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From peanut farmer to solar farmer . . . A view of the new solar "farm" on land owned by former President Jimmy Carter, with the city of Plains seen in the background. Nearly four decades after he turned heads by installing solar panels on the White House roof as part of his push to increase "clean" energy use in America, Carter has leased part of his property to SolAmerica. The Atlanta based company says more than 50 percent of Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter's hometown will be solar-powered as a result.
From peanut farmer to solar farmer . . . A view of the new solar “farm” on land owned by former President Jimmy Carter, with the city of Plains seen in the background. Nearly four decades after he turned heads by installing solar panels on the White House roof as part of his push to increase “clean” energy use in America, Carter has leased part of his property to SolAmerica. The Atlanta based company says more than 50 percent of Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter’s hometown will be solar-powered as a result.


Plains — For anyone looking for a sign from above, this one was awfully hard to miss.

For much of Wednesday morning, fog and even some intermittent drizzle had shrouded the field of solar panels recently constructed on a piece of farmland owned here by Jimmy Carter. Then, just as he and his wife, Rosalynn, cut the ceremonial ribbon on a project that will bring renewable energy to much of their beloved hometown, the sun burst out overhead, as if to underscore the significance of this long-in-the-making moment.

“This site will be as symbolically important as the 32 panels we put on the White House,” Carter had earlier told a crowd of about 100 people — and one persistently crowing rooster nearby. “People can come here and see what can be done.”

The 45-minute ceremony officially marked the completion of an ambitious project by Atlanta-based SolAmerica Energy to construct solar panels on a 10-acre site leased from Carter. It also brought full circle a personal commitment to renewable energy on Carter’s part that first burst into view in 1979 when he had solar panels installed on the White House roof.

Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter arrive for a ceremony Wednesday morning in Plains celebrating the construction of a solar “farm.” Jimmy Carter leased the 10-acre site he owns near his home to Atlanta-based SolAmerica Energy, which says the project will provide power to over 50 percent of Plains. Photo by Jill Vejnoska/ The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


Now, some 37 years after voters turned him out of that temporary home in Washington D.C. — and his successor, Ronald Reagan, dismantled his ahead-of-its-time roof project — the field of 3,852 panels that rotate with the path of the sun lies about half a mile from the modest ranch house where he and Rosalynn have lived since 1961.

“I won’t use the word ‘vindicated,’” Carter said with a chuckle Wednesday in response to a question about how “hot” solar power and other forms of renewable energy have become now. “But I feel pleased … that’s a more political word to use!”

The project will provide over 50 percent of the power needs of Plains, a snug Sumter County town of 683 people located approximately ten minutes from Americus. With three Jimmy Carter National Historic Site locations operated by the National Park Service and a block-and-a-half long business district that primarily caters to tourists, the increased reliance on renewable energy will be economically beneficial to Plains and to its approximately 215 homes, SolAmerica executive vice president George Mori told the crowd.

“In the first year … there’ll be enough solar power to power 200 homes,” Mori said. “That’s really remarkable.”

But that’s not the only reason he and his colleagues were so geeked to be working with Carter, Mori admitted in an interview.

“In our industry, he’s somewhat of a hero for his vision around renewable energy and the growing need for it for energy independence and also for environmental reasons,” Mori said of Carter, who also created the U.S. Department of Energy during his term as president. During their first meeting about the project, Carter discussed the long-ago installation and subsequent removal of those 32 panels. Said Mori: “That is somewhat legendary in our industry.”

President Jimmy Carter shows off the “solar system” that was installed on the roof of the White House during his administration. Dedicated in June 1979, the 32 thermal collectors were visible from Pennsylvania Avenue and supplied solar heated water that was primarly used in the White House mess kitchen. The solar panels were removed from the roof during President Ronald Reagan’s administration in 1986. Photo courtesy of the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


But making a town go solar isn’t as easy as flipping a switch. Mori first approached a friend several years ago about the possibility of working with the ex-president. He was “thrilled” when that friend, former Georgia state senator and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jason Carter, reported back that his famous grandfather was interested in the idea.

“It was an easy sell, as you can probably imagine, to call the person I call Paw Paw and say, ‘Hey, how much would you like to put a solar installation on your farm?’” a grinning Jason Carter told the crowd on Wednesday. “And he said, ‘How big? When can we do it?!’”

After working out a long-term solar lease for the property, where Carter last grew soybeans — “He’s receiving a market rate,” Mori said of the ex-president — SolAmerica next turned its attention to finding a buyer for the solar power to be supplied to the grid. Georgia Power signed on for 25 years, as part of its Advanced Solar Initiative, a program that is a part of the Georgia Power Solar Initiative & Plains Solar Facility. Construction on the project began last October.

Carter is famously hands-on. And apparently, a solar farm located practically in his own backyard is no exception. During construction, “I think he visited it every day he was in Plains,” said Mori, recalling one day when Carter studied the plans laid out in the back of a pickup truck and asked a series of “very smart questions.”

And now?

