While the nation struggles to find ways to put money in peoples' pockets and to ramp up the economy so people can get back to work, over $43 billion in low-interest loans earmarked for clean energy projects sits undistributed by the Trump administration, according to The New York Times.
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Renewable energy made up almost three quarters of all new energy capacity added in 2019, data released Monday by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) shows.
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The growing demand for renewable energy led to record setting growth in wind power capacity as technology has made harnessing wind power increasingly efficient and more wind farms have been completed and have joined the electrical grid, according to The Telegraph.
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By Paul Brown
The amount of energy generated by tides and waves in the last decade has increased tenfold. Now governments around the world are planning to scale up these ventures to tap into the oceans' vast store of blue energy.
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By James Bruggers
In Maine, state officials are working to help residents install 100,000 high efficiency heat pumps in their homes, part of a strategy for electrifying the state. In California, an in-demand grant program helps the state's largest industry—agriculture, not technology—to pursue a greener, more sustainable future. Across Appalachia, solar panels are appearing on rooftops of community centers in what used to be coal towns.
In Maine, Federal Funding 'Would Make a Big Difference'<p>The fingerprints of climate change are all over the state of Maine, from the invasion of temperate species into the rapidly warming Gulf of Maine to summers that are now two weeks longer than they were a century ago. But despite all this change, one thing will stay the same: Winter in Maine will still be cold.</p><p>In a state that uses more home heating oil per capita than anywhere in the nation, Maine's climate hawks are looking to make a major change in the way people heat their homes, and help mitigate climate change at the same time.</p><p>In 2019, Gov. Janet Mills signed a bill with the goal of installing 100,000 heat pumps into homes in Maine by 2025. This would represent nearly a fifth of the homes in the state. </p><p>"It's clearly the electrification strategy," said Hannah Pingree, the state's director of the Governor's Office of Policy Innovation and the Future. "Electrify homes, electrify transportation. That's a strong theme of the Climate Council."</p><p>Maine's Climate Council—a group of scientists, industry leaders, local and state officials and residents—is charged with figuring out how Maine will meet a <a href="https://www.maine.gov/governor/mills/news/governor-mills-signs-major-renewable-energy-and-climate-change-bills-law-2019-06-26" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">trio of ambitious goals</a>: reducing emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and at least 80 percent by 2050; increasing the state's renewable energy portfolio standard to 80 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050; and making the state carbon neutral by 2045. </p><p>Heat pumps—which also cool homes—draw in air from outside and use the difference in temperature between inside and outside air to keep a home comfortable. They are run on electricity, and can be paired with clean energy sources like solar or wind power to eliminate the carbon footprint of home heating.</p><p>Mills' plan offers incentives for installing the pumps, thanks to state funding that's being supplemented by some federal low-income housing funds. The program is up and running, but it's something that Pingree said could benefit from an infusion of federal funds.</p><p>"The governor's heat pump program is already ambitious and innovative, but to really get to the full scale and take it even further, federal investment would make a big difference," said Pingree, who co-chairs the Climate Council. "Especially when it comes to people's homes, investments in transportation and housing stock, the federal government's participation is extremely helpful and it helps put people to work."</p><p>The heat pump program is part of a bigger picture of state and local governments working to get consumers to move away from using fossil fuels for heating. <a href="https://insideclimatenews.org/news/12122019/natural-gas-ban-cities-legal-cambridge-brookline-massachusetts-state-law-berkeley-california" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Some local governments</a> in other states are banning natural gas hookups for new construction, and some electric utilities and clean energy advocates are asking California regulators to enact a <a href="https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/california-nears-tipping-point-on-all-electric-building-regulations" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">statewide ban</a> as part of the next update of the state's building code.</p><p>Heat pumps are just one part of Maines's strategy, which will likely include a massive expansion of offshore wind and community solar projects and a push to electrify the transportation sector. At a meeting earlier this summer, more than 230 people from six working groups presented ideas to the council—more than 300 actions in all—which are being weighed now.</p><p>"If you look at the recommendations from the working groups, one of the cross-cutting ones is finance. We do need to raise revenue, and we also need the federal government to step up," said David Costello, the clean energy director of the Natural Resource Council of Maine. "It's going to be hard for Maine to implement many of the actions that we'd like to implement without increased funding."</p>
