Report Indicates Potential For Western States to Generate Clean Energy

The Center for American Progress has released a report indicating the massive potential for western states to generate renewable energy. Statistics released by the Bureau of American Labor in 2010 showed that there are already more than 527,000 clean energy jobs in these states.

According to the issue brief, “Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah—the ‘Four Corners’ states plus their western neighbors—are home to some of the best renewable electricity potential in the country. These states have consistently sunny skies for solar power, wind-blown plains and deserts for turbines, and underground heat perfect for geothermal energy. They also have incredible potential for smaller-scale technologies like rooftop solar panels and energy efficiency improvements.”

These southwestern states have been leaders in the renewable energy field, supporting new energy initiatives and developing innovative projects and technology to generate green energy. Industry experts expect this region to continue leading the way and moving forward on green technology, and predict that over the next twenty years the region will generate more than 34 gigawatts (more than 34,000 megawatts) of clean energy to 7 million residences and provide a $137 billion boost to the economy.

The Center for American Progress concluded that, in the next twenty years, nearly an additional 35,000 renewable energy jobs – in the solar, wind, and geothermal energy fields – could be created on government property alone and a total of more than 209,000 additional jobs in these six western states.

The organization reported that a 2012 poll of residents of western states conducted by Colorado College’s State of the Rockies program found that support for clean energy is high: 61 percent of those polled wanted states to encourage solar energy, while 49 percent favored wind energy; only 11 percent of respondents wanted states to push for oil and 9 percent for coal.

Besides becoming popular in residential areas, clean energy projects managed by the federal government are gaining traction as well. The United States Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management manages about 68 percent of all land in Nevada, 43 percent of land in Utah, and between 12 and 17 percent in Colorado, California, Arizona, and New Mexico. Dozens of green energy projects have been completed or are scheduled for development on government land in these states, leading the states to a goal of producing 20,000 megawatts of clean energy by the end of this year and closer to President Obama’s goal of running 80 percent clean energy in the United States by 2035.

The Center for American Progress stated that they support the president’s goal, but “also urge that the standard include a requirement that at least 35 percent of electricity be generated by wind, solar, geothermal, other renewables, and efficiency by 2035 to ensure continued investment in these technologies. This would help energy development on public lands by stimulating a strong market for renewable energy across the country.”

The Center for American Progress noted that, although clean energy projects on public land are a positive development, the organization would like to see portions of this undeveloped public land preserved or used for nature and recreational activities, such as fishing and wildlife.

These recent studies and reports show that the American West is quickly becoming a leader in producing renewable energy and, according to experts’ estimates, is on track to provide 34 gigawatts of clean energy to consumers in the next two decades. With effective and updated national and statewide standards for green energy, renewable resources, and reasonable zoning for clean energy projects, these six western states can help establish a future in which Americans don’t have to rely on foreign energy and outsourced jobs. 

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/knowmybackyard/2394376192

A Precedent for the President: Putting Solar Panels (Back) on the White House

It seems like a no-brainer, and back in 1979 it was. As a way to encourage Americans to look towards alternative energy sources, then-President Jimmy Carter made an example of his administration and had 32 solar panels installed atop the White House. The panels, Carter was sure, would be made to heat the Presidential water for years if not decades to come.

It was a momentous day: one many hoped would not be forgotten, and during the dedication ceremony, Carter projected that “In the year 2000 this solar water heater behind me, which is being dedicated today, will still be here supplying cheap, efficient energy.” But they didn’t…and still don’t. “A generation from now,” Carter’s address continued, “this solar heater can either be a curiosity, a museum piece, and example of a road not taken or it can be just a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people.”

Hardly a decade after their initial introduction—during the Reagan administration—the 32-panels were dismantled and taken down from the rooftop. Going even further, Reagan effectively dissolved the research into such alternative energy sources by eliminating tax breaks for wind and solar technologies and refocusing the nation on the harsher and more polluting burning of fossil fuels. It was something of a fool’s errand, Reagan explained of solar energy, claiming the nation would be better served committing to something less controversial.

“The Department of Energy has a multibillion-dollar budget, in excess of $10 billion. It hasn’t produced a quart of oil or a lump of coal or anything else in the line of energy,” Reagan argued in a debate with Carter. And with that, the tiniest sliver of a solar age dipped back into darkness.