“We just turn the corner, and we can see it,” Carter said with a smile Wednesday. “Every time Rosalynn and I walk down the street, we look over to see that (the solar panels) are tracking well.”

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Article By: Jill Vejnoska

January 20, 2017 // 12:26 PM EST

At 11:59 am eastern, the official White House website had a lengthy information page about the threat of climate change and the steps the federal government had taken to fight it. At noon, at the instant Donald Trump took office, the page was gone, as well as any mention of climate change or global warming.

It’s customary for to flip over to the new administration exactly at noon, but the only mention of climate on President Trump’s new website is under his “America First Energy Plan” page, in which he vows to destroy President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, which is a government-wide plan to reduce carbon emissions and address climate change. To reiterate: It is normal that the site is completely new; it is notable that climate change is not mentioned on any one of Trump’s new pages.

“President Trump is committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule,” the site says. A search of the website found no mention of “global warming,” and the only mentions of “climate change” were archived pages that, after clicking on the links, led to scrubbed pages.

Here’s what President Obama’s climate change page looked like this morning:

And here’s what it looks like now:

Scientists and professors around the country had been rushing to download and rehost as much government science as was possible before the transition, based on a fear that Trump’s administration would neglect or outright delete government information, databases, and web applications about science. Last week, the Radio Motherboard podcast recorded an episode about these efforts, which you can listen to below, or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

The Internet Archive, too, has been keeping a close watch on the White House website; President Obama’s climate change page had been archived every single day in January.

So far, nothing on the Environmental Protection Agency’s website has changed under Trump, but a report earlier this week from Inside EPA, a newsletter and website that reports on the agency, suggested that pages about climate are destined to be cut within the first few weeks of his presidency.

Scientists I’ve spoken to who are archiving websites say they expect scientific data on the NASA, NOAA, Department of Energy, and EPA websites to be neglected or deleted eventually. They say they don’t expect agency sites to be updated immediately, but expect it to play out over the course of months. This sort of low-key data destruction might not be the type of censorship people typically think about, but scientists are treating it as such.

“When I stereotypically think of censorship, I don’t necessarily think of data being deleted, but I think of spectacular instances of book burning—that’s censorship,” Bethany Wiggin, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who has been archiving data told me. “But actually, it happens much more in subtle ways and it’s not always so black and white.”

Article By: Jason Koebler

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It would create jobs for would-be immigrants and a climate of civility between nations.

12/19/2016 11:39 am ET | Updated Dec 19, 2016

MEXICO CITY ― President-elect Donald Trump has repeatedly called for Mexico to build a wall between our countries. There is indeed a way that Mexico could create a barrier between the U.S. and Mexico, one constructed exclusively on the Mexican side, with substantial benefits for both countries and the planet: a solar border.

Sunlight in the northern deserts of Mexico is more intense than in the U.S. Southwest because of the lower latitude and more favorable cloud patterns. And construction and maintenance costs for solar plants in Mexico are substantially lower. Thus, building a long series of such plants all along the Mexican side of the border could power cities on both sides faster and more cheaply than similar arrays built north of the border.

Solar energy is already being generated at lower prices than those of coal. With solar plants along vast stretches of the almost 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border on the Mexican side, a new high-voltage direct-current (HVDC) grid could be set up to transmit energy efficiently from that long, snaking array to population centers along the border. HVDC power lines lose exponentially less energy over long distances than traditional power lines. Cities that could immediately benefit include San Diego, Tijuana, Mexicali, Tucson, Phoenix, El Paso, Ciudad Juarez, San Antonio and Monterrey.

If one were to construct the equivalent of a strip of arrays one-third the width of a football field south of the entire U.S.-Mexico border, wider in some areas and narrower in others, with a wide berth allowed for populated areas and stretches of rugged terrain, sufficient energy might be produced to also supply Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Albuquerque, Dallas and Houston. For the U.S. cities, it would be a way to obtain cheaper and cleaner energy than they can from other sources.

The solar border would have a civilizing effect in a dangerous area.

A solar border would alleviate a range of binational problems. For one, it would have a civilizing effect in a dangerous area. Since solar plants use security measures to keep intruders out, the solar border would serve as a de facto virtual fence, reducing porousness of the border while producing major economic, environmental and security benefits on both sides. It would make trafficking drugs, arms and people all the more difficult for criminal cartels. In Mexico, the solar border would create a New Deal-like source of high-tech construction and technology jobs all along the border, which could absorb a significant number of would-be migrant workers on their way to cross into the U.S. illegally, at great physical risk.

Most importantly, it would make a significant contribution to the global battle against carbon emissions, since the electricity generated would be carbon neutral, and the purchase of so much solar technology would bring its price down further. The plants would be built using environmentally sensitive techniques for avoiding habitat loss for desert species.

Additionally, the grid could extend to the coasts, where ecologically sensitive desalination plants could be built for the production of fresh water, which could be pumped inland to cities and agricultural areas along the border that suffer from water shortages ― a phenomenon bound to worsen as the effects of global warming increase desertification. This would reduce tension and food security concerns that have vexed bilateral relations for decades because of the disputed water supply of the Rio Grande and other shared water sources.

