5 Things You Should Know About the IBM and Airlight Energy Sunflower
We’ve talked a lot about the new forms solar panels are taking on in recent weeks and it seems the innovation shows no signs of slowing down. The latest in solar panel innovation is the Sunflower, and we’ve got some essential facts that you need to know about the interesting new panel.
5. The panel was developed through a partnership between IBM and Switzerland’s Airlight Energy.
While you’ve undoubtedly heard of IBM, the same probably can’t be said for Airlight Energy. The Swiss company is primarily focused on large-scale solar solutions and the production of electricity and thermal energy. The company is also working on electricity storage, one of the major innovations needed for the renewable energy industry to move forward. The company is highly committed to sustainability, with its intelligent use of land, water, and resources.
4. The panel is designed to actually look like a tall sunflower.
It’s a good thing, too, since its actual name—the High Concentration PhotoVoltaic Thermal System (HCPVT)—is a lot less attractive. The unit is 32 feet high, measuring roughly 430 square feet. It’s covered with 36 elliptic mirrors that concentrate sunlight into a receiver at the center of the panel containing an array of PV chips.
This is where IBM comes in, as the technology for liquid cooling is the same as IBM’s supercomputers, though its application here is inspired by something more natural.
“The direct cooling technology with very small pumping power used to cool the photovoltaic chips with water is inspired by the hierarchical branched blood supply system of the human body,” Dr. Bruno Michel, manager, advanced thermal packaging at IBM Research, said.
3. The unit is designed with longevity and customization in mind.
Scientists estimate that with proper maintenance, the system could last up to 60 years. The mirrors and protective foil will need to be replaced once every 10-15 years and the PV cells every 25. Still, it’s a relatively low-maintenance system and the team believes that as technology continues to advance, so will improvements for the Sunflower.
Also important is the ability to add a drinkable water or air conditioning output from its hot water heater.
2. The unit is designed for rural or remote deployment.
These longevity and customization factors are important, since they allow the system to be deployed in more remote or rural areas. The unit is relatively simple to install and with no seasonal dependence on its output, it can operate year round, making it an effective long-term solution to the problem of energy accessibility.
The drinkable water system is of particular importance.
“Such a system could provide 30–40 liters of drinkable water per square meter of receiver area per day, while still generating electricity with a more than 25 percent yield or two kilowatt hours per day—a little less than half the amount of water the average person needs per day according to the United Nations, whereas a large multi-dish installation could provide enough water for a town,” the team explained in a press release.
1. The Sunflower will be available sooner than you think.
In order to bring the unit to market, Airlight has created Dsolar, a spin-off company designed to market, license, and sell the technology. The first two available units will be given away via a contest held by the team. Beyond that, the Sunflower could hit the market in just a few years.
“Not only is the system affordable, but it will create jobs where it is installed because many of the materials will be sourced locally,” Gianluca Abrosetti, head of research for Airlight Energy, said in a statement. “We expect to partner with firms around the world to bring a commercial version to market by 2017.”
Until then, watch a video detailing the system above.
UK must stop blundering into high carbon choices warns CCC
The UK Government must end a year of climate contradictions and stop blundering on high carbon choices, according to the Climate Change Committee as it released 200 policy recommendations in a progress to Parliament update.
While the rigour of the Climate Change Act helped bring COP26 to the UK, it is not enough for Ministers to point to the Glasgow summit and hope that this will carry the day with the public, the Committee warns. Leadership is required, detail on the steps the UK will take in the coming years, clarity on tax changes and public spending commitments, as well as active engagement with people and businesses across the country.
"It it is hard to discern any comprehensive strategy in the climate plans we have seen in the last 12 months. There are gaps and ambiguities. Climate resilience remains a second-order issue, if it is considered at all. We continue to blunder into high-carbon choices. Our Planning system and other fundamental structures have not been recast to meet our legal and international climate commitments," the update states. "Our message to Government is simple: act quickly – be bold and decisive."
