Tag Archives: Solar power

Finally, A Solar Panel That You Can Actually See Through!

Solar power technology has been advancing rapidly in recent years. The rapidly decreasing cost and increasing efficiency of solar power has set off a solar revolution worldwide.

Germany, which is currently using solar to produce 50% of its total energy, has led the charge, along with the rest of Europe.

Other countries, like India, have made the expansion of solar infrastructure a primary focus.

The growth of solar power in the last 15 years. Click to enlarge

Now, there’s a new advancement which could end up being the tipping point in the solar revolution: a totally transparent solar concentrator.

The “transparent luminescent solar concentrator” can be placed over windows to gather solar power while still allowing people to actually see through the window.

The concentrator, which was designed by a team of researchers from Michigan State University, can also be used on cell phones or pretty much anything with a clear surface.

Other people have tried to design transparent solar concentrators before, but the materials they used were inefficient (in terms of energy  production) and created some pretty obvious tints on the window.

“No one wants to sit behind colored glass… It makes for a very colorful environment, like working in a disco. We take an approach where we actually make the luminescent active layer itself transparent,”

said Robert Lunt, an engineering professor at MSU who led the research.

A close up of the solar concentrator (Photo: Yimu Zhao)
A close up of the solar concentrator (Photo: Yimu Zhao)

This new solar concentrator uses tiny organic molecules that were specifically designed by Lunt and his team to absorb wavelengths of light that are invisible to the naked eye.

“We can tune these materials to pick up just the ultraviolet and the near infrared wavelengths that then ‘glow’ at another wavelength in the infrared,”

said Lunt while explaining the process. This infrared light is then directed to the edges of the concentrator, where tiny strips of photovoltaic cells convert it into electricity.

Since the molecules used to capture the energy are specifically designed to not absorb or emit light within the visible spectrum, the concentrator appears to be almost completely transparent to the naked eye.

The electromagnetic spectrum. Click to enlarge

The technology is innovative, functional and versatile. Lunt believes it could ultimately become a huge part of our lives:

“It can be used on tall buildings with lots of windows or any kind of mobile device that demands high aesthetic quality like a phone or e-reader. Ultimately we want to make solar harvesting surfaces that you do not even know are there.”

Read the original story from Science Daily here.

The Revolutionary New Propulsion Engine That Even Scientists Didn’t Believe Was Possible

Roger Shawyer is one of the most persistent and driven individuals in the world.

For years, he has been working on a new type of propulsion engine that could theoretically run forever without needing any fuel. He calls his device the EmDrive.

The engine works by bouncing around microwave radiation in a small space to produce thrust, rather than burning a propellant fuel. The microwaves are produced by solar power which is generated from panels on the outside of the engine.

Roger Shawyer (left), receiving a DTI SMART Award for his EmDrive concept in August 2001 . Click to enlarge

When he first began proposing the idea for a quantum vacuum plasma thruster, Shawyer was laughed at. Most scientists he talked to told him the idea was ludicrous, saying that (among other issues) it defied the theory of conservation of momentum.

Only a group of Chinese scientists was willing to actually try out the idea. In 2009, they built a model of Shawyer’s engine that actually worked, producing enough thrust to power a small satellite.

Even then, many people weren’t convinced. But recently, American scientist Guido Fetta and a team at NASA Eagleworks (NASA’s experimental technologies division) recreated the engine for themselves, and found that the design actually does in fact work.

NASA’s Eagleworks Labs logo

In a statement about their findings, the NASA research team said:

“Test results indicate that the RF resonant cavity thruster design, which is unique as an electric propulsion device, is producing a force that is not attributable to any classical electromagnetic phenomenon and therefore is potentially demonstrating an interaction with the quantum vacuum virtual plasma.”

The whole mystery behind the engine stems from the difference between how physics operates on a large scale in our every day world, and how it operates on the microscopic, quantum level (ie. quantum physics).

When we observe molecules in their most basic form, they often don’t follow the same rules of physics that govern our visible world.

For example, if you throw a tennis ball off of a wall, you wouldn’t expect it to speed up after hitting the wall- its acceleration is totally dependent on how much force you release the ball with.