Because Mexican solar power is cheaper than north of the border, international investors would have strong incentives.

Once the solar plants are installed and prove successful, additional areas in Mexico could be added to the grid, building on the accumulated know-how generated in the new workforce by the initial construction experience. Mexico has immense potential as a solar-producing country, especially in its high central plateau deserts, which provide the most favorable combination of dry, unclouded, low-latitude and relatively cool climate for solar generation. Potentially, all of Mexico could be solar-powered one day.

How to pay for it? Although it would be a major investment, the price of industrial solar generation continues to drop quickly, and because Mexican solar power is cheaper to build and maintain than comparable facilities north of the border, international investors would have strong incentives. Fortuitously, Mexico’s recent constitutional reforms encourage foreign and domestic investment in the electric power sector. Construction of the solar border would go a long way toward helping Mexico achieve its mandated climate change goals, which include 35 percent renewable electricity generation by 2024. Electricity exports from Mexico to the U.S. have existed for over a century and have burgeoned in recent years, which should make international long-term loan guarantees for solar plants relatively easy to obtain.

If the initiative were framed as a big charismatic project that has the full backing of the Mexican government, garnering the admiration of the rest of the world, it would position Mexico as an exemplary world leader in combating climate change. Mexico and the U.S. would be connected by a truly beautiful wall ― a symbol of unity, visible even from space.

Article By: Homero Aridjis and James Ramey

Screen Shot 2017-01-11 at 8.26.14 PM

Would be the world’s largest roof-mounted solar installation

Selling the Tesla lifestyleTesla is looking to create its own ecosystem, this one centered on sustainable energy, solar panels and batteries. (Kagan McLeod / For The Times)

If you’re wondering about Elon Musk’s latest vision for Tesla, think Apple.

Apple succeeded in turning a bland market for electronic devices into a coveted and connected lifestyle where your phone, your tablet, your computer, your watch and your television can all be bought in one place and work seamlessly together.

It’s about passion too. People continue to line up at Apple stores overnight to be the first to possess the latest iPhone. The company’s launch events resemble the gathering of a cult.

At Tesla Motors, Musk tapped into that kind of branding magic when he built electric cars that drive fast and look good. The spring launch of the upcoming Model 3 evoked an Apple-like frenzy in stores and online.

Now he’s looking to create his own ecosystem, this one centered on sustainable energy, solar panels and batteries. It’s a much less sexy realm than cars but at least as ambitious.

In recent weeks, Musk began to rapidly expand the Tesla footprint: merging with SolarCity to bring a major solar energy company into the fold, and laying out a sweeping “master plan” to transform Tesla beyond cars, by expanding into eco-friendly trucks and buses, ride-sharing and more.

The bold entrepreneur envisions Tesla stores as all-in-one destinations for green-minded shoppers, where one can buy an electric car, a charging station, a solar rooftop for the house and a futuristic-looking battery to store the excess power, all in the same place.

“In order for people to go en masse to sustainability, you really need to create something that doesn’t have a lot of compromises,” Musk said Friday in an interview with The Times. “Easy to order, easy to install, looks great when done.”

But unlike Apple, which sells far less expensive consumer products, Tesla is venturing into new territory at a time when it hasn’t proved that it can make money or meet production deadlines.

To become the first provider of a comprehensive clean energy lifestyle, Musk needs to sell not just products, but present the combined company as a fresh creator of a new way of living, with image and branding and marketing that convince consumers of all kinds to shell out big bucks to be part of it.

“We’ve got to reach people for whom the environment is not their top priority,” Musk said. “What really matters is how do we get a lot of people to make the transition, not just a few.”

Noah Hagey, 43, a lawyer and co-founder of the BraunHagey & Borden law firm in San Francisco, is already part of the tribe.


First his family bought a Tesla Model S sedan, which they considered a jumping-off point for environmental good deeds. A few months later, they installed solar panels on the roof of their Oakland hills home. When Tesla’s Powerwall went on sale, Hagey put in an order.

“It just seemed like the obvious thing to do, to see how off the grid you can get,” Hagey said.

He didn’t buy panels from SolarCity. Instead, Hagey chose a local contractor experienced with tricky-to-work-with Spanish tile roofs.

But if the Tesla showroom had had solar panels on offer, “I could have seen doing a package deal,” he said. “It’s kind of shocking how well the stuff this guy builds works.”

Now Musk needs many, many more customers like Hagey for his plan to work.

Right now, Tesla’s main draw is upper-income households. Most people can’t afford a Model S, which starts at $70,000, and many millennials can’t even afford a house, much less a solar roof.

Hagey knows this and is counting on Musk to lower costs over time.

“This thing has to be mass market,” he said. “That’s the only way it’s going to work.”

