Saturday, September 20, 2014

Galway City Piloting Solar-Powered Wifi Litter Bins

Shop Street, Galway
Talk about a rubbish internet connection - Galway city’s new solar powered litter bins are now equipped with wifi.

Five bins have been installed on Shop Street as part of a five-week pilot scheme to determine their efficiency and frequency of use by the public.

Ordinary litter bins usually cost local authorities €1,500 each. The new bins are €5,000 each but they fit up to eight times more rubbish than standard bins thanks to their self-compacting ability.

Street bins are ordinarily emptied up to six times a day, but the solar-powered bins are emptied just once every two days. The council would save significantly on service costs, according to Cllr Niall McNelis.

"“Another saving will be less bin liners needed, which means less plastic going to landfill," he added.

The futuristic bins might become more commonplace as DĂșn Laoghaire–Rathdown County Council is considering installing 400 of them.


Ecology Center Adding Solar Panels

Ann Arbor is getting greener. The non-profit Ecology Center is installing eight solar panels on its roof Friday.
Credit Ecology Center

The center's Creative Director Monica Patel says the price of solar panels continues to decrease. Patel says solar is a viable source of energy, despite southeast Michigan's erratic weather, "Enough to offset a good portion of our day to day household and commercial electricity needs.  There are grey days, but there also are a lot of sunny days.  More than say Portland, Oregon, or even parts of Germany where they have quite a lot of solar installations."

Patel says this installation is the first step in a larger plan to eventually install five-thousand solar roofs across Ann Arbor.

The center is also working on a community solar installation as part of its green affordable housing efforts. 


Friday, September 19, 2014

West Monroe Waste-water Treatment Plant Gets Grant for New Solar Panels

WEST MONROE, LA -- West Monroe's waste water treatment plant should soon be more efficient.

The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality has awarded a $1.5 million grant to the city -- to add solar panels.

The panels will reduce the amount of electricity needed.

"This project will create enough electricity for us to reduce our energy demand... Our purchase of electricity by about 25 to 35 percent," said Mayor Dave Norris of West Monroe.

The waste water treatment plant will reduce the amount of water pulled from the Sparta Aquifer by recycling around 5 million gallons of waste water per day.  

That water is then used by Graphic Packaging.


New Process Could Increase Solar-Cell Efficiency 30%

Scientists looking to boost the efficiency of solar panels are taking a fresh look at an exotic physics phenomenon first observed nearly 50 years ago in glowing crystals.

Called singlet fission, the process can enable a single photon of light to generate two electrons instead of just one. This 1-to-2 conversion, as the process is known, has the potential to boost solar cell efficiency by as much as 30 percent above current levels, according to a new paper published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters.

Most commercial-grade solar panels, have an efficiency
of 20 to 25 percent; the singlet fission process could
boost it an additional 30 percent.
Singlet fission “was originally proposed to explain some weird results that were observed in fluorescent organic crystals,” said the study’s first author, Christopher Bardeen, a chemist at the University of California, Riverside. “It received a lot of attention in the 1960s and 1970s, but then it was mostly forgotten.”

But around 2006, Bardeen and other scientists exploring new ways to boost the solar-energy conversion rates of photovoltaic panels began taking a renewed interest in singlet fission. In recent years, experiments conducted by Bardeen’s group not only helped confirm that the phenomenon is real, but also that it can be highly efficient in a variety of materials.

The hope is that singlet fission materials can be incorporated into solar panels to increase their energy conversion efficiency – the ratio of electrons produced to the amount of photons absorbed – beyond the current theoretical ceiling of approximately 32 percent, which is called the “Shockley-Queisser Limit.”

“The efficiency of most commercial-grade PV panels, like the ones you would install on your house, are around 20 to 25 percent,” Bardeen said.

Engineers have managed to overcome the Shockley-Queisser Limit through clever engineering to boost the efficiency of photovoltaic (PV) panels up to 50 percent. One technology, called multijunction solar cells, involves combining two or more semiconductor panels. But such technologies are currently limited mostly to military and space applications due to their high costs.

“It may be possible to find a way to make (multijunction cells) cheaply. … Some companies are trying to do this, but without much impact so far,” Bardeen said.

Many scientists believe the only way the next wave, or third generation, of photovoltaic technology will surpass the Shockley-Queisser Limit while remaining inexpensive is if they make use of physical processes such as singlet fission.

