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Optical Furnace Bakes Better Solar Cells

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the might-as-well-be-walking-on-the-sun dept.

Earth 93

An anonymous reader writes "Researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory just announced that they have found a way to create more efficient photovoltaic cells using 50% less energy. The technique hinges upon a new optical furnace that uses intense light instead of a conventional furnace to heat silicon to make solar cells. The new furnace utilizes 'highly reflective and heat-resistant ceramics to ensure that the light is absorbed only by a silicon wafer, not by the walls inside the furnace.'"

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93 comments

So, what? A month, six months, a year? (3, Insightful)

ibsteve2u (1184603) | more than 2 years ago | (#38556552)

Until I read a Slashdot article about a facility in the PRC manufacturing photovoltaic cells using 'highly reflective and heat-resistant ceramics to ensure that the light is absorbed only by a silicon wafer, not by the walls inside the furnace'"?

Re:So, what? A month, six months, a year? (5, Interesting)

crispin_bollocks (1144567) | more than 2 years ago | (#38556700)

I worked on an optical/ceramic-walled metallization furnace that started shipping a year ago. Apparently our US marketing people didn't come up with sufficiently catchy buzz to generate sales. I was laid off in September after documenting all the assembly procedures for our new plant in ... Shanghai :-(

Re:So, what? A month, six months, a year? (3, Insightful)

ibsteve2u (1184603) | more than 2 years ago | (#38556796)

Ouch!, on your behalf....on a larger scale, America seems to be in the grip of this attitude of "If it won't make us a lot of money today, we don't want to play!" at the Wall Street/venture capital/NHWI level.

To our detriment; Rome wasn't built in a day - but it took about a day to fall.

Re:So, what? A month, six months, a year? (2)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | more than 2 years ago | (#38556844)

Bullocks. Rome took centuries to fall.

Re:So, what? A month, six months, a year? (4, Informative)

ibsteve2u (1184603) | more than 2 years ago | (#38556906)

lolll...no, the Roman Empire - its power structure, and so its government - took about three decades to decay [tacitus.nu] to the point that Alaric could sack Rome on August 24, A.D. 410.

About as long as "flood-up/trickle-down" economics has been dictating policy in the U.S., in fact.

Re:So, what? A month, six months, a year? (2)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 2 years ago | (#38557654)

Well the decay in the united states started in the 1980's so I'm guess we are right on track.
it was about that time when Corporations stopped caring about product quality and innovation and decided that the right thing is to maximize profits at all costs.

Re:So, what? A month, six months, a year? (4, Insightful)

Genda (560240) | more than 2 years ago | (#38558234)

The problem has been a predictable result of Corporations railing against restriction and regulation. We put powerful rods in the reactor of capitalism when at the turn of the twentieth century a succession of economic disasters was precipitated by wholesale greed and financial practices that made a tiny few rich, but impoverished the masses.

We find ourselves learning the hard way, that we haven't changed in any significant way in 100 years, that greed is ultimately destructive and that our economic engines need exactly the same kind of checks and balances that our political engines require, because in the end, its all about the best and worst in being human. If you don't ensure stability, diversity and fair competition, you get boom-bust, profound disparity and a system which us ultimately unsustainable.

Corporations must be separated from government, for the benefit of both. Both must have a strong set of checks and balances (for example, corporations must not have the rights of human beings.) Both must have strong external guidance based on the greater good of society including environmental necessity, social responsibility and human dignity. A system of rewards and punishment must be implemented that moves these great forces in a direction that serves the needs of humanity and not the other way around.

Re:So, what? A month, six months, a year? (1)

emaname (1014225) | more than 2 years ago | (#38561374)

If I had mod points, I'd give them all to you.

That's a wonderful summary of cause and effect and possible solutions.

Thank you.

Re:So, what? A month, six months, a year? (1)

Raven_Stark (747360) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563146)

At the risk of sounding like a free market wanker, capitalist markets will find a way to subvert regulatory reform. Now that they've had practise undoing reforms put in place during the first great depression, they'll just get 'er done faster this time. We need revolution not regulation. I don't mean Tea Party style guns a-blazing revolution, just a complete rationally based restructuring of our economy. Worker owned cooperatives might be a compromise economic structure that will satisfy both Marxists and capitalists. If not that, than something else. Using your nuclear analogy, we don't need an improvement to fission plants, we need fusion, because, to paraphrase Murphy, if shit can go wrong, it will.

Re:So, what? A month, six months, a year? (2)

swb (14022) | more than 2 years ago | (#38558302)

But its not like the conditions of Rome in 380 AD were the conditions of Rome for all the years prior. It took a lot going wrong to get there.

