California Is Banning Gasoline Cars. Now the EV Race Begins

California just started the clock on a future that a few years ago would’ve been unthinkable: dealerships full of nothing but zero-emissions cars.

On Wednesday, Governor Gavin Newsom ordered regulators to phase out the internal combustion engine and ban the sale of all new gasoline-fueled cars after 2035. With that, California became the first state in America to impose such a prohibition and delivered the biggest jolt yet to automakers already under pressure to give up fossil fuels and deliver a new generation of electric vehicles.

California Fuel Dream

The Golden State makes up about 15% of U.S. gasoline sales

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

While for now the industry depends on gasoline-powered SUVs and pickups for most of its profit, traditional automakers are investing billions of dollars in electrification and announcing new EV models — with startups such as Rivian Automotive and Lucid Motors Inc. right on their heels. California’s ban ups the ante.

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“There’s an arms race going on here,” said Mary Nichols, chair of the powerful California Air Resources Board that regulates the emissions of everything from oil refineries to power plants to cars.

Read More: California to Ban New Gasoline Cars by 2035, a First in U.S. (1)

Newsom’s announcement adds to worldwide momentum this week in the fight against climate change, coming less than a day after China pledged to go carbon neutral by 2060 — a bold move from the world’s largest polluter that, while still 40 years out, caught environmentalists by surprise. California is joining more than a dozen countries, including the U.K., France and Canada, that are phasing out the internal combustion engine, BloombergNEF data show. The U.K. is actually considering whether to push forward its ban to 2035.

What California wants would be a huge leap for the auto industry. Less than 8% of new vehicles registered in California through the first half of the year were electric ones. And in 2035, BNEF projects about half of U.S. passenger vehicle sales will be battery and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles in 2035.

Impetus for Change

The target is “aggressive,” but it has the potential to speed the pace of EV adoption among automakers, said Stephanie Brinley, a principal automotive analyst for IHS Markit.

“If it actually happens, it does create a reason and impetus to make change happen faster,” Brinley said. If “you have the opportunity for volume there, and you’re going to be able to sell the car, then you can put more money into investing and increasing your capacity faster.”

Read More: So You Decided on an Electric Car. Now What?

Newsom’s order — signed on the hood of the forthcoming electric Ford Mustang Mach-E — will inevitably set the tone for states across America. Not only is California the largest car market in the U.S., it’s also one of the nation’s biggest gasoline consumers and the world’s second-largest EV market, behind only China. The strength of its transportation policy has always hinged on the fact that automakers, other like-minded states and often the nation have tended to follow suit.

The ban is “a kiss of death for gasoline and petroleum as California tends to be a trendsetter,” said Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis for fuel-pricing firm GasBuddy.

Key questions remain, including whether California will allow plug-in hybrid sales (used gasoline car sales will be allowed) — and whether the rest of the U.S. will actually join. Much of the latter hinges on the upcoming presidential election. While the Trump administration has aggressively fought California’s efforts to squeeze emissions out of transportation, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has advocated for the widespread adoption of electric cars and a national charging network to power them.

There is also the question of enforcement: Combustion engine phase-outs in other parts of the world have lacked the necessary teeth to be effective, such as penalties for dealerships who break the rules and sell gasoline-fueled cars. Newsom’s executive order doesn’t lay out exactly how California will see to it that only zero-emissions cars are eventually sold.

Still a Sliver

EV penetration is growing but still a small portion of California’s car market

Source: California New Car Dealers Association

Still, the Golden State has long been a champion of hybrid and electric cars powered by batteries and fuel cells, with aggressive targets that have pushed and prodded automakers to comply. Its zero-emissions vehicle, or ZEV, program requires automakers to sell electric cars and trucks and has been adopted by several states including New York, New Jersey and Oregon.

The ZEV regulation has allowed home-grown companies like Palo Alto-based Tesla Inc. to earn revenue selling emission credits to automakers who can’t meet the mandate. And while 2035 has long been a goal for California to reach zero emissions, Newsom is doubling down on that time line as the state confronts the grim consequences of climate change: heat waves and massive wildfires that have scorched millions of acres and choked much of the West Coast with toxic air pollution.

The 2035 deadline “gives everyone who works in transportation — including the fuel suppliers, planners, manufacturers and fleet managers — a real target to work towards,” Nichols said.

Anyone who thinks Newsom’s goal is symbolic, only cementing where California was already headed, is mistaken, said BloombergNEF analyst Nick Albanese. “Despite its ambitious policies, I do not think California was on track to hit a 100% passenger EV sales share in 2035 before this announcement,” he said.

