Monthly Archives: December 2018

installing solar panel

The Future of Solar Energy: How Far Can It Take Us?

With the rises in population, urbanization, and commercialization that are occurring, the need for viable renewable energy resources is also rising. Depletion of natural resources is quite a considerable threat to the sustenance of life as we know it.  Solar energy is a landmark in the advancement of the technology that lets us harness the energy from the sun, which we receive in the form of radiation and harness to produce useful energy resources such as electricity.

The future of solar energy is becoming increasingly bright, as it is like a whole treasure of renewable energy resources just waiting to be harnessed.

Studies show that the amount of solar radiation that the earth receives in merely an hour from the sun is more than enough to fuel our global energy needs for almost a year. The future is unpredictable but, given the current trends of solar energy usage and many scientific research studies that have been conducted, solar energy seems like the best answer to our energy resource woes. Let us take a look into the future of solar energy.


What Is the Future of Solar Energy?

light bulb

Solar energy is the energy received from the sun’s radiation, which is then harnessed to make it usable. It is expected to play a vital role in the future energy landscape. This is made possible by photovoltaic (PV) cells, which are commonly used in solar panels, calculators, spacecraft, and other energy-consuming items. These PV cells are made of a type of semi-conductor material, which displays the ‘photovoltaic’ effect. When sunlight hits these PV cells, the photons in sunlight activate the electrons in PV cells and knock them out of their atoms, thus causing them to flow freely through the cell and generate electricity.

In addition, there are large-scale solar-thermal power plants that use technology to concentrate the solar energy to form a strong heat source. This heat is used to boil water, which then drives a steam turbine to generate electricity. This method can be used to provide electricity to thousands of people. In addition, generating electricity by harnessing solar energy emits no carbon dioxide (CO2), which further makes it a sustainable and extremely environmentally friendly choice.

Here we have just scraped the surface, but the possibilities for harnessing solar energy to fulfill our regular electricity needs are immense. The future of solar energy looks bright... literally!


What Are Some Benefits of Solar Power?

Electric Posts

Currently, the actual usage of solar electricity is a nominal 2 percent of the total electricity generation in the United States, even though the potential has been available to reach a minimum of 40%. The future of solar energy and how we harness it depends on several factors which can boost the efficiency of solar panels. Solar energy should become one of the mainstream choices for global electricity needs.


Advanced Technology & Changing Materials

Generous government subsidies for solar energy will fuel the global expansion of solar panel production and use. These subsidies can help in funding for research and development. This can also help experts work further toward the improvement of stability and efficiency of solar panels while reducing their cost of production.


Perovskite

There is a possibility that perovskite (a mineral discovered in the 19th century) will replace crystalline silicon in solar cells. Perovskite not only enhances the efficiency of solar cells but also eases the manufacturing process. The only drawback is its durability, which is yet to match the durability of the historically used crystalline silicon, but the future possibilities are very exciting.


Recycle & Recover

The materials that go into making solar panels are the same set of rare-earth elements that are used by manufacturers of laptops, cell phones, electric vehicles, etc. With the global reserves of such materials constantly shrinking, the future of solar energy is also highly dependent on how these tech giants react to the age-long attempts of solar panel manufacturers to use substitutes like iron pyrite or zinc for production of such high-end devices and gadgets. 

One key consideration: Unless these companies focus on improving their processes for recycling metals and recovery systems, powerful and efficient solar panel recycling infrastructure will remain nothing but a distant dream.


Growth in Usage

Solar energy accounts for just one percent of global electricity production, but facts and research states that this number will see an exponential rise to 16% by 2050. Use of rooftop solar panels will increase remarkably with time, but analysts’ state that the game-changing expansion will happen in the utility scale.


Cost-Efficiency

Changing economies, more availability, and reduced costs for the materials used will likely bring down the price of solar panels largely in the near future. Analysts have tentatively forecast a price drop of about 17% is expected between 2018 and 2022. 

Some places in the USA and a few other nations around the world have already been able to achieve grid parity. This means that the cost of harnessing solar energy for electricity is now equal to or lower than purchasing energy from the grid. Even though improvements in solar manufacturing are highly responsible for the price drop across the industry, the steadily increasing number of solar panel installations and financial initiatives to make ends meet are also equally involved in bringing down the cost.


What Are Some Benefits of Solar Power?

Here are some of the most important reasons to keep developing solar power:

  • Solar energy comes from a natural source and is both sustainable and renewable, which means we will never run out of it
  • Solar panels require minimal maintenance once you have installed the panels and the panels are working at maximum efficiency
  • Only nominal maintenance work is required each year, which means lower costs overall
  • Zero emissions add to the benefits of solar power generation and makes it a sustainable and environment-friendly option
  • While PV cells convert sunlight to usable energy, there is absolutely no noise from the PV panel
  • Constant advancements in solar energy harnessing technology are gradually reducing the cost of production
  • The efficiency of solar panels is steadily improving, making the future of solar energy even more cost-effective


Future Solar Products and Uses

solar panel

 

Revamped Solar Panels

Solar panels as we know and commonly see them now might not be quite the same a few years down the line. Researchers and scientists are coming up with new alterations and up gradations all the time aimed to enhance and improve their efficiency. Michigan State University-based researchers have developed a prototype for transparent (or clear) solar panels that can be used in various places like buildings, commercial spaces, vehicles, and even cell phones.

The scope of application might be immense for clear solar panels. But since this technology is still in its infancy, the efficiency is a mere 5% compared to the 15% efficiency of traditional solar panels we have today. It might take a few more years to increase the efficiency of these panels, and then they may really become the game-changer in taking solar energy into the mainstream.


Solar Shingles

Solar shingles are a recently developed type of black- and blue-colored panels that might take the industry by storm. These look like the usual roof shingles we often see, but they are equipped with solar cells. When connected in a series, these cells generate a similar amount of electricity to a same-sized, conventional solar panel. Many companies and technology giants are penetrating the solar shingle market with an expectation of taking this technology to people sceptical about installing huge, clunky solar panels on their roofs.

Transparent solar panels and solar shingles are advancements in this field that could change the landscape of the solar panel market globally and make it mainstream.


Microgrids

Microgrids (another name for "decentralized electricity production setup") are also a part of the future of solar energy. These are effective in powering up a limited area like a village or a neighborhood. This makes microgrids an ideal medium to bring expansion on a global scale and ensure the power and utility of solar energy spreads to developing countries where harnessing energy to produce electricity is of the utmost importance. Such places, which were otherwise off the grid due to the expenses, can readily be a part of this expansion. That is the most exciting thing microgrids have to offer.


Conclusion

house

The use of solar panels and PV cells is steadily increasing in both urban and rural regions globally. We have just scratched the surface of the benefits and necessity of harnessing solar energy, and it is only a matter of time before solar energy can be used to power up the world.

With the raging battle against worsening climate change, the need for a renewable source of energy is huge and pressing. Solar energy can be a saving grace and play a major role in the mitigation of climate change all around the world. It is clean, environment friendly, efficient, highly sustainable, and renewable. With more advancements in research to come in this industry, a solar-powered world might be right around the corner.

QuantumScape signage

Why QuantumScape Could Be The Future Of Smart Cars?

The burgeoning ubiquity of electric vehicles in the United States, Europe, Japan, and elsewhere around the world is attracting the attention of technology companies, automobile manufacturers, venture capitalists, and consumers. The massive untapped market means competition in the development and mass production of the best batteries for electric vehicles will be one of the great innovations of our present chapter in history. The companies that achieve this end will have set up their businesses to succeed well beyond the foreseeable future.

Surprisingly, the United States has only one car in the race. Outside of QuantumScape, a California based company, every company with a major part to play in the coming story is Japanese or German.

The electric vehicle industry in the United States sits in a precarious position at the moment. The price and supply of fuel is not as worrisome as it was five years ago. Advancements in electric vehicle battery technology have stalled. Outside of the familiar small, hybrid models, no electric car has demonstrated an ability to send reverberations through the market. The catalyst positioned to release this deadlock is the successful production of a solid-state lithium battery. It is the only technology with significant chances of truly altering the landscape of the electric vehicle industry in the United States.

Based on their relationship to Volkswagen, QuantumScape is likely the company that will be America's most vibrant representative in the industry going forward.

 

What Is QuantumScape?

fuelling the car

QuantumScape is a battery technology company formed in 2010 as a spinoff of Stanford research and talent. The company stands out amongst other companies developing similar technologies because it is valued at more than a billion dollars despite its lack of a consistent revenue stream or a plurality of deliverable products. This discrepancy is explained largely by the company's numerous investors, including Volkswagen which recently invested $100 million in the company, and its experienced, battle-tested board of directors.

