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Solar everywhere....
August 2, 2010 9:42 PM   Subscribe

New and upcoming solar energy advances: Using heat and light . Tiny? Think solar cells so small you can embed them in windows and not obscure the view, embedded in resins to spray on roofs.... more
posted by edgeways (51 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is tres cool, but I thought the big problem with solar right now was that solar requires massive batteries to provide power at night, and during periods of extended overcastness, and that the daily cycle of charging and draining those batteries was absolutely brutal on their capacity, requiring frequent- and expensive- replacements.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:49 PM on August 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


There is a solar powered carpet... Im walkin on sunshine... yeahhhhh!
posted by MrLint at 9:52 PM on August 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I like the idea of a solar technology which dies not impose ugly architecture on homes. Let's face it, solar panels are butt-ugly. Then again, why am I insulting butts?
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 9:55 PM on August 2, 2010


They should make these embeddable in clothing so that I may charge my electronics simply by carrying them in my pockets.
posted by griphus at 9:56 PM on August 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


griphus: in the second link
One team of materials scientists is developing microcells that could be rubber-stamped by the millions onto a yard of fabric.
posted by edgeways at 9:58 PM on August 2, 2010


More about the company talked about in the "more" link

Something just seems off.
posted by vidur at 10:15 PM on August 2, 2010


Also:
Cheap solar cells printed on money.
posted by robotot at 10:18 PM on August 2, 2010


I thought the big problem with solar right now was that solar requires massive batteries

That's only an issue if you go with an off-grid system. With an on-grid system you sell back what you produce during the day and then use whatever you need from the grid during the night (or during cloudy days, etc.) The grid itself becomes your battery, and if you match your production with your consumption then your monthly power bill comes to approximately zero.
posted by Rhomboid at 10:48 PM on August 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


Pope Guilty: Check out this previous post on water splitting technology, which is a very promising solution to the problem of energy storage.
posted by beepbeepboopboop at 10:52 PM on August 2, 2010


A clothesline is still the most effective solar solution. Replacing a 4900 watt dryer is the equivalent of 25 solar 200watt panels. Payback on the clothesline is 6 months or less.
posted by humanfont at 10:52 PM on August 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, this is a really cool approach to collecting photons that would be otherwise lost as heat in a traditional PV. Thanks for the post!

It sounds fairly preliminary right now, though- they have to use gallium arsenide as the absorbing material in the solar cell, which isn't terribly practical. It would be much better to make it out of silicon, which is much more earth abundant, cheaper to process, and is already being used in integrated circuits and photovoltaic cells everywhere.

Without giving the paper more than a cursory read, I suspect they ran into a tradeoff between the thermal stability of the semiconductor and the efficiency of the thermionic process. It says their new cell is most efficient at 200°C, which is probably too high for useful gains to be made in consumer grade solar. If they can engineer a solution to utilize the thermionic process at a lower temperature so that they can use silicon as the base material, it may prove very promising.
posted by beepbeepboopboop at 11:14 PM on August 2, 2010


Payback on the clothesline is 6 months or less.

Six months until a clothesline pays for itself? Did twine prices raise sharply while I was away?
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:59 PM on August 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


Every time I try to dry something on a clothes line it ends up with all the softness of burlap combined with the suppleness of cardboard. No thanks.
posted by Rhomboid at 12:43 AM on August 3, 2010


If your line dried clothes are too stiff and you already have a dryer, you could try tumbling them (low/no heat) for a few minutes after you take them off the line. Fairly minimal energy use, and softens them up nicely. Probably also easier on the clothes than drying them all the way in the dryer.

However, as much as I think line-drying clothes is a good way to save energy, I'm a bit skeptical of the claim that "a 4900 watt dryer is the equivalent of 25 solar 200watt panels." Maybe if you run the dryer whenever the sun is shining, but if you only run the dryer for a couple hours a week, 9.8 kWh << 420 kWh (assuming 12 hours of sun a day for a week).
posted by JiBB at 1:26 AM on August 3, 2010


hey Rhomboid: What the..? your clothes are too rough and stiff if you dry them on the line? what kind of pathetic excuse is that? is your skin made of rose petals or something?

