How solar cities will change the Earth

UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — In October, Tesla launched the third version of its solar shingles for use in residential buildings. The Tesla solar tile, dubbed Solarglass (“solar glass”), is a device that looks the same as a regular tile, but at the same time works like real solar panels for generating electricity.

The Solar Glass concept was announced three years earlier, in October 2016. “In the first and second versions, we were still figuring out how the new technology could work better,” said Tesla CEO Elon Musk. “The third version is finally ready for continued use.”

The Tesla Sun Roof website provides an estimate of the installation cost of this device. It will cost 42.5 thousand dollars for a house with an area of ​​2000 square meters. feet (almost 610 sq. m), and its power will be 10 kW. Residents of the USA, Canada and Mexico can order a sun roof on the site, and in Europe – Belgians, Danes, Spaniards, Germans and Czechs.

Tesla expects that the new type of roof will be in demand when it is necessary to repair the roof and in the construction of a new house. “The roof from Solar Glass will not make financial sense only for those who have a relatively new roof installed at home,” Musk explains. “With our new manufacturing technology, we were able to reach a price point that is lower than the average cost of a roof with solar panels installed on top of it.”

According to Techcrunch, the company still needs to do a lot of research and development to bring to mind the technology of installing a solar roof. Two teams will work on this at Tesla at once, and not jointly, but competing with each other. They will include qualified installers who will be hired and trained by Tesla itself. At first, they will be faced with the task of reducing the installation time so that it is less than the installation time of ordinary tiles and solar panels on top of it. Musk added that his ultimate goal is to install Solar Glass faster than ordinary shingles.

But the long-term plan is not only to learn how to install solar roofs quickly, but also so that ultimately people who have experience and qualifications can train third-party contractors – and thereby increase the number of specialists with the necessary skills. “We will carry out installation as quickly as possible,” Musk concluded and said that over the “next few months” the company plans to “get to 1,000 roofs per week.”

Tesla’s installed roof warranty is 25 years. The solar roof provides the house with protective insulation, withstanding not only rain, snow and hail, but also wind speeds of up to 130 miles per hour (about 290 km / h). It produces more energy than a similar-sized roof equipped with traditional solar panels. So far, only one version of Solarglass is available – with dark tempered glass trim. However, Musk said he hoped to introduce new options “every six to nine months.”

The total address market that Musk sees for Solarglass is about 100 million homes worldwide. Musk emphasized that the company really intends to make this product available worldwide.

As the development of green energy (solar and wind), the market begins to need new solutions to store large amounts of electricity. Two years ago, Tesla, in fact, in a dispute, in 100 days in South Australia built the world’s largest lithium-ion battery with an energy capacity of 129 MWh based on Tesla Powerpack energy storage facilities. This facility saved nearly $ 40 million in its first year of operation and helped stabilize and balance the region’s unreliable energy grid. But the company decided not to stop there and in July 2019 introduced a new system for large-scale energy storage. The project is called Megapack.

Tesla began its journey in the development of energy storage systems in 2015 with the creation and production of home Powerwall batteries, which allow storing electricity received from solar panels on the roofs of houses. For business-oriented solutions, the Powerpack system was introduced a little later. Judging by the latest announcement, now the company has decided to seriously focus on energy storage systems for communal projects.

Tesla reports that Megapack is a system of modular batteries, the size of which does not exceed the size of the transport container. Batteries can be powered directly from solar panels. The energy consumption of each Megapack battery is 3 MWh. This is about 14 times more than the capacity of the Powerpack storage, which is capable of storing about 210 kWh of energy.

The company indicates that Megapack batteries are turnkey solutions equipped with all the additional equipment needed to store and redistribute electricity. According to the company, the main advantage of Megapack batteries is that they can be combined into large storages of energy obtained from environmentally friendly sources, with a total energy consumption of up to 1 GW · h.

According to Tesla, such a system will occupy an area of ​​three acres (1.2 hectares), and its installation and connection will take less than three months. The company estimates that 1 GWh of reserve energy will be enough, for example, to provide electricity to all homes in San Francisco for six hours.

Megapack is not a complete replacement for conventional power plants, but this system can be used as a temporary backup source of energy during peak loads and power outages. Typically, in these cases, special peak natural gas fired power plants are used. They are considered one of the least effective and the dirtiest, Tesla says.

The company developed its own software for Megapack. All batteries in Megapack’s storage are connected to Powerhub, an advanced utility project management platform, and can integrate with Autobidder, Tesla’s machine learning platform for automatic energy trading.

“The market for advanced energy storage solutions is growing rapidly. Over the past year alone, we have installed more than 1 GWh of global storage capacity with our current Powerwall and Powerpack storage products, resulting in our total global storage capacity exceeding 2 GWh of storage capacity. With Megapack, this figure will grow exponentially in the coming years, ”Tesla promised.