Momentum (p) is equal to Mass (m) times Velocity (v). The law of conservation of momentum says that for large objects like a tennis ball, the momentum when the ball leaves the wall must be exactly the same as when it hit the wall (minus whatever force is lost to friction). Click to enlarge

But on the quantum level, things change. Shawyer describes the principles of how the engine works here, but the wording is a bit overly scientific if you’re not an engineer, so I’ll try to break it down as best I can.

Basically, the microwave particles that the EmDrive uses can travel extremely fast (up to almost the speed of light). Because of this high velocity, the particles exert a force (albeit a very, very small one) on the reflective inner walls of the engine.

So, each reflector has a different velocity at its surface, depending on how many radiation molecules are hitting it and how fast they’re moving. Imagine someone throwing marbles at the surface of a number of drums- the drum being hit by the largest amount of fast-moving marbles is going to be vibrating the most.

The microwaves cause vibrations on the reflectors similar to how a droplet creates ripples in the water. However, in water, this energy can dissipate outwards, whereas is the EmDrive, this energy gets stored on the surface of the reflector

The radiation molecules have virtually no mass. Because of this, their momentum can actually be increased by bouncing them from a reflector with a lower surface velocity to one with a higher surface velocity. This added momentum comes from the difference in force between the two surfaces.

By taking advantage of this principle and carefully designing the inner geometry of the thruster, Shawyer was able to create a compartment that perfectly bounced the microwave radiation between reflectors, steadily increasing its momentum until it gets released out of the end as thrust.

A diagram of the thrust chamber, illustrating the concept. Click to enlarge

And since the microwaves are generated using solar panels, the engine could theoretically work forever, or at least until its hardware fails.

There still needs to be much more extensive testing to prove that the engine can be replicated and utilized on a larger scale, but the basic concept has been demonstrated twice now.

The lesson: never stop pursuing your dreams. The people who make the biggest impacts on our society are usually people who have been called crazy more than a handful of times throughout their lives.

So, to you Roger Shawyer: thanks for being a stubborn dreamer. I hope your engine plays a big role in revolutionizing this era of space exloration and discovery!

(h/t Sploid)

India Continues to Lead the Solar Industry By Building A Huge Floating Solar Power Plant

India has been at the forefront of the solar industry for the past few years now. They are currently in the process of building by far the world’s largest solar power plant, and newly elected Prime Minister Norendra Modi has announced a plan to bring electricity to every home by 2017, using solar power.

Now, India is taking another huge step in the development of their solar infrastructure.

The idea of floating solar panels is not a new one. India already has a number of solar installations floating on canals across the country. And just last year, Japan opened up its new Kagoshima Nanatsujima plant, a floating solar plant consisting of 290,000 solar panels floating off the coast of Kagoshima, a city at the southernmost point of Japan.

Japan’s Kagoshima solar installation. Click to enlarge

India’s new plant will be similar to the Japanese one, though slightly smaller. It will cover an area of  1.27 million square meters (about 0.5 square miles), and generate 50 MegaWatts of power.

For comparison, Kagoshima, which generates 70 MWs, is able to power 22,000 homes with a little extra power left over (which goes back into the grid).

Gon Choudhury, chairman of India’s Renewable Energy College, recently spoke with Gizmodo about the plans. He pointed out that the plant will have little environmental impact on the ecology of the body of water, and that the solar installation will also reduce evaporation, helping to conserve water during the hot summer.

He also pointed out that floating solar panels are more efficient than those on land:

“Solar panels installed on land, face reduction of yield as the ground heats up. When such panels are installed on a floating platform, the heating problem is solved to a great extent,”

Choudhury says. India hopes to complete the project by the end of the year.

Read the original story from Gizmodo here.

Note: The feature image is of a floating solar installation in Okegawa, Japan.

What In the World Are “Solar FREAKIN’ Roadways” and Why Do They Have People So Excited? (Video)

Engineering couple Julie and Scott Brusaw invented “Solar Freakin’ Roadways” in 2006, and have been helping lead the Solar Roadway campaign since.

Check out the Solar Freakin’ Roadway’s video below and see what these futuristic roadways look like and how they work.

