How You Benefit From Solar Energy



Taking advantage of the Sun’s light to supply your home with electricity helps to reduce your electricity bills and your carbon footprint. Whether it’s summer or winter, throughout the year, Australia bakes under the unyielding rays of the sun.


On average, Australia experiences more solar radiation per square kilometre than anywhere else. The sun provides Australia with 10,000 times more energy annually than what is used by the country in a year. Solar panels enable the use of this incredibly abundant, renewable source of energy.


Solar panels allow the harnessing of the Sun’s energy and convert it into electricity that can readily be used in the home to power all of its appliances. Comprised of photovoltaic (PV) cells, the panels are usually mounted on the home’s roof and situated in a way to maximise their exposure to the Sun’s light.


Aside from powering electrical products, solar energy can also be used to warm water and to heat your home. Heating water accounts for up to a third of a typical home’s electricity bill.


Financial benefits of solar panels

A home solar power system’s initial start-up and set-up costs should be looked at as an investment that pays for itself over time.


Obviously, as you create your own energy, you use less from the country’s power grid, which saves on your monthly electric bills. However, when your solar panels generate more electricity than your home requires, in most cases, you can sell the excess electricity back to the power grid.


Helping the planet

You can also greatly reduce your carbon footprint by installing a solar power system on your home. Solar energy is green, clean and renewable, unlike traditional sources of electricity from the grid. Solar panels don’t release any greenhouse gasses and they don’t pollute the air. Even the amount of energy used to produce the solar panels themselves is minimal.


What you need to know before investing in solar panels

Doing your research and getting advice from the professionals at Captain Green Solar can help you make an informed decision about solar panels. Here are just a few things you should consider before making the change to solar energy:


  • Your solar power system’s efficiency depends on the type of panels you have installed, the size of your system and where your home is located.
  • The efficiency of your system and how much electricity your home uses will determine home how much electricity you use from the power grid.
  • For your solar power system to be worthwhile your home’s roof can’t be shaded, you need to be able to maximize the Sun’s rays.

Solar power is an excellent way to save money year round and help the planet by reducing your carbon footprint.

By 2018, an Expected 50% of all Australian Homes will Convert to Solar Power



A new report claims that new battery technology could make it possible for Australian homes to generate and store solar-powered energy more inexpensively than traditional electricity suppliers by 2018.


A report by The Climate Council, a non-government organisation, found that improvements in battery technology may make solar energy cheaper than purchasing it within the next three years and could allow half of the nation to live “off the grid”.


Australia already boasts the highest number of household solar panel use in the world. About 15 percent of homes contain solar panels. This is roughly double the rate in Belgium, which is the second highest usage.


Solar power usage has lead to a large savings of electricity for the 1.4 million households who have installed them, but only about 500 people currently have batteries to store the leftover solar power.


The Climate Council claims that the cost of producing lithium-ion batteries will fall “dramatically” in the coming years and that each battery’s capacity will grow 50-fold within the decade.


The report states “By 2018, going off-grid by installing battery storage could be cost-competitive with staying connected as the price of battery storage falls and grid electricity remains expensive.”


“Together with rooftop solar, battery storage presents an opportunity for Australian households to use a much greater proportion of the solar photovoltaic electricity they generate and minimise the need to purchase expensive electricity from the grid.”


The Climate Council report predicts that half of Australian households will adopt a AU$10,000 battery system with a payback on initial outlay of 10 years. The phasing out of FITs across Australia is convincing a growing number of homeowners to invest in battery storage technology in order to maximize the value of their solar power technology.


“Anyone who has PV on their roof knows they’re paid a fraction, maybe a tenth, of what it costs them to buy power off the grid,” Claims Andrew Stock of the Climate Council. “If they have a tool, a battery, that can allow them to store the surplus power during the day and use it at night, it means they’re going to get greater control than they already have over their power bill.”


