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Renewable Energy In 2015

Posted on December 11th, 2015 by in New Materials & Applications

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It’s a commonly held view that the world is at a tipping point for renewable energy. Renewable sources are now making up a significant proportion of all new power capacity added around the world. In the US over the twelve months to October of this year, 100% of the new power capacity added has been provided by renewable sources.

Renewable energy is increasingly on our radar. Countries around the world are making the shift to producing cleaner energy and countries representing over 90% of the global economy pledged earlier this year to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But the technology to support the renewable energy dream isn’t yet as advanced as most of us would like.

In this post, I’m going to take a look at three developments from 2015 in the advancement of renewable energy technology.

Transparent Solar Cells
Researchers at Kogakuin University in Japan have come up with a translucent solar panel and battery that charges itself when exposed to sunlight.

The panel is clear when the battery is fully charged and has a slight tint when it’s capturing energy and charging the battery. This type of solar panel is unique in that it combines a battery with the panel in a transparent form, but the approach is similar to that being taken by other research groups around the world. It has huge potential for widespread use where windows could be turned into power sources.

Silent Wind Turbines
Perhaps the most common objection to wind farms that are placed anywhere near civilization are to do with the noise they generate. Often, they’re throttled to limit their speed and manage their noise and vibration output.

A research group from Cambridge University have drawn on inspiration from the feathers on an owls wing to design a coating for turbine blades with the intent of reducing surface noise.

One of the first tested iterations was an open structure which resembled a wedding veil which reduced surface noise by up to 30dB. Despite the impressive noise reduction, this material isn’t well suited for use on aircraft or “real-world” wind turbines, and the team got to work creating something that would be. The researchers have now designed another material made of 3D printed plastic which they tested on a full-size wind turbine blade. They observed a 10dB reduction in noise without any significant degradation in aerodynamic performance.

If a coating like this could be installed on wind farms, throttling could be reduced and the turbines would generate more energy without an increase in their noise output.

Increasing Efficiency Of Harnessing Solar Power
Swedish company Ripasso is working on a new solar electricity generating system and was able to achieve efficiencies of 34% earlier this year. When compared with traditional photo-voltaic panels at a maximum efficiency of around 23%, that’s quite a step up.

Ripasso are working with a locally built small-scale Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) system in South Africa, which is one of the few operational systems of it’s kind. The system uses huge 100 square meter dishes, pointed at the sun, to concentrate and capture the solar energy. Each dish is about to generate 75-85 megawatt hours of electricity per year.

2016 looks set to be another interesting year in the world of renewables. As focus continues to shift and we become more reliant on renewable energy sources, investment in the technology to support it is sure to continue.

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