Posts tagged research

Solar Power While You Sleep

Idaho National Lab Solar Cell

Look like the future of solar?  Researchers at Idaho National Laboratory think so.  This sheet of plastic is covered with millions of nano-scale collectors that reach potential efficiencies of up to 80%!  That blows current solar technologies out of the water.  And it’s cheaper to make these cells, too.   They use common ingredients and can be printed on flexible plastics, like bags.  Now, you ready for the good news?  (yeah, it get’s better)  These nano-antennae are tuned into infrared energy, which is radiated down on us all day by the sun and re-radiated back from the Earth at night.  Which translates to the fact that these solar collectors don’t need their beauty sleep like regular solar cells.  They pull overtime, day in and day out.  Only problem?  They haven’t figured out how to convert the energy into something useful by humans… yet.  Well, when you get that covered, guys, put me on the customer list!

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Powered by…You!

Here’s an amazing, “why didn’t someone think of it before” idea. Of course, it’s from the ever smart and innovative students of MIT. (Side plug, if you’re ever looking for some great reading, check out MIT’s Technology Review, available online or in stores. It’s loaded with cutting-edge and interesting ideas for the future)Basically, this idea takes the power of human gravity and converts it to usable energy.

Yep. It’s that simple. What I want to see is a super-charged home version of the system, so you can actually power your home as you run around after your dog (or kids), for instance. Visit their site for more info.

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Crowd farming

How can we find alternative energy from simple human movement? Well, the idea for this alternative energy source came from a pair of MIT students Tad Juscyzk and James Graham. The duo announced their ideas at the Holcim Forum 2007 awards ceremony where they won top honors.

The project seeks to convert the energy of human movement in places where it is abundant and dense, like in urban settings, to energy suitable for consumer use. Juscyzk and Graham’s crowd farm was based in Boston’s South Station terminal. The floor of this popular railway destination would contain a responsive sub-flooring system made up of blocks. These nodes would depress slightly when stepped upon and would be in station’s main lobby. The friction of the blocks as people walked would generate power through a dynamo, or a device converting energy of motion to this new form of alternative energy.

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2007: an Analysis of the Renewable Power Industry

Consider these facts, taken from the Renewables 2007 Global Status Report:

  • Renewable electricity generation capacity reached an estimated 240 gigawatts (GW) worldwide in 2007, an increase of 50 percent over 2004. Renewables represent 5 percent of global power capacity and 3.4 percent of global power generation. (Figures exclude large hydropower, which itself was 15 percent of global power generation.)

  • Renewable energy generated as much electric power worldwide in 2006 as one-quarter of the world’s nuclear power plants, not counting large hydropower. (And more than nuclear counting large hydropower.)

  • The largest component of renewables generation capacity is wind power, which grew by 28 percent worldwide in 2007 to reach an estimated 95 GW. Annual capacity additions increased even more: 40 percent higher in 2007 compared to 2006.

  • The fastest growing energy technology in the world is grid-connected solar photovoltaics (PV), with 50 percent annual increases in cumulative installed capacity in both 2006 and 2007, to an estimated 7.7 GW. This translates into 1.5 million homes with rooftop solar PV feeding into the grid worldwide.

  • Rooftop solar heat collectors provide hot water to nearly 50 million households worldwide, and space heating to a growing number of homes. Existing solar hot water/heating capacity increased by 19 percent in 2006 to reach 105 gigawatts-thermal (GWth) globally.

Alternative Energy is (very) ready for its time in the spotlight.  With the quick adoption rates that these numbers reflect, one can only wonder how long it will be until 50 or even 75% of our power could be renewable.

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Deep Economy

Here’s an excerpt from an interview with Bill McKibben, a local energy production advocate. He has just released a book called Deep Economy on the topic. Read more at

We can get off our power grids
For decades, our model for generating power has been highly centralized: We produce electricity in a few huge centralized power plants and then ship it around the country via a network of wires. As long as you don’t worry about the side effects, such as carbon emissions, and as long as you have abundant fuel to run it on, then you can provide relatively cheap electricity, and the few people who own the plants can make a great deal of money.

And — partly because of the lobbying power of these big players — most attempts to “fix” the energy sector to deal with global warming or peak oil involve marginally improving these giant, centralized plants: For instance, subsidizing utilities to explore “clean coal” plants that might someday capture carbon emissions and pump them into old mines for storage. The federal government also underwrites loads of research on nuclear power, because reactors, despite their ruinous expense, fit neatly into the familiar centralized scheme.

We may need some such technologies in the years ahead; the fight to slow carbon emissions is so desperate that it’s wrong to rule anything out, especially as a bridge toward some better future.

But that future’s more exciting possibilities lie elsewhere, in smaller community-scale power systems.”

Chock full of good reasons for you to go solar today!

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