The report also found that this new technology has some of the existing network operators nervous, with some companies actively altering how they price power in an attempt to discourage the adoption of the combination, solar power and storage, a move Stock called “perverse”.
Battery systems, coupled with PV, can actually help networks get much better use out of their assets by smoothing out the demand on the grid. That should mean that network companies don’t need to invest anywhere near as much at adding capacity in the future, and they get better use of their existing capacity.”

One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Clean Energy



Researchers claim a new technique could transform smelly, air-polluting landfill gas into a fuel cell that can generate clean energy for homes, offices and hospitals. The advance would convert methane gas into hydrogen, an efficient, clean form of energy.


The researchers report is part of the 248th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world’s largest scientific society.


Hydrogen has recently received a lot of attention as a clean alternative to fossil fuels, which release carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, when burned. In comparison, Hydrogen only emits water vapor when it is burned. This is why some companies are developing hydrogen fuel cells for automobiles and homes.


One excellent way to accomplish this, is to convert another greenhouse gas, methane, to hydrogen by reacting it with carbon dioxide. And the unsightly landfills are excellent sources of these gases, microbes living in the waste produce large amounts of methane and carbon dioxide as a by-product.


However, researchers have been faced with challenges while trying to bring this idea to reality. One big problem has been, finding a proper catalyst, says Fabio B. Noronha, PhD., who is with the National Institute of Technology in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.


A catalyst is a substance that speeds up processes that would otherwise occur slower. In this case, researchers are using catalysts to help turn methane and carbon dioxide into hydrogen and carbon monoxide. The problem is that carbon, which forms as a contaminant during the process, deposits onto the catalyst.


“The heart of the process for the production of hydrogen from landfill gas is the catalyst, and this can be disrupted by the presence of carbon,” Noronha explains. “Because of carbon deposition, the catalyst loses the capacity to convert the landfill gases into hydrogen.”


He says that to solve this problem, his team developed a new catalyst material that removes the carbon as soon as it is formed. This approach was based on the automotive catalysts developed in the past to control car and truck emissions, he adds. The material is a perovskite-type oxide supported on ceria, which is a component of ceramics.
Currently, the researchers are working on the reaction in the laboratory, however, the new, highly stable catalyst should be ideal for commercialization. As a step in that direction, the team plans to test it on a larger scale using material from a local landfill, says Noronha.


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New Innovative Substance to be used in Solar Cells and Flexible Electronics



Physicists at the University of Kansas have created an innovative substance from two different atomic sheets that interlock like Lego toy bricks. The researchers said the new material, made of a layer of graphene and a layer of tungsten disulfide, could be used in solar cells and flexible electronics.


Hsin-Ying Chiu, assistant professor of physics and astronomy, and graduate student Matt Bellus created the new material using “layer-by-layer assembly” as a versatile bottom-up nanofabrication technique.


Then, Jiaqi He, a visiting student from China, and Nardeep Kumar, a graduate student who now has moved to Intel Corp., investigated how electrons move between the two layers through ultrafast laser spectroscopy in KU’s Ultrafast Laser Lab, supervised by Hui Zhao, associate professor of physics and astronomy.


“To build artificial materials with synergistic functionality has been a long journey of discovery,” Chiu said. “A new class of materials, made of the layered materials, has attracted extensive attention ever since the rapid development of graphene technology. One of the most promising aspects of this research is the potential to devise next-generation materials via atomic layer-level control over its electronic structure.”


According to the researchers, the approach is to design synergistic materials by combining two single-atom thick sheets, for example, acting as a photovoltaic cell as well as a light-emitting diode, converting energy between electricity and radiation. However, combining layers of atomically thin material is a thorny task that has flummoxed researchers for years.


“A big challenge of this approach is that, most materials don’t connect together because of their different atomic arrangements at the interface — the arrangement of the atoms cannot follow the two different sets of rules at the same time,” Chiu said.