Transition Years

Nichols said that the next 15 years will be ones of transition, as automakers put forward more cars, consumers become more comfortable driving electric and the cost of batteries drops. Tesla’s “Battery Day” on Tuesday didn’t go unnoticed in Sacramento. Nichols noted the electric carmaker’s plan to halve the cost of batteries and, consequently, build EVs that more people can afford to buy.

“It’s an electric race to get to cheaper and more effective batteries, and it’s one that manufacturers around the world are competing in,” Nichols said. “That’s the prize: the zero-emission vehicle that’s affordable to everybody.”

Not everyone is happy. Questions remain about charging infrastructure, and how low-income consumers will be able to afford electric vehicles that are largely associated with coastal wealth. Roughly 2 million new passenger cars and light-duty vehicles are sold in California each year, and the California New Car Dealers Association has several questions about how the directive will be met.

Dealers Concerned

“Banning new non-ZEV vehicles and limiting choice, even 15 years from now, is significantly more difficult than striving to achieve the goals the governor has set forth,” Brian Maas, of the CNCDA, said by email. “While we support the state’s goals to combat climate change, there are many questions and factors that need to be thoughtfully considered.”

Newsom’s executive order tasks Nichols’s agency with writing the regulations. There may be some some wiggle room in how automakers can achieve the state’s goal. In the past, the air board has made changes when it was clear the market and the technology couldn’t match the rules.

“There’s still some things to figure out, but it’s a significant direction to lay down,” Brinley said.

— With assistance by Jeffrey Bair, Michael Jeffers, and Kara Wetzel

Solar Panels Absorb the Sun So You Don't Have to

Solar aesthetics haven’t evolved as fast as solar tech. Sure, some panels possess a flatscreenlike sleekness, but many rooftop rigs remain bulky eyesores. Tesla Inc. has struggled to mass-produce its tiles designed to resemble classic shingles. Now, thanks to strict building codes and cramped city living, some New Yorkers have found a way to elevate the look of solar arrays: the canopy.

Brooklyn SolarWorks Canopy

About $40,000 for a typical system

Design

SITU designed the aluminum canopy with Brooklyn SolarWorks. It’s sold across the U.S., but most—about 300—are in New York City.

relates to Solar Panels Absorb the Sun So You Don't Have to

Photographer: Adrienne Grunwald/Bloomberg

How It Works

Unruly roof topography, fire codes, and setback rules all constrain urban solar. One way to maximize space for panels is to build up.

The Power

A 7-kilowatt canopy can generate up to 9,000 kilowatt-hours annually. That’s enough to power a home for a year or charge a Tesla Model 3 for 37,000 miles. It’s also more power than could be produced within the usable rooftop space of many New York City buildings without the canopy.

relates to Solar Panels Absorb the Sun So You Don't Have to

Photographer: Adrienne Grunwald/Bloomberg

What It’s Good For

Besides providing solar power, the canopy has doubled as a shaded deck for rooftop barbecues, hot tubs, and seating for a tennis club. “Putting a canopy on the roof certainly sweetens it up,” says T.R. Ludwig, co-founder of Brooklyn SolarWorks.

Where This Is Going

A Brooklyn SolarWorks sister company has its eyes on developing solar carports for surburbia. “This is the way we’ll get into Arizona,” Ludwig says, “where they may need not a canopy but a shade structure.”

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Why Amazon committed $2 billion to fund clean energy technology

Matt Peterson, a senior Amazon exec, joined the “Axios Re:Cap” podcast to explain the thinking behind the tech and commerce giant’s climate venture capital fund, which rolled out its first investments on Thursday.

Why it matters: The fund, $2 billion to start, is beginning to invest on the heels of Amazon’s late 2019 pledge to be net-zero emissions by 2040.

The big picture: Peterson, their director of new initiatives, made the case that today’s clean tech VC investing isn’t akin to the meltdown of a decade ago.

  • One reason, he said, is that it will help Amazon and other companies obtain new tech to fulfill emissions pledges.
  • “The way we are approaching this is from a demand perspective, not a supply perspective. We are asking ourselves, what does Amazon need as a company to decarbonize, then we are finding companies that produce those products,” Peterson said.
  • “We’re coming at it from the standpoint of, we will be a customer of this technology today if we can find the right company, and I think that’s a much more sustainable way to invest.”

The intrigue: He said one kind of important tech they will be decarbonized aviation. “That is one of our biggest challenges, and there is really nothing out there today that can address that,” Peterson said.

  • Electrified jets that could meet the needs of their operations are likely decades away, he said.