The UK’s record to date is strong in parts, but it has fallen behind on adapting to the changing climate and not yet provided a coherent plan to reduce emissions in the critical decade ahead, according to the Committee.
- Statutory framework for climate The UK has a strong climate framework under the Climate Change Act (2008), with legally-binding emissions targets, a process to integrate climate risks into policy, and a central role for independent evidence-based advice and monitoring. This model has inspired similarclimate legislation across the world.
- Emissions targets The UK has adopted ambitious territorial emissions targets aligned to the Paris Agreement: the Sixth Carbon Budget requires an emissions reduction of 63% from 2019 to 2035, on the way to Net Zero by 2050. These are comprehensive targets covering all greenhouse gases and all sectors, including international aviation and shipping.
- Emissions reduction The UK has a leading record in reducing its own emissions: down by 40% from 1990 to 2019, the largest reduction in the G20, while growing the economy (GDP increased by 78% from 1990 to 2019). The rate of reductions since 2012 (of around 20 MtCO2e annually) is comparable to that needed in the future.
- Climate Risk and Adaptation The UK has undertaken three comprehensive assessments of the climate risks it faces, and the Government has published plans for adapting to those risks. There have been some actions in response, notably in tackling flooding and water scarcity, but overall progress in planning and delivering adaptation is not keeping up with increasing risk. The UK is less prepared for the changing climate now than it was when the previous risk assessment was published five years ago.
- Climate finance The UK has been a strong contributor to international climate finance, having recently doubled its commitment to £11.6 billion in aggregate over 2021/22 to 2025/26. This spend is split between support for cutting emissions and support for adaptation, which is important given significant underfunding of adaptation globally. However, recent cuts to the UK’s overseas aid are undermining these commitments.
In a separate comment, it said the Prime Minister’s Ten-Point Plan was an important statement of ambition, but it has yet to be backed with firm policies.
Baroness Brown, Chair of the Adaptation Committee said: “The UK is leading in diagnosis but lagging in policy and action. This cannot be put off further. We cannot deliver Net Zero without serious action on adaptation. We need action now, followed by a National Adaptation Programme that must be more ambitious; more comprehensive; and better focussed on implementation than its predecessors, to improve national resilience to climate change.”
Priority recommendations for 2021 include setting out capacity and usage requirements for Energy from Waste consistent with plans to improve recycling and waste prevention, and issue guidance to align local authority waste contracts and planning policy to these targets; develop (with DIT) the option of applying either border carbon tariffs or minimum standards to imports of selected embedded-emission-intense industrial and agricultural products and fuels; and implement a public engagement programme about national adaptation objectives, acceptable levels of risk, desired resilience standards, how to address inequalities, and responsibilities across society.
Drax Group CEO Will Gardiner said the report is another reminder that if the UK is to meet its ambitious climate targets there is an urgent need to scale up bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS).
"As the world’s leading generator and supplier of sustainable bioenergy there is no better place to deliver BECCS at scale than at Drax in the UK. We are ready to invest in and deliver this world-leading green technology, which would support clean growth in the north of England, create tens of thousands of jobs and put the UK at the forefront of combatting climate change."
Drax Group is kickstarting the planning process to build a new underground pumped hydro storage power station – more than doubling the electricity generating capacity at its iconic Cruachan facility in Scotland. The 600MW power station will be located inside Ben Cruachan – Argyll’s highest mountain – and increase the site’s total capacity to 1.04GW (click here).
Lockdown measures led to a record decrease in UK emissions in 2020 of 13% from the previous year. The largest falls were in aviation (-60%), shipping (-24%) and surface transport (-18%). While some of this change could persist (e.g. business travellers accounted for 15-25% of UK air passengers before the pandemic), much is already rebounding with HGV and van travel back to pre-pandemic levels, while car use, which at one point was down by two-thirds, only 20% below pre-pandemic levels.