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Transparent solar technology represents ‘wave of the future’

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Transparent solar technology represents ‘wave of the future’

See-through solar materials that can be applied to windows represent a massive source of untapped energy and could harvest as much power as bigger, bulkier rooftop solar units, scientists report today in Nature Energy.

Led by engineering researchers at Michigan State University, the authors argue that widespread use of such highly transparent solar applications, together with the rooftop units, could nearly meet U.S. electricity demand and drastically reduce the use of fossil fuels.

“Highly transparent solar cells represent the wave of the future for new solar applications,” said Richard Lunt, the Johansen Crosby Endowed Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at MSU. “We analyzed their potential and show that by harvesting only invisible light, these devices can provide a similar electricity-generation potential as rooftop solar while providing additional functionality to enhance the efficiency of buildings, automobiles and mobile electronics.”

Lunt and colleagues at MSU pioneered the development of a transparent luminescent solar concentrator that when placed on a window creates solar energy without disrupting the view. The thin, plastic-like material can be used on buildings, car windows, cell phones or other devices with a clear surface.

The solar-harvesting system uses organic molecules developed by Lunt and his team to absorb invisible wavelengths of sunlight. The researchers can “tune” these materials to pick up just the ultraviolet and the near-infrared wavelengths that then convert this energy into electricity (watch a demonstration of the process here).

Moving global energy consumption away from fossil fuels will require such innovative and cost-effective renewable energy technologies. Only about 1.5 percent of electricity demand in the United States and globally is produced by solar power.

But in terms of overall electricity potential, the authors note that there is an estimated 5 billion to 7 billion square meters of glass surface in the United States. And with that much glass to cover, transparent solar technologies have the potential of supplying some 40 percent of energy demand in the U.S. – about the same potential as rooftop solar units. “The complimentary deployment of both technologies,” Lunt said, “could get us close to 100 percent of our demand if we also improve energy storage.”

Lunt said highly transparent solar applications are recording efficiencies above 5 percent, while traditional solar panels typically are about 15 percent to 18 percent efficient. Although transparent solar technologies will never be more efficient at converting solar energy to electricity than their opaque counterparts, they can get close and offer the potential to be applied to a lot more additional surface area, he said.

Right now, transparent solar technologies are only at about a third of their realistic overall potential, Lunt added.

“That is what we are working towards,” he said. “Traditional solar applications have been actively researched for over five decades, yet we have only been working on these highly transparent solar cells for about five years. Ultimately, this technology offers a promising route to inexpensive, widespread solar adoption on small and large surfaces that were previously inaccessible.”

Read the article here (subscription needed).

The work is funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education.

Lunt’s coauthors are Christopher Traverse, a doctoral student in engineering at MSU, and Richa Pandey and Miles Barr with Ubiquitous Energy Inc., a company Lunt cofounded with Barr to commercialize transparent solar technologies.

 

Source: Michigan State University

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Systemic Change Driven by Moral Awakening Is Our Only Hope

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Our core ecological problem is not climate change. It is overshoot, of which global warming is a symptom. Overshoot is a systemic issue. Over the past century-and-a-half, enormous amounts of cheap energy from fossil fuels enabled the rapid growth of resource extraction, manufacturing and consumption; and these in turn led to population increase, pollution and loss of natural habitat and hence biodiversity.

The human system expanded dramatically, overshooting Earth’s long-term carrying capacity for humans while upsetting the ecological systems we depend on for our survival. Until we understand and address this systemic imbalance, symptomatic treatment (doing what we can to reverse pollution dilemmas like climate change, trying to save threatened species and hoping to feed a burgeoning population with genetically modified crops) will constitute an endlessly frustrating round of stopgap measures that are ultimately destined to fail.

The ecology movement in the 1970s benefitted from a strong infusion of systems thinking, which was in vogue at the time (ecology—the study of the relationships between organisms and their environments—is an inherently systemic discipline, as opposed to studies like chemistry that focus on reducing complex phenomena to their components). As a result, many of the best environmental writers of the era framed the modern human predicament in terms that revealed the deep linkages between environmental symptoms and the way human society operates. Limits to Growth (1972), an outgrowth of the systems research of Jay Forrester, investigated the interactions between population growth, industrial production, food production, resource depletion and pollution. Overshoot (1982), by William Catton, named our systemic problem and described its origins and development in a style any literate person could appreciate. Many more excellent books from the era could be cited.