As for the panels themselves, well for the most part they had remained in the great storage bin in the sky—or rather, a federal warehouse building in Virginia. The years passed and the dust gathered until Peter Marbach took the journey from Maine to Virginia to gather what he could for his cafeteria building at Unity College in Maine. Marbach, who had just taken over as development director of the college was troubled with some hefty budget problems and was looking for a way to lessen the financial burden when he remembered the forgotten panels.

After some clever finagling and a letter to former President Carter, Marbach was able to purchase 16 of the panels for an administrative fee of $500. The other 16 panels, aside from the few that have found their way to museums around the world (sorry Carter), remain largely forgotten relics.

So what now? Looking to revamp the White House image, Obama prepared to bring in a second wave of solar panels to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. While speaking at the GreenGov Symposium in October of 2001, United States Secretary of Energy Steven Chu pledged that “The White House will lead by example.” Further stating, “I’m pleased to announce that by the end of this spring, there will be solar panels that convert sunlight to energy and a solar hot water heater on the roof of the White House.”

The goal was set as sometime during the springtime of 2011, and the deadline passed with no action. Despite decades of feet dragging at the White House, Americans are showing more and more their willingness to commit to alternative energy sources. As people look to the White House as a symbol of the nation, the Obama administration is in a great position to be a model for the nation—in much the same way that the White House organic garden already has been.

To urge the Obama administration to lead by example and install solar panels on the White House roof, lobby the President and sign the petition here.

 

Photo Credit: t0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcQraBN0kbY7g1vZsqK9_ivUsiO4eMxjIORt-jochF0acA5AnQaD4w

Los Angeles Mayor Signs Solar Energy Program Into Law

Last week, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa signed a new law that will reimburse homeowners and companies who install solar energy in their residences and offices, propelling his city to the forefront of the competitive solar industry and establishing Los Angeles as a leader in solar energy programs. Solar panels not only power homes, they also generate electricity that residents will be able to sell to the city at upmarket rates if they generate more than is needed to power their residence or business. The law establishes a feed-in tariff program, a program that allows for increased investment of renewable energy by providing investors an affordable return on their investments.

The city of Los Angeles plans to launch an initial demonstration program that will power 3,400 homes with ten megawatts of energy; its goal is to ultimately provide 150 megawatts of energy to power 490,000 homes by 2016. The program will be run by the Los Angeles District of Water and Power (LADWP), which will buy surplus energy generated from solar panels in homes and offices from Los Angeles residents. Los Angeles is the largest city in the nation to adopt a feed-in tariff program.

By encouraging residents to adopt solar energy, the new law will cut out 2.25 million tons of carbon emissions produced from current dirty forms of energy, such as coal. Los Angeles’s notorious blanket of smog, produced mostly by vehicle emissions and coal plants, is a constant threat to the health and safety of its residents and children, many of whom suffer from asthma. Carbon pollution contributes to respiratory diseases like asthma and bronchitis, and can lead to more serious effects such as cancer.

“Instead of sending hard-earned LADWP customer payments out of the state to buy more dirty coal, we’re hiring Los Angeles workers and using the famed Los Angeles sun to help Los Angeles businesses produce clean, affordable solar power for Angelenos across the city,” Sierra Club Los Angeles campaign representative Evan Gillespie told Power Engineering magazine.

In addition to generating clean energy for Californians and decreasing the risk of respiratory issues, the program will create up to 4,500 jobs and contribute $500 million to the economy. The initial 10 megawatts of solar energy used in the demonstration program will be developed and sold to the LADWP by third-party contractors that is currently undetermined.

According to local Los Angeles news source The Daily Breeze, Villaraigosa said, “Make no mistake that this [law] will continue after I’m gone.” The mayor noted that the law is important because “I remember when I was a kid and we weren’t allowed to leave the classroom because the air was so dirty.”

In his term as mayor, Villaraigosa has set a goal for 30 percent of the city’s energy to come from renewable sources by 2020. The feed-in tariff program he has established in Los Angeles aims to increase the use of renewable energy; increase the amount of green space in the city; build a modern, efficient transport system; foster green economic growth; and encourage water conservation and recycling.

The city of Los Angeles will hold three workshops this month for residents and contractors interested in learning about the program. If you don’t live in Los Angeles, but would like your city to adopt a similar program, sign this petition at ForceChange.com. The petition commends Los Angeles’s plan and encourages other mayors in the state to follow the city’s lead (although the petition urges Mayor Villaraigosa to sign the plan into law—which he has already done—you can still sign it to show your support and send it to mayors in other cities).  

