Washington - The global average temperature
last year was the ninth-warmest in the modern meteorological record,
continuing a trend linked to greenhouse gases that saw nine of the 10
hottest years occurring since the year 2000, NASA scientists said on
A separate report from the US
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said the average
temperature for the United States in 2011 as the 23rd warmest year on
The global average surface
temperature for 2011 was 0.92 degrees F (0.51 degrees C) warmer than the
mid-20th century baseline temperature, researchers at NASA's Goddard
Institute for Space Studies said in a statement. The institute's
temperature record began in 1880.
The first 11 years of the new
century were notably hotter than the middle and late 20th century,
according to institute director James Hansen. The only year from the
20th century that was among the top 10 warmest years was 1998.
These high global temperatures
come even with the cooling effects of a strong La Nina ocean temperature
pattern and low solar activity for the past several years, said Hansen,
who has long campaigned against human-spurred climate change.
The NASA statement said the
current higher temperatures are largely sustained by increased
concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, especially carbon
dioxide. Carbon dioxide is emitted by various human activities, from
coal-fired power plants to fossil-fueled vehicles to human breath.
levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere exceed 390 parts per
million, compared with 285 ppm in 1880 and 315 by 1960, NASA said.
Last year was also a year of
record-breaking climate extremes in the United States, which contributed
to 14 weather and climate disasters with economic impact of $1 billion
or more each, according to NOAA . This number does not count a
pre-Halloween snowstorm in the Northeast, which is still being analyzed.
NOAA's National Climatic Data
Center said the average 2011 temperature for 2011 for the contiguous
United States was 53.8 degrees F, which is 1 degree above the
20th-century average. Average precipitation across the country was near
normal, but this masks record-breaking extremes of drought and
precipitation, the agency said. - Reuters
Originally posted on IOL Scitech
Hong Kong - Environmentalists on Wednesday
expressed disappointment at new clean-air targets for Hong Kong, as
research showed pollution-related illnesses killed more than 3,000
residents a year.
In the face of mounting public
criticism and allegations that it is soft on polluting industry, the
government on Tuesday announced its first revision to air quality
objectives (AQOs) in 25 years.
But the tighter standards will not be implemented until 2014 and fall well short of World Health Organisation guidelines.
“We welcome these measures as a
small step in the right direction, but I have to say they are
disappointing,” Friends of the Earth Hong Kong senior environmental
affairs manager Hahn Chu said.
“These measures fall far short of WHO guidelines and do not guarantee public health safety.”
The new objectives impose more
stringent limits on the atmospheric concentration for seven pollutants
including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and lead.
first time the city will measure airborne particles smaller than 2.5
micrometres in diameter, known as PM2.5, which are more harmful than
the larger particles currently measured.
Heavy polluting vehicles will be
phased out, hybrid or electric vehicles will be promoted and more use
will be made of natural gas.
Mike Kilburn, head of
environmental strategy at independent think-tank Civic Exchange, asked
why two years had passed since the government pledged to update its air
“These are the same air quality
objectives that the government put out in 2009 and they came out
unchanged. Frankly we see this as the government's reaction to Beijing
rather than the demand of Hong Kong people for clean air.”
Beijing bowed to a vocal online
campaign earlier this month and said it would provide hourly updates of
PM2.5 measurements ahead of the Lunar New Year on January 23.
Kilburn said the 2014 timeframe
for Hong Kong's new standards would allow infrastructure projects like a
planned third airport runway to go ahead despite pollution concerns.
for the Environment Edward Yau said the WHO standards were a “distant
target” for a city like Hong Kong, which is regularly blanketed in smog
from factories and power stations in mainland China.
“Given the surrounding environment of Hong Kong, we cannot set a goal that is unachievable,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the University of Hong
Kong released updated research showing 3,200 Hong Kongers died each
year from illnesses related to bad air, up from the previous estimate
Economic losses to the southern banking and finance centre were estimated at HK$40 billion (more than $5 billion) annually.
“Hong Kong's air quality has been
deteriorating over 20 years and today presents a serious daily threat to
the health of the public and for future generations,” the university
said in a statement.