California's Grants for 'Climate Smart Agriculture' Are Successful—and Threatened<p>To say California farm country is central to its ambitious plans to combat climate change seems redundant. The $50 billion agricultural sector is a pillar of the state's economy, the world's fifth largest, encompassing 70,000 farms and ranches. </p><p>With such a vast and vital industry (which includes parts of every county in the state), California has created a suite of "climate smart agriculture" programs. The first-of-their-kind programs, launched in 2014 and expanded in 2017, are <a href="https://insideclimatenews.org/news/25062020/california-farmers-coronavirus-emissions-climate-change" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">helping farms become more resilient </a>to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, conserve land and protect ecosystems and communities. </p><p>The programs provide grant funds and technical assistance to farms in four key areas: conserving agricultural land against non-farm development; increasing on-farm water efficiency; improving soil health and managing manure to mitigate its climate impacts. The programs, popular with farmers, are receiving at least twice as many applications as there are grants.</p><p>They are also popular with nonprofit environmental and agricultural advocacy organizations. The California Climate and Agriculture Network (CalCAN), evaluated the programs' climate benefits and found impressive results. To date, the programs collectively have funded more than 1,250 climate smart agriculture projects and reduced greenhouse gas emissions by more than 1.1 million metric tons of CO2 e (carbon dioxide equivalent) over the life of the projects, the equivalent of removing 67,000 passenger vehicles from the road for a year. The water efficiency programs have saved more than 110,000 acre feet of water (the equivalent of more than 50,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools).</p><p>They are also affordable, costing between $43 and $100 per metric ton of CO2 reductions. In a pre-pandemic California, one with a budget surplus and climate policy priorities, the programs would be expanding. Instead, climate smart agriculture funding is in jeopardy. The state, still partially wracked by the coronavirus, is in a worsening recession. Supporters of climate smart agriculture programs worry the state will spend its funding on other priorities.</p><p>This at a time when the coronavirus has exposed the need for greater investment in farm country, said Jeanne Merrill, CalCAN's policy director. "We're seeing the pandemic impacts on farmers is clearly a major disruption," she said, "and it's a disruption that can point to weaknesses in our current system. We're taking the lessons learned from the pandemic and applying that to how we can prepare for greater climate extremes. Investing in resilient farming is key."</p>
Across Appalachia, a New Post-Coal Economy Beckons<p>Coal mining jobs have been crashing for decades in eastern Kentucky, from roughly 30,000 in 1984 to about 3,000 now, undercutting what has long been among the most impoverished regions of the country.</p><p>For a long time, elected leaders <a href="https://insideclimatenews.org/news/24092019/mitch-mcconnell-coal-miners-pensions-fund-appalachia-senate-campaign" target="_blank">held</a> what turned out to be false hope that the coal industry would come back.</p><p>But a nonprofit based in Berea, Kentucky, the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, has been working toward a post-coal economy since 1976. </p><p>Among its programs: training entrepreneurs and providing low-interest loans to small businesses. In the past dozen years, MACED added energy efficiency and solar power to its mix of programs, saving clients money and cutting carbon emissions at the same time.</p><p>It's an ironic twist that rural Appalachian counties that helped power the nation with cheap—though dirty and climate warming—coal have seen residents' electricity bills <a href="https://insideclimatenews.org/news/14082018/coal-energy-prices-appalachia-mining-electric-bill-kentucky-economy-aep-rates" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">skyrocket</a> as coal has given way to cheaper natural gas and increasingly competitive wind and solar. Utility customers have been shouldering the costs of shuttering old coal-burning power plants and cleaning up the toxic messes they leave behind, while the power companies doubled down on more expensive coal.</p><p>Since May 2015, <a href="https://maced.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">MACED</a> has helped with 30 solar installations, saving almost $400,000 in energy costs, said Ivy Brashear, MACED's Appalachian transition director. And since 2008, MACED has helped hundreds of homes and businesses reduce their energy bills by scrutinizing them for errors and helping to pay for energy efficiency retrofits, she said. She added that it included, for example, helping a grocery store stay in business to prevent a rural area from becoming a food desert.</p><p>"We listen and collaborate with people who are living and working in these communities, and help advance that new economy in ways that are really just and really equitable," Brashear said.</p><p>In solar work, MACED has focused on Letcher County, with a population of about 22,000, where businesses, faith communities and nonprofits are <a href="https://www.letcherculture.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">tapping</a> their cultural strengths to create a new economy. </p><p>Whitesburg-based Appalshop, the 50-year-old arts and education nonprofit, for example, partnered with MACED to put solar panels on its new outdoor performance <a href="https://appalshop.org/solar" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pavilion</a>, which opened a year ago, to power its headquarters building and reduce electricity bills.</p><p>"In the last decade, our energy costs have gone up by 50 percent and were expected to keep rising," said Alexandra Werner-Winslow, Appalshop communications director. "That was not sustainable."</p><p>MACED, she said, "was tremendously helpful with our construction," and with the low-interest loan. At the same time, Appalshop sees solar development and energy efficiency as an important economic engine for eastern Kentucky.</p><p>MACED's funding includes grants from government and philanthropic foundations. With Congress weighing further ways to help the nation recover from an economic recession caused by the novel coronavirus, it could further a transition to cleaner energy and energy savings in rural areas through targeted investments and tax rebates, said Peter Hille, president of MACED.</p><p>"Anything that can (bring) down the front-end cost makes a big difference since that also reduces interest cost on financing over the life of the loan," he said.</p>
Mountain Towns in the West Hope for a 'Green Pathway' Stimulus<p>Jessie Burley is the sustainability director for the town of Breckenridge, Colorado, a posh, outdoorsy community in the Tenmile Range. Not only is Breckenridge a member of the statewide Colorado Communities for Climate Action but the town is also part of a national organization, Mountain Towns 2030, that's swapping ideas about how to meet a goal of net-zero carbon emissions within a decade, and one of many tourist towns focused on clean energy long before the coronavirus pandemic.</p><p>And the resulting economic downturn hasn't changed the goal, said Burley. Sustainability-minded communities recognize that jobs and businesses ought to be a focus of the Covid-19 recovery, since the pandemic has revealed how exposed existing economic systems are, she said.</p><p>"Whether it's a virus or whether it's global warming or whether it's some other kind of disaster, we are more susceptible," she said. "We also can't lose sight of the fact that going back to business as usual is not going to be enough."</p><p>Members of a Mountain Towns 2030 task force on Covid-19 are pressing for any new stimulus package to include provisions supporting "green pathway" programs, such as green infrastructure, electric vehicle charging or renewable energy jobs. In that spirit, although Breckenridge has suffered steep, pandemic-related revenue losses, a community solar program is pressing forward this year, its grants scaled back from 25 to 20.</p><p>Similarly, in Montana, where revenue from natural resource industries makes up 12 percent of the state's general fund and paychecks for 1.2 percent of the workforce, a task force is finalizing a statewide climate change plan this month, said Mark Haggerty, an economist with Bozeman-based Headwaters Economics and a member of the governor's climate task force. Planning is still underway to decarbonize Montana's electricity sector by 2035 and to decarbonize Montana's economy by 2050, he said.</p><p>"A lot of this needs to be done in recognition of the fact that [the energy transition] is already happening," said Haggerty, noting that the task force is diverse, including everyone from conservationists to energy officials.</p><p>"It is a broad-based challenge, and everyone is affected regardless of where you live or what your political affiliation is," he said of the new climate goals in a world also dealing with Covid-19's economic fallout. "But, also, we need everyone to buy into and ultimately benefit from the changes that we can enact and that will benefit the entire state."</p>
