By Jim Nelson • February 28th, 2008
There is no doubt about it. The growth of renewable energies over the past decade is something rarely seen.

Take wind energy for instance…

The wind energy industry added 20 gigawatts of capacity last year. That’s 31% more than the year before and 176% more than just five years ago. Europe already proved that this growth is steady, and both China and the U.S are finally jumping on board. Not even the NIMBY’s can stop it.

(NIMBY – meaning “Not in My Backyard” – refers to those who reject projects around them even if it benefits them. NIMBY-ism is the main reason why certain proposals for wind farms are rejected.)

Solar power has also presented amazing opportunities. The sale of solar cells increased upwards of 40% last year alone. It’s even made investors big money in the stock market. One of the biggest winners last year on the NASDAQ was a solar company named First Solar, Inc (NYSE: FSLR) If you would have sank just $1,000 into this company at the beginning of 2007, you would’ve walked away with $8,854.

There is only a certain amount of time during the day when windmills can produce energy – their “capacity factor.” The average capacity factor for wind power is about 30%. The rest of the time, these windmills sit like giant statues waiting for the next gust of wind. During that period – the “energy time gap” – no new electricity is going onto the power grids.

The same goes for grid connect solar power…

The sun doesn’t shine 100% of the time. Even in the vast deserts of Southwest U.S., in the peak of summer, the sun is only up about 14 hours a day. When it is up, there are problems with cloud coverage. The average capacity factor for solar power is around 25%.

Until now, batteries were the only choice. Batteries offer great energy storage, but take too long to charge. It takes anywhere from one to ten hours to charge batteries. Unfortunately, with a capacity factor for renewables under 30%, we don’t have that kind of time to wait for batteries to charge.

There is one solution for the energy problems of tomorrow By using a special type of device called a supercapacitor, we have the solution to the fatal “energy time gap.”

Batteries are chemical devices that use mass transfers over a certain period of time. Supercapacitors store ions, which can be stored and released very quickly. It’s like instant energy.

But, that’s not to say that it has to be one or the other. In fact, the two work very well together. Supercapacitors bring fast storage and release of instant power – which is crucial – and batteries use this to advance their storage and long-lasting energy release capabilities.

Changing batteries every few years at wind farms and solar plants, let alone hundreds of other battery-powered locations, becomes quite expensive and time-consuming. These supercapacitors last between 1,000 and 10,000 times as long. In fact, there is a company already manufacturing and selling these products for use in windmills.

But, supercapacitors’ advantages don’t stop here…

When a car brakes, or a crane drops, energy is released. And until now, that energy isn’t recaptured. It’s wasted. Supercapacitors can actually capture that energy and use it again for other purposes. Using the crane example for a minute…

When a crane drops its massive arms to pick something up or unload something, there is a large amount of natural energy (gravity) released. Batteries cannot charge in the time that the crane is dropping, but supercapacitors can. That energy is then stored in the supercapacitor. When the crane needs raised up again, that stored energy is used. Hundreds of different industries can apply this principle to their own energy needs.

Take transportation for instance…

Supercapacitors can collect energy as a vehicle brakes, then release it when the vehicle accelerates, giving a nice boost of energy without any emissions. Every single time someone pulls up to a stop sign or red light the vehicle wastes energy. That energy can save massive amounts of gasoline every second of the day, all over the world. And, both countries and manufacturers are starting to pay attention…

China has an enormous pollution problem. With the 2008 Beijing Olympics coming up, the country is desperately trying to turn its public transportation “green.”

Chinese hybrid bus makers recently signed two contracts for the use of supercapacitor technology. With the rush to have it done by the opening ceremony in August, we should see a rush to buy up as many of these as possible between now and then.

The U.S. Advanced Battery Consortium has already arranged deals for use of its patented supercapacitors, in combination with Lithium-Ion batteries, in next-generation Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) in the United States.

In fact, news has already started to show up in this field. In January this year, it was announced that one of the leading automotive electronics suppliers has designed a was to use its supercapacitors in a major automaker’s electrical system, and it will go into full-scale production in the second half of next year.

The role of supercapacitors in the transportation industry is limitless, let alone renewable energies and industrial applications. It’s certainly something to keep on eye out for.