Environmental Action Continues

July 28, 2017 1 Comment

You might recall that a couple of months ago there was a great outburst of angst, criticism, depression, and anger about the future of the planet. What was the reason? The president of the United States called the Paris Climate Agreement a “bad deal” and removed the country from participation. I blogged about the decision and reminded people that whether or not the Paris agreement was useful, worthless, good or bad, there is nothing holding back anyone or any country (including the U.S.) from continuing on a path toward cleaner energy and lower environmental impact.

Instead of the world coming to an end, in recent weeks there is more good news than ever.

After a lot of hyperbole a few weeks ago, many people came to the realization that the U.S. will very likely reach or exceed the Paris goals even without being officially bounded by it (same as the Kyoto Accord).

Many countries are breaking records for renewable energy installation and use, INCLUDING the U.S. Most of the recent record for electricity production by renewables came from wind power, but I was thrilled to see up to 2% came from solar power in the U.S.

Not only is more solar power being installed, it is getting cheaper all the time, even in the U.S. where permit, tax, and regulatory costs are depressingly high.

Like Germany, and a few other countries around the world, California is now producing so much solar power at times that they can’t use it all.

As proof that anyone can move forward with clean energy – without the Paris agreement – many counties, cities, and states are still planning on measuring and limiting their carbon emissions on their own. Constitutionally, they cannot literally “sign” the Paris treaty on behalf of U.S. citizens, but they can certainly unofficially abide the tenets.

As a good example, this is already happening in South Miami where leaders have instituted a new ordinance requiring all new homes to have solar panels. San Francisco has started enforcing a rule that every building over 10 stories needs to have solar panels or solar water heaters.

Former President Jimmy Carter did not need the Paris agreement either when he moved forward with a plan to help his home town use more solar power!

On the technical side of things, progress toward cheap perovskite solar cells continues. Researchers at Georgia Tech have pushed the efficiency of this type of solar cell up to 20% using a new engineering technique. What is the big deal with perovskite? It is cheaper than silicon. If the efficiency can be made the same as silicon solar panels, then it means the downward trend in solar prices will continue with gusto.

There has also been a development in what is often called the “holy grail” of solar power – a solar cell that captures energy from almost all of the sun’s electromagnetic wavelengths. This development comes from scientists and engineers at George Washington University. They acknowledge that this prototype is very expensive and not currently economically feasible, but it is a good proof of concept.

In order to store all the energy from admittedly intermittent renewable sources, we could use better batteries. Thankfully there has been some progress in flow batteries. Purdue researchers claim to have created a flow battery that is instantly rechargeable, safe, economical, and environmentally friendly! That is a pretty bold claim. They claim the only thing holding them back from getting these on the market and integrated with the grid is more funding. If the battery is a good as promised, then they should not have too much trouble getting funding.

In the realm of wind power, here is something that interests me – a smaller quieter wind turbine for home use. As you know, I am not a big fan of the gargantuan wind turbines that currently dot the landscape because they spoil the view, create disturbing noise, and kill a lot of birds and bats. Enter Semtive – a company that makes vertical wind turbines small enough for your home. The only drawback – the technology is still a bit expensive. The typical cost for one unit is $4,695. That sounds expensive, but if you have any clean energy incentives or rebates in your area, you might be able to get the cost down below $3,000. The company claims that to install solar panels that produce an equivalent amount of energy, you would have to pay up to $20,000. I suspect this is especially true in the U.S where solar panel permit costs are out-of-control.

I could write a lot more, but time is a constraint. If you want to keep tabs on all of the great solar power news, here is someone good to follow on Twitter: https://twitter.com/SolarEnergyNews

Meteorologist Justin Loew

 

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  1. Meg Schellhorn says:

    Great post! Very informative and positive!

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