“This is like playing with Legos of different sizes made by different manufacturers. As a consequence, new materials can only be made from materials with very similar atomic arrangements, which often have similar properties, too. Even then, the arrangement of atoms at the interface is irregular, which often results in poor qualities.”


The use of layered materials, like the ones developed by the KU researchers, provide a solution for this problem. The new material features two layers where each atomic sheet is composed of atoms bound strongly with their neighbors.


Unlike the conventional materials formed by atoms that are strongly bound in all directions, the two atomic sheets are themselves only weakly linked to each other by the so-called van der Waals force, the same attractive phenomenon between molecules that allows geckos to stick to walls and ceilings.


“There exist about 100 different types of layered crystals — graphite is a well-known example,” Bellus said. “Because of the weak interlayer connection, one can choose any two types of atomic sheets and put one on top of the other without any problem. It’s like playing Legos with a flat bottom. There is no restriction. This approach can potentially produce a large number of new materials with combined novel properties and transform the material science.”

The research groups led by Chiu and Zhao are trying to apply this Lego approach to other materials. For example, by combining two materials that absorb light of different colors, they can make materials that react to diverse parts of the solar spectrum.


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Major Increase in Production of Hydropower Expected this Decade



A major increase in the construction of hydropower dams is underway, mainly in developing countries and emerging economies. Since this trend is expected to double global electricity production from hydropower, it could reduce the number of our last remaining large free-flowing rivers by about 20 percent and pose a serious threat to freshwater biodiversity.


A new database has been developed to support decision making on sustainable modes of electricity production. It was presented this month at the international congress, Global Challenges:  Achieving Sustainability hosted by the University of Copenhagen.


The increasing demand for electricity from renewable sources has kick-started the hydropower development into a new era. Following a period of a flattening trend, an unprecedented number of dams for electricity production is currently under construction or planned worldwide.


However, this boom is occurring, primarily, in developing countries and emerging economies in South America, Southeast Asia and Africa, that also hold some of the world’s most important sites for freshwater biodiversity.


“Hydropower is an integrated part of transitioning to renewable energy and currently the largest contributor of renewable electricity. However, it is vital that hydropower dams do not create a new problem for the biodiversity in the world’s freshwater systems, due to fragmentation and the expected changes in the flow and sediment regime. That is why we have compiled available data on future expected hydropower dams — to form a key foundation for evaluating where and how to build the dams and how to operate them sustainably,” says Prof. Dr. Christiane Zarfl (now Universität Tübingen) who, together with her colleagues, performed the study at the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB) in Berlin. She is presenting the database today at the congress Global Challenges: Achieving Sustainability.


Electricity capacity may double with hydropower

Renewable energy currently accounts for 20 percent of the global electricity production, with hydropower contributing 80 percent of the total shares. An expected 3700 major dams may more than double the total electricity capacity of hydropower to 1,700 GW within the next two decades.


Considering all the planned dams, China will remain the global leader in hydropower dam construction, although their share of total future global hydropower production will decline from currently 31 to 25 percent, due to increases in other parts of the world.


The largest total number of new dams in South America will be in the Amazon and La Plata basins, whereas the Ganges-Brahmaputra basin (mainly India and Nepal) and the Yangtze basin in China will face the highest dam construction in Asia.


“When building new dams, it is important to follow a systematic management approach that considers the ecological, social, and economic consequences of multiple dams within a river basin,” says Prof. Dr. Klement Tockner, head of IGB, who is leading the Institute´s research activities on sustainable hydropower development.

“We expect to launch the database in BioFresh, the platform for global freshwater biodiversity and hope to see our results as a valuable reference basis for scientists and decision makers in supporting sustainable hydropower development,” says Prof. Dr. Christiane Zarfl.


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Renewable Energy Storage



Renewable energy holds the great promise of reducing carbon dioxide emissions. However, there are times when solar and wind farms generate more electricity than is needed by consumers. Storing the surplus energy in batteries for later use seems like the obvious solution, but a new study from Stanford University suggests this might not always be the case.


