Just on to a serious topic for once, for the reader’s information, I am currently taking environmental engineering at the National University of Singapore and we are going to take a look at the energy needs of the world. Serious stuff guys. Serious stuff. Hopefully a gundam comes out of it.
Edit : 21/10 Added new link
Edit : 5/11 BREAKTHROUGH IN SOLAR PANELS?!
Edit : 8/11 Rice-sized solar panels
Edit : 15/10/2009 A new device to harvest solar energy
Edit: 03/08/2010 Solar panels to harness both thermal and light energy.
Guys, we have a new article “Solar Panel Quantum Leap: Near-Perfect Light Absorption Possible”
“Today’s silicon solar panels absorb about two-thirds of the light that reaches them, but a new nanocoating developed by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute gives most run-of-the-mill solar panels the ability to capture almost every drop of sunlight. Not only does it grab 96.2% of the sun’s rays, but it can do it from any angle, so there’s no need for panels to waste energy by mechanically tracking the sun in the sky. This is happy leap forward for solar technology, whose quest for cheapness has been long and hard.”
“Researchers from the University of South Florida have developed a minuscule solar panel that’s just 1/4 the size of a grain of rice. Yet when you combine 20 or so of the cells, they can create 7.8 volts of electricity. Sounds good so far, right? It gets better.
The solar cells could easily be incorporated into coatings for buildings and clothing, they’re build primarily from abundant and green components carbon and hydrogen, and it’s believed that their efficiency could double in the next year.”
Remember when Brian first mentioned of the pausibility of space elevators here after which I repeated later? So far, what has probably prevented the project from taking off is the cost efficiency of the project or namely, the solar panels itself.There just isn’t enough energy output to justify the jumpstart the project. Solar panels are highly inefficient last I read, harvesting only 40% of what it receives the rest being lost as heat energy or others. Lest to say, solar panels do not work when there’s no sun or worse, bad weather destroys the panels. Furthermore, due the increasing demand for silicon, the main ingredient for solar panels’s prices have shot up 500% since four years ago.
Last of all, the US goverment which governs a significant stronghold for R&D has decided to halt solar power projects for two years. So why does the title suggest otherwise?
Two significant breakthrough, in my opinion, will be able to jumpstart solar energy development. Coupled with US’s announcement of rebooting the let’s-get-a-man-on-moon project again, we are bound to see NASA developing solar panels for the space venture on a small scale. NASA has always been on the forefront of consumer technology with a small list here and if it works on solar panels, there’s bound to be improvements. NASA will just be the tool though. The main deal breaker is the two breakthroughs I have been talking about.
There’s two ways to go about it : lower the costs of the project or increase the output and that’s what the research industry has recently gone about doing.
Lowering the cost
Ready to roll out!
“Solyndra, a California-based solar start up, says it’s figured out a way to make solar panels cheaper to install and better at producing energy—rolling them up.The company’s solar panels are comprised of rows of cylindrical solar cells deposited on glass tubes, a new type of shape that purportedly lets them absorb more light during the day.“
Don’t worry mate, just clearing the rollers of dead bugs.
“The company’s photovoltaic rods are able to catch rays from any direction, meaning they don’t need to be tilted to point at the sun. Also, since they’re not shaped like a silicon kite, they don’t need the same big, beefy installation brackets. This cuts installation costs in half…”
Not only costs are cut, the cells can also absorb more light meaning more efficient work done. However, this increase in efficiency is no doubt uncomparable to the next development.
500 times more efficient
James Carey, left, and Stephen Saylor of SiOnyx with black silicon wafers.
“With the accidental discovery of “black silicon,” Harvard physicists may have very well changed the digital photography, solar power and night vision industries forever…Early indications show black silicon is 100 to 500 times more sensitive to light than a traditional silicon wafer.”
Black silicon under the scope.
“The new experiment made the silicon black to the naked eye. Under an electron microscope, however, the dark sheen was revealed to be thousands, if not millions, of tiny spikes. As we said above, those spikes had an amazing effect on the light sensitivity of the wafer.”
An educated guess of mine would relate sensitivity of black silicon to light to be equal to the output of electricity from the light it absorbs.
A small PETE device made with cesium-coated gallium nitride glows while being tested inside an ultra-high vacuum chamber. The tests proved that the process simultaneously converted light and heat energy into electrical current.
What alternatives? Looking at the current situation, whatever resources we use to produce energy is finite and limited. Be it crude oil, natural gas or other forms of natural resources, they are bound to run out eventually, probably not within our lifetime but definitely one day. Yea, there were research of oil producing bugs but the problem is, it most likely can’t be substitued as the main source of our energy needs due to limited space.
One man’s bugs trash is another man’s treasure.
“However, to substitute America’s weekly oil consumption of 143 million barrels, you would need a facility that covered about 205 square miles, an area roughly the size of Chicago.”
Boom. Fallout 3.
The next likely source of our energy needs is nuclear. But I’m sure no one would ever be convinced that nuclear is going to be safe. The current nuclear facilities that generate electricity are dirty fusion which has a nasty habit of producing harmful radiation and waste products. Remember chernobyl. Remember chernobyl well.
Cold fusion on the other hand as the advantage of not generating significant hazardous radiation or make significant radioactivity while generating heat energy. Unfortunately, the brillant minds around the world has yet to discover the right conditions for stabilising cold fusion. This source is yet another breakthrough-to-be.
More new tech
Hopefully, I will update this as much as possible:
“Such a device could be used to harvest solar energy in places where the light is too diffuse for mirrors to concentrate it onto a solar cell. An optical black hole would suck it all in and direct it at a solar cell sitting at the core. “If that works, you will no longer require these huge parabolic mirrors to collect light,” says Narimanov.”
In layman’s terms, that’s going to be save A LOT on the solar cells required for one big solar panel.
With a healthy estimate of 100 years before crude oil runs out, the world needs to find itself a new source of energy and switch over to it fast. Discovering the cure for cancer is not enough if the cure is perfected only at the terminal stages of it. Similarly, a suitable and viable energy source other than crude oil must be utilised before the end comes near as the switch in infrastructure from a oil-centric system for our energy needs to a solar-power centric system would surely take years before fully converted.
Sources and interesting articles:
Tubed solar panels:
Black silicon articles :
New Solar energy conversion:
Solar panels in general: