Tesla Announces Sleek New Solar Panels

Late last year, Tesla unveiled a range of solar panels that were actually roof tiles as well. The price was prohibitive though, since there was no way to install them on an existing roof without some expensive and time-consuming renovations. But this is no longer the case.
The company has now added a new product to their line-up: solar panels that are so sleek and thin that they will make any roof look good.

The new Tesla solar panels are to be made by Gigafactory 2, a Tesla factory located in Buffalo, New York. They will be exclusive to Tesla, and are intended to be integrated with their Powerwall energy storage units to provide an uninterrupted 24-hour a day supply of clean energy.

The mounting hardware of these new 325-watt panels is hidden, while the integrated front skirt allows them to blend with the roof on which they are installed almost seamlessly. According to Tesla, these panels not only meet but also exceed industry standards when it comes to durability and lifespan, though no data was provided to support this. According to Elecktrek, other 325-watt panels that Panasonic currently produces have an efficiency rate of 21.67%. The new Tesla panels probably have a similar efficiency, or perhaps an even slightly better one.

The company will start producing these new panels in the summer of 2017. They will be used exclusively for all future residential solar installations by the company, as well as for replacement of any other existing third party solar panel installations. No word on pricing yet, though those interested can also get a custom quote for their home via the Tesla website.

New Breakthrough with Perovskite Solar Cells

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As you’re probably already aware, perovskite solar cells have the greatest potential of being the most prominent source of solar energy in the near future. They’re cheap to make and flexible enough to be applied to most any surface.

And now a team of researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney, Australia has made a breakthrough by creating the biggest perovskite solar cell so far, and setting a new efficiency record with it.

According to them, they have managed to achieve a 12.1 percent energy conversion efficiency rating for a 6.3 sq in (16 sq cm) perovskite solar cell. This cell is also about 10 times larger than any existing high-efficiency perovskite cell. The team also managed to achieve 18 percent efficiency for a 0.5 sq in (1.2 sq cm) single perovskite cell, as well as 11.5 percent for a 6.3 sq in (16 sq cm) four-cell perovskite mini-module. They are also confident that they can achieve a 24 percent efficiency within a year or so.

These cells get their name from the crystals they are made of, which are grown into a structure called perovskite. Due to their special characteristic, such as the smooth layers of perovskite with large crystal grain sizes, these cells can absorb more light than solar cells made of silicon. They are also much cheaper to produce.

Perovskite cells can also be created in different colors, or be transparent due to their chemical composition. This means that they can be used to cover virtually any surface, such as the sides or roofs of buildings, gadgets, cars and even windows.

One of the major downsides of perovskite solar cells is the fact that they are not very durable. However, the team believes that they can also improve their durability as they strive for even higher levels of efficiency.

A Device That Purifies Polluted Air While Producing Hydrogen

Air pollution is one of the key problems that need to be overcome in order to secure a more sustainable future for our planet. So it’s great news that a team of scientists from the University of Antwerp and KU Leuven, have devised a process that can both mitigate air pollution as well as provide a clean energy source in the form of hydrogen, at the same time. This device does so using nanomaterials and sunlight.

The nanomaterials are contained within the membrane of the device the team developed, where they are used as a catalyst in this process. Previously, this same type of membrane was used to extract hydrogen from water, but the team has now found that it’s possible for this material to also be used to extract it from polluted air. And on top of that, this membrane is also more efficient at doing so. To test it, the team has made a small prototype of the device, which measures just a few square centimeters, but they plan to scale it up to make it industrially applicable.

The energy for the process to run comes from sunlight, and the device which makes it possible is described as an “all-gas-phase unbiased photoelectrochemical cell”. It works by converting volatile organic pollutants into CO2 at one photoanode, and by harvesting hydrogen gas at the cathode. The device is most efficient when applied to organic pollutants in inert carrier gas, while if oxygen is present, the cell performs less efficiently though significant photocurrents are still generated, meaning that it can be effectively used to purify organic contaminated air.

It will most likely take some time before this device is ready for use on an industrial scale, but it does show a lot of promise. If they successfully scale it up, air pollution could become a source of clean energy instead of being an energy sink and a health hazard.

Toyota Building a Hydrogen Powered Utopia

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Toyota is a carmaker, but they are also one of the top providers of prefab homes in Japan. They have recently created their first hydrogen car called Mirai, and have now announced plans to build a community of hydrogen powered homes. To do so, they have obtained the rights to H2PIA from the Danish team who first came up with the concept of such a sustainable community.

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H2PIA is basically a proposal for a community of homes, businesses, shops, cars, and roads, where everything is powered by hydrogen. Those living in such a space would get to enjoy clean air, as well as be part of a sustainable community. On the outside, everything would be the same as in any other such community, except that the entire infrastructure will actually be completely different and based on H2PIA’s hydrogen technology.

The community Toyota plans to build will be made up of both single family houses, as well as apartment complexes. The residents will also be able to choose from units that are Plugged, Unplugged, or Hybrid. The last one will be available with a hybrid hydrogen car that will feed energy back into the community grid when not in use.

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Clean energy production aside, the community will also be built with many other healthy living considerations in mind. There will be a public community space, while the homes will be designed in a way that blurs the barriers between indoor and outdoor spaces. There will also be plenty of green areas, and they plan to fill it with enough amenities to reduce the inhabitants’ need to commute.

They have not yet announced when this community will be built, though chances are that the answer is soon.

This Plant Will Charge Your Phone

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All sorts of ingenious little renewable charging devices are popping up lately, mainly since our energy consumption needs have shifted toward having to charge small gadgets, a task that can easily be handled by such devices. The so-called Bioo plant is one of the more ingenious offerings in this area. It is a potted plant that can generate enough juice to charge your smartphone up to 3 times per day.

The Bioo plant pot was created by the Spanish company Arkyne Technologies. It is fitted with a 5V 1A USB charging port, which is connected to a ‘biological battery’ of sorts located within the base of the pot. The device is also very low maintenance, since all that is needed on the part of the owner is to water and care for the plant to keep it alive. In this way, for at least five years, the plant will continue to provide enough electricity to charge your gadgets during the day and night, and it will not suffer any harm in the process.

Arkyne Technologies are currently raising funds via a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. Apart from the smaller version, they are also planning to produce a larger and more powerful version of the bio-battery. This so-called Bioo Panel, will measure 3.28 ft by 3.28 ft (1 m by 1 m) and will be able to generate up to 40 W of power, producing up to 280 kWh of energy per year. A Bioo plant pot can be reserved for a donation of $135 (120 EUR) and the units will be shipped in December of 2016. There are also other donation options available.

This is definitely a very clever idea, especially since the plant is capable of producing energy during both the day and the night, independent of sunlight. And a houseplant also has the added benefit of purifying the air, so let’s hope this projects gets off the ground.