Seriously line drying your clothes does not make them particularly stiff or rough.

I am 35 years old and have never ever used a Dryer as a primary method for drying clothes. its always been a 'last resort' for rainy days or 'must have this dry in 1 hour'. I haven't even had regular access to a dryer for probably 15 years or so..

I just can't understand people who use a dryer to dry everything. its absurd.
posted by mary8nne at 2:55 AM on August 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


(assuming 12 hours of sun a day for a week)

Well, that's where your numbers are going wrong then. *trudges off to work, splashing gloomily through the puddles*
posted by Lebannen at 2:56 AM on August 3, 2010


I like the idea of a solar technology which dies not impose ugly architecture on homes. Let's face it, solar panels are butt-ugly. Then again, why am I insulting butts?
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 12:55 AM on August 3 [+] [!]


What?! I agree that the design of panels is sometimes blocky and unattractive, but the solar cells themselves are quite pretty! They're often iridescent like butterfly wings!
posted by Salvor Hardin at 3:01 AM on August 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


I thought the big problem with solar right now was that solar requires massive batteries to provide power at night, and during periods of extended overcastness, and that the daily cycle of charging and draining those batteries was absolutely brutal on their capacity, requiring frequent- and expensive- replacements

Electric cars will provide those massive batteries in not too many more years. For utility-scale storage, vanadium redox flow batteries are available now, and various other technologies show considerable promise.
posted by flabdablet at 3:44 AM on August 3, 2010


Seriously line drying your clothes does not make them particularly stiff or rough.

I'm glad it works for you, with whatever combination of water hardness, washer, fabric, detergent, and weather you have wherever it is you are. But I can assure you that it absolutely does not work for me where I am, and I'm damn well not going to dry myself off with stiff, hard, disgusting matted towels and put on scratchy socks and t-shirts that feel like sandpaper just because some stranger on the internet tells me that I'm pathetic and absurd.
posted by Rhomboid at 3:47 AM on August 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


They're often iridescent like butterfly wings

And butterfly wings have zero architectural application. They are only good for eating, just like unicorns.

Think solar cells so small you can embed them in windows and not obscure the view

It seems like I remember reading something similar to this in Popular Science or some such publication a few years back. Anyone else?
posted by IvoShandor at 3:53 AM on August 3, 2010


And just for a point of reference, if I take one of said bath towels off the clothes line from its folded-in-two configuration in and spread its legs out a bit making an A-type shape, it will stand up on its own free accord without falling down.
posted by Rhomboid at 4:29 AM on August 3, 2010


This kind of thing might be good for the Caribbean, where your expensive solar panels get lots of light until they are ripped off your roof by a hurricane.
posted by snofoam at 6:42 AM on August 3, 2010


humanfont wrote: "A clothesline is still the most effective solar solution. Replacing a 4900 watt dryer is the equivalent of 25 solar 200watt panels. Payback on the clothesline is 6 months or less."

Lucky you, having someplace to hang your clothes outside where they won't get bird droppings on them. I'll make do with the twenty minutes of use it takes to dry a load of laundry. (which is not 20 minutes at full power, the heating element cycles)
posted by wierdo at 6:49 AM on August 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


You might have a water hardness issue, Rhomboid. That's not natural!

I've been particularly interested in the window-edge technology, which diverts a portion of the incoming sunlight and directs it to the edges of the window, where solar cells are concentrated. This means fewer solar cells and they're unobtrusive. Some cells function better with a very high concentration of sunlight, so this works out pretty well.