It said official air quality
standards used to communicate health hazards to the public were
“primitive and seriously misleading”.
risk categories... bear no relationship to the currently measured bad
health outcomes in the population,” it added. - Sapa-AFP
Originally posted on IOL Scitech
the past two years, the renewable energy industry was able to take
advantage of a powerful financial vehicle, namely the 1603 Grant in Lieu
of Tax Credit that was offered to developers of qualifying projects.
But with the grant set to expire at the end of 2011, many are wondering
how the industry will fare without it.
"The financing of wind projects and solar projects and other
technologies is going to fall back to the pre-grant incentives, namely
the production tax credit and the investment tax credit," said Jeff
Davis, a partner and co-head of the renewable energy practice at Mayer Brown.
During those pre-incentive days, projects relied on funding from tax
equity markets, which at the time had plenty of money to offer. But
since the crash in 2008, the tax equity market hasn't bounced back as
much as many hoped it would. "Unfortunately, corporate America still
hasn't returned to the halcyon days of yesteryear where there were
significant profits and thus tax bills," said Davis.
He thinks the tax equity markets are still under tremendous pressure.
"We are still in a situation that we've been in since 2008 where the
tax capacity or the ability to monetize those production tax credits and
investment tax credits hasn't really recovered," he said.
Jonathan Postal, senior vice president at Main Street Power, also thinks the grant will be allowed to expire and that it will cause "a significant hiccup to the financing market."
Postal thinks we'll see more innovation in deal financing, similar to
what we saw before the grant was passed. "You're going to need multiple
partners, different ownership structures. Banks aren't going to just do
the financing, " he said.
"I don't think the private equity groups are going to be as game to
do just the pure equity play, so it's going to make things significantly
more challenging," he continued.
Ed Feo of USRG Renewable Group
said he'd expect to see the capacity of the tax equity market drop by
as much as 40 percent if the grant is allowed to expire, something that
he is prepared to fight tooth and nail. He said of the grant, "the
smarter bet is that it is going to expire and those of us who are
willing to fight to the death are going to say 'call me on December 24th
and I'll let you know.'" Feo believes that there is still more analysis
that needs to be done on the number of jobs that will be impacted in
the renewable energy sector if there is no grant. He isn't prepared to
write it off yet.
Main Street Power's Postal isn't that worried about losing the grant.
He indicated that his company is actively seeking good deals and is
ready to scoop up those solar deals that have all their ducks in a row
but just can't take the project "across the finish line."
He thinks the grant program allowed a lot more players into the
field, many of whom brought just one deal to the table. After the grant
expires, "the guy that has one good project will be in trouble," he
said. "We'll be happy to look for partners to sell those."
Another issue that will surely play out in 2012 will be the extension
of the production tax credit (PTC) for wind energy projects. That
program is scheduled to sunset on Dec. 31, 2012. Feo thinks it will be
extended but admits that the political climate is pretty difficult right
now. "This is not a happy time for renewables on the political side,"
Mayer Brown's Davis thinks 2012 could be tough on the wind market one
way or another but especially by the end of 2012. "It's a little easier
to say that at the end of 2012, we'll see a significant falling off if
that [the PTC] is not extended regardless of what happens to the grant,"
Will that mean that solar will maintain a steady project pipeline but
wind won't? "For 2012 it's hard to say who's going to feel more pain or
who's going to withstand the pending expiration. Certainly, once you
get past 2012, unless we get an extension of the PTC, solar is the clear
winner," said Davis. Solar projects can take advantage of the PTC until
That said, Main Street Power's Postal thinks that solar deals will
certainly be more difficult to close in 2012. "I think, by the end of
the year , it will end up being less solar was done in '12 than
was done this year [in 2011]," he explained.
