Friday, October 31, 2014

Pittsfield Solar Array Gets Re-Energized

PITTSFIELD -- Pittsfield wants to re-energize plans for a solar power installation at its former landfill with the goal of generating big savings on future municipal electric bills.

The Department of Community Development is seeking offers from qualified solar energy firms to place thousands of panels at the landfill at the end of Downing Parkway.

As of last week, more than 30 solar installers from as far away as California have shown interest in the project, according to city officials.

"Our requirements include bringing money to the table for investment and the company's ability to build [the solar array]," said James McGrath, city parks and open space manager. "Pittsfield must come out on top or we won't do it."

The potential savings of the revived municipal solar project has yet to be calculated, but McGrath anticipates "the savings to the city will be substantial."

In 2010, Missouri-based SunEdison backed away as the chosen firm to build a $10 million, 8,000-panel project atop the capped landfill that was expected to shave an estimated $2 million off the city's Western Massachusetts Electric Co. bills over a 20-year period. City officials believe SunEdison felt the return on their investment wasn't worth installing the 2-megawatt facility.

Project consultant Beth Greenblatt, managing director of Beacon Integrated Services, doubts Pittsfield will get jilted again.

"The solar market is hotter now than four years ago and not a lot of companies had experience with landfills," she said.

Greenblatt is also advising Lee and Lenox on their municipal solar projects, likely to involve their respective capped landfills. All three communities are using state grants to pay for her consulting services.

Originally, the City Council endorsed a solar array installation at the landfill that also received the required approval from the state Department of Environmental Protection. McGrath noted the initial DEP permit issued is still valid, but may need to be updated. WMECo. also must formally accept the electricity produced at the installation.

The city would lease several acres of the 44-acre landfill to the solar developer and in turn, Pittsfield would buy the electricity produced at the site through the company.

The savings come in the form of net metering, credit from the utility for unused electricity generated by the solar panels and Solar Renewable Energy Certificates. Massachusetts allows SREC production of electricity for up to 10 years in an effort to reach the state's goal to create 1,600 megawatts of solar capacity by 2020. As of last month, 615 megawatts was achieved, capable of powering nearly 94,000 homes.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Solar in Texas: It's Really Happening this Time (Really)

Every year, it seems, is predicted to be the “year for solar,” and for certain states this may ring true.

But in Texas, despite having a close relationship with the sun and its heat (2011 gave us 100 days over 100 degrees and no rain), we have yet to realize our potential for solar energy development, the highest potential of any state in the nation. Texas currently only has about 213 megawatts (MW) of solar energy installed (compared to over 237 MW in little ol’ Massachusetts). Recent developments, however, make me encouraged that the next few years will be the catalyst for finally fulfilling that potential.


A few weeks ago, the Austin City Council voted on an ambitious solar step forward, directing a “utility-scale solar target of 600 megawatts by 2017, a rooftop solar target of 200 megawatts by 2020, explicit language enabling third-party solar ownership, a floor price for the value-of-solar tariff…and a mandatory strategy to procure 200 megawatts of fast-response storage.” The resolution will require the municipal utility, Austin Energy, to obtain 60 percent of its electricity generation from renewables over the next decade, and to be completely carbon-free by 2030.

It’s about time, as the cost of solar panels has dropped 80 percent since 2008 and prices for rooftop PV systems have declined markedly in recent years, dropping 29 percent from 2010 to 2013. This deal “will by itself launch the state of Texas into the top five solar states within a few years.”

This comes on the heels of Austin Energy’s recent deal with Recurrent Energy for a “20-year, 150 megawatt solar contract that may count among the cheapest prices ever offered for solar power,” at $.05 per kWh, or $50 per MWH. The deal will help create the largest solar generation facility in Texas — 600 acres worth of panels.

A five-kilowatt home rooftop PV system produces an average of 7,000 to 8,000 kilowatt-hours per year, roughly equivalent to the electricity use of a typical U.S. household. On the utility-scale side, one megawatt is enough power for 100 homes and requires about four acres of solar farm to generate. So it makes sense this technology would be appealing.

The resolution would save Austin ratepayers money and keep electricity prices in the lowest 50 percent range among Texas utilities. With numbers like that it’s no mystery why utilities and power producers are starting to see the light on solar. Recently, the City of Georgetown, with about 1/20th the number of customers of a utility like Austin Energy, issued its own proposal for 150 MW of solar. Since the Austin Energy announcement, several utilities in Texas have been looking at investments in new solar power plants.