IMHO the "decline" really starts with the death of Hadrian or Marcus Aurelius, depending on your perspective. Some people even think it starts earlier, with the end of the Republic and the start of the empire.

Re:So, what? A month, six months, a year? (2)

ibsteve2u (1184603) | more than 2 years ago | (#38558514)

It is true that it took the powerful and wealthy of Rome more than a day to destroy any real loyalty to their government - but again, you're referencing the Roman Empire. The fall of Rome itself came with unseemly speed when Rome's economic underclass opened the Salarian Gate for the Visigoths.

Hence my comment that "Rome wasn't built in a day - but it took about a day to fall.". The moral of the story, of course, is that you allow greed to weaken your nation and disillusion your populace at your own peril, for when the big day comes the safest place in the empire won't be safe enough.

Re:So, what? A month, six months, a year? (1)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563948)

Rome has been sacked several times. Attributing the fall of Rome to one of these events is poppycock.

       

Re:So, what? A month, six months, a year? (1)

ibsteve2u (1184603) | more than 2 years ago | (#38565330)

Rome has been sacked several times. Attributing the fall of Rome to one of these events is poppycock.

Interesting....to rephrase your statement in more immediate terms "The house has burned down several times; attributing the house burning down to a failure to prevent the house from burning down is poppycock."

Re:So, what? A month, six months, a year? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38560658)

Applying that metric to the US, it will collapse some time around 2018-2020.

Sounds about right, considering the last decades worth of irresponsible handling of all things economic and military.

Re:So, what? A month, six months, a year? (2)

Thing 1 (178996) | more than 2 years ago | (#38559220)

Bullocks. Rome took centuries to fall.

It took millennia (billenia?) to fall, if you count the time involved gathering matter together, exploding it to make heavier elements (twice), then gathering it together again and having two planets collide to form our moon, the basis of life on this planet. So, you're also off by several orders of magnitude, if you wish to be adequately pedantic. Or, you could say it fell in a microsecond, that being the last decision the ruler made to doom it.

Re:So, what? A month, six months, a year? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38560196)

America seems to be in the grip of this attitude of "If it won't make us a lot of money today, we don't want to play!" at the Wall Street/venture capital/NHWI level.

And it will remain so, until we start shooting people with Marketing degrees or MBAs, or the Chinese invade. Whichever comes first.

Re:So, what? A month, six months, a year? (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 2 years ago | (#38556896)

It is funny how that works. Here in America, we have become our worst enemies. Our retailers, esp. the big boxes, buy from guys that have factories back in China. And local retailers will not carry local stuff, even though they get loads of requests. So, they carry things like EXPENSIVE EU and japanese goods, or cheap chinese one.

Re:So, what? A month, six months, a year? (1, Insightful)

ibsteve2u (1184603) | more than 2 years ago | (#38557002)

Thinking that is by intent: What better way for a big box retailer to ensure that their labor is cheap, than to destroy higher-paying manufacturing jobs that would - without question - successfully compete for their workers?

Re:So, what? A month, six months, a year? (0)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 2 years ago | (#38557400)

Of course, those big boxes are easy to destroy in china since the Chinese gov. LIMITS them. As such, the *marts are destroying their own set of customers. With this regard, the rest of the west is MUCH MUCH smarter than is America today.

Re:So, what? A month, six months, a year? (1)

crispin_bollocks (1144567) | more than 2 years ago | (#38558166)

Actually, the company had some customers that would only accept US-made product, after being burned by the quality coming out of our Chinese plant. In other cases Chinese product was shipped to the US plant for rework before going to the end user. I don't intend to generalize, but I spent close to two months working with our Chinese manufacturing engineers and found a real lack of analytical thinking and common-sense problem solving, along with a great reluctance to make vendors solve their quality issues.

Re:So, what? A month, six months, a year? (1)

Required Snark (1702878) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562354)

No single breakthrough will make solar power economically competitive, and it will not happen because "a facility in the PRC" is making solar cells in large unit volumes. The only people who talk that way are clueless PR writers and you.

Large scale solar power of any type is going to be the result of a lot of innovation over an extended period of time, and it is going to have a long and expensive road to large scale deployment. That's true for large civic engineering projects in general.

Your comment shows that you are to stupid to understand this. So since you think that this kind of post is meaningless and a waste of time, why don't you skip reading it and posting about it? You could spend your time marveling about how smart you are, and spare the rest of us having to read or reply to your drivel. You are wrong and we don't really care what you think, so STFU.