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/tintedglasssky/101925624

Conductive solar paint provides glimpse into the future of solar energy

What if powering your home with renewable energy was as simple and inexpensive as repainting the exterior of your house? The development of a new paint with solar conductive properties indicates that solar paint may well be the future of the solar energy industry. Developed at the University of Notre Dame, the paint is made from conductive nanoparticles that react with the sun’s rays to create energy.

While the paint still has a long path of research and development ahead before it can be sold to the public as a viable energy option, researchers are hopeful that the paint will eventually be able to power a home and its appliances. The paint, which has the same appearance as conventional exterior house paint, currently conducts electricity at a low rate, but researchers plan to further develop the product so that it can conduct the same amount of energy as solar panels.

“The best light-to-energy conversion efficiency we’ve reached so far is 1 percent, which is well behind the usual 10 to 15 percent efficiency of commercial silicon solar cells. But this paint can be made cheaply and in large quantities. If we can improve the efficiency somewhat, we may be able to make a real difference in meeting energy needs in the future,” Notre Dame professor and researcher Prashant Kamat said.

The paint, which the team of Notre Dame researchers has named “Sun-Believable”, is a paste made from a mixture of water, alcohol, dye and nanoparticles of titanium dioxide, which are coated with cadmium selenide or cadmium sulfide. Cadmium-based materials, such as cadmium telluride, are currently used in some solar panels.

The cost of powering a home entirely through solar panels is estimated around $16,000, but solar panels are becoming more of a financially feasible option for many homeowners. The decreasing cost of solar panels has made solar technology more accessible to homeowners in recent years, while government incentives have encouraged consumers to invest in solar panels for their homes. The solar industry, which reported a strong growth in 2010, has grown even more significantly over the past year, particularly in the third quarter of 2011, which recorded a 140 percent growth rate compared to the third quarter of 2010.

Homeowners installed more than 1,000 megawatts of solar energy in their residences this year, up from 887 megawatts installed in 2010. Jobs in the solar industry in the United States now number over 100,000, twice the number of solar industry employees in 2009. Solar installations in the third quarter of this year alone numbered 449, half of the production for the whole of 2010 and more than the total installations in 2009. Google announced last month that it will invest $94 million in four northern California solar energy plants, further fueling the state’s booming solar industry. The state’s solar sector employs more than 25,000 people – more than one-fourth of the nation’s solar industry workers – and continues to grow in size and capacity.

Kamat said, “By incorporating power-producing nanoparticles, called quantum dots, into a spreadable compound, we’ve made a one-coat solar paint that can be applied to any conductive surface without special equipment.”

When applied, the paint would turn any surface into a solar energy conductor, allowing the conductive cells contained in the paint to harness energy from the sun’s rays. The inexpensive price of making the paint means that the paint would likely be sold to the public at a low cost, making solar energy accessible to virtually everyone. Researchers are also determined to improve the stability of the paint, which currently needs to be stored in dark areas in order to remain stable.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/gadeeeer/483718392/

Extend the Treasury 1603 Program to Grow the Solar Energy Industry

The Treasury 1603 Program – formally known as Section 1603 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Tax Act of 2009 – has provided thousands of jobs to Americans in the solar energy field, and has created enough solar energy to power hundreds of thousands of homes. The program is scheduled to expire at the end of this year, but in order to create more jobs and keep the solar energy industry thriving, Congress must take action to renew the program for another year.

According to a report published by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), a national trade association for solar energy companies, extending the Treasury 1603 Program through the end of 2012 would create 37,934 jobs in the solar energy industry and would produce 500 megawatts (MW) of solar energy – enough electricity to power more than 100,000 homes.

The market growth created by a one-year expansion of the program would extend the program’s effects through 2016, as some projects beginning in 2012 would not be completed until 2016. These extended projects would see a total of 2,000 MW of solar energy installed between 2012 and 2016, powering more than 400,000 homes.

A two-year program expansion would add 51,000 jobs in 2013 and increase the total of solar energy installed from 2012 to 2016 to 3,600 MW, while a five-year expansion would create 114,000 jobs in 2015 and bring the total capacity of installed solar energy to 7,300 MW from 2012 to 2016. A five-year expansion would also encourage sustainable and long-term market growth that would allow the solar energy industry to continue to grow after the program expires.