The other key trend to watch in terms of renewable energy financing
will be the price of solar panels. "High-quality Chinese panels are
coming in south of a dollar or certainly in that range so people are
doing forward pricing on that number for a year from now and you're
looking at 80 cents [per watt] for panels, even 75 [cents per watt]," he
said. Postal believes those low prices are a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, with prices that low, many markets are getting
pretty close to grid parity, he said, which would mean more and more
attractive deals in certain high solar markets. "On the other hand it's
not U.S. companies [that are making the equipment], he said, something
that angers many in the industry. An international trade dispute was
recently filed against Chinese panelmakers, which could result in higher
prices for crystalline silicon panels in the future.
Project developers benefit from low prices, however, and Postal was
quick to add that once grid parity is achieved, U.S. companies still
benefit. "It is U.S. project companies like ours [doing the projects] -
it's just the equipment that is coming in from overseas," he said.
Renewable energy financiers agree that no matter what, 2012 will be a
tough one for renewables. While the first half of the year may look
better than the second half due to the completion of projects that began
under the grant, the second half may turn out to be pretty bleak.
"I think '12 is going to be rough," concluded Postal. "I think you're
going to see a lot of consolidation...in the finance space, the
Postal said he expects that many of the "three- to five-person firms"
that set up shop recently to try to ride the renewables wave will close
in 2012. "I think a lot of them will decide 'this is too painful to
stay in this industry,'" he said.
Jennifer Runyon, Managing Editor, RenewableEnergyWorld.com
Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have invented a new type of
electronic switch that performs electronic logic functions within a
single molecule. The incorporation of such single-molecule elements
could enable smaller, faster, and more energy-efficient electronics
The research findings, supported by a $1 million grant from the W.M.
Keck Foundation, were published online in the Nov. 14 issue of Nano Letters
"This new switch is superior to existing single-molecule concepts,"
said Hrvoje Petek, principal investigator and professor of physics and
chemistry in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and
codirector of the Petersen Institute for NanoScience and Engineering
(PINSE) at Pitt. "We are learning how to reduce electronic circuit
elements to single molecules for a new generation of enhanced and more
The switch was discovered by experimenting with the rotation of a
triangular cluster of three metal atoms held together by a nitrogen
atom, which is enclosed entirely within a cage made up entirely of
carbon atoms. Petek and his team found that the metal clusters
encapsulated within a hollow carbon cage could rotate between several
structures under the stimulation of electrons. This rotation changes the
molecule's ability to conduct an electric current, thereby switching
among multiple logic states without changing the spherical shape of the
carbon cage. Petek says this concept also protects the molecule so it
can function without influence from outside chemicals.
Because of their constant spherical shape, the prototype molecular
switches can be integrated as atom-like building blocks the size of one
nanometer (100,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair) into
massively parallel computing architectures.
The prototype was demonstrated using an Sc3N@C80 molecule sandwiched
between two electrodes consisting of an atomically flat copper oxide
substrate and an atomically sharp tungsten tip. By applying a voltage
pulse, the equilateral triangle-shaped Sc3N could be rotated predictably
among six logic states.
The research was led by Petek in collaboration with chemists at the
Leibnitz Institute for Solid State Research in Dresden, Germany, and
theoreticians at the University of Science and Technology of China in
Hefei, People's Republic of China. The experiments were performed by
postdoctoral researcher Tian Huang and research assistant professor Min
Feng, both in Pitt's Department of Physics and AstronomyScienceDaily (Dec. 1, 2011)
A drop in carbon dioxide appears to be the driving force that led to the
Antarctic ice sheet's formation, according to a recent study led by
scientists at Yale and Purdue universities of molecules from ancient
algae found in deep-sea core samples.
The key role of the greenhouse gas in one of the biggest climate
events in Earth's history supports carbon dioxide's importance in past
climate change and implicates it as a significant force in present and
The team pinpointed a threshold for low levels of carbon dioxide
below which an ice sheet forms in the South Pole, but how much the
greenhouse gas must increase before the ice sheet melts -- which is the
relevant question for the future -- remains a mystery.
Matthew Huber, a professor of earth and atmospheric sciences at
Purdue, said roughly a 40 percent decrease in carbon dioxide occurred
prior to and during the rapid formation of a mile-thick ice sheet over
the Antarctic approximately 34 million years ago.