Virginia is the South's First State to Commit to Carbon-Free Energy<p>In the wake of a political upheaval that put Democrats firmly in control of state government, Virginia in 2020 became the <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-solutions/virginia-becomes-the-first-southern-state-with-a-goal-of-carbon-free-energy/2020/04/13/4ef22dd6-7db5-11ea-8013-1b6da0e4a2b7_story.html" target="_blank">first state in the South</a> to commit to 100 percent carbon-free energy and to join the northeast's <a href="https://www.rggi.org/sites/default/files/Uploads/Press-Releases/2020_07_08_VA_Announcement_Release.pdf" target="_blank">Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.</a></p><p>Most of the state's coal power would have to shut down by 2024 under the Virginia Clean Economy Act, which also lays the groundwork for a burst of new renewable energy construction. Lawmakers declared large amounts of solar and wind energy and energy storage to be "in the public interest," sweeping aside the regulatory barriers to new renewable energy projects.</p><p>This transition to renewable energy already has a footprint in the Hamptons Roads area, where the state plans to develop a wind industry hub to be overseen by a newly created state agency aimed at fostering offshore wind farms. The bill that created the agency stated Virginia's opposition to offshore drilling. </p><p>About 25 miles east, Virginia Beach is considering an array of plans to protect homes and businesses from increased climate-related flooding, storm surges and sea level rise, hoping for either state or federal funds to do everything from buying out flood prone homes to possibly building large floodgates to protect its shoreline. </p><p>In Norfolk, the state is supporting construction of new reefs using crushed concrete and granite that can serve as a habitat for the eastern oyster and also help shield the city against storm surges and erosion. The effort enabled state officials last year to declare the Lafayette River fully restored under the Chesapeake Bay Watershed agreement. </p><p>The Legislature, meanwhile, considered, but rejected, the idea of a Virginia "Green New Deal" public works-style program. Instead, lawmakers opted for a business-friendly approach that had the support of the state's big utilities, Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power, by the time the legislation was<a href="https://www.governor.virginia.gov/newsroom/all-releases/2020/april/headline-856056-en.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> signed into law</a> by Gov. Ralph Northam on April 11. </p><p>The new Clean Economy Act makes it easier for rooftop solar to spread across Virginia, by expanding "net metering" for households—giving electricity customers credit for the excess solar energy they produce and sell back to the grid. It enables Virginians for the first time to save money on their monthly electric bills by going solar.</p><p>If utilities fall short on their obligations to cut carbon energy and expand renewables, they will be subject to penalties that will go into an account to fund job training, with priority given to historically disadvantaged communities, veterans and individuals in Virginia's coalfield regions. Some critics note that this set-up means there is no assured funding for worker transition programs, which could be provided by stimulus programs from the federal government.</p><p>Virginia already has more solar jobs (<a href="https://www.thesolarfoundation.org/solar-jobs-census/factsheet-2019-va/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">4,489</a>) than coal jobs (<a href="https://www.eia.gov/coal/annual/pdf/table18.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2,730)</a>, and the latter are concentrated in the rural southwestern part of the state, a Republican stronghold which has lost political power to the state's burgeoning northern suburbs. Diverse, highly educated and tech-heavy communities in the northern part of the state helped Democrats take full control of Virginia's Legislature in 2019, paving the way for passage of Northam's clean energy agenda. A chief challenge in implementing the law will be ensuring that the Republican-dominated, fossil fuel-dependent rural regions that have been resistant to change don't get left behind.</p>
A new report shows that investments in coal plants may be a waste of money as renewables are cheaper than new coal plants, according to new research from the financial think tank Carbon Tracker Initiative.
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Tech behemoths Google and Facebook have upped their respective pledges to the environment, joining the ranks of Apple and Microsoft. Earlier this year, Microsoft pledged to go carbon negative by 2030, meaning it will account for all the carbon it has ever produced and add enough mitigation to counteract its effect.
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Germany's target for renewable energy sources to deliver 65% of its consumed electricity by 2030 seemed on track Wednesday, with 52% of electricity coming from renewables in 2020's first quarter. Renewable energy advocates, however, warned the trend is imperiled by slowdowns in building new wind and solar plants.
