Posted: 10 Jun 2012 09:40 AM PDT
The 17-member European Monetary Union (euro zone) has been front-and-center in the media again of late as sovereign and banking sector debt problems persist. Following in the footsteps of Greece, Ireland and Portgual, Spain this weekend became the latest euro zone “periphery” member to seek EU aid as it seeks to shore up banks ailing from a hangover of bad loans made during the country’s housing and property boom.
Euro zone leaders, led by Germany, have taken on a strictly hard-line, austerity-driven approach to trying to solve the debt crisis. Calls for EU leaders to augment emergency measures taken to date with pro-growth actions have become increasingly strident as it’s become increasingly clear that strong, strict austerity measures alone is threatening these weaker euro zone members with economic depression. Such calls gained strength with the recent election of Francois Hollande as France’s president.
Renewable energy, smart grid and clean tech offer avenues for EU leaders to implement just the sort of pro-growth measures that can stand the euro zone, and broader global economy and environment, in good stead in both the short- and long-term, according to a group of European economists and scientists.
A Debt-for-Renewables Swap
Enacting concession programs to stimulate investment in renewable energy projects– including large-scale and distributed wind, solar, geothermal, waste-to-energy, biogas, marine and other clean, renewable resources– offers weaker, euro zone periphery countries the opportunity for economic expansion, which will help them reduce bad debts– while also benefiting society and the environment, the group asserts in a June 4 article published in the Netherlands’ NRC Handelsblad.
The linchpin of the renewable energy stimulus-debt reduction program would be to convert existing debts into renewable energy concessions.
“For Portugal, with 78 billion Euro debt, this would be 1,000 square kilometer or one percent of its total territory. And Greece with a 210 billion debt would amount up to 2,800 square kilometer which is two percent of Greek territory. The energy projects don't have to exclusively be large-scale and on a few big pieces of land. They could capitalize on vast opportunities for decentralized energy locally as well.”
The Way is Clear, What’s needed is the Will
The authors propose the establishment of a special-purpose investment vehicle just for this purpose through which “creditors should be able to exert their concession rights by financing their renewable energy projects at a low interest rate with the European Investment Bank (EIB),” NKNE writes.
This would dovetail very nicely with the EU’s drive to reduce carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions, improve environmental sustainability and reduce fossil fuel consumption. It’s also eminently practical from an operational perspective, as renewable energy projects, like all energy infrastructure, tend to require a lot of capital up-front and very low operating costs over their life cycles, particularly in the case of renewables, where the cost of fuel for such resources as solar, wind and geothermal energy are free, the authors point out.
The pieces are all there; they just need to be put in place, they argue.
Watch this video interview from New Energy TV for more.
Posted: 10 Jun 2012 07:10 AM PDT
Despite its economic travails, Spain has continued to ramp up its position as a global solar power leader. In the latest development, the Catalonia Institute for Energy Research (IREC) has announced that it will undertake a three-year research project aimed at producing low cost solar cells using a new approach previously developed by IBM, which uses common substances known as kesterites like zinc, iron and tin rather than rare (and expensive) elements like indium.
IBM pushes low cost solar power
The use of kesterite materials to produce low cost thin-film solar cells has already been the subject of intensive research by IBM. Like Facebook, Google and other tech companies, IBM is becoming heavily invested in solar power, with the added advantage of leveraging its microprocessor engineering experience to develop new products.
Though less efficient than conventional silicon solar cells, thin-film technology has the potential to provide cost savings and a greater range of applications.
In 2010, IBM announced that it had developed thin film solar cells using the readily available elements zinc, copper, tin, and selenium.
The new cell achieved a conversion efficiency of 9.6 percent, a vast improvement over previous attempts at using low cost materials.
More importantly, the new cell nudged into the efficiency range of more expensive indium and cadmium based cells, which at the time had reached 9 to 11 percent.
To top it off, IBM designed its cell to be produced through a process compatible with high volume, low cost fabrication methods including printing, spraying or dipping. Those processes eliminate the need for the vacuum equipment used in conventional thin film production, which is far more expensive.
IREC and low cost solar cells
IREC’s new project, called SCALENANO, refers to the use of nanoparticles in a liquid, which enables the use of printing and other low-cost manufacturing processes.
The project’s initial goal is to lower the cost of solar cells by demonstrating that indium-based cells (called CIGS, for copper indium gallium diselenide) can be manufactured using low cost printing processes.
Ultimately, the project aims to build on IBM’s research and demonstrate the commercial viability of printable solar cells based on kesterites.
The goal is a promising one, as little seems to have changed since 2010. According to IREC:
“…research-level CIGS cells have been shown to have an efficiency of more than 20%. But in commercial production the story is different: even the most advanced CIGS cells today have a maximum efficiency of only around 13%, and must be produced using costly vacuum equipment.”
In addition to academic partners from the UK, Germany, Luxembourg, Italy, Switzerland and France, the projects commercial partners include Merck, IMPT (a materials deposition company based in the UK), the Hungarian metrology firm Semilab and NEXCIS. NEXCIS, a startup in the CIGS field, is a French company with connections to the state-owned energy company EDF.
Image: Beryl-Kesteriteby Robert Lavinsky via wikipedia.org.
Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.
(note: “Robert "Rob" Lavinsky, PhD (view his biography on minrec.org) donated his complete picture database on mindat.org, as well as all his pictures from his own homepage irocks.com (collected in several galleries respectively alphabetically sorted by mineral name).
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