- Peepoo: To Stop the Flying Toilet & Help Developing Countries in Numerous Other Ways
- New Study: India Wind Energy Potential 20-30 Times Greater than Official Estimates
- $500 Billion Opportunity: Solving Water Issues
- German Solar: Mission Too Well Accomplished, from Perspective of Fossil/Nuclear Lobby (Reader Comment)
- Tanzania’s Largest Solar Power Project Springs Forward
- Zipcar Chicago Car Sharing Adds Electric Vehicles
- Conservative Bob Lutz Slams Conservative Liars, Asks “who am I going to believe now?”
- NYC to Build Wind and Solar Farm on Old Dump Site
- Frito Lay Greenifies Its Commercial Fleet with 6 Electric Trucks
- Solar Powering Cars without Batteries
- Forget Algae Biofuel, Navy Jets Could Run on Toothpicks
- A Brief History of Everything Solar
Posted: 22 Mar 2012 10:02 AM PDT
In many developing countries, as you probably know, people still don’t have wastewater and sewage systems. As a result, people have to use the bushes, plastic bags, the railway tracks, etc. (Note: plastic bags full of pee and poop tossed into the street have acquired the name “flying toilets” — pleasant.) A Swedish company thinks it has a solution though, the Peepoo.
Here’s more from Science Daily:
Not only does it avoid the problems discussed above; it also seems to be reducing child rape (from when they go into the bushes to poop or pee) and within-family spreading of diarrhoea seems to be reduced.
“Production of the bags is currently 3,000 a day, but will ramp up to 500,000 a day from November to target markets in South Asia and elsewhere in Africa but also for stockpiling for disasters.”
For more innovative solutions to such water problems around the world, check out Science Daily‘s post, Small is good in quest to resolve water crisis.
Posted: 22 Mar 2012 09:45 AM PDT
The study found that India has 20-30 times more onshore wind energy potential than the official Indian estimate. This is important, since the official estimate of 102 GW would only be able to provide India with up to 8% of its projected electricity demand by 2022 and 5% by 2032, and since wind is a super-cheap form of energy.
“The new Berkeley Lab study has found the total techno-economic wind potential to range from 2,006 GW for 80-meter hub heights (an indication of how high the wind turbine stands above the ground) to 3,121 GW for 120-meter hub heights,” an LBL news release states.
This new finding could have a strong effect on India’s renewable energy strategy. The country, as is well known, has a tremendous electricity shortage. As stated many times here on CleanTechnica, the good thing about that is that India (and other less-developed countries) can leapfrog outdated dirty energy technologies and jump right into clean energy, especially from the wind and sun. India has realized that, and it led the world in cleantech investment growth in 2011.
In my 2012 solar expectations post at the beginning of the year, I noted that India “has tremendous solar power goals…, solar is now cheaper than diesel there, and many are projecting that it will become a big solar player soon, perhaps in 2012.” But wind is exceedingly cheap as well, and this news opens up a whole new energy ball game.
“The main importance of this study, why it’s groundbreaking, is that wind is one of the most cost-effective and mature renewable energy sources commercially available in India, with an installed capacity of 15 GW and rising rapidly,” says Berkeley Lab scientist Amol Phadke, the lead author of the report.
“The cost of wind power is now comparable to that from imported coal and natural gas-based plants, and wind can play a significant role in cost effectively addressing energy security and environmental concerns.”
Jayant Sathaye, who leads the International Energy Studies Group at Berkeley Lab, state: "The key agency in charge, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), has now signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Berkeley Lab to collaborate on several issues related to potential estimates and wind energy integration."
Why the reassessment of India wind energy potential?
Due to recently updated wind energy potential assessments for the U.S. and China, which saw a 50% and a 10-fold increase in wind energy potential in those nations, respectively, LBL thought it would be a good idea to use the new parameters and assumptions to evaluate India’s wind potential. But I don’t think anyone was expecting such a large jump.
“Improved wind technology, including higher efficiency and hub heights, accounted for much of the increase along with more advanced mapping techniques,” LBL states.
For more information on the study, check out the LBL news release or its “Reassessing Wind Potential Estimates for India: Economic and Policy Implications” report.