“First-generation solar cells were based on silicon, and they were efficient but expensive. The second generation cost much less and was based on thin-film technology. The goal of the third generation is to keep cost down but get efficiency as high as possible,” Bardeen said.

Currently, solar cells work by absorbing a photon and generating an exciton – a bound electron with a negative charge and a positively charged “hole” – which subsequently separates into an electron-hole pair. The electrons are then harnessed as electricity. In singlet fission, however, some photons – those with higher energy – get converted into two excitons, each of which can split to yield two electrons. Bardeen’s team estimates that singlet fission can boost efficiency of solar cells by up to 30 percent, resulting in a maximum efficiency of above 40 percent instead of the current 32 percent.

Experts predict that it could be another five to 10 years before solar panels based on singlet fission technology are ready for commercial use. Before that can happen, scientists will need to gain a much better understanding of how singlet fission works, said Josef Michl, a photophysicist at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who helped revive interest in singlet fission several years ago. At the moment, the main challenge for researchers trying to create a singlet fission solar panel is “a thorough understanding of the underlying physics that should allow chemists to come up with more practical materials than the few that we now know to work well in the laboratory,” said Michl, who was not involved in the study.

Michl called Bardeen’s group a “key player” in the worldwide effort to develop the technology, and said that that team’s experimental work has helped singlet fission shed its “reputation of an obscure and inefficient phenomenon.”

The other primary hurdle toward a functional singlet fission solar panel will be one of engineering, Bardeen said. Once more materials that can undergo singlet fission are developed, they will still need to be incorporated into photovoltaic cells to convert solar energy into electricity. Researchers led by Marc Baldo at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently reported that they had proven that it was possible to create a solar panel that uses singlet fission, but the efficiency of their device was only 2 to 3 percent.

“Baldo’s group showed that it could be done,” Bardeen said, “but nobody’s going to be putting those on rooftops tomorrow.”


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Concern Raised On Poor Quality of Chinese Solar Cells

Solar panel seen in Labutta Township in February in 2014 (Photo-EMG)
The influx of cheap Chinese-made solar panels raises concerns, mainly due to lack of guarantee and the potentially dangerous level of electromagnetic (not electronic) waves.

Aung Myint, the general secretary from the Renewable Energy Association Myanmar (REAM), said that low-quality solar panels may emit the dangerous level of electromagnetic wave, causing danger to the environment and health problems.

He noted that China is very cautious about the use of solar panels which emit the high level of electromagnetic wave in the country, but the unwanted poor-quality products are being exported to Myanmar. He added that the panels come without any guarantee and the specifications are unclear, but they find buyers here due to the cheap price.

“People here have no clue on these panels. Some people think that the big panels mean good quality. That is a major problem here,” said Aung Myint.

Solar panels are in high demand in Myanmar, to fill the electricity gap in urban and rural areas. More villages now rely more on solar power, particularly after Typhoon Nargis, as the national electricity grid has not yet reached their homes.

“People have to spend a lot of money on the installation of solar panels. Thus, the technology, design and standards of the panels matter. Without clear specifications, these could lead to a huge loss,” added Aung Myint.


San Diego Fiat Dealership Deploys Solar-Powered Digital Signage

Renewable energy Media and Branding product company Envision Solar International Inc. recently deployed its EV ARC Digital Platform at Kearny Mesa Fiat in San Diego, according to a company release. The dealership will offer "test driving on sunshine" and will leverage the built-in digital signage advertising screen to deliver sales content and to drive revenue from partners with complementary products such as insurance vendors.

Kearny Mesa FIAT is among the top U.S. retailers of the Fiat 500e all-electric vehicle and engages in eco-friendly practices, earning it the second-annual dealer Environmentally Conscious Operations program award. The dealership incorporated ECO initiatives during its construction, and the EV ARC is placed prominently in a high-visibility location where it can create maximum customer interest.

"We know that San Diegans care deeply about the environment. We are committed to being pioneers in eco-friendly automotive operations." Kearny Mesa Fiat President Javier Soriano said in the announcement. "The EV ARC and offering test drives on pure sunshine are great examples of that commitment. The integrated digital screen not only allows us to communicate more efficiently with our customers but also to recoups the costs of having the EV ARC on the lot. We love offering free charging to our guests -- it doesn't cost us anything and we didn't have to dig up our dealership to get it done."

