The cost of solar panels has fallen 89 percent in the past decade, and the cost of wind turbines has dropped 59 percent. The International Energy Agency projects that 90 percent of all new electricity capacity worldwide in 2020 will be from clean energy — up from 80 percent in 2019, when total global investment in wind and solar was already more than three times as large as investments in gas and coal.
Over the next five years, the I.E.A. projects that clean energy will constitute 95 percent of all new power generation globally. The agency recently called solar power “the new king” in global energy markets and “the cheapest source of electricity in history.”
As renewable energy costs continue to drop, many utilities are speeding up the retirement of existing fossil fuel plants well before their projected lifetimes expire and replacing them with solar and wind, plus batteries. In a study this summer, the Rocky Mountain Institute, the Carbon Tracker Initiative and the Sierra Club reported that clean energy is now cheaper than 79 percent of U.S. coal plants and 39 percent of coal plants in the rest of the world — a number projected to increase rapidly. Other analyses show that clean energy combined with batteries is already cheaper than most new natural gas plants.
As a former oil minister in Saudi Arabia put it 20 years ago, “the Stone Age came to an end, not because we had a lack of stones, and the oil age will come to an end not because we have a lack of oil.” Many global investors have reached the same conclusion and are beginning to shift capital away from climate-destroying businesses to sustainable solutions. The pressure is no longer coming from only a small group of pioneers, endowments, family foundations and church-based pension funds; some of the world’s largest investment firms are now joining this movement, too, having belatedly recognized that fossil fuels have been extremely poor investments for a long while. Thirty asset managers overseeing $9 trillion announced on Friday an agreement to align their portfolios with net-zero emissions by 2050.
Exxon Mobil, long a major source of funding for grossly unethical climate denial propaganda, just wrote down the value of its fossil fuel reserves by as much as $20 billion, adding to the unbelievable $170 billion in oil and gas assets written down by the industry in just the first half of this year. Last year, a BP executive said that some of the company’s reserves “won’t see the light of day,”
More than 50 college conservative and Republican organizations have petitioned the Republican National Committee to change its position on climate, lest the party lose younger voters.
Significantly, in just the past three months, several of the world’s most important political leaders have introduced important initiatives. Thanks to the leadership of Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, the E.U. just announced that it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent in the next nine years. President Xi Jinping has pledged that China will achieve net-zero carbon emissions in 2060. Leaders in Japan and South Korea said a few weeks ago said that their countries will reach net-zero emissions in 2050.
Denmark, the E.U.’s largest producer of gas and oil, has announced a ban on further exploration for fossil fuels. Britain has pledged a 68 percent reduction by 2030, along with a ban on sales of vehicles equipped with only gasoline-powered internal-combustion engines.
The cost of batteries for electric vehicles has dropped by 89 percent over the past decade, and according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, these vehicles will reach price parity with internal-combustion vehicles within two years in key segments of vehicle markets in the United States, Europe and Australia, followed quickly by China and much of the rest of the world. Sales of internal-combustion passenger vehicles worldwide peaked in 2017.
It is in this new global context that President-elect Biden has made the decarbonization of the U.S. electricity grid by 2035 a centerpiece of his economic plan. Coupled with an accelerated conversion to electric vehicles and an end to government subsidies for fossil fuels, among other initiatives, these efforts can help put the nation on a path toward net-zero emissions by 2050.
As the United States moves forward, it must put frontline communities — often poor, Black, brown or Indigenous — at the center of the climate agenda. They have suffered disproportionate harm from climate pollution. This is reinforced by recent evidence that air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels — to which these communities bear outsize exposure — makes them more vulnerable to Covid-19.
With millions of new jobs needed to recover from the economic ravages of the pandemic, sustainable businesses are among the best bets. A recent study in the Oxford Review of Economic Policy noted that investments in those enterprises result in three times as many new jobs as investments in fossil fuels. Between 2014 and 2019, solar jobs grew five times as fast in the United States as average job growth.
Still, all of these positive developments fall far short of the emissions reductions required. The climate crisis is getting worse faster than we are deploying solutions.
In November of next year, all of the signatories to the Paris Agreement will meet in Glasgow with a mandate to reduce greenhouse gas emissions much faster than they pledged to do in 2015. What will be new in Glasgow is transparency: By the time the delegates arrive, a new monitoring effort made possible by an array of advanced technologies will have precisely measured the emissions from every major source of greenhouse gases in the world, with most of that data updated every six hours.
With this radical transparency, a result of efforts of a broad coalition of corporations and nonprofits I helped to start called Climate Trace (for tracking real-time atmospheric carbon emissions), countries will have no place to hide when failing to meet their emissions commitments. This precision tracking will replace the erratic, self-reported and often inaccurate data on which past climate agreements were based.
