Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Have a Solar Powered GREEN Christmas!

It’s high time for a new Christmas tradition, one in which we’ll joyously deck the roofs with panels of solar or sing Solar Night (Alaskans, get ready!). Could solar-powered LED lighting have saved Grandma from those reindeer? Perhaps not. But it is no less important that we, the solar hosts, proclaim: Even at Christmas time, the sun is king.

As of yet, there is no solar-integrated Xbox 360, nor Grand Solar Auto to play on it, but that should have no effect on our ability to integrate solar power into this year’s celebrations. After all, home solar is the end-all-be-all of gifts that keep on giving! Solar Claus is coming to town and his bag of goodies is growing like Pinocchio’s nose on Fox News. Fortunately, there’s no red or blue in town this holiday season. This year, it’s all green and yellow and the faint electric shimmer of crystalline silicon.

5 Solar Gifts t
hat Fit Under the Tree
There are hundreds of solar gifts available this Christmas. Every year, the gifts increase and the prices decrease. DIY’ers, outdoorsy types, fashionistas, gadgeteers, readers and businesspeople all have a perfect solar gift waiting for them somewhere, and you won’t need a pot of gold to afford it. A click of the mouse will get any one of these five gifts or a multitude of others.
  1. green christmas radioSolar Radio. Solar-powered radios are incredibly handy. They’re excellent for camping, spectator sports, long walks, fishing, power failures and other emergencies. The most popular models are wind-up as well, so you are your own backup generator! Price: $30 to $100
  2. Solar Robot Kit. Here’s one for the little scientists among us. Red5’s 6 in 1 Solar Robot Kit is a great solar power exercise for beginners. With only 37 parts, no screws and easy instructions, the whole family will enjoy creating any one of these six forms the little robot can take: moving plane, robotic dog, boat, car, windmill and desktop plane. You get all that for only $20, although it may have to ship from the UK.
  3. Hybrid Solar Cooker. Open this one early so you can get those potatoes boiling. Solar cookers are available from a range of sellers and are excellent gifts for the solar purist. This Hybrid Solar Cooker is a favorite because it’s reliable in a cloudy pinch and has an excellent portable design. Here’s a solar gift that can make a friend smile on Christmas morning and be feeding that same friend by Christmas night. Price: $299
  4. Solar Bag or Backpack. Nowadays, you can carry solar power with you. To the subway, to the park, to class, to work or to nowhere. Whichever direction they go, your solar gift recipient will become their own power producer. And their cell phone, MP3 player, e-book or laptop will never die. There are solar purses, solar messenger bags, solar backpacks and even solar laptop bags. Price: $200 to $500
  5. Solar Bluetooth Speakers. These solar speakers are light, portable and can be connected wirelessly to most cell phones, including the iPhone. The solar panel is integrated to maintain a sleek design and comes with a connector cable so they can be used with non-Bluetooth devices (i.e. iPods and other MP3 players). Price: $79.99 each

Not found in our five highlighted solar gifts are such classics as handheld solar chargers, solar flashlights or lanterns, portable solar kits and any number of other solar gifts. The sky is the limit in solar gifting potential, and the sky is limitless.

Now to expand our limits here on earth, we move into other gifting realms. For it is easy to celebrate a Green Christmas with or without adding solar power to the mix, although that is our most favorite way to do it.

Hooking Up
Your Solar Christmas Display
Christmas isn’t all about giving and receiving. It’s also about showing off your holiday spirit. This usually entails hundreds of tiny light bulbs strung all over the house, brightly decorated Christmas trees, wreaths, snowmen and rosy-cheeked, round-bellied lawn ornaments.

Unfortunately, there is a dark side to all this brightness: the insane amount of electricity consumed by the festivities. And yet, there is a bright side as well. We call it solar power, which itself has awesome christmas solar lights Take as an example a tunnel at the Toki no Sumika Resort in Japan. It boasts a winter display of 3.2 million lights running through the tunnel. It’s enough to make an eco-conscious tourist’s jaw drop in awe, and then, moments later, their stomach cringe at the thought of grandiose power wasting. But hold your cringes because the entire mesmerizing 3.2-million light display is solar-powered.

And you can bring that solar power home to your Christmas lighting display as well. Solar-powered string or net lights are now widely available and affordable. They install just like any other string of lights, except for the solar panel, which should be positioned in a place to capture maximum sunlight during the day. The resulting solar electricity is stored, and at night, when integrated sensors detect darkness, the lights kick on. Solar Christmas lights are sold at a wide variety of outlets. Find them online through retailers like Amazon, Solar Illuminations, Solar Santa and even on store shelves.

In addition to solar string lights, you can find solar wreaths, solar garlands, solar tree lights and lanterns, and even some solar lawn ornaments like the penguins and bears available from Solar Santa. If you’d like Santa and his reindeer well-lit and frozen on your front lawn this year, it’s going to take a bit more power than today’s integrated solar lighting can handle. You can always manage a true Solar Santa, however, with some solar power panels on your roof. An always-handy solar generator might do the trick as well.

Extravagant, garish lighting displays are a fundamental part of our Christmas experience. Lucky for us, and our January electric bill, there is nothing the sun does better than create light. Light, which, thanks to solar power, the sun can now give at night as well.

Here’s to a very Green Christmas!


Monday, December 14, 2009

NY Passes Clean Energy Loan Programs

New York has joined more than a dozen other states in approving a fast-spreading new method of financing renewable-energy and energy-efficiency improvements.

New York Governor David A. Paterson recently announced the passage of the municipal clean energy loan program legislation. The Senate and Assembly passed the bill, which empowers communities to launch Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) loan programs.

The legislation allows municipalities to leverage federal funds in order to provide loans to commercial and residential property owners to finance energy efficiency retrofits and renewable energy systems.

By enabling homeowners to pay for clean-energy projects through increased property taxes, the financing model allows them to avoid the high up-front costs often associated with these projects. Typically, the municipality, which can borrow at low rates, covers the up-front costs, and then a homeowner provides reimbursement through taxes

"Through my ‘45 by 15' clean energy initiative, New York has significantly expanded energy efficiency incentive programs that are helping residents and businesses reduce their energy costs," Governor Paterson said. "Now, thanks to the leadership of President Obama and Congressman Israel, the federal government is offering programs that encourage the use of PACE loan programs. But to strengthen New York's ability to tap this federal funding, we needed to pass this legislation, which will authorize municipalities to administer PACE loan programs."

The Governor Paterson's "45 by 15" initiative, a goal of meeting 45% of the state's electricity needs through improved energy efficiency and renewable energy by 2015. It is estimated that the expanded use of clean energy technologies will create some 50,000 new jobs in New York.

"By passing the municipal sustainable energy loan program bill during the extraordinary session, we are putting New York municipalities in a position to compete for $454 million in federal stimulus funds," Congressman Israel said. "PACE programs will save home and business owners money, create new sustainable green jobs, bring clean energy companies to the State to compete for our business, and help wrench New York out of this painful recession."

“To ensure New York’s ability to tap into this federal funding, we needed to pass this legislation, which authorizes municipalities to administer” the programs, Mr. Paterson said.

Since the financing mechanism is through property taxes, the system allows homeowners to pass on the cost of energy improvements to future owners, if the house is