SEIA president and CEO Rhone Resch said in a press release, “More than 100,000 Americans work in the solar industry, double the number in 2009. Solar is a proven job creator at a time when the unemployment rate for the country remains stubbornly high. The 1603 Treasury Program has been the single most effective policy driving renewable energy growth during the past two years. At a time when President Obama and Congress are looking for solutions for America’s jobs crisis, it would be unconscionable to allow this proven job-creating program to expire.”

“Killing the 1603 Program amounts to a tax increase on the thousands of small businesses that are creating jobs in solar. The bottom line is that our capital markets are still in trouble and this program is needed today as much as it was when it was created.  Allowing it to lapse would kill jobs and severely restrict the market’s ability to leverage private sector capital to finance new domestic energy projects. Congress must extend the 1603 program to help the American economy,” Resch said.

The Treasury 1603 Program was established following the 2008 economic downturn, at a time when tax incentives for expanding the use of solar energy and installing renewable energy were of little value, as there were limited government funds available for the creation of new renewable energy projects. The program lets commercial properties looking to install solar energy opt out of receiving tax incentives for outfitting their buildings with solar energy, and instead gives them a financial grant for 30 percent of the project cost. Instead of receiving money back at the end of the fiscal year in the form of tax credits, companies receive the money up front in the form of grants, allowing projects to begin sooner.

A petition drafted on ForceChange.com encourages Congress to expand the Treasury 1603 Program through 2012, in order to create more than 37,000 new jobs for Americans. Add your name to the petition to encourage economic growth and renewable energy projects.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/jeremylevinedesign/2814805163

13-Year Old Solar Innovator Models Design After Mother Nature

Aidan Dwyer is not like most kids his age. While the majority of his peers are out playing baseball, causing mischief, or nagging their parents, the 13-year old Aidan has been keeping himself busy working on an innovative development in solar design — and he might be on to something. Dwyer’s inventive model taps into biomimicry and the Fibonnaci sequence, and what is now an exciting backyard experiment has the potential to grow into a significant breakthrough in clean energy.

Aidan’s idea all starts with the Fibonacci sequence, a pattern of numbers in which each subsequent number is the sum of the previous two. So, 0+1 = 1, and 1+1 = 2, etc, making the very beginning of the sequence 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, and so on. But what do these numbers have to do with solar energy? As Aiden discovered, quite a lot.

When put into ratios, the numbers of the Fibonacci sequence create patterns that coincide with the way in which branches and leaves grow on trees. Inspired by the complex branch formations he observed on a hike in the Catskill Mountains, Aidan figured that this could not merely be coincidence. He concluded that the mathematical pattern dictating leaf and branch formation must have something to do with photosynthesis — there is a reason that plants have evolved into the shape they are, and it would be logical for them to grow in a way that keeps each one out of each other’s shadows and maximizes the amount of energy they can take in.

From there, Aidan got to work designing his first prototype. His work resulted in a tree-like solar array in which a stand supports a number of panels arranged in the Fibonacci pattern. In no time, the experiment turned into an eye-opening realization for not only Aidan, but the solar industry, as well. Aidan’s prototype generated up to 50% more energy in low light than a traditional, flat panel array, since the panels’ positioning allowed them to absorb as much light as possible from the sun, just as a tree in nature would. In addition, Aidan’s design takes up less space than a traditional array, and can collect more light in the shade, or even in adverse conditions like snow. Aidan was also quick to point out another key prospect for his design, citing in his research that the design would be best suited to urban areas where space and access to direct sunlight is often difficult to come by.

Aidan’s project was impressive enough to snag him the Young Naturalist Award of 2011, presented by the American Museum of Natural History. But what possibilities does the innovation have in the grand scheme of things? That still looks to be up in the air. Aidan’s results have already been refuted, as a report by Smart Planet dissected Aidan’s results and came to the conclusion that they might not be as impressive as first reported. The article cites a UC San Diego environmental engineering professor as saying that Aidan measured the voltage, and not the current, of his device, and suspected that the correct numbers would not in fact be as impressive. The article claimed that at the time of day in which there is the most sunlight, a traditional solar array would produce more energy than Aidan’s model because of its direct facing towards the sun.

