With many people concerned about a "climate emergency", there is a lot of talk about forcing people to use renewable energy sources and/or tax carbon-based fuels. As I have detailed recently, given the current state of renewable technology, it might be near impossible to convert over to wind, solar, and biofuels in any short period of time. There are physical and economic limits that cannot be overcome, not to mention all of the natural landscapes that would need to be destroyed to make room for all of the renewable facilities, transmission lines, and biofuel crops.
Before giving up on freedom and private property as some leaders are suggesting, it might be good to remember that technological progress is still happening. Wind power and biofuels have problems that might not be overcome, but roof-top or other solar panels (not requiring new land) still have a lot of room for improvement (in price and energy output). Let us take a look at some recent developments.
Transparent solar panels might have finally arrived! Turning windows into solar panels has long been a dream of renewable energy advocates but there is a problem. Solar panels absorb light and do not let it through - that is how they produce energy. That is why you can see through a typical solar panel - and why they would make poor windows. So how does Ubiquitous Energy Inc. do it? They capture only the non-visible part of the spectrum of light (or electromagnetic radiation). They have made windows with a film on top that captures the ultraviolet and infrared parts of the spectrum and looks as clear as glass. The windows only cost 20% more than a regular window. These "solar windows" do not capture as much energy as a regular solar panel, but if they are cheap and last a long time, what a great way to get energy without much disruption to the environment.
Research into perovskite solar cells is also advancing. Why perovskite? Because it is cheaper to manufacture. Recent research from the Australian National University has paired perovskite solar cells and traditional silicon to produce an efficiency of 27.7%. Once the efficiency is above 30% in a couple of years, it will be a commercially viable solar product. One of the main hurdles that remain is making the perovskite more stable over time in normal environmental conditions.
Also inherent in making solar power (and other renewables) more feasible is better battery technology. In this report, we see South Korean researchers have developed a new silicon-based material the could allow higher capacity and faster charging time.
Being able to re-charge a battery thousands of times is also key in the deployment of energy storage or for transportation. Thankfully Tesla is working overtime to make that a reality. They now have a prototype battery that can be re-charged about 6,000 times, which could mean a million miles on the road for an electric car before it needs a new battery.
A legitimate criticism of electric vehicles is that they cannot go as far as internal combustion cars because of the batteries. If those batteries can be re-charged in 5 minutes and can be recharged thousands of times, then the "range anxiety" becomes much less of an issue.
Meteorologist Justin Loew