Thursday 3 January 2013

Projects ion of wind farms helps finds endangered lizards
28 Dec 2012

The South Australian Museum says the introduction of wind farms has led to greater discoveries of the pygmy bluetongue lizard in the State's mid-north. For 20 years the Museum has led a research project into the endangered species in the Burra region.

A community group has been formed to help continue the research which has now identified about 27 populations of the rare lizard. Senior herpetology researcher at the Museum, Doctor Mark Hutchinson, says greater environmental scrutiny for wind farm developments has had an unexpected side-effect.

"In the periphery of it where people are looking to put in tracks or other things, down the bottoms of hills and on the edges of where the windfarms are going, the lizards have turned up. "So about four or five of the latest populations have turned up as a side-benefit of having to pay for environmental attention to particular areas in the landscape".

Maine producing enough wind power to supply 175,000 homes
25 Dec 2012

(US) AUGUSTA--Wind power generated in Maine is now producing nearly 500 MWs, enough to supply the average needs of 175,000 households. However, it's still well short of the state's goal for wind generation by 2015. But new projects that are in conceptual stages, under regulatory review or approved but facing challenges could catapult the state to half of its wind-power goal of 2,000 MWs by 2015. The Legislature has set that goal for installed wind power capacity, along with 3,000 MWs by 2020.

Maine's operating wind power plants have a capacity to produce 468 MWs online now, according to figures from the state Department of Environmental Protection, which regulates grid-scale projects in Maine's Unorganized Territory. The year's end brings the possibility of big change to the industry. The federal Production Tax Credit, used to encourage development of renewable energy projects, is due to expire at the end of 2012.

That's caused "very legitimate" concerns among wind power developers, said Jeremy Payne, executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association. "It's a very important piece of development" in wind projects, he said. A national industry group, the American Wind Energy Association, says that with the looming expiration of the credit, wind project developers are not making plans in the United States and American manufacturers are not receiving orders, costing jobs.

Developers' interest does not appear to have waned in Maine, which is by far New England's largest wind producer but accounts for only a small fraction of total U.S, output. According to the American Wind Energy Association, the U.S, wind industry totaled 51,630 MWs of cumulative wind capacity through the end of September.

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Flexible solar cells can stick to just about any surface
20 Dec 2012

solar panels are typically heavy, which makes them expensive to install, and rigid, which limits where they can be used. In the current issue of Nature Scientific Reports, researchers describe a novel, potentially cheap way to make solar cells that are both lightweight and flexible.

The technique is meant to work with thin-film solar cells. The active part of thin-film solar cells—the part that gathers sunlight and generates electricity—is thin enough to be flexible, but the cells usually have to be manufactured on rigid materials such as glass to achieve the highest quality.

Researchers led by Xiaolin Zheng, a professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford University, demonstrated a way to transfer the active materials of the solar cell from a rigid substrate onto another surface, such as a sheet of paper or plastic, the roof of a car, or the back of a smartphone. As with other solar cells, wires would then be connected to deliver power, but flexible solar cells could be used on curved surfaces, and, because they're lightweight, they would be easier to install than conventional panels.

Although Zheng has demonstrated that the process can transfer solar cells even to cheap surfaces such as paper, in practical applications, the materials used would be limited by the need to protect the cells from the elements.

These aren't the first flexible solar panels. Several companies already manufacture them. But Zheng says prior approaches to making flexible solar cells have drawbacks. Manufacturers often modify processing steps to accommodate flexible substrate materials that can't tolerate high temperatures or certain chemicals, but this can reduce the performance of the resulting solar cell. And manufacturers have typically used costly flexible substrate materials, such as foils with extremely uniform surfaces, in order to produce high-quality thin films.

The trick to peeling thin-film silicon away from a solid substrate of silicon dioxide involves depositing a layer of nickel on top of an underlying wafer. After the cell is finished, it's immersed in room-temperature water. The water interacts with the nickel and silicon dioxide, causing the solar cell to come loose. It can then be peeled away and deposited onto another material. The researchers demonstrated that the efficiency of the solar cell wasn't affected by the transfer process.

The current paper shows that the process works for dislodging a solar cell from a silicon and silicon dioxide wafer. Zheng says the group has also demonstrated the process with solar cells made on a glass surface, but this work has not yet been published. This could make it possible to use the technique with copper indium gallium selenide solar cells, which are nearly twice as efficient as amorphous ones.