But to be mass market, going green has to have mass appeal. As it is, early adopters have flocked to the save-the-world philosophy espoused by Musk, but many everyday consumers simply aren’t there yet — and cool marketing might not be enough to convince them otherwise.

“You buy Tesla because of the brand,” said Shayle Kann, a vice president at news and research firm GreenTech Media. “You’re not doing it to save money. Whereas with solar, the single thing that has been most important in getting the widespread adoption of solar … is people saving money on their electric bills.”

Most people have reliable electric service, and many aren’t convinced that they’ll save enough money with solar to make installation worth it. And the subject can be enormously complicated. Fewer than 5% of U.S. homes have solar panels, although that number is growing fast.

Meanwhile, the market for storing power from solar panels – which was less than $200 million in 2012 – will have grown to $19 billion by 2017, according to a report by IMS Research.


Musk figures that Tesla stores will offer a convenient spot for consumer education. By consolidating the buying process using Tesla’s established — and rapidly growing — footprint of retail stores that are trafficked by serious buyers and people who just want to look at a hot car, he predicts that he can move solar into the mainstream.

“You want one sales process, one installation event, no finger-pointing if something’s not working, one service contract, one app to see how it’s doing and make adjustments,” Musk said during the interview. “It’s what you’d want as the end customer.”

Tesla has opened 260 stores to date — most in upscale markets — and plans a total of 441 by the end of 2017, when Tesla’s relatively affordable Model 3 is expected to become available. Owned by Tesla and staffed by Tesla employees, the stores serve as retail showrooms for the company’s sleek and expensive Model S electric sedan and Model X electric SUV. Soon, solar panels will join the merchandise mix.

Many of these showrooms are located within walking distance of Apple stores, and in fact Tesla consciously drew on those stores for inspiration, with their airy feel, dutiful employees and emphasis on fine design.

The company has counted 3 million visitors so far. They demonstrate an interest in solar living just by walking through the door.

They might be attracted by the vehicles, but Musk said it’s the connection between home-solar batteries and rooftop panels that’s the key to his energy ecosystem.

Already, the Powerwall, Tesla’s new solar battery for the home, is on prominent Tesla showroom display. It stores excess energy during the day to charge a car, provide electricity at night or serve as backup in a blackout emergency. The price starts at $3,000.


The Powerwall’s most notable aspect is its appearance. Competing batteries, just as functional, look like chunks of industrial equipment. The Powerwall is a sleek piece of sculpture, harmonizing with the lines of the Model S it hangs next to.

SolarCity’s rooftop panel installations aren’t nearly so sexy. Musk said he wants to address that. They need to be “beautiful,” he said.

“This is very important,” he said at a media event last month at Tesla’s new battery factory near Reno. “This needs to be an asset to your house. It needs to be so good that when it’s done you call your neighbors over to show them how proud you are. ”

Before he makes solar panels beautiful, Musk will have to make them look attractive in the stores and online, to fit the stores’ Tesla motif.  Three weeks ago, Tesla lured Chester Chipperfield – a handsome young man with blond locks – from Apple and named him global creative director.

Although a customer will be able to buy what might be called the Full Tesla, a complete package including car, charger, solar rooftop and battery, the company will be happy to break it into sub-components for customers who don’t want it all.

Those pieces, however, all will come with Tesla software to manage home and auto energy use. The more the software is integrated into a full system, the more powerful the system becomes. And, as with Apple, the less likely you are to switch to someone else’s information ecosystem. That’s called lock-in. If you like the system, great. If not, you’re kind of stuck.

Longtime Silicon Valley watcher Rob Enderle, who runs Enderle Group research, said it’s likely that Tesla could expand its energy management software throughout the home, covering major appliances and smaller household objects equipped with silicon chips and connected through the so-called Internet of Things.

“It moves Tesla from being a car company to being a home automation company, and a powerful one,” Enderle said, going up against companies like Google’s Nest.

And it will distinguish Tesla from other automakers.

“Tesla would be part of your home, not just part of your transportation system,” he said. “That brings them much closer to their customers, far more than any other car company. That’s something no one else has.”

At this point, there’s more theory than substance to Musk’s vision. There’s no guarantee that people are ready to flock to solar power in the numbers necessary for success. There’s no assurance that he can bring prices down for cars and energy systems low enough to appeal to the masses. It’s unclear whether a market exists for a home energy software ecosystem powerful enough to hold customers loyal.

“It doesn’t make any business sense at all,” says Jim Nelson, chief executive at Sunworks, a SolarCity competitor and a corporate customer of Tesla’s Powerwall. “The solar business and the electric car business are unrelated businesses. They are artificially connected.”

Right now, Tesla’s stock is a short-seller favorite. Neither Tesla nor SolarCity are profitable; both depend on investor infusions and government subsidies for cash flow. The SolarCity deal seems more like a bailout by the better-capitalized Tesla than an organic business strategy, several financial analysts have opined.

But Musk has proved himself capable of beating odds and delivering the goods, from his early days at PayPal, to the surprising success of his SpaceX rocket launching company, to the rabid consumer embrace of Tesla automobiles.