Invented and manufactured in the U.S., the announcement said, the EV ARC fits inside a parking space and generates around 16 kilowatt hours per day that are stored in the on-board batteries. The system's solar electrical generation is enhanced by EnvisionTrak, which enables the array to follow the sun, generating 18 percent to 25 percent more electricity than a fixed array. The EV ARC Digi has an outdoor digital advertising screen, which is powered by the unit and receives content updates across the EV ARC unit's wireless network connection.

"Kearny Mesa Fiat is a visionary and thought-leading San Diego business," Envision Solar CEO Desmond Wheatley said in the announcement. "This is an important milestone for Envision Solar as well: our first media-based and recurring-revenue business. It's great for the customer because it makes the pricing much more approachable, and they can cover their costs. It's great for Envision because there are thousands of such businesses to whom this sort of model should appeal so we believe that we can scale this business model very profitably."


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Electric Field Enhances Solar Cell

Researchers at the Kavli Energy Nanosciences Institute, the University of California at Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, have succeeded in boosting the performance of a new type of solar cell by simply applying an electric field to it. The device (made of low cost zinc phosphide and graphene) is novel in its design in that it lacks a junction between the two p- and n-type semiconductors that make it up – which is a first. The cell might be ideal for use in areas where the intensity of sunlight changes a lot over the course of the year.
The device and experimental results
“Our solar cell does not need to be doped, nor does it require high-quality heterojunctions, which are challenging and expensive to fabricate,” says team member Oscar Vazquez-Mena. “Our work is a novel and promising approach for making photovoltaics with low-cost and abundant materials such as certain phosphides and sulphides that are easy to synthesize and which are environmentally friendly.”

Beside expensive light absorbers like silicon, there are semiconductors like zinc phosphide, copper zinc tin sulphide, cuprous oxide and iron sulphide that are much cheaper. However, for these materials to efficiently convert sunlight into energy, they need to be doped to form homojunctions, or require complementary emitter materials to form high-quality p-n heterojunctions. A team led by Alex Zettl, Harry Atwater, Ali Javey and Michael Crommie has now overcome this problem by making a simple junction with graphene rather than a semiconductor. A voltage applied to a gate over the junction can tune the energy barrier between the graphene and an adjoining layer of zinc phosphide to boost how efficiently solar cells made from these materials convert light into energy.

The devices are relatively simple to fabricate, says Vazquez-Mena. “Jeff Bosco from Harry Atwater’s team at Caltech makes high-quality zinc phosphide films and in our lab at UC Berkeley, we are experts at growing graphene on copper substrates. Basically, we transfer the graphene from the copper onto the zinc phosphide film to form a graphene- zinc phosphide junction. We then add an insulator layer on top of the graphene, prepared by our colleagues in Ali Javey’s team, also at UC Berkeley. Finally we add a thin top gate to the structure.”

Barrier is like a dam

Conventional solar cells normally contain two bulk semiconductors, with their electrons at different energy levels. These semiconductors are brought into contact to form an electric barrier between them that separates the electrons from each side. “This barrier can be likened to the dam in a hydroelectric power plant that separates two reservoirs of water at different heights,” explains Vazquez-Mena. “In a solar cell, the electric charges are the water in the dam and we use energy from the Sun to make the charges jump over the barrier.”

In the new device, the researchers used a layer of graphene in place of one of the semiconductors and added a top gate to it. “Why? Because it is easy to control the energy level of electrons in graphene by doing this,” Vazquez-Mena tells “Such a thing is difficult to do in a bulk semiconductor.”

The top gate can regulate the barrier between graphene and the zinc phosphide, needed for the solar cell to work, he adds. “This is critical for the performance of the device and allows us to optimize the energy extracted from it. Going back to the dam analogy, it is as if we would be controlling the height of the dam.”

The fact that we can manipulate the barrier height in this way means that, in principle, we could make graphene junctions with many other materials, he says.

Modifying the barrier

In bulk semiconductor solar cells, the barrier height depends on the intrinsic properties of the materials making up the barrier. So, once you put the materials together, there is not much you can do to change the barrier, explains Vazquez-Mena.

“Our device is very different in that we can modify this barrier by simply applying an electric field to the top gate and adjusting the strength of the field applied for different materials and light conditions to optimize energy conversion. Our device, which is just a basic graphene-zinc phosphide solar cell, normally has an efficiency of 1% without any applied gate voltage, but we have doubled this to 2% by increasing the gate voltage to 2V. We have thus been able to boost its performance beyond the intrinsic properties of the material it is made up of.”