But, the City of Austin's goals aren’t final yet. Austin Energy has raised concerns, among them apprehension over the price of solar. However, the resolution gives Austin Energy an out if the cost of a particular solar project is too high. On Wednesday, September 24th, the City will hold a Council Committee meeting to discuss the resolution and Austin Energy’s somewhat controversial response. Both the press release Austin Energy General Manager Larry Weiss sent and the rebuttal by Clay Butler, who helped draft the resolution, are here.

Austin is a shining example of how to transform the old energy world into the new one. It won't be a perfect process. However, Austin has the opportunity to lead the entire state into the clean energy future, propelling Texas to number one in the U.S. for solar production, as we already are for wind production.

Out West

These are the kind of economics that excite First Solar, who announced the launch of its Barilla Solar Project in Pecos County “adding about 18 megawatts of solar capacity to Texas’ electric grid. The company expects to have a total of 30 megawatts installed by the end of the year." First Solar is confident their electricity can compete on the open market. They financed and opened Barilla without signing a power purchase agreement, which would guarantee a buyer for their energy. This is a bullish outlook and the first time a solar company has put a project on the open wholesale market like this.

This weekend, almost half a million people marched through the streets of Austin, New York, and other cities throughout the world, demanding we change our energy habits and combat climate change. Texas can undoubtedly lead this revolution with the right policies in place. This is a role that should not be taken lightly or carelessly, and Austin Energy’s resolution and First Solar’s plant are key steps leading us in the right direction.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

New Report Highlights Growth Of Clean Energy Industry In Massachusetts

A new report says Massachusetts has added more than 28,000 jobs since 2010 in the so-called clean energy sector…creating a $10 billion industry.

The job numbers are contained in the latest report by the state funded Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, based on a survey of employers. Western Massachusetts saw an 8% growth with nearly a thousand clean energy firms employing almost 12,000 workers. Leading the way, says UMass Economics Professor Robert Pollin, has been solar installation fueled by state and federal incentives.

“And as the costs come down over time and as the solar industry matures, it is going to become the dominant source of energy in the next twenty years or so,” says Pollin.

The report says solar and wind generation in Massachusetts has grown from just 6 megawatts in 2007 to 746 megawatts this year. The report was touted by Governor Deval Patrick as proof that his clean energy strategy, launched seven years ago when he first took office, is working.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Western Massachusetts Clean Energy Jobs Grow 8 Percent, Many Of The New Jobs Are In Research, Manufacturing

10.22.2013 | SPRINGFIELD -- James Hunt, Northeast Utilities Vice President of Regulatory Affairs and Community Relations, speaks Tuesday about the groundbreaking for Western Massachusetts Electric Company's third solar facility in Springfield on Cottage Street at an existing solar plant on Goodwin Street. From left behind him are Massachusetts Secretary of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Richard K. Sullivan Jr., Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno and Craig Hallstrom, president of WMECO and NSTAR Electric in this file photo from 2013 (Photo by Michael S. Gordon / The Republican)
BOSTON - The clean energy economy in Western Massachusetts has grown to 11,990 in 2014 employed clean energy workers, an 8 percent increase from 2013, according to the Massachusetts Clean Energy Jobs Report issued Monday by Gov. Deval Patrick and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center.

Statewide, jobs grew by 10.5 percent from 2013 to 201, the fourth straight year of job growth in the clean energy economy. All told, it has 88,372 employees in 6,00 firms.

The news release touts statewide programs and the Clean Energy Center's efforts fostering the industry.

Locally, the Clean Energy Center has:

    Helped increase the efficiency of the hydroelectric plant at Open Square in Holyoke with an $85,000 grant. Similar hydropower grants went to Holyoke Gas & Electric and m,ay soon go to other hydropower operators int eh region . the money comes from a surcharge on utility bills.
    Is helping Holyoke plan for the eventual closing of the coal -fired power Mount Tom Power Station.
    Named the Business Growth Center at Springfield Technology Park a clean-energy incubator.

The report shows that 950 of those clean -energy forms are in Western Massachusetts.

Western Massachusetts job growth by sector:
  • 4.9 percent was in manufacturing
  • 9.2 percent was in research and engineering
  • 5.3 percent was in sales and distribution
  • 51.4 percent was in instillation
  • 13.8 percent in finance and legal
  • 15.4 percent in other
Compared with other areas of the state:
  • Southeast Massachusetts saw 22 percent job growth in clean energy
  • Northeast Massachusetts saw 10 percent job growth
  • Central Massachusetts showed zero percent job growth in the sector.