Industry Background

QuantumScape has emerged as a major player in the race to develop a more commercially viable, and hence more profitable, battery for electric cars. The company hopes to achieve a substantial breakthrough in the production of solid-state lithium batteries, a technology being monitored and invested in by a wide variety of companies from Dyson to Toyota. Since the inception of the lithium-ion battery by EXXON in the 1970s, no company or state actor has been able to successfully produce a viable solid-state lithium battery.

The development of such a battery is imperative to the advancement of electric energy, especially in cars, because current lithium battery technology is highly reactive and hence the technology is perceived by consumers to be unsafe. The currently unavailable solid-state alternative ensures more stability, safety, and consumer confidence.

QuantumScape's Long-Term Goals

Volkswagen has been working in coordination with QuantumScape since 2012 to develop a solid-state lithium battery, but their collective goal for mass-production is not projected to launch until 2025. The length of this time frame underscores the difficulty of the task. Positivity regarding progress in electric vehicles has slackened in recent years as scientists and researchers have struggled to make traditional lithium battery products more efficient.

To bridge this gap would mean irreparably changing the trajectory of the electric vehicle market in the United States. Solid-state batteries offer greater safety, faster-charging intervals, a more compact product, and most importantly greater energy density

Lithium Batteries vs. Traditional Fuel

gas station

The transition from traditional fuel to electric power in our vehicles is assured; the timeline on which this shift occurs, however, is not. Currently, advances in battery technology are insufficient to bring a vehicle to market that would inspire sufficient confidence in consumers to facilitate a large-scale transition from fuel to electric power in vehicles around the world, and especially in the United States. Constraints on a vehicle's range present the most onerous challenge for companies that develop battery technology to address in the near future.

The Stubborn Advantages of Traditional Fuel

The stasis in battery development has been met by a resurgent traditional fuel industry brought back to life by an increased supply, primarily from the United States, falling prices, and increased fuel efficiency in vehicles using traditional fuel. Furthermore, there is lingering resistance to costs in infrastructure changes necessary for the proliferation of electric vehicles. These trends have obfuscated the threats of energy insecurity and permanent environmental damage posed by the continued use of fossil fuels.


The Limited Achievements of Lithium-Ion Batteries

In reference to the electric vehicle industry, battery technology has been widely successful in disseminating products that enable consumers to buy hybrid electric vehicles at commercially viable prices and drive their electric vehicles regularly without significant impediment. Vehicles powered solely by electricity, on the other hand, are too expensive for the average consumer and come with a limited range that makes a large segment of consumers uncomfortable.

Without a wider range and a more palatable price tag, electric vehicles cannot hope to make substantial inroads in the market for family vehicles in the United States: the most significant segment of the market for any company hoping to maintain a robust presence in the United States.

Solid-State Lithium Batteries

Solid-state lithium batteries differ from lithium-ion batteries in that a lithium-ion battery requires a liquid electrolyte to facilitate movement between electrodes within the battery. A solid-state battery, like the one being developed by QuantumScape, would achieve the same movement between electrodes with a solid electrolyte. This improvement promises to improve the energy density of the battery which in turn increases the range of the vehicle being powered by the hypothetical solid-state lithium battery.

Additionally, the energy density of a solid-state battery would provide a greater tolerance to high temperatures, less reactivity to dangerous materials, and a more compact product. These advances could take the electric-only powered car from an outlier to the norm.

Best Smart Cars of the Future

electric car

Even as fuel has become more readily available, the transition to electric vehicles is a palpable facet of the modern automotive industry. The companies that bring the future of high-quality, accessible electric vehicles to consumers first will be watching their enterprises grow for untold decades. With the stakes this high, the competition is thick. BMW, Honda, Hyundai, and Nissan have all invested in solid-state lithium battery research.

For QuantumScape and their partner Volkswagen, Toyota may be the fiercest competitor. Toyota has been working with Panasonic since 2014 to develop a solid-state lithium battery, a relationship that reflects the Japanese counter to nascent Chinese competition in the industry. QuantumScape's value as a company compared to the declining market share held by Panasonic indicates Volkswagen may have the slight edge.

The e-Golf

The Golf is currently Volkswagen's best selling model and is particularly popular in European countries where the small, fuel-efficient vehicle accommodates consumers desire to save on expensive European taxes on fossil fuels. Volkswagen is eager to bring the e-Golf to the market, an all-electric iteration of its namesake powered with a solid-state lithium battery which would increase the range of the vehicle to between 700 and 750 kilometers, or roughly 450 miles.