By Steve Horn
The huge bipartisan energy bill currently stalled in the Senate would fast-track exports of fracked gas, offer over a billion dollars in subsidies to "clean coal" efforts and make available hundreds of millions in tax dollars for a geoengineering pilot project.
Bipartisan Uptake, Industry Praise<p>The legislation has thus far received bipartisan support because it contains subsidies for renewable energy sources including <a href="https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/whats-in-the-senate-energy-bill-for-clean-energy-smart-grid-and-energy-storage" target="_blank">wind, solar</a>, and geothermal. It also creates federal financial incentives for creating energy-efficient buildings and boosts funding for energy storage. For that, it has garnered lobbying support from the likes of the <a href="https://acore.org/acore-statement-on-the-american-energy-innovation-act/" target="_blank">American Council on Renewable Energy</a>, the <a href="https://www.nature.org/en-us/newsroom/statement-supporting-senate-energy-bill/" target="_blank">Nature Conservancy</a>, and the <a href="https://www.edf.org/media/bipartisan-senate-innovation-package-takes-useful-steps-towards-smart-climate-policy" target="_blank">Environmental Defense Fund</a>.</p><p>Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called for support of the bill during March 2 remarks on the Senate floor.</p>
Dirty Details<p>Outside of the renewable energy, energy efficiency, and energy storage clauses, the energy bill contains provisions aiming to ease the way for exports of so-called<a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/2017/09/07/trump-small-scale-lng-exports-without-environmental-review" target="_blank"> "small scale" LNG export terminals</a>, which rely on slightly smaller tankers and keep the <span style="background-color: initial;">LNG</span> in liquid form instead of re-gasifying it.</p><p>The Senate bill also offers over $367.8 million in federal funding through 2024 to test out a geoengineering pilot project for a technique called <a href="http://www.geoengineeringmonitor.org/2018/05/direct-air-capture/" target="_blank">direct air capture</a>, which involves vacuuming carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Geoengineering is a proposal to use various technologies with goals of either removing greenhouse gases already emitted or reversing global warming. </p>
Bakken Petrochemical Hub<p>Senators have also introduced <a href="https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/2657/amendments?searchResultViewType=expanded&KWICView=false&pageSize=250" target="_blank">220 different amendments</a> to the bill, which include the one calling for a phase-out of hydrofluorocarbons from cooling and refrigeration devices. Three of the amendments, if passed, would greatly expand drilling in North Dakota's Bakken Shale basin.</p><p>Two of them received an introduction by U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), who <a href="http://v/" target="_blank">served as an energy policy aide</a> for President <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/donald-trump" target="_blank">Donald Trump</a>'s 2016 presidential campaign. One of these amendments, <a href="https://www.kirkland.com/publications/kirkland-alert/2020/03/senate-energy-legislation" target="_blank">successfully inserted</a> into the bill, calls for the U.S. Department of Energy to do a "Bakken and Three Forks Natural Gas Liquids Report" to study the potential for a petrochemical storage hub in the Bakken. The other, titled "Bakken Energy for National Security," calls for the Energy Department to do a similar study with the U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Treasury Department to "assess … the potential national and economic security impacts of building ethane and other natural-gas-liquids-related petrochemical infrastructure in the geographical vicinity of the Bakken."</p>
Energy.Senate.Gov<p>The third amendment, introduced by <span style="background-color: initial;">U.S.</span> Sen. John Hoeven (R-<span style="background-color: initial;">ND</span>), calls for expedited permitting for drilling on <span style="background-color: initial;">U.S.</span> public lands located within the Bakken. The provision is known as the Bureau of Land Management (<span style="background-color: initial;">BLM</span>) Spacing Act.</p>
