Nikkei: Japan is 2 years away from a solar power revolution

Cheap filmlike panels will be able to attach themselves to cars and walls

TAKURO KUSASHIO, Nikkei staff writer

With an ability to fit the contours of the surfaces they are applied to, perovskite solar cells will bring new opportunities to harvest power from the sun. (Photo courtesy of University of Tokyo)

TOKYO — A new type of solar cell that is thin like plastic film and cheap to produce is expected to hit the market within the next two years. The perovskite solar cell is expected to become a standard along with the silicon solar cells that are commonly used today.

Panasonic and Sekisui Chemical have developed technology to produce bigger and more durable solar cells than conventional ones. The result is a solar cell that can be attached to walls and curved surfaces. Conventional solar cells lack this usability.

The coming cells are already raising hopes that society can make greater use of the sun for its energy needs.

The cells’ development was announced in 2009 by professor Tsutomu Miyasaka at Toin University of Yokohama. The invention has since brought speculation that Miyasaka could be in the running for a Nobel Prize.

Silicon solar cells are thick and heavy. Their production process is complex and costly. Perovskite solar cells are coated with inklike material containing lead and can be combined with objects such as soft sheet metal. Production costs are expected to be half those of silicon cells.

Because they are thin, light and bendable, perovskite solar cells can be used in places conventional solar cells cannot, including in roofing materials, or on columns and car exteriors.

Panasonic has developed a 20cm by 20cm perovskite solar cell. Panels made of these cells can be joined together to create sheets large enough for commercial uses. The company hopes to increase the cells’ power generation efficiency to 20%; they are now slightly more than halfway there.

Silicon solar cells, meanwhile, convert about 25% of the sun’s energy that hits them.

Sekisui Chemical has coated the power generation part of its perovskite cell with film so as to prevent it from deteriorating. The cell will be made to last for about 10 years and weigh about 20% of conventional silicon cells, which can be used for 20 years.

Since the new type of cell is still not as durable as conventional cells, it cannot be adopted by large-scale solar farms. But it is expected to find its way into niche markets that conventional solar cells do not fit into. The new technology will help large buildings and commercial facilities cheaply supply their own electricity.

Read full article.

MIT News: MIT’s big push on fusion

Researchers will work with industrial collaborators to pursue fusion as a source of carbon-free power.

Today, MIT announced plans to work with a newly formed company, Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS), to realize the promise of fusion as a source of unlimited, safe, carbon-free energy. Zach Hartwig, an assistant professor of nuclear science and engineering, is one of the Institute’s leads on the effort, along with others in MIT’s Plasma Fusion and Science Center (PSFC). He spoke with MIT News about the group’s vision for a fusion-powered future.

Q: Why is this new collaboration needed to support fusion energy?

A: Mitigating global climate change requires new sources of zero-carbon energy as soon as we can deliver them, and we are going to need a completely new approach to ensure that fusion energy can be a significant part of the solution.

The hard reality of climate change is that every single nation that has ever industrialized and made a better life for its citizens did so at the expense of the climate. There is, at present, simply no other way to do this than to dump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels for energy.

As a global society, we have to do better. Fusion energy represents one tremendously attractive pathway, if we can demonstrate its potential and accelerate its commercial deployment. This is going to require new models of innovation that couple research institutions, such as MIT, with private companies, such as CFS, that are capable of commercializing fusion — and then providing that relationship with sustainable, patient capital that can fund the development of breakthrough energy solutions at scale.

Fusion is the fundamental energy source of the universe, powering our sun and the distant stars. The promise of harnessing fusion to produce energy on Earth is simple: limitless, safe, zero-carbon energy.

Like the governments of many nations, the U.S. has funded basic research on fusion science and technology since the 1950s, making tremendous progress toward the goal of fusion energy. MIT has long been a leading institution in fusion research, receiving research support primarily from the Department of Energy, including the funding of three major fusion energy experiments at MIT culminating in the Alcator C-Mod tokamak, which ended 25 years of operation in 2016. The DOE continues its support of fusion energy research at other facilities around the U.S. and the world, including the ITER experiment now under construction in France.

Read more

Nature: MIT launches multimillion-dollar collaboration to develop fusion energy

With corporate participation, researchers seek to build a pilot fusion-energy plant within 15 years.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge will work with a private firm to develop technology for producing energy from nuclear fusion within the next 15 years. If successful, the multimillion-dollar effort could help to unlock a virtually limitless source of pollution-free energy.

The approach — which has attracted US$50 million thus far — is based on high-temperature superconductors that have become commercially available in the past few years, the team announced on 8 March. The new generation of superconductors will allow the researchers from MIT and Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS) in Cambridge to strengthen the magnetic field that contains the hot-plasma fuel used in conventional tokamak reactors. That could pave the way for reactors that are smaller, cheaper and easier to build than those based on previous designs, including the troubled international ITER project under development in southern France. Read more

Nature: There’s a cheaper way to break open physics

How tabletop experiments could find evidence of new particles, offering a glimpse beyond the standard model.

It’s possible that no one knows the electron as well as physicist Gerald Gabrielse. He once held one in a trap for ten months to measure the size of its internal magnet. When it disappeared, he searched for two days before accepting that it was gone. “You get kind of fond of your particles after a while,” he says.

And Gabrielse has had ample time to become fond of the electron. For more than 30 years, he has been putting sophisticated electromagnetic traps and lasers to work to reveal the particle’s secrets, hoping to find the first hints of what’s beyond the standard model of particle physics — the field’s long-standing, but incomplete, foundational theory. Yet for many of those years, it seemed as if he was working in the shadow of high-energy facilities such as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the 27-kilometre-circumference, US$5-billion particle accelerator near Geneva, Switzerland. “There was a time in my career when there weren’t very many people doing this kind of thing, and I wondered if it was the right choice,” he says. Read more

Science: Air pollution’s hidden impacts

Nearly every country in the world regulates air pollution. But how much pollution control is enough? Answering that question requires considerable information about the costs as well as the benefits of regulation. Historically, efforts to measure benefits have focused on averting major health insults, such as respiratory or cardiovascular events that result in hospitalizations or death, which typically only afflict the most vulnerable segments of the population. These health episodes are clearly consequential—e.g., the U.S. Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 avert an estimated 160,000 deaths and 86,000 hospitalizations annually—but may only represent the tip of the proverbial iceberg, compared to the number of cases of respiratory impairment and other health insults that affect many healthy people every day but do not require hospitalizations or even formal health care encounters. The ubiquity of these less lethal impacts, revealed by emerging economic research on labor productivity and human capital accumulation, suggests that even modest impacts at the individual level can add up to considerable, society-wide impacts across the globe.

Read full article (pay wall).

,

Nikkei: China eyes offshore reactors as next step in nuclear goals

New power source could have serious implications for South China Sea disputes

BEIJING — Chinese state-owned companies are taking major steps toward building floating nuclear reactors, with the first slated to come online as early as 2019, amid a national push to meet growing energy demands at offshore oil fields and remote islands.

But any attempt to set these facilities up in disputed waters in the South China Sea will likely be met by international condemnation.

Chinese President Xi Jinping hopes to boost his country’s capacity to produce nuclear power.

China National Nuclear Corp. is currently one stride ahead of the pack, launching a 1 billion yuan ($154 million) joint venture with other state-owned companies like China State Shipbuilding and Shanghai Electric Group. The new company formed will handle all aspects of power generation from constructing plants to selling electricity. It is currently developing a facility with the capacity to generate 100,000kW, roughly 10% of a standard nuclear power plant.

Local media quoted a CNNC official as saying that the goal is to complete the first floating plant this year and to bring it online in 2019. But sources in the industry say many technical challenges remain, and the facility may not start operating until the 2020s.

China General Nuclear Power, another key player, aims to start building its first offshore nuclear plant this year and to bring it online in 2023. Plants designed for use in offshore oil fields will have a capacity of 50,000kW, and those for islets a capacity of 200,000kW, according to the company.

China Shipbuilding Industry, on the other hand, is focusing on smaller facilities ranging from 25,000kW to 100,000kW in capacity, and is looking to begin operating plants around 2020.

