Wind TurbinesGoogle is going green.

Tech giant Google announced that it will run entirely on renewable energy in 2017. This will be a huge shift for the company that, according to the New York Times, consumed as much energy as the city of San Francisco in previous years.

Google states that both its data centers and offices will reach the 100 percent renewable energy mark in 2017, with the majority of power derived from wind and solar. According to a press release by the company, going green makes the most sense economically in addition to Google’s goal of reducing its carbon footprint to zero. With wind energy prices down 60 percent and solar down 80 percent over the past six years, Google’s move to renewables will both make an environmental impact and help the company cut operating expenses.

In part, Google is able to make this transition due to the number of large-scale deals the company has made with renewable energy producers over the past few years. Google has guaranteed to purchase energy from renewable start-ups, which then allows those start-ups to obtain the capital necessary to expand their business.

“We are the largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy in the world,” Joe Kava, Google’s senior vice president of technical infrastructure, told the New York Times. “It’s good for the economy, good for business and good for our shareholders.”

(more…)

PhotosynthesisResearchers from the University of California, Riverside recently combined photosynthesis and physics to make a key discovery that could lead to highly efficient solar cells.

Nathan Gabor, a physicist, began exploring photosynthesis when he asked himself a fundamental question in 2010: Why are plants green? This question probed him to combine his physics training with biology.
Over the past six years, Gabor has been rethinking energy conversion in light of these questions. His goal was to make solar cells that more efficiently absorb intermittent energy from the sun and increase past the current 20 percent efficiency. In this, he was inspired by the plants that had evolved over time to do exactly what he hoped solar cells would be able to do.

This from University of California, Riverside:

[The scientists] addressed the problem by designing a new type of quantum heat engine photocell, which helps manipulate the flow of energy in solar cells. The design incorporates a heat engine photocell that absorbs photons from the sun and converts the photon energy into electricity.

Surprisingly, the researchers found that the quantum heat engine photocell could regulate solar power conversion without requiring active feedback or adaptive control mechanisms. In conventional photovoltaic technology, which is used on rooftops and solar farms today, fluctuations in solar power must be suppressed by voltage converters and feedback controllers, which dramatically reduce the overall efficiency.

Read the full article.

At the core of the research, Gabor and his team are looking to connect quantum mechanical structure to the greenest plants.

Wind TurbinesRenewable energy efforts around the world have grown exponentially over the past few years. Countries such as Japan have developed the world’s largest floating solar project, initiatives like Solar Hope are working to provide clean energy to sub-Saharan Africa, and Hawaii is leading the charge in the U.S. with its commitment to 100 percent clean energy by 2045. Now, the Netherlands has marked a new milestone in renewables by implementing a total of 2,200 wind turbines.

According to Dutch News, the turbines in the Netherlands produce enough energy to power 2.4 million households.

However, the 3,379 megawatts of power produced by the turbines is only a third of what the Netherlands needs to meet the European Unions’ energy 2023 energy targets. But Gijs van Kuik, head of the Wind Energy Institute at Delft University, believes that the Netherlands is still on track to meet these goals due to recent developments in offshore wind farms.

By: Mark Barteau, University of Michigan

OilPresident…Donald…Trump. For those on both sides of the aisle who vowed “Never Trump!,” that’s going to take some getting used to. On this morning after a stunning election, the first impulse may be to describe the future in apocalyptic phrases. Game over for the climate! Game over for NATO! Game over for the Clean Power Plan! Game over for Planned Parenthood!

While there are certainly extreme outcomes possible for these and many other issues that divide our nation, we may see some moderation, especially on matters where the divisions do not rigidly follow ideological fault lines.

Of course, the president-elect himself is famous neither for hewing to right wing orthodoxy nor for consistency between his various pronouncements. As he has said: “I like to be unpredictable.”

But make no mistake, in the energy and climate space Trump’s number one priority is to dismantle the Obama legacy as he sees it. And he sees it largely through the lens of organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Petroleum Institute, pro-fossil fuel organizations severely allergic to regulations.

A prime target is the Environmental Protection Agency and its regulation of greenhouse gases via the Clean Power Plan and methane emissions measures, which are described as “job killers.”