In case it's not perfectly clear at this point, this is a personal attack. You're welcome.

Re:So, what? A month, six months, a year? (1)

ibsteve2u (1184603) | more than 2 years ago | (#38565190)

So since you think that this kind of post is meaningless and a waste of time, why don't you skip reading it and posting about it? You could spend your time marveling about how smart you are, and spare the rest of us having to read or reply to your drivel. You are wrong and we don't really care what you think, so STFU.

In case it's not perfectly clear at this point, this is a personal attack. You're welcome.

I rather hate to have to explain it to you as the very need attenuates your "personal attack" into nothingness, but my point is we develop the technology and then lose the opportunity to profit from it because the greed at the top will seek the higher profit margins available through utilizing the cheaper labor of the PRC instead of seeking to ensure the safety and security - the long term survival - of the United States of America.

But to retrieve something of value to you from your "personal attack", you may nonetheless consider me to be seriously emotionally wounded by your comment.

Have a nice day.

The idea of removing impurities is cool... (3, Informative)

Wierdy1024 (902573) | more than 2 years ago | (#38556620)

The idea of removing impurities using light is cool if it increases the efficiency of the completed pannel.

The premise of saving energy in the manufacture of the panels isn't really relevant. Currently producing silicon uses lots of energy, but it needen't really. The process really only involves heating and cooling of relatively small volumes of silicon, and if you were to design a machine to do it continuously, you could do it with nearly no energy. The raw materials are cold, the output is cold, and the processing in the middle is hot - use the energy from the finished product cooling down to heat new raw materials in a continuous process, as already done in a water Heat Exchanger.

The reason this currently isn't done is because energy is a tiny cost in the production of silicon, and other things are far more important than recapturing a tiny amount of energy while the silicon cools down.

Re:The idea of removing impurities is cool... (3, Interesting)

JBMcB (73720) | more than 2 years ago | (#38556642)

The idea of removing impurities using light is cool if it increases the efficiency of the completed pannel.

>

Probably not. Getting very pure silicon is relatively easy. Even if it did, solar panel efficiency is so abysmal a few percentage points more isn't going to help.

What they need to focus on is producing inverters more efficiently. Those things are *expensive*, and required if you want to rig solar panels into your existing household AC lines (and sell energy back to the grid.)

Re:The idea of removing impurities is cool... (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38556670)

IGBT's are cheap. Capacitors are cheap. PWBs are cheap. Microcontrollers are cheap. You don't need big and expensive magnetics (transformers/inductors) if you are not doing voltage level up shifting. Inverters can be made very inexpensively if development costs are spread over enough units, but the material and production costs are relatively low compared to what companies charge for them, so the prices for these could fall significantly given enough competition in the market.

Re:The idea of removing impurities is cool... (3, Interesting)

Surt (22457) | more than 2 years ago | (#38556914)

Solar panel efficiency is nearly good enough to make a lot of applications viable. If they can make the jump they claim from 16% to 20%, that would be huge. Needing 20% less roofspace/panels for the same power, and with the panels themselves cheaper to boot? It could bring the price of rooftop solar into the reach of millions more American households.

Re:The idea of removing impurities is cool... (1)

ChrisMaple (607946) | more than 2 years ago | (#38559288)

Current best silicon photocell technology is 25% http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c9/PVeff(rev111205).jpg [wikimedia.org] and hasn't improved in a decade. Their 16% or 20% is nothing to crow about.

Re:The idea of removing impurities is cool... (3, Insightful)

Surt (22457) | more than 2 years ago | (#38561762)

I think the point is 20% and cheap. Panels at the high end of efficiency are expensive.
Now, if they could only figure out how to get the installation costs down.

Re:The idea of removing impurities is cool... (3, Insightful)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 2 years ago | (#38557314)

solar panel efficiency is so abysmal a few percentage points more isn't going to help.

Utter nonsense. Photovoltaic efficiency is higher than every other end-to-end solar to electricity conversion process. It's higher than the dominant process (photosynthesis) by an order of magnitude.

The problem with photovoltaics isn't efficiency. It's cost.

Re:The idea of removing impurities is cool... (2)

Electricity Likes Me (1098643) | more than 2 years ago | (#38561160)

solar panel efficiency is so abysmal a few percentage points more isn't going to help.

Utter nonsense. Photovoltaic efficiency is higher than every other end-to-end solar to electricity conversion process. It's higher than the dominant process (photosynthesis) by an order of magnitude.

The problem with photovoltaics isn't efficiency. It's cost.