Posted: 22 Mar 2012 09:11 AM PDT
It’s World Water Day today, the 19th annual UN World Water Day. Last year, I posted a roundup of 60 of our water-related posts over the years for World Water Day (still worth a look). About half a year before that, for a Blog Action Day on the topic of water, I compared the water usage of various energy sources (hint: wind and solar PV kick serious butt in that arena). This year, I’m actually going to spare my typing fingers a bit by sharing a great water post from sister site Ecopreneurist that I think deserves a spotlight. Here’s most of that post, by Priti Ambani, with minor changes and notes in brackets —  — by me:
Imagine H2O, a nonprofit organization that supports entrepreneurs to turn water challenges into business opportunities, [yesterday] announced the winners of its third annual prize competition.
The winners were chosen from a competitive selection of finalists by Imagine H2O's judging panel, a group of leading experts and investors in the water sector. Highlighting that business plan innovation is critical to the long-term success of water startups, the winners were selected based on their commercial viability and promise. This year's prize attracted 50 startups led by serial entrepreneurs, experienced executives and campus engineering programs.
This year's prize topic was wastewater, of which an estimated 90 percent goes untreated worldwide. The wastewater market is valued at $200 billion per year across the industrial, commercial and residential sectors worldwide.
[... skipping section about Imagine H20 and going straight to the section on the winners...]
About the Winners
Tusaar, Inc (Lafayette, Colorado) is commercializing a unique media-based technology to remove contaminating heavy-metals from multi-chemical process and waste water. Using base technology licensed from the University of Colorado-Boulder, the team at Tusaar has developed a media that sequesters over 40 different metals from industrial waters and provides a solution to coal combustion fly ash pond management and related groundwater contamination, a serious problem for coal-fired power plants. Tusaar media also enables customers to separate toxic waste metals from other hazardous chemicals thereby simplifying disposal and management. Waste volume and related cost reduction of over 95% has been achieved at customer sites leading to payback in less than one year.
Nexus eWater (Canberra, Australia) harnesses the power of a home's wastewater stream by converting gray water into near-potable water, while recycling the water's energy for hot water heating. This decentralized solution allows homeowners to reduce water use and reduce their carbon footprint by internalizing water heating costs. The executive team includes the former CEO co-founder of ADS Water and the former VP of Perpetual Water.
New Sky Energy (Boulder, Colorado) employs a chemical process that combines CO2 and industrial wastewater to make usable CO2-negative solids. This process allows customers to profitably reduce CO2 emissions while manufacturing onsite the chemicals they use every day. New Sky's CEO, Deane Little, is a PhD molecular biophysicist.
Second Image: Woman's hand with water splash courtesy shutterstock
Note: World Water Day 2012 posts from around the Important Media network are being compiled on sister site Eat Drink Better (link above).
Posted: 22 Mar 2012 08:24 AM PDT
There were a number of good comments on John’s “German Policy Could Make Solar in America ‘Wunderbar’” post this week, but one comment stood out to me as a great comment for a reader guest post. So, I’m posting that below (with some minor edits). Note that the first quoted phrase (“Mission too well accomplished”) is piggy-backing on the last line of the article above, where John declared Germany’s solar feed-in tariff policy "mission accomplished":
by Thomas Gerke
“Mission too well accomplished” from the perspective of the Fossil/Nuclear Lobby and their political puppets… which is, unfortunately, the current government.
During the entire last week, hard coal power stations ran at only 20-40% of their installed capacity during peak-load hours…. Gas power stations operated at about 7-18% of their installed capacity… remaining almost totally flat all day.
This is seriously killing the profitability of those huge investments and could very well turn them into a loss for the energy corporations that built them. Because, not only can’t they “sell” coal & gas in the form of electricity, but those power stations require a certain amount of load-hours per year to turn a profit.
Since those coal, gas, oil and uranium trading corporations (E.On, RWE, BASF, Vattenfall, RAG…) are quite influential and powerful, they are working very hard to kill solar now, before it kills them….
On this sunny day in Germany [Tuesday, March 20], PV solar will once again provide about 8% of the total German electricity demand of the day. As I write this, PV solar generates about 16 GW of electricity, approximately 25% of the entire German electricity demand at noon. Hard coal & gas generate less than 10 GW combined….
