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SPIE Professional July 2011

Solutions are Green

By Katarina Svanberg

SPIE President Katarina Svanberg

Photonics — recognized as one of five "Key Enabling Technologies" by the European Commission — has enabled many improvements in life around the world. In Europe and elsewhere, sustainability is high among the priorities for R&D investment.

Green photonics offers a number of paths toward an equitable and sustainable future. Witness the development of cost-efficient, clean sources of energy and of processes for manufacturing that require less energy and use materials to help lower the world's collective carbon footprint.

While sustainable energy has long been recognized as an important strategy for ensuring progress and stability, this year has brought a renewed sense of priority to the work of developing new sources of renewable energy.

The latest annual report and forecast of the European Photovoltaic Industry Association notes that, following record installations in 2010, there is now nearly 40 GW of at-peak photovoltaic (PV) capacity installed around the world.

SPIE Supports Green PhotonicsThe report also points out opportunity, saying that much more capacity development is needed to meet the world's energy needs. And, indeed, major installations are underway in Europe, Asia, and North America

Yet, renewable energy production may take years — if ever — to meet energy needs for food, housing, and clothing production, heat, transportation, etc. Energy conservation is absolutely crucial to sustainability.

Sustainable innovations

We must all do our part to reduce our energy consumption, and people across the globe are taking steps to do so. Green photonics is enabling many of the advances that make that possible.

Replacing less-efficient incandescent lighting systems with solid-state lighting (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 lighting.

Low-emissivity glass, a photonics innovation, contributes significant energy savings by optimizing transmitted light and IR into buildings.

There are many other examples where photonic sensors will reduce energy usage, such as motion-activated light switches.

Sustainable photonics solutions serve both industrialized nations and countries that are rebuilding their economies and infrastructures to deal with the challenges of protecting environmental quality and to provide jobs. Green photonics serve businesses through the ability to lower production costs.

SPIE support role

SPIE supports these advances in many ways.

• The Society's Journal of Photonics for Energy began publication in January under Editor-in-Chief Zakya Kafafi (National Science Foundation). PV advances, energy storage solutions, and cost-efficient generation figure heavily in recent articles, all available via open-access throughout the inaugural year.

• Meeting the challenge of making solar energy cost-competitive with carbon-based and other traditional sources is a central topic at next month's annual symposium on Solar Energy and Technology in San Diego, chaired by Martha Symko-Davies (National Renewable Energy Lab) and part of SPIE Optics and Photonics.

• In September, the SPIE Remote Sensing congress in Prague will again provide a focus for work in monitoring agricultural and hydrological systems, climate changes, natural disasters, and other environments.

• 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.

• Several sessions at SPIE Defense, Security and Sensing in April focused on technology used to track oil spills and other ocean events and phenomena.

• SPIE education programs support the need for continued training throughout all career phases, and the Society's outreach programs bring an awareness to students at every level of the field of photonics about the opportunities it provides for a satisfying profession.

Photonics has always been a source of solutions for the world's challenges — never more so than today. SPIE remains committed to serving the community in its quest to advance the field and create a better world.

Sustainability is our past and our future

Nature's use of solar photons over eons provided us with the fossil fuels of today.

Now we need to devise ways of replacing these in a vastly shorter timescale.

Solar-fed and food-supply-neutral biofuels such as algae, solar-liberated hydrogen, or some other approach may support some of the growing and popular mobile platforms in our future.

Improved batteries for storing solar-generated electricity is another option already in use by pioneers of sustainability.

How are you reducing energy consumption and innovating for a more sustainable future?

Write to us at spieprofessional@spie.org.

Have a question or comment about this article? Write to us at spieprofessional@spie.org.

DOI: 10.1117/2.4201110.01

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