The Cutting Edge

New solar cells reach record efficiency

For the first time, solar cells that rely on photosensitive dyes rather than silicon to collect energy are beginning to show an energy-conversion efficiency of 10 percent in full sunlight, putting them within shooting distance of the 15 percent efficiency that’s standard for conventional silicon solar cells. (Though the standing record is 11 percent, the materials used in those high-performing dye-sensitized cells were considered too volatile to be practical.) Now researchers in China and Switzerland — and not, Mr. Next President, the U.S. — are reporting the highest efficiency yet using stable materials that could lead to a promising new genre of solar cells. Some scientists believe this avenue of research offers the best hope for making the sun a truly practical source of electricity.

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Airfare likely to rise in wake of EU’s new carbon rules

Last week, the European Union approved a plan to include aviation in an emissions trading program beginning in 2012. The plan would force airlines flying into and out of EU airports to cut emissions by 3 percent in the first year, and by 5 percent after 2013. The scheme would affect 87 major airlines, of which 40 percent are headquartered outside the EU, Reuters reports.

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Niagara River turbine plan gets first permits

An energy company from Texas, Hydro Green Energy, received early permits allowing it to study the possibility of installing 90 underwater turbines on the U.S. side of the Niagara River, in upstate New York. The permits allow the company to spend up to three years gathering data for a license application to pursue its proposed hydrokinetic power plant. If the economic case is there and the environmental impact turns out to be minimal, Hydro Green intends to suspend turbines from anchored barges, generating up to 140 megawatts of electricity.

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Guerrilla car charging

The network of alternative fueling stations for new breeds of non-fossil-fuel vehicles is percolating into existence, one tiny pocket of the world at a time. It’s not happening with much grace or speed, but, indeed, electric cars and their biofueled brethren are clearly appearing on our roadways. And that naturally leads drivers to push their vehicles just a little bit beyond what they know they can reach.

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Feeling left behind in the home solar trend?

Perhaps you should. San Francisco’s recently introduced map of the city’s solar systems puts the rest of you non-solar roof owners to shame. I had no idea the city had ramped up so much on solar, or that its solar initiatives, aimed towards its goal of 10,000 solar roofs, appear to really be paying off. And SF is just the beginning. New mapping programs are consolidating solar data, system performance, and information on solar installers in a big way. At the most basic level, these maps serve to make radiation data much more easily available to consumers – which is key to figuring out the payback time on a system. 

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