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Here comes the sun: Sustainable energy solutions and green photonics

The effort toward a sustainable energy future got a boost this week.

Japan — already a leading world player in expanding  solar energy production capacity development — announced it is changing direction from nuclear power initiatives for electricity generation to renewable energy sources. Prime Minister Naoto Kan told the world press that Japan will increase energy generation via solar, wind and biomass in its power grid, as well as enhance energy conservation.

While the change in direction was at least partly related to tsunami damage nuclear-power facilities experienced in March, green photonics initiatives in several countries in recent years have boosted the world’s capacity for sustainable energy.

Here’s where the action has been:

• Photovoltaics (PV) for solar energy: Following record installations in 2010, there is now nearly 40 GW of at-peak PV capacity installed around the world, according to the latest annual report and forecast of the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA). German and Italian markets have grown the fastest, and Japan and the United States also have new installations in place and plans for more. Read more about PV markets in the article. And check out this video to find out about work being done by one company:

• Solid-state lighting (SSL): Replacing less-efficient incandescent systems with SSL systems worldwide has the potential to reduce consumption of energy by approximately 15%. Sale of incandescent bulbs already has been banned or restricted in Australia, Canada, and the European Union, to be replaced by energy-efficient photonics-based lighting.

• Lasers and light-emitting diodes (LEDs) for manufacturing: Laser technology are also helping in manufacturing to reduce energy usage, boosted in recent months by new fiber laser applications in automobile manufacturing, shipbuilding, and elsewhere. LED technologies also save energy – and cost – by being faster, more precise, and giving a higher yield.

Sustainable photonics solutions serve both industrialized nations and countries that are rebuilding their economies and infrastructures -- protecting environmental resources, providing jobs, and lowering industry costs.

Here are some of the ways SPIE helps support R&D in green photonics:

• The Journal of Photonics for Energy under Editor-in-Chief Zakya Kafafi (National Science Foundation) serves as a bridge between research activities in photonics and renewable energy. PV advances figure heavily in recent articles  by Roland Winston (Univ. of California, Merced), Raymond Kostuk (Univ. of Arizona, College of Optical Sciences), and others. Articles are open access through 2011.

• Making solar energy cost-competitive with carbon-based and other traditional sources is a central topic the annual symposium on Solar Energy and Technology in San Diego, chaired by Martha Symko-Davies (National Renewable Energy Lab) as part of SPIE Optics and Photonics (21-25 August).

• SPIE Remote Sensing in Prague (19-22 September) showcases work in monitoring agricultural and hydrological systems, climate changes, natural disasters, and other environments. Symposium chairs are Karin Stein (Fraunhofer-IOSB Institute of Optronics, System Technologies and Image Exploitation) and Charles Bostater (Marine-Environmental Optics Lab and Remote Sensing Center, Florida Institute of Technology).

• Last March, SPIE Eco-Photonics in Strasbourg provided a new forum for discussion of sustainable solutions such as lighter-weight automobiles for better fuel efficiency and workforce re-engineering and education to meet changing industry needs. Symposium chairs were Patrick Meyrueis (Univ. of Strasbourg) and Dan Curticapean (Offenburg Univ. of Applied Sciences).

Tell us about your green photonics work -- what’s new in your lab?


Even in the U.S. Northwest! Solar panels have been installed on the roof of the SPIE headquarters building.


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