Statewide, employers expect to add another 11,700 jobs  in the next year , an expected 13.3 percent  growth rate, the report said. The Massachusetts clean energy industry is expected to exceed 6,000 employer and 100,000 workers by early 2015.

Today there are:
  • 643 megawatts of solar and
  • 103 megawatts of wind installed around the state
The report also says that a quarter of the new hires in clean energy were in management or supervisory jobs.

Also, all told clean energy accounts for $10 billion in gross state product, 2.5 percent of the commonwealth's total.


Monday, October 27, 2014

IEA Projects Solar Potential To Be Main Source Of Power By 2050

WASHINGTON - The International Energy Agency (IEA) Monday called for "clear, credible and consistent signals from policy makers" to help lower deployment risks to investors and inspire confidence in harnessing solar energy as it clearly holds potential to overtake oil and gas as the main source of power generation by 2050.

"The sun could be the world's largest source of electricity by 2050, ahead of fossil fuels, wind, hydro and nuclear," according to two reports issued by IEA, the Paris based world's top energy think tank.

The two IEA technology roadmaps show how solar photovoltaic (PV) systems could generate up to 16 percent of the world's electricity by 2050, while solar thermal electricity (STE) from concentrating solar power (CSP) plants could provide an additional 11 percent.

Combined, these solar technologies could prevent the emission of more than 6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year by 2050 that is more than all current energy-related carbon-dioxide emissions from the United States or almost all of the direct emissions from the transport sector worldwide today.

"The rapid cost decrease of photovoltaic modules and systems in the last few years has opened new perspectives for using solar energy as a major source of electricity in the coming years and decades," said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven.

"However, both technologies are very capital intensive: almost all expenditures are made upfront. Lowering the cost of capital is thus of primary importance for achieving the vision in these roadmaps."

The bullish reports are the latest dose of good news for the solar industry that has seen phenomenal growth. Global demand is expected to double every two years through 2022 as prices fall and the technology continues to improve.

Stressing that the two reports do not represent a forecast but a technology roadmap, Hoeven said they detail the expected technology improvement targets and the policy actions required from all stakeholders to achieve that vision by 2050.

Both roadmaps provide a vision for deployment based on updated modeling results consistent with the IEA's Energy Technology Perspectives 2014 released recently and its "high-renewables" climate-friendly scenario.

Providing guidance on key actions for policy makers for the next five years, the two reports reflect the true value of long term targets, providing permits and connection; and implementing remuneration schemes.

While credible and consistent signals from policy makers can lower deployment risks to investors and inspire confidence, where there are "confusing signals or stop-and-go policy cycles, investors end up paying more for their investment, consumers pays more for their energy, and some projects that are needed simply will not go ahead," stated Hoeven.

The two documents underline the complementary role of the two technologies PV and STE. With 137 GW of capacity installed worldwide at the end of 2013 and adding up to 100 MW each day, PV deployment so far has been much faster than that of STE, mainly thanks to massive cost reductions.

Under the scenario described in the roadmaps, most of the growth of solar electricity comes from PV until 2030. However, the picture changes afterwards.

When reaching shares between 5 percent and 15 percent of annual electricity generation, PV starts to lose value in wholesale markets.

Massive-scale STE deployment takes off at this stage thanks to CSP plants' built-in thermal storage, which allows for generation of electricity when demand peaks in late afternoon and in the evening, thus complementing PV generation.

PV has expanded globally, with China leading in maximum solar power generation followed by the United States, where solar power developers have benefited from the solar investment tax credit, which provides a 30 percent tax credit for solar systems on residential and commercial properties. The industry is pushing for it to be extended beyond 2016.

Over half of total solar power generation capacity is situated at the final consumers' place whether households, shopping malls or industries. STE expands in very sunny areas with clear skies, becoming a major opportunity for Africa, India, the Middle East and the United States.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

A Bright Future For Solar Projects

Following unanimous voter approval in July of a plan to build the largest solar array in the state on the site of a former sewage lagoon, the Peterborough Select Board is in the process of finalizing details of a 20-year lease agreement for the land with Borrego Solar, the Lowell, Mass., company that will build and operate the solar array. When it’s complete, the array will cover about 3.5 acres and is expected to generate enough electricity to power the town’s wastewater plant, with any excess to be returned to the PSNH grid and credited to town buildings.

