MIT amps up solar cells

MIT is developing a new solar cell technology that results in a tenfold increase in power conversion, takes up less space, and can be added to existing solar panels.

Photo caption:

Organic solar concentrators collect and focus different colors of sunlight. Solar cells can be attached to the edges of the plates. By collecting light over their full surface and concentrating it at their edges, these devices reduce the required area of solar cells and consequently, the cost of solar power. Stacking multiple concentrators allows the optimization of solar cells at each wavelength, increasing the overall power output.

Obama and Ethanol

Obama Camp Closely Linked With Ethanol – NYTimes.com

Not long after arriving in the Senate, Mr. Obama himself briefly provoked a controversy by flying at subsidized rates on corporate airplanes, including twice on jets owned by Archer Daniels Midland, which is the nation’s largest ethanol producer and is based in his home state.

No big surprise he won Iowa. E85 as a solution to our fuel crisis is a red herring. If Obama hasn’t heard this yet, it’s because he has corn-money stuffed in his hears. If he’s elected, keep an eye on his energy policy to see if he’s making good decisions free from political influence. Our food prices and environment depend on E85 getting shot down, as it should.

Stagflation!

U.S. Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben BernankeFor some reason, whenever the economy has come up in the last couple of years, my typical response has been to enthusiastically shout “stagflation!” Like economist Jeffrey Sachs, I’ve been seeing a few similarities:

The similarities with the first half of the 1970s are eerie. Then as now, the world economy was growing rapidly, around 5% per year, in the lead-up to surging commodities prices. Then as now, the United States was engaged in a costly, unpopular, and unsuccessful war (Vietnam), financed by large budget deficits and foreign borrowing. The Middle East, as now, was racked by turmoil and war, notably the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. The dollar was in free fall, pushed off its strong-currency pedestal by overly expansionary U.S. monetary policy. And then as now, the surge in commodity prices was dramatic. Oil markets turned extremely tight in the early 1970s, not mainly because of the Arab oil boycott following the 1973 war, but because mounting global demand hit a limited supply. Oil prices quadrupled. Food prices also soared, fueled by strong world demand, surging fertilizer prices, and massive climate shocks, especially a powerful El Niño in 1972.

He also draws another connection:

Then as now, Dick Cheney was close to the helm. Whats more, the erroneous lessons he took away from the 1970s contribute to the problems that haunt us today. Cheney was Gerald Fords chief of staff in 1976, when soaring oil prices helped doom Fords reelection campaign. Cheney became obsessed with the fight to control the flow of Middle Eastern oil. That obsession, which by many accounts contributed to Cheneys urge to launch the Iraq war, has made the United States much more vulnerable in terms of energy, not only by tying the United States down in a disastrous military effort but also by diverting attention from a more coherent energy strategy.

It’s an interesting piece, and he does offer a suggestion or two for how we can avoid the mistakes of our last stagflation recovery. If you’re going to be influencing monetary policy for a large governing body, I highly recommend you read it. If you’re Ben Bernanke, hopefully you’re taking all of this in.

Sustainable energy in African villages

Nairobi businessman bringing sustainable energy to unpowered villages – Boing Boing Gadgets

Solar is, in Africa as in the west, mostly impractical. But wind, like sunlight, is “everywhere,” providing a natural, inexhaustible supply of energy. Among the most interesting of CraftSkills’ installations is the one at Chifiri, which uses a turbine’s power to run a pump, which filters 422 liters of water an hour from a brackish pond that is the only source of water for 500 villagers.

This is just the kind of business growth that needs to be encouraged in developing areas. It’s exciting to think of the possibilities – the clean drinking water alone will do a great deal to improve health conditions and increase a village’s abillity to move from survival mode to production and growth – not to mention that electricity could be made available. When wealthier nations decide to support developing ones, these are the kinds of projects to support. Is there a foundation for supporting sustainable energy projects out there? It would be cool if there is.