed to cut the world's greenhouse gas emissions by 85% by 2050 already exists, according to a joint statement by eleven of the world's largest engineering organisations….

The statement says that generating electricity from wind, waves and the sun, growing biofuels sustainably, zero emissions transport, low carbon buildings and energy efficiency technologies have all been demonstrated. However they are not being developed for wide-scale use fast enough and there is a desperate need for financial and legislative support from governments around the world if they are to fulfil their potential.

That's the news release from the UK's Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IME), one of the 11 signatory groups.  The groups explicitly call for a peak in global emissions in 2020 and an intensive effort to train workers for green technology jobs.

Dr Colin Brown, Director of Engineering at the IME, says bluntly:

"While the world's politicians have been locked in talks with no output, engineers across the globe have been busy developing technologies that can bring down emissions and help create a more stable future for the planet.

"We are now overdue for government commitment, with ambitious, concrete emissions targets that give the right signals to industry, so they can be rolled out on a global scale."

This is really nothing new.  The recent National Academy of Science report calls on nation to"substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions" starting ASAP.  I'll link to more of the literature below.

It's worth pointing out that a 50% cut in emissions from current levels is typically considered to be what's needed for  stabilization at 450 ppm or around 2°C warming (see also "The full global warming solution: How the world can stabilize at 350 to 450 ppm").  An 85% reduction would be the path for closer to 350 ppm.

Here's what the engineering organizations call for in their statement:

  • A global commitment at Durban to a peak in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, followed by substantial reductions by 2050;
  • Governments to ensure that green policies do not unfairly and unintentionally act to the detriment of one particular industry or country;
  • Intensive effort to train and retrain workforces to ensure we have the right skills for the new industries that will spring up around green technologies;
  • A heavier emphasis to be placed on boosting energy efficiency, which is the best available measure to bring down emissions in the short and medium term.

Hear!  Hear!  See "Energy efficiency is THE core climate solution, Part 1: The biggest low-carbon resource by far."

The eleven organisations include the Danish Society of Engineers (IDA), India's Institution of Engineers (IEI), Germany's Association of Engineers (VDI), Australia's Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers (APESMA) and the UK's Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE). Collectively they represent over 1.2 million engineers spanning four continents.

Yes, the U.S. is missing.  Go figure.

Technology Review, one of the nation's leading technology magazines, also argued in a cover story five years ago, "It's Not Too Late," that "Catastrophic climate change is not inevitable. We possess the technologies that could forestall global warming."

In its 2007 synthesis report on the scientific literature, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that using existing technologies and those expected to be commercialized in the foreseeable future:

In 2050, global average macro-economic costs for mitigation towards stabilisation between 710 and 445ppm CO2-eq are between a 1% gain and 5.5% decrease of global GDP. This corresponds to slowing average annual global GDP growth by less than 0.12 percentage points.

So global GDP drops by under 0.12% per year — about one tenth of a penny on the dollar — even in the 445 ppm CO2-eq case (through 2050, see Table SPM.7). And this is for stabilization at 445 ppm CO2-eq, which is stabilization at 350 ppm CO2 (see Table SPM.6).

That's similar to McKinsey Global Institute's 2008 Research in Review, which found stabilizing at 450 ppm has a net cost near zero, and "Must-read IEA report explains what must be done to avoid 6 degrees C warming at low net cost.".  For a longer discussion on cost, see "Introduction to climate economics: Why even strong climate action has such a low total cost."

The time to act is now.

Deploy, Deploy, Deploy, Research & Develop, Deploy, Deploy, Deploy.

 

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World Energy Report (Infographic)

Posted: 30 Sep 2011 12:19 PM PDT

world energy report infographic

"World Energy Report" (CLICK TO ENLARGE)

OK, so this isn’t an official World Energy report just released by some international energy organization or research institute, but it is a fun infographic created by some friends of ours over at MyEnergy.com that helps to visualize and convey some key energy facts.

