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Transparent panels can be used as windows while they generate electricity. Michigan State University

Solar Windows Could Meet Nearly All of America's Electricity Demand

By Joe McCarthy

There's an estimated 5 to 7 billion square meters of glass surfaces in the U.S. For windows on homes, cars and buildings, these glass surfaces perform a few basic functions—letting light and fresh air in when open, and blocking bugs and keeping the cold out when closed.

Now they could all serve another, altogether revolutionary, purpose—generating electricity.


A new paper in the journal Nature Energy describes how transparent solar panels could be placed over all windows and transparent surfaces in the U.S. to generate energy and decrease reliance on fossil fuels.

If that happens, nearly all the electricity demands of the U.S. could be met in conjunction with rooftop solar panels, and as long as storage capabilities are improved.

"Highly transparent solar cells represent the wave of the future for new solar applications," said Richard Lunt, leader author of the report at Michigan State University, in a press release. "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's team at Michigan State University created a plastic technology called a transparent luminescent solar concentrator. You simply place the plastic over a glass surface—a house or car window or even a cellphone screen—and it begins to convert sunlight into electricity.

The plastic doesn't obscure visibility because it's harvesting invisible wavelengths from the sun. This energy is then passed onto strips of photovoltaic solar cells that exist on the outer edges of the sheet.

The technology is currently far less efficient than traditional solar panels—5 percent efficiency versus around 15 percent to 18 percent efficiency—and it isn't market-ready, but Lunt and his team believe the technology will become just as efficient and ubiquitous as normal panels in the years ahead.

After all, the technology is new and could follow the same rapid arc of efficiency improvement that traditional panels followed.

"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," Lunt said in the press release. "Ultimately, this technology offers a promising route to inexpensive, widespread solar adoption on small and large surfaces that were previously inaccessible."

In recent years, advances in solar and wind power technology have made renewable energy more competitive as countries around the world strive to uphold the Paris climate agreement.

In the U.S., for instance, the price of solar has dropped by 60 percent in less than a decade and this decrease is expected to continue as China invests enormous amounts of money into research and development of solar technology.

Offshore wind power has recently become a viable investment, and has the potential to provide all of the world's energy needs, according to a recent study.

According to The Global Wind Energy Council, Denmark gets more than 40 percent of its energy from wind power, and China and the U.S. get around 4 percent to 5 percent, which is closer to the global average. Solar, meanwhile, generates around 1.3 percent of global electricity demands.

Fossil fuels still account for the vast majority of electricity generation—but with advances like transparent solar sheets, that could soon change.

Global Citizen campaigns on the Global Goals, which call for the use of renewable energy. You can take action on this issue here.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Global Citizen.

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Map of damage to the town of Paradise from the Camp Fire, the deadliest wildfire in California history. NASA / JPL-Caltech

Heavy Rain Could Trigger Mudslides in Fire-Weary California

Northern California, which is already reeling from the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in state history, is now bracing for heavy rainfall this week.

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A Super Scooper firefighting plane makes a water drop during the Holy Fire near Lake Elsinore, California this October. David McNew / Greenpeace

What Should We Know About Wildfires in California

By Rolf Skar

The Camp Fire raging in Northern California is now the most devastating and deadly fire in the state's recorded history. Simultaneously, deadly and destructive fires are burning in Southern California, as the Woolsey and Hill fires have engulfed iconic areas of Malibu and West Hills. With dozens dead, hundreds missing and thousands of structures destroyed, our hearts go out to those impacted across the region.

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Ambrosia artemisiifolia, common ragweed. PLOS ONE

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Cristina Stinson never had an allergic reaction to ragweed until after she started working with it. "I think the repeated exposure to the pollen is what did it," she said. It also didn't help that her community is chock-full of it. "There is plenty of ragweed in my neighborhood," she said. "In fact, it grows right outside my door."

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A sperm whale that washed up in Indonesia's Wakatobi National Park had plastic bottles, bags and cups in its belly. @WWF_ID / Kartika Sumolang

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The first smoke from the Camp Fire arrived in Ukiah and turned the daylight red. Bob Dass / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Winds and Wildfires in California: 4 Factors to Watch That Increase Danger

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A woman stands amidst the ruins of her home following Hurricane Michael; if action isn't taken on climate change, some places could face up to six such disasters at once. Joe Raedle / Getty Images

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In a year that saw record-breaking heat waves, record-breaking hurricanes and record-breaking wildfires, it's hard to imagine how the future could look any more like a disaster movie than the present. But that is exactly what researchers from the University of Hawaii at Mānoa have predicted in a study published in Nature Climate Change Monday.

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Zinke tours Paradise, Calif. Nov. 14 with Governor Jerry Brown and FEMA Administrator Brock Long. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Zinke Blames ‘Radical Environmentalists’ for Historic California Wildfire

In an interview with Breitbart News on Sunday, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke blamed "radical environmentalists" for the wildfires that have devastated California in recent weeks, The Huffington Post reported.

"I will lay this on the foot of those environmental radicals that have prevented us from managing the forests for years. And you know what? This is on them," he said in the interview.

You can listen to the whole thing here:

The remarks come as California has suffered the deadliest blaze in the state's history. The death toll from the Camp Fire, which destroyed the town of Paradise in Northern California, has now risen to 79. Around 1,000 people are still listed as missing, and the fire is now 70 percent contained, according to an Associated Press report Monday.

California Governor Jerry Brown blamed climate change in a statement made last weekend.

"Managing all the forests everywhere we can does not stop climate change, and those who deny that definitely are contributing to the tragedies that we are witnessing and will continue to witness," Brown said.

Regardless, Zinke has remained consistent in pointing the finger at forest management. His current criticisms echo his remarks following other fires this August, in which he said the increasingly frequent and violent blazes were the result of inadequate forest management, and not climate change. He continued in that vein during Sunday's interview:

"In many cases, it's these radical environmentalists who want nature to take its course. We have dead and dying timber. We can manage it using best science, best practices. But to let this devastation go on year after year after year is unacceptable, it's not going to happen. The president is absolutely engaged."

President Donald Trump has indeed vehemently blamed forest mismanagement ever since the recent batch of fires broke out, even threatening at one point to withhold federal funding if the forests weren't managed properly. During a visit to California Saturday to survey damage, Trump brought up forest management again, suggesting that the problem in California was that the forests were not raked enough.

"You look at other countries where they do it differently, and it's a whole different story," he said, as CNN reported. "I was with the president of Finland, and he said: 'We have a much different [sic] ..., we're a forest nation.' And they spent a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things, and they don't have any problem," he added.

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, however, told a Finnish newspaper he did not recall suggesting raking to Trump.

"I mentioned [to] him that Finland is a land covered by forests and we also have a good monitoring system and network," he said.

Finnish people have taken to Twitter to poke fun at the U.S. President's statement using the hashtag "Raking America Great Again."

Despite Trump and Zinke's criticisms, the fact remains that the federal government controls almost 60 percent of the forests in California while the state controls only three percent. Paradise was surrounded by federal, not state, forests. Further, the fires in Southern California spread in suburban and urban areas, The Huffington Post reported.

Some think the emphasis put by Zinke and Trump on forest management is not about preventing fires at all but rather an attempt to justify opening more public forests to private logging interests.

U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke speaks with land managers, private landowners, university staff, and the media about federal forestry and land management at Boise State University on June 2, 2017. USDA photo by Lance Cheung

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