Go deeper: Amazon defends working with oil companies to reach its zero-carbon goal

Why Isn’t Everyone Buying EVs Yet? It’s Not Just The Price

If you engage in a lot of conversations about electric vehicles on social media, you start to see common themes emerging. The national grid can’t cope; they catch fire spontaneously; they can only drive 50 miles, particularly in winter; they’re built using rare minerals mined by children in the Congo; all the electricity required to charge them comes from coal anyway – and so on. Rather than rebuffing each one of these in turn (perhaps a future article), there’s a deeper underlying reason for all this hate. It’s not the (admittedly high) price that is why people aren’t running with arms open and buying EVs in droves yet; there appears to be a concerted hate campaign against them. But why, and where is it coming from?

The high price is something that can’t be denied. Most EVs are still at least £10,000 ($13,000) more expensive than equivalent internal combustion engine (ICE) models. That is a major disincentive for purchase, despite the grants in lots of countries, particularly France. But the resistance you see online, which is rather reminiscent of social media-fuelled political arguments, isn’t usually about the price – it seems to be driven by a fundamental dislike for change, and the lack of EV options for different vehicular needs. There are lots of luxury EV SUVs, but surprisingly no estate cars / station wagons at all, for example.

CHINA AUTO

WM Motor is a promising EV startup in China, that is yet to break out of the local market.

© 2018 Bloomberg Finance LP

“The reason there is not so much choice in the EV market is because existing manufacturers don’t want to sell electric cars,” says Rupert Mitchell, Chief Strategy Officer at Chinese EV manufacturer WM Motor. Mitchell argues that it’s no surprise that the major players in the EV space are not incumbent manufacturers, but disruptive newcomers like his company and Tesla TSLA . Although EV sales are growing fast – up 175% year-on-year in the UK by July 2020, for example – they’re still less than 5% of overall car sales in Britain. For most incumbents, that means at least 95% of their sales are still ICE, so there are only limited incentives for creating electric platforms.

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With 95% of your cars still being ICE, you’re going to continue to focus heavily on developing that platform, rather than putting major funds towards upstart new electric ones. There are also issues with automotive industry workers and their powerful unions being worried about losing their jobs. The workers can be retrained, but EV manufacturing requires fewer people. China is less affected by this, because its ICE car industry was rather poor compared to the US or Europe’s, and therefore it has lots of promising EVs that are mostly still for domestic consumption. But a lot of China’s automotive industry is based on joint ventures, many of which are with VW. So even in China the EV focus is on entrepreneurial startups rather than incumbents.

A further reluctance comes from the dealerships. A recent UK blind buyer survey revealed that most manufacturers with EVs available had very poor online purchasing systems, and constantly tried to funnel buyers to their showrooms instead. There, salespeople had very little knowledge of EVs, making it genuinely hard to actually buy one. Anecdotal accounts of showrooms in the US allege salespeople there try to actively discourage EV sales, instead directing customers back to ICE. This is likely because car sales margins are traditionally low, and they make their money selling aftermarket service packages – which are almost not needed with EVs, particularly when they are fully connected, allowing remote management and diagnostics. EV manufacturers therefore don’t just have to change the technology itself but fight the incumbent sales model that simply doesn’t fit the low-maintenance nature of EVs.

Tesla's share price from 2010 to 2020.

Tesla’s shares have enjoyed a nearly six-fold increase in value over the last year.

Statista

However, it’s clear that the reluctance of incumbent manufacturers to address the EV market with gusto has left the door wide open for Tesla in particular, as well as other newcomers, who don’t have that baggage to contend with. When Tesla became the most valuable car company in June, it felt like it could be a blip. But Tesla’s shares had increased in value nearly six-fold year-on-year by August 12th, and the company is now clearly ahead of its next biggest competitor Toyota – in fact 38% more valuable. It’s ironic that Toyota doesn’t have a battery electric vehicle strategy at all, instead focusing on hybrids and fuel cell electric vehicles, which show no signs whatsoever of being popular in the consumer vehicle space. Tesla has not only built innovative vehicles on brand new EV-only platforms, but also its own refuelling network and a sales model that eschews traditional showrooms, with a very slick online experience.

Tesla market capitalization versus competitors

Tesla is now 38% more valuable than its nearest competitor, Toyota.