This type of solar cell might be ideal in climes where the sunlight varies a lot, he says – thanks to the fact that we can adjust the barrier to optimize energy conversion.

The California researchers say that they are looking to improve the efficiency of their devices and improving the quality of the graphene-zinc phosphide junction so that it produces a higher photocurrent. “We also want to apply our technology to other low-cost and readily available materials,” says Vazquez-Mena. “For example, the device we have made can be improved by using graphene itself or a transparent conductor like indium-tin oxide as the top gate.”

The team, reporting its work in Nano Letters, says that it will also test copper zinc tin sulphide, cuprous oxides and copper sulphide. “These materials are less harmful to the environment compared with commonly used solar cell materials like cadmium telluride and are cheaper than pure silicon. We definitely have many ideas to try but we also hope that other research groups will be inspired by our experiments and develop similar strategies to keep improving the efficiencies of alternative photovoltaic materials.”


Solar Power For The Masses Reaches Charlotte

Bruce Henderson -
Michael Zytkow, Solarize Charlotte
A three-month campaign to broaden the appeal of rooftop solar systems has declared success in its aim of making them cheaper and simpler for Charlotte-area homeowners.

Solarize Charlotte launched in the hometown of the nation’s largest electric utility, Duke Energy, in April. The volunteer-run program offered discounts on installations and connected homeowners to tax savings and low-interest loans.

“One of the issues we all recognized was that even as solar dropped in price, people saw barriers,” said project assistant Michael Zytkow. “So the goal is to help with everything involved.”

About 600 people expressed interest in the program, of which 186 solicited proposals for systems. Twenty-four homeowners signed installation contracts, six made verbal agreements and 10 contracts are pending. Another 89 projects are still in the consultation stages.

North Carolina ranks fourth-largest in the nation for its solar capacity, says the Solar Energy Industries Association, but that’s mostly because of commercial-scale installations.

Duke Energy says about 1,700 North Carolina customers, most of them affluent, own rooftop solar systems. Solarize Charlotte’s focus included lower-income and non-white homeowners.

Initiative moved east

“My philosophy is that solar should be for everyone,” said Zytkow, whose full-time job is as a Greenpeace field organizer. “My background of activism is in meeting people where they are.”

Solarize Charlotte was an outgrowth of an initiative born in Portland, Ore., five years ago and adopted by dozens of communities under Energy Department-funded guidelines.

A coalition of more than 20 nonprofit advocacy groups and churches brought it to North Carolina. Similar programs have launched in Asheville, Carrboro and Durham.

The Charlotte campaign worked with a solar company, the RED Group, that offered bulk discounts on installations. State and federal tax credits pare the cost, and the program led homeowners to low-interest loans.

Cut cost of systems

All told, organizers say, those incentives could take up to 75 percent off the retail price of a solar system. Typical Solarize systems, including tax credits, cost about $4,500 to $8,000.

Solar panel prices have dropped sharply in recent years, and the arrays are now thinner and more aesthetically pleasing. The expiration of North Carolina’s 35 percent tax credit at the end of 2015 has also stimulated interest.

Still, “it takes a lot of consumer education to get people to the point where they’re ready to go solar,” said Cynthia Redwine, a partner in RED Group, a 2-year-old company formed by former Peace Corps volunteers.

Some potential customers, for instance, believe that net metering – in which utilities give homeowners with solar systems credit for the energy they generate – means they have to live off the grid, she said.

Starting in late April, Solarize volunteers went door-to-door, bought radio ads, staffed festival booths and made presentations to homeowners associations, clubs and churches.

Savings biggest factor

The campaigners pitched the environmental and economic aspects of solar power, but found most people responded to rising electricity rates.

“At the end of the day, that’s what resonates with people – their power bills,” Zytkow said. “One of the first things you hear out there is the idea of these (utility) monopolies. They’re captive customers, and they don’t have any options. A lot of it is rallying around the concept of choice.”

Charlotte homeowner Terry Taylor-Allen, a communications consultant on energy, environment and sustainability, heard about Solarize at a conference and quickly signed up.

Taylor-Allen and her husband, Mark Allen, had considered solar for years but hesitated at trying to sort through its technological aspects and financial viability.