Except for the short sellers, nobody’s counting him out.

One aspirational fanboy is Michael Figueroa, 39, of Laguna Hills. One day, he plans to trade his Acura or Volkswagen for a Tesla Model X. He’s already had a SolarCity array installed on his home’s roof. A Powerwall is on the wish list too.

“I want to manage my energy on my own. That’s where the future’s going,” Figueroa said. “No other company is trying to capitalize on that, and that’s what I’m looking for.”

Article By: Russ Mitchell

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Ministers create presentation to show how idle land around nuclear disaster site can be used to produce renewable energy

An abandoned ferris wheel in the town of Pripyat, which was abandoned after the accident.
An abandoned Ferris wheel in the town of Pripyat, which was abandoned after the accident. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

The contaminated nuclear wasteland around Chernobyl could be turned into one of the world’s largest solar farms, producing nearly a third of the electricity that the stricken plant generated at its height 30 years ago, according to the Ukrainian government.

In a presentation sent to major banks and seen by the Guardian, 6,000 hectares of “idle” land in Chernobyl’s 1,000 square km exclusion zone, which is considered too dangerous for people to live in or farm, could be turned to solar, biogas and heat and power generation.

Pressure has been mounting for years to allow industrial development, but no indication is given of where the solar panels would be located. “There has been a change in the perception of the exclusion zone in Ukraine. Thirty years after the Chernobyl tragedy [it] reveals opportunities for development. A special industrial area is to be created in compliance with all rules and regulations of radiation safety within the exclusion zone,” says the presentation.

Tens of thousands of people in Ukraine, Belarus and south Russia were evacuated immediately after the 1986 accident from a wide area around the nuclear plant and places where the radioactive plume descended. A few hundred people still live in 11 semi-deserted villages close to Chernobyl.

There is “about 6,000 hectares of idle land, some of which can be used for placement of electrical generation facilities, and some for energy crops”, according to the presentation.

The Ukrainian government said more than 1,000MW of solar and 400MW of other renewable energy could be generated. The nuclear plant had an installed capacity of around 4,000MW.

The advantage of generating renewable power at the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident is that the land is cheap and plentiful, and the sunshine is as strong as in southern Germany. In addition, the grid infrastructure and high-voltage power lines needed to transmit electricity to the national grid remain intact, the presentation added.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) this week indicated it would be prepared to lend money for the renewable energy plan. The EBRD has already provided more than $500m (£379m) to build a large stainless steel “sarcophagus” over the destroyed reactor, which will remain dangerous for thousands of years.

“The EBRD may consider participating in the project so long as there are viable investment proposals and all other environmental matters and risks can be addressed to the bank’s satisfaction,” said a spokesman.

The move to solar reflects a new energy reality involving plunging renewable energy costs and escalating costs of nuclear power. Hours of sunshine in the Chernobyl area compare favourably with southern Germany, one of the largest solar producers in the world.

In a recent interview, Ukraine’s ecology minister said the government was negotiating with two US investment firms and four Canadian energy companies, which have expressed interest in the Chernobyl’s solar potential.

Meanwhile, in Belarus, just 20 miles from Chernobyl, a 22.3MW solar plant is already under construction in Brahin district, around 20 miles from Chernobyl. The district was one of the most contaminated by Chernobyl’s fallout and the land where the plant is to be built is not suitable for agriculture.

Article By: John Vidal

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  • Courtesy of University of Illinois at Chicago

It’s often smarter to borrow from nature than reinvent the wheel.

That was the approach of researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) to remove carbon dioxide (CO2 ) from the atmosphere, and convert it into an efficient, inexpensive fuel.

The result: an artificial leaf that turns CO2  into fuel, “at a cost comparable to a gallon of gasoline” could render fossil fuel obsolete, according to the researchers.

The “leaf” is one of a growing number of inventions that mimic photosynthesis to remove excess carbon from the atmosphere, and convert it into new, sustainable forms of energy to power our world.

“The new solar cell is not photovoltaic — it’s photosynthetic,” said Amin Salehi-Khojin, an assistant professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at UIC and the study’s lead author, in a statement. “Instead of producing energy in an unsustainable one-way route from fossil fuels to greenhouse gas, we can now reverse the process and recycle atmospheric carbon into fuel using sunlight.”

The solar cells, built by Dr. Salehi-Khojin and his team, function like plant’s leaves. Except instead of converting carbon dioxide into sugar, the artificial leaf converts the gaseous compound into synthesis gas — a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Synthesis gas, or syngas, could be burned for fuel, or converted into diesel or other hydrocarbon fuels.

The concept of reduction reaction — converting CO2  into a burnable form of carbon — isn’t new. But scientists previously relied on silver and other expensive precious metals to break gas into storable energy. UIC researchers took a different approach. They relied on a nanostructured compound, a transition metal dichalcogenide (TMCD), to break down carbon dioxide. They paired a kind of TMCD — a nanoflake tungsten — with an ionic liquid inside a two-compartment, three-electrode electrochemical cell.