Statista

However, EVs aren’t all about taking all your fossil fuel cars and making them electric. There’s also a significant shift in the way we transport ourselves, which has been further accentuated by the Covid pandemic. In the UK, electric scooters have been fast-tracked with government funding to provide a potential green solution to personal city transportation. Companies like IRP Systems are focusing on drivetrains for this emerging market. “There’s a separation between urban mobility versus long-distance,” says Moran Price, CEO of IRP Systems. “We’re seeing a shift to personal commuting, and a jump towards electric two-wheel platforms.” This also opens up a possible door for countries where two-wheel transport is more the norm, like India. Take a look at the electric motorcycles available in India already, and you will be surprised by how many options there are as well as their low price. These could be very promising imports. Without incumbents, this market faces much less resistance because it’s entirely new, rather than fighting against powerful existing players that want to protect their lucrative corporate models.

For cars, however, there will be years of struggle against the hate campaigns. It’s clear that the uphill struggle for EVs isn’t about whether they are any good, or specifically tackling the negative arguments against them cited at the beginning of this article. If you’ve driven an EV, with an open mind, you will have realised how effortless and smooth it is. EVs are not perfect, and they do cost more, but in many ways EVs are now just better than their fossil fuel forebears – cleaner, requiring less maintenance, faster, more reliable, even more spacious. That’s not going to be enough for EVs to succeed, however. There are a lot of vested interests in fossil fuel vehicles – not just the fuel industry itself, or even the manufacturers, but also the showroom networks and service centres. This is what needs to be addressed for EVs to succeed, and it will take quite a bit of effort to do so.

EGEB: Wind and solar now generate 10% of global power – Electrek

  • Wind and solar were the only power sources to show growth year on year, despite a 3% drop in demand.
  • Six former US EPA administrators are calling for a “reset” at the agency.
  • Siemens to test measuring EV charging consumption in New York with a Meter Integrated Charger.
  • Arcadia Power is committed to making clean energy work for the planet and your bank account — all without changing your utility company. Sign up to receive your $20 Amazon Gift Card.

Wind and solar growth

Wind and solar reached a record-high market share of 10% of global electricity in the first half of 2020, up by 14% compared to the same period in 2019, according to a new report from think tank Ember, which focuses on accelerating the global energy transition. This is despite a 3% drop in power demand globally due to the impact of COVID-19. Wind and solar have doubled their market share since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015.

Many key countries now generate around a tenth of their electricity from wind and solar: China (10%), the US (12%), India (10%), Japan (10%), Brazil (10%), and Turkey (13%). The EU and UK were substantially higher with 21% and 33%, respectively; Germany rose to 42%. (Russia is the largest country to so far shun wind and solar, with just 0.2% of its electricity coming from them.) 

This year, for the first time, the world’s coal fleet ran at less than half of its capacity. Coal dropped by 8.3% in the global electricity mix from the first half of 2019 to the first half of 2020. The drop was led by major falls in the US (-31%) and the Europe Union (-32%). For the first time ever, the existing global coal fleet ran at less than half capacity. In the US, existing coal plants ran at less than a third of their capacity (32%). In contrast, China’s coal fell only 2%, meaning its share of global coal generation rose to 54% so far this year, up from 50% in 2019 and 44% in 2015. 

But here’s the important part: The global electricity transition is off track for 1.5 degrees.

Coal needs to fall by 13% every year this decade, and even in the face of a global pandemic, coal generation has only reduced 8% in the first half of 2020. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) 1.5 degree scenarios shows coal needs to fall to just 6% of global generation by 2030, from 33% in the first half of 2020. The IPCC shows in all scenarios that most of coal’s replacement is with wind and solar. 

EPA reform

Six former US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrators from both Democratic and Republican administrations joined a prominent group of former EPA officials to raise a bipartisan call for a new forward-looking direction at the EPA in an open letter.

Administrators Lee M. Thomas, William K. Reilly, Carol M. Browner, Christine Todd Whitman, Lisa P. Jackson, and Gina McCarthy discuss their concerns about the far-reaching impacts of climate change, new toxic hazards and other emerging health risks, and the disproportionate burdens that pollution and global warming place on lower-wealth communities, communities of color, and indigenous people. They write:

As EPA approaches its 50th anniversary this December, we believe the time has come to reset the future course for EPA in a new, forward-looking direction to address the environmental challenges we face today and those that lie ahead.

They cite a new report, “Resetting the Course of EPA,” from the Environmental Protection Network, a bipartisan group of more than 500 former EPA senior managers and employees. It provides a comprehensive set of recommendations to guide the EPA in addressing the most significant and emerging threats to public health and the environment.

It covers 10 action areas, from reducing emissions from vehicles, to safeguarding drinking water, to restoring science as the backbone of agency decision-making, to elevating environmental justice in all aspects of EPA’s work.