“We looked at batteries and other promising technologies for storing solar and wind energy on the electrical grid,” said Charles Barnhart, the lead author of the study and a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford’s Global Climate and Energy Project (GCEP).


“Our primary goal was to calculate their overall energetic cost — that is, the total amount of fuel and electricity required to build and operate these storage technologies. We found that when you factor in the energy costs, grid-scale batteries make sense for storing surplus solar energy, but not for wind.”


Renewable energy and climate change

Most of the electricity in the United States is generated at power plants that run on coal and natural gas, fossil fuels that significantly contribute to global warming by emitting large amounts of carbon dioxide. Solar and wind power are emissions-free and renewable, but depend on sunlight or wind to operate.


“For the grid to function efficiently, power supply needs to match power demand at all times, but with renewables, that’s not always the case,” Barnhart said. “For example, wind farms sometimes produce too much electricity at night when demand is low. That excess energy has to be stored or used elsewhere. Otherwise it will be lost. However, the U.S. grid has very limited storage capacity.”


The lack of grid-scale storage has touched off the development of a wide variety of technologies to address the problem. The Stanford team looked at several emerging technologies, including five battery types, lead-acid, lithium-ion, sodium-sulfur, vanadium-redox, and zinc-bromine.


In a previous study, Barnhart calculated the energetic cost of building and maintaining each of the five battery systems for grid-scale storage. Lead-acid batteries had the highest energetic cost and lithium-ion had the lowest.


“We calculated how much energy is used over the full lifecycle of the battery — from the mining of raw materials to the installation of the finished device,” Barnhart said. “Batteries with high energetic cost consume more fossil fuels and therefore release more carbon dioxide over their lifetime. If a battery’s energetic cost is too high, its overall contribution to global warming could negate the environmental benefits of the wind or solar farm it was supposed to support.”


Barnhart and his colleagues calculated the energetic cost of grid-scale photovoltaic solar cells and wind turbines for this study.


“Both wind turbines and photovoltaics deliver more energy than it takes to build and maintain them,” said GCEP postdoctoral scholar Michael Dale, a co-author of the study. “However, our calculations showed that the overall energetic cost of wind turbines is much lower than conventional solar panels, which require lots of energy, primarily from fossil fuels, for processing silicon and fabricating other components.”


Store it or shut it down

The scientists next looked at the cost of curtailment, or the practice of shutting down solar panels and wind turbines to reduce the production of surplus electricity on the grid.


“Curtailment of renewable resources seems wasteful,” Barnhart said. “But grid operators routinely curtail wind turbines to avoid a sudden, unexpected surge of excess electricity that could overload transmission lines and cause blackouts. Curtailment rates in the U.S. will likely increase as renewable energy becomes more prevalent.”


Shutting down a clean source of electricity seems counterproductive, but is storing surplus energy in batteries a practical alternative?


To find out, the researchers compared the energetic cost of curtailing solar and wind power, versus the energetic cost of grid-scale storage. Their calculations were based on a formula known as “energy return on investment” — the amount of energy produced by a technology, divided by the amount of energy it takes to build and maintain it.


Using that formula, the researchers found that the amount of energy required to create a solar farm is comparable to the energy used to build each of the five battery technologies. “Using batteries to store solar power during periods of low demand would, therefore, be energetically favorable,” Dale said.


The results were quite different for wind farms. The scientists found that curtailing wind power reduces the energy return on investment by 10 percent. But storing surplus wind-generated electricity in batteries results in even greater reductions — from about 20 percent for lithium-ion batteries to more than 50 percent for lead-acid.


“Ideally, the energetic cost of curtailing a resource should at least equal the amount of energy it cost to store it,” Dale said. “That’s the case for photovoltaics, but for wind farms, the energetic cost of curtailment is much lower than it is for batteries. Therefore, it would actually be more energetically efficient to shut down a wind turbine than to store the surplus electricity it generates.”