However, in recent decades, as climate change has come to dominate environmental concerns, there has been a significant shift in the discussion. Today, most environmental reporting is focused laser-like on climate change, and systemic links between it and other worsening ecological dilemmas (such as overpopulation, species extinctions, water and air pollution, and loss of topsoil and fresh water) are seldom highlighted. It’s not that climate change isn’t a big deal. As a symptom, it’s a real doozy. There’s never been anything quite like it, and climate scientists and climate-response advocacy groups are right to ring the loudest of alarm bells. But our failure to see climate change in context may be our undoing.

Why have environmental writers and advocacy organizations succumbed to tunnel vision? Perhaps it’s simply that they assume systems thinking is beyond the capacity of policy makers. It’s true: If climate scientists were to approach world leaders with the message, “We have to change everything, including our entire economic system—and fast,” they might be shown the door rather rudely. A more acceptable message is, “We have identified a serious pollution problem, for which there are technical solutions.” Perhaps many of the scientists who did recognize the systemic nature of our ecological crisis concluded that if we can successfully address this one make-or-break environmental crisis, we’ll be able to buy time to deal with others waiting in the wings (overpopulation, species extinctions, resource depletion and on and on).

If climate change can be framed as an isolated problem for which there is a technological solution, the minds of economists and policy makers can continue to graze in familiar pastures. Technology—in this case, solar, wind and nuclear power generators, as well as batteries, electric cars, heat pumps and, if all else fails, solar radiation management via atmospheric aerosols—centers our thinking on subjects like financial investment and industrial production. Discussion participants don’t have to develop the ability to think systemically, nor do they need to understand the Earth system and how human systems fit into it. All they need trouble themselves with is the prospect of shifting some investments, setting tasks for engineers and managing the resulting industrial-economic transformation so as to ensure that new jobs in green industries compensate for jobs lost in coal mines.

The strategy of buying time with a techno-fix presumes either that we will be able to institute systemic change at some unspecified point in the future even though we can’t do it just now (a weak argument on its face), or that climate change and all of our other symptomatic crises will in fact be amenable to technological fixes. The latter thought-path is again a comfortable one for managers and investors. After all, everybody loves technology. It already does nearly everything for us. During the last century it solved a host of problems: it cured diseases, expanded food production, sped up transportation and provided us with information and entertainment in quantities and varieties no one could previously have imagined. Why shouldn’t it be able to solve climate change and all the rest of our problems?

Of course, ignoring the systemic nature of our dilemma just means that as soon as we get one symptom corralled, another is likely to break loose. But, crucially, is climate change, taken as an isolated problem, fully treatable with technology? Color me doubtful. I say this having spent many months poring over the relevant data with David Fridley of the energy analysis program at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Our resulting book, Our Renewable Future, concluded that nuclear power is too expensive and risky; meanwhile, solar and wind power both suffer from intermittency, which (once these sources begin to provide a large percentage of total electrical power) will require a combination of three strategies on a grand scale: energy storage, redundant production capacity and demand adaptation. At the same time, we in industrial nations will have to adapt most of our current energy usage (which occurs in industrial processes, building heating and transportation) to electricity. Altogether, the energy transition promises to be an enormous undertaking, unprecedented in its requirements for investment and substitution. When David and I stepped back to assess the enormity of the task, we could see no way to maintain current quantities of global energy production during the transition, much less to increase energy supplies so as to power ongoing economic growth. The biggest transitional hurdle is scale: the world uses an enormous amount of energy currently; only if that quantity can be reduced significantly, especially in industrial nations, could we imagine a credible pathway toward a post-carbon future.

Downsizing the world’s energy supplies would, effectively, also downsize industrial processes of resource extraction, manufacturing, transportation, and waste management. That’s a systemic intervention, of exactly the kind called for by the ecologists of the 1970s who coined the mantra, “Reduce, reuse and recycle.” It gets to the heart of the overshoot dilemma—as does population stabilization and reduction, another necessary strategy. But it’s also a notion to which technocrats, industrialists, and investors are virulently allergic.

The ecological argument is, at its core, a moral one—as I explain in more detail in a just-released manifesto replete with sidebars and graphics (“There’s No App for That: Technology and Morality in the Age of Climate Change, Overpopulation, and Biodiversity Loss”). Any systems thinker who understands overshoot and prescribes powerdown as a treatment is effectively engaging in an intervention with an addictive behavior. Society is addicted to growth, and that’s having terrible consequences for the planet and, increasingly, for us as well. We have to change our collective and individual behavior and give up something we depend on—power over our environment. We must restrain ourselves, like an alcoholic foreswearing booze. That requires honesty and soul-searching.