One of the most striking points (visualized with the Big Macs) is how much more energy per person the U.S. and other developed nations use compared to India, China, or the world as a whole. Here’s a good quote from the World Watch Institute on that (from State of the World 2008: Innovations for a Sustainable Economy):

“Clearly, Western Nations have been the key driver of climate change so far. Between 1950 and 2000, the United States was responsible for 212 gigatons of carbon dioxide, whereas India was responsible for less than 10 percent as much. So it is clear that the richest people on the planet are appropriating more than their fair share of ‘environmental space.’ Yet their lifestyle is increasingly what the rest of the world aspires to.”

How Do We Respond?

Two key ways to respond to this would be increasing our energy efficiency (and there’s a ton of potential for that) and, of course, powering more of our country (or world) with clean energy, like wind and solar.

The next part of the infographic shows that the U.S. is doing quite well (comparatively speaking) at installing wind power. However, on the solar power front, it shows that we still have a long way to go.

Germany is a clear leader in both solar and wind. A number of other European countries not on the infographic are also at the top of the charts for these clean energy solutions. But I think the biggest eye catcher is something we’ve written about numerous times here on CleanTechnica (but not much recently)….

China Leading the Way

China, while still having a low amount of per person energy use, is charging forward on wind and solar power fast (and can expect it to have a ton more of those wind turbines and solar panels on that infographic in a few years — it’s 2015 solar power target is 10 GW, 6.5 GW more than what’s on this infographic, and it’s expected to go from nearly 23 GW of wind power in 2010 to 69 GW in 2015. It recently announced that it is looking to invest $313 billion in cleantech by 2015.

Of course, with over a billion people and a growing economy, China is a larger and larger total user of energy (it became the world’s largest total energy user in 2009, as indicated by a 2010 International Energy Agency report). But it’s clear that the country is steaming ahead on clean energy faster than anyone on the planet. By the time it hits the average per person energy use that the U.S. is at now, it will have several times more clean power than we have.

Taking a Closer Look at the U.S.

To put China’s clean energy investment into a bit more perspective, it led the world last year with $54.4 billion invested, while the U.S. fell to third ($34 billion invested). The U.S. was leading the world for awhile on wind energy, but it is being stifled by a largely anti-clean-energy party, the Republican Party, while China is able to plow forward with clean energy at a faster and faster clip. It is even planning to implement a market-based cap-and-trade program, somewhat like the one our capitalistic U.S., ironically, hasn’t been able to implement.

Basically, unless something changes fast in U.S. politics, I think we can expect that the gap between China’s clean energy investment and U.S. clean energy investment is only going to grow for the next year or more. (And, of course, this means they are going to lead us in an industry expected to power the global economy in the coming decades.)

Meanwhile, the U.S. is clearly consuming more than its fair share of dirty energy (and, I would say, not moving fast enough to cut its energy use). Here’s more on that from my friend Kate over at MyEnergy:

What would the world look like if everyone lived like an average American? Although we only comprise 5% of the global population, Americans consume 30% of the world's material resources and 40% of the world's gasoline supply, which leads to 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions. So, for one, we would need at least five more planets to provide the necessary resources and absorb the waste.

It's difficult to see how our daily consumption decisions impact the air or water quality on a local level. And it’s even harder to conceive of how our decisions affect the rest of the world. It may help to know that every time you, as an average American, spend a dollar, the energy equivalent of a cup of oil is used to produce what that dollar buys.

So in true American spirit, allow your competitive side to kick in. Imagine if you consumed four times more gasoline than your neighbors… or four times more food… producing four times more garbage. Who wants to be that guy? So when it comes to spending that next dollar, and the dollar after that, think twice. Try to beat your neighbors. Even if they are located halfway around the world; that doesn't make them any less real.

Hear! Hear!

While we face big challenges, I think we all can and need to do a few things:

  1. Look into our own clean energy options.
  2. Cut our energy use by using energy efficient technology, making our homes more energy efficient, not using technology when we don’t need it, and using clean transportation. (All of this saves us money, too!)
  3. Supporting politicians who support clean energy and getting involved in politics enough that we help to hold our representatives accountable.

I think we can use the infographic above as an inspiration for all these things.

Those are my thoughts. What are yours?

 

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Solar Basics: How Do Solar Panels Work?

Posted: 30 Sep 2011 08:45 AM PDT

US Army personnel with solar paels in Africa

With all the news about solar power lately, I thought it would be useful to go back to how solar panels work.