“The very nice thing about Solarize Charlotte is that they sort of anticipate those wrap-around needs and solved those problems,” she said. “From that perspective, it’s a really, really good program. It facilitates a lot of decision- making.”

Their rooftop panels started generating electricity July 14.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Community Solar Could Be Coming Soon to MI

PHOTO: Many homes aren't suitable for rooftop solar installations,
but community solar projects, supported by the state's two largest utilities,
could offer a means for more people in Michigan to access solar energy.
Photo credit: Jusben/
LANSING, Mich. - The future of solar energy is looking brighter in Michigan.

A new report shows the state's two largest utilities both plan to offer community solar programs.

Julie Baldwin with the Michigan Public Service Commission's renewable energy division says that would mean Consumers Energy or DTE customers who aren't able to have their own solar installations could buy into a larger installation in their neighborhood or town, and still reap the benefits of solar power.

"They could invest in this community solar project and receive a credit on their bill," Baldwin said. "It allows people who aren't really able to participate in their own solar project, to participate."

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates 75 percent of Americans can't own or lease their own solar systems, either because their roofs are physically unsuitable or they live in multifamily housing. The final report from the Michigan Solar Working Group is on the website.

Michigan currently has two small community solar projects launched by co-operatives, while the Lansing Board of Water and Light is in the process of developing what would be the state's largest community solar array. Although there are still issues to work out with the utilities, Baldwin said the tide is turning regarding the feasibility of solar power.

"The price of solar has come down a lot," said Baldwin. "Looking at solar installations happening around the country, I feel we're likely to see significantly more solar in Michigan."

Baldwin said Consumers Energy will file plans to develop a community solar project by the end of the year, while DTE indicated support for the idea but with no specific filing date at this point.


Will New Tariffs on Chinese Solar Products Give America an Edge?

The good news? Solar energy is seeing massive growth in the United States.

The bad news? It still has an incredibly long way to go, but the future is bright.

In an effort to help the blossoming solar industry domestically, the United States International Trade Commission decided to slap some heavy tariffs on solar panels being imported from China and Taiwan. Originally, tariffs had been aimed at Chinese products, but was it was found that Taiwan was being used as a work-around of sorts for China to dodge the original tariffs, hence the new effort to place fees on products from Taiwan as well.

As reports, the fees sound fairly hefty — 165 percent on Chinese products and 76 percent for Taiwanese products. Given the relative advantages the Asian manufacturers have over American, namely cheap labor and heavy government subsidization, action needed to be taken to help foster growth in domestic production. There is a bit of leeway for Chinese manufacturers, however, as the tariffs do not actually effect every single company. The USITC works with each company on an individual basis, and takes different things into account when determining the actual tax level.

Factors that can play a part in that determination include the origin of raw materials, where labor is outsourced to, and what the end product hitting the market actually is.

There is a small but growing contingency of American solar panel manufacturers, including Solar City (NASDAQ:SCTY) and First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR), all of which are set to benefit from the USITC’s decision. New areas around the country are growing and becoming open to solar power as a result of improved technology and tax incentives, making the market ripe for investment. For example, places like the pacific northwest, which suffers from a reputation of constant cloud cover and rainfall, are attracting entrepreneurs and customers alike.

Naturally, the tariffs are designed to help spur on customers to make purchases from American manufacturers. The question is whether or not it will work.
Source: Solar Energy Industries Association
 The real question doesn’t seem to be if the measures being taken to undercut Asian solar products will lead to an edge for American companies, but rather, when? The solar industry is seeing huge growth, and as can be seen in the chart above from the Solar Energy Industries Association, the next few years are expected to see a huge jump in installed solar capacity. That means a ton of business for solar installers and manufacturers of panels and components.

All of that increased capacity is coming at the beck and call of residential and commercial adopters, who have helped make solar energy one of the fastest growing energy segments in the country. By the SEIA’s estimates, total capacity increased by 41 percent last year, and was the second-largest source of new electricity production.

According to Sayle Kann, senior vice president at GTM Research, these numbers are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

“2013 offered the U.S. solar market the first real glimpse of its path toward mainstream status. The combination of rapid customer adoption, grassroots support for solar, improved financing terms, and public market successes displayed clear gains for solar in the eyes of both the general population and the investment community,” she said.