A paper detailing the results was published on Dec. 1 in the journal Science.
"The evidence falls in line with what we would expect if carbon
dioxide is the main dial that governs global climate; if we crank it up
or down there are dramatic changes," Huber said. "We went from a warm
world without ice to a cooler world with an ice sheet overnight, in
geologic terms, because of fluctuations in carbon dioxide levels."
For 100 million years prior to the cooling, which occurred at the end
of the Eocene epoch, Earth was warm and wet. Mammals and even reptiles
and amphibians inhabited the North and South poles, which then had
subtropical climates. Then, over a span of about 100,000 years,
temperatures fell dramatically, many species of animals became extinct,
ice covered Antarctica and sea levels fell as the Oligocene epoch began.
Mark Pagani, the Yale geochemist who led the study, said polar ice
sheets and sea ice exert a strong control on modern climate, influencing
the global circulation of warm and cold air masses, precipitation
patterns and wind strengths, and regulating global and regional
"The onset of Antarctic ice is the mother of all climate 'tipping
points,'" he said. "Recognizing the primary role carbon dioxide change
played in altering global climate is a fundamentally important
There has been much scientific discussion about this sudden cooling,
but until now there has not been much evidence and solid data to tell
what happened, Huber said.
The team found the tipping point in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels
for cooling that initiates ice sheet formation is about 600 parts per
million. Prior to the levels dropping this low, it was too warm for the
ice sheet to form. At Earth's current level of around 390 parts per
million, the environment is such that an ice sheet remains, but carbon
dioxide levels and temperatures are increasing. The world will likely
reach levels between 550 and 1,000 parts per million by 2100. Melting an
ice sheet is a different process than its initiation, and it is not
known what level would cause the ice sheet to melt away completely,
"The system is not linear and there may be a different threshold for
melting the ice sheet, but if we continue on our current path of warming
we will eventually reach that tipping point," he said. "Of course after
we cross that threshold it will still take many thousands of years to
melt an ice sheet."
What drove the rise and fall in carbon dioxide levels during the Eocene and Oligocene is not known.
The team studied geochemical remnants of ancient algae from seabed
cores collected by drilling in deep-ocean sediments and crusts as part
of the National Science Foundation's Integrated Ocean Drilling program.
The biochemical molecules present in algae vary depending on the
temperature, nutrients and amount of dissolved carbon dioxide present in
the ocean water. These molecules are well preserved even after many
millions of years and can be used to reconstruct the key environmental
variables at the time, including carbon dioxide levels in the
atmosphere, Pagani said.
Samples from two sites in the tropical Atlantic Ocean were the main
focus of this study because this area was stable at that point in
Earth's history and had little upwelling, which brings carbon dioxide
from the ocean floor to the surface and could skew measurements of
atmospheric carbon dioxide, Huber said.
In re-evaluating previous estimates of atmospheric carbon dioxide
levels using deep-sea core samples, the team found that continuous data
from a stable area of the ocean is necessary for accurate results. Data
generated from a mix of sites throughout the world's oceans caused
inaccuracies due to variations in the nutrients present in different
locations. This explained conflicting results from earlier papers based
on the deep-sea samples that suggested carbon dioxide increased during
the formation of the ice sheet, he said.
Constraints on temperature and nutrient concentrations were achieved
through modeling of past circulation, temperature and nutrient
distributions performed by Huber and Willem Sijp at the University of
New South Wales in Australia. The collaboration built on Huber's
previous work using the National Center for Atmospheric Research
Community Climate System Model 3, one of the same models used to predict
future climates, and used the UVic Earth System Climate Model developed
at the University of Victoria, British Columbia.
"The models got it just about right and provided results that matched
the information obtained from the core samples," he said. "This was an
important validation of the models. If they are able to produce results
that match the past, then we can have more confidence in their ability
to predict future scenarios."
In addition to Huber, Pagani and Sijp, paper co-authors include
Zhonghui Liu of the University of Hong Kong, Steven Bohaty of the
University of Southampton in England, Jorijntje Henderiks of Uppsala
University in Sweden, Srinath Krishnan of Yale, and Robert DeConto of
the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.