Solar Freakin’ Roadway’s hexagon-shaped solar panels can be used not only to collect solar power, but also to light highways and even melt snow and ice. What’s more, the Brusaws claim that their solar roadways have the potential to cut greenhouse gases by up to 75%!

As the designers point out in the video, these solar panels are not just for roads and highways- they can also be used for parking lots, playgrounds, and pretty much anywhere there’s asphalt. Imagine a world where these were everywhere: we’d be producing huge amounts of clean energy and frankly, it’d look pretty sweet!

These solar panels are rapidly gaining attention and leading a movement encouraging the use of Solar Roadways in hopes of making our planet a healthier place to live.

To learn more and/or help fund the project check out Solar Roadways Indiegogo page here.

India’s New Leader Has A Bold Plan: Using Solar Power to Bring Electricity to Every Home By 2019

After 2 moths and more than half a billion votes, India’s marathon of a presidential election ended last Friday, with historic results. The BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), India’s opposition party for the past 10 years, won a landslide victory.

Not only did the party win a clear majority in the lower house of parliament (the first time a non-Congress party has done so since India won its independence in 1947), but their candidate for prime minister, Norendra Modi, came out on top as well.

New Indian President Narendra Modi (Photo: Forbes)

Before being elected prime minister earlier this month, Modi was the chief minister of the Indian state of Gujarat.

In 2009, Modi pioneered the country’s first large-scale solar power project in Gujarat, including the construction of Asia’s largest solar power plant. India also recently began constructing what will be by far biggest solar power plant in the world.

Asia’s largest solar installation, located in Gujarat

His administration plans to use Modi’s work in Gujarat as a blueprint for expanding solar power across the nation.

“We look upon solar as having the potential to completely transform the way we look at the energy space,”

says Narendra Taneja, an official from the energy division of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party. The plan is to enable every single Indian home to power at least one light by 2019. As of right now, about 400 million of India’s 1.2 billion residents lack access to electricity.

Modi visiting one of the solar installments in Gujarat

Expanding solar power and the clean energy sector is a major priority for the new government for a number of reasons. Firstly, it will help India avoid some of the pollution problems that China is currently dealing with as the country’s industries develop and modernize. Also, it will create new jobs and supply electricity to millions of scattered Indian households that can’t be connected to the power grid because of their remote locations.

Taneja says that if the project is completely successful, solar power could provide each home with enough energy to run two light bulbs, a solar cooker and a television set.

Check out the original article from Bloomberg here. Read more about India’s recent historic elections from the Asia Foundation here.

So There’s This Kid Making Solar “Death Rays” And They’re Pretty Sweet (Video)

Eric Jacqmain is just a creative guy who wanted a death ray. So, he decided to cover a satellite dish with 5,800 tiny mirrors. This is from his video description:

“When properly aligned, it can generate a spot the size of a dime with an intensity of 5000 times normal daylight. This intensity of light is more than enough to melt steel, vaporize aluminum, boil concrete, turn dirt into lava, and obliterate any organic material in an instant.”

The end of the description is both ironically hilarious and moderately worrying at the same time:

“Unfortunately, the R5800 was completely destroyed in a storage shed fire on December 14, 2010, about 8 months after filming this video. It has been replaced by the R23k, which has 23,000 mirrors and a concentration power of 10,000 times daylight.”

Hey, if death rays keep him interested in science then I’m all for it.

India Building BY FAR the World’s Biggest Solar Power Plant

The project will be more than 10 times larger than any other solar project in existence today.

6 different state-owned companies will take part in the joint venture, which has a price tag of $4.4 billion.

Lake Sambhar (courtesy of NASA)
Lake Sambhar (courtesy of NASA)

Solar cells will stretch 77 square kilometers, an area larger than the island of Manhattan. The aerial image above shows Lake Sambhar, the designated site of the new plant.

The plant will have a capacity of 4,000 megawatts, about 4 times more than an average full-size nuclear plant.

According to Parimita Mohanty, a fellow at the Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in New Delhi, the new project could reduce the country’s carbon emissions by more than 4 million tons per year.

Read the full story from the journal Nature here.