Ultimately, I think solar makes a clunky add-on to an already-built home, whereas a new home with southern exposure, PCMs in the floor to catch that light, and various other optimizations could simply use less energy and the solar panels could be well-integrated into the structure.
posted by adipocere at 7:03 AM on August 3, 2010


Hard water is, in fact, perfectly natural.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:10 AM on August 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Not to the point where he could use his towels as a cheap home version of Kevlar. I suppose it is natural if you're washing your clothes in some kind of hot springs, chock full of enough dissolved minerals that you can get your RDA of selenium simply from breathing in the mist near the pool.

But, yeah, clothes ought not to be that stiff after a wash.
posted by adipocere at 7:29 AM on August 3, 2010


I just can't understand people who use a dryer to dry everything. its absurd.

Yeah, I have a hard time understanding people who are different from me, too.

Like people who drive cars. WTF, people? Can't you all just...live in a big walkable city with good public transit like me? Get with the program!
posted by Ouisch at 7:43 AM on August 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


adipocere wrote: "But, yeah, clothes ought not to be that stiff after a wash."

Supposedly, a little vinegar helps.
posted by wierdo at 7:51 AM on August 3, 2010


I think solar makes a clunky add-on to an already-built home...

I invite you to come see my soon-to-be-installed rooftop solar array. You'll need to rent a plane or a balloon, because you won't be able to see it from the ground. Even if you could, I would not share your aesthetic judgment. Solar panels are in no way less beautiful than asphalt shingles.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:59 AM on August 3, 2010


The first link suggests up to 60% efficiency. That's insanely awesome if true. What we need is a source of power cheaper than coal/gas and that would probably be it (depending on the cost of the cells).
posted by stbalbach at 8:03 AM on August 3, 2010


I thought the big problem with solar right now was that solar requires massive batteries to provide power at night

Solar will never be a 100% solution. In places where sunshine is plentiful and air-conditioning is a must (like much of the southern US), solar will produce peak power at precisely the same times that the grid is at peak load. This is a very good thing.
posted by chrisamiller at 8:07 AM on August 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, that's why I am very excited for the probable vaporware EEStor. Supposedly, it's an ultracapacitor. If it works, it will be a good, cheaper alternative to those massive batteries. The real draw is that you'll probably be dead before you will have cycled them enough to need replacement, unlike batteries, which you must replace over and over, unless they are the grossly inefficient, heavy nickel-iron batteries.
posted by adipocere at 8:48 AM on August 3, 2010


If your clothes are too stiff from line drying you can put them in the drye for 5-10 minutes on the no heat setting after you take them off the line. This will take stiffness out of them. I've also heard that having very hard water can increase the stiffness of your clothes and that putting some vinegar in the rinse cycle will help soften them.
posted by humanfont at 9:26 AM on August 3, 2010


Pope Guilty : and that the daily cycle of charging and draining those batteries was absolutely brutal on their capacity, requiring frequent- and expensive- replacements.

I've often wondered why more solar power setups didn't use flywheels to store the power. It just seems like a really natural solution; all the things that prevent flywheels from being useful in a portable format (weight, gyroscopic effect, potentially dangerous) are completely mitigated by being able to stick them in a big heavy duty box that never needs to move.

Plus, you almost completely eliminate the nasty chemical soup which goes along with modern battery technology.
posted by quin at 9:31 AM on August 3, 2010


Hard water is, in fact, perfectly natural.

Not always. Where I grew up, in Pittsburgh, all the coal burning led to acid rain, and to acidic water in the reservoirs. That was treated by adding chemicals that made the water hard, which was then treated at home using other Calgon chemicals.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:43 AM on August 3, 2010


*Seriously line drying your clothes does not make them particularly stiff or rough.*

Well, stiff, rough, you never get the lint out of sweat suit fabric, which pills up (I spent my dryer free early childhood looking decidely ratty because of this fact), and depending where you live, doing laundry can be put off for a week because of the rain, or found full of bugs.