Interesting times, but the EEG (Renewable Energy Act) works as it was planned. It’s the implementation of the “Solar-Strategy” put forward by Hermann Scheer back in 1993… and while misinformation is being spread to discredit renewables all the time, it’s indeed “Wunderbar”.
Posted: 22 Mar 2012 08:00 AM PDT
Tanzania probably doesn’t come to mind when you think about solar power leaders. But it’s actually working on a solar power project worthy of global notice, I think. The solar project will put solar power on “45 secondary schools, 10 health centres, 120 dispensaries, municipal buildings and businesses across 25 village market centres currently without access to the electricity grid.”
Camco International, a global clean energy developer, and Rex Investment Limited (RIL), a solar power contractor based in Tanzania, were just awarded $4.7 million for this rural Tanzanian solar power project in the region of Kigoma.
“The contract was awarded by the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a US foreign aid agency which operates in Tanzania as the Millennium Challenge Account – Tanzania (MCA-T),” Camco notes. “As part of the project Camco will also work to encourage households in the region to install small-scale solar home systems (SHS) by advising communities on the collective purchase and installation of systems in bulk, thereby achieving significant economies of scale.”
While a modest 208kW in projected solar power capacity, this is the larges solar power project in the history of Tanzania and will be very important for this rural region.
Work is projected to begin on the project in May 2012 and should be done by July 2013.
Tanzania has a ton of solar power potential and very little electricity — perfect for leapfrogging fossil fuels and going straight to clean energy:
“Currently only 15% of Tanzania's population has access to electricity according to the country's Ministry of Energy and Minerals. Tanzania ranks amongst the world's top ten countries for solar irradiation and small-scale solar power installations of the type promoted under the Kigoma programme are expected to play an increasingly important role in meeting the growing energy demand of Tanzania's rural communities.”
Jeff Felten, Managing Director, Camco Tanzania said: "We are delighted that the MCC has recognized the positive impact small-scale solar installations can have on rural off-grid communities in Tanzania. While industrialized countries are trying to rethink or refit their old coal-fired plants, much of Africa could potentially leapfrog that stage and move straight to renewable energy generation. The MCC's award of the Kigoma Solar Project to the joint venture partnership between Camco and RIL is an important validation of our unrivalled expertise and experience developing off-grid rural energy projects in Tanzania. In RIL we are pleased to have identified a strong contractor with which to partner and Camco looks forward to working together to further expand the market for solar energy use in Tanzania."
Posted: 22 Mar 2012 07:28 AM PDT
Zipcar, as far as I know, is the largest car sharing company in the world. I was a member for years when I lived in Chapel Hill, NC, when it was still a young and largely unknown company, and I found it very useful for the few times when I thought I needed a car. So, short story: I’m a fan.
Now, an announcement today makes me an even bigger fan. Today, Zipcar announced the launch of “the company’s first large-scale electric vehicle (EV) pilot program.” The program will be in Chicago, where Zipcar’s much smaller, Chicago-only, nonprofit, car-sharing competitor I-GO launched “a $2.5-million electric vehicle (EV) project that will be the national leader in solar power for EVs” in December. I-GO has 35 EVs in its fleet as of this month.
Zipcar is now offering five Chevy Volts by the hour in Chicago, and up to 20 additional EVs will be added to the Chicago fleet throughout 2012.
“The new Zipcar EVs will be placed in pods located throughout the city, including locations on the University of Illinois at Chicago campus, as well as in the Loop, South Loop, River North, Gold Coast, Streeterville, Lincoln Park, and Albany Park,” Zipcar writes.
“Zipcar is working with a number of partners on this program, including 350Green, which is installing the EV charging stations where the Zipcar EVs will be located. Other partners include the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), Tishman Speyer, LAZ Parking and Cityfront Place Apartments, all of which are providing locations for the Zipcar EVs and charging stations in commercial and residential buildings, private parking lots and along the CTA rail system.”
Zipcar has also worked with the City of Chicago and the Chicago Area Clean Cities Coalition on this new program, as a part of the Chicago Climate Action Plan. As part of that climate action plan, “the City of Chicago is installing hundreds of electric vehicle charging stations for public use to help expand the EV infrastructure throughout the city.”
