The era of solar energy began in 1950, when Bell Labs focused on the development of photovoltaic (PV) cells and created the first solar panels. The breakthrough was made by Daryl Chapin, Calvin Fuller, and Gerald Pearson, with an efficiency of four percent. Since then, solar energy has made a leap in development and the efficiency of today’s solar panels reaches more than 23 percent. As a result, countries with a lot of sunny days can generate clean electricity by making full use of the power from the Sun. For example, in the UAE, the world’s largest power plant was built for this purpose.
However, not everyone is as lucky as countries with sunny climates. In cold regions with heavy snowfall, it may seem impossible to generate electricity from the sun. But Japan has found a solution.
Japan’s Snowy City of Aomori
Japan holds many records, from having the oldest person in the world, to the fastest trains and highest life expectancy. It also holds the title of having the snowiest city in the world. Aomori, located on the coast in a bay surrounded by mountains, experiences heavy snowfall each winter, with records of up to eight meters of snow. The city’s heavy snowfall is due to strong winds colliding, rising, and falling as precipitation, turning to snow due to heavy cloud cover and low temperatures.
Traditionally, the city welcomes more tourists during the winter, but there are also issues with transportation. The national highway is closed for the winter and takes a snow plow team about a month to clear in March. But the Japanese, known for their innovative and high-tech solutions, have found a way to make use of all that snow.
The Snow Power Plant in Almori
Kojianoki, an associate professor at The Graduate School of Computer Science and Engineering, invented the snow power plant in Almori. Instead of dumping snow into the sea, it will be taken to an unused pool at a former school. There, it will fill special pipes that contain a heat conducting fluid. Under a layer of snow, the pipes will be cold and on the surface of the pool, they will remain open and can be heated by the energy of the sun.
Due to the temperature difference, fluid movement will constantly be created in the pipes, driven by the effect of a thermosiphon. The cold liquid, being denser than the hot one, will sink down faster and push the hot liquid to the surface, rotating the turbine of an electric generator and generating electricity.
Almori is starting to test the technology and experiments will continue until spring. If the project is successful, Almori will see additional advantages for its development. There are many hot springs in and around the city, which can be used to heat pipes with fluid even more efficiently, resulting in higher electricity generation. The creators are confident that their installation is easily scalable in both directions, making it suitable for both industrial and private use.
Every year, Almori spends millions on snow removal and disposal. With the snow power plant, the city can turn a challenge into an opportunity, utilizing the snow for clean energy generation and reducing waste. The innovation in Japan serves as an inspiration for the world to find new and creative ways to harness renewable energy sources and build a sustainable future.