60 Years of Solar Cells

April 19, 2014

“Let it Shine” by Amory Lovins, via NewEnergyNews:

Bell executives presented the first practical solar cell to the world at a press conference on April 25, 1954.

At the time of Bell’s announcement in 1954, all the solar cells in the world delivered less than one watt. Today, more than 120 gigawatts of generating capacity of photovoltaics have been installed worldwide. This year not only marks the 60th anniversary of the silicon solar cell but also the beginning of reaching the Holy Grail solar scientists have only previously dreamt of before “ entering the Era of Grid Parity, where solar panels begin to generate power at costs equal to or less than electricity produced by fossil fuels and nuclear energy.

solarcell1

What does this mean? Simple! Massive amounts of cleanly produced electricity will become a reality in our lifetime.

In fact, on April 26, 1954, The New York Times noted on page one, that the Bell solar cell “may mark the beginning of a new era, leading eventually to the realization of one of mankind’s most cherished dreams“ – the harnessing of the almost limitless energy of the sun for the uses of civilization.  U.S. News and World Report came out with a story as full of hope as the Times piece with the title: Fuel Unlimited,” exclaiming that the silicon solar cells “…may provide more power than all the world’s coal, oil and uranium.¦Engineers are dreaming of silicon powerhouses. The future is limitless.”

On April 18, 2014, a formal celebration will take place in Palo Alto, CA to mark the milestone of 60 years of practical PV. Palo Alto is becoming a living demonstration that we’ve come a long way since that first Ferris wheel was lit up by solar technology in 1954, and that in fact, whole cities can be powered by solar and other renewables. The City of Palo Alto recently started covering its entire community’s power demand through renewable purchases and credits and is on track to procure 100% renewable power by 2017. Solar is expected to make up 18% of that portfolio.

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Critical battle won against yet another Koch funded “think” tank. Significant because it involves the attempt too use the Freedom of Information Act as a bludgeon against free thought and inquiry.
Rick Piltz has a good wrap with links at Climate Science Watch.

Climate Science Watch:

The Virginia Supreme Court has rejected the American Tradition Institute’s demand for email correspondence between former University of Virginia climate scientist Michael Mann and his colleagues. In upholding a higher education research exclusion from freedom of information access in this case, the Court cited the potential for “harm to university-wide research efforts, damage to faculty recruitment and retention, undermining of faculty expectations of privacy and confidentiality, and impairment of free thought and expression.” This is the result we have advocated in this case for the past three years.

The Richmond [Virginia] Times Dispatch reported

RICHMOND — The Virginia Supreme Court today rejected a conservative group’s attempt to obtain a University of Virginia climate researcher’s emails.

The justices said retired Arlington Circuit Judge Paul Sheridan was right when he ruled that Michael Mann’s emails are proprietary records dealing with scholarly research and therefore are exempt from disclosure under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. The ruling ends the American Tradition Institute’s three-year court battle to obtain the emails. …

The Washington Post reported 

Unpublished research by university scientists is exempt from the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled Thursday, rejecting an attempt by skeptics of global warming to view the work of a prominent climate researcher during his years at the University of Virginia.

The ruling is the latest turn in the FOIA request filed in 2011 by Del. Robert Marshall (R-Prince William) and the American Tradition Institute to obtain research and e-mails of former U-Va. profesor Michael Mann. …

In 2012, Circuit Judge Paul Sheridan sided with U-Va., saying that Mann’s work was exempt and that the FOIA exemption arose “from the concept of academic freedom and from the interest in protecting research.” Marshall and ATI appealed.

The Virginia Supreme Court ruling includes this:

“We reject ATI’s narrow construction of financial competitive advantage as a definition of ‘proprietary’ because it is not consistent with the General Assembly’s intent to protect public universities and colleges from being placed at a competitive disadvantage in relation to private universities and colleges. In the context of the higher education research exclusion, competitive disadvantage implicates not only financial injury, but also harm to university-wide research efforts, damage to faculty recruitment and retention, undermining of faculty expectations of privacy and confidentiality, and impairment of free thought and expression.”

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Dr. Joe Romm reports on a new study that provides more detail on  the drying of the western US, this winter’s Polar Vortex, and the “Warm Arctic, Cold Continents” paradox.

As readers here know, the hottest debate in atmospheric science is not whether man is causing climate change – that was settled decades ago. The debate is, HOW is that change going to manifest, as increasing global heat content drives changes to circulation patterns that have been consistent for millennia.  This past winter’s “ridiculously resilient ridge”, which brought drought to the west, and arctic cold to the eastern US, is looking more and more as if it is at least partially a product of climate change.