Exactly. My parent's recently put about 9 kW of PV on their roof. This used up all the immediately available space, but it is far from the maximum one could actually fit into that area (which would be straight forward - instead of a conventional roof with an apex, you build a single pitched roof and blanket them onto that).

But that 9kW cost $70,000 (with rebates). It's about the upper limit you can do on your own if you really want to make the most of it.

Now if you could get the cost of the panels down enough, that the option in my first paragraph were now viable - then I would bet that 90% of residential households out there could easily power all their electricity requirements from PV.

Re:The idea of removing impurities is cool... (1)

Spoke (6112) | more than 2 years ago | (#38561596)

The problem with photovoltaics isn't efficiency. It's cost.

Exactly. My parent's recently put about 9 kW of PV on their roof. ...

But that 9kW cost $70,000 (with rebates).

Ouch - that's really expensive - must have done it at least 3-4 years ago if not more. Current costs are as low as $4.50 / watt and up to $6 / watt for a residential install - that would be $54k maximum and as low as $40k. And that's before rebates. At a minimum you'll get 30% off as a federal tax credit so that would put the price under $40k or nearly half the cost of what your parents paid.

Now if you could get the cost of the panels down enough, that the option in my first paragraph were now viable - then I would bet that 90% of residential households out there could easily power all their electricity requirements from PV.

Should be easily done today. But prices still aren't cheap enough. In most cases it's still not worth rebuilding your roof to make it fit solar better - you're better off just adding more panels to make up for the less than optimal orientation as long as they aren't facing north (and you're in the northern hemisphere).

Panels are around $1 / watt wholesale now, inverters are $0.50-$1 / watt, racking is around $0.50 / watt and the rest is labor. Need to really cut prices in half one more time before we really start competing on a purely cost basis compared to fossil fuels without subsidies.

It should happen in another 10 years or so, and advances like this optical furnace are another step in this direction.

Re:The idea of removing impurities is cool... (1)

Electricity Likes Me (1098643) | more than 2 years ago | (#38561706)

They did put in fairly high-cost panels. They'll pay for themselves since the NSW government had an absurdly generous rebate scheme, so we aimed to maximize the wattage (which requires high efficiency).

That's the problem though - residential properties have fairly limited surface area available, so cost per watt is high since you also have to deal with square-meters.

Re:The idea of removing impurities is cool... (1)

Spoke (6112) | more than 2 years ago | (#38564676)

They did put in fairly high-cost panels. They'll pay for themselves since the NSW government had an absurdly generous rebate scheme, so we aimed to maximize the wattage (which requires high efficiency).

Sure - if you want to maximize production you need the highest efficiency possible - but for most people, that's not the issue - the issue is the cost - and as I stated at least now in the US, costs are close to half the price that you quoted, though I suspect that prices are higher in NSW as things down under tend to cost more in general.

That's the problem though - residential properties have fairly limited surface area available, so cost per watt is high since you also have to deal with square-meters.

Perhaps in NSW they do, but I doubt that an extra 20-30% production (comparing "typical" panels at ~15% overall efficiency with high efficiency panels at ~20% overall efficiency) really makes or breaks an install where the added cost of 20% efficient panels (only 2 available that I'm aware of, SunPower and Sanyo-HIT panels) adds 20-30% to the cost of the system at the same size.

A 9 kW system is very large - that will produce at least 10 MWh / year in most of the US and probably 30% more in most of NSW and sunnier parts of the USA - that more than covers typical household usage.

Solar panel efficiency is important, but at today's efficiencies it's good enough - it's more important to drive prices down further so they can compete with dirty coal prices better.

Re:The idea of removing impurities is cool... (1)

RicktheBrick (588466) | more than 2 years ago | (#38557450)

Instead of using an inverter why can't we just make our devices run on DC? The computer I am now on has to convert the AC to DC to work. I don't think it would be such a hard problem to make lights, heaters, refrigerators, stoves all run on DC. I am sure it would be a difficult transitional time but I think we could accomplish it.

Already done. (3, Informative)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 2 years ago | (#38557980)

Virtually all caravan and recreational vehicle/motor home devices are 12v.

The problem is the amperage with a 12v supply.

Re:Already done. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38558274)

so you run a high voltage dc run instead, like 200 volts or so.

Re:The idea of removing impurities is cool... (1)

thegarbz (1787294) | more than 2 years ago | (#38559206)

Your computer contains a switchmode regulator to convert AC to DC. Or to be more correct it contains probably around 15 of them. They are the same type of regulator that is used to convert DC to DC. You can't simply do away with the conversion.