Congress.gov<p>The North Dakota Pipeline Authority is <a href="https://news.prairiepublic.org/post/study-bakken-and-three-forks-natural-gas-liquids-approved" target="_blank">currently teaming up</a> with the University of North Dakota's Energy and Environmental Research Center to study the potential for a petrochemical hub in the region, as well. That study is set for release on May 1, the publication Prairie Public Broadcasting reported.</p><p>"The petrochemical industry is the number one consumer of those natural gas liquids," Justin Kringstad, Executive Director of the North Dakota Pipeline Authority, <a href="https://news.prairiepublic.org/post/pipeline-authority-director-wants-study-chemical-make-natural-gas-liquids-over-time" target="_blank">told Prairie Public Broadcasting in October</a>. "As investors and companies look at North Dakota for opportunities, we need to have good, solid scientific data we can point to, and have a good understanding of this resource potential."</p><p>The oil and gas industry sees the <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/fracking-plastics" target="_blank">growth of plastics manufacturing</a>, as well as <a href="https://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/sites/default/files/rpt_1905_fracking-2019-web_2.pdf" target="_blank">exporting LNG and building gas power plants</a> in the U.S., as a profitable lifeline to continue fracking in places like the Bakken Shale and the Marcellus. For climate advocates, pointing to the threat of potent methane emissions from the supply chain, this presents a major problem. </p><p><span style="background-color: initial;">"</span>From petrochemical facilities to gas-fired power plants and liquefied natural gas export terminals, these new projects would commit America to another generation of dependence on fossil fuels," the advocacy group Food and Water Watch wrote in a <a href="https://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/sites/default/files/rpt_1905_fracking-2019-web_2.pdf" target="_blank">March 2019 report</a>. "These projects aren't just associated with health and safety risks: if even a fraction of them come to fruition, they will condemn the planet to a future of climate chaos."</p>
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Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels convert sunlight into energy and continue to play an essential role in the fight to stop the climate crisis. As the pioneering panels of the early 2000s near the end of their 30-year electronic lives, however, they are at risk of becoming the world's next big wave of e-waste.
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A California county has given the green light to what officials say will be part of the largest renewable energy storage facility in the world.
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Virginia, which now has a Democrat as governor and Democrats in control of the statehouse, has followed the lead of several other blue states and committed itself to transition away from fossil fuels to a clean, renewable, carbon-free energy, as Vox reported. It makes Virginia the first state in the South to commit to 100 percent clean energy.
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One of the challenges of renewable power is how to store clean energy from the sun, wind and geothermal sources. Now, a new study and advances in nanotechnology have found a method that may relieve the burden on supercapacitor storage. This method turns bricks into batteries, meaning that buildings themselves may one day be used to store and generate power, Science Times reported.
Bricks are a preferred building tool for their durability and resilience against heat and frost since they do not shrink, expand or warp in a way that compromises infrastructure. They are also reusable. What was unknown, until now, is that they can be altered to store electrical energy, according to a new study published in Nature Communications.
The scientists behind the study figured out a way to modify bricks in order to use their iconic red hue, which comes from hematite, an iron oxide, to store enough electricity to power devices, Gizmodo reported. To do that, the researchers filled bricks' pores with a nanofiber made from a conducting plastic that can store an electrical charge.
The first bricks they modified stored enough of a charge to power a small light. They can be charged in just 13 minutes and hold 10,000 charges, but the challenge is getting them to hold a much larger charge, making the technology a distant proposition.
If the capacity can be increased, researchers believe bricks can be used as a cheap alternative to lithium ion batteries — the same batteries used in laptops, phones and tablets.
The first power bricks are only one percent of a lithium-ion battery, but storage capacity can be increased tenfold by adding materials like metal oxides, Julio D'Arcy, a researcher at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, who contributed to the paper and was part of the research team, told The Guardian. But only when the storage capacity is scaled up would bricks become commercially viable.
"A solar cell on the roof of your house has to store electricity somewhere and typically we use batteries," D'Arcy told The Guardian. "What we have done is provide a new 'food-for-thought' option, but we're not there yet.
"If [that can happen], this technology is way cheaper than lithium ion batteries," D'Arcy added. "It would be a different world and you would not hear the words 'lithium ion battery' again."