Peterborough will pay Borrego 8 cents per kilowatt hour for the electricity, and at July’s special Town Meeting, Select Board Chair Barbara Miller said the town could expect to save between $24,000 and $57,000 per year. On Friday, DPW Director Rodney Bartlett said the town had just received the OK from the Department of Environmental Services to begin filling in the former sewage lagoon where the array will sit. He said Borrego should be able to start construction in mid-November and the array should be in operation by May next year.

Now, following on the heels of the Peterborough project, two other groups are working with Borrego to develop other solar arrays. Jaffrey has applied to the N.H. Public Utilities Commission for a $1.1 million grant that would help fund a 995,500 kilowatt array — nearly as large as the one planned in Peterborough — on the site of a former town landfill that has been closed for more than 20 years. And the consortium of eight local towns and the Jaffrey-Rindge School District, which has been purchasing electricity collaboratively for about five years, according to Bartlett, is seeking a Public Utilities Commission grant to cover half the construction costs of a $2.6 million array, at a site still to be determined.

For Jaffrey, a functional solar array has the potential to significantly lower sewer rates, according to Town Manager Dave Caron. That would certainly be good news for residents. And the collaborative project would enable both some of the smaller towns in the region like Hancock, Temple, Francestown and Dublin, which might not be able to tackle the cost and financing requirements for a solar array on their own, and larger entities like Peterborough, Jaffrey, Rindge and the Jaffrey-Rindge School District, to take advantage of a renewable source of energy.

Peterborough’s project wouldn’t have moved forward without a PUC grant, which covered a significant portion of the cost of the array. Both Jaffrey and the Monadnock Buying Collaborative are proposing similar plans, and we hope they will be successful in their applications.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Solar Power Plant Shaped Like A Heart

The UN climate talks were held last week in New York City, and Conergy announced during the event a one-of-a-kind solar power plant that it was building in the French overseas territory of New Caledonia. The style and shape of the solar power plant is that of a heart. The warm, eye-catching, heart-shaped solar power plant is to be located 750 miles east of the Australian Gold Coast. It will be visible as a heart by air.

This “Heart of New Caledonia” will be in the northern community of Pouembour, on Grand Terr, New Caledonia’s largest island. The plant will be on a four-hectare site. Up to 750 homes will have electricity generated from the 7,888 panels. The 2 MW project was commissioned by TIEA Energie, a subsidiary of local beverage company Froico SA. According to Solar Power World, the engineering and construction (EPC) work will start in the coming months, with Conergy partnering with local contractor AMBI Energy.

The heart-shaped solar plant will save our planet an estimated two million tons of carbon dioxide emissions over its projected 25-year lifetime. Compare this to power from oil, gas, and coal, which generate the majority of the islands’ power today, and one finds this solar heart brings hope for cleaner air.

The unique design is said to be inspired by the Coeur de Voh. Coeur de Voh or Heart of Voh is a naturally heart-shaped area of nearby wild mangrove vegetation.

“Conergy builds all kinds of solar plants in challenging places and conditions, but we’ve never been asked to do one in the shape of a heart, or any other shape before,” says David McCallum, managing director, Conergy Australia. “The Coeur de Voh is an important landmark for the people of New Caledonia and shows just how extraordinary nature can be. The Heart of New Caledonia solar plant will be its man-made double, a landmark for clean power generation, showing that we can add a new power plant wherever it’s required and still keep a lid on carbon emissions.”


Friday, October 24, 2014

First Floating Solar Farm Built In UK

Berkshire project owners to target water utilities with scheme to cut energy bills, reports BusinessGreen
 A floating solar power farm in Sheeplands Farm, Berkshire. Photograph: Floating Solar UK Ltd
A farm in Berkshire has become the first in the UK to install a floating solar array, with the owners now targeting water utilities and reservoirs for further development.

Sheeplands Farm near Wargrave switched on the 200kw solar array last month, which is located on a reservoir and is expected to slash the businesses’ carbon emissions and energy bills. The scheme is expected to secure a return on the £250,000 investment within six years.

Advocates of floating solar farms argue they can address concerns that solar farms could use up valuable agricultural land while also delivering higher levels of conversion efficiency than standard solar farms, thanks to the cooling effect of the water.