The National Science Foundation, Natural Environment Research
Council, Royal Swedish Academy and Yale Department of Geology funded
In 2004 the team used evidence from deep-sea core samples to
challenge the longstanding theory that the ice sheet developed because
of a shift from warm to cool ocean currents millions of years ago. The
team found that a cold current, not the warm one that had been
theorized, was flowing past the Antarctic coast for millions of years
before the ice sheet developed.
Huber next plans to investigate the impact of an ice sheet on climate.
"It seems that the polar ice sheet shaped our modern climate, but we
don't have much hard data on the specifics of how," he said. "It is
important to know by how much it cools the planet and how much warmer
the planet would get without an ice sheet."ScienceDaily (Dec. 1, 2011)
tariffs placed on Chinese solar panels amount to "protectionism?" Are
the companies most critical of the trade complaint "just crying foul?"
And what's more important to American companies, the race to grid parity
or the desire to reclaim solar manufacturing from China?
With the creation of competing coalitions, the sides have been
clearly labeled, and the opinions have become increasingly entrenched.
But there remains a striking lack of clarity about what happens if and
when tariffs are placed on solar panels and cells imported into the
U.S., and how that could ultimately impact American businesses and
American solar capacity.
Those answers are hard to come by as the solar industry anxiously waits for an investigation of whether China has been illegally dumping
solar panels into the U.S. market to come to an end. Will the prices
coming out of China be ruled legitimate? Will the U.S. International
Trade Commission find culpability, but implement a small tariff that
would give American panel makers a moral victory but keep the U.S.
market open to Chinese companies? Or will the tariffs be so high that
it will sever the market to Chinese companies, and significantly
increase the price of solar?
News developments over the past week continue to cloud the road ahead as SolarWorld in Europe considers its own trade complaint and as China weighs filing its own anti-dumping petition against American polysilicon manufacturers.
But this much is clear. There are many stakes in this battle, and
just as many perspectives. To get a better sense of the potential road
ahead, we spoke with executives across the industry about the
challenges they face and the outcome they envision.
For today’s first installment, we spoke with Andrew Beebe, Chief
Commercial Officer for Chinese panel manufacturer Suntech, and Mark
Simmons, Chief Operating Officer for ClearEnergy, a distributor who
recently decided to sever ties with panels coming out of China because
of difficulties associated with volatile prices.
In the second installment next week, we’ll hear from Ben Santarris,
the Head of Communications with SolarWorld, and Jigar Shah, CEO of the
Carbon War Room and founder of SunEdison.
If you have a perspective you'd like to share, please comment below or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Chinese Panel Maker
Perhaps no other company outside of SolarWorld finds itself more
central to the trade complaint than Suntech. The company’s Chinese
operations are massive, the biggest in the world. But the company has
also targeted the U.S. manufacturing sector in a way that no other
Chinese company has. Its 40 MW facility in Goodyear, Ariz., is now
churning out American-made panels targeted to American-built solar
projects that will power American lives.
Suntech has been a vocal player in the American solar space, but its
American position — and one could argue its future American prospects —
are threatened by the trade petition. SolarWorld’s complaint targets
Chinese panels and cells, meaning the cells Suntech makes in China and
ships to its facility in Arizona could themselves be hit by the tariffs
meant to protect American solar panel makers.
Suntech’s Beebe is adamant that regardless of the outcome of the
trade dispute, his company is here to stay, and that the projects for
which it is supplying panels, including Sempra’s 700-MW Mesquite Solar
project outside Phoenix, will move ahead as planned. Mesquite’s initial
230 MW will use Suntech panels, including some made at the facility
While some argue that a Chinese company’s presence in the American
market is about turning a couple of screws and slapping on a “Made in
the U.S.A.” sticker, Beebe says the opposite is true for facilities
that import the cells made in China.
“The module process is labor intensive and it’s real,” said Beebe.
“It’s the most manufacturing intensive part of the process. Making
cells is a significant process as well but our cell lines [in China]
are extremely automated. If you’d walk through the production lines [of
cell manufacturing], you’d see very few people.”
