Advances in nuclear fusion

Scientists in Germany reached a major milestone when, after around 19 years in development and 1.2 billion Eutos spent, the Wendelstein 7-X created hydrogen plasma. It’s one big step closer to a fusion power plant, but it got me thinking.  Why are we doing this?  Maybe 19 years ago it mad sense, but these days, solar energy production has dropped in price to the point where it’s nearly cost competitive with fossil fuels already.  Fusion is still many years awat before a large scale design can even be considered, let alone built.  Solar is a clean energy solution that is ready to implement now.  Instead of sinking billions of dollars into fusion (the reactor in Germany is just one of many being built), we should invest that money in building large scale solar energy power plants instead.

Ah, but if we did that, what would happen?  With the economies of scale, prices of solar panels would drop even further.  More people would opt to install their own,  and maybe add a Tesla Powerwall to the system and go off grid.  Fewer customers will be available to pay for maintenance of the power grid.  It’s a disruptive technology,whereas fusion power maintains the power (literally and figuratively) in the control of large corporations.  Solar gives that control to the people.  So of course those with the money to invest opt for fusion.  But I’m not seeing how it benefits people…just corporations.

 

The possibility of irreversible climate change

A draft UN science report, expected to be approved this week, warns that we’re on the path toward irreversible climate change.  We can still avoid that by making significant cuts to CO2 emissions, but the question is, will we?  Unless you’re a Republican (sorry, but I call it like I see it), you’ve probably already accepted that the current situation is unsustainable and that immediate change is needed.  What will it take?  Fortunately, the answer is ‘not much’…well, apart from a decision to change (which in this political climate in the US, is no small feat!).  A report from Deutsche Bank finds that rooftop solar will reach grid parity in all 50 states in the US by 2016.  This means the cost will be the same or less than getting power from the electric grid (10 states have already reached grid parity).  Removing the ‘cost’ argument from the debate will help a ton.  What about the reality that solar power is not a 24/7 energy source?  Good news there, too.  Many companies have been working on energy storage systems, and they’re looking more and more promising (meaning, closer to production!).  The latest is interesting…a company called Alevo has been operating out of the spotlight (sort of in stealth mode, though not like some startups)…and expects to be producing hundreds of utility-scale (read:massive) energy storage systems within a year.  These 1MWh containers use lithium ferrophosphate and graphite batteries..cool tech.  It’s easy to perhaps dismiss Alevo as yet another company with dreams and promises…except this one has raised a billion dollars from Swiss investors.  Whoa.  So they have the technology, they have the money, and they’re taking over a former Phillips Morris plant in North Carolina.  This is a company to watch.  Then of course you have Solar City looking to include battery storage systems with every home solar installation within 5-10 years.

So the future is bleak if we do not act…yet advances in technology along with greatly decreased costs is looking to push renewable energy to the forefront, despite the best efforts of Republicans opposing it.  Now, just imagine how awesome that industry could be if it actually had broad support!  Oh well.  It’s a tsunami that can’t be stopped, I think…fortunately!

Solar panel with integral battery

solar-battery-lithium-oxygen-diagram-640x319Is it a solar panel with integrated battery, or a battery with an integrated solar panel?  No matter which way you look at it, this new technology being developed at Ohio State is pretty cool.  This solar panel has a layer inside that acts as an energy storage medium.  No separate charge controllers like an external battery would require.  It’s just a solar panel that can continue to supply power once the sun goes down.  Since it’s still in the research stage there’s no word on capacity and those details, but it’s a really neat idea that I hope takes off.  Read more at  ExtremeTech.

Old Energy vs Solar

The fight has begun.  Solar and ‘old energy’ are increasingly butting heads, as the old business model breaks in the face of new distributed solar generation.  Old energy is fighting back with the help of governments reducing incentives for distributed solar installations and even increasing fees for grid-tied systems.  It seems to be slowing down solar adaption in areas, but I think this is just a temporary blip…once energy storage drops in price, people will have a viable solution for going entirely off-grid, and then Old Energy will be faced with the same infrastructure costs, yet with fewer customers to spread that cost over.  The inevitable collapse of Old Energy will be fascinating to observe…I can’t wait!  Read more at  Business Insider.

Solar City to Make Battery Backup Standard

Cool news…using batteries from the gigafactory Tesla is building outside of Reno, Solar City will be including battery backup systems in 100% of the rooftop solar systems they install within 5-10 years.  This is significant partly because it helps illustrate the rapidly decreasing costs of both solar panels and battery backup systems, but also because it is likely to have a major impact on our current energy production and distribution systems…the old grid will become obsolete eventually, but the transition won’t be easy for the larger energy companies.  Read more at climaterocks.com.