Another Brick on the Wall

Posted by Chuck Harrell on Jun 2, 2015 10:30:00 AM

solar-cell-recordAll around the world, we are continually told about the benefits of moving away from fossil fuel based power to more environmentally friendly methods of generating energy.   Installing solar panels on our properties is perhaps the most practical since they are relatively easy to install on roofs.  This approach is causing engineers to develop some interesting solutions to problems.

The first problem is solar panels themselves.  Typically, they are heavy and cumbersome and require quite a lot of space to produce a little power relative to the amount of space they take up.  That's not to say they are inefficient, they are approximately 15 to 20% efficient, which compares well against other forms of energy production, but because they use silicon, they are quite expensive to manufacture.  But now a new system, developed by Oxford Photovoltacis, among others, is looking at perovskites, which are often semi-conductors, which means that they too can be used in solar cells.

Back in 2009, when the first perovskite solar cells were developed, they only converted 3.8% of light, but now that figure is up to 20% with expectations of rising as high as 25%. Perovskite comes in the form of a canary-yellow liquid which can be sprayed onto a suitable adhesive backing which can be attached to any device.  From a commercial point-of-view, manufactures are looking at methods of using them to charge cell phones or, on a larger scale, large adhesive semi-transparent cells could be attached to building windows to replace the existing dark film used to shade buildings.

Once this energy is captured, it needs to be stored somewhere or sold back to the electricity grid.  With many countries saving budgets and reducing the amount they buy back energy for, a new form of energy storage is required.   Traditional batteries are cumbersome and inefficient, so electric car manufacturer, Telsa has developed the Powerwall.   Using  the skills Tesla has developed for their cars, the Powerwall is a new system of batteries that save 100 kWh to be used and there is also the Powerpack, which can store 1GHw and power a city and is designed for industrial use.  But so what, they're just pretty batteries right, well yes, and at the moment they are just fancy lithium ion batteries, and according to Wired, at $3,000 per pack, it will take approximately eight years before you break even on the investment.  So, much like their cars, it's not really about the money.  If you have it to spare, you can do your bit to save the environment and in a fashionable way.

We're still a long way off removing power stations from our lives but through innovations like these, we may one day be able to go completely off the grid.



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