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Haley Zaremba

Haley Zaremba

Haley Zaremba is a writer and journalist based in Mexico City. She has extensive experience writing and editing environmental features, travel pieces, local news in the…

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Is This The Future Of Solar?

Earlier this month, many of the world’s leading experts and authorities on climate change and clean energy met at the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference COP25 in Madrid to discuss the state of the world and the strategy going forward to combat catastrophic climate change. There the UN Secretary-General António Guterres told the gathered delegates and experts that “By the end of the coming decade we will be on one of two paths. One is the path of surrender, where we have sleep walked past the point of no return, jeopardizing the health and safety of everyone on this planet. Do we really want to be remembered as the generation that buried its head in the sand, that fiddled while the planet burned? The other option is the path of hope.”

So far, however, there has been a major hurdle in the race to 100% renewable energy--funding. While there are many scientists and research teams toiling tirelessly at finding a silver-bullet solution--or at least something close to that--to making cheap energy as cheap and efficient as fossil fuels, there has been a major shortage of funding as compared to what would realistically be needed to make the sort of global energy transition necessary to leave most of the world’s proven fossil fuels in the ground--a step that would be essential to avoiding catastrophic climate change according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s leading experts on the subject matter at hand.  Related: Is This The Next Great Oil Frontier?

Despite the bottleneck, however, there are still some clean energy tech advances being made, and a recent breakthrough in solar could have some seriously disruptive potential. Just this month, a research team at the University of Central Florida published findings that combine Artificial Intelligence and solar power to create a new way to “make generating energy from the sun even more ubiquitous by creating a spray coating that can be used on bridges, houses, or even skyscrapers so they can be energy self-sufficient,” according to reporting from DesignNews

According to the report from UFC, the team of researchers used “Machine Learning, aka Artificial Intelligence to optimize the materials used to make perovskite solar cells (PSC). The Organic-Inorganic halide perovskites material used in PSC converts photovoltaic power into consumable energy.” This could be big. Getting technical, the University reports that “These perovskites can be processed in solid or liquid state, offering a lot of flexibility. Imagine being able to spray or paint bridges, houses and skyscrapers with the material, which would then capture light, turn it into energy and feed it into the electrical grid. Until now, the solar cell industry has relied on silicon because of its efficiency. But that’s old technology with limits. Using perovskites, however, has one big barrier. They are difficult to make in a usable and stable material. Scientists spend a lot of time trying to find just the right recipe to make them with all the benefits – flexibility, stability, efficiency and low cost. That’s where artificial intelligence comes in.” Related: Burn, Pay, Or Shut It Down: Three Evils For Permian Drillers

AI has the ability to solve the complex problems raised by perovskite cells at a rate that would not otherwise be possible by a team of human scientists, no matter how dogged or intelligent, paving the way for a future in which solar panels would not have to be manufactured, but in which virtually any surface could be converted into an emissions-free solar energy powerhouse by spraying on solar cells. While this is just the first steps toward this potential energy future that sounds straight out of a science fiction novel, it’s a huge breakthrough.

Now, it’s once again a question of funding. Will this promising solar tech receive the kind of investment necessary to keep growing the project toward commercial possibilities with world-saving disruptive potential? Or will it become like the thousands of other promising tech breakthroughs that will languish in small-scale lab experiments as we continue to extract oil, natural gas, and coal? 

By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com

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  • Steven Soychak on January 03 2020 said:
    Enough of the propaganda of catastrophic global warming (or is it climate change). First off, the IPCC reports to the UN, one of the most corrupt organizations in the world (multi government run. Just look into the Iraq Oil for food Program that the UN helped run and billions were skimmed which would happen with any type of carbon tax they would administer).

    Secondly, Greta Thunberg and her followers (I presume you), are trying to scare people into thinking that the world is coming to an end. Greta, is supposedly related to Svante Arrhenius (father of the greenhouse gas theory) who won a Noble Prize in chemistry in early 1900s. The media brags that she is related to him, but apparently did not read his book where he said " “By the influence of the increasing percentage of carbonic acid in the atmosphere, we may hope to enjoy ages with more equable and better climates, especially as regards the colder regions of the earth, ages when the earth will bring forth much more abundant crops than at present, for the benefit of rapidly propagating mankind."

    Lastly, I support solar on homes, buildings, and car ports, but not on large scale utility use. You can actually make solar on your home work if you can charge an electric vehicle during the day off of solar power on your roof to save on gasoline costs, plus the savings of your home electric bill. The electric car would be used for transportation around town as a second car that many people have (not for long trips or bad weather travel). So great, let's start spraying the stuff on buildings for supplemental power, but not reliable grid style power that coal and natural gas are used for.
  • Henry Hewitt on January 03 2020 said:
    Thanks Haley,
    The answer to your headline is an unqualified NO. An infinite supply of virtually free power can and will come from silicon (ie, dirt, which is why it's dirt cheap); who else? PV is the way forward.

    The only obstacle to the eventual triumph of solar and complete defeat of fossils (fuel and people) is time. It will happen. It takes awhile to grow quads, no matter the source, no matter the need. The battle is over; the war is won; it's all over but the shouting, and the analysis.

    Don't waste time and hope on materials that cannot scale at a reasonable price, unless, of course, we can mine the asteroids and bring back vast quantities of Unobtainium for 10 cents a pound. We ran out of it here on earth. Wake me when that occurs.
  • Mamdouh Salameh on January 04 2020 said:
    The fact that there could never be an imminent energy transition from crude oil and natural gas to renewables throughout the 21st century and far beyond is neither due to shortage of funds nor to lack of innovative technical solutions.

    For energy transition to accelerate, it should have three realistic objectives: benefit to users, practicability and lucrative financial returns from renewables to match those from oil and gas.

    This could be enhanced by accurate and realistic information rather than doomsday claims about the destructive impact of climate change on the globe. Any mandatory transition measures would only achieve limited success.

    And despite demands by climate change activists that Big Oil leave oil in the ground, the oil and gas business will remain the core business of the global oil industry for as long as there is growing demand for them.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Visiting Professor of Energy Economics at ESCP Europe Business School, London

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