If you feed your computer 12VDC (and there are motherboards out there which already accept a 12VDC powerfeed), then you still need 5V, 3.3V, -5V -12V and that's just the voltages supplied by your ATX powersupply in your computer. Your motherboard additionally has regulators for the CPU, RAM, and even your video card will have a few more of them on there as well.

Switching to DC will not do away with the need for conversions.

Re:The idea of removing impurities is cool... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38559294)

FYI.. -5V is no longer a requirement in the ATX specs a long time ago, but -12V is.

AC to DC conversion itself is very efficient. You have 1.4V drop on a 300V DC rail over silicon rectifier. That's like 99.96% efficient.
It is the high voltage DC 300V to much lower voltage DC (+3.3V/+5V+12V/-12V) and have to provide for isolation part that is the problem.

Going from 12V to those funny CPU core voltages, DDR voltages etc can be done at 90+% efficiency as no electrical isolation is needed.

Re:The idea of removing impurities is cool... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38557492)

What they need to focus on is producing inverters more efficiently.

And batteries.

Efficent solar/wind generators, cheap batteries that don't need to replaced every few years and inverters. The trifecta of distributed power generation and storage.

Re:The idea of removing impurities is cool... (1)

haruchai (17472) | more than 2 years ago | (#38557572)

Why not use Edison batteries? Robust as all heck, its relatively high cost would still be a small fraction of that of a solar or wind installation and it's rather poor charge retention shouldn't be a problem in this type of application. But from a cost perspective, I guess the Isentropic gravel storage would be a clear winner, if it pans out.

Re:The idea of removing impurities is cool... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38560872)

Why not use Edison batteries? Robust as all heck, its relatively high cost would still be a small fraction of that of a solar or wind installation and it's rather poor charge retention shouldn't be a problem in this type of application.

Nickel-iron batteries, AKA Edison batteries are amazing. Not as efficient as lead-acid batteries, but there's no reason they can't last virtually forever.

I wonder how much their alleged inefficiency is propaganda from Exide Battery Corporation (who make lead-acid batteries) who bought the Edison Storage Battery Company and

Since it's basic technology is over a century old, it's a pity no one is working on improving their efficiency.

Re:The idea of removing impurities is cool... (2)

Electricity Likes Me (1098643) | more than 2 years ago | (#38561176)

Efficiency is hugely important though. I did the calculations recently to try and figure out if it would be economical to do peak-shaving of my household electricity usage with Lead-Acid. The answer was that, adding up all the costs (lifetime cost of PbA, electricity, efficiency etc.) I would just barely break even.

Now, there would be some advantages to that, but the hassle and parasitic costs would mean it wasn't worth it.

Re:The idea of removing impurities is cool... (1)

haruchai (17472) | more than 2 years ago | (#38561254)

Let's hope that will change but right now, and for the next 10 yrs or so, I don't think that usage is practical for a home owner.
If you ran a business out of your home that was even somewhat energy intensive, say an Internet cafe or restaurant, that would easily be worth it.

Re:The idea of removing impurities is cool... (1)

haruchai (17472) | more than 2 years ago | (#38561240)

I'm sure they could be significantly, perhaps radically, improved if we started paying attention to them again. Even stodgy old lead-acid has come a long way in the last 40 years. But given the renewed and growing interest in energy storage, I anticipate the next decade or two to be full of breakthrough in battery tech.

Re:The idea of removing impurities is cool... (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 2 years ago | (#38557580)

Yeah, jumping from 15-16% up to 20% while lowering costs is just not worth the effort. Why anytime that you get 25-33% improvement while dropping costs is just not worth it.

ANd you wonder why America is losing out to China?

Arghh... (0)

russotto (537200) | more than 2 years ago | (#38556622)

not another we'll-never-see-it solar breakthrough. I suppose highly-efficient batteries, flying cars, and fusion power will be the next stories.

Re:Arghh... (3, Informative)

ibsteve2u (1184603) | more than 2 years ago | (#38556654)

Seeing as this breakthrough is as yet not even on the NREL RSS feed... http://www.nrel.gov/news/press/rss/rss.xml [nrel.gov] I reckon either somebody is "talking out of school" which likely means this technology will indeed show up in production in some other country other than NREL's source of funding first or it does not, indeed, exist.

Still, one can always hope that Big Carbon's throttling grip may one day be broken...or even act upon that desire: http://cleanenergy.harvard.edu/ [harvard.edu]

Re:Arghh... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38556864)

The energy density of solar is quite low to start with and the amount of energy / effort to build panels/frames/mounts and to install and upkeep is immense.

Imho: We will see affordable fusion before we see practical solar.

