Another update on the recent snowfall. According to the NWS in Green Bay, the two-day snow total of 13.5 inches was a record for the month of February. A new two-day record was set in Stevens Point as well with a total of 15.8 inches. In some respects, I am surprised we have never experienced more than 13.5 inches from any one storm in February (in Wausau). Then again, February is our driest month of the year, so maybe it is not all that unusual.
Now continuing on from yesterday’s AGW discussion, something interesting has happened in the last few years in the U.S. If you read the weather blog, this should come as no surprise to you – carbon dioxide emissions have fallen dramatically. Check out this webpage for numerous charts and explanations about energy usage in the U.S. over the last few years. A couple of key themes that you will find is that the ongoing “great” recession and natural gas power plants have played a part. Natural gas is more efficient than coal at producing electricity and almost all new power plants in recent years have been the natural gas variety. Good thing we have plenty natural gas in the U.S. – enough to completely run the country for several decades. Sadly, the current federal government seems to be ignoring natural gas as a method to reduce pollution and carbon dioxide emissions. Thankfully we still have Boone Pickens. Interesting to note that the massive drop in emissions occurred even without draconian regulations, legislation, and taxes.
More familiar to blog readers (in regards to emissions) is the ongoing trend toward more efficiency through technological progress. Not only are we improving our alternative energy devices, but also squeezing more GDP out of every BTU. Here are a few recent developments that point toward continued progress:
With regards to solar power, there has been a lot of work toward making the panels cheaper by using less material. Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab have created a single layer solar cell that absorbs light from many wavelengths. Normal solar cells require many different layers and materials to absorb different wavelengths of light. Having just one material in one layer would make the solar cell much cheaper. Don’t get too excited yet, this one is only in the lab at this point.
In the lab as well is a concept developed by scientists in Singapore – doping thin film solar cells with nanoparticles of aluminum. The metal helps direct more sunlight onto the solar cell.
Closer to commercialization is a process developed by Crystal Solar. They use much less silicon during the production process. They create solar cells using gas deposition (an epitaxial process). They use 30 to 40 percent less silicon and can create silicon cells 20 times faster than current epitaxial processes.
Start-up solar company Solar Junction already has a more efficient solar cell coming off of their pilot production line. This particular solar cell is meant for concentrating solar panels. Theirs is more efficient than anything currently on the market.
As far a storing all the new clean energy, progress continues in the making of batteries as well. Envia – a start-up company, is making lithium ion batteries with manganese cathodes. This allows the battery to store twice the energy – or so the company claims – the product is not on the market yet. Even if it was just a small percentage more, it would be a good improvement in battery tech. A similar effort is underway in university labs.
All of those batteries are in preparation for electric cars and promoters think the future is looking bright. Project Better Place continues its transformation of Israel into an “electrified” transportation economy. Some people think a target of 1 million electric vehicles on the road in the U.S. by 2015 is doable. I wouldn’t mind seeing that, but the price of the vehicles has to come down a bit more if the target is to be reached.
Even outside of the “new/green” technology things are getting better. A company in San Diego has constructed a prototype gas engine that could increase efficiency by 20 to 50%. They do this by splitting the typical engine cylinder into a hot and cold compartment.
Not to be outdone, Volkswagen has created a diesel-electric hybrid concept car that achieves 261 mpg.
All of these technological trends and developments occurring in tandem convince me that carbon emissions in the U.S will continue to decline in coming years.
Have a pleasant Wednesday! Meteorologist Justin Loew.
Posted under AGW, Climate Change, Pollution, Science, Technology
This post was written by jloew on February 23, 2011