Its production facilities aside, Beebe says his company sources so
much of its products globally that the company perhaps felt a bit
insulated when word about a possible trade dispute began to circulate.
With offices in Europe and Japan, as well as in the U.S., Beebe says
Suntech sees itself as a global company as much as a Chinese company.
He says they source on average 50 percent of what goes into each panel
from outside China, and 25 to 30 percent comes from the U.S., mainly
That means the company is hugely invested in the American and
European markets, and it in fact sees the Chinese companies that are
often grouped as one entity in the American media as the firms they
need to beat on pricing and efficiency.
“Our fiercest competitors are our Chinese peers,” said Beebe.
“There’s no real, general love across this industry from a Chinese
It’s those Chinese companies, says Beebe, who have the most to lose
in the price wars regardless of the outcome of the trade complaint.
“We’re in a hyper competitive environment,” he said about the
falling prices and the eventual shakeout that many are predicting. “The
cost leader here is a U.S. company, First Solar. It’s not due to one
country or another; it’s due to the extraordinary rush of companies
that has taken place over the last couple of years, and it’s led to an
oversupply of capacity. It’s been a great time to be a customer of
solar, but the inevitable ramification of that is not everyone is going
to make it.”
The U.S. Distributor
Regardless of what was driving down prices, Simmons realized he had a
problem on his hands last spring. Simmons and his bosses from his
parent company in Germany were seeing the prices begin to slide. As a
distributor, he was buying panels from China-based UpSolar, and in
April the wholesale list price for developers and installers was
between $1.82 and $1.93 per watt.
From there, the prices of what he was buying from China (which he
said he cannot disclose) dropped so dramatically and so quickly, that
he found himself stuck with inventory that was being undercut almost
daily. To keep pace with the prices, and the surging demand, Simmons
had to continually buy the cheaper modules and find a way to get rid of
the higher cost inventory. But by the time those modules would get in
his hands, eight or nine weeks later, the prices would no longer be
competitive. It’s an issue he says that many distributors are grappling
“The distributors get stuck,” he said. “They can’t sell what they
previously had, but if they stop buying, then they only have the more
expensive modules left. You have this pressure from the installers
saying, ‘Hey, I can get it cheaper elsewhere,’ and it’s probably true
in this case.”
By July, when more Chinese panels were imported into the U.S. than
all of 2010, Simmons knew some changes were needed. With $1.5 million
in Chinese panels in inventory, he did what few in the industry did. He
changed his business plan and moved away from the Chinese imports.
“We cancelled containers that were on the way,” said Simmons. “If
the question is cheap, cheap, cheap always, then whoever can buy the
largest volume with the fastest delivery will always be the cheapest.
And there’s no sustainability in that model.”
So now Simmons buys American-made panels from Sharp and panels made
by Sovello in Germany. But he didn’t have to pay April prices once he
made the changes. According to Simmons, the wholesale list price
offered to developers and installers for those Sharp and Sovello panels
are now between $1.34 and $1.37 a watt, having been forced to come
down to compete with the Chinese prices. He says he could buy Chinese
panels direct from manufacturers for under $1 a watt if he wanted to.
“We’ve gotten really positive reaction since we went away from
China,” said Simmons. “But talk is cheap. ... We’re still constantly
asked for cheaper, cheaper and cheaper. At least 90 percent of the
market is looking for cheap.”
As a smaller distributor, he’s been content to focus on the 10
percent of customers that are perhaps looking past the initial price.
If and when tariffs are set, he believes more in the industry will end
up seeing things from his vantage point.
“[Once tariffs hit], it will stabilize the market,” he said about
the cost per watt. “The list price of modules — the distributor prices
for manufacturers — I think will stabilize in the $1.30 range. In the
$1.20 range there will be some margin for manufacturers. Under $1.20,
manufacturers will not be able to stay in business. Manufacturers are
dying off and it’s already happened. That’s the result of not
He also sees return on investment (ROI) as a far better measuring
stick than cost per watt, which is generally how prices are measured.
