Capturing and using the renewable energy has been a challenge for many years. Advancements of the last decade have propelled the renewable energy industry to become a major market player. As we improve one of the components we are often pulled back by the need to advance one or more components they interact with. So it is important to look at a complete system when evaluating its advance, safely and usability.
One of the main aspects of the renewable energy is an ability to generate electricity. It can be done by harnessing the sun’s energy, by converting the forces of wind and water, and even fire. The solar panels and wind/water generators are getting more efficient, but there is plenty of room to improve, such as reducing the cost and ecological impact of manufacturing the panels and electric motors. Solar panels are still assembled from small solar cells, measuring just a few inches across and made of Silica sand in a very labor-intensive process. Early research shows promise with introduction of Organic solar panels where major components can be pre-made in large sheets or rolls and be assembled or even ‘printed’ onsite by layering the components for panels measuring hundreds of feet long for a fraction of the cost of conventional silica-based models. Such design has similar electrical output during sunny hours but more impressive better performance during cloudy days as organic elements better interact with weaker UV rays, generating more power for the electrical grid.
For the off-grid, local self-sustainable systems, the biggest challenges continues to be the ability to store generated energy. The battery technology is far from efficient - the AGM batteries have improved performance at the lower price point, but they are still only 50% efficient and have a relatively small number (500) of recharge cycles- number of times you can recharge them. The lithium batteries are lighter, have thousands of recharge cycles and are up to 95% efficient but they cost as much as 10 times the price of the AGM, very hazardous to produce and rely on rare earth metals. A new type of battery has been introduced few years ago and has shown fairly good results in the field called Firefly, a Carbon Foam type battery that’s closer to the lithium in its performance properties with 90-95% efficiency and having over a thousand charging cycles, while at a cost that’s just about double of regular AGM type. There are also advancements in introducing manganese as main component or even ammonia, but these types of batteries are far from being available at your local store.
One would hope that in the very near future every one of us will be generating and using renewable energy in one or more ways. Be it a solar panel on the house, electrical car capable of recharging itself, or perhaps living in a town that’s totally powered by the off-grid renewable energy from a windmill or hydro-generator farms running beneath the surface of our local waterways.