While the future does look bright for the U.S. solar industry, it has an incredibly long way to go before it can supply adequate amounts of power to the country’s population, and become a vital part of a mixed bag of energy sources that could ultimately replace fossil fuels. Germany, considered the world’s leader in the solar revolution, now is able to produce half of its overall energy needs from the sun.

The United States is still stuck below one percent, to put things in perspective.

Yes, the U.S. has a steep hill to climb, but the prospects for solar energy are better than ever. With tariffs helping giving American manufacturers an advantage, the opportunity for job growth and increased investment has never been better.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Atwater Solar Project Sparks Controversy

 The expansion of a solar project is sparking a controversy in Atwater.

The City Council on Monday will consider an agreement to lease about an acre of private land from a family to expand a solar facility. The project – which installs solar panels on a water well at 380 Commerce Ave., as well as City Hall and the community center, both on Bellevue Road – was first approved in July 2013.

Officials are now looking to expand the solar operation by an acre to add an extra megawatt to the power grid.   

If the expansion is approved, the city would enter into a 20-year contract with James and Kathleen Casey to lease the land on either side of one of the city’s water wells for $10,000 a year. Solar panels would then be installed on the surrounding Casey property to expand the operation.

Conergy Solar was the company selected for the development, installation and maintenance of the solar project, after winning the bidding process in a 2011 request for proposal. The city will pay 19 cents per kilowatt, according to Conergy’s solar rate.

Supporters of the solar expansion say the city will claim $40,000 a year in energy savings while adding 30 percent more energy into the power grid. It would also help the city meet its green energy initiatives.

Opponents are worried the 20-year lease will trap the city into a power purchase agreement that forces them to continue paying for power, even if the water well used for the solar panels goes offline.

If the well can no longer be used, Atwater would still be responsible for purchasing power generated from the facility or paying for termination fees if the solar facility is removed from the property. The city could drill a new well at the same location or a new area of town to move the solar facility.

The city’s eight water wells are powered by Pacific Gas and Electric Co., but some said switching to the Merced Irrigation District would be less expensive than PG&E or Conergy Solar. MID provides electricity to 8,000 residential and business customers, including Castle Commerce Center, the Applegate shopping center and several high schools in Atwater.

But cost comparisons of MID’s rates weren’t included in the proposal, opponents said. Councilman Jeff Rivero said the project’s price comparisons were specific to solar rates – not electric – and switching to MID would cost more because the city would have to pay PG&E an exit fee.

MID officials provided the city a rate analysis at the request of City Manager Frank Pietro last month. The district offers 17 cents per kilowatt hour for the community center, 15 cents for City Hall and 12 cents for the water well, according to an e-mail obtained through a public records request. PG&E charges 29 cents for the community center, 18 cents for City Hall and 13 cents for the well.

Some criticized the city’s two-member solar committee – made up of Rivero and his brother, Councilman Joe Rivero – for holding meetings without posting a public agenda or meeting minutes.

“There’s a lot of questions here that should have been answered by meetings open to the public,” said Atwater resident Eric Lee.

The Rivero brothers were appointed to the committee by Mayor Joan Faul in 2013. City Attorney Tom Terpstra said the solar committee is ad hoc and doesn’t legally require public agendas and minutes.

“The solar subcommittee that the council voted on hasn’t met for almost two years,” Councilman Jeff Rivero said. “I don’t know what Mr. Lee is upset about. One would think that he would be happy the city is saving $19.9 million in 30 years.”

Conergy Energy has begun work on the solar project plans, including soliciting investors and detailing engineering plans. If the city backs out of the agreement, it would be responsible for paying for those costs, with the buyout estimated at roughly $3 million.

Pietro said construction on the original solar project approved in July 2013 hasn’t started because of financial difficulties.

“When this thing was approved back in July, our financial picture was dismal and our credit rating was down,” the city manager said. “They (Conergy) couldn’t find any investors until January or Febaruay of this year.”

The solar project under discussion on Monday isn’t the first for the city of Atwater.

The city entered into a 1-megawatt power purchase agreement for its water treatment plant in January 2012. That solar project sparked no debate.


Saudi Arabia Offers One of World's Lowest Solar Energy Costs

Solar PV Power Will be Cheapest Energy in the World by 2020

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, August 11, 2014 /PRNewswire/ Solar power costs have fallen dramatically over the last five years, thanks to lower module prices, lower balance of system costs, and increased competition at the development and EPC level. Financing costs have also decreased as investors recognize the low-risk profile of solar assets. As a result, solar power is now cheaper than most alternative power sources.

