Author Archives: mikesandburg

Solar Energy Production Enjoys Massive Surge

In August of 2013, according the the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), net solar energy generation totaled 983,000 megawatt hours.  This was an increase of 112% over August of 2012, when production was only 464,000 megawatt hours. These figures include both solar thermal and photovoltaic production.

As exciting as this is, it is important to keep this in perspective.  Wind energy production is currently nearly 10 times that of solar.  Given the vast amounts of real estate that must be devoted to wind energy production, this suggests that the solar power industry is still in its infancy, leaving plenty of room for further growth.


Tax Incentives An Important Breath For Wind Energy Growth

The United States is second only to China in installed wind energy capacity, with over 60 gigawatts at the end of 2012, leading the world wind power growth by adding over 13 gigawatts during 2012. This growth was stimulated by tax incentives that were set to expire at the end of 2012. In a last minute move by Congress, however, wind power incentives were extended to the end of 2013.

States leading US production are Texas, California, Iowa, Illinois, Oregon and Oklahoma.  In Iowa and South Dakota, nearly 25% of state energy production comes from harnessing the wind.  (Source:  U.S. Energy Information Administration, AWEA project database)

Considering wind resources a percentage of electricity consumption, however, the US lags behind such countries as Denmark, Portugal, Spain, Ireland, Germany, Greece, Romania, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Netherlands and Italy.

Tax incentives play a major role in the growth of alternative energy production, as demonstrated by 2012 results as the threat of their expiration loomed at year end.  With those incentives again expiring by the close of 2013, energy producers have been scrambling to beat the deadline.

Clearly, if the U.S. is serious about becoming energy independent, those incentives need to be extended again.


Sustainable Hydrogen Generation From Solar-Microbial Device

Researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, have recently demonstrated the feasibility of producing hydrogen gas from wastewater and light from the sun. They use energy from the sun in a process known as microbial electrohydrogenesis to extract hydrogen gas from municipal waste water. The study concluded that, “The successful demonstration of such a self-biased, sustainable microbial device for hydrogen generation could provide a new solution that can simultaneously address the need of wastewater treatment and the increasing demand for clean energy.”

We know that water consists of two molecules of Hydrogen coupled with one molecule of Oxygen (H2O). Hydrogen is commonly produced through electrolosys of water, a costly process that requires considerable amounts of electricity. What is exciting about this new breakthrough is its sustainability. The process uses only sunlight and wastewater to produce hydrogen gas, and does not require an external energy source to split the hydrogen and oxygen from water.

Instead, the research team at the University of California, led by Associate Professor Yat Li, developed a solar-microbial device that combines a microbial fuel cell (MFC) with a photoelectrochemical cell (PEC). Electricity is actually generated biologically, as bacteria work on decomposing organic matter in municipal sewage wastewater by the MFC. This biolocially produced electricity, combined with solar energy produced by the PEC, is sufficient to perform the electrolosys to separate hydrogen and oxygen from the wastewater.

The study was published by the American Chemical Society on September 11, 2013 in an article entitled “A Self-Biased Solar-Microbial Device for Sustainable Hydrogen Generation.”