Solar has its place but it isn't the end all as some would have it sound. Windmills for example are far from environmental. My brother works on windmills all over the country. He says they leak oil like a sieve and the fiberglass blades frequently need to be replaced. (There is nothing you can do to recycle the fiberglass.) In Palm Springs, there are literally hundreds of windmills that are dead because it simply is not economically viable to maintain them -- literally windmill pollution.

Re:Arghh... (2)

Khyber (864651) | more than 2 years ago | (#38556900)

Solar *IS* affordable fusion - free from that big fusion reactor in the sky.

Re:Arghh... (1)

tp1024 (2409684) | more than 2 years ago | (#38557578)

Well, over a hundred billion dollars worth of subsidies and a 2% share in energy production of PV in Germany have conclusively proven your statement to be bullshit.

Re:Arghh... (0)

Khyber (864651) | more than 2 years ago | (#38558048)

You got a source on those stats? Germany's PV alone has produced more than Fukushima on several occasions. The total energy flux from the sun is 3.8 YJ/yr, dwarfing all non-renewable resources.

And I have research facilities run purely upon solar. I think you simply don't have a clue what you're talking about. In fact, your comment history throughout this thread pretty much confirms that you have no clue.

Re:Arghh... (1)

tp1024 (2409684) | more than 2 years ago | (#38558576)

Your ignorance is stupefying to say the least. Try:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renewable_energy_in_Germany [wikipedia.org]

12TWh/600TWh = 2%

Your example only goes to prove that you haven't got the slightest clue about what words like energy and power mean. The PEAK power production that solar propaganda keeps citing bears no relationship with either the total energy thus provided nor the actual usefulness of this energy. Since you are trolling this forum in ignorance of the former, I won't even discuss the latter.

Re:Arghh... (1)

haruchai (17472) | more than 2 years ago | (#38558868)

As of the end of 2011, it's now up to 3%, a 50% increase in only 1 year, despite the cuts in subsidies. It's safe to say that power was produced in daytime unless the Germans have found a way to trap solar rays at night and peak solar production usually matches well to demand, especially in the summer months.

Re:Arghh... (1)

Khyber (864651) | more than 2 years ago | (#38560270)

"The PEAK power production that solar propaganda keeps citing bears no relationship with either the total energy thus provided nor the actual usefulness of this energy"

No, and it doesn't because such a measurement is FUCKING USELESS. We're constantly improving solar materials (my research labs are covered with 40% efficient PV, and that's from TWO YEARS AGO) and PV is only getting better. Pretty soon, we'll be tossing these into space with modifications to capture more than UV-IR range.

But you're not someone with very much knowledge. You have to rely upon Wikipedia, which remains sorely outdated by almost TWO YEARS (and a published 2010 study was likely done in 2009 so make that nearly THREE years out of date.)

  You're quite ill-informed. That wikducation doesn't help any extra, either, because you can't even be assed to check the age of the information.

Re:Arghh... (1)

tp1024 (2409684) | more than 2 years ago | (#38561728)

Efficiency has nothing to do with peak power vs. total energy provided.

Re:Arghh... (1)

Khyber (864651) | more than 2 years ago | (#38569580)

Why, yes it does, and Peak Power is bullshit, because we're going to harvest more OUTSIDE of the atmosphere and beam it down.

Oh, didn't hear about that space-bound solar plant from Japan?

And in a good high orbit, there's 24-hour sun. No weather to affect it.

So ill-informed it's sad.

So ignorant of current endeavors and tech as to be laughably under-educated.

Which school did you attend? It needs to go on my scholarship blacklist.

Re:Arghh... (1)

Jeremi (14640) | more than 2 years ago | (#38556912)

not another we'll-never-see-it solar breakthrough. I suppose highly-efficient batteries, flying cars, and fusion power will be the next stories.

Yes, you will probably see more technology articles on Slashdot. If you don't like technology articles, there are other sites [perezhilton.com]. that don't have them.

ps you forgot to mention the space elevator stories ;^)

Re:Arghh... (3, Informative)

ibsteve2u (1184603) | more than 2 years ago | (#38556930)

Further tracing of the story reveals it came out of a MIT publication on December 13th way back in 2011 [technologyreview.com] ;^)

A much more creditable provenance regardless of the lack of information at NREL's website.

Re:Arghh... (1)

riverat1 (1048260) | more than 2 years ago | (#38557312)

Sour grapes here. I submitted the story to /. back then but it didn't make it.

Re:Arghh... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38557340)

NREL published it back in October - for some reason this one seems to be taking forever to be picked up:

http://www.nrel.gov/news/features/feature_detail.cfm/feature_id=1629

Inhabitat is a pretty bad source of environmental news nowadays - they seem to find it very hard to separate the serious science from the fluff.