The first five Chevy Volts are available to members for $10/hour.
Generally, Zipcar or car sharing users don’t drive a long distance in these cars, making the program a perfect fit for the Chevy Volt. “Because many trips taken by Zipcar members are fewer than 35 miles, these trips taken in the Volts will be powered solely by electricity rather than fuel,” Zipcar notes.
If you’re in Chicago or will be visiting a this time, Zipcar is hosting a special event for this launch next weekend:
“To help introduce the new Chevrolet Volt EVs to Chicago Zipsters, Zipcar will hold an event on Saturday, March 31 where Chicago-area Zipcar members are invited to check out the new Volt vehicles and Zipcar members can take them for a test spin. The event will take place from 10am to 1pm at one of Zipcar’s partner locations, Cityfront Place Apartments, located at 400 N. McClurg Ct. in Chicago.”
Additionally, these first Zipcar EVs are now available at the following locations:
Photo Credit: PRNewsFoto/Zipcar, Inc.
Posted: 22 Mar 2012 07:06 AM PDT
It must be a shock to strongly believe in conservative ideology (I understand that) and then slowly realize that leading conservative talking heads in the media and politics spout lie after lie… after lie. We’ve seen it happen on a number of issues and with a number of people, such as with conservative D.R. Tucker, who realized the deep tragedy and ignorance of global warming denial once he dug into the science; or Republican MIT atmospheric scientist Kerry Emanuel, who’s had himself and his wife threatened for expressing how ashamed he is of the anti-science focus of current Republican politicians; or Republican Congressman Bob Inglis of South Carolina who is shocked at most of his party’s global warming denial and its policy of basically ousting politicians from office who try to do something about this pressing matter or support clean energy too much.
Now, it looks like you can add Bob Lutz to this group. Before getting into this story though, a few quick points:
Now, conservative Bob Lutz, as a former Vice Chairman at GM, is intimately familiar with the Volt. And as a former upper level manager at GM and several other car companies, Bob knows cars, in general. Also, from his high prestige and conservative ties, he has tried hard to inform conservative media and talking heads of their errors when it comes to the Volt. Guess what — no success there.
The result? Lutz has essentially given up on his conservative colleagues altogether. Here’s a full piece by Lutz published this week in Forbes (remainder of this article is from Bob Lutz via Forbes):
I've expended a lot of effort trying to point out the truth about the Chevy Volt fires, knowing I might not reach a broad audience but might get the chief disseminators of misinformation (Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, et al) to say "Wow! I guess I didn't realize that no Volt, (other than ones deliberately destroyed), ever showed as much as a wisp of smoke! I guess I had better retune my rhetoric!"
Such were the musings of my politically naive brain, especially since I knew O'Reilly has seen my writing because "his people" talked to me.
What happened, instead, was more cruel disappointment: In his nationally syndicated column Saturday, the intellectually gifted and highly respected Charles Krauthammer, my hero-figure on the Right, joined the rest of the prevaricators. The topic was Obama's failed energy policy, and the litany of drilling bans and incomprehensible failure to approve the eminently useful Keystone Pipeline. So far, so good.
But, just as I was savoring Krauthammer's prose, I see … WHAT!? … the Volt cited as yet another example of Obama's misguided, interventionist energy policy. To make matters worse, Krauthammer could not resist attaching the adjective "flammable" to the Volt.
Now, Krauthammer is a smart, highly educated and well-informed individual. I have to assume he knows the truth. The fact that he persists in the myth of Volt combustibility and Obama-conception of the vehicle cannot be in error.
I am, sadly, coming to the conclusion that all the icons of conservatism are (shock, horror!) deliberately not telling the truth!
This saddens me, because, to this writer, conservatism IS fundamental truth. It only damages its inherent credibility with momentarily convenient fiction.
So, Mr. Krauthammer joins the list of right-wing pundits I no longer take seriously. After all, how do I know they're telling the truth when the subject is one I'm not as familiar with as the Volt?
