By Simon Hunter
Our scientists are pretty passionate about their work. So much so that they don’t just take their work home with them – they take it on holiday.
Scientist Scott Watkins recently took this holiday snap of an organic printed solar cell floating in Callala Bay on the NSW south coast. He thought the cell deserved a treat after helping secure funding for a new, $87 million Australia-US partnership in solar cell research. The funding will be used to establish the US-Australia Institute for Advanced Photovoltaics (IAP). This centre will work on solar cells – those that convert sunlight directly into electricity.
The solar cell partnership is a parallel program to the solar thermal research partnership that we reported on back in December.
For CSIRO, our involvement in the IAP represents a great chance to continue our work on manufacturing thin-film solar cells while working alongside new colleagues with deep expertise in existing, silicon-based solar cells. Who knows where this research will take us next.
The CSIRO Local Energy Systems team is a group of researchers who want to help you save energy – without noticing you’re doing so.
They’re developing new technologies for use at home or work which can decrease energy costs, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, all while letting you maintain your lifestyle. The group’s projects include solar technologies – like the solar cooling systems we’ve mentioned here before – and other things, like the Electric Driveway project. That’s an ingenious system where your electric car can help your house cut its power bills and increase local grid stability.
Interest piqued? Read more here by downloading our super-nice new brochure.
Today we celebrate the career of Dr Lan Lam – the primary inventor of CSIRO’s UltraBattery – an invention putting two technologies together into one awesome storage unit! Bringing down the cost of hybrid electric vehicles and making it easier to integrate more renewable energy into the grid are just some of the achievements of the UltraBattery.
“It was always my dream to create a better battery. I knew the success of hybrid electric and electric vehicles were dependent on it,” said Dr Lam.
This year the first UltraBattery will be released in the automotive market, powering hybrid electric vehicles (HEV) in Japan, United States, South America, Europe and Asia. The use of HEVs decreases our reliance on fossil fuels and thereby…
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Aww. It’s Valentine’s Day today in many countries around the world, meaning the annual bombardment of hearts is upon us again: sugary-sweet hearts, super-sweet hearts, super-sized hearts and even some super-strange hearts. But the iconic curvy ‘love heart’ might have originated from a simplistic drawing of the human heart, which long ago was seen as the place in the body where the soul (and, presumably, romance) lived.
Nowadays, thanks to science, we have much less poetic notions about what the heart actually does (although, to compensate, what we know now is much, much more likely to save your life). We all know, for example, that the heart is the powerhouse that keeps your blood circulating.
So, just for fun, we thought that this Valentine’s Day it’d be fun to compare the power of the human heart to the power we can get from some of the different technologies we’re working at CSIRO.
The power of the heart
We can work out the average power of the heart by multiplying the peak pressure inside the heart (120 mmHg, or 16 kPa) by the rate of blood flow (say about 6 litres per minute, or 0.0001 m3/s). This gives us the magic number we’re going to use for the heart’s power: 1.6 Watts. Over the course of a day, this adds up to an energy output of 140 kJ (or 33 Cal) each day.
So we created a thing called the Heart-o-meter. It shows the power output of some of our energy technologies in a unit we’re pretty sure we’ve just pioneered here at CSIRO – equivalent human hearts. Aww. Who said science can’t be romantic?
You can see that yesterday the PVs in our Virtual Power Station had a power output that equalled, at one point, the total number of people’s hearts in Newcastle. That’s a lot of love.
Happy Valentine’s Day.
Our photovoltaics researchers at the Newcastle Energy Centre like to get right into the action when they’re in the lab.
Meet Kenrick Anderson, a photovoltaics experimental scientist. He gets to do fun science things – like monitoring how clean the lab is and filling out forms… no, I mean cool stuff like fabricating new solar cells and testing and comparing how they perform in the sunlight or indoors using a solar simulator.
Want to know more about ‘simulated sunlight’ and what we can do with it? Well, read on. Kenrick has given us his down-to-earth explanation of how one of our measurement tools – a monochromator – helps us understand how solar cells respond to sunlight.
Sunlight contains many different wavelengths of light – it’s a broad spectrum, polychromatic light source. Different types of solar cell respond to different parts of the solar spectrum. To compare these different cells we use monochromatic light – light of a single wavelength– as a means of seeing how a solar cell performs at a particular wavelength. For instance if we take just the light that we can see with our eyes, the wavelengths of visible light start at 400 nanometres and extend out to 720 nanometres.
Do you remember the spectrum by the following acronym?
