The days of bulky, expensive solar panels that were heavy and required harsh chemicals to produce and a lot of labor to install may be coming to an end. Scientists in Australia have been able to produce the largest ever printed solar cells using a newly developed solar cell printer. Yes, they are printing solar cells.
The cells are flexible, cheap, and made from organic plastics and materials.
According to scientist Dr Scott Watkins, printing cells on such a large scale opens up a huge range of possibilities for pilot applications:
“There are so many things we can do with cells this size[…]We can set them into advertising signage, powering lights and other interactive elements. We can even embed them into laptop cases to provide backup power for the machine inside.”
The technology and manufacturing are still in the research phase, but scientists behind the project are hopeful for it’s future use for consumers. According to one of the project’s partners, CSIRO:
“The consortium is currently only purchasing materials on a research scale. When bought on a larger scale it is anticipated that component costs will be significantly lower and that pricing around A$1/W will be achievable.”
$1 per watt? Coupled with the lowered installation costs of this lighter system, that is utterly revolutionary. With these costs, a family would be able to cleanly power their home for only a few thousand dollars.
There is also an added benefit to printing solar cells over traditional manufacturing of solar panels: factories can be much smaller, therefore also much cheaper. This will allow for the production of these cells to be more decentralized making them more accessible in the developing world and the first world alike.
Is this the breakthrough that finally kills ‘Big Oil’ and brings solar power to the world? We think they are getting close.
Eco-friendly lifestyle is one thing, but eco-friendly travel is another when everything from taking planes to buying souvenirs can leave a mark on the planet. But an intrepid young man and his van proves that we can see the world and tread lightly at the same time.
For the past year, Mike Hudson has been traveling around Europe in his solar-powered van. Photo credit: Vandog Traveller
After quitting his engineering job in October 2013 to live his dream of traveling, 26-year old Mike Hudson of Hull, England, got rid of his possessions and purchased a 10-year-old LDV Convoy van off eBay. Before setting off, Hudson and his friends spent five months renovating the rusty camper van into a tiny home on wheels.
The entire operation—buying the van, fixing the engine, installing a stove, a 70-liter (18.5-gallon) water tank, a shower and toilet, heater, desk space and even solar panels—cost Hudson only £5,000 (about $7,700). The van also has a refrigerator, speakers and storage space.
From a rusty camper to an apartment on wheels. The van now has running water, a convertible sofa-bed, stove and more. Photo Credit: Vandog Traveller
Hudson and his two buddies set off officially on March 2014, ferrying from England to France and driving south to Spain and hasn’t stopped since. For the past year, Hudson has gallivanted around Portugal, Switzerland, Germany, Hungary, Austria and more, attending music festivals and camping under starry skies. The 26-year-old documents his travels around Europe on his blog, Vandog Traveller.
Ever the minimalists, the travelers sleep on hammocks or a foldaway sofa-bed. They’ve also washed their clothes by a lake near Bucharest, and dived in a dumpster for homemade jam ingredients in Budapest.
Thanks to his two 100 watt solar panels and two large 200 amp hour batteries, Hudson and his buddies can have enough juice to power their electronics for three weeks. “After some tweaks, the solar powered electrical system is completely self sufficient and almost maintenance free,” he wrote. “I’m not exactly frugal with the electricity either and there have been three of us living in here for more than half the time.” As far as water, Hudson says the van has enough running water to last for 12 days, or probably more than a month if they are near a spring or a well. For fuel, Hudson said his van’s refillable cylinder can store 11 kilograms (or 24 pounds) of petroleum, which is enough to power the stove, kettle and heater for three people for two weeks. Finding a stable internet connection, he says, is one of the hardest parts of off-grid travel.
In Greece, Hudson and his friends stayed for a few weeks at a wind-and-solar powered eco-community 40 miles from Athens, where they picked their own salad from an herb garden and cooked in a clay oven. “I’m not really a serious environmentalist kind of person, but I do think there is something hugely satisfying about being responsible for generating your own electricity, dealing with your own waste and growing
Hudson didn’t intentionally plan to live off the grid, but realized he was heading into this territory without even knowing it. “Being off-grid probably isn’t the easiest way to live but it does seem to offer choice and much freedom with no white lines or boundaries, he wrote. “Doing this in a communal environment with a dynamic pool of talent and knowledge is a pretty powerful setup.”
Hudson logs his miles on a shoestring budget (“I can eat three very good meals a day for €3 [about $3.36].”) and stretches out his euros by busking, baking his own bread and avoiding tourist traps. Click here for more of his frugal travel tips.
“I am doing my dream; I can comfortably live wherever I want. I am temporarily free and in control,” he wrote. “The next thing I need to figure out is how to make this last for as long as I like.”
In the video below, watch Hudson and his pals convert an old van into an apartment on wheels.
The Convention’s statistics show that the 37 industrialized countries (plus the EU) that signed up in 1997 to the Kyoto Protocol—the original international treaty on combating global warming—have frequently exceeded their promised GHG cuts by a large margin.