When light strikes the “leaf,” hydrogen and carbon monoxide bubble from the cathode, while free oxygen and hydrogen ions are released from the anode.

Leafs could be spread throughout a solar farm, or used in smaller applications, the researchers said.

The invention isn’t the only one of late to use the concept of photosynthesis to create a new form of energy. The researchers note the process they employed has been used to create other forms of hydrogen energy. Researchers at Harvard University have even created hydrogen through synthetic photosynthesis in a process they say is 10 times more efficient than in nature, as The Christian Science Monitor’s Jason Thomson reported in June.

That process relies on bacteria. The system is confined to a jar with just two electrodes, Ralstonia eutropha bacteria, and water. When an electric current passes through the electrodes, it breaks the water molecules down, releasing hydrogen gas.

“You can use hydrogen as a source of energy, [and] burn it,” co-author Pamela Silver of Harvard University told the Monitor. “Instead, we decided to take advantage of bacteria that take in hydrogen and carbon dioxide and use them to grow.”

As they grow, explains Dr. Silver, these organisms produce certain compounds. The bacteria can be genetically engineered to make useful things like alcohol and plastic precursors.

While the artificial leaf UIC researchers invented is just artificial, not bionic, it’s applicability isn’t confined to this world. They note it can even be used if water is found on Mars. Mars’s atmosphere is mostly CO2 , after all.

Article By: Ben Rosen

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Coming into landImage copyrightSOLAR IMPULSE

Image captionSolar Impulse coming in to land in Abu Dhabi just before dawn

The first round-the-world solar powered flight has been completed, after the Solar Impulse aircraft touched down in Abu Dhabi.

Bertrand Piccard piloted the plane for a final time, steering it safely from the Egyptian capital Cairo to the UAE.

He has been taking turns at the controls with Swiss compatriot Andre Borschberg, with the mission aiming to promote renewable energy.

It brings to an end a voyage that began in Abu Dhabi on 9 March last year.

“The future is clean. The future is you. The future is now. Let’s take it further,” Mr Piccard said, arriving into Abu Dhabi to cheers and applause.

The 17-stage journey covered some 42,000km, taking in four continents, three seas and two oceans.

Solar Impulse touches down at Al Bateen Executive AirportImage copyrightEPA

Image captionSolar Impulse touched down at Al Bateen Executive Airport early on Tuesday
Pilots Andre Borschberg (L) and Bertrand Piccard hug at the end of the Solar Impulse's round-the-world journeyImage copyrightREUTERS

Image captionThe two pilots embraced on landing

The longest leg, an 8,924km (5,545-mile) flight from Nagoya in Japan to Hawaii, US, lasted nearly 118 hours and saw Mr Borschberg break the absolute world record for longest (time duration) uninterrupted solo flight.

It was just one of 19 official aviation records set during the global adventure.

Mr Piccard and Mr Borschberg have been working on the Solar Impulse project for more than a decade.

The pair had hoped to complete the challenge last year but progress was not quite swift enough to get the best of the weather in the Northern Hemisphere’s summer.

And when battery damage was sustained on that epic five-day, five-night passage over the western Pacific in June/July 2015, the decision was taken to ground the effort for 10 months.

Plane graphic

Solar Impulse is no heavier than a car, but has the wingspan of a Boeing 747. It is powered by 17,000 solar cells.

Its experimental design presents a number of technical difficulties, with the airplane being very sensitive to weather conditions.

Indeed, the passage from Cairo was very bumpy for Mr Piccard as he battled severe turbulence above the hot Saudi desert.

The cockpit is about the size of a public telephone box, with the pilots having to wear oxygen tanks to breathe at high altitude and permitted to only sleep for 20 minutes at a time.

Map showing journey of Solar Impulse

LEG 1: 9 March. Abu Dhabi (UAE) to Muscat (Oman) – 772km; 13 Hours 1 Minute

LEG 2: 10 March. Muscat (Oman) to Ahmedabad (India) – 1,593km; 15 Hours 20 Minutes

LEG 3: 18 March. Ahmedabad (India) to Varanasi (India) – 1,170km; 13 Hours 15 Minutes

LEG 4: 18 March. Varanasi (India) to Mandalay (Myanmar) – 1,536km; 13 Hours 29 Minutes

LEG 5: 29 March. Mandalay (Myanmar) to Chongqing (China) – 1,636km; 20 Hours 29 Minutes

LEG 6: 21 April. Chongqing (China) to Nanjing (China) – 1,384km; 17 Hours 22 Minutes

LEG 7: 30 May. Nanjing (China) to Nagoya (Japan) – 2,942km; 1 Day 20 Hours 9 Minutes

LEG 8: 28 June. Nagoya (Japan) to Kalaeloa, Hawaii (US) – 8,924km; 4 Days 21 Hours 52 Minutes

LEG 9: 21 April. Kalaeloa, Hawaii (US) to Mountain View, California (US) – 4,523km; 2 Days 17 Hours 29 Minutes