ROYGBIV (Red Orange Yellow Green Blue Indigo Violet)
Actually, this is in reverse order as red light stops at 720 nanometres and violet starts at 400 nanometres. In nature we see white light being split into the spectrum. Have you noticed the reflection of light as it bounces off water droplets which produces rainbows, or in the interference patterns of an oil slick on water? To reproduce these effects in the laboratory we use a monochromator, like the one pictured below:
A monochromator works using a diffraction grating – a special surface with a series of very fine grooves (about 1000 parallel grooves every millimetre!). When light reflects off the surface the grooves cause the colours to separate out. If you turn a CD over you can see this effect for yourself: a rainbow-like spectrum of colours will be reflected off the disk – it’s a diffraction grating in real life using the even grooves of the CD. Similar surfaces are used within a monochromator to split the light. By changing the angle of the diffraction grating we can choose the wavelength coming from the monochromator. Fortunately, our system is computer controlled and all we need to do is type a number in and out comes the wavelength we are interested in. Job done!
Watch the short movie below showing the monochromator sweeping through the spectrum from 350 nm (in the UV part of the spectrum, just beyond violet) to 750 nm (in the infrared part of the spectrum, just beyond red).
We’re not quite sure why you’d need to know that, but if you owned a solar power station you’d be very interested in the weather forecast in 2015 we assure you!
Clouds have a huge impact on solar power. In fact, photovoltaic generation can drop by up to 60 per cent in seconds when a cloud passes over the solar panels.
Last year CSIRO released a world first report on this cloudy issue; we recognised that intermittency (cloud covering up the sun) is a major barrier to development of large-scale solar energy power plants and recommended that a solar forecasting system would help solve the issue.
Why is it such a big deal? For two major reasons: the grid and investor confidence.
The electricity grid requires a stable, consistent supply of electricity otherwise the grid becomes very difficult to manage and things like blackouts can occur. Intermittent renewable sources such as wind and solar can be a tricky energy source – naturally they do not generate a consistent supply of energy. However, through forecasting we can predict the amount of solar power that will be generated over days, weeks and even years. In this way the grid network can plan ahead and build in the solar power to the general supply.
Investors aren’t going to invest in commercial-scale solar power until we can predict their energy yield, which is directly affected by intermittency, or the amount of clouds passing overhead. Map the clouds and you map the yield, which then gives investors a much better idea of the bang they get for their buck.
So there’s the problem… now for the solution! That’s where our $7.6 million forecasting project comes in.
Australian solar energy forecasting system (ASEFS)
Announced in mid December 2012 by the Australian Solar Institute (now ARENA), this project is huge. CSIRO and partners; the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), Bureau of Meteorology, University of NSW, University of South Australia, US National Renewable Energy Laboratory, will together change the future of large-scale solar in Australia, we have no doubt!
We will be using cloud forecasting techniques and data from across Australia to provide accurate solar forecasts ranging from the next five minutes up to seven days. In addition, we will be able to provide power plants with solar predictions for up to two years in advance. Imagine knowing the weather report two years in advance!
The expert running the project is CSIRO’s Dr Peter Coppin. He was also involved in CSIRO’s wind forecasting work a few years back. We asked him a couple of questions about ASEFS:
What are you most looking forward to with this project?
The most exciting aspect of this project is bringing the best possible solar forecasting to the Australian electricity system. It means we will be able to have much more solar power on the grid that we would otherwise been able to host.
What are the benefits of working with a number of partners?
This project has been able to bring together the best scientists from Australia, USA and Germany to work with the system engineers who can actually make the clever developments happen. Together we will build the world’s most advanced operational solar forecasting system.
Check out the other blog posts on our Hot New Projects, or click here for the full list. All the projects are funded by the United States-Australia Solar Energy Collaboration.
Today we announced the new Director for our $87 million Australian solar thermal research initiative (ASTRI): Dr Manuel Blanco.
Dr Blanco, a world-renowned solar scientist with almost three decades of academic, research and R&D managerial experience, comes to ASTRI from Spain’s National Renewable Energy Centre (CENER), where he was Director of the Solar Thermal Energy Department.
During his career, Dr Blanco has made invaluable contributions to the international solar thermal field – as well as compiling an incredibly impressive CV – and we are very excited to have him on board.
“Australia has one of the best solar resources in the world. It is a natural fit for an international solar thermal research collaboration to use this resource and our expertise to make solar power the cheapest, cleanest energy source it can be.
“We will reduce the cost of solar thermal to just 12 cents a kilowatt hour by 2020 and provide zero-emission energy to people when they need it. It’s a technological leap but we will do it. We are working with the best in the world,” said Dr Blanco. Read the full media release.
We have also updated our ASTRI web page so you can now check out the four major research areas and our partners, take a look: www.csiro.au/ASTRI