Fossil fuel revolution

The Clean Power Plan, which sets limits on carbon emissions from power plants, has been stayed by the courts for the moment, but one should not forget that EPA’s responsibility to regulate CO2 emissions under the Clean Air Act was affirmed by the Supreme Court. This sets up a potential conflict among the executive, legislative and judicial branches.

President Trump and a Republican-controlled Congress may hollow out and handcuff the EPA, but EPA’s responsibility to regulate greenhouse gases will remain unless existing law is modified by Congress or by a Court returned to full strength with Trump appointees.

(more…)

Mark Glick speaking at the 6th International ECS Electrochemical Energy Summit.

Mark Glick speaking at the 6th International ECS Electrochemical Energy Summit.

Global investments in renewable energy have continued to grow over the past five years, exceeding $329 billion in 2015. As technological solutions that drive down costs continue to emerge, more countries are adopting standards to encourage the growth of renewable energy. In the United States, Hawaii is looking to set the standard in clean, sustainable energy for the entire country.

During the October PRiME 2016 meeting in Honolulu, HI, policy makers and researchers from around the world came together for the 6th International ECS Electrochimical Energy Summit, focused on Recent Progress in Renewable Energy Generation, Distribution, and Storage.

“For us, it’s important that we continue to bring the opinion leaders as well as the leading scientists and researchers to Hawaii because we believe that we’re the center of a lot of important activity,” Mark Glick, summit moderator and Hawaii State Energy Office Administrator, tells ECS. “There’s nothing more exciting to demonstrate relevancy than to have the leading scientists in the world in the largest research conference of its kind come to Hawaii.”

One hundred percent renewable standard

Since 2008, Hawaii has been on the cutting-edge of the renewable energy industry in the United States. As oil prices rocketed from $74.44 to $102 a barrel (inflation adjusted), the state found itself in a unique position to commit to greater utilization of renewable energy sources.

“After the oil price shock, we decided we needed to change our course,” Glick says. “So we set forth a renewable portfolio standard. At that time, we aimed for 40 percent renewable energy by 2030. Since then, we’ve been so successful at getting ahead of the curve on that renewable portfolio standard.”

(more…)

Last week, EV superpower Tesla announced its latest product: roof tiles with built-in solar cells. By merging technological performance with aesthetics, Tesla hopes to offer consumers solutions to make their homes more energy self-sufficient.

Using PV roofing material instead of traditional rooftop solar panels helps the company consolidate costs. According to Tesla CEO Elon Musk, there are between four and five million new roofs constructed in the United States each year, which gives him a broad market.

Musk says that the roof tiles have the potential to integrate with Tesla’s Powerwall battery as well as the company’s electric cars, providing customers new, interconnected energy experiences. The CEO claims that roofs made from the new solar material would last up to three times as long as a typical 20-year-cycle roof and be more impact resistant.

However, critics of Tesla’s latest move highlight potential issues related to many different factors, including: location, energy storage capabilities, the practicality and cost of replacing a roof, and the difficulty in integrating PV technology into infrastructure. Tesla has not specified the technology behind their solar cells, but have claimed that they achieve 98 percent of the efficiency of traditional solar panels.

TeslaOne year ago Tesla Motors announced plans to build its Gigafactory to produce huge numbers of batteries, giving life to the old saying, “if you want something done right, do it yourself.”

By making electric car batteries that Tesla used to buy from others, CEO Elon Musk adopted a strategy made famous by Henry Ford – build a vertically integrated company that controls the many stages of production. By integrating “backward” into its supply chain, Musk is betting Tesla can improve the performance and lower the costs of batteries for its vehicles.

Now, Musk wants Tesla to acquire SolarCity for similar reasons, but with a slightly different twist.

SolarCity is one of the largest installers of solar photovoltaic panels, with some 300,000 residential, commercial and industrial customers in 27 states. The proposed merger with SolarCity would vertically integrate Tesla forward, as opposed to backward, into the supply chain. That is, when people come to Tesla stores to buy a vehicle, they will be able to arrange installation of solar panels – and potentially home batteries – at the same time.

This latest move would bring Tesla one step closer to being the fully integrated provider of sustainable energy solutions for the masses that Elon Musk envisions. But does it make business sense?

The real issue in my mind comes down to batteries and innovation.