Owner Mark Bennett told the Telegraph that he was now hoping to roll the technology out to water companies and reservoirs. “We are speaking to big utility companies, to agricultural companies – anyone with an unused body of water. The potential is remarkable,” he said.

Bennett is working with French technology developer Ciel & Terre in a bid to bring more of the innovative arrays to the UK.

Japan is already pushing ahead with ambitious plans for the world’s largest floating solar farm. Earlier this month, Kyocera confirmed it was teaming up with Century Tokyo Leasing Corp to install two separate floating arrays, one boasting 1.7MW capacity and one providing 1.2MW.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Property Tycoon Reveals $20 Billion Solar-Led Portfolio

Asia Pacific Resources Development Investment Ltd. founder Zheng Jianming speaks
during an interview at the Next Generation Solar PV Finance conference in New York,
on September 29, 2014.
The Hong Kong property tycoon who amassed about $20 billion in Chinese solar manufacturing assets is expanding his energy technology holdings and may seek the help of Wall Street to do it.

Zheng Jianming, chairman and founder of Asia Pacific Resources Development Investment Ltd., is considering a public listing for the holding company he created to manage what may be the biggest collection of solar-manufacturing businesses.

Hong Kong-based APRD is also investing in electric cars, geothermal systems and even units that use seawater to store electricity. The goal is to supply clean energy for almost every aspect of daily life, “from the power source to heating and cooling, lighting and vehicles,” Zheng said.

“If a city were to implement all of these technologies it would basically be low-carbon,” he said in an interview in New York. “My vision for this company isn’t just for China. I want to create a global company.”

Zheng, 50, estimates he’s invested $2.5 billion to $3 billion in clean power over the past decade. That includes almost $1 billion to become the largest shareholder in Shunfeng Photovoltaic International Ltd. (1165), a panel maker and power-plant developer based in Changzhou, China and listed in Hong Kong.

This is the first time Zheng has spoken publicly since he began quietly expanding his efforts to acquire assets and stakes in Chinese solar companies in 2012. He’s avoided public appearances and has declined to answer questions delivered in writing until now. Yesterday, he broke his silence, meeting with potential investors at a conference in New York.

New Suit

“For many years I watched the industry’s development and waited for the most suitable time to invest,” said Zheng, who is also known in Cantonese as Cheng Kin Ming. Zheng eschews formality, preferring a straight-forward investment strategy based on trends. “I never wear suits,” he said, wearing a crisp new navy suit.

Born in eastern China, he said he made his money from investing at the right times, buying real estate at low points and getting out quickly once prices rose, he said.

Shunfeng has become the flagship for his renewable-energy aspirations. It acquired in April the main manufacturing unit of Suntech Power Holdings Co. (STPFQ), which was once the world’s biggest solar panel maker. The corporate parent failed to pay $541 million in U.S. bonds last year. Its Wuxi, China, production operations were pulled into bankruptcy in China.

Shunfeng agreed in May to purchase the insolvent German solar inverter producer Sunways AG (SWW) for 2.2 million euros ($2.8 million) and is buying the assets of S.A.G. Solarstrom AG, a solar developer that’s also insolvent, for 65 million euros.

Another Zheng holding company acquired in 2013 as much as 25 percent of LDK Solar Co. (LDKSY), the second-biggest photovoltaic wafer producer. It has since defaulted on 1.7 billion yuan ($276 million) of notes that matured in February.

Solar Slump

He was buying into solar as the industry was mired in a slump triggered by a global oversupply of panels. Shunfeng shares were at 30 Hong Kong cents in November 2012, when Zheng took over. The shares closed at HK$7.01 today, and the company now has a market value of HK$16.8 billion ($2.2 billion).

Zheng expects Suntech to triple shipments of solar panels this year to 2.4 gigawatts, from about 800 megawatts last year. Including his other clean energy assets, he expects to develop power plants with a capacity to generate 50 gigawatts of power. That’s enough when the sun is shining to supply all of South Africa, where the state-owned utility has about 42 gigawatts of installed capacity.

“Shunfeng will be a pure clean energy provider,” Zheng said in the interview at the Next Generation Solar PV Finance Conference.

Energy Storage

Shunfeng has also made investments in the energy-storage company Powin Energy Corp. and Boston Power Inc., which is developing batteries for electric vehicles.

It’s backing Taiwan Carbon Nanotube Technology Corp., which is using nanotechnology in battery systems based on seawater, and Green Wheel Electric Vehicles, a Chinese supplier of electric cars and buses.