This achievement would win a massive market share in Europe where consumers could circumnavigate fuel costs and the incumbent taxes altogether. In the United States success would be more limited. The size of the Golf precludes the vehicle from becoming a staple in the United States where consumers value room for the comfortable transport of an entire family of four, at least.

Electric Concept Cars

In an effort to cater to a global market looking for a vehicle that provides more than basic transportation without an exorbitant cost, Volkswagen is developing four fully electric cars in which the company hopes to use a solid-state lithium battery. These vehicles are all family-friendly, four-door vehicles, one of which is modeled on the classic Volkswagen Bus, and all would have comfortable interiors and driving ranges for consumers in the United States looking to make a complete transition to electric vehicles.

The e-Golf's success will be an important step in the advancement of QuantumScape's technologies and Volkswagen's market share in the United States but dominance cannot be achieved without a range of products that can be readily marketed to middle-class families who want reliable, comfortable vehicles regardless of the energy source.

Conclusion

car charge sign

QuantumScape's development of an ostensibly viable solid-state lithium battery makes the young company a likely torchbearer on the road to a complete transition to electric vehicles in the United States and around the world. Despite a tempered resurgence in the viability of traditional fuel, the popularity of electric vehicles, particularly hybrid-electric vehicles has continued to increase. Market gains have been most severely limited by stagnant improvements in battery technology. 

The most promising possibility for release from stalemate is the development of a solid-state lithium battery which would increase the energy density of the batteries used in electric vehicles, expanding their range. In collaboration with Volkswagen, QuantumScape seems poised to take a serious run at a large segment of the electric vehicle industry in competition with Toyota and their partner, Panasonic. 

coal tower

Pros & Cons of Nuclear Energy

No matter how many years go by since the 1940s, we have all remained somewhat apprehensive about the stability of nuclear energy, and sadly this fear has only been fueled by a few catastrophic events that have occurred: Chernobyl (1986), 3 Mile Island (1987), and Fukushima (2011), but these events did not result in the death of anywhere near as many people who have died in coal and oil related disasters. However, it's still important to know the pros and cons of nuclear energy so you can better understand why it's so desirable despite the dangers associated with it.

The world's demand for more energy only continues to grow and we have to find the technology that will rise to the occasion. However, we would ideally do so in the best interest of our environment. Despite our unpleasant run-ins with nuclear power, it is one of the most environmentally friendly sources of power and it is in our best interest as a growing population to find alternative sources of power that don’t harm our planet. This article will compare some relevant pros and cons of nuclear energy as an alternative source of power.

WHAT IS NUCLEAR ENERGY?

Nuclear energy is the product of a phenomenon called Nuclear Fission. Fission occurs when splitting the atom of a nucleus. Because of this occurrence, it releases a large amount of energy. Despite the fear and anxiety still left by nuclear energy it is understandable that people are hesitant to accept it as anything but destruction.


The reason it is still being considered as an alternative source to fossil fuels, is ultimately that the process results in far less damage to the environment overall in comparison. There are many pros and cons of nuclear energy, what it can do, and how it compares to other forms of generating power. But this article will not be expanding on the scientific attributes of this form of energy and its production process.

nuclear fission

WHAT ARE THE PROS AND CONS OF NUCLEAR ENERGY

Nuclear energy produces around 10% of the world's power and we could produce several times that amount of nuclear energy at will. It is the cleanest form of energy we know of at present, and it offers much lower emissions including carbon dioxide. In addition, it takes a rather small amount of uranium to output a massive amount of power and the average nuclear reactor lasts around 40 to 60 years, but the lifetime of a nuclear reactor is contingent on the how much power it is intended to produce and the quality of its function. Let's move on to the pros and cons of nuclear energy for this article.
 

Pros of Nuclear Energy

source of nuclear energy

Listed below are some positive attributes of nuclear energy and what it offers in terms of clean energy, reliability, quality, and cost.


Less Pollution​


In no capacity does nuclear energy production burn chemicals in the process of producing nuclear energy, so there is no release of harsh gases into the air. In fact, the fluffy clouds that are given off by the stacks of a nuclear plant is only vaporized water. Those "stacks" are large cooling towers filled with water intended for keeping the nuclear reactor(s) from overheating. For the sake of this brief on the pros and cons of nuclear energy, we will also come back to this in our cons list. Nuclear energy is still the most environmentally friendly form of alternative fuel and electricity.


