There are many new forms of alternative energy but maybe none as interesting as the Cool Earth Solar “Balloon.” The concept behind this design is that they create an “inflatable plastic thin-film balloon (solar concentrator) that, upon inflation, focuses sunlight onto a photovoltaic cell held at its focal point.
The design produces 400 times the electricity that a solar cell would create without the company’s concentrator.” Cool Earth has already began construction on a power plant in Livermore, CA that will utilize this new technology. The plant is modest in size, creating only 1.4 Megawatts but if this plant works as well as they expect it to, they plan on launching a full sized plant next summer. One great thing about this device is that it’s made up of a very common and cheap material. “Plastic thin film is abundant and cheap,” said Cool Earth Solar CEO Rob Lamkin. “It only costs two dollars for the plastic material necessary for our solar concentrator.”
Last week Spectrum Online ran my profile of Andasol 1, a solar thermal power plant that’s set to startup in Andalucia with the largest installation built expressly for storing renewable energy: a set of molten salt storage tanks that will hold enough heat energy to run its 50 MW steam turbine for 7.5 hours after dark. This week brought decisive evidence that another solar thermal design that makes even better use of energy storage — a so-called ‘power tower’ whereby sunlight is focused on a central tower — will also have its moment in the Andalucian sun.
The project, dubbed Gemasolar, will employ sun-tracking mirrors covering an area equal to 40 soccer fields to focus light at the top of a roughly 120-meter-high tower. There the sunlight will heat a solar receiver full of molten salt. In contrast, Andasol 1 (like most of the solar thermal plants under construction in the U.S., Spain, North Africa and the Gulf) uses thousands of square meters of trough-shaped mirrors to focus light on a synthetic oil; energy is stored via heat exchangers that transfer the synthetic oil’s heat to a molten salt.
One advantage of the power tower is thus obvious: heating salt directly eliminates the need for heat exchangers, reducing installation and operating costs. Another lies in the fortuitous thermodynamics of heating molten salts, whose maximum safe temperature of 565 C is about 165 C higher than the synthetic oil’s.
Sandia National Lab researchers verified these power tower advantages in the second half of the 90s, but also suffered through a series of operational difficulties. Five years ago the European Commission provided funding for the Gemasolar project (then known as the Solar Tres) to demonstrate that the difficulties could be overcome, but the project foundered on legal issues and changes in Spain’s renewable energy law. But engineering continued and this March the project sprung back to life when its lead proponent, Spanish engineering firm Sener, clinched a solar thermal joint venture with Abu Dabi’s alternative energy program.
Thanks to blow-hard winds, the United States has just become the world’s largest generator of wind energy.
Germany previously held this distinction, though since the United States has about 26 times more land than Germany, the milestone isn’t a huge surprise. Nonetheless, we weren’t expected to reach this point until late 2009.
“Our wind energy capacity is growing faster than anyplace else,” said Randall Swisher, the executive director of the American Wind Energy Association, the national trade organization for the wind energy industry. “So it’s no longer really alternative energy. This is very mainstream.”
During the first half of 2008, the United States, for the first time, generated more wind energy electricity than Germany, despite the fact that the smaller European country still has more turbines than we do.
Germany has enough turbines to collect about 22,000 to 23,000 megawatts of power, while the United States has a capacity of about 18,000 megawatts, Swisher said.
“The difference is that because the winds are so much stronger here in the U.S. we are actually providing more wind-generated electricity than Germany,” Swisher told LiveScience. “Our turbines are so much more productive that theirs.”
Though we are winning the race in terms of volume of wind energy produced, we are far behind when it comes to the proportion of our total energy we get from wind.
While wind currently supplies about 1.2 percent of the United States’ power, it accounts for about 7 percent of Germany’s total energy consumption. And the even-smaller country of Denmark gets roughly 20 percent of its energy form wind.
How refreshing to post something about alternative energy that is not solar!
I always thought solar would be the main deliverer of renewable energy. But Mr. T. Boone Pickens seems to think different.
It’s all fine with me. As long as my energy bills are coming down.
The Florida Public Service Commission has “unanimously and enthusiastically” approved a plan to build America’s largest commercial solar-power plant in the state. The committee also gave the green light to a further two facilities, due to go on-line in 2009.
Florida Power & Light have selected SunPower to construct the three solar-power plants in the center of the state. The largest, a 75-megawatt plant in Martin County on the East Coast, will be connected to a natural gas plant. Another 25-megawatt plant in DeSoto County will be the largest photovoltaic facility in the country, while a third, 10-megawatt photovoltaic facility is to be housed at the Kennedy Space Center.
Speaking about the project, Howard Wenger, SunPower’s Senior Vice President, Global Business Units said, “These agreements confirm the growing trend in the U.S. to build solar power plants at a scale rivalling those in market-leading countries such as Germany and Spain.”
Just when it looked like things were getting dark for solar, the tide has taken a turn for the better.
I’m not going to stand by idly while this revolution is taking place. I’m buying alternative energy stocks, damnit!
Another recent energy-related article of interested is the one about Al Gore’s ambitious plan to go 100% carbon neutral in only 10 years.
Enjoy the read.
First off… sorry to all my loyal readers for not posting in so long. I had some personal issues that distracted me from the blog.
A fan recently emailed me because he was concerned that I’d given up on Our Technological Future.
Rest assured, this is not the case. I’m more technology obsessed than I ever was, and I’m picking it up right from where I left.
In the last 2 months that I haven’t posted, I’ve saved up a looooooooot of techno links. Way too many to post all in one mixed bag post.
Therefore, I picked all the energy links from it and collected them in this post.
If you are ever having a hard time debating a peak oil doomer, just send’em on over to this post.
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Now imagine what life might be like in future. Go ahead. Close your eyes.
You’ll be healthier than ever and you’ll potentially live much longer, thanks to individualized medicine made possible by genetic testing and a growing understanding of human biology.
Diabetics will undergo stem cell therapy to replace the islet cells in their pancreas. Or perhaps they’ll just get a whole new pancreas, grown from their own stem cells.
People will recover from traumatic accidents, through either biological or technical means. Artificial limbs will provide tactile sensory feedback directly to the nervous system, and will be made, partially or completely, from organic materials.
Nanotechnology will provide tiny machines that will revolutionize industry and manufacturing, and will also be deep inside our bodies, repairing damage we may never realize exist.
We’ll be living in a world filled with machines, which will be far smarter than ever before. Perhaps they’ll be smarter than we are. Robots and smart machines will be everywhere, doing all manner of work, from basic manual labor to designing the next generation of technology. Some of those machines will be moving around, looking very much like the beings that created them. Some of them will be living in your home, perhaps helping to take care of your children, or your elderly parents.
Alternative energy sources will help power an energy hungry world. Genetic designers may be creating artificial life forms that could solve energy needs and cleaning up environmental pollution.
In all fairness and balance, the source article also goes into some possible concerns for the future.