The combination of energy efficiency and panel cost is ultimately what
will define the financial success of a project, he says.
“At $1.35, panel prices are already low enough. You don’t need
cheaper modules to get a good ROI,” said Simmons, whose company uses
energy efficiency tools in combination with solar to get a quicker
payback. “More important than grid parity is ‘sellability.’ You have to
show a price they can afford and an ROI they can approve of. If you
use the right product mix, we’re there already anywhere in country.”
Steve Leone, Associate Editor, RenewableEnergyWorld.com
First Solar, Inc. (NASDAQ: FSLR) today announced cumulative production
has reached 5 gigawatts (GW), or 66 million solar modules, capable of
generating enough clean electricity to power approximately 2.5 million
homes. The company began commercial production in 2002 and has since
grown to become one of the world’s largest solar module manufacturers,
with 36 production lines on three continents.
“This milestone helps advance our mission of providing clean solar
electricity at affordable prices. Our ability to scale high-volume
production has been a key factor in reducing the cost of renewable
energy,” said Tymen DeJong, First Solar Senior Vice President of Global
First Solar recently announced that implementing technologies and
processes derived from its research and development (R&D) program
produced a world-record 17.3 percent efficient cadmium telluride solar
cell in July, resulting in average module conversion efficiency of 12.4
percent from its best-performing production lines during the third
Efficiency gains have also enabled the company to begin production of 87
watt modules, which produce higher amounts of electricity when
installed in the field.
Five GW of solar generation displaces 3.3 million metric tons of CO2e
annually, the equivalent of taking 650,000 average cars off the road or
planting 84 million trees each year.
On a life cycle basis, systems using First Solar modules also have the
lowest carbon footprint and fastest energy payback time—the amount of
time a system must operate to recover the energy that was required to
produce it—of any other photovoltaic technology. This enables systems
using First Solar modules to provide the greatest and fastest
TEMPE, Ariz.--(Solar Energy News
Given a legitimate need to protect Earth from the most intense forms of
space weather -- great bursts of electromagnetic energy and particles
that can sometimes stream from the sun -- some people worry that a
gigantic "killer solar flare" could hurl enough energy to destroy Earth.
Citing the accurate fact that solar activity is currently ramping up in
its standard 11-year cycle, there are those who believe that 2012 could
be coincident with such a flare.
But this same solar cycle has occurred over millennia. Anyone over
the age of 11 has already lived through such a solar maximum with no
harm. In addition, the next solar maximum is predicted to occur in late
2013 or early 2014, not 2012.
Most importantly, however, there simply isn't enough energy in the
sun to send a killer fireball 93 million miles to destroy Earth.
This is not to say that space weather can't affect our planet. The
explosive heat of a solar flare can't make it all the way to our globe,
but electromagnetic radiation and energetic particles certainly can.
Solar flares can temporarily alter the upper atmosphere creating
disruptions with signal transmission from, say, a GPS satellite to Earth
causing it to be off by many yards. Another phenomenon produced by the
sun could be even more disruptive. Known as a coronal mass ejection
(CME), these solar explosions propel bursts of particles and
electromagnetic fluctuations into Earth's atmosphere. Those fluctuations
could induce electric fluctuations at ground level that could blow out
transformers in power grids. The CME's particles can also collide with
crucial electronics onboard a satellite and disrupt its systems.
In an increasingly technological world, where almost everyone relies
on cell phones and GPS controls not just your in-car map system, but
also airplane navigation and the extremely accurate clocks that govern
financial transactions, space weather is a serious matter.
But it is a problem the same way hurricanes are a problem. One can
protect oneself with advance information and proper precautions. During a
hurricane watch, a homeowner can stay put . . . or he can seal up the
house, turn off the electronics and get out of the way. Similarly,
scientists at NASA and NOAA give warnings to electric companies,
spacecraft operators, and airline pilots before a CME comes to Earth so
that these groups can take proper precautions. Improving these
predictive abilities the same way weather prediction has improved over
the last few decades is one of the reasons NASA studies the sun and
space weather. We can't ignore space weather, but we can take
appropriate measures to protect ourselves.
