Category Archives: Solar Voltaic

A molecular approach to solar power (MIT News)

This is another example of excellent innovation from MIT and Harvard. This one is for energy storage and it is quite similar to one I just recently posted on the “bionic leaf”. With better solar energy conversion and more efficient energy storage the idea of moving away from fossil fuels and nuclear power begins to look possible.

Open Matters

Diagram of molecules going through solar-induced charge-discharge cycle, with heat released. The working cycle of a solar thermal fuel, using azobenzene as an example. (Courtesy of Jeff Grossman.)

A molecular approach to solar power
Switchable material could harness the power of the sun — even when it’s not shining.

David L. Chandler | MIT News Office
April 13, 2014

It’s an obvious truism, but one that may soon be outdated: The problem with solar power is that sometimes the sun doesn’t shine.

Now a team at MIT and Harvard University has come up with an ingenious workaround — a material that can absorb the sun’s heat and store that energy in chemical form, ready to be released again on demand.

This solution is no solar-energy panacea: While it could produce electricity, it would be inefficient at doing so. But for applications where heat is the desired output — whether for heating buildings, cooking, or powering heat-based industrial processes — this could…

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Construction is set to begin on a $150 million-plus solar powered greenhouse in South Australia’s Port Augusta

John [jpratt27] has published an excellent summary of a new plan to develop a new solar-powered greenhouse in South Australia.  This plant will not only produce fresh vegetables but will also be used to desalinate water in a very arid region.  A few more details are needed about how the resulting salts will be dealt with, but the project looks very hopeful.

February 17 Energy [Science and Tech] News via GeoHarvy

“GeoHarvey” has posted a lot of excellence and hopeful stories here. It’s nice to hear some good news for a change.


Science and Technology:

¶ A number of studies investigating the effect of wind turbines on birds have found that the actual impact wind turbines have on avians is relatively low. However, according to this new research, published in the European Journal of Wildlife Research, wind turbines’ effects on bats cannot be ignored. [CleanTechnica]

¶ Israeli alternative energy company Brenmiller Energy has solved one of the biggest issues with solar technology: how to generate electricity when the sun sets. The company says it will build a 10-MW solar facility that will generate electricity 20 hours per day through a proprietary energy storage technology. [Inhabitat]


¶ In Geneva, Switzerland just three weeks after the US Senate’s 98-1 vote that climate change is not a hoax, the first round of the 2015 United Nations talks among 194 nations produced the first-ever universally agreed negotiating text on how…

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A ‘bionic leaf’ turns solar energy into chemicals and fuels

The site at the link below (“A ‘bionic leaf’ …”) presents a really interesting idea on how to store energy from the sun and at the same time act as a temporary carbon sink by absorbing CO2 for creation of the chemicals.  I will be looking forward to seeing how this plays out when they try to scale it up to household, community and industrial sizes.

A ‘bionic leaf’ turns solar energy into chemicals and fuels.

Why Tesla’s battery for your home should terrify utilities

What the heck is an Earthship? … maybe an idea whose time has come!

earthship brighton
figure 1: Earthship Brighton (Photo credit: ivanpope)

Have you ever heard of the concept of an “Earthship“?  I was introduced to the concept by my brother-in-law about 14 years ago and was blown away.  What is an Earthship then?  In a nutshell, an Earthship is an Eco-friendly home, made predominantly from recycled materials, designed to be as close to “off-grid” as possible.

The concept of Earthships arose in the halcyon flower-power days of the 1970s in various states in the southern USA.  The concept seems to have developed by Michael Reynolds, an architect from New Mexico.  As you can see in the linked Wikipedia article, his idea was not without problems, but it was, none-the-less revolutionary.  Michael has a website where he educates about, demonstrates and promotes the Earthship technology.  The site has designs for a number of systems that an Earthship needs if it is to meet code (see figure 2, below). Continue reading What the heck is an Earthship? … maybe an idea whose time has come!

Power Surges and Drops – Causing Electrical Problems?