He compared it to buying a safe. “You wouldn’t spend a $100 on a safe to store a $10 watch,” he said. “Likewise, it’s not sensible to build energetically expensive batteries for an energetically cheap resource like wind, but it does make sense for photovoltaic systems, which require lots of energy to produce.”


Increasing the cycle life of a battery would be the most effective way to improve its energetic performance, Barnhart added. Conventional lithium-ion batteries last about four years, or 6,000 charge-discharge cycles. Lead-acid batteries only last about 700 cycles. To efficiently store energy on the grid, batteries must endure 10,000 to 18,000 cycles, he said.


“Storing energy consumes energy, and curtailing energy wastes it,” Barnhart said. “In either case, the result is a reduction in the overall energy return on investment.”


More options

In addition to batteries, the researchers considered other technologies for storing renewable energy, such as pumped hydroelectric storage, which uses surplus electricity to pump water to a reservoir behind a dam. Later, when demand for energy is high, the stored water is released through turbines in the dam to generate electricity.


“Pumped hydro is used in 99 percent of grid storage today, ” Barnhart said. “It works fantastically from an energetic perspective for both wind and solar. Its energy return on investment is 10 times better than conventional batteries. But there are geologic and environmental constraints on where pumped hydro can be deployed.”


Storage is not the only way to improve grid reliability. “Energy that would otherwise be lost during times of excess could be used to pump water for irrigation or to charge a fleet of electric vehicles, for example,” Dale said.


It’s important for society to be energy-smart about implementing new technologies, Barnhart added. “Policymakers and investors need to consider the energetic cost as well as the financial cost of new technologies,” he said. “If economics is the sole focus, then less expensive technologies that require significant amounts of energy for their manufacture, maintenance and replacement might win out — even if they ultimately increase greenhouse gas emissions and negate the long-term benefits of implementing wind and solar power.”

“Our goal is to understand what’s needed to build a scalable low-carbon energy system,” said co-author Sally Benson, the director of GCEP and a professor of energy resources engineering. “Energy return on investment is one of those metrics that sheds light on potential roadblocks. Hopefully this study will provide a performance target to guide future research on grid-scale energy storage.”


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The Weight of Traffic and Pedestrians can Generate Electricity

Generate Energy from Walking


Mexican entrepreneurs have developed a system capable of using the flow of vehicles to generate electric energy. This development has the potential to produce sufficient electricity to supply power to a household through a device that “catches” the force of the moving cars.


“This is a technology that provides sustained energy and could be implemented at low prices, since it’s a complement of already existing infrastructure:  the concrete of streets and avenues,” Hector Ricardo Macias Hernandez, developer of the system said. He also added that at a global level, there are no records of similar projects, with the exception of an English patent, but with the difference that in the European country piezoelectric floors are used, which are too expensive for developing countries.


The technology consists in a system that integrates a ramp-step that elevates to five centimeters above the level of the street. When receiving the impact of the vehicle, this ramp exerts pressure on a set of bellows below.


The bellows contain air that is expelled at a certain pressure through a hose; later, this element travels to a tank where it is compressed and relaunched to an electricity generating turbine. Macias Hernandez also said that the accumulation of electric energy is proportional to the flow of cars over a determined spot, however, in places with a lower flow of vehicles, several ramp-steps could be added to multiply the impact of every individual vehicle.


The developer added that the technology could also be implemented in places with high pedestrian flow. This way the steps of the people would generate electricity, according to the laws of gravitational energy, and this principle could be implemented in places like the subway.


According to Macias Hernandez, this development is translated in a source of sustainable energy that implies a low execution cost. The entrepreneur also mentioned that the support of the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property (IMPI) was essential to achieve the technological development given that the institution elaborated a previous study regarding the viability of the project and gave advice to structure the necessary patients of the invention.


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