And, even at their worst, the sun's flares are not physically capable of destroying Earth.
Posted on ScienceDaily
University of Toronto materials science and engineering (MSE)
researchers have demonstrated for the first time the key mechanism
behind how energy levels align in a critical group of advanced
materials. This discovery is a significant breakthrough in the
development of sustainable technologies such as dye-sensitized solar
cells and organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs).
Transition metal oxides, which are best-known for their application
as super-conductors, have made possible many sustainable technologies
developed over the last two decades, including organic photovoltaics and
organic light-emitting diodes. While it is known that these materials
make excellent electrical contacts in organic-based devices, it wasn't
known why -- until now.
In research published in Nature Materials, MSE PhD Candidate
Mark T. Greiner and Professor Zheng-Hong Lu, Canada Research Chair
(Tier I) in Organic Optoelectronics, lay out the blueprint that
conclusively establishes the principle of energy alignment at the
interface between transition metal oxides and organic molecules.
"The energy-level of molecules on materials surfaces is like a
massive jigsaw puzzle that has challenged the scientific community for a
very long time," says Professor Lu. "There have been a number of
suggested theories with many critical links missing. We have been
fortunate to successfully build these links to finally solve this
With this piece of the puzzle solved, this discovery could enable
scientists and engineers to design simpler and more efficient organic
solar cells and OLEDs to further enhance sustainable technologies and
help secure our energy future.
Posted on ScienceDaily
Solar power may be on the rise, but solar cells are only as efficient as
the amount of sunlight they collect. Under the direction of a new
McCormick professor, researchers have developed a new material that
absorbs a wide range of wavelengths and could lead to more efficient and
less expensive solar technology.
A paper describing the findings, "Broadband polarization-independent
resonant light absorption using ultrathin plasmonic super absorbers,"
was published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications.
"The solar spectrum is not like a laser - it's very broadband, starting
with UV and going up to near-infrared," said Koray Aydin, assistant
professor of electrical engineering and computer science and the paper's
lead author. "To capture this light most efficiently, a solar cell
needs to have a broadband response. This design allows us to achieve
The researchers used two unconventional materials - metal and silicon
oxide - to create thin but complex, trapezoid-shaped metal gratings on
the nanoscale that can trap a wider range of visible light. The use of
these materials is unusual because on their own, they do not absorb
light; however, they worked together on the nanoscale to achieve very
high absorption rates, Aydin said.
The uniquely shaped grating captured a wide range of wavelengths due to
the local optical resonances, causing light to spend more time inside
the material until it gets absorbed. This composite metamaterial was
also able to collect light from many different angles - a useful quality
when dealing with sunlight, which hits solar cells at different angles
as sun moves from east to west throughout the day.
This research is not directly applicable to solar cell technology
because metal and silicon oxide cannot convert light to electricity; in
fact, the photons are converted to heat and might allow novel ways to
control the heat flow at the nanoscale. However, the innovative
trapezoid shape could be replicated in semiconducting materials that
could be used in solar cells, Aydin said.
If applied to semiconducting materials, the technology could lead to
thinner, lower-cost, and more efficient solar cells, he said.
Aydin comes to McCormick from the California Institute of Technology,
where this research was conducted in the group of Professor Harry
Atwater and supported by the DOE Light-Material Interactions Energy
Frontier Research Center (EFRC).
While at Caltech, Aydin served as a research scientist in applied
physics and materials science and as the assistant director of the DOE
Light-Material Interactions EFRC. Previously Aydin received his BS and
PhD in physics from Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey.
He said he was drawn to Northwestern because of its collaborative work
environment and its proximity to unmatched facilities, such as Argonne
"When I came to interview in the electrical engineering department at
McCormick, I interviewed with not just that department's faculty, but
also met with members of the materials science department," Aydin said.
"That showed me how much the school values collaboration and
This fall, Aydin is teaching an undergraduate
course, EECS 223, Fundamentals of Solid State Engineering, and is
looking forward to involve undergraduate students in active research.
Posted on SolarDaily