Siemens’ MIC

Siemens eMobility solutions announced this week that it will field test new EV charging technology, a Meter Integrated Charger (MIC), in New York. The MICs measure the quantity of electricity needed to charge EVs so that drivers, utilities, and others can track and manage consumption. The standard utility meter can be used to record the energy usage, and the meter will send the data back to the utility, which can then be shared with the customer. The data could be used to bill the EV on a separate rate in the future.

German multinational conglomerate Siemens is partnering with New York utility Con Edison to recruit up to 20 residential customers in New York with smart meters to participate in the project.

John DeBoer, head of Siemens eMobility solutions and Future Grid Business in North America, said:

Currently, for most customers who own EVs, EV energy consumption is mixed in with all other usage in the owner’s electricity bill, making it impossible to identify the energy costs from charging the EV versus the home’s air conditioning or lighting. With the MIC, the power used for the EV will show up separately. Siemens is working to promote EV adoption with our full range of charging equipment and solutions, and this could be a game-changer for EV drivers in understanding their fuel savings when they switch to EVs.

Con Edison will collect information on the charging habits of the participating customers and share it with Siemens. The project is supported by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

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Scientists Turn Normal Red Bricks into Electricity-Storing Supercapacitors

The smart brick. Image: D'Arcy Laboratory, Department of Chemistry, Washington University in St. Louis ​

The smart brick. Image: D’Arcy Laboratory, Department of Chemistry, Washington University in St. Louis

Bricks are about as basic as architectural materials can get, yet these simple building blocks have hidden powers that can be leveraged to provide electricity, according to a new study. 

Scientists modified a common red brick—the same kind you’ll find on sale for under a dollar at your local hardware store—so that it could power a green LED light. This proof-of-concept for a “smart brick” reveals that brick technology, which dates back thousands of years, can be tweaked to have futuristic applications, including electrical conductivity and sensing capabilities. The results were published on Tuesday in Nature Communications.

“We have created a new brick that can be incorporated into your house that has the functionality of storing electrical energy,” said study co-author Julio D’Arcy, assistant professor of chemistry at Washington University in St. Louis, in a call. 

“We are thinking that sensing applications is a low-hanging fruit for these bricks,” he added.  

For years, D’Arcy and his colleagues have experimented with rust, the ubiquitous reddish film that forms on any structure that contains iron. Rust is normally seen as a corrosive nuisance, but D’Arcy’s team has shown that rusty iron oxides have useful properties for material science.

“We discovered that if you actually treat rust chemically, it actually becomes reactive,” D’Arcy explained. “So something that we typically think of as waste turns out to be a useful chemical for producing materials that can be used for storing energy.”

The pigment in red bricks is partially derived from rust, which inspired the researchers to take a closer look at the structural properties of bricks to see if they could be converted to an energy-storing device called a supercapacitor.

The intricate porous interiors of bricks turned out to be an ideal space to introduce sophisticated polymer coatings, which react with rust to increase the surface area and conductivity of bricks. 

These photos and microscope images show the structure of a common fired red brick before and after deposition of nanofibrillar coating that increases surface area within the brick. Image: The D’Arcy Laboratory in Washington University in St. Louis

These photos and microscope images show the structure of a common fired red brick before and after deposition of nanofibrillar coating that increases surface area within the brick. Image: The D’Arcy Laboratory in Washington University in St. Louis

As a result of the modifications, the team was able to engineer a prototype smart brick that stored enough energy to power the green light. The team is currently building on its findings by manufacturing specialized bricks with various metal oxides and polymer coatings. 

In addition to tinkering with conductivities and storage capacity, the researchers hope to demonstrate that air sensors or water purification systems could be integrated into the bricks.

“When the water runs down your rooftop and it goes through the brick, what if the water gets purified when it comes down and you finally collect it?” D’Arcy speculated. “We always think about purifying water on a filter. But what if the house was a filter?”

In the near-term, however, D’Arcy and his colleagues are focused on boosting the efficiency of these bricks so that they could be incorporated as a back-up power source in regular homes, such as an emergency lighting system.

“If we can increase the amount of energy that can be stored in one brick,” D’Arcy said, “we can scale up and use even less bricks.”

Highly efficient process makes seawater drinkable in 30 minutes

Access to clean, safe drinking water is a necessity that’s worryingly not being met in many parts of the world. A new study has used a material called a metal-organic framework (MOF) to filter pollutants out of seawater, generating large amounts of fresh water per day while using much less energy than other methods.

MOFs are extremely porous materials with high surface areas – theoretically, if one teaspoon of the stuff was unpacked it could cover a football field. That much surface area makes it great for grabbing hold of molecules and particles.