That does leave everyone's trusted favorite, though. The disarmingly modest, low-key, warm, fuzzy, dependable, kind of your favorite uncle when you were growing up … the Reverend Huckabee! He wouldn't unjustly attack the most celebrated example of American engineering of the last 30 years — or would he?
The other night on Fox, he, too, had his way with the Volt!
So who am I going to believe now? Good question!
Posted: 22 Mar 2012 06:22 AM PDT
The old landfill has serviced the city for 53 years, and taken care of a whopping two billion tons of thrash, before closing early in 2011.
NYC says it has 75 acres that are available for lease, and it is currently soliciting bids to see who's qualified for the job. It will be interesting to see what the bids end at — the main motivator for the companies to be involved is cost-competitive electricity from solar and wind power.
The Future Looks Green
Last week, Deputy Mayor Holloway stated the following about the project:
"New York City needs energy to keep it running, and we want that power to be reliable, clean, and affordable. Renewable energy is the most sustainable kind, and under Mayor Bloomberg's leadership we're maximizing the use of City assets to develop as much capacity as possible."
Financial support from the government and states is exactly what we need to push renewable energy forward. This is what has made the solar power industry in Germany triumph, resulting in the country becoming the largest shareholder of the world's PV solar cells. Even with the recent proposal of cutting subsides as much as 30%, German energy policies could make solar in America a lot more affordable.
We sure hope that NYC's renewable energy plans go through as dreamed. This would mean a doubling of the city's renewable power capacity, and could be the catalyst for similar projects in the future.
It sure will be interesting to see how the project develops. In the meantime, feel free to comment below with what you think about NYC's plans.
Posted: 22 Mar 2012 06:13 AM PDT
Frito Lay is doing something healthy and good for the environment — the snack giant, which has the world's seventh largest privately owned commercial fleet, signed an agreement with Electric Vehicles International (EVI) for the launch of an electric vehicle pilot.
EVI is based out of Stockton, California, and it's been developing zero-emission, all-electric powertrains for 20 years. Regular CleanTechnica readers — and those with even an iota of common sense — know why zero emission vehicles are so important and how damaging carbon dioxide and particulate emissions can be for both the environment and the people in it. Frito Lay's move toward reducing its carbon footprint is welcome indeed.
Electric Vehicle Conversion Made Easy
EVI specializes in all-electric powertrains. Its signature product has been developed to fit into an industry standard Daimler Freightliner M2 business class chassis — allowing for both lower emissions and lower fuel cost. EVI claims that the EVI-MD (Medium Duty) — fitted with its powertrain — is one of the most versatile electric trucks on the market, with a 90-mile range and a top speed of 65 mph.
Frank Jenkins, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for EVI, spoke briefly regarding the new partnership:
Given the size of Frito Lay's private commercial fleet, Jenkins is right to be optimistic — there are quite a few vehicles there which could feasibly be converted to electric. Currently, though, Frito Lay has just bought and tested a single EVI-MD on a delivery route in Alameda, California, and committed to purchasing another five. The next batch of EVs going to Frito Lay will be used in northern California as well, perhaps making use of the new electric highway.
For its part, Frito Lay's senior director of Fleet Capability, Mike O'Connell, has also spoken about the company's commitment to minimizing its carbon footprint:
It's definitely a promising start, but let's wait to see how far Frito Lay North America goes in converting its massive fleet to something cleaner and greener.
Questions or comments? Let us know below.
Source & Image: EVI
Posted: 22 Mar 2012 06:05 AM PDT
Different types of fuel cells that can utilize different fuels, but this refueling station is just for hydrogen fuel cells, which generate electricity that then powers the electric vehicles’ motors.
Due to the intermittency of wind and solar power, it is good to find ways in which these renewable power supplies can be utilized without energy storage systems such as batteries, compressed air (CAES), etc. One way is the production of hydrogen via electrolysis, which is what the Fraunhofer hydrogen refueling station does. At this refueling station, electricity form the solar panels is used to power an electrolyzer, which passes an electric current through water, causing it to liberate hydrogen. (If you don’t remember, water (or H2O) is made up of water molecules, each of which contains 2 hydrogen atoms and 1 oxygen atom. During electrolysis, hydrogen bubbles out of the water at the cathode, and oxygen bubbles out at the anode.)