LEG 10: 2 May. Mountain View, California (US) to Phoenix, Arizona (US) – 1,199km; 15 Hours 52 Minutes

LEG 11: 12 May. Phoenix, Arizona (US) to Tulsa, Oklahoma (US) – 1,570 km; 18 Hours 10 Minutes

LEG 12: 21 May. Tulsa, Oklahoma (US) to Dayton, Ohio (US) – 1,113 km; 16 Hours 34 Minutes

LEG 13: 25 May. Dayton, Ohio (US) to Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania (US) – 1,044 km; 16 Hours 47 Minutes

LEG 14: 11 June. Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania (US) to New York (US) – 230km; 4 Hours 41 Minutes

LEG 15: 20 June. New York (US) to Seville (Spain) – 6,765km; 2 Days 23 Hours 8 minutes

LEG 16: 11 July. Seville (Spain) to Egypt (Cairo) – 3,745km; 2 Days 50 Minutes

LEG 17: 23 July. Egypt (Cairo) to Abu Dhabi (UAE) – 2,694 km; 2 Days 47 Minutes

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Solar energy has grown 100-fold in this country in the past decade. Globally, solar has doubled seven times since 2000, and Dubai received a bid recently for 800 megawatts of solar at a stunning “US 2.99 cents per kilowatt hour” — unsubsidized! For context, the average residential price for electricity in the United States is 12 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Solar energy has been advancing considerably faster than anyone expected just a few years ago thanks to aggressive market-based deployment efforts around the globe. Since it’s hard to keep up with the speed-of-light changes, and this is the fuel that will power more and more of the global economy in the near future, here are all the latest charts and facts to understand it.

If you are looking for one chart to sum up the whole solar energy miracle, Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) Chairman Michael Liebreich has one from his keynote address at BNEF’s annual conference in April titled “In Search of the Miraculous”:

solar energy

Solar’s exponentially declining costs and exponentially rising installations (the y-axis is a logarithmic scale).

Thanks to sustained long-term deployment programs, Liebreich explained, “We’ve seen the costs come down by a factor of 150 since 1975. We’ve seen volume up by 115,000.”

“How much more miracle-y do you need your miracles to be,” Liebreich added.

What that chart doesn’t reveal is that the price drop and the sales volume increase are directly linked. There is a learning curve: Over the past four decades, for every doubling in scale of the solar industry, the price of solar modules has dropped roughly 26 percent.

BNEF has the learning curve chart in its “annual long-term view of how the world’s power markets will evolve in the future,” their New Energy Outlook (NEO) from June. In a section headlined, “Solar and Wind Prices Plummet,” BNEF says “The chart below is arguably the most important chart in energy markets. It describes a pattern so consistent, and so powerful, that industries set their clocks by it”:



BNEF projects that by 2040, the world will invest an astonishing $3.4 trillion in solar. That’s more than the projected cumulative investment of $2.1 trillion for all fossil fuels — and $1.1 trillion in new nuclear — combined.

The result of these investments and the continued learning by solar (and wind) makes “these two technologies the cheapest ways of producing electricity in many countries during the 2020s and in most of the world in the 2030s.”

Here is an interesting — though already out-of-date — chart of the decline in the price per kilowatt-hour of utility-scale solar power (as opposed to the charts above of the price per kilo-watt of the solar cells). It is based on U.S. Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs), which are contracts to sell electricity at a guaranteed price. It comes from a May 2015 Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory study, “Is $50/MWh [5 cents/kwh] Solar for Real? Falling Project Prices and Rising Capacity Factors Drive Utility-Scale PV Toward Economic Competitiveness.”



It illustrates the plummeting prices utilities have to pay for large-scale solar. But while the study is only a year old, it’s already out of date. For instance, Austin Energy has reported that last fall they they “signed on the dotted line for 288 MW of utility-scale solar power with First Solar Inc. and Hanwha Q CELLS USA Corp” with both offerings “coming in below 4 cents per kilowatt-hour” [below $40/MWh]!

This year we learned “City of Palo Alto considers solar power contract at under $37/MWh.” Bloomberg reported last week that “Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s NV Energy agreed to pay 3.87 cents a kilowatt-hour for power from a 100-megawatt project that First Solar Inc. is developing.”

It is worth remembering that U.S. solar power bids include the 30 percent Investment Tax Credit. According to one analysis, NV Energy’s “$.0387/kWh would potentially turn into about $.07/kWh if we backed out the 30% Federal Tax Credit and 60% depreciation in Year One.”

The bids seen around the world this year without subsidies or incentives are even more stunning. Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) received a bid this year for 800 megawatts at a jaw-dropping “US 2.99 cents per kilowatt hour.” Two other bids were below US 4 cents/kWh, and the last two bids were both below 4.5 cents/kWh — again all of these bids were without subsidies!

That 2.99 cents bid is way down from a 2015 deal Dubai signed for more than 1000 megawatts at 5.84 cents over 25 years. So Dubai has seen a 50 percent price drop in solar in just 18 months.

