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Solar energy—power from the sun—is a vast and inexhaustible resource that can supply a significant portion of our electricity needs. A range of technologies is used to convert the sun’s energy into electricity, including solar collectors and photovoltaic panels.
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Amorphous solar panels use the non-crystalline, allotropic form of silicon, in which a thin layer of this silicon substrate is applied to the back of a plate of glass. These panels are much cheaper and less energy efficient, yet they are more versatile in how they can be used. For example, amorphous solar panels can be manufactured into long sheets of roofing material. Thin Film solar panels also fall into the amorphous category. This type of cells can be mounted on renewable energy flexible backing, making them more suited for mobile applications.
Nearly all the gasoline sold in the United States today is mixed with 10% ethanol, and motor vehicle manufacturers already produce vehicles designed to run on much higher ethanol blends. Ford, Daimler AG, and GM are among the automobile companies that sell “flexible-fuel” cars, trucks, and minivans that can use gasoline and ethanol blends ranging from pure gasoline up to 85% ethanol. By mid-2006, there were approximately 6 million ethanol compatible vehicles on U.S. roads.
The most well-known GTL technology is Fischer-Tropsch (FT), which is used at very large gas fields, such as Qatar’s massive North Field, to transform natural gas into a slate of end products including diesel and lubricants. But the enormous capital investment required – Shell’s Pearl plant in Qatar cost about $20bn, for instance – makes FT uneconomical for anything but the largest gas fields.
While hydropower is the biggest source of renewable energy in the United States, geothermal power is the smallest, accounting for about 0.4 percent of the net electricity produced in the United States in 2015[iv]. Globally, the use of hydroelectricity and other grid-connected renewable energy sources is expected to grow slowly over the next couple of decades, increasing at a rate of 2.5 percent per year until 2040, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA)[v]. Most of that growth will come from the construction of new hydropower and wind generating facilities. The renewable share of total world energy consumption is expected to rise from 10.6 percent in 2009 to 14.5 percent in 2040[vi].
Markets for second-generation technologies are strong and growing, but only in a few countries. The challenge is to broaden the market base for continued growth worldwide. Strategic deployment in one country not only reduces technology costs for users there, but also for those in other countries, contributing to overall cost reductions and performance improvement.
As the primary source of biofuel in North America, many organizations are conducting research in the area of ethanol production. On the Federal level, the USDA conducts a large amount of research regarding ethanol production in the United States. Much of this research is targeted towards the effect of ethanol production on domestic food markets. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has conducted various ethanol research projects, mainly in the area of cellulosic ethanol. Cellulosic ethanol has many benefits over traditional corn based-ethanol. It does not take away or directly conflict with the food supply because it is produced from wood, grasses, or non-edible parts of plants. Moreover, some studies have shown cellulosic ethanol to be more cost effective and economically sustainable than corn-based ethanol. Even if we used all the corn crop that we have in the United States and converted it into ethanol it would only produce enough fuel to serve 13 percent of the United States total gasoline consumption.Sandia National Laboratories conducts in-house cellulosic ethanol research and is also a member of the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), a research institute founded by the United States Department of Energy with the goal of developing cellulosic biofuels.
The Sun may be used to heat water instead of electricity or gas. There are two basic types of active solar heating systems based on the type of fluid — either liquid or air — that is heated in the solar energy collectors. (The collector is the device in which a fluid is heated by the Sun.)
For example, Hurricane Sandy damaged fossil fuel-dominated electric generation and distribution systems in New York and New Jersey and left millions of people without power. In contrast, renewable energy projects in the Northeast weathered Hurricane Sandy with minimal damage or disruption .