The hydrogen produced while the sun is shining is stored in tanks for later use at night, or during cloudy weather.
Apart from the above, the solar panel system Fraunhofer is using for this station is a grid-tie setup, meaning that the solar panels supply electricity to the power grid and reverse the electricity meter to offset the power consumption of the station. The Fraunhofer setup only partially offsets its power consumption, but it is a start. Innovatively, the solar panels also act as the roof and ceiling of the station.
The main components of this hydrogen station are an electrolyzer that operates at a pressure of 30 bar (435 psi), a 700-bar (10,152 psi) hydrogen compressor, puffer storage at two different levels, and hydrogen pumps.
Hydrogen fuel (when produced by renewable and clean energy) certainly has some advantages over battery electric vehicle technology, but it has its downsides as well. Hydrogen fuel cells are extremely expensive, but reasonably efficient; combustion engines, which hydrogen can power, are affordable, but inefficient and unreliable.
What do you think of this new refueling station and hydrogen-fueled combustion engine vehicles?
Posted: 22 Mar 2012 05:19 AM PDT
While some folks have been snickering at President Obama's enthusiasm for algae biofuel and casting the stinkeye on the Department of Defense’s alternative fuels program, the U.S. Navy has been quietly working on procuring a new jet biofuel that could be made from practically any kind of woody biomass, including soft woods and forest waste. Earlier this week the Navy announced that it has issued a contract for the Albemarle Corporation to supply the fuel, made from a feedstock provided by the company Cobalt Technologies.
From forest to jet biofuel
Cobalt has developed a low cost, high efficiency fermentation based process that uses a natural strain of bacteria to break down the sugar in woody biomass and convert it directly to butanol, a form of alcohol. Initial runs of the process have involved bagasse, the waste from sugar cane or sorghum processing. It can also work on food waste and softer biomass. The end result, n-butanol, is a drop-in replacement for gasoline.
As for the expense, Cobalt claims that its process costs up to 60 percent less than conventional methods for producing butanol from petroleum precursors.
Scaling up biobutanol production
The Navy's contract with Albemarle follows close on the heels of Cobalt's announcement earlier this month that a demonstration run of its process exceeded the performance metrics that would be expected from commercial scale production, which puts Cobalt on track for its ambitious goal of launching the world’s first industrial scale cellulosic biobutanol plant.
A hand up for U.S. biofuel companies
Cobalt’s eventual success will have been aided by the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The company has been testing and refining its process at NREL's Integrated Biorefinery Research Facility at the National Bioenergy complex in Colorado.
As described by NREL’s Partnership Development team leader John Ashworth, federal resources like NREL will play a key role in new technological advances needed to make the biofuel industry competitive, just as they have played a role in developing fossil fuel and nuclear energy technologies:
“NREL is dedicated to advancing the cleantech industry and continually look for ways to further the intellectual capital and clean technology endeavors across the country. Our bioprocessing fermentation facilities can be used by non-DOE academic institutions and companies like Cobalt Technologies to conduct test trials, prove technology or even advance technology processes.”
Posted: 21 Mar 2012 03:05 PM PDT
The following is an excellent short history of solar panels and solar power from guest contributor Dane Cross. I think you’ll thoroughly enjoy it — I did!
What do Archimedes, Einstein and Arnold Schwarzenegger all have in common? Answer: They've all contributed to the development of solar power.
From the 3rd Century BC when Archimedes fought off Roman ships by concentrating the suns rays at them with brass shields (they burst into flame), through work by some of the best known figures in the history of science, harnessing the power of the sun has long been a goal of human innovation. Let's look at some of the highlights:
1767 – The Solar Oven
Swiss physicist, alpine explorer, and aristocrat Horace de Saussure is credited with inventing the first working solar oven, amongst other discoveries. Constructed from 5 layers of glass and measuring around 12 inches across, the oven worked by allowing light to pass through the glass before being absorbed by the black lining and turned into heat. The heat is then reflected by the glass, therefore heating the space inside the box up to 87.5 degrees Celsius.
He wrote that “Fruits… exposed to this heat were cooked and became juicy.”