In this case, the team developed a new type of MOF dubbed PSP-MIL-53, and put it to work trapping salt and impurities in brackish water and seawater. When the material is placed in the water, it selectively pulls ions out of the liquid and holds them on its surface. Within 30 minutes, the MOF was able to reduce the total dissolved solids (TDS) in the water from 2,233 parts per million (ppm) to under 500 ppm. That’s well below the threshold of 600 ppm that the World Health Organization recommends for safe drinking water.

Using this technique, the material was able to produce as much as 139.5 L (36.9 gal) of fresh water per kg of MOF per day. And once the MOF is “full” of particles, it can be quickly and easily cleaned for reuse. To do so, it’s placed in sunlight, which causes it to release the captured salts in as little as four minutes.

While there’s no shortage of desalination systems in use or development, the team says that this new MOF is faster-acting than other techniques, and requires much less energy throughout the cycle.

Thermal desalination processes by evaporation are energy-intensive, and other technologies, such as reverse osmosis, has a number of drawbacks, including high energy consumption and chemical usage in membrane cleaning and dechlorination,” says Huanting Wang, lead author of the study. “Sunlight is the most abundant and renewable source of energy on Earth. Our development of a new adsorbent-based desalination process through the use of sunlight for regeneration provides an energy-efficient and environmentally-sustainable solution for desalination.”

The research was published in the journal Nature Sustainability.

Source: Monash University via Eurekalert

Beaming solar power from space to Earth is becoming practical

AFRL's Space Solar Power Incremental and Demonstrations Research Project consists of several small-scale flight experiments that will mature technology needed to build a prototype solar power distribution system. (Courtesy of Air Force Research Laboratory)

AFRL’s Space Solar Power Incremental and Demonstrations Research Project consists of several small-scale flight experiments that will mature technology needed to build a prototype solar power distribution system. (Courtesy of Air Force Research Laboratory)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

In the near future, solar power collected in space and beamed down to Earth could power military and civilian installations, vehicles and devices in remote places across the globe.

The foundational technology is already in hand, and the first small-scale demonstration project will be ready for launch in 2023, thanks to a broad collaboration between the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate at Kirtland Air Force Base, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado, and private industry partners here and elsewhere.

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Apart from providing around-the-clock power on demand beamed from space, the new solar cells, panels and production processes being developed through the program could revolutionize space-based power systems in general and terrestrial photovoltaic installations by offering higher-efficiency systems at much lower cost than is available today.

The potentially “game-changing” technology could become widely available over the next decade, said Col. Eric Felt, head of the Space Vehicles Directorate.

“The technology has reached a point where we believe we can do it,” Felt told the Journal. “We’re in the final maturation phase for the key technologies, and we’ve got a road map for it … We’ve laid out the whole program, and we’re now on a path to build a 2-meter solar system for launch on a satellite in 2023 to prove the technology.”

Old tech, new use

The “spider” project – Space Solar Power Incremental Demonstrations and Research, or SSPIDR – is actually building on technology created decades ago. Photovoltaic beaming, or wireless power transfer, was demonstrated in the 1970s, said SSPIDR project manager James Winter. It’s based on gathering solar energy with photovoltaic cells and then converting it to radio frequency for beaming from antennas to receivers.

That process is used for satellite TV, whereby solar energy is used to propagate radio frequency that’s then sent to the ground for communications. In the case of wireless power transfer, the radio frequency is received by a “rectifying antenna” that converts the frequency back to electricity, Winter said.

“The concept has been around a while,” Winter said. “With normal solar systems, you collect solar energy and convert it to direct current to charge up batteries on a satellite. … With a solar-to-radio-frequency module, there is no storage – you convert the solar energy to direct current and then to radio frequency with integrated circuits for transfer to a rectifying antenna that converts it back to direct current.”

Lowered costs

Space-based solar beaming hasn’t been done before because building the components and integrated systems and then flying them to space is very expensive. But through the DOD’s collaborative program, it’s now working to immensely lower the costs for building, integrating, transporting and operating a system.

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That includes development of new, cheaper manufacturing processes for the high-efficiency solar cells needed to operate in space, plus automation of the assembly process for solar panels and systems to replace today’s labor-intensive methods.

Unlike the silicon-based solar cells used in terrestrial applications, photovoltaic for space requires more robust materials that can withstand harsh conditions, and which can produce more electricity from the sun to power spacecraft over long periods of time. Those materials, gallium arsenide and gallium indium, cost a lot more than silicon. And cell manufacturing is based on a very slow process called metal organic vapor phase epitaxy, or MOVPE, which deposits the pre-engineered chemicals onto a semiconductor wafer one layer at a time. Building those robust cells can push user end costs up to $300 a watt, compared with below $1 per watt for silicon cells.

