26 Responses to Energy and global warming news for February 1: Scientists make solar cells with low-cost metal oxide; GE and GM boost energy efficiency
A team led by Dr Henry Snaith at the physics department combined the oxide with a thin dye printed on to glass to turn the sun’s energy into electricity.
The glass can be produced in a range of different transparent colours for use in windows and cladding buildings.
“It opens up a lot of versatility and a lot of possibilities for building design,” said Dr Snaith.
Because the manufacturing process uses abundant, non-toxic materials the carbon footprint is considerably smaller than rival technologies.
Ollie Bennett, from MiPower, a company that specialises in installing solar panels, said he had not seen anything like the new cells on the market.
When you rub two green-transitioning corporate powerhouses together you’re bound to start something, and that seems to be the result of a new collaboration between GM and GE. The two have partnered in a new energy efficiency program that uses GE software to synchronize the conveyors at GM factories with lights, generators, and other equipment. The concept is simple but the results are impressive, which makes you wonder why nobody ever thought of it before.
Energy Efficient Factories and Conveyor Belts
The basic idea is that the schedule for running one type of equipment – the conveyor belt – determines all of the other equipment in a conventional manufacturing plant. GM started by jiggering GE’s Proficy Cimplicity factory management software to coordinate the schedule of conveyors with lighting for 20 of its factories. Then they moved on to include heating, ventilating, and air conditioning equipment. Compressed air generators, hydraulic pumps, ovens, and other equipment are also included. The gains in energy efficiency are significant and GM estimates that the payback period is only six months. After that it’s all gravy. GE has also just introduced a new software package called Proficy for Sustainability Metrics, which monitors energy and water use.
Momentum for Clean Energy
With corporate juggernauts GE and GM up to their necks in green tech, things are starting to cook. Just this weekend, the Koch brothers are meeting with other influencers, presumably to figure out how to keep the oil industry afloat politically in the 2012 election cycle. They’re facing a tough road for two reasons that just popped into the news this week. One is Obama’s momentum, which could enable green-centered candidates to coattail on him. Also, sustainable energy is starting to look very do-able, the latest example being Los Angeles, which just announced that it has bumped its renewables up while keeping utility rates down.
When he releases his new budget in two weeks, President Obama will propose doing away with roughly $4 billion a year in subsidies and tax breaks for oil companies, in his third effort to eliminate federal support for an industry that remains hugely profitable.
Previous efforts have run up against bipartisan opposition in Congress and heavy lobbying from producers of oil, natural gas and coal. The head of the oil and gas lobby in Washington contends that the president has it backward “” that the industry subsidizes the government, through billions of dollars in taxes and royalties, not the other way around.
But even as the president says he wants to do away with incentives for fossil fuels, his policies continue to provide for substantial aid to oil and gas companies as well as billions of dollars in subsidies for coal, nuclear and other energy sources with large and long-lasting environmental impacts.
Mr. Obama’s proposal rekindles a long-running debate over federal subsidies for energy of all kinds, including petroleum, coal, hydropower, wind, solar and biofuels. Opposition to such subsidies “” often euphemistically referred to as incentives, tax credits, preferences or loan guarantees “” spans the ideological spectrum, from conservative economists who believe such breaks distort the marketplace to environmentalists who believe that renewable energy sources will always lose out in subsidy fights because of the power of the entrenched fossil fuel industries.
Oil and gas service companies injected tens of millions of gallons of diesel fuel into onshore wells in more than a dozen states from 2005 to 2009, Congressional investigators have charged. Those injections appear to have violated the Safe Water Drinking Act, the investigators said in a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency on Monday.
The diesel fuel was used by drillers as part of a contentious process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which involves the high-pressure injection of a mixture of water, sand and chemical additives “” including diesel fuel “” into rock formations deep underground. The process, which has opened up vast new deposits of natural gas to drilling, creates and props open fissures in the rock to ease the release of oil and gas.
But concerns have been growing over the potential for fracking chemicals “” particularly those found in diesel fuel “” to contaminate underground sources of drinking water.
“We learned that no oil and gas service companies have sought “” and no state and federal regulators have issued “” permits for diesel fuel use in hydraulic fracturing,” said Representative Henry A. Waxman of California and two other Democratic members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, in the letter. “This appears to be a violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act.”
The first decades of the 21st century will be remembered as the ones in which the world finally began to grapple with global development. The likes of Bill and Melinda Gates and Bono “” TIME’s Persons of the Year in 2005 “” have channeled funds to fighting malaria, TB and HIV, while supporting agriculture, infrastructure and even governance. But there’s one obstacle to development that has too often been forgotten, a blind spot that does more than almost anything to keep the poor poor: they don’t have electric power.
Some 1.6 billion people around the world lack reliable access to electricity. That means they don’t have electric lights for students to study by at night. They can’t easily charge cell phones “” assuming they even have them “” which means they can’t easily create markets or sell goods. Without regular power, their hospitals are severely limited “” after all, you can’t even keep vaccines cold without a refrigerator. Agriculture is essentially peasantry if farmers lack powered machinery. As long as those hundreds of millions remain in the dark, they will remain poor “” yet solving energy poverty isn’t even one of the U.N.’s ambitious Millennium Development Goals.
(See the top 20 green tech ideas.)
At the same time, the reality of climate change means that even the developing world needs to look for cleaner sources of energy because Western-style growth driven by fossil fuels could lead to catastrophe. That’s left a gap to be filled by small but innovative organizations like E+Co, a New Jersey-based group that lends out capital to entrepreneurs in the developing world to create clean energy businesses. The effect is multiple “” the loans create business, help reduce energy poverty and keep carbon emissions from growing. “Without energy, very little can happen,” says Christine Eibs Singer, who heads E+Co. “It’s clear to us that if you want to help with development, you need to address energy.”
Just a few key aspects of climate change could wipe out up to half of the annual gain in the standard of living for the average European household by 2080.
The European Union has seen economic welfare “” a measure of prosperity “” grow by an average of around 2% each year. But the climate of the 2080s is likely to cut that by at least 0.2-1 percentage points, according to a study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which looked at just five impacts of climate change. “On average, that might not impact individuals much. But in aggregate it’s not trivial,” says Alistair Hunt, an economist at the University of Bath, UK, and a co-author on the paper.
The report is one of the first to use models that can distinguish differences in climate at the city-scale and to count up the costs of specific climate impacts such as flooding. Most previous studies have used global models to estimate the costs of climate change.
“These are certainly the kinds of studies we want,” says Tim Wheeler of the University of Reading, UK, who studies the impact of climate change on agriculture but was not involved with the work. Such reports are important for helping policy-makers to take action on a country-by-country basis, he says.