The short description goes something like this: Silicon is mounted beneath non-reflective glass to produce photovoltaic (PV) panels that collect photons from the sun and convert them into DC electrical power. That DC power then flows into an inverter, which transforms it into basic AC (alternating current) electrical power.

Okay, that's the short and simple answer, but others may want more information. A useful website, Solar Home, offers an in-depth answer to the question, especially about one of the key materials, silicon.

Solar Home writes: "Silicon has four electrons in its outer shell. However, it has the capacity to hold eight. By sharing these four electrons with other silicon atoms and their four shell electrons, the capacity of eight is filled. When they combine with each other in this way, silicon atoms develop a strong, stable bond. This structure is known as pure, crystalline silicon."

Pure silicon, however, is not a good conductor of electricity because there aren't any electrons that are free to move. In other words, adds the author, "The silicon is better off with impurities."

Thus, silicon is combined with an element such as phosphorus, which has five electrons to share. As a result, a negative charge is created. Silicon can only take four of the five electrons, leaving one free electron – called a free carrier – to carry an electrical current.

Other methods for manipulating silicon are also used. For instance, when silicon is combined with an element containing three electrons, a positive charge can be created. Boron is one material that suits this purpose. When silicon and boron are combined, holes are created.

"These silicon combinations and their differing charges are used to make solar panels. As photons come down from the sunlight and strike the silicon, it shakes everything up. The free electron that was hanging onto the silicon/phosphorous combination is now forced to the outer ring. From here, it gets sucked up to the outer ring of the silicon/boron combination. This is how electricity is created."

NASA Science also provides solid information on the subject, writing that the photoelectric effect was first noted by a French physicist, Edmund Becquerel, in 1839. He learned that certain materials would produce small amounts of electric current when exposed to light. Here we learn that, in 1905, Albert Einstein described the nature of light and the photoelectric effect on which photovoltaic technology is based. For this discovery, he eventually won a Nobel Prize in physics.

Source: NASA

This NASA diagram illustrates the operation of a basic photovoltaic cell, also called a solar cell, the building block of solar panels. Solar cells are made of the same kinds of semiconductor materials, such as silicon, used in the microelectronics industry. For solar cells, a thin semiconductor wafer is specially treated to form an electric field, positive on one side and negative on the other. When light energy strikes the solar cell, electrons are knocked loose from the atoms in the semiconductor material. If electrical conductors are attached to the positive and negative sides, forming an electrical circuit, the electrons can be captured in the form of an electric current — that is, electricity. This electricity can then be used to power a load, such as a light or a tool.

Hope this information is helpful.

Image Credits:  US Army Africa & NASA

 

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MIT Research Team Develops ‘Artificial Leaf’ that Splits Water, Produces Hydrogen & Oxygen Gas

Posted: 30 Sep 2011 01:36 AM PDT

A research team led by pioneering clean energy technology developer and MIT professor Daniel Nocera has developed an ‘artificial leaf’ that like its namesake captures energy from sunlight and produces electricity that it then turns into chemical fuel — hydrogen and oxygen gas. (Yes, we’ve covered this technology a few times in the past.)

Made up of a thin sheet of silicon solar cell material bonded either side with thin sheets of catalytic cobalt and nickel-molybdenum-zinc, when placed in an ordinary container of water, the ‘artificial leaf’s’ solar photovoltaic (PV) cells generate an electric current which catalysts bonded to the solar cell sheet use to produce oxygen and hydrogen gas.

Collected, stored and coupled to hydrogen fuel cells, the gases could be used as an energy carrier that would create electricity on demand at scales ranging from individual home use on up to utility-scale power plants.

"I think there's going to be real opportunities for this idea," Nocera told MIT News’ David L. Chandler. "You can't get more portable — you don't need wires, it's lightweight…You just drop it in a glass of water, and it starts splitting it."

The ‘artificial leaf’ converted 2.5% of incident sunlight into electricity, which is low compared with the 10% and higher energy conversion efficiencies found in today’s solar panels, but Nocera and his team are working at boosting it. Connecting wires to connect the catalysts to the solar cell membrane raised its conversion efficiency to 4.7%.