Don't get me wrong, I line dry (okay, balcony drape, and Ikea bathroom octopus clippy thing dry), but growing up and as an adult, the option to quickly tumble my laundry has made a big difference.
posted by Phalene at 10:04 AM on August 3, 2010


I recently read an article (maybe Wired?) about a solar plant that uses molten salt to store the heat throughout the night. I'll look for the link.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 10:04 AM on August 3, 2010


Found it.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 10:07 AM on August 3, 2010


I want this to work. I love to see windmills and solar cells. Possibly because I'm a geek/aesthete for green tech.
I've always wandered around the city wondering why more roofs couldn't be retrofitted with windmills or panels.
Expensive, I know... but... surely worth it, weighed against oil prices, greennhouse gases?
posted by SaharaRose at 10:40 AM on August 3, 2010


With an on-grid system you sell back what you produce during the day and then use whatever you need from the grid during the night...

Is this common? Also, why give you 1:1 on your power? Where else are you going to sell it? Is this government mandated?
posted by ODiV at 12:30 PM on August 3, 2010


I'm asking because interested in solar power. I should call the power company here, but I really really doubt they'd support something like this.
posted by ODiV at 12:31 PM on August 3, 2010


ODiV, it depends on the state. Some require that sort of billing, while in others if you generate excess power you don't get compensated at all. Some don't even require the power company allow you to connect your generator to their grid, which obviously makes it difficult to seamlessly use grid power or your renewable source depending on availability.
posted by wierdo at 5:08 PM on August 3, 2010


The search terms you're looking for are "net metering" and "interconnection".
posted by wierdo at 5:10 PM on August 3, 2010


In MA, it is government-mandated. It's called 'net metering,' and is available in 42 states.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:12 PM on August 3, 2010


This link is more useful.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:16 PM on August 3, 2010


Also, why give you 1:1 on your power? Where else are you going to sell it? Is this government mandated?

In lots of places, you get more than 1:1.
posted by pompomtom at 6:12 PM on August 3, 2010


If you have Green Mountain Power in Vermont you can not only sell back your energy to the grid at 1:1, they'll pay you extra for the solar power. The logic behind this is that by encouraging diverse power sources you add reliability, reduce transmission loads and ultimately avoid the cost of large scale (i.e. typical power plant) energy production.

If we can make the economics work here in cloudy Vermont it can work for the rest of the country.
posted by meinvt at 6:30 PM on August 3, 2010


I just looked it up and found a report that the power companies were looking into it last summer, then withdrew their proposal and handed it over to the government.

I found a message from an employee of the department of Environment and Natural Resources looking for someone to be the first resident on solar tied to the grid.

So yeah, it looks like they don't quite have it all hammered out and it's not exactly clear what would happen financially. There is a Territorial incentive of 1/3 back on the cost of renewable energy systems up to $5k as long as it's for your primary residence. I might look into that and also contact the guy from ENR (who I actually know).
posted by ODiV at 7:14 PM on August 3, 2010


You also have to look out for stupidity like the rules here in Oklahoma. You can get credit for no more than 25,000kWh a year here (for residential systems) and the utility is not required to pay for any excess you generate beyond your usage (although they are allowed to if you ask), not even at the absurdly low avoided cost rate. Most states have the deck stacked against those who want to generate their own power in some way or another.
posted by wierdo at 7:52 PM on August 3, 2010


Called the guy in government that knows about this. No 1:1 net metering here. We get paid based on the wholesale rate that the power company pays (So maybe 2/3 of what we pay for power). I don't know if there's any movement towards 1:1 (or beyond), but basically right now you'd be lucky to break even over the life of your panels.

There's one grid tied solar system here in town and apparently last year they got a credit of something like $13, plus they probably saved a couple hundred through the year on their bill. I might give them a call and see if I can go take a look at it.
posted by ODiV at 9:01 AM on August 4, 2010


Use solar power to crack water into hydrogen and burn it as your fuel. Hydrogen is a battery.
posted by stbalbach at 8:01 PM on August 4, 2010


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