"For systems with the right economies of scale - 10 MegaWatt (MW) and above - solar power can now be generated at between US$70 and US$100/MWh. That price is more than four times lower than in 2009," says Thierry Lepercq, founder and president of France-based Solairedirect, a world leader in the development of large photovoltaic (PV) power plants with low levelized cost of energy (LCOE).

Within this price range, Saudi Arabia could offer some of the lowest LCOE levels, according to Lepercq, who will be speaking at the second edition of Desert Solar Saudi Arabia conference that will be held from 17-18 September. In particular, he will explore the business case for utility-scale solar plants.

Building on the success of the first Desert Solar conference held last year, the event is once again gathering distinguished stakeholders in the Saudi Arabian solar energy market, hosting more than 150 decision makers from across the industry.

The panel of speakers will include executives from Air Liquide MENA, E.ON, King Abdullah University of Science & Technology (KAUST), and Tokyo Electron Taiwan, as well as Skypower Fas Energy, Solairedirect and First Solar.

"Today in Saudi Arabia, it is possible to reach a solar LCOE of between US$70/MWh in the higher irradiation/elevation areas in the western part of the kingdom, and around US$90/MWh in the Gulf area," reveals Lepercq.

With such competitive costs, the Saudi solar market has been growing steadily. Earlier this year, Solar Frontier completed the 1 MW CPV power plant at the Nofa Equestrian Resort, near Riyadh. And in the next few months, Saudi Aramco's KAPSARC II project that will extend their existing solar plant from 3.5 MW to 5.3 MW should also come online.

"Recent developments in Saudi Arabia, such as the interest of local investors in financing PV projects and the growing amount of traction that EPC companies are gaining, are a clear indication of the Kingdom's potential to evolve into a sustainable solar energy market," said Dr. Raed Bkayrat, Vice President for Saudi Arabia at First Solar, a leading global solar energy solutions provider with over 9 gigawatts (GW) installed worldwide.

"With access to all the critical elements - low-cost finance, land availability, high solar irradiance and locally-based, skilled resources - there is no reason why Saudi Arabia cannot achieve some of the lowest PV levelized costs of electricity in the region," highlights Dr. Bkayrat, who will be sharing insights on solar-powered desalination solutions for Saudi Arabia at the Desert Solar conference.

In addition, "the local PV manufacturing sector, already under development leveraging KSA's excellent industrial infrastructure, with region-specific PV R&D initiatives at local institutions (i.e. KAUST, KACST), would provide a further boost not only to additional cost decrease but also to increased human capital development in the Saudi solar sector" according to Imtiaz Mahtab, a board member of the Saudi Arabia Solar Industry Association (SASIA).

Further cost reductions can be expected as all cost factors continue to improve, down to US$50-US$70/MWh by 2020, according to Lepercq. By then, solar PV power would be by far the cheapest energy in the world.

The Desert Solar Conference is part of a week-long trade mission offering international solar executives and investors the opportunity to meet with a high-level delegation of Saudi solar stakeholders. The event will be held from 14-18 September, 2014 and is jointly organized in by international solar conference organizer Solarplaza and the Saudi Arabia Solar Industry Association (SASIA).

About the Saudi Arabia Solar Industry Association

Abundant solar potential gives the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) a unique opportunity to become one of the most energy-advantaged countries in the world. The Saudi Arabia Solar Industry Association (SASIA) is a non-governmental association that strives to make this vision a reality by helping Saudi Arabia and the Middle East realize the full economic and environmental potential of solar energy. The goal is to bring the national and regional solar industry together, transforming the vast solar potential of Saudi Arabia and the Middle East into a commercially- and environmentally-viable solution for our growing demand for electricity. For more information, please visit:

About Solarplaza International BV

Solarplaza is a global leader in the organisation of top-level solar PV conferences, seminars and trade missions around the globe. Its mission is to empower the solar industry. The platform provides and shares knowledge, networking opportunities and information.

Solarplaza firmly believes in a renewable future: a future built upon the power of solar energy. Since the founding of Solarplaza in 2004, the company has organised more than 60 events around the world and built up an extensive network of valuable friends, associates, business contacts and solar experts. For more information, please visit: