Centrotherm to establish new thin-film R&D centre in Blaubeuren

January 31, 2008

The momentum for thin film solar technologies has been accelerating lately. From PVTech: Thin-film technology development is the focus for centrotherm photovoltaics AG, as the company has today announced the construction of a Research & Development Centre in Blaubeuren, Germany. Completion of the facility, which is to include a thin-film laboratory equipped with the latest analysis tools and pilot fabrication for CIGS lines, is expected in 2H08.

With plans to employ approximately 20 staff members, the facility will be headed up by Dr. Immo Kötschau, who takes up the role of Director of Research and Development. This development follows on from the company’s announced intention at the time of its IPO in October last year that it would use the proceeds to invest in research and development projects.

“Our objective is to enhance our technological expertise and further increase the efficiency of our production lines,” said Robert Hartung, CEO of centrotherm photovoltaics AG. “We are aiming for a guaranteed rate of 10 percent in the production process.”


Harvesting the sun’s energy with antennas

January 31, 2008

Idaho National Laboratory: Researchers at Idaho National Laboratory, along with partners at Microcontinuum Inc. (Cambridge, MA) and Patrick Pinhero of the University of Missouri, are developing a novel way to collect energy from the sun with a technology that could potentially cost pennies a yard, be imprinted on flexible materials and still draw energy after the sun has set.

The new approach, which garnered two 2007 Nano50 awards, uses a special manufacturing process to stamp tiny square spirals of conducting metal onto a sheet of plastic. Each interlocking spiral “nanoantenna” is as wide as 1/25 the diameter of a human hair.

Because of their size, the nanoantennas absorb energy in the infrared part of the spectrum, just outside the range of what is visible to the eye. The sun radiates a lot of infrared energy, some of which is soaked up by the earth and later released as radiation for hours after sunset. Nanoantennas can take in energy from both sunlight and the earth’s heat, with higher efficiency than conventional solar cells.

“I think these antennas really have the potential to replace traditional solar panels,” says physicist Steven Novack, who spoke about the technology in November at the National Nano Engineering Conference in Boston….

In the photo, INL researcher Steven Novack holds a plastic sheet of nanoantenna arrays, created by embossing the antenna structure and depositing a conductive metal in the pattern. Each square contains roughly 260 million antennas.

UAE invests US$15 billion in future energy solutions

January 31, 2008

In some heartening news, the United Arab Emirates are directly significant resources into alternative energy. From SciDev.net: The United Arab Emirates (UAE) are putting US$15 billion into an alternative energy and clean technology initiative to establish itself as the regional and global centre of future energy solutions. Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, the capital of UAE, announced the initiative at the World Future Energy Summit held in Abu Dhabi, last week (21–23 January).

The initiative will include projects targeting solar and wind power and hydrogen fuel, and reduction and management of carbon emissions. Amongst the projects is the establishment of the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, a graduate-level scientific engineering institution offering PhD-level teaching as well as conducting research. A US$250 million Masdar Clean Technology Fund will be dedicated to financing renewable energy research projects conducted by private companies.

The fund will focus on the development and commercialisation of technologies in renewable energy, energy efficiency, carbon management, water usage and desalination, with a particular emphasis on technologies applicable to the environmental conditions of the Middle East and North Africa.

The UAE are also establishing the Zayed Future Energy Prize to honour individuals and organisations from throughout the globe for excellence in innovation, development and implementation of sustainable energy solutions. The inaugural prize will be awarded in 2009, with US$2.2 million awarded to three winners each year.

All of the projects will be based Masdar city — the UAE’s planned ‘zero carbon and zero-waste’ city, due to open in late 2009. “After realising that they have one of the highest energy consumption rates per capita in the world, the UAE has finally started spearheading renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in the region,” says Wael Hmaidan, executive director and head of the Arab Climate Campaign at IndyACT (The League of Independent Activists) based in Lebanon.

But he added, “What we mostly lack in the Arab world is strong climate change policy… Adopting a strong climate change position with clear targets for the global treaty is currently as important as investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency, if not more. The UAE and other Arab states should urgently adopt climate change policies that complement the UAE’s technical initiative.”

Global Solar Energy claims 10 Percent average solar cell efficiency in CIGS

January 31, 2008

Solar Daily: Global Solar Energy (GSE) has announced it is the first in the CIGS thin-film market to achieve an average of 10 percent solar cell efficiency on a flexible/lightweight substrate over several production runs. GSE reached the milestone in December 2007, capping off a record year in which the company also manufactured and shipped 4 MW (megawatts) of photovoltaic material powering commercial, government, military and consumer products worldwide.

…”A number of CIGS thin film companies have exceeded 10 percent efficiency in the lab or in individual cells, but achieving 10 percent average solar cell efficiency over the course of several sustained, continuous production runs is a significant achievement,” said Dr. Jeffrey Britt, Ph.D., vice president of technology. “This is the culmination of three full years of being in production and evolving our proprietary production techniques to continuously improve the efficiency and output of our production.”

Screen-printed solar cells in many designs and colors

January 31, 2008

Science Daily has a story likely to be of great importance in the marketing of solar cells: Newly designed solar cells can be screen-printed in a wide array of colors and patterns to allow them to be attractively incorporated into building design. The solar cells also can be used on windows, providing shading from glare while generating electricity.

The key component of the new modules is an organic dye which in combination with nanoparticles converts sunlight into electricity. Due to the small size of the nanoparticles, the modules are semi-transparent. This aspect makes them well suited for façade integration. The new solar cells are being developed by members of the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE, who will be presenting their new technology in Tokyo at Nanotech 2008, the world’s largest trade fair for nanotechnology.

…“We don’t see the dye solar cell as being a rival to the conventional silicon cell,” says Fraunhofer ISE physicist Andreas Hinsch. The module prototypes only achieve an efficiency of four percent, which is not sufficient for rooftop applications in comparison to the performance of crystalline silicon solar cells. On the other hand, dye solar cells have a clear advantage when it comes to façade integration…

Photo of a dyed solar cell, copyright Fraunhofer ISE

California’s solar power trajectory, beautifully illustrated

January 30, 2008

In a compelling graphic making excellent use of Google Maps, Cooler Planet illustrates the growth history of solar energy in California, year by year.

Supergrid could supply nearly a third of Europe’s electricity, says company

January 30, 2008

The holy grail of load management would be to bring an entire region into a grid, so that alternative energy sources from the entire area could be directed as needed. Such a plan exists: A high voltage electricity grid connecting countries from the North Sea to the Bay of Biscay could provide almost a third of Europe’s power by 2030, according to the company behind the idea. The system would improve energy security, cut emissions, and even reduce the price of power at times of peak demand.

The supergrid is the brainchild of Irish wind generator Airtricity – recently acquired by Scottish and Southern Energy for €1.1 billion – and would connect countries as far apart as Norway and Spain to each other’s offshore wind farms. When the wind blows in one country but not in others, power would be directed through the high voltage direct current (HVDC) network to wherever it is needed most.

According to Mark Ennis, Airtricity’s Executive Director for Strategy and Public Policy, the system will solve the Achilles heel of wind generation. In an interview with lastoilshock.comand Global Public Media, Ennis said “By having a very large grid over several thousand kilometers you take the variability out, you almost come out with base load energy”

Speaking on the sidelines of the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi last week, Ennis went on to say that the HVDC technology is proven, that existing financial incentives are already sufficient to make the idea viable, and that a regulatory agreement between countries is close: “I think we are nearly there”. If work starts soon, Ennis claimed, the supergrid could supply 30% of Europe’s power by 2030….

Image by Duesentrieb, Wikimedia Commons.