A Century of PhysicsThe Future of Renewable Energy
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Golden, Colo., Jan. 7, 1999 The U.S. Department of Energy's National
Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) will take an active role in events
marking the 100th anniversary of the American Physical Society (APS) and the
role of physics in the 20th century.
Advancements in physics and related fields of scientific research have
led to many breakthroughs in renewable energy technologies that, in turn,
have given us the products that are today beginning to make a difference in
the lives of people all around the world. Several story ideas can be
developed to explore the role of physics in energy development throughout
history and into the new millennium. NREL scientists and engineers are
available to explain any of these ideas and concepts from the most basic,
educational level to the most advanced.
- The basics: What does a scientist do in the laboratory, from getting
an idea to developing a new solar cell or design for a wind turbine blade?
How do scientists use physics, including quantum and solid-state physics,
materials science, biophysics, polymer science, aerodynamics,
thermodynamics, superconductivity and optics?
- A brief history of the development of solar and wind energy.
Although windmills have been around for centuries and the sun has warmed
buildings in many parts of the world for generations, these technologies
took a quantum leap beginning with scientific advances in the 1950s and
1960s. Photovoltaics - turning sunlight into electricity - got its first
boost from early satellites and the space program. With the help of physics
and advanced materials, the cost of solar electricity has been cut 100 fold
in the past two decades. Solar panels will provide clean and reliable power
in many parts of the world in the coming century, as will wind power.
The understanding of aerodynamics, sped along by the
aerospace industry, has given us air foil designs that make electricity from
modern wind turbines almost cost competitive with power from fossil fuels.
- Making the far-out practical: Taking physics out of the laboratory
and into your home. What are the renewable energy products that today are
practical and in use by industry and consumers?
PV-roofing shingles; solar cells and panels with
record-setting efficiencies; solar walls (transpired solar collectors);
stand-alone solar energy systems for the home and business; utility-scale PV
applications that provide power to thousands of customers; small,
single-building wind turbines and massive, utility-scale wind machines
deployed in wind farms around the country.
In addition, NREL has won 19 prestigious R&D 100
awards, given annually by R&D Magazine for significant technological
innovations. NREL R&D 100 winners include thin-film solar cells, tandem
solar cells, PV modules and advanced wind turbine air foil designs.
- The next century: What research in the lab today will give us the
next generation of renewable energy products and systems? Hydrogen
generation and storage; fuel cells; thermophotovoltaicsusing heat instead
of sunlight to generate electricity and advanced wind turbines.
- The bigger picture: What role can physics and other scientific
disciplines play in the development of clean energy technologies that will
help solve serious environmental problems, such as global climate change and
The APS centennial meeting is March 20-26 at the society's headquarters
in Atlanta. DOE, NREL and other national laboratories will host exhibits,
presentations and other events throughout the centennial celebration.