In spite of this convincing criticism, though, Aidan’s design cannot be written off entirely. His design has an advantage over flat panels in the morning, when several of the panels would be at a position to get more sunlight from the rising sun. Most importantly, the design is only at its nascent stages. Aidan is not alone in his ideas, as a number of leading solar companies have been searching for ways of mimicking trees. Aidan has a patent on his design, and is reportedly attracting attention from a number of companies eager to further investigate his idea and bring the design into commercial use. Aidan’s design won’t revolutionize the solar industry or start popping up on homes all over the world anytime soon, but his work is significant in that it is a remarkable example of human ingenuity, and may have the potential to spark something greater if more advanced engineers can tap into his theory and develop his prototype. His work is truly amazing and ingenious, and only time will tell if what he has uncovered can impact the way in which we power our lives. 

Overall, not bad for a 7th grader.

Photo Credit: treehugger.com/files/2011/08/13-year-old-makes-solar-breakthrough-with-fibonacci-sequence.php

Chemically Storing Solar Energy Indefinitely

Solar power is a method of energy generation that is gaining more and more use because it draws power from the sun, a source of seemingly unlimited energy. Converting the sun’s rays into usable energy is very appealing to those interested in renewability and sustainability. A barrier preventing solar power from seeing more use is the immediacy with which its energy must be used; the energy generated by solar panels must be converted directly into electricity. There are a few means of storing and transporting energy produced from solar panels but they are somewhat crude. One such method is to use the energy to charge batteries. These batteries can be transported and used in other areas. However, battery energy dissipates over time, making it unreliable for long-term storage of energy.  

Azobenzene-functionalized carbon nanotube structureScientists have been looking into thermo-chemical storage as a more viable means of storing solar power energy. The goal behind thermo-chemical storage is creating a low-energy molecule that will change conformity and achieve a stable higher-energy state when exposed to the energy of. Upon being exposed to a catalyst such as a change in temperature, the molecule will revert to its old low-energy form, releasing all the energy it had stored. Once the molecule has returned to its low-energy state, the entire process can be repeated once again. In addition to being cheap and robust, this method would also combine energy harvesting and storage into one step. A slight limitation is that taking the heat generated from releasing energy in the molecules and converting it into electricity would require an additional step.  

The difficulty in making this reality was in finding a chemical compound that didn’t degrade or wasn’t too expensive. Chemicals that have been previous candidates for thermo-chemical storage either degraded over a few storage cycles or utilized the rare and expensive element ruthenium. Researchers at MIT got close when they discovered fulvalene diruthenium last year. It worked very well as a storage medium and held energy indefinitely, but required needed ruthenium. The same researchers may have gotten it right earlier this year by using nanotechnology and nanofabrication techniques to synthesize a chemical cheaper and more efficient than fulvalene diruthenium; azobenzene-functionalized carbon nanotubes. Carbon nanotubes have been seeing lots of use in science, especially nanotechnology, recently because of their versatility in fabrication of new materials. In this case, nanofabrication methods have modified the molecular interactions of the carbon nanotubes in a way that allows this material to have 10,000 times higher volumetric energy density than fulvalene diruthenium, meaning that it can hold much more energy in a given amount of space.

If azobenzene-functionalized carbon nanotubes work as well as reported, it will be very exciting for the solar power industry. A material that can efficiently store large amounts of solar energy indefinitely greatly eliminate the storage weakness of solar power. Extra power stored during the day could power houses at night while large solar power plants could reliably store generated power and transport it to nearby cities without losing any energy during transportation time. The MIT research was recently published in the journal Nano Letters and can be found here.

Photo Credit: web.mit.edu/press/media.html?id=14766

EnviroMission Announces Plans For Massive Solar Tower

A new solar power project is scheduled to begin in the Arizona desert. The energy company EnviroMission has announced plans to build a massive solar tower. The tower, which will be 2625 feet tall, will be twice the height of the Empire State Building, automatically making it one of the tallest buildings in the world upon completion.

The proposed tower will have a capacity for power generation equaling 200-megawatts, enabling it to power 150,000 U.S. homes. Once the tower is finished, it will produce a clean, renewable source of energy with essentially no maintenance until it is at least 80 years old.