Beacon for governments
The UNFCCC statement says, “This is a powerful demonstration that climate changeagreements not only work, but can drive even higher ambition over time.”
“The successful completion of the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period can serve as a beacon for governments as they work towards a new, universal climate change agreement in Paris, in December this year.”
In the EU, the leading countries for making savings are Germany, Sweden, France, Italy and Spain, which account for two-thirds of the total savings on the continent. But most of the 28 countries in the bloc are also making progress towards the EU’s own target of producing 20 percent of all its energy needs from renewables by 2020. It has already reached 15 percent.
Part of the EU plan to prevent any of the 28 member states backsliding on agreed targets to reduce GHGs is to measure every two years the effect of various policies to achieve the reductions.
All states have to submit details of savings achieved through the introduction of renewables in electricity production, heating and cooling systems and transport.
Because of the time taken to compile the figures, the latest report from the EC Joint Research Center goes up only to 2012. However, it shows that each year in the three years up to the end of 2012 GHGs emitted by the EU fell by 8.8 percent as a result of replacing fossil fuels with renewables.
Two-thirds of the savings came from the widespread introduction of wind and solar power. Renewables used for heating and cooling achieved 31 percent of the savings and transport 5 percent. Most transport renewables came from the use of bio-fuels instead of petrol and diesel.
Measuring the progress towards targets is vital for mutual trust between nations in the run-up to the Paris climate talks. It also gives politicians confidence that they can make pledges they can keep.
The knowledge that the EU is likely to exceed its target of a 20 percent reduction of all emissions on 1990 levels by 2020 has led ministers to a more ambitious goal—total reductions of 40 percent by 2030. A large part of this will come from the installation of more renewables and energy-efficiency measures.
Across Europe, emissions vary widely from country to country, with Germany having the highest and Malta the lowest. Germany also had the greatest absolute reduction of emissions—a total drop of 23 percent on 1990 levels by 2012.
The highest emissions per capita were in Luxembourg (20 tons of carbon dioxide per person), followed by Estonia (12.7), the Czech Republic (10.2), Germany (9.8) and the Netherlands (9.7).
Just five member states—Germany, Poland, the UK, Italy and Romania—together produced two-thirds of the EU’s emissions in 1990. The only change by 2012 was that Romania had been overtaken by Spain.
Because the barriers are so aesthetically pleasing and translucent, they could be used in urban areas to reduce noise pollution. Photo credit: Eindhoven University of Technology
From the country that brought you the solar road comes solar noise barriers. Highway noise barriers are usually not very aesthetically pleasing and only serve one purpose—to quiet traffic for the surrounding community. But a researcher in the Netherlands, Michael Debije at the Eindhoven University of Technology, is trying to change all that.
Since April, Debije has launched two pilot projects along the A2 highway in the Netherlands to test a new kind of solar panel he has developed. Using an innovative technology known as luminescent solar concentrators (LSC), the translucent sheets “bounce light internally to the edges of the panels, where it is beamed onto regular solar panels in concentrated form,” says Fast Coexist. The year-long pilot project will help determine how well the barriers hold up in terms of power generation capabilities and with vandal-resistance and maintenance requirements.
The panels are ideal for the gray skies of Northern Europe because they work even on cloudy days. A single half-mile stretch can provide enough electricity to power 50 homes.
Debije says thanks to recent breakthroughs with LSC panels, they are now a commercially viable product. Photo credit: Eindhoven University of Technology
“The LSC panels can be made in different colors, so the result is something like an oversized stained-glass window,” says Fast Coexist. “Because light can shine through them, they could be used in urban areas, shielding noise without making either pedestrians or motorists feel cut off.”
Debije and his team published a paper in Nature this spring that shows how they have overcome previous problems with LSC panels, and the team now claims they are commercially viable, according to Tech Times. “Further benefits are that the principle used is low cost, they can be produced in any desired, regular color, is robust, and the LSCs will even work when the sky is cloudy,” Debije told Tech Times. “That means it offers tremendous potential.”
The stylish Smartflower Solar Panel uses two-axis tracking to follow the sun during the day, resulting in up to 40% more efficiency than traditional solar panels.
In the morning, Smartflower unfolds itself completely automatically. It directs its solar modular fan (with a surface area of 18 m2) towards the sun and begins producing electricity.
Thanks to dual-axle sun tracking, the fan moves reliably along with the sun throughout the day.
In comparison with the static rooftop system, the unit starts earlier to produce the exact amount of electricity you need. It consistently maintains the electricity supply and even uses the energy from the last sun rays efficiently enough to cover your early evening electricity requirements. Only then, does it close up automatically to its secure place.
Thanks to its extraordinary construction and the perfectly synchronised components, the system delivers, on an average, approx. 4,000 kWh per year, thus fulfilling the complete average electricity requirement of a household in the central European region.
The size of the system alone is no longer the measure of all things. What counts is a fairly constant production rate during the course of the day, in order to enable a more effective use of the produced energy.
Smartflower POP achieves a degree of self-utilisation of around 60% – a significant improvement over a comparable rooftop unit, which averages just around 30%. Now that is what we call smart!