And these prices aren’t unique to the Middle East. As Bloomberg New Energy Finance reported in April, Enel Green power signed a contract for $.036/kWh in in Mexico — 3.6 cents.

With prices dropping so fast, sales of solar PV systems have been soaring, as you can imagine. Here is the recent growth in this country:

solar pv

ANNUAL U.S. SOLAR PV INSTALLATIONS in Megawatts (2000-2015)

From 2005 through 2015, annual PV sales in this country went up 100-fold! And projections suggest that solar sales may double this year, driven by Congress’s five-year renewal (with phase-out) of the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC).

And here is what the recent solar boom looks like world-wide — cumulative installed PV capacity and annual additions — from the recent “Renewables 2016 Global Status Report” by REN21, the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century:



The solar miracle has been driven by major state, national, and international policies. BNEF Chair Liebreich calls this “The March of the Price Signal” — the rapid expansion of global deployment programs, especially market-based mechanisms such as renewable portfolio standards and reverse auctions.

Unfortunately, other countries have had bigger and more reliable deployment programs whereas our erratic policies generally diminish or disappear whenever and wherever conservatives assume control. In the past decade in particular, massive government-led deployment policies in China and Germany have been a major driver of the world’s stunning price drop.

The result is that while the United States invented the modern solar photovoltaic cell over a half-century ago, as of 2015, we are fourth in installed capacity worldwide:



The good news is that solar power in this country has a very bright future, thanks to the renewal of the ITC. By one recent projection, the U.S. could hit 100 gigawatts total installed capacity by 2021. That said, India also plans to hit 100 gigawatts by 2022.

China, however, plans to triple solar PV capacity to 150 gigawatts installed by 2020! So the race is definitely on.

No wonder the International Energy Agency concluded last fall: “Driven by continued policy support, renewables account for half of additional global generation, overtaking coal around 2030 to become the largest power source.”

The ‘Other’ Form Of Solar Energy, Which Can Run At Night

Earlier this month, I wrote about the “other” form of solar, concentrating solar thermal power, which uses sunlight to heat water and uses the steam to drive a turbine and generator. That heat can be stored over 20 times more cheaply than electricity — and much more efficiently — so CSP can provide power long after the sun has gone down.

For the sake of having all the solar charts in one place, here’s CSP capacity over the past decade:



Now that China appears to be placing a large bet on solar thermal electric, it seems likely CSP will also start coming down the learning curve, which will help it increase sales, which in turn will keep it coming down the learning curve — a virtuous circle that PV is already benefiting from.

The 2014 STE Technology Roadmap from the International Energy Agency (IEA) projected that while PV could generate 16 percent of the world’s electricity by 2050, as much as 11 percent could be generated by STE at the same time.

IEA Solar 2050

Given how fast solar PV has been coming down in price — and given the world’s commitment in Paris last December to keep ratcheting down carbon pollution in the coming decades to keep total global warming “well below 2°C” — it seems entirely possible if not likely that solar power will outperform the IEA’s scenario.

Indeed, it’s precisely because clean energy has been moving at the speed of light that “almost everything you know about climate change solutions is probably outdated,” as I’ve been detailing for months. Stay tuned to this channel for more surprises.


Article By: Joe Romm

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Aquila drone, which at cruising speed uses the same wattage as three hairdryers, uses lasers to beam internet to remote regions

The Aquila Facebook plane
The Aquila Facebook plane will be part of a fleet providing internet access to parts of sub-Saharan Africa and beyond. Photograph: Facebook

The Aquila drone has the wingspan of an airliner but weighs less than a car. When cruising it consumes just 5,000 watts – the same as three hairdryers or a powerful microwave.

Facebook plane
The final adjustments are made to the drone before takeoff. Photograph: Facebook


The first flight took place on 28 June in Arizona. Facebook said the test went better than expected and that Aquila’s 96-minute flight was three times longer than planned.

Aquila was developed in Bridgwater, Somerset, by Ascenta, a designer of solar-powered drones that Facebook bought in March 2014. The drone, designed to fly non-stop for three months, will use lasers to beam down internet access to remote areas without online capacity.

The Aquila drone.
The Aquila drone ascends from the runway. Photograph: Facebook


Facebook installed a team of engineers at Bridgwater from fields of expertise including aerospace, avionics and software and who had previously worked at organisations such as Nasa, Boeing, and the Royal Air Force.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, revealed in March 2015 that the company had been testing drones in the skies over the UK.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his team watch the drone take flight.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his team watch the drone take flight. Photograph: Facebook

Facebook intends Aquila to be part of a fleet of planes that will provide the internet to 4 billion people in sub-Saharan Africa and other remote regions that do not have access currently.

Jay Parikh, Facebook’s head of engineering and infrastructure, said in a blog: “We’re encouraged by this first successful flight, but we have a lot of work ahead of us … In our next tests, we will fly Aquila faster, higher and longer, eventually taking it above 60,000 feet.”

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