Read more

The Lancet Commission on pollution and health

For decades, pollution and its harmful effects on people’s health, the environment, and the planet have been neglected both by Governments and the international development agenda. Yet, pollution is the largest environmental cause of disease and death in the world today, responsible for an estimated 9 million premature deaths.

The Lancet Commission on pollution and health addresses the full health and economic costs of air, water, and soil pollution. Through analyses of existing and emerging data, the Commission reveals pollution’s severe and underreported contribution to the Global Burden of Disease. It uncovers the economic costs of pollution to low-income and middle-income countries. The Commission will inform key decision makers around the world about the burden that pollution places on health and economic development, and about available cost-effective pollution control solutions and strategies. Read more

Vox: Friendly policies keep US oil and coal afloat far more than we thought

Most energy subsidies go not to renewables but to producing more of the dirty stuff.

The coal industry and its allies in the Trump administration have recently devoted considerable energy to arguing that subsidies to renewable energy have distorted energy markets and helped drive coal out of business. “Certain regulations and subsidies,” says Rick Perry, “are having a large impact on the functioning of markets, and thereby challenging our power generation mix.” You can guess which regulations and subsidies he’s talking about.

This is nothing new, of course. It is in keeping with a long conservative tradition of challenging the economic wisdom and effectiveness of energy subsidies.

At least, uh, some energy subsidies.

Energy analysts have made the point again and again that fossil fuels, not renewable energy, most benefit from supportive public policy. Yet this fact, so inconvenient to the conservative worldview, never seems to sink in to the energy debate in a serious way. The supports offered to fossil fuels are so old and familiar, they fade into the background. It is support offered to challengers — typically temporary, fragmentary, and politically uncertain support — that is forever in the spotlight.

So let’s change that. Let’s talk about “certain regulations and subsidies” — namely, the ones propping up US fossil fuels.

Three recent analyses can help. The first does the yeoman’s work of tallying up federal and state energy subsidies. The second shows the effect those subsidies have on oil and gas production. And the third shows how thoroughly the US coal industry is propped up by regulatory policy. Together, they paint a clear picture: The profits of US fossil fuels are built on a foundation of government assistance.

All right then. First: What gets subsidized, and how much?

Read more

,

Nikkei: Japan weighs exports of safer, next-gen nuclear reactors

Order from Poland, worth as much as $9bn, may be there for the taking

TOKYO — Japan’s government is mulling plans to export next-generation nuclear reactors that promise a greater degree of safety, with Poland lined up as the probable first destination.

The move, which would involve high temperature gas reactors, or HTGRs, is part of the government’s infrastructure export strategy. Poland, which is turning to nuclear power as a cleaner energy option, is looking at acquiring about 20 such reactors — equipment worth more than 1 trillion yen ($9 billion).

Tokyo will inform Poland of its intentions by the end of this month at the earliest — though it may face competition from China for the order.

The reactors in question use helium gas as a coolant, unlike conventional reactors that use water. This removes the risk of chemical reactions and vaporization — and thus the risk of hydrogen or steam explosions.

Read more

India is rolling out trains with solar-powered coaches

“India’s massive diesel-guzzling railway network is getting serious about its experiments with solar.

On July 14, Indian Railways rolled out its first train with rooftop solar panels that power the lights, fans, and information display systems inside passenger coaches. Although the train will still be pulled by a diesel-powered locomotive, a set of 16 solar panels atop each coach will replace the diesel generators that typically power these appliances. The railways estimate that a train with six solar-powered coaches could save around 21,000 litres of diesel every year, worth around Rs12 lakh.

In 2014, Indian Railways consumed 2.6 billion litres of diesel, accounting for around 70% to the network’s total fuel bill of Rs28,592 crore.

The first of these trains will be pressed into service on the suburban railway network of New Delhi, one of the world’s most polluted cities, before two dozen more coaches are fitted with similar rooftop solar systems. Retrofitting each coach with these system, including an inverter to optimise power generation and battery for storing surplus power, costs around Rs9 lakh.”

To read the rest of the article go to: https://qz.com/1030696/india-is-rolling-out-trains-with-solar-powered-coaches-thatll-save-thousands-of-litres-of-diesel/