More Reliable than Other Forms of Clean Energy

Solar and Wind energy both rely on weather to produce power. Not to say it is impractical, but to produce large amounts of power constantly it is not exactly ideal. A nuclear power plant can run constantly, uninterrupted, making power for up to about a year. It also maintains a shelf life once produced and can even be stored for much longer than fossil fuels. Nuclear power also does not require the use of any kind of fossil fuels to be produced. Therefore, it is unaffected by the uncontrollably fluctuating costs of gas and oil.


More Electricity for Less Money

Although building new plants can be costly at first, there is a discussion of upgrading existing plants to improve volume instead of building entirely new ones. Regardless, once they are running smoothly, they are inexpensive. That is without mentioning the amount of power they produce will minimal resource. These plants produce electricity with nuclear reactors which is cheaper than coal, gas, or any other fossil fuels.

Uranium is also much cheaper than one would expect, but this does not additionally calculate the cost and expenses of the hauling and safe disposal of various kinds of radioactive material. There is no particular procedure for the disposal of the radioactive material nuclear fission creates as a byproduct.

Cons of Nuclear Energy

hydrogen bomb

Listed below are some negative attributes of nuclear energy and how it affects the environment, weaponry and warfare, disaster, and radioactive filth.


The Nuclear Elephant in the Room


The biggest concern with nuclear energy is the disposing of the used fuel remains which are radioactive and possibly dangerous. Although highly dangerous in mass quantities, which a typical plant produces around 20 metric tons of used nuclear fuel per year. This used fuel takes hundreds of years to decompose to a state that is safe enough for humans to coexist.


This is one quality other sources of fuel do not deal with. This point of Nuclear Power production evokes thoughts of the 1970s through the 1980s when plants were dumping their waste into the ocean and other bodies of water. None of those things take place in our modern world and there are now laws in place to protect against illegal dumping of toxic waste.


 

Use of Nuclear Energy as a Weapon


Nuclear power generation is far from the process of making nuclear weapons, but it poses a threat if exposed to the wrong person or group. In the wrong hands this technology can cause the entire world a whole mess of trouble. Recalling Hiroshima, imagine the potential of that on a worldwide scale. Well, that's what people imagine when they think of "weapons of mass destruction," but those with access to this technology are known and monitored. Interest in this kind of power grows every day, especially as the possibilities evolve from science and energy to weaponry.



Non-Renewable Radioactive Fuel


Uranium can not be re-used, therefore nuclear energy is not a renewable source. But there has been a discussion of the other possibilities uranium may offer to convert it into energy. If not handled properly, even the designated drops of waste can end catastrophically. It quickly contaminates its surroundings and spreads as it ages. Nuclear disasters like the accident at Chernobyl in 1986, leave the environment surrounding the plants uninhabitable by human life. The high levels of radiation have been unsafe for several years and it likely won’t change anytime soon. The damage left behind both in the people and places is still overwhelming to this day.

CONCLUSION

nuclear power

We hope this article has helped you better understand the pros and cons of nuclear energy, and here we offer our final thoughts.

Pros and Cons of Nuclear Energy Compared

Good arguments can be made for both the pros and cons of nuclear energy as an alternative source of power. Although it has so many safe benefits, the negative results are dangerous and not so for the human death toll, but the environmental impact. But when you consider the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that fill our atmosphere, coal, oil fires and accidents happen more often than someone it hurt in a nuclear power workplace environment.

The nuclear industry is firm with their safety in the workplace, and catastrophic incidents are rare, but when an accident can be as devastating as a nuclear meltdown, it causes the public to worry. The shocks of the past remain at the forefront of the public's’ mind and it immediately turns them off to anything related to nuclear energy.

Don't Give into Fear

Despite the negative impacts, overall nuclear energy is technically the least threatening of all forms of energy. With every other fossil fuel dissolving our atmosphere, nuclear energy may be the only way to dismiss the amount of greenhouse gases emitted during the production of nuclear energy, but if we were to fully explore the benefits of having nuclear energy, we would need to create a plan to manage the disposal of used fuel.

Until then no one will truly be ready to trust in any kind of casual use of nuclear power, we desperately need as I world continues to grow. Perhaps finding more ways to combat this issue would evolve as we further experiment within the parameters we have at present, but as much as some may not want to admit it, we are getting close to the point of needing to put the wheels of large-scale nuclear fission in motion.