New energy system prototype from Chalmers University that can store the sun’s energy for up to 18 years. Image by: Chalmers University of Technology

According to Science Alert, scientists have recently figured out a way to store solar power for up to 18 years.

It’s made possible with a specialised fluid, called a solar thermal fuel, that’s catching the attention of numerous investors, according to the research team at the Chalmers University of Technology working on the project. (more…)

By: Joshua D. Rhodes, University of Texas at Austin

Solar panelsEditor’s note: On Jan. 22, 2018, the Trump administration announced plans to impose punitive duties on solar panels imported from abroad. This decision came in response to a complaint filed by two solar companies, but much of the industry opposes the action, which trade groups say will increase the cost of solar projects and depress demand. To illustrate what’s at stake, energy scholar Joshua Rhodes provides some context on the U.S. solar industry and its opportunities and challenges.

How big is the U.S. solar industry, and what is its growth trajectory?

The U.S. solar industry generated US$154 billion in economic activity in 2016, including direct sales, wages, salaries, benefits, taxes and fees. Its revenues have grown from $42 million in 2007 to $210 million in 2017.

About 25 percent of total new power plant capacity installed in 2017 came from solar. Total installed U.S. solar capacity is over 50 gigawatts – the equivalent generating capacity of 50 commercial nuclear reactors.


Chemically Storing Solar Power

Solar Chemical Energy

UV light can now be stored at much higher temperatures thanks to the development of a photo-electrochemical cell.
Image: Advanced Functional Materials

A new photo-electrochemical cell has been developed with the potential to chemically store the sun’s energy at high temperatures.

It’s a concept pulled directly from nature: plants absorb sunlight and store it chemically. While the concept is simple, replicating it on a large scale has proven quite difficult.

Current photovoltaic technology can convert sunlight to electricity, but as temperatures increase, the solar cell efficiency consequently decreases.

Storage at high temperatures

The new concept developed by scientists at Vienna University of Technology looks to overcome these issues. Through a combination of specialized new materials, researchers were able to combine high temperature photovoltaics with an electrochemical cell.

From that point, the sun’s rays can be directly used to pump oxygen ions through a solid oxide electrolyte and the UV light is subsequently stored chemically. This breakthrough allows for the system to work at higher temperatures than ever before.

Mirroring a concept from nature

“This would allow us to concentrate sunlight with mirrors and build large-scale plants with a high rate of efficiency,” said Georg Brunauer, lead author of the study. “Our cell consists of two different parts – a photoelectric part on top and an electrochemical part below. In the upper layer, ultraviolet light creates free charge carriers, just like in a standard solar cell.”

Researchers hope this could lead the splitting water and the production of hydrogen.

“We want to understand the origin of these effects by carrying out a few more experiments, and we hope that we will be able to improve our materials even further,” Brunauer said. “This goal is within reach, now that we have shown that the cell is working.”

Morocco has officially opened the Noor I power plan — a massive solar power plant in the Sahara Desert that is poised to provide renewable energy to more than one million Moroccans.

Projects show the Noor I power plants with the capability of generating up to 160 megawatts of power. Thousands of solar panels cover an expansive piece of the desert, making it one of the world’s biggest solar thermal power plants.

But Morocco is well on the way to developing the single largest solar power production facility in the world, with Noor II and Noor III already underway.

This from NPR:

Morocco currently relies on imported sources for 97 percent of its energy consumption, according to the World Bank, which helped fund the Noor power plant project. Investing in renewable energy will make Morocco less reliant on those imports as well as reduce the nation’s long-term carbon emissions by millions of tons.

Read the full article.

Because of the climate in the Sahara Desert, the systems will work by capturing the sun’s energy as heat and converting water into steam, thus turning the turbines.

This differs from a traditional photovoltaic system, where the thermal system carries the ability to function without direct sunlight. Additionally, energy storage technologies are not necessary for evening use.

First Solar-Powered Bike Lane in Netherlands

SolaRoad coverts sunlight on the road surface into electricity: the road network works as an inexhaustible source of green power.Credit: SolaRoad

SolaRoad converts sunlight on the road surface into electricity: the road network works as an inexhaustible source of green power.
Credit: SolaRoad

A solar-powered cycle path – called SolaRoad – has been unveiled in the Netherlands. The path can generate enough electricity to power three households, reports BBC.

The new path has been installed in Kormmenie, which is 25 kilometers from Amsterdam. While the path is currently 70 meters long, it will be extended to 100 meters by 2016.

Dr. Sten de Wit from SolaRoad believes that this is just the beginning for solar-powered paths. Dr. de Wit foresees solar roads eventually being used to power the electric vehicles that use them, similar to Dutch developer Heijmans and designer Daan Roosegaard in their “smart highway.”


Engineers at UC San Diego have developed a nanoparticle-based material for concentrating solar power plants that converts 90% of captured sunlight to heat. With particle sizes ranging from 10 nanometers to 10 micrometers, the multiscale structure traps and absorbs light more efficiently and at temperatures greater than 700 degrees Celsius.Credit: Renkun Chen, Mechanical Engineering Professor, UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering

Engineers at UC San Diego have developed a nanoparticle-based material for concentrating solar power plants that converts 90% of captured sunlight to heat.
Credit: Renkun Chen, Mechanical Engineering Professor, UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering

An engineering team from the University of California, San Diego, has developed a new nanoparticle-based material for concentrating solar power. The new research, which has been funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot program and published in the journal Nano Energy, aims to convert 90 percent of captured light into heat and make solar costs more competitive.

The new material will be able to withstand temperatures greater than 700° Celsius and can survive many years outdoors, despite exposure to humidity.

“We wanted to create a material that absorbs sunlight that doesn’t let any of it escape. We want the black hole of sunlight,” said Sungho Jin, a professor in the department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering.

This from the University of California, San Diego:

The novel material features a “multiscale” surface created by using particles of many sizes ranging from 10 nanometers to 10 micrometers. The multiscale structures can trap and absorb light which contributes to the material’s high efficiency when operated at higher temperatures.

Read the full article here.

Head over to our Digital Library and read more research by Sungho Jin, one of the developers of the Silicon boride-coated nanoshell material.

It’s a good day for renewable resources.

According to a jointly written report of solar photovoltaic systems (PV) pricing trends from the Energy Department’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), prices have dropped by 12 to 19 percent nationwide in 2013.

The report goes on to state that prices are expected to drop an additional 3 to 12 percent in 2014. The variation in percentage is dependent on the system location and market segment.