Asia Pacific Resources’ various holdings may be difficult to stitch together into a coherent clean-energy powerhouse, said Shyam Mehta, an analyst at Boston-based GTM Research, said in an interview.

“It could be that there is some strategy behind this, of actually rebuilding these companies and getting them to work together in a way that enhances both their value and builds up some sort of mega solar company,” Mehta said. “Maybe it’s nothing that exceptional. He just has a lot of holdings in several different solar companies.”

Public Offerings

Zheng said he may pursue initial public offerings for some of the individual businesses, such as Boston Power or Lattice Power Corp., a Chinese producer of energy-efficient lighting. Eventually, he would consider a public listing for the parent company Asia Pacific Resources, he said, without providing additional details.

He got his start investing in real estate in China, and later expanded into technology. One of the investments Zheng disclosed is Beijing-based Tendyron Corp., an online banking security company that makes passcode-generating tokens and has a 60 percent market share in China, Zheng said.

Zheng said his ventures have mirrored China’s development, and clean energy is what the country needs now.

“In my many years of investment, I’ve been focused on the development of the industry’s value chain,” said Zheng. “That is why I’ve never made a mistake.”


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

How To Make A “Perfect” Solar Absorber

This rendering shows the metallic dielectric photonic crystal
that stores solar energy as heat. Credits: Jeffrey Chou.
The key to creating a material that would be ideal for converting solar energy to heat is tuning the material’s spectrum of absorption just right: It should absorb virtually all wavelengths of light that reach Earth’s surface from the sun — but not much of the rest of the spectrum, since that would increase the energy that is reradiated by the material, and thus lost to the conversion process.

Now researchers at MIT say they have accomplished the development of a material that comes very close to the “ideal” for solar absorption. The material is a two-dimensional metallic dielectric photonic crystal, and has the additional benefits of absorbing sunlight from a wide range of angles and withstanding extremely high temperatures. Perhaps most importantly, the material can also be made cheaply at large scales.

The creation of this material is described in a paper published in the journal Advanced Materials, co-authored by MIT postdoc Jeffrey Chou, professors Marin Soljacic, Nicholas Fang, Evelyn Wang, and Sang-Gook Kim, and five others.

The material works as part of a solar-thermophotovoltaic (STPV) device: The sunlight’s energy is first converted to heat, which then causes the material to glow, emitting light that can, in turn, be converted to an electric current.

Some members of the team worked on an earlier STPV device that took the form of hollow cavities, explains Chou, of MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, who is the paper’s lead author. “They were empty, there was air inside,” he says. “No one had tried putting a dielectric material inside, so we tried that and saw some interesting properties.”

When harnessing solar energy, “you want to trap it and keep it there,” Chou says; getting just the right spectrum of both absorption and emission is essential to efficient STPV performance.

Most of the sun’s energy reaches us within a specific band of wavelengths, Chou explains, ranging from the ultraviolet through visible light and into the near-infrared. “It’s a very specific window that you want to absorb in,” he says. “We built this structure, and found that it had a very good absorption spectrum, just what we wanted.”

In addition, the absorption characteristics can be controlled with great precision: The material is made from a collection of nanocavities, and “you can tune the absorption just by changing the size of the nanocavities,” Chou says.

Another key characteristic of the new material, Chou says, is that it is well matched to existing manufacturing technology. “This is the first-ever device of this kind that can be fabricated with a method based on current … techniques, which means it’s able to be manufactured on silicon wafer scales,” Chou says — up to 12 inches on a side. Earlier lab demonstrations of similar systems could only produce devices a few centimeters on a side with expensive metal substrates, so were not suitable for scaling up to commercial production, he says.

In order to take maximum advantage of systems that concentrate sunlight using mirrors, the material must be capable of surviving unscathed under very high temperatures, Chou says. The new material has already demonstrated that it can endure a temperature of 1,000 degrees Celsius (1,832 degrees Fahrenheit) for a period of 24 hours without severe degradation.

And since the new material can absorb sunlight efficiently from a wide range of angles, Chou says, “we don’t really need solar trackers” — which would add greatly to the complexity and expense of a solar power system.

“This is the first device that is able to do all these things at the same time,” Chou says. “It has all these ideal properties.”

While the team has demonstrated working devices using a formulation that includes a relatively expensive metal, ruthenium, “we’re very flexible about materials,” Chou says. “In theory, you could use any metal that can survive these high temperatures.”

