Advances in clean technology and renewable energy continue unabated and the results show. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), renewable energy now accounts for 18% of US electricity generation capacity and 15% of U.S. electricity production in May 2015. Solar power accounts for 1.3% of electricity, windfor 5.3%, wood and wood-derived fuels for 1%, and hydro for 6.2%.
In the EU, the Joint Research Centre released its latest wind status report, showing that wind energy provided Europe with 8% of its electricity in 2014, equivalent to the combined annual consumption of Belgium, the Netherlands, Greece, and Ireland. That will rise to 12% of European electricity by 2020. The Renewable Energy Directive requires renewables to make up at least 20% of the EU’s energy mix by 2020.
Research into new renewable materials and processes has produced a wide range of developments. At Kaunas University of Technology (KTU) Organic Chemistry laboratories, an organic semiconductor material has been developed that offers a much cheaper alternative to the inorganic materials currently being used in solar cells. The efficiency of the new semiconductors, confirmed to be 16.9% by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne, is a vast improvement over the 2.4% efficiency of inorganic systems.
A new study from the Stockholm Environment Institute took a deeper look into the costs and capacities of Li-ion battery packs for electric vehicles. One of the key findings was:
The scholars estimate that the inflection point for batteries is approximately $150 per kilowatt hour, shown by the rose-colored band in the below graph. If costs reach as low as US$150 per kWh, this means that electric vehicles will probably move beyond niche applications and begin to penetrate the market widely, leading to a potential paradigm shift in vehicle technology. Studies show this point potentially being reached as early as 2025.
A new renewable energy study outlines a plan for each of the 50 U.S. states to transition to 100% clean, renewable energy by 2050. Mark Jacobson, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford, and UC Berkeley researcher Mark Delucchi, took a close look at the current energy demands of each state in four sectors: residential, commercial, industrial, and transportation. They analyzed current fuel consumed – coal, oil, gas, nuclear, renewables – and calculated fuel demands if all fuel usage was replaced by electricity. This produced a 39% reduction in total end-use power demand by 2050. They then figured out how to power the grid by analyzing each state’s sun exposure, wind maps, geothermal energy, and hydroelectric dams. The end result was an 80% transition to renewables by 2030 and a full conversion by 2050. An interactive map summarizing the plans for each state is available at www.thesolutionsproject.org.
Power Conversion Technology in Clean Tech
Some of the fastest growth segments for producing electricity from renewable resources are photovoltaic cells and windmills. These clean energy technologies have reached high power levels. This results in the need for semiconductor power electronics, such as insulated gate bipolar transistors (IGBTs), to convert the power being generated — either as a variable frequency AC in windmills, or as DC in solar cells — to a well-regulated 50/60 Hz AC power than can delivered and distributed in the energy grid. This also allows devices to be smaller, faster, more reliable, and more efficient.
Switching losses that occur in inverters are an important issue to be considered to improve the efficiency of the inverter. Within the semiconductor devices, power substrates provide interconnections and cool the components. Curamik® ceramic substrates are designed to carry higher currents, provide higher voltage isolation, and operate over a wide temperature range. Rogers’ RO-LINX® busbars serve as power distribution “highways.” These laminated busbars provide a customized liaison between the power source and capacitors, resistors, integrated circuits (ICs), integrated gate bipolar transistors (IGBTs), or complete modules.