Re:Arghh... (1)

ibsteve2u (1184603) | more than 2 years ago | (#38557516)

Ahhh...still don't understand how it could have "fallen off" (assuming it ever made it on) their RSS feed, though, since the last story on the RSS feed is October 17th and your link is dated October 21st.

Oh, well...all the venture capitalists would ignore it now, anyway, since the the Wall Street Journal has officially announced the death of solar energy [wsj.com]:

Global demand for solar power is still growing—about 8% more solar panels will be installed this year compared with 2010, according to Jefferies Group analysis—but it is expected to flat-line next year.

lollll....

Re:Arghh... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38558202)

This is why we can't have good things. People who don't support research because it doesn't itself produce final, polished products.

Is this really new? (2)

Bender_ (179208) | more than 2 years ago | (#38556716)

Unfortunately the article is dumbed down a lot, so it is not easy to understand what technology is actually supposed to be used. But this sound a lot like a Rapid Thermal Anneal [wikipedia.org] (RTA/RTP), which has been used for decades in semiconductor manufacturing. It has also been used a lot in lab environment to manufacture solar cells. It is possible that the energy consumption can be reduced, but the tool throughput and maintenance costs are quite a bit higher than that of a conventional furnace. I suppose that is why it did not catch on so far.

Question (1)

Barnett (550375) | more than 2 years ago | (#38556748)

Are there any manufacturers of solar panels that uses solar power (ie from their own panels) for the manufacturing process?

Re:Question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38557390)

AFAIK there aren't any currently operating, but there is this project, which aims to be self sufficient with respect to materials supply as well as energy.

http://www.ssb-foundation.com/index.html

I also believe that there is an existing manufacturing plant that was originally planned to be able to generate enough electricity to power itself on-site, but that didn't work out.

Solar Furnace (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38556790)

Why not just use solar energy directly to do this and cut out the middleman of solar panels or other energy sources?
Even a remotely cloudy area can focus enough energy to smelt high-temp metals.

Solar Smelters, furnaces and cookers are used all around the world.
If you are in a sunny area, there is no reason not to have one since you can usually use them 85%+ of the time. (which takes in to consideration very bad years where weather has been abysmal for sunlight)

Industrial scale solar smelters would work wonders for saving power and make your production at least less "damaging".
Same could probably be done over water, shining sunlight on to an ultra dark container to heat water and lead steam to condense on a downward pipe over some dynamos. Will be costly, but doable and is probably actually less costly than huge ass dams on the very limited areas they can be placed, even though these will have to probably use large amounts of mirrors. (mind you, even a large backyard satellite can melt metals with very basic broken-mirror method of reflection, that isn't even fully optimized and works)
Go, do it, someone do it. Clean energy and even clean water if handled right.

Lithium-ion batteries (2)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 2 years ago | (#38556878)

The true expense of Li-ion batteries is that they are heated to something like 900C. Hellish to say the least. Is there a way to lower that cost? That would drop the costs of li-ion batteries a great deal.

Re:Lithium-ion batteries (1)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 2 years ago | (#38557350)

As pointed out earlier in the thread, a continuous process which uses outgoing product to pre-heat incoming materials can cut energy usage dramatically. This is the way it's done in many other industrial processes. The difficulty, of course, is how to recover heat from liquid materials as they cool into solids, while still producing a suitable end-product.

Re:Lithium-ion batteries (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 2 years ago | (#38557420)

Generators?

Personally, I have been thinking that GA's high temp thorium reactor would make good sense to use for li and other ingredient processing. Use the secondary heat for other processes, including electrical generation.

Re:Lithium-ion batteries (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38557872)

Usually it is some sort of big box with tons of insulation. The cool stuff goes in the middle somewhere (you dont want cracking). It then moves on some sort of conveyor system to the higher parts. then slowly moves back down to the bottom where it comes out fairly cool. Just watch a few 'how its made' shows and you will see one eventually. Typically in glass manufacturing and metals.

Getting heat is then just a matter of adding energy to the system. If you have enough insulation.... In older plants it is usually a few inches of asbestos (the stuff works but is wicked carcinogenic). In newer plants it will be ceramic tile or brick (relatively cheap and durable).

A nuclear reactor would be way overkill for a process like this. Too much heat... With many of those they are using all the heat they can to generate steam. To turn a turbine. Or storing the heat for later use in the case of liquid sodium. Also usually in this case instead of simply burning something or using the sun (in the articles case) you now have to worry about radioactive containment and by products. In addition to your normal wastes. I doubt many would want to deal with the paperwork...