In its early years the environmental movement made that moral argument, and it worked up to a point. Concern over rapid population growth led to family planning efforts around the world. Concern over biodiversity declines led to habitat protection. Concern over air and water pollution led to a slew of regulations. These efforts weren’t sufficient, but they showed that framing our systemic problem in moral terms could get at least some traction.

Why didn’t the environmental movement fully succeed? Some theorists now calling themselves “bright greens” or “eco-modernists” have abandoned the moral fight altogether. Their justification for doing so is that people want a vision of the future that’s cheery and that doesn’t require sacrifice. Now, they say, only a technological fix offers any hope. The essential point of this essay (and my manifesto) is simply that, even if the moral argument fails, a techno-fix won’t work either. A gargantuan investment in technology (whether next-generation nuclear power or solar radiation geo-engineering) is being billed as our last hope. But in reality it’s no hope at all.

The reason for the failure thus far of the environmental movement wasn’t that it appealed to humanity’s moral sentiments—that was in fact the movement’s great strength. The effort fell short because it wasn’t able to alter industrial society’s central organizing principle, which is also its fatal flaw: its dogged pursuit of growth at all cost. Now we’re at the point where we must finally either succeed in overcoming growthism or face the failure not just of the environmental movement, but of civilization itself.

The good news is that systemic change is fractal in nature: it implies, indeed it requires, action at every level of society. We can start with our own individual choices and behavior; we can work within our communities. We needn’t wait for a cathartic global or national sea change. And even if our efforts cannot “save” consumerist industrial civilization, they could still succeed in planting the seeds of a regenerative human culture worthy of survival.

There’s more good news: Once we humans choose to restrain our numbers and our rates of consumption, technology can assist our efforts. Machines can help us monitor our progress, and there are relatively simple technologies that can help deliver needed services with less energy usage and environmental damage. Some ways of deploying technology could even help us clean up the atmosphere and restore ecosystems.

But machines can’t make the key choices that will set us on a sustainable path. Systemic change driven by moral awakening: it’s not just our last hope; it’s the only real hope we’ve ever had.

Source: EcoWatch

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Fossil Fuel Exit Strategy finds that existing coal, oil and gas production puts the world on course to overshoot Paris climate targets.

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Fossil Fuel Exit Strategy finds that existing coal, oil and gas production puts the world on course to overshoot Paris climate targets. The report analyses global renewable energy potential, and finds that every region on Earth can replace fossil fuels with renewable energy to keep warming below 1.5ºC and provide reliable energy access to all.

The world already has more than enough renewable energy potential to comfortably make the transition away from fossil fuels while also expanding energy access for all, finds new analysis by Dr Sven Teske and Dr Sarah Niklas from the Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology, Sydney.

Fossil Fuel Exit Strategy shows clearly through detailed modelling that, even if no new fossil fuel projects were built from today onwards, carbon emissions from existing projects are still far too high to stay on course towards meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement. Modelling in the report demonstrates the world would produce significantly more fossil fuels than it can afford under a 1.5ºC climate goal by 2030, leading to 66% more emissions in 2030 than is compatible with 1.5ºC. Therefore, the world needs to actively wind down existing coal mines and oil and gas wells while increasing renewable energy.

The report shows that this transition is not only required but completely feasible. The world simply doesn’t need any more fossil fuels. In fact, all regions have enough renewable energy to provide energy access to all using existing technologies.

This suggests that it is possible to meet the twin challenges of phasing out fossil fuels and increasing electricity access at the speed required through scaling up renewable energy, according to Fossil Fuel Exit Strategy: An orderly wind down of coal, oil and gas to meet the Paris Agreement.

This report comes shortly after the International Energy Agency’s Net Zero by 2050 Roadmap that states clearly the world needs to stop investing in and expanding fossil fuels. The Fossil Fuel Exit Strategy report goes further by finding that it is also necessary to begin phasing down existing coal mines and oil and gas wells to have a chance of preventing catastrophic climate change.

Rebecca Byrnes, Deputy Director for the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative, said: “This report shows that a practical pathway exists where there are no new fossil fuel projects, existing projects are phased out, emissions are kept within a 1.5°C budget and energy access becomes universal, all while using existing and increasingly cost-competitive technologies. The hurdle is no longer economic nor technical; our biggest challenges are political. A cleaner future is within reach and, while international cooperation is essential for innovation and investment, nation-states can and should act now to regulate fossil fuel production decline”

The report, which builds on existing research on fossil fuel overproduction and renewable energy potential, analyzes fossil fuel phase out pathways that will be necessary to remain within a 1.5°C trajectory and compares this to a feasible scale up pathway for renewable energy. It does this while excluding technologies that are uncertain or require unreasonable amounts of land use, such as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), unlike scenarios provided by the IPCC and IEA .