The first such project is already being implemented. San Francisco-based PG&E (Pacific Gas and Electric Company), one of the largest suppliers of natural gas and electricity to the United States, has announced the launch of its Megapack facility in California on the Monterey Bay by the end of 2019. It should provide a capacity of 182.5 MW for four hours, that is, its energy intensity will be at least 730 MW · h. The planned storage life is 20 years. “We believe that energy storage will be important to increase the overall reliability of the energy system, integrate renewable energy sources and help customers save energy and money,” said Roy Kuga, vice president of PG&E.

Solar heating

Today, houses can be autonomously heated, not only with coal and gas stoves, but also due to solar energy. And this is not about solar panels that generate electricity to power heaters, but about solar collectors that directly heat the water used to heat homes. Thanks to scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), these devices can become cheaper and more efficient and, as a result, can be more widely used.

The work of scientists was funded by the US Department of Energy program. The results are described in the journal ACS Nano. Co-author of the invention, Professor Evelyn Wang, explains that in order to efficiently collect solar heat, a device is needed that warms up inside while remaining cold outside. One way to do this is to create a vacuum between the glass layer and the dark heat-absorbing material. However, such collectors are too expensive. Therefore, manufacturers have long been looking for an alternative heat insulator.

The material developed by researchers from MIT was excellently suited for this role. At its core, it is a clear airgel. In fact, aerogels have long been used as highly effective and ultralight heat-insulating materials, but so far they have had low transparency for visible light. Professor Wang says designing an airgel that is transparent enough to be used in solar collectors has been a long and difficult process involving several researchers over four years. But the result is an airgel that transmits more than 95% of the incoming sunlight, while maintaining high heat-insulating properties.

The airgel collector was tested on the roof of the MIT campus in mid-winter, when the outside temperature was below 0º C, and showed excellent results. The device heated the heat-absorbing material to 220º C. Such high temperatures were previously achievable only when using collectors with mirrors to focus sunlight on one point. But the collector, invented at MIT, does not require focusing of light rays, which makes it simpler and less costly. This can potentially make it useful for a wide range of applications requiring higher heating levels than home heating. Large-scale versions of such collectors can be used in the chemical, food industry and other manufacturing processes.

Sunny clothes

A research team from Nuremberg and Erlangen (Bavaria, Germany) announced on November 11 that it had set a world record for converting solar energy to electricity using an organic photovoltaic module. The efficiency of the new module is 12.6% (on an area of ​​26 sq. Cm), while the previous record was 9.7%. The achieved result is confirmed by the independent certification laboratory Fraunhofer ISE in Freiburg.

The multi-cell module was developed at the Future Solar Factory in Nuremberg, in the coating laboratory with a unique pilot line for thin-film photovoltaic devices, which was created with the financial support of the Bavarian Ministry of Economics, Development and Energy. The head of this ministry, Hubert Ivanger, said: “This breakthrough shows that Bavaria is leading not only in the promotion of photovoltaic installations, but also in the development of future technologies.”

Organic solar cells typically consist of two different components with the necessary semiconductor properties. Unlike traditional silicon, which is produced as a result of energy-intensive melting processes, organic materials can be applied directly from solutions to a film or glass. The flexibility and lightness of organic photocells (at lower production costs compared to silicon) expand their field of application to mobile devices and clothes, even if they are still inferior to silicon photocells in energy efficiency. Professor Christoph Brabek, future scientific director of the Solar Factory of the Future, claims that after the record shown, organic solar cells are ready to go beyond laboratory research.

Two Japan in five years

On October 21, the International Energy Agency (IEA) presented a report predicting that during 2019-2024. the capacity of plants extracting energy from renewable sources will increase by 50%, or by 1200 GW, which is equivalent to the current total US electric capacity. In particular, the power of solar energy will grow by almost 700 GW, which is double the total capacity of Japan.

The IEA predicts that in the next five years, almost half of the growth of solar energy (more precisely, 320 GW) will be provided not by traditional solar power plants, but by the so-called distributed photovoltaic systems installed in homes, commercial buildings and industrial facilities. The capacity of these systems over five years will increase by more than 2.5 times and exceed 500 GW.

The largest engines of the solar energy boom will be commercial and industrial enterprises that want to save on energy bills through autonomous energy supply. They will account for three quarters of the power of new distributed photovoltaic systems. But the population will make a significant contribution. The number of houses with solar panels on the roofs will more than double and reach approximately 100 million by 2024, with the highest per capita growth expected in Australia, Belgium, California, the Netherlands and Austria.

The cost of generating electricity in distributed photovoltaic systems is already lower than retail electricity prices in most countries. The IEA predicts that by 2024, these costs will be reduced by another 15-35%, which will make this technology even more attractive and stimulate its implementation worldwide.


This article is written and prepared by our foreign editors writing for OBSERVATORY NEWS from different countries around the world – material edited and published by OBSERVATORY staff in our newsroom.

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