Solar power is a clean and renewable source of energy that is especially effective in an area with abundant sunshine, such as Arizona. Solar power even works at night because the heat released by the sun during the day sufficiently warms the ground, which will allow the tower to work around the clock. After completion of the tower, there are no other requirements to generate solar power except the sun, whereas other power sources need a continuous supply of environmentally-harmful sources like coal or uranium. Because of this, solar power emits no greenhouse gases, unlike other conventional energy sources. The solar tower’s proposed location in the Arizona desert is an efficient use of space, because the hot and arid climate is not conducive to housing developments or urbanization, but will be a prime spot for a solar power project.

The production of solar power comes in several forms. Conventional solar power uses panels to convert sunlight to electricity. Solar thermal power uses both sunlight and mirrors to heat water. The idea of a solar tower is a unique and innovative idea that EnviroMission actually owns the rights to. EnviroMission’s solar tower will essentially collect energy from the sun in a way similar to a greenhouse. After the sun hits the greenhouse-like structure at the bottom, the air is warmed underneath it. The hot air will the rise through the center of the tower. The rising of the air will be aided by turbines at the base of the tower that will generate power from the updraft of the air.

Because of the tower’s location in the Arizona desert, where daytime surface temperatures average around 104 degrees, the tower will be generating an extremely large amount of hot air. The height of the tower will also make a difference in its efficiency. Because air temperature drops as it moves away from the surface of the earth, the difference in temperature from the base of the tower to the top will differ. As the difference in temperatures increases, the tower is forced to work harder to suck up the hot air at the bottom. This allows the tower to work at a greater efficiency to generate energy.

EnviroMission has estimated that the tower will cost approximately $750 billion to build. After the tower is built, however, there will be essentially no costs to maintain it. The tower will run at an efficiency of 200-megawatts and at 60% efficiency. EnviroMission is currently in the process of acquiring land for the project. In October 2010, the energy output of the tower was sold to the Southern California Public Power Authority, who signed a 30-year power purchase agreement with EnviroMission. The agreement will allow the tower to provide enough energy to power 150,000 U.S. homes. It is estimated that the tower will pay off its purchase price in eleven years, which is especially efficient given that the tower will be standing for at least 80 years.

If all goes according to plan, the construction of the Arizona solar tower will be completed in 2012. In early 2015, the tower will begin to generate power.

Photo Credit: epa.gov/region9/waterinfrastructure/images/thornydale_panels-sml.jpg

Inkjet Printing: The Future Of Solar Cells?

Sometimes included as part of “all-in-one” machines, inkjet printers are used to perform tasks such as printing documents and photos and making copies. However, a recent discovery shows the versatility of inkjet technology: it can be used to create solar cells.

Engineers at Oregon State University have found a way to produce chalcopyrite, or “CIGS”, solar cells using inkjet technology. Engineers claim this new method is quicker, lowers the costs of producing solar cells, and yields 90% less raw materials wasted than traditional manufacturing methods, making a more cost-effective and environmentally friendly type of solar cell.

Very similar to how home and office inkjet printers work, engineers at OSU were able to print a chalcopyrite compound (the “ink”) directly onto a substrate (the “paper”) using inkjet technology. After trying different compounds, engineers produced an ink that yields about 5% solar efficiency. With continued research, they believe they can develop a “commercially-viable” ink with at least 12% solar efficiency.

“This is very promising and could be an important new technology to add to the solar energy field” says Chih-hung Chang, professor at OSU’s School of Chemical, Biological, and Environmental Engineering. Using inkjet technology to create chalcopyrite cells is an appealing alternative to the more traditional method of vapor phase deposition, which uses more expensive equipment and wastes more raw material. Professor Chang says inkjet technology makes it possible for the raw material to be printed precisely onto the substrate. This produces almost no wasted raw material, and especially as expensive some materials such as indium are, the cost to manufacture cells are significantly decreased.

Greg Herman, an associate professor of chemical engineering at OSU, is collaborating with the engineers to develop ink compounds that are even less expensive to make. Scientists also say producing solar cells using inkjet technology is less time consuming than traditional methods.

Chalcopyrite, also known as CIGS, consists of copper, indium, gallium, and selenium. Currently being studied and researched extensively, chalcopyrite has a much greater solar efficiency than silicon. A layer of chalcopyrite has the efficiency of a layer of silicon 25 to 50 times thicker. Clunky and obtrusive silicon solar panels may soon be a thing of the past.