Re:Lithium-ion batteries (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 2 years ago | (#38557978)

I have seen a few manufacturing kilns before. But there is always the question of what to do with waste heat (and there is ALWAYS waste heat, except for microwaves and light).

Lithium ion requires over 1300C, not the nice low temps of glass [ngk.co.jp]. A high temp reactor is not overkill for mass production of lithium. In fact, it has the advantage of not converting from heat to steam to mechanical to electricity back to heat. Instead, is makes DIRECT use of the heat, thereby jumping the efficiency rate way up (and the costs way down).

As to the waste, thorium is fairly low waste and not an issue. We used it at Ft. St. vrain and it was at 1K C. All that is needed is a little bit more heat to bring up for one process. But a direct heat like this makes a lot of sense, esp. when something as simple as helium can carry the heat without radioactive products.

Re:Lithium-ion batteries (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 2 years ago | (#38560036)

I have seen a few manufacturing kilns before. But there is always the question of what to do with waste heat (and there is ALWAYS waste heat, except for microwaves and light).

it would be nice to see more effort put into actually using genuine waste heat. for example, nobody should ever have to actually expend energy to bake a batch of powder coating, or composites like carbon fiber with a heat-cure epoxy. There's tons of waste heat, well, going to waste, and if we could come up with ways to use it cross-industry we could probably save a lot of power.

Funny (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 2 years ago | (#38560324)

I have been thinking about a oven design for baking food with. Basically, put an inner oven of high temps (say 450F) inside of another oven(350F or so) which goes inside of another (275F), down to something for drying with. Then do some solar thermal work. My only problem with that, is that solar PV is now much cheaper than solar thermal. That changes the economics of it.

Re:Funny (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562736)

My only problem with that, is that solar PV is now much cheaper than solar thermal.

If you compare a toaster oven running on a solar system to a Sun Oven you'll change your mind about that real quick.

If you had a nice slope down from your home or a drive you could position mirrors on it and then at the top put a solar oven and get something that would come up to temp quickly, but even the cute little plastic box sun oven (the cooking box is painted aluminum) will cook most foods if you have about half a day's strong sunlight. It would be nice to have a double-glazed door for cooking on cool days, too.

New report: Server now compromised (speculative) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38556978)

Count down till an alleged hack that originated from China. But an official statement of loss of data will be published about a year from now. Later,

A huge advance... (1)

Genda (560240) | more than 2 years ago | (#38558328)

With this breakthrough, it will now be possible to create high performance solar furnaces for the production of solar cells. literally taking petrochemicals out of the equation and using sunlight to capture sunlight for power. This is a groundbreaking shift towards a solar economy. The implications are revolutionary.

To date, the true cost of solar collection had to include the high cost in petroleum products to create the cells in the first place. This marks a new age of solar manufacture and will be most essential when humanity begins building on the Moon and Mars. The energy source in abundance in these new places will be solar. To the degree we perfect the production of solar energy over the next 20 years, we will have a profound foothold on other worlds in the inner solar system.

Re:A huge advance... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38560736)

moon yes. Mars, maybe. Anything past the asteroid belt won't work on solar alone.

Re:A huge advance... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38567120)

I agree it is nice to see progress in this direction. Once they have self replicating solar cell factories that can run with the Magnesium in Seawater and the silicon in the sand of whatever desert, we may also be able to replace oil in less than some million years thanks to exponential growth.

I used to work in PV furnace R&D (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38560056)

This idea makes sense. PV cells are designed to absorb the solar spectrum that has a peak emissive power at optical wavelengths.

I worked in development for a company that was developing a furnace for firing PV cells like this. For some unknown reason they thought the best approach was to heat the silicon wafers at shorter and shorter wavelengths (using UV lamps). Turns out that the wafers are nearly transparent at wavelengths of UV and shorter, so they were literally driving themselves into a ditch. The wafers were heated, but only due to the fact that the lamps heated up all of the refractory and set up convection currents in the furnace. They were not happy when I explained to them the whole premise of their design was flawed.

Thankfully I resigned (after a mere 7 months) and moved on to greener pastures before the inevitable stock price drop and downsizing. It's funny how you may not always see how screwed up an organization is until you take a job with them.

Yay, another "breakthrough" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38578102)

Is it just me, or is there a solar cell "breakthrough" about every 2 months on slashdot--- you'd think that solar cells would be 1,000x better by now, with each successive claim promising 40% more this or that... and yet, here we are... Just like an AIDS vaccine, I'll believe it when I see it.

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