NREL researchers Aaron Ptak, Wondwosen Metaferia, David Guiling and Kevin Schulte are growing aluminum-containing materials for III-V solar cells using HVPE. (Courtesy of National Renewable Energy Laboratory)

NREL researchers Aaron Ptak, Wondwosen Metaferia, David Guiling and Kevin Schulte are growing aluminum-containing materials for III-V solar cells using HVPE. (Courtesy of National Renewable Energy Laboratory)

NREL, the DOE’s lab in Colorado, has created a faster, cheaper manufacturing process for those robust cells. It’s also successfully replaced the expensive organic metal compounds with materials that contain aluminum, or pure metal compounds, which are much less expensive, said Space Vehicles Directorate senior physicist David Wilt.

Layered approach

The new manufacturing process is actually a modification of an old process called hydride vapor phase epitaxy, or HVPE, which MOVPE replaced in the 1970s because the latter better managed the delicate layer-by-layer buildup of materials on a semiconductor wafer.

Both processes work one layer at a time. But with MOVPE, the system stops after each layer is deposited to change out the gas mixture, thereby creating different compositions of stacked thin films for each solar cell. In contrast, the old HVPE system completely removed the wafer before changing the gas mixture, and then reinserted it to continue depositing the next compound.

NREL has modified the HVPE process by setting up different chambers side by side so that, rather than removing and reinserting wafers, the wafers move in a continual stream from one chamber to the next as different gas mixes are deposited. The new system, called “dynamic” HVPE, speeds manufacturing significantly, allowing NREL to make multilayered cells up to 20 times faster, Wilt said.

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“By moving from chamber to chamber, it puts down materials at up to 500 microns per hour, compared with five to 10 microns per hour with MOVPE,” Wilt said.

The system can be scaled up by adding more chambers.

“Eventually, it will be a linear system where a bare wafer goes in one end and runs through multiple chambers with a full solar cell structure coming out the other end,” Wilt said.

That could massively lower production costs for high-efficiency cells for space applications.

Private sector use?

In addition, NREL hopes to eventually transition the new technology to the private sector, making the manufacturing process available for both defense and commercial purposes, said NREL lead researcher Kelsey Horowitz.

“If we are successful in reducing all the high-cost solar cell fabrication processes, we may enable the use of these high-efficiency cells in broader civilian and commercial applications,” Horowitz said in a statement. “These include applications that require higher power per area and value flexibility, like on ships, electric vehicles or portable devices.”

The Space Vehicles Directorate is also working with SolAero Technologies in Albuquerque to lower the costs for making full solar panels and modules. SolAero, which makes robust solar systems for space, won a $4.5 million contract to develop automated processes for building modules, said Michael Riley, deputy program manager for the Space Vehicles Directorate advanced space power group.

“It’s a very labor-intensive process now aimed at one-off designs for satellites,” Riley said. “We want to automate assembly design for faster, high-volume production of modules for a variety of satellite applications.”

The AFRL is also working on the antenna technology for solar-beaming to create robust metrology to steer precision radio frequency beams wherever needed, said SSPIDR program manager Winter.

“It will offer a continuous power supply, unlike terrestrial systems where darkness and rain interfere,” Winter said. “All you need is a rectifying antenna to receive power from space anywhere on the globe.”

Remote working and online shopping could drive 14 million cars off US roads – permanently

  • In 2019, US motorists drove equivalent of 337 round trips from Earth to Pluto.
  • Lockdown meant a 64% drop in car usage, according to a KPMG report.
  • 14 million fewer cars may be needed if working and shopping trends continue.

As many as 14 million cars could disappear from American roads in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

That’s one of the findings of a KPMG report that estimates almost 40% of all jobs in the United States could be done from home, drastically reducing reliance on the private motor vehicle.

Coronavirus america work from home cars shopping remote working pandemic change environment cars automobiles vehicles commute commuters usa us united states america virus health healthcare who world health organization disease deaths pandemic epidemic worries concerns Health virus contagious contagion viruses diseases disease lab laboratory doctor health dr nurse medical medicine drugs vaccines vaccinations inoculations technology testing test medicinal biotechnology biotech biology chemistry physics microscope research influenza flu cold common cold bug risk symptomes respiratory china iran italy europe asia america south america north washing hands wash hands coughs sneezes spread spreading precaution precautions health warning covid 19 cov SARS 2019ncov wuhan sarscow wuhanpneumonia pneumonia outbreak patients unhealthy fatality mortality elderly old elder age serious death deathly deadly

The percentage of jobs that can be done remotely.

