- In my continued look at the renewable energy world, I turn my attention to advancements in solar technologies. Of all the articles I review each day, solar energy is far and away the most common topic. As such, I will offer a high level summary of as many of the best articles I found recently and then provide links to each so you can find out more. Multiple efficiency records were set recently: (1) Alta Devices set the record for cells made of gallium arsenide (GaAs) at 28.3% by including semiconductor materials which created luminescence; (2) Heliatek has created an organic solar cell with 10.7% efficiency and a team of Phillips 66 and Solarmer created a polymer-based organic cell with a 9.31% rating; (3) researchers at the University of Toronto set the record for collodial quantum dot (CQD) films at 7%, these materials are attractive as they are made of inexpensive materials and harvest energy from the entire solar spectrum; (4) an IBM team crushed the old record for photovoltaic cells made of earth-abundant materials by 10% with an 11.1% efficiency; (5) researchers at EPFL have developed a cell made of amorphous/monocrystalline silicon with a 21.4% rating; and finally (6) NRELhas developed a black-silicon cell with a 18.2% efficiency, this is a nice technology as it simplifies panel design thus lowering costs.Here are several new design ideas that could improve the efficiency of a solar panel, regardless of the material(s) they are made of. A University of Houston team developed a nano-particle coating that will keep solar panels cleaner and thus increase their overall efficiency. While this sounds novel, a dirty solar panel can have a 30% reduction in efficiency! Scientists at the University of Arizona believe solar efficiencies could be doubled by using a mirror to reflect and concentrate the photons in sunlight. V3Solar claims its cone-shaped, spinning solar cell can generate 20 times more electricity than a flat panel. Bandgap Engineering feels that adding nano-silicon wires to solar cells is the solution to increased efficiency as this would increase the chance a photon is absorbed. Finally, researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institutedeveloped tunable-refractive nano-coatings from silicon and titanium which increase solar panel efficiency by reducing the reflectivity of its surface.To conclude this look at solar technologies, I couldn’t help but chuckle to find out that ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ appears to apply to solar panels as well: a Yale and New York University study has shown that homes are more likely to have panels if their neighbors do.
- Do you have a few extra moments in your day? If so, check out this short video (some of you may have seen it before – sorry!) that shows the changing European landscape since 1,000 AD. To say that European borders shifted a bit in the last millennium is an understatement!
A video showing the changing European borders since 1,000 AD.
- Have you ever Googled: GIS and dogs? If not, give it a try and buried in the long list of hits, you will find research completed by Ashley Ignatius from the University of Minnesota where GIS was used to estimate the distance dogs travel when they are lost. Ashley looked at 199 cases in southern Minnesota where the dog owner was reunited with their furry companion (thankfully!) and the results were surprising. Over half of the dogs were found within a quarter mile from where they were lost – which is a lesson to all dog owners out there! If you want to read more of the study, you can find it here.
- Are you an iPhone user? Well, I am definitely a dedicated iPhone owner having happily owned one since the 3rd version. For our readers that share my passion for iPhones, I am sure that many of you are as disappointed as I am with the new Apple Maps application. To put it bluntly, the new app is terrible. I have used it to search for five locations in the past month, all of them in Boulder, and all of them failed! What I noticed is that you need to be very specific with your address request, spelling everything correctly and including city names. I am guessing that the management team at Apple never really considered the amount of effort, money, time and technology that Google poured into Google Earth. I suppose as an outsider, it would be easy to underestimate this effort but oh to return to the days of a working Google Maps app!
- Many city governments of all sizes and shapes have GIS departments that play an important role in planning, taxation, environmental management and much more. City GIS departments also have a wealth of valuable geospatial data that can typically be accessed for free or for a reasonable cost. In this, our first look at city GIS websites, we start with Alabama’s largest city, Birmingham which offers its data in an online mapping application. The online application offers a wide array of data layers including QuickBird imagery from 2007, parcels boundaries, school districts and natural features. Several of the layers are scale sensitive, such as water points which are only visible at less than 1:2,500 scale. While the website does not allow for data downloads (at least that I could find), it will let you ‘print’ out a PDF with your visible layers – the QuickBird imagery did not print however given licensing rules.
Brock Adam McCarty