An international research team has set up a new database with crucial data on emerging technologies for perovskite, organic, and dye-sensitized solar cells. The platform also includes information on the best flexible solar cells.
“Device Performance of Emerging Photovoltaic Materials (Version 1),” which was recently published in Advanced Energy Materials. NREL, Germany’s University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, and Forschungszentrum Jülich GmbH.
The new platform – developed by researchers from Germany, Mexico, China, Saudi Arabia, Australia, South Korea, Singapore, Turkey, the Netherlands, and the United States – summarizes the best research on such PV cells.
The Best Research‐Cell Efficiency Chart, which is managed by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). But the new database looks at emerging technologies for grid-connected applications, as well as tech that can be integrated into buildings, greenhouses, airplanes, sails, automobiles, materials, and indoor applications.
“Some of these applications must sacrifice power conversion efficiency in order to obtain added functionality such as flexibility, low weight or transparency,” the scientists said.
To be included in the database, reports on emerging PV technologies must comply with selection guidelines. These include expectations regarding the quality of the data provided by scientists, the parameters used to ascertain cell efficiency and stability, and the methodologies that are used.
“Some debate is to be expected regarding our inclusion criteria and methods,” the group said. “For instance, we neglect the evaluation of metrics for analyzing best achievements for low cost and environmentally friendly devices.”
The group’s work also includes research on the best flexible solar cells. The scientists have noted the competition between perovskite solar cells and established technologies such as copper, indium, gallium, and (di)selenide solar cells (CGIS).
“On the other hand, the best transparent and semitransparent research cells, with average visible transmittance values above and below 50%, respectively, are being led by two emerging technologies OPVs and PSCs that have already reported efficiencies significantly larger than those from CIGS and a‐Si:H devices,” they said.
They presented their efforts in “Device Performance of Emerging Photovoltaic Materials (Version 1),” which was recently published in Advanced Energy Materials. The initiative involved researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Germany’s University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, and Forschungszentrum Jülich GmbH.
Other participants in the project included researchers from Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, National University of Singapore, Mexico’s Consejo Zacatecano de Ciencia, Australian National University, Turkey’s Ege University, the South China University of Technology, the University of Groningen, Sungkyunkwan University, the University of Colorado, and Imperial College London.
A silver-oxide zinc battery — flexible, screen-printed and with 20 times the capacity of Li-ion
A team comprising researchers from the University of California San Diego and micro battery developer ZPower have developed been busy in the lab. The result is a flexible battery with highly competitive electrochemical features and the option to manufacture at low cost with screen-printing.DECEMBER 11, 2020 MARIAN WILLUHN
The battery is flexible like a plastic film showed no signs of performance loss after repeated twisting, bending and even stretching.
Image: University of California San Diego
Batteries can now be screen-printed onto a polymer film, making them highly flexible, allowing greater freedom in product design and giving them highly competitive properties compared to state of the art lithium-ion batteries.
A team comprising researchers from the University of California San Diego and battery company ZPower developed a silver-oxide-zinc battery with an areal energy density about 5 to 10 times higher than current state of the art lithium-ion solutions. Also, the battery’s areal capacity is 10 to 20 times greater than that of typical lithium-ion batteries, hitting 50 milliamps per square centimeter at room temperature, the team claims.
“This kind of areal capacity has never been obtained before,” said Lu Yin, one of the paper’s co-authors and a Ph.D. student in UC San Diego’s nanoengineering research group headed by Professor Joseph Wang. “And our manufacturing method is affordable and scalable,” Yin added.
By lowering the electric circuit’s resistance to alternating current, the team managed to bring down the battery’s impedance, leading to the high capacity that was achieved.
“Our batteries can be designed around electronics, instead of electronics needed to be designed around batteries,” Yin said. The researchers envision the battery as a power source that can be used in consumer electronics due to its flexibility and high capacity.
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Initial trials showed that after 80 cycles, there were no significant signs of capacity loss. When the researchers repeatedly twisted and bent the battery, no damage or performance loss could be observed.
Micro-battery developer ZPower contributed its proprietary cathode design and chemistry to the project. Silver oxide-zinc cathodes offer excellent energy density but suffer electrochemical instability, leading to limited cycle life and lower capacities, the team noted. ZPower addressed the problem by adding a lead oxide coating to the cathode design, which improves electromechanical stability and offers much better conductivity.
Previous attempts at flexible batteries suffered from high production costs, as these had to be processed in a vacuum and completely sterile conditions. Flexible silver oxide chemistries are highly oxidative and prone to chemical degradation. Testing a range of solvents and binders, the California team managed to create an ink formulation containing the silver-oxide cathode, which can be quickly screen printed onto polymer film within seconds. The cathode is dry in a few minutes. The current collector and zinc anode and separators can be screen printed and then stacked onto layers to create the final battery product. According to the researchers, a roll-to-roll screen printing process would be possible to scale up production.