Image: KPMG

In 2019, US motorists collectively covered a distance equivalent to 337 round trips from Earth to Pluto – around 4.8 trillion kilometres. But as much of the country, and indeed the rest of the world, went into various forms of lockdown, there was a 64% drop in car usage, KPMG found. That decline refers specifically to something called vehicle miles travelled (VMT), an industry measure of cumulative car journeys.

If that trend continues, Americans will drive 435 billion fewer kilometres per year. That’s a drop of just over 9%.

The first global pandemic in more than 100 years, COVID-19 has spread throughout the world at an unprecedented speed. At the time of writing, 4.5 million cases have been confirmed and more than 300,000 people have died due to the virus.

As countries seek to recover, some of the more long-term economic, business, environmental, societal and technological challenges and opportunities are just beginning to become visible.

To help all stakeholders – communities, governments, businesses and individuals understand the emerging risks and follow-on effects generated by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the World Economic Forum, in collaboration with Marsh and McLennan and Zurich Insurance Group, has launched its COVID-19 Risks Outlook: A Preliminary Mapping and its Implications – a companion for decision-makers, building on the Forum’s annual Global Risks Report.

The report reveals that the economic impact of COVID-19 is dominating companies’ risks perceptions.

Companies are invited to join the Forum’s work to help manage the identified emerging risks of COVID-19 across industries to shape a better future. Read the full COVID-19 Risks Outlook: A Preliminary Mapping and its Implications report here, and our impact story with further information.

Coronavirus america work from home cars shopping remote working pandemic change environment cars automobiles vehicles commute commuters usa us united states america virus health healthcare who world health organization disease deaths pandemic epidemic worries concerns Health virus contagious contagion viruses diseases disease lab laboratory doctor health dr nurse medical medicine drugs vaccines vaccinations inoculations technology testing test medicinal biotechnology biotech biology chemistry physics microscope research influenza flu cold common cold bug risk symptomes respiratory china iran italy europe asia america south america north washing hands wash hands coughs sneezes spread spreading precaution precautions health warning covid 19 cov SARS 2019ncov wuhan sarscow wuhanpneumonia pneumonia outbreak patients unhealthy fatality mortality elderly old elder age serious death deathly deadly

Three scenarios for how falling VMT could affect vehicle ownership.

Image: KPMG

Mission control

KPMG refers to the most common reasons or ‘missions’ Americans have for car ownership. For around 40% of the country’s motorists, those missions are shopping and commuting.

The retail sector has been in a state of flux since the advent of ecommerce. For a growing number of shoppers, the convenience offered by online shopping has become increasingly important. Many brick-and-mortar retailers and large shopping destinations have closed in recent years, citing ecommerce as the cause for their decline.

For many shoppers, the lockdowns that accompanied the coronavirus pandemic were the impetus to increase their online spend. That may have been because physical stores were shut, or to maintain social distancing. But the effect, according to KPMG, was that footfall for non-essential retail fell by 80%. Some 60% of Americans said they were doing more shopping online than offline now, up from 44% pre-pandemic.

That is a trend that KPMG expects to see maintained over the longer term.

Work/life balance

The other mission KPMG referred to was commuting. Unsurprisingly, there was a major fall in commuting due to many businesses shutting their offices and sending staff home to work remotely.

Before the advent of lockdowns and shutdowns, just 3.4% of US workers were full-time home-workers. That shot up to 62% in early April. And while many have now begun to return to work, not all of them will.

Some businesses are adopting a steady-as-she-goes approach, continuing work-from-home procedures while evaluating changes to the economy and the spread of the infection. Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Salesforce and others are extending remote-working through to the end of 2020. Facebook, Slack and Twitter, have said staff who want to work from home permanently will be allowed to do so.

The total number likely to stay at home is still only an estimate. But KPMG thinks it could be between 13 million and 27 million staff – or 10% to 20% of the US workforce.

In March, 74% of respondents to a Gartner survey of more than 300 CFOs and heads-of-finance said they were shifting at least 5% of office staff to remote working.

There were around 273.6 million vehicles registered in the US in 2018. KPMG says that’s an average of 1.97 cars per household, which it anticipates could drop to 1.87 if its forecasts are correct. The cumulative effect of people driving less is that the equivalent of 14 million fewer cars will be needed. But this won’t automatically lead to the disappearance of that many automobiles from US highways. Instead, KPMG thinks there may be a gradual phasing out of second-car households, as the need for more than one vehicle becomes less pressing, which may in turn impact the vehicle sales sector and the wider automotive industry.