Electricity pylon - power outage
Image via Wikipedia

I don’t know if you have noticed it too, but there seems to be a lot more power outages and surges these days.  I’m not talking about the 20 day variety like the one that hit us during the ice storm, but rather the one and two second ones that seem to come in bunches every few months. 

Hydro has a fund to deal with hits to electronic equipment that is damaged due to surges like the one we had in Kanata when a 17 kV line dropped on a 10 kV line early in the last decade and fried a bunch of computers.  Fair enough as far as it goes, but what about the things that didn’t burn up?  What about the fridge that was supposed to last for 15 years, but ends up only lasting 10 years because it was hit by a large surge?  What about the dozens of light bulbs that were supposed to last for 10,000 hours and end up only lasting half that because they experienced a big surge?  Sure, they didn’t die when the surge hit, and there is no way to prove that their life span was decreased due to the surge, but doesn’t it make sence that it would be?  Where is the compensation for these items?

OK you say, but that is history…old news…almost 10 years old now!  What about today?  Well, of course, you’re right.  There aren’t a bunch of surges like the one I spoke of happening from day-to-day, but there are a whole bunch of little black-outs where the power drops for a few seconds and then surges back on.  Aside from the inconvenience of having to re-set every clock in the house, have you never noticed anything funny with your electrical devices after such an outage?  I have, and I am not speaking about problems with your computers because, like me, most of you will have shelled out hundreds of dollars to buy surge suppressing power bars or uninterruptible power sources (UPSs) for your high-end computer gear.  No, once again, I am speaking about your equally expensive fridges, stoves, and even furnaces, each of which is now controlled by computer. 

Every time there is a power outage in my house, the ice maker on my high-end fridge stops working.  I have to cycle off the power on the fridge at the circuit breaker, leaving it off for at least a minute (so that any capacitors in the system drain) and then cycle it back on.  Only then will the unit come back to life.

Or how about your heat recovery ventilator unit (HRV)?  An HRV is critical to the healthy functioning of an R2000 or an energy star home as it keeps the humidity level in the house within reasonable limits).  At my house, the same thing happens to my HRV when there is a power outage too.  Once again, I have to cycle off the unit, wait, and then cycle it back on again. 

To me, it is only reasonable to assume that these expensive devices “feel” these small power outages and surges.  Doesn’t it make sense to you too?  Well, if they “feel” the pain of the outage/surge combination, doesn’t it seem likely that they experience a shortening of their useful life when it happens?  Where is the compensation for this loss of useful life for these expensive products? 

The question in my mind is, if Hydro cannot provide more reliable power, shouldn’t they have to come up with some sort of mandatory standards for a new power distribution panel that includes surge suppression as well as some limited UPS (uninterruptible power source) capacity?  And shouldn’t they subsidize the purchase and installation of these devices until the volume of sales drives down the cost to a reasonable amount, or until their service provision becomes more reliable? 

I know that Hydro is bleeding red ink in a number of areas, like the need to replace dirty coal, the need to pay for expensive cogeneration, and the need to retire old debt, but in my opinion, these are symptoms of a poorly constructed business model.  What they need, is to engineer resilience into their business model.  I don’t want to have to replace everything in my home every time they fail to provide clean power to my home and I don’t want to have to pay through the nose to buy products to mitigate the risks associated with these instances. 

Law suits are not the way to go…they are too expensive and the only ones that profit from them are the lawyers on both sides.  Further, they are not the Canadian way.  Rather, Hydro needs to just step up to the plate and consider the needs of their clients and get together with the various standards councils and come up with a strategy for making homes more resilient to the surges and outages until they can fix up their network so that it becomes more resilient.  While they are at it, they might want to consider having each distribution panel set up for net metering (so that people can start feeding the grid using solar voltaic or wind energy generated around the home) and even consider having the panel set up to allow external generators to be plugged in (such as gas-powered generators that could be used during a long power interruption).  This would allow for better engineered homes that were resilient to power fluctuations, that allow for cogeneration projects and that do all this safely with consideration for folks that have to work on the lines when there is an electrical problem in the neighbourhood.

In short, we need Hydro to take back the playing field and start planning for the future.  A bright future if they play their cards right.