Scientists believe inkjet technology will allow solar cells to be incorporated directly into various applications, such as roofing, windows, or curtains. As some may consider silicon solar panels unsightly, chalcopyrite cells can provide solar energy in a less conspicuous manner. Also, scientists believe, to satisfy the need to design and produce these new applications, new jobs could be created.

In the past, inkjet technology has been used in the production of solar cells. For example, silicon solar cells contain an arrangement of silver lines that carries electrical current. The traditional method of printing these lines is screen printing. However, scientists at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) were able to formulate an ink that was more conductive than the silver paste used in screen printing. Additionally, the lines produced with inkjet technology were thinner than lines that were screen printed. Although less silver was used using the inkjet method, it was as energy efficient as the traditional method.

In 2008, Konarka Technologies used a FUJIFILM Dimatix Materials Printer to create photovoltaic solar cells. The company demonstrated that using inkjet technology, solar cells can be created without wasting raw material. The printer featured a cartridge that can be filled by scientists with their choice of ink.

Solar energy is regarded as a very clean and sustainable form of energy; however, many people overlook the environmental impacts and costs of manufacturing solar cells. If less wasteful and less expensive technologies, such as inkjet printing, can be implemented effectively in manufacturing solar cells, solar energy can be even more environmentally friendly and cost-effective.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/solar_decathlon/4009120815/

Solar Panels on the White House? Not Quite Yet

A self-imposed deadline for installing solar panels on the White House roof, which the Obama administration announced last fall, has come and gone without the promised solar fixture seeing the light of day.  According to a public announcement made at a clean energy conference on October 5th, solar panels and a solar water heating system were supposed to be installed on the most prominent building in the US, sometime in spring of 2011.  However spring is now over and the White House remains solar panel-free.  Environmental activists say they are disappointed.

“We started our campaign to put solar panels back on the White House because it was a clear and simple way to push President Obama to show more leadership on the climate crisis,” said May Boeve of the international environmental group 350.org, in an email to supporters. 

350.org, which was co-founded by author and activist Bill McKibben to help build a global movement to stop climate change, contends the White House solar panels are symbolically important.  No one solar array, even on the White House, will do very much to stop global warming on its own.  But if the White House goes solar thousands of US households may be inspired to follow suit—just as First Lady Michelle Obama’s organic garden led to a wave of home gardens being planted across the country.

Putting solar panels on the White House is also symbolic for historic reasons.  The first White House solar system was installed decades ago by President Jimmy Carter, who was also making a major push to shift the US economy away from fossil fuels.  But when President Ronald Reagan took charge of the White House, he had the panels removed and also pulled the plug on clean energy incentive programs.  By re-solarizing the residence of the nation’s head of state, environmentalists hope President Obama will signal his intent to get serious about clean energy.

According to a White House press release the solar panel project is still in the works, but has been stalled by regulatory hurdles.  The White House, as a building of extreme historical and cultural importance, can’t just be retrofitted however the current occupants want.  But environmentalists worry the delay is as symbolically significant as installing the panels in the first place would be.  It suggests the Obama administration isn’t all that committed to clean energy—or at least hasn’t made it a top priority.

“When it comes to handouts for big polluters,” wrote 350.org co-coordinator Jamie Henn, “President Obama seems to have felt ‘the fierce urgency of now,’ but when it comes to climate, the best advocates can get is a ‘deliberative process.’”  It isn’t just the solar panels at issue: in the last several months the Obama administration has thrown its support behind increased coal mining in Wyoming and deepwater oil drilling off the nation’s coasts, and announced delays in rules to clean up dirty coal plants. 

Meanwhile the administration has yet to make the same kind of push for clean energy that it made for healthcare and Wall Street reform last year.  This has led environmental groups, which strongly supported Obama’s 2008 election campaign, to accuse the president of caving to entrenched fossil fuel interests.

Climate activists are determined not to let this slide.  In the last days of spring, more than 125,000 350.org supporters signed a letter to the president asking him to meet the deadline for installing solar power.  Hundreds of people called the White House to ask that the administration get serious about solar panels.  350.org is also gearing up for a massive day of action on September 24th.  On “Moving Planet Day,” people across the US and around the world will rally for the climate and urge world leaders to move beyond fossil fuels.

The task of putting solar panels on the White House roof may be delayed, but the national movement for clean energy and a stable climate goes on.  

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/tom_lohdan/4217661984/sizes/m/in/photostream/