Creating demand and scale

Although installing batteries is not a big part of SolarCity’s current business, the company is a potentially large consumer of Tesla’s batteries from the Gigafactory. Tesla makes Powerwall batteries for homes and larger Powerpack systems for commercial and industrial customers.

Any increase in the flow of batteries through the factory gives Tesla better economies of scale and potential for innovation. Innovation comes with the accumulated experience gained from building a key component of its electric vehicles as well as Tesla’s energy storage systems. As the company manufactures more batteries, it will find ways to innovate around battery design and production.

(more…)

HydrogenWith hydrogen power stations in California, a new Japanese consumer car and portable hydrogen fuel cells for electronics, hydrogen as a zero emission fuel source is now finally becoming a reality for the average consumer. When combined with oxygen in the presence of a catalyst, hydrogen releases energy and bonds with the oxygen to form water.

The two main difficulties preventing us from having hydrogen power everything we have are storage and production. At the moment, hydrogen production is energy-intensive and expensive. Normally, industrial production of hydrogen requires high temperatures, large facilities and an enormous amount of energy. In fact, it usually comes from fossil fuels like natural gas – and therefore isn’t actually a zero-emission fuel source. Making the process cheaper, efficient and sustainable would go a long way toward making hydrogen a more commonly used fuel.

An excellent – and abundant – source of hydrogen is water. But chemically, that requires reversing the reaction in which hydrogen releases energy when combining with other chemicals. That means we have to put energy into a compound, to get the hydrogen out. Maximizing the efficiency of this process would be significant progress toward a clean-energy future.

One method involves mixing water with a helpful chemical, a catalyst, to reduce the amount of energy needed to break the connections between hydrogen and oxygen atoms. There are several promising catalysts for hydrogen generation, including molybdenum sulfide, graphene and cadmium sulfate. My research focuses on modifying the molecular properties of molybdenum sulfide to make the reaction even more effective and more efficient.

Making hydrogen

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, but it’s rarely available as pure hydrogen. Rather, it combines with other elements to form a great many chemicals and compounds, such as organic solvents like methanol, and proteins in the human body. Its pure form, H₂, can used as a transportable and efficient fuel.

(more…)

Wind powerNew research shows another step forward in the goal of developing energy storage systems robust enough to store such intermittent sources as wind and solar on a large-scale.

Their work explores the opportunities in solid oxide cells (SOCs), which the group believes to be one of the best prospects in energy storage due to their high efficiency and wide range of scales.

ECS member John Irvine and his team from the University of St. Andrews have set out to overcome traditional barriers in this technology, developing a new method of electrochemical switching to simplify the manufacturing of the electrodes needed to deliver high, long-lasting energy activity.

This from the University of St. Andrews:

The results demonstrate a new way to produce highly active and stable nanostructures – by growing electrode nanoarchitectures under operational conditions. This opens exciting new possibilities for activating or reinvigorating fuel cells during operation.

(more…)

Meet the E2S Keynote Speakers

e2slogoThe upcoming PRiME 2016 meeting will feature the 6th International ECS Electrochemical Energy Summit (E2S), focused on Recent Progress in Renewable Energy Generation, Distribution and Storage. The summit, taking place on Oct. 2, 2016 at the Hawaii Convention Center, will highlight speakers from around the world to discuss advancements happening in these critical fields.

This year’s keynote speakers include Robert K. Dixon, U.S. Department of Energy; Eiji Ohira, New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO); and Won-Young Lee, Korea Institute of Energy Research (KIER).

Robert K. Dixon’s career has revealed around advancing efforts to mitigate climate change and other global environmental protection. His work as the Director of the Office of Strategic Programs at the U.S. DOE has allowed Dixon to oversee energy policy and analysis, international outreach and communications, and moving new technologies to the marketplace.

Eiji Ohira joined NEDO in 1992, where he has been the acting project manager for the organization’s hydrogen and fuel cell technology R&D program since April 2013. Additionally, Ohira is NEDO’s project manager for its energy storage technology R&D program.

Won-Young Lee became KIER’s Director of the Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Division in 2008. Since that appointment, Lee has focused on the development and commercialization of fuel cell systems and established the fuel cell test and evaluation center. Additionally, Lee has served as an advisory member on new and renewable energy technologies for the Korean government.

Learn more about these keynote speakers and register for PRiME 2016 today!