1839 – The Photovoltaic Effect
Edmond Bequerel, born in Paris in 1820, discovered that when two electrodes were placed in an electrolyte (electricity-conducting solution), a voltage developed when light fell upon the electrolyte. The basic principles of solar power had been uncovered.
1873 – Selenium
An English Electrical engineer, Willoughby Smith, discovered the photoconductivity of selenium entirely by accident. He was developing a method for continually testing underwater telegraph cables as they were being laid and chose selenium rods as a semi-conductor with high resistance for his test circuit. Although selenium appeared to be up to the job, inconsistent results kept occurring. Smith realised that the conductivity of selenium was affected by the amount of light it was exposed to. He described the effect in a paper published in Nature in February of that year.
1876 – Electricity from Light
A King's College Professor, William Grylls Adams, and his student, Richard Evans Day, found in 1876 that selenium produced electricity when exposed to light. They attached platinum electrodes to selenium and observed a current in the electrodes when the selenium was exposed to light. Although there was not enough electricity to power anything, they had shown that electricity could be generated from light without the use of any moving parts.
1883 – The First Working Solar Cell
American inventor Charles Fritts developed the first solar cell, applying selenium to a thin layer of gold. This method was only able to achieve 1% efficiency, making it impractical for general use.
1904 – Einstein's Paper on Light & Electrons
In the snappily titled "On a Heuristic Viewpoint Concerning the Production and Transformation of Light," Einstein set out for the first time the relationship between light and electrons. Although controversial at the time, it was gradually accepted by the scientific community and led to his winning of the Nobel Prize in 1921.
Later in 1916, Robert Millikan would experimentally prove Einstein's theory of the photoelectric effect.
1918 – Accidental Crystals
Jan Czochralski, a polish scientist, discovers a method for creating single-crystal silicon entirely by accident — he mistakenly dipped his pen in a crucible of molten tin rather than an inkwell. The result was a thin thread of solidified metal. Single-crystal semi-conductors and metals became important throughout electronics — their efficiency and stability not only contributing to the development of silicon solar cells, but also crucial to the creation of transistors for microprocessor units.
1954 – A Major Breakthrough
Three researchers at Bell Labs — Daryl Chapin, Calvin Fuller, and Gerald Pearson — discover silicon solar cells.
Chapin had for several years been experimenting with selenium-based solar cells but was unable to achieve an efficiency above 1% (for comparison, internal combustion achieves around 20%). At the same time, Fuller and Pearson were developing silicon transistors and found that one of these, when exposed to light, generated electricity. The three scientists joined forces and in 1954 presented their ‘solar battery’, powering a small toy windmill and a radio, at an efficiency of 6%. The key to this was their ability to diffuse boron into silicon, a process known as doping. This first solar cell was the size of a small coin, and although not commercially viable, is the basis for solar cell development ever since.
1956 — 213 Truman N.E., Albuquerque, NM
In the mid-50s, engineer Don Paxton and architect Frank Bridgers designed the world's first commercial solar building. Utilising a south-facing glass wall tilted to 30 degrees, alongside mechanical and "passive" solar technologies, the structure was well ahead of its time. Relying on mechanical solutions where computer control would nowadays be used, they achieved a remarkable level of efficiency through solar heating and thermal storage. The template that they created is still utilised in creating energy-efficient homes and commercial premises today.
Late 1950s – Increasing Efficiency
Throughout the late 50s, Hoffman electronics developed increasingly efficient solar cells. It started out initially at an 8%-efficient cell in 1957, before eventually increasing to a 14%-efficient, commercially available cell in 1960.
1950s and 60s – The Space Race
The burgeoning space industry's need for a sustainable power source in the earliest satellites led to investment and development in solar technology. Satellites such as Explorer VI and VII and the first telecommunications satellite Telstar 1 (launched by Bell Labs) utilised the most cutting edge (at the time) solar cells, achieving up to 14 watts from their photovoltaic arrays.