Associate Professor Sven Teske, Research Director at the University of Technology Sydney: “National governments must establish binding limits for the extraction volumes for coal, oil and gas. A just transition for workers from the fossil to the renewable energy industry is essential. Any new investments in coal, oil and gas projects are not in line with the Paris agreement and would most likely be stranded due to favourable economics for renewables – especially solar and wind. The combination of renewable energies, storage technologies and renewable fuels such as hydrogen and synthetic fuels will provide reliable energy supply for industries, future travelling as well as for buildings. The fossil energy industry must be wound down.”

Tzeporah Berman, International Program Director at Stand.Earth and Chair of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative: “This new report shows clearly that we have more than enough fossil fuels above ground and under production and that we have the technology and renewable energy capacity to more than meet the world’s energy needs. Fast tracking a wind down of oil, gas and coal and focusing on expanding renewable production and infrastructure is not only possible, but it will save lives.”

Sanjay Vashist, Director of Climate Action Network South Asia: “There are no more excuses to further delay accelerated uptake of renewable energy and ending the age of fossil fuels. At a time when renewable energy has emerged as a reliable and cost effective alternative, to continue to expand the fossil fuel sector is a criminal waste of money that will have devastating climate and humanitarian consequences, especially on the poorest of poor and most vulnerable people of the global South. G7 leaders must set an example and shut down coal plants in their countries immediately and assist the developing world in leapfrogging to renewable energy with technological and  financial assistance.”

Iman Bashir, Programme Assistant at Power Shift Africa says: “It is clear renewables provide an opportunity for Africa to not only power its future in a safe and sustainable manner, but also a chance to gain a strong footing as a global clean energy leader. The report provides irrefutable proof that Africa can power its economic development using renewable energy pathways and leapfrog the exploitation of fossil fuels through a combination of national policy and international support.”

Ilan Zugman, 350.org’s Director for Latin America says: “For oil, gas and coal companies, this conclusion will probably be unwelcome, but it makes no sense to ignore it. There is no time anymore. We need public policies that promote clean energy infrastructure and financing, as well as access for all. And this must not happen in parallel to the expansion of fossil fuels, but rather by replacing them. The era of fossil fuels must end now so that the future is in the hands of humanity and not in the hands of this industry.”

Frode Pleym, leader of Greenpeace Norway: “We’ve known for a long time that the world has found far more oil and gas than we can ever use. This report emphasizes the urgency of the climate crisis. But it’s also encouraging to see it’s still possible to reach our climate commitments, without relying on risky and problematic technologies such as carbon capture and biofuels, if oil producing countries such as Norway start a just transition away from fossil fuels.”

Mitzi Jonelle Tan, Convener, Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines & Fridays For Future Philippines: “My country has had the most number of extreme weather events for the past 20 years. I grew up with thunder and howling winds banging on my doors and windows. The current level of warming is already hell for us in the Global South. With all the destruction and devastation we have faced, expanding and supporting the dirty rotten fossil fuel industry when it will clearly put us past the 1.5°C limit is a death sentence to the most marginalized people. Global North countries have a historical debt to pay to the countries in the South that they have overexploited and that begins with an end to expansion of fossil fuel production, a phase down of existing production, and supporting renewable energy transition especially in the global south. With this report, it is even clearer to everyone that world leaders have no excuse. We must act now, the science and the people are united in calling for justice.”

Truls Gulowsen, chair of Friends of the Earth Norway: “Another expert report shows us that we have the technology required to phase out fossil fuels, and phase in cleaner, more efficient energy, without destroying enormous areas and worsening the parallel crisis of biodiversity loss. What we lack, as always, is political will, with Norway looking increasingly isolated globally in its seemingly unending faith in the continued profitability of petroleum. Norwegian politicians need to start telling the truth about the need for a just transition of the oil and gas industry; if not, we risk an unprecedented economic crash in addition to ever-worsening, more catastrophic climate change.”

