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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 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.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Emily Deanne
Shower shoes? Check. Extra-long sheets? Yep. Energy efficiency checklist? No worries — we've got you covered there. If you're one of the nation's 12.1 million full-time undergraduate college students, you no doubt have a lot to keep in mind as you head off to school. If you're reading this, climate change is probably one of them, and with one-third of students choosing to live on campus, dorm life can have a big impact on the health of our planet. In fact, the annual energy use of one typical dormitory room can generate as much greenhouse gas pollution as the tailpipe emissions of a car driven more than 156,000 miles.
By Lorraine Chow
Kokia drynarioides is a small but significant flowering tree endemic to Hawaii's dry forests. Native Hawaiians used its large, scarlet flowers to make lei. Its sap was used as dye for ropes and nets. Its bark was used medicinally to treat thrush.
States that invest heavily in renewable energy will generate billions of dollars in health benefits in the next decade instead of spending billions to take care of people getting sick from air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels, according to a new study from MIT and reported on by The Verge.
Hawaii's Kilauea volcano could be gearing up for an eruption after a pond of water was discovered inside its summit crater for the first time in recorded history, according to the AP.
By Kristin Ohlson
From where I stand inside the South Dakota cornfield I was visiting with entomologist and former USDA scientist Jonathan Lundgren, all the human-inflicted traumas to Earth seem far away. It isn't just that the corn is as high as an elephant's eye — are people singing that song again? — but that the field burgeons and buzzes and chirps with all sorts of other life, too.
Humanity faced its hottest month in at least 140 years in July, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said on Thursday. The finding confirms similar analysis provided by its EU counterparts.
By Hans Nicholas Jong
Indonesia's president has made permanent a temporary moratorium on forest-clearing permits for plantations and logging.
It's a policy the government says has proven effective in curtailing deforestation, but whose apparent gains have been criticized by environmental activists as mere "propaganda."