Solar breakthroughs by the dozen but what of the future?

idea rocket

The breakthroughs just keep on comin’

This week two news items have proved that innovation in the solar energy sector is not only alive and humming but well on the way to shaping our energy future. The first is based on nothing new. Indeed it was originally proposed in a 1941 story by science fiction author Isaac Asimov.

With climate change now threatening our very survival as a species — according to the more downbeat of scientific studies — and with a general lack of political will to do anything about it, it may take something completely from left field to save the planet. Enter solar energy and the Asimov proposal.

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Major CSIRO solar breakthrough underlines ARENA’s worth

CSIRO solar tower with mirror array.

These mirrors at CSIRO in Newcastle can focus the sun to create superheated steam. That is the same pressure and temperature of steam that a coal or nuclear fired power plant creates. Amazing. Picture credit: CSIRO

Further evidence emerged this week from the CSIRO of the value of the embattled Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) to the nation. ARENA, you may well recall, is at the centre of the current government’s ideological campaign against renewable energy with its very existence now in doubt through savage proposed budget cuts.

The breakthrough was the successful heating of steam to a supercritical temperature using solar energy. Supercritical steam is very high temperature and high pressure steam, that is needed to run electricity generating turbines efficiently. Essentially this means that we can now use the sun to drive conventional electricity turbines, like those found in a coal fired or even nuclear power station. This development has the potential to be a “gamechanger” in the way we generate electricity, according to the CSIRO. [Read more…]

Solar power innovation (part two): solar power satellites

astronaut from the 60s

Image from NASA (click image to see original on Wired.com)

Last week we took the quantum leap into the inestimably small applications of solar power innovation by bringing you up to date on quantum dots and solar windows. The article was a solar squizz at how the latest developments in nano technology have brought the concept of windows as solar panels just that one tantalisingly step closer. [Read more…]

Solar panel innovation (part one): quantum dots and solar windows

quantum dots

Quantum dots embedded in plastic film can capture sunlight and make windows into cheap solar panels. Credit: Los Alamos National Laboratory

Both ends of solar panel innovation are covered in this and next week’s solar rants readers. These courtesy of heads ups provided by our very own Finn Peacock and SolarQuotes reader and follower Sad Clownfish.

By both ends I mean solar power from the impossibly small to the…well stratospheric.

Let me explain. [Read more…]

Has Finn got it hopelessly wrong on thin film solar?

finn in dunce's hat

Should we let him out of the dunce’s corner?

The world record for thin film solar cell efficiency recently announced by First Solar (17 percent thank you very much) has got the solar movers and shakers sitting up and taking notice. Even our very own Finn Peacock was seen nodding his head sagely at the news over his solar-powered coffee last week.

Long a supporter of crystalline solar panels over thin film solar the recent advancements have got Finn thinking he may have been too harsh in the past. For an insight into where Finn’s mind was at on the subject a few years ago, read this hard-hitting 29/12/2011 article.

But has our Finn been completely won over by the world record solar cell efficiency of thin film? Or is it a case of “let’s see shall we?” Never one to miss out on a good, developing solar story with an Aussie twist, your correspondent caught up with Finn at the virtual SQHQ water cooler. With notebook and biro in hand the following interview with Finn was recorded. [Read more…]

Sky’s the limit for solar cell innovation as new breakthrough aims for 50 percent conversion rate

50 percent efficiency

Yes you read that right : 50%

One of our favourite subjects — solar cells and more specifically solar cell innovation and breakthroughs — is covered in this week’s SQHQ spray readers.

I think I’ve mentioned, in a previous rant in these pages, one of the enduring memories I have of seeing the famous environmentalist/author/activist Professor David Suzuki in 2007 was his rhetorical question that kicked off the night: why wasn’t every house in Australia covered in solar panels? [Read more…]

Will this incredible solar innovation by Ford make Holden irrelevant?

solar panels on car

Those 3 x 100W Sunpower panels could power 75% of your trips.

Last week we discussed how remarkable innovation in the renewable energy sector will change the way  energy is sourced in buildings such as office blocks and factories. We looked at how recent developments in photovoltaics allow office windows to be both transparent enough to let in sufficient light, as well as sensitive enough to act as efficient mini solar panels.

This week sees us delve into the traditional Holden vs Ford wars, though with a renewable energy twist. [Read more…]

Why Commercial Solar Will Have A Huge Year in 2014

meter going to 2014

Smart businesses will see their meters slow down in 2014

As solar fans look towards 2014 with a mixture of dread and anticipation, one thing seems certain; energy prices will continue to rise. Yes that’s right, expect your bills to go up despite Abbott’s promise to reduce them.

People who actually know how the National Electricity Market (NEM) works, understand what the climate-change denying knuckle draggers in government don’t. Even if they do ‘Axe The Tax™’  your electricity and gas prices are going in only one direction: up.  Smart Australian business owners are not expecting their bills to drop anytime soon, no matter what promises Abbott spews forth.

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Talking perovskite: the new kid on the solar cell block

panel from russia

From Russia WIth Love: Perovskite could reduce solar costs by 75%

One of the many advantages of solar energy is its charge down the cost curve as new technologies outstrip old in performance and cost. This week at SQHQ we’re dusting off the crystal ball and looking into the future of solar power. Specifically we’ll be checking out perovskite; the “new kid on the block” (with all the rave reviews). Perovskite is considered to have the potential to replace silicon in solar cells. [Read more…]

Solar Cars Roll Through Adelaide

The World Solar Challenge ended in my hometown of  Adelaide on Sunday. So I took the kids into town for a close up look at the weird and wonderful solar cars:

Unfortunately the team I had gone to barrack for (from my old stomping ground, Cambridge University Engineering Dept), managed to roll the car on the first day so they had to withdraw. Bummer!

cuer solar car

Cambridge University’s entry was a little unstable.

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