Advances in solar power

A team of researchers at the University of New South Wales has broken its own record for photovoltaic efficiency. This advance comes through use of what are called “multi-junction” solar cells that use prisms to split sunlight across its spectrum, to hit multiple receptors targeted at different wavelengths.

Image shows a beam of sunlight represented in multiple arrows of different colors. Left to right, they are blue, green, yellow, and red. The blue, green, and red arrows pass through an angled

A 2-D diagram of how the prism spectrum splitter mini-module works.

Multi-junction solar cells of this type are unlikely to find their way onto the rooftops of homes and offices soon, as they require more effort to manufacture and therefore cost more than standard crystalline silicon cells with a single junction. But the UNSW team is working on new techniques to reduce the manufacturing complexity, and create cheaper multi-junction cells.

However, the spectrum-splitting approach is perfect for solar towers, like those being developed by Australia’s RayGen Resources, which use mirrors to concentrate sunlight which is then converted directly into electricity.

So this is currently an advancement for centralized solar power, but for all I prefer distributed models, some centralized, high-output generators will certainly be needed if we’re to transition to a society that relies more heavily on electricity for things like transportation.

What does caring about climate change look like?

I recently came across an article titled “What will it take for people to care about climate change?“. There are a lot of articles like this, all of them focused on some disaster linked to climate change. This one touches on the current heat wave in India, which has seen the highest temperature ever recorded in that country. This is the second year in a row in which the country had a heat wave that caused roads to melt.

“What will it take?” is a fair question to ask, but I think it may be the wrong question, at least if asked by itself. I think if you polled the planet, most people would say they care about climate change. Even if you polled the United States – a country famous for its science denial, it seems a majority of people care about the issue, at least to some degree. The problem is what that actually means.

For one family I know, it means a few years back, they got a solar array and associated regulatory system that meets their power requirements, and feeds the excess to their neighbors. The whole setup cost them around $30k. For another friend it meant taking a lobster boat to block a massive shipment of coal from being delivered to a power plant for a day. For other people it’s getting rid of their cars and biking more, or buying an electric car, or making their homes more energy efficient, or changing their diet.

But the reality is that the list of actions that demonstrate “caring about climate change” seems to vary wildly depending on how scared of it someone is, and how much money they have, and whether they own their home, and so on. It also probably varies depending on whether you’re struggling to put food on the table, or to deal with illness and debt, or to fight for a country where your skin color or gender identity or sexuality won’t get you murdered.

I think people do care about climate change, at least to some degree, but the way they respond to that depends on their circumstances. For most of humanity, the options are limited. I think part of the reason why we see so little clear action on climate change is that it’s not really clear what any one of us can do about it. If my landlord puts solar panels on the roof, it’ll take some money away from coal, but the interstate highway a couple blocks north of here will still have cars backed up for miles every morning and every evening, and virtually all of them will still be emitting carbon dioxide.

There’s a lot about this that evokes a feeling of powerlessness and futility, especially given the fact that no matter what we do, at this point it’s going to keep warming for the rest of our lives. Whether or not you care about it, this story will still be ongoing long after you’re dead. That means it’s hard to know what to do, and it’s hard to feel that the actions you do take have any effect.

At this point, I think it’s a matter of saving civilization. As insane as it seems, one obstacle to rooftop solar has been that it won’t pay for itself fast enough – as if the cost of the panels and the power bills were the only things at issue. We need a society that’s willing to spend money to deal with problems, whether or not it will make a profit or break even.

What will it take for people to show that they care about climate change? It will take giving people a way to do something about it, be it subsidized renewable energy, or retirement portfolios without fossil fuels, or billionaires investing in renewable energy implimentation rather than more “research and development”. It will take real action from those with the power to act, and I’m afraid it will take significant changes in who is running our government, and in how they talk about the issue. Until people feel that some form of real action with real consequences is within their grasp, I think it’s unlikely that most will be willing or able to demonstrate that they care about climate change.

I guess the real question is, “what will it take for society to care about climate change?” and to be honest, I really don’t know.

Ending a period of silence

Over the last couple weeks I’ve had a combination of events that have kept me from being able to blog. Primarily, a health problem and a re-assessment of funding at work that means I’m now working half-time instead of full time.

The downside of all this is that I don’t currently have the funds to hire other writers for a series I had planned, so that’ll have to go on hold for a while. The upside is that I now have a lot more time for blogging and fiction writing. Starting Friday, I’ll be doing about one in-depth blog post about some aspect of climate change per week, plus a higher volume of less time-consuming posts, so this will become a more interesting place for all of us.

I’m also going to re-vamp my patreon page and put a link to that where it’ll be easier to find, so if you decide you like what I’m doing, and want me to do more of it, you will have the ability to make that happen! More on that later.

Anyway, I just wanted to drop a post to say I’m back in action, and stay tuned!