1970s – Commercial Viability
Despite the great advances over twenty years or so, solar technology was still too expensive to be commercially viable in terrestrial installations. In the early 70s, Dr. Elliot Berman (with funding from Exxon Corp.) designed a much lower cost solar cell, using lower-grade silicon and cheaper housings which brought the cost per watt down from $100 to just $20. Installations far from mains electricity (i.e. oil rigs) used the cells over expensive and cumbersome batteries, giving terrestrial solar technology the capital boost it needed to become a viable mainstream solution.
1972 – The Institute of Energy Conversion
The first laboratory dedicated to the development of PV research is established at the University of Delaware. A year later, this leads to one of the world's first PV-powered houses - ’Solar One’. Using the model known today as the solar ‘feed-in’, surplus electricity generated during the day is fed back into the grid, while at night the house can draw purchased power from the grid.
1977 – 500 Kilowatts and Counting
Photovoltaic manufacturing production exceeds 500 kilowatts for the first time
1978 – First Feed-In Tariff Implemented
The first form of feed-in tariff was implemented in the US in 1978 under President Jimmy Carter, after signing the National Energy Act (NEA). Its purpose was to encourage energy conservation and the development of new energy resources, including renewables such as solar, wind, and geothermal power.
1980s – Solar Hits the Mainstream
Throughout the 1980s, solar developments continued at apace. Thin-film solar cells allowed for smaller, cheaper, and more-efficient solar installations, on buildings, vehicles, and consumer items (such as hand-held calculators).
1982 – Solar-Powered Vehicles
German automobile manufacturer Volkswagen start testing solar PV arrays on the tops of Dasher station wagons. An array generate approximately 160 watts for the vehicle's ignition system.
1986 – Kramer Junction
World's largest solar thermal facility scheduled to be built in Kramer Junction, California. The facility consisted of rows of mirrors that concentrated energy from the sun into a system of pipes that circulated a heat transfer fluid. This fluid was then used to produce steam, which would power a conventional turbine with which to generate electricity.
1990s – Dawn of the Grid
First grid-supported photovoltaic system is completed and installed in Kerman, California by Pacific Gas & Electric, the world's first 'distributed power' effort.
1996 – Flight of the Icare
The Icare, which at the time was the world's most advanced solar-powered plane, flew over Germany in 1996. Over 3,000 super-efficient solar cells covered the wings and tail surfaces of the plane.
Later on that year, development began on Solar Two, an upgrade of its 1973 Solar One project. Solar Two was a huge advancement in that it demonstrated the ability to produce power even when the sun wasn't shining. This also helped foster commercial interest in power towers.
1999 – 32.3% Efficiency
Spectrolab, Inc. worked with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to develop a photovoltaic solar cell that converted 32.3 percent of received sunlight into electricity.
2000s — Largest Residential Solar Installation Complete
A family in Colorado installed largest residential installation to be registered under the 'Million Solar Roofs' program. The system is measured at 12 kilowatts, providing most of the energy for the 6,000-square-foot home.
2004 – One Million Solar Roofs
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger proposes Solar Roofs Initiative for one million solar roofs in California by 2017.
2006 — Polysilicon Use in Photovoltaics Exceeds All Other Polysilicon Use for the First Time
Contributing to this is the lower cost of manufacture than monocrystalline counterparts.
Later that year, new world record achieved in solar cell technology when a new solar cell breaks the "40 Percent Efficient" sunlight-to-electricity barrier.
2007 — 42.8% Efficiency
University of Delaware claims to achieve new world record of 42.8% in solar cell technology without independent confirmation.
2008 — CleanTechnica Launched
CleanTechnica starts publishing articles on cheap solar panels and solar power. (OK, maybe not as notable as the above.)
2008 and Beyond
Solar power has seen a huge surge in popularity as a renewable form of energy in recent years, largely attributable to government incentives such as feed-in tariffs. Whilst the amount that the homeowner is paid for each kilowatt is being reduced in a number of countries this year, other companies are jumping into the game, and the incentives still make a lot of sense in terms of finances and the environment.
The amount of research and investment in the technology itself continues at a lightning fast pace, with no shortage of engineers and innovators daring to take risks.
I’m sure this timeline will be extended far into the future.
Dane Cross is a freelance writer and green aficionado currently writing on behalf of Ardenham Energy, a UK based provider of solar panels and heat pumps.
Image: solar farm courtesy shutterstock
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