Floatovoltaics are a cool way to super-charge your solar panels with water

Last summer, I worked with IBM and the Weather Channel on some climate- and energy-related content for their Forecast Change campaign. I just learned that the project apparently won a Digiday Content Marketing Award for the best branded content site of the year, which is pretty cool (or at least, my mom might think so).

But I wanted to share one of the pieces I wrote, because the concept was new to me before working on it, and it's now stuck with me ever since; I even found a way to work in as a plot point for playwriting commission I did on climate change. It has to do with floatovoltaic energy — essentially, floating solar panels on (or submerging them in!) bodies of water, to make them more efficient and save water. As I wrote then for Weather.com:

“It’s like putting a plastic sheet over the whole lake, or the whole tailings pond,” explains Joshua Pearce, a Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Michigan Tech. Pearce has worked extensively in the emerging field of floatovoltaic technology (FVT), or the overlap of solar energy systems and water use. He says that the presence of solar panels over a body of water can provide enough shade to consistently reduce evaporation by 70-80%.


A solar module can easily increase its energy output by five percent just by floating on top of a body of water, even if the panels themselves don’t actually touch the surface. The panels at Las Tórtolas are positioned several inches above the water itself resting on floating pontoons, but even that close proximity still results in an additional 3,000 kWh of electricity annually; a fully submerged solar panel can be even more efficient.

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Scientists generate electricity from shadows

In most approaches to convert light into electricity, shadows are a bummer. Now though, researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) devised a shadow-effect energy generator (SEG) that scavenges electricity from the contrast between light and shadow.

“When the whole SEG cell is under illumination or in shadow, the amount of electricity generated is very low or none at all. When a part of the SEG cell is illuminated, a significant electrical output is detected. We also found that the optimum surface area for electricity generation is when half of the SEG cell is illuminated and the other half in shadow, as this gives enough area for charge generation and collection respectively,” says MUS physicist Andrew Wee in an NUS News article.

From the researchers' technical paper in the journal Energy & Environmental Science:

Our SEG performs 200% better than that of commercial silicon solar cells under the effects of shadows. The harvested energy from our generator in the presence of shadows arising at a very low intensity (0.0025 sun) can drive an electronic watch (1.2 V). In addition, the SEG can serve as a self-powered sensor for monitoring moving objects by tracking the movement of shadows. With its cost-efficiency, simplicity and stability, our SEG offers a promising architecture to generate green energy from ambient conditions to power electronics, and as a part of a smart sensor systems, especially in buildings.

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Ukraine asks FBI for help investigating alleged Russian hack of Burisma

Ukraine is asking United States FBI to help it investigate a suspected state-sponsored hack by the Russian military on Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company at the center of the impeachment of U.S. President Donald Trump. Read the rest

LA is going to get cheap nighttime power from a massive solar and battery array in the Mojave

LA's next source of energy: a massive solar panel and lithium battery array in the Mojave, operated by 8minute Solar Energy, and capable of supplying 6-7% of the city's energy budget, with four hours of nighttime use. It will cost an eye-poppingly low $0.03.3/kWh, cheaper than natural gas. Read the rest

We could fund the transition to green energy with 10-30% of the world's fossil fuel subsidy

A new report from the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) estimates the cost of subsidizing a full transition to clean energy, and comes out with a figure that is only 10-30% of the subsidy presently given to the planet-destroying fossil fuel industries. Read the rest

Subway tunnel heat-exchangers could heat and cool thousands of nearby apartments

In Numerical investigation of the convection heat transfer driven by airflows in underground tunnels (Sci-Hub mirror), a group of engineers from L'Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology propose that low-cost heat-exchangers placed in subway tunnels could be used to heat and cool homes essentially for free (the system would last 50-100 years, and the pumps would need replacing every 25 years). Read the rest

NYC adopts law targeting the handful of skyscrapers that are spiking the city's carbon footprint

New York City's just-passed Climate Mobilization Act rolls up six climate-mitigation laws that comprehensively remake the city's approach to climate change (it's colloquially known as the Green New York Deal). Read the rest

Public records requests reveal the elaborate shell-company secrecy that Google uses when seeking subsidies for data-centers

It's not just Amazon and Apple that expect massive taxpayer subsidies in exchange for locating physical plant in your town: when Google builds a new data-center, it does so on condition of multimillion-dollar "incentives" from local governments -- but Google also demands extraordinary secrecy from local officials regarding these deals, secrecy so complete that city attorneys have instructed town councillors to refuse to answer questions about it during public meetings. Read the rest

Fusion power technology is coming

The unrepeatability of the Fleischmann–Pons experiment in the 1980s soured the world on cold fusion as a possible energy source for decades, but recent fusion reactor breakthroughs seem to indicate that the world will soon have an abundant supply of cheap, clean energy. Read the rest

Trump OKs seismic tests in Atlantic that can harm thousands of dolphins & whales

Trump's about to make a bunch of whales, turtles, and dolphins go deaf.

The Trump administration is about to take a preliminary step toward oil and natural gas drilling off the Atlantic shore, by approving requests from energy companies to conduct “deafening seismic tests that could harm tens of thousands of dolphins, whales and other marine animals,” reports the Los Angeles Times. Read the rest

California lawmakers vote to make electricity emissions-free by 2045

“This is a pivotal moment for California, for the country, and the world.”

On Tuesday, California state lawmakers passed SB100, a major bill that would commit to making the state’s electricity supply completely emissions-free by the year 2045. SB100 passed 43-32. Read the rest

Shocker: lemon-powered batteries can't power an electric supercar

Even what's billed as the world's largest lemon battery can only generate enough juice to charge a small battery cell, so Mark Rober tries a few other fun power generators with a bunch of young scientists-to-be. Read the rest

Watch a very detailed overview of the latest innovations for power in space

Improved super-thin solar panels and nuclear fission are all in development to handle the massive logistical problems of meeting power needs in space. Fraser Cain takes viewers through the newest developments, including NASA's new Kilopower Reactor. Read the rest

Homebiogas: easy, clean, climate-friendly way to heat and power your home with garbage

Yesterday, I saw a demo of the Homebiogas bioreactor: it's essentially an artificial stomach that uses colonies of microbes to digest your home food waste (it can do poop, too, but people tend to be squeamish about this), providing enough clean-burning biogas to cook your next meal, heat your house, or run a generator -- what's left behind is excellent fertilizer. Read the rest

How much energy does Bitcoin consume, and can it improve?

After Digiconomist's analysis of the total energy consumption of the Bitcoin transactions on the blockchain went viral, Timothy Lee at Ars Technica provides a much-needed reality check in the form of some technical detail and nuance about what that energy consumption means, and where it might go. Read the rest

The problem with nuclear waste

Nuclear energy produces less carbon dioxide than any other any source (including solar, wind, and geothermal). But nuclear waste is extremely poisonous, and leaks are inevitable. Wendover productions looks at the problems surrounding what to do with the byproducts of nuclear power plants. Read the rest

Promising energy storage technologies for our renewable future

When the wind is blowing, the great plains could generate enough power to supply all of America, but storing and moving energy to supply those places where the wind isn't blowing, the sun isn't shining and the tide isn't coming in is a significant technological challenge that we're still figuring out. Read the rest

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