Moreover, the materials used to manufacture the ‘leaf’ are common and relatively abundant in nature, which offers the potential of producing them cheaply and on a large-scale, while the ‘artificial leaf small size makes it extremely portable.

Nocera and his team are also looking at the possibility of breaking the ‘artificial leaf’ down into much smaller particles that can capture the energy in sunlight to split water molecules akin to the way this is done in nature by algae. Doing this would increase the surface area available to absorb sunlight, hence raising the system’s energy conversion efficiency.

Separating and collecting the two gas streams produced would be more difficult with ‘artificial algae’ as compared to the ‘artificial leaf,’ which, along with a means of storing the gases, is the next step Nocera and his team are looking to take to further develop the clean energy system.

Commenting on the research development, Imperial College of London biochemist and professor James Barber said, “This is a major achievement, which is one more step toward developing cheap and robust technology to harvest solar energy as chemical fuel…

“There is no doubt that their achievement is a major breakthrough which will have a significant impact on the work of others dedicated to constructing light-driven catalytic systems to produce hydrogen and other solar fuels from water.

Tempering enthusiasm a bit, he added that, “There will be much work required to optimize the system, particularly in relation to the basic problem of efficiently using protons generated from the water-splitting reaction for hydrogen production."

 

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Iceland Home to World’s First Zero-Emissions Data Center

Posted: 29 Sep 2011 11:02 PM PDT

UK telecoms and IT services provider Colt is well on its way toward building the world’s first zero-emissions data center, in all of four months. Being built for data center developer Verne Global, the plant will be built on a former NATO base in Keflavik, Iceland, where geothermal and hydroelectric power will supply all the electricity needed to power the 500-square meter data center’s servers and ambient cold air used to cool them.

Colt has manufactured the data center’s 37 modules in the UK and will begin shipping them to Verne Global’s data center campus in Keflavik in early October, according to a press release.

–> You might also like: Google's Energy Efficient Data Centers {VIDEOS}

Sitting atop part of the Atlantic Ocean’s Mid-Atlantic Ridge, Iceland is the only country in the world that generates all its electrical power from clean, renewable sources — geothermal and hydropower. Its geographic location affords the country with access to plentiful geothermal and hydropower resources, as well as a cold climate that make it an ideal location for data centers. Its remote location is a downside, but undersea cables provide telecoms links between the island nation and the European and North American continents.

The Verne Global data center project is indicative of the drive on the part of the global IT and data center industry to reduce the intensity of its electricity use and minimize the environmental impact of its operations.

"This is a very interesting project and shows how the industry is transforming," commented Chris Ingle, an associate vice president at IDC. "Verne Global’s Iceland location and dual source renewable energy provides a combination of sustainability and cost visibility. Colt’s approach to data center build provides a fast and flexible way of fitting out the space. The ability to provide a traditional data center more efficiently than is currently the case provides a strong alternative in the market."

Added Verne Global CEO Jeff Monroe, “"Partnering with Colt enables us to have a purpose-built facility that will be in operation before the end of 2011, supporting our mission of delivering the world's first dual-sourced renewably powered data center. We see a strong demand in the co-location market and we required a partner who could provide highly resilient, flexible data center space, configured to our specific technical requirements."

–> You might also like: Google Data Center in Finland to be 100% Cooled with Ocean Water {VIDEO}

Colt’s modular manufacturing approach to data center construction afforded Verne Global the ability to streamline the manufacturing process and assure its quality, as well as offering the potential to quickly scale-up and increase the data center’s capacity.

Through its data center division, Colt owns and operates 19 data centers across Europe and manages more than 21,000-square meters of data center space. The company also operates a 35,000-kilometer (~22,000-mile) that stretches through 39 major European cities with direct fiber connections to 18,000 buildings and 19 Colt data centers.

Verne Global’s data center campus in Keflavik, Iceland offers co-location and bespoke data center options to customers whose electrical power needs range from multiple kilowatts to multiple megawatts. Geothermal and hydroelectric power provide clean, renewable power for all its operations, enabling customers to lower the environmental impact and carbon footprint of their operations. Multiple high-speed cables provide connections to Europe and the US.

 

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