Joe Romm in ClimateProgress:

Natural variability alone cannot explain the extreme weather pattern that has driven both the record-setting California drought and the cooler weather seen in the Midwest and East this winter, a major new study finds.

We’ve reported before that climate scientists had predicted a decade ago that warming-driven Arctic ice loss would lead to worsening drought in California. In particular, they predicted it would lead to a “blocking pattern” that would shift the jet stream (and the rain it could bring) away from the state — in this case a “Ridiculously Resilient Ridge” of high pressure.

My recent video on the California Drought featured interviews with key scientists observing the “Ridiculous Ridge” phenomenon.

More ClimateProgress:

A new study in Geophysical Research Letters (subs. req’d) takes the warming link to the California drought to the next level of understanding. It concludes, “there is a traceable anthropogenic warming footprint in the enormous intensity of the anomalous ridge during winter 2013-14, the associated drought and its intensity.”

The NASA-funded study is behind a pay wall, but the brief news release, offers a simple explanation of what is going on. The research provides “evidence connecting the amplified wind patterns, consisting of a strong high pressure in the West and a deep low pressure in the East [labeled a 'dipole'], to global warming.” Researchers have “uncovered evidence that can trace the amplification of the dipole to human influences.”

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EarthFamilyAlpha:

In Austin, Texas, Austin Energy is poised such that by the end of next year, 1 in 3 Kwhs used by the customers of the 8th largest public utility in the country will be renewable. And when when you include 15 years of efficiency programs, almost 50 % of the energy is either renewable or efficiency.And in presenting the most recent purchases of windpower and solar, the utility states that the purchases will actually reduce costs.

As reported by Renewable Energy World:

“The Austin, Texas, City Council approved a wind power contract Feb. 27 that enables Austin Energy to achieve its goal of delivering 35 percent of all of its electricity from renewable sources four years ahead of its goal, the utility said in a news release.

The contract with Lincoln Renewable Energy calls for Austin Energy to buy up to 300 MW of wind power for 18 years for $31 million a year. The price for the wind power is in the $26-to-$36/MWh price range, making it the least expensive wind purchase Austin Energy has ever entered into since it began contracting for wind power in the late 1990s.

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Neela Banerjee in the LATimes;

Drilling operations at several natural gas wells in southwestern Pennsylvania released methane into the atmosphere at rates that were 100 to 1,000 times greater than federal regulators had estimated, new research shows.

Using a plane that was specially equipped to measure greenhouse gas emissions in the air, scientists found that drilling activities at seven well pads in the booming Marcellus shale formation emitted 34 grams of methane per second, on average. The Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that such drilling releases between 0.04 grams and 0.30 grams of methane per second.

The study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, adds to a growing body of research that suggests the EPA is gravely underestimating methane emissions from oil and gas operations. The agency is expected to issue its own analysis of methane emissions from the oil and gas sector as early as Tuesday, which will give outside experts a chance to assess how well regulators understand the problem.

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Above, more from Jim Byrne’s interview with Lord Nicholas Stern, on the risks inherent in fossil fuel investments.

BBC:

number of studies in recent years have warned that stock markets around the world have overvalued companies with large holdings of coal, oil and gas.

The problem stems from the fact that countries including the UK agreed at a UN meeting in Mexico in 2010 to limit global temperature rises to 2C.

To achieve this, economists including Sir Nicholas Stern have calculated that between 60 and 80% of existing reserves of fossil fuels will need to remain in the ground, unburned.

Today’s report from the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) reiterates these warnings.

“The UK Government and Bank of England must not be complacent about the risks of carbon exposure in the world economy,” said Committee chair Joan Walley MP.

“Financial stability could be threatened if shares in fossil fuel companies turn out to be overvalued because the bulk of their oil, coal and gas reserves cannot be burnt without further destabilising the climate,” she said.

Kerry Dolan in Forbes:

Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, former U.S. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and hedge-fund-billionaire-turned-environmental-advocate Tom Steyer don’t typically agree on political issues. Bloomberg is an independent, Paulson a Republican and Steyer a die-hard Democrat. But all three men share a concern for the economic impact of climate change on U.S. business. Last fall, they decided to do something about it, and embarked on what they’re calling the Risky Business initiative, a project that will culminate in a report that will spell out the likely economic impact of climate change on U.S. business.

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