Archive for May, 2012

May 24, 2012

Plastic Solar Cells

While the cost of solar panels in general is decreasing, the main material solar cells are made of may become scarce in the future. This is silicon, and it’s in high demand as it’s used in many industries – for instance at the manufacturing of computer components or for waterproofing treatments. Scientists have however announced the development of the first plastic solar cell. Is this maybe a solution for the future?

The Center for Organic Photonics and Electronics at Georgia Tech has discovered a new method for printing electronics. The process itself is not new as it has been used at organic solar cells or OLEDs but until now the manufacturing stage was more problematic due to potential chemical reactions by the metals that have been used. The new technique could solve the issue by applying a thin layer of polymer on the surface of the conductors, which will chemical reactions and does not need an extra layer of protection. Thus the manufacturing process can become more stable, and as electronics can be printed onto plastic, it shall become cheaper and easier. And also the polymer used is cheap, easily available and environmentally friendly.

Earlier, researchers at the University of California developed a polymer solar cell, which efficiency exceeded even those made of silicon. It features two layers of plastic that react to different bands of light: visible and infrared, which enables the increase of efficiency.

Konarka Power Plastic usage

Konarka already offers its solar product, Power Plastic, which is thin, flexible and comes in various colours – including transparent design. They have been specially applied on bags or on various surfaces, like carport tops or tents.

Another company, Solarmer Energy has also developed an organic plastic solar panel, with several great features that offer new fields of application, including portable electronics, smart fabrics and buildings.

Polymer solar cells are not only thin and light, but their low cost could mean a significant price drop for this market, and researchers are already working on the manufacturing challenges.

Written for the Energy Saving Warehouse

Image: Konarka

May 17, 2012

Fracking

In the UK media there is more and more talk about fracking and its possible threats. But what is it and why is has it become the centre of attention, while we rarely – if ever – heard about it earlier?

Fracking or hydraulic fracturing is primarily used for natural gas exploitation, where water and chemicals are injected into the rock layers beneath at high pressure. This widens existing or creates new fractures, so the gas can flow out easier.

The first so-called ‘frac job’ took place in 1947 in Kansas, and today it’s widely used, even in the UK. Fracking however is very controversial and is claimed to cause more damage to the local environment than benefits for these neighbourhoods.

One of the problems with fracking is that it may cause small earthquakes, as it happened recently in Blackpool, which prompted the company to suspend operations for a few months. According to some US studies however this link is still under debate.
Other concerns include the possible contamination of local water tables with the chemicals or gas leaks, which happened in some areas in Pennsylvania.

A panel was set up in the UK, which has just published its report. According to this fracking does not cause more tremors than coal mining and these are of rather small magnitude, and mostly cannot be felt on the surface. Thus they suggest to resume fracking operations but with regular control checks.

Other countries respond differently to fracking – both France and Bulgaria have now banned such operations, South Africa is currently investigating whether to allow it, while it is widely used in the US and Canada. At the same time a new regulation in the US is about to be implemented – on air pollution from gas wells using fracking.

The question may be however whether it’s worth exploring this controversial method or should we put more focus on developing renewable sources.

Written for the Energy Saving Warehouse

May 13, 2012

Appliances Ready for the Smart Grid

The smart grid is a digitally managed network offering two-way communication through smart meters installed at users’ homes, enabling higher efficiency, analysis and more accurate monitoring in real time. While this may seem like a futuristic dream, many consumer electronics manufacturers are trying to facilitate its acceptance by introducing appliances that could help save energy or use it more efficiently.

LG Smart Fridge

LG recently introduced its new Smart Fridge, a successor of their Internet Fridge from a few years ago. The new equipment can push an inventory update to its owners’ mobile devices and features a touchscreen, which even suggests recipes based on the content. Its power consumption can operate in three savings modes, including the ‘smart grid’ option, which can utilise the planned ‘time-of-use’ pricing.

Last year LG also announced the so-called THINQ system for fridges, ovens and other household equipment, consisting of various pillars. The ‘Smart Grid’ option ensures that appliances use the least electricity at the possibly lowest rate – thanks to a smart meter. The ‘recommend time’ feature offers the most efficient operation in peak times, while the ‘lowest rate’ option shows approaching non-peak times.

GE also offers a wide range of Smart Grid-compatible appliances, which are linked to a smart meter set up in the house. As the aim is to use electricity at the lowest rate, which usually means off-peak times, the system may delay for example the start of the washing cycle until midnight – instead of peak evening hours. In the case of an appliance that has to be up and running round the clock, like fridges, smart solutions include the launch the defrosting cycle in non-peak periods. GE has even set up a Smart Grid Technology Centre of Excellence in Atlanta, with the aim to research and develop state-of-the-art solutions for future smart grids.

Similarly, Whirlpool is committed to provide a range of smart grid-friendly appliances to users,
starting this year, and at the Consumer Electronics Show 2012 a panel discussion took place on smart appliances, involving the main consumer electronics companies, like Panasonic and GE.

As more and more multinational giants believe in smart grids, they supply newer and smarter appliances, which even let you check electricity consumption on the go via mobile apps. And once the smart grid becomes reality, consumers can start saving money and electricity any time.

Written for the Energy Saving Warehouse

Image: Guardian

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