The report’s main findings include:

  • Even if fossil fuel expansion ended overnight, too many fossil fuels are already under production in existing coal mines and oil and gas wells to remain within a 1.5°C budget.
  • To keep warming to below the temperature goal of 1.5ºC there must be both an end to expansion of fossil fuel production, and a phase down of existing production.
  • The world has more than enough renewable energy resources that can be scaled up rapidly enough to meet the energy demands of every person in the world.
  • The report shows that, by 2030, even without any new coal, oil or gas projects, the world would produce 35% more oil and 69% more coal than is consistent with a 1.5°C pathway.
  • Every continent in the world has enough renewable energy potential to provide 100% renewable energy access to its population.
  • As the cost of renewables has dropped, economic potential for renewables has grown alongside technical potential. Even when taking into account environmental safeguards, land constraints and technical feasibility, solar and wind energy could power the world more than 50 times over.
  • Continuing to expand the fossil fuel sector will only lock in further infrastructure that will become stranded assets, with devastating climate and humanitarian consequences.
  • The report was produced by the Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology, Sydney and conducted in cooperation with the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative. The full report is available below and a suite of report graphics, animations and charts can be downloaded here.

About the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative

The Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative is spurring international cooperation to end new development of fossil fuels, phase out existing production within the agreed climate limit of 1.5°C and develop plans to support workers, communities and countries dependent on fossil fuels to create secure and healthy livelihoods. Cities such as Vancouver and Barcelona have already endorsed the Treaty with more considering motions to endorse. Hundreds of organizations representing thousands more individuals join the call for world leaders to stop fossil fuel expansion.

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A Controversial Nuclear Waste Cleanup Could Put a critical Legal Question Before the U.S. Supreme Court

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A California public advocacy group is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to answer a specific question — Can private parties impacted by a private company with a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) sue those licensees in federal court? The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that such claims could only be brought before the NRC itself even though the agency is not equipped to handle those kinds of claims. The attorney for Public Watchdogs, Chuck La Bella, says, “The Ninth Circuit’s reasoning in effect slams the courthouse door on private parties’ claims in court against NRC license holders, no matter how egregious their conduct may be.”

If that decision is upheld, advocates say potentially life-threatening and environmentally damaging practices could go unchecked. La Bella believes the court made a misstep that could have sweeping implications for future cases. “If used as a precedent, the circuit court decision effectively strips federal district courts of all jurisdiction over private litigation against any company covered by a NRC license.”

The issue evolved as Public Watchdogs pushed for the safe storage of spent nuclear waste during the decommissioning process at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) in California. The group petitioned the NRC to stop the work of a private company, Holtec International, at SONGS but the agency denied the request.

Separately, the group also filed suit against Holtec and the operators of SONGS.

The nonprofit called into question Holtec’s disposal practices and the operators’ oversight of Holtec during the plant’s decommissioning. The group asked for a work stoppage, based on concerns about the methods used to move and bury millions of pounds of deadly radioactive waste and the integrity of the “thin-walled” canisters the company used to store it. However, the district court said it could not hear their claims. The Ninth Circuit agreed, shutting down the challenge without even looking at the merit of the argument. It ruled that federal courts didn’t have jurisdiction over the case.

Citing the Hobbs Act, the circuit court said that the only way the group could challenge the actions of any company that holds a NRC license is before the NRC itself. Attorneys for Public Watchdogs claim the district court and the Ninth Circuit misinterpreted the purpose of the Hobbs Act and ignored the precedents of multiple circuit court decisions, as well as those of the Supreme Court, that have allowed for review in federal court. “If the Hobbs Act is allowed to swallow up all viable claims against companies that fall under the umbrella of a NRC license, then effectively those companies charged with our nation’s health and safety are accountable to no one,” says attorney Chuck La Bella.

This legal question could have important environmental, public health and safety implications for affected citizens as well as the states that house 70 nuclear power plants around the country. The states have mounting caches of spent nuclear fuel stockpiled on their land and no long-term plan for removing or storing the waste. The Attorney Generals in more than a dozen states have called into question the experience, transparency and resources of the same private company tapped to perform the decommissioning process in California. Attorneys General from states such as New York and Washington have voiced their concerns directly to the NRC about its approval of various licenses granted to Holtec. When the NRC failed to act, many states followed with lawsuits.

At least one group of environmental advocates is writing an amicus brief in support of having the Supreme Court hear this pressing legal question that has critical public health and safety implications nationwide. Other entities and states may follow. La Bella says, “If the Hobbs Act precludes district courts from hearing private party litigation, then a host of suits aimed at protecting the public’s health and safety may be barred wholesale. We hope the highest court in the land will send the issue back to the ninth circuit for another look.”

Get the Petition at https://bit.ly/3xlXWXf
Source: Public Watchdogs

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