12 Years to Limit Climate Change

Twelve. That’s how many years scientists predict are left to further prevent the consequences of climate change, before each half degree leads to worsening conditions, including risks of drought, floods, and extreme heat, according to UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Devastating hurricanes in the U.S., record droughts in Cape Town, and forest fires in the Arctic are already revealing the current effects of global warming, the IPCC report says,  warning that every fraction of additional warming could worsen the impact.

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Wind turbines, the ideal alternative to burning fossil fuels: plentiful, renewable, clean energy. Or is it?

A recent study is forcing us to take a closer look at this green energy alternative, according to ScienceDaily. Extracting energy from large-scale wind farms has the potential to warm the Continental United States by 0.24 degrees Celsius, due to the wind turbine’s redistribution of heat in the atmosphere.

At the end of the day really, all large-scale energy systems have environmental impacts. But, the ability to compare the impacts of renewable energy sources is an important step in planning a future. Extracting energy from the wind causes climatic impacts that are small compared to current projections of 21st century warming, but large compared to the effect of reducing U.S. electricity emissions to zero with solar. (more…)

Solar Panels: Dirty Air, Low Energy

According to Science News for Students, air pollution is taking a toll on solar energy.

Air contaminants are sticking to the surfaces of solar panels, preventing light from reaching the solar cells below, and reducing the production of electricity. Not only are these consequences costly environmentally, they’re also quite costly economically.

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A Carbon-Free California

According to The Conversation, California Governor Jerry Brown has signed a new law committing to make the Golden State the state 100 percent carbon-free by 2045.

The new law is comprised of multiple targets, committing California to draw half its electricity from renewable sources by 2026, and then to 60 percent by 2030.

California’s mission to stop relying on fossil fuels for energy has been a longtime goal in the making. Since 2010, utility-scale solar and wind electricity in California increased from 3 percent to 18 percent in 2017, exceeding expected targets, due to solar prices drop in recent years. In 2011, Brown signed a law committing the state to derive a third of its energy from renewable sources like wind and solar power by 2020. And in 2017, about 56 percent of the power California generated came from non-carbon emitting sources, placing state over halfway to their goal for 2045.

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SolarResearchers have proposed three different methods for providing consistent power in 139 countries using 100 percent renewable energy.

The inconsistencies of power produced by wind, water, and sunlight and the continuously fluctuating demand for energy often hinder renewable energy solutions. In a new paper, which appears in Renewable Energy, the researchers outline several solutions to making clean power reliable enough for all energy sectors—transportation; heating and cooling; industry; and agriculture, forestry, and fishing—in 20 world regions after all sectors have converted to 100 percent clean, renewable energy.

The researchers previously developed roadmaps for transitioning 139 countries to 100 percent clean, renewable energy by 2050 with 80 percent of that transition completed by 2030. The present study examines ways to keep the grid stable with these roadmaps.

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SolarOne year ago, the Chinese government’s energy agency made a long-term commitment to the development of renewable energy sources, investing more than $360 billion in an effort to shift away from coal-powered energy. Now, the country is following through on those promises, paving the way to becoming the global leader in the overall development of clean energy technology.

According to a new report from the Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), China has continued to grow its clean energy sector in 2017, installing over 50 GW of solar-powered generation.

“The clean energy market is growing at a rapid pace and China is setting itself up as a global technology leader while the U.S. government looks the other way,” said Tim Buckley, co-author of the report. “Although China isn’t necessarily intending to fill the climate leadership void left by the U.S. withdrawal from Paris, it will certainly be very comfortable providing technology leadership and financial capacity so as to dominate fast-growing sectors such as solar energy, electric vehicles, and batteries.”

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SolarEngineers working to make solar cells more cost effective ended up finding a method for making sonar-like collision avoidance systems in self-driving cars.

The twin discoveries started, the researchers say, when they began looking for a solution to a well-known problem in the world of solar cells.

Solar cells capture photons from sunlight in order to convert them into electricity. The thicker the layer of silicon in the cell, the more light it can absorb, and the more electricity it can ultimately produce. But the sheer expense of silicon has become a barrier to solar cost-effectiveness.

So the engineers figured out how to create a very thin layer of silicon that could absorb as many photons as a much thicker layer of the costly material. Specifically, rather than laying the silicon flat, they nanotextured the surface of the silicon in a way that created more opportunities for light particles to be absorbed.

Their technique increased photon absorption rates for the nanotextured solar cells compared to traditional thin silicon cells, making more cost-effective use of the material.

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

Renewable grideScience is messy, but it doesn’t have to be dirty.

On June 19, a group of respected energy researchers released a paper in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that critiqued a widely cited study on how to power the U.S. using only renewable energy sources. This new paper, authored by former NOAA researcher Christopher Clack and a small army of academics, said that the initial 2015 study had “errors, inappropriate methods and implausible assumptions,” about using only the sun, wind and water to fuel the U.S.

What followed was a storm of debate as energy wonks of all stripes weighed in on the merits of the PNAS analysis. Mark Z. Jacobson, a Stanford University professor who was the lead author of the 2015 study, shot back with detailed rebuttals, in one calling his fellow researchers “fossil fuel and nuclear supporters.”

Why the big kerfuffle? As an energy researcher who studies the technologies and policies for modernizing our energy system, I will try to explain.

In general, getting to a clean energy system – even if it’s 80 percent renewable – is a well agreed-upon goal and one that can be achieved; it’s that last 20 percent – and how to get there – that forms the main point of contention here.

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SolarA newly created material may have the capacity to double the efficiency of solar cells.

Conventional solar cells are at most one-third efficient, a limit known to scientists as the Shockley-Queisser Limit. The new material, a crystalline structure that contains both inorganic materials (iodine and lead) and an organic material (methyl-ammonium), boosts the efficiency so that it can carry two-thirds of the energy from light without losing as much energy to heat.

In less technical terms, this material could double the amount of electricity produced without a significant cost increase, according to the new study in Science.

Enough solar energy reaches the earth to supply all of the planet’s energy needs multiple times over, but capturing that energy has been difficult—as of 2013, only about 1 percent of the world’s grid electricity was produced from solar panels.

The new material, called a hybrid perovskite, would create solar cells thinner than conventional silicon solar cells, and is also flexible, cheap, and easy to make, says Libai Huang, assistant professor of chemistry at Purdue University.

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Water purificationAccess to adequate water and sanitation is a major obstacle that impacts nations across the globe. Currently 1 in 10 people – or 663 million – lack access to safe water. Due to the global water crisis, more than 1.5 billion people are affected by water-related diseases every year. However, many of those disease causing organisms could be removed from water with hydrogen peroxide, but production and distribution of hydrogen peroxide is a challenge in many parts of the world that struggle with this crisis.

Now, a team of researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University have develop a small device that can produce hydrogen peroxide with a little help from renewable energy sources (i.e. conventional solar panels).

“The idea is to develop an electrochemical cell that generates hydrogen peroxide from oxygen and water on site, and then use that hydrogen peroxide in groundwater to oxidize organic contaminants that are harmful for humans to ingest,” says Chris Hahn, a SLAC scientist.

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