“This work shows the potential of both photonic engineering and materials science to advance solar energy harvesting,” says Paul Braun, a professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who was not involved in this research. “In this paper, the authors demonstrated, in a system designed to withstand high temperatures, the engineering of the optical properties of a potential solar thermophotovoltaic absorber to match the sun’s spectrum. Of course much work remains to realize a practical solar cell, however, the work here is one of the most important steps in that process.”

The group is now working to optimize the system with alternative metals. Chou expects the system could be developed into a commercially viable product within five years. He is working with Kim on applications from this project.

The team also included MIT research scientist Ivan Celanovic and former graduate students Yi Yeng, Yoonkyung Lee, Andrej Lenert, and Veronika Rinnerbauer. The work was supported by the Solid-State Solar Thermal Energy Conversion Center and the U.S. Department of Energy.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A New Solar Energy Job-Training Pilot Program for Veterans

Solar energy is shattering records in the U.S. Since President Obama took office, installed solar power has increased thirteen fold, topping nearly 16 gigawatts today — enough to power the equivalent of 3.2 million average American homes. As solar energy continues to grow, it is becoming a major source of high-paying American jobs — employing nearly 143,000 full-time professionals last year.

During the next decade, the solar industry is slated to grow even more. The next generation of skilled professionals will be key to the industry’s effort to meet the demand for this clean, renewable energy. That’s why the Energy Department is launching a pilot solar installation training program to provide military veterans who are transitioning out of active duty with the skills needed to become the leaders of the nation’s clean energy economy.
The solar industry has long taken a leading role in hiring veterans, employing more service members than any other sector in the U.S.  Building on this tradition, the SunShot Initiative’sSolar Instructor Training Network — which aims to train 50,000 new solar installers in total by 2020, some of who will be veterans — is partnering with up to three military bases to create a veterans solar job training pilot project this fall.
The new training project will connect up to 30 motivated, tech-savvy military personnel at each base with SunShot-supported accredited solar training institutions. Ultimately, lessons learned from this first successful pilot will enable the Energy Department and military branches to expand solar training access to interested veterans, tapping into the Department’s nearly 400 solar training partner institutions nationwide. Service members in this pilot program will learn how to size and install solar panels, connect electricity to the grid, and interpret and comply with local building codes. This intensive training will prepare them for careers in the solar industry as installers, sales representatives, system inspectors, and other solar-related occupations.  In fact, three  of the largest U.S. solar companies — Vivint Solar, SolarCity, and SunPower — have already committed to interview graduating military trainees for employment, a step that will help place qualified trainees in the high-paying jobs they are suited for.

To date, SunShot’s Solar Instructor Training Network has trained nearly 1,000 certified solar instructors and provided hands-on training to more than 30,000 students nationwide. The Obama Administration has a pledge to make it faster, easier and cheaper for Americans to choose solar energy, and the SunShot program will help to prepare veterans who are needed to meet the demand of a rapidly growing solar industry.


Monday, October 20, 2014

State Grant Paves Way for Glens Falls Solar Farm

GLENS FALLS, N.Y. -- Finding ways keep expenses in check can prove challenging for any city leader, but Glens Falls Mayor Jack Diamond's administration has been awarded an opportunity that could provide dividends as early as next year.

"It is clean energy and if we can save $125,000 to $150,000 a year, that gives us a lot of opportunities to do some things differently in the city," Diamond said.

Thanks to a New York Sun grant from Governor Andrew Cuomo's office and NYSERDA, a new solar farm will be constructed on city owned land in the town of Queensbury on Upper Sherman Avenue. Eventually, it will produce power for several city owned facilities and is expected to create savings of $200,000 a year or more than $4 million over 20 years.

"Whether it's the wastewater treatment plant, the water treatment plant, City Hall or street lighting, it certainly will reduce about 25 percent of the utility cost for the city," said Ed Bartholomew, president of the Economic Development Corporation of Warren County.

The solar farm will take up less than a third of the 49-acre site and will be built and maintained by the company, SolarCity, at no expense to Glens Falls taxpayers.

"There is no front end cost to us,” Diamond said. “The contract is for 20 years and if we choose to renew, we can do that. It is a really positive step for Glens Falls."

With the grant's incentives going directly to SolarCity, Glens Falls' savings will be realized in credits to its National Grid bill. Construction could start as early as next spring.

"We are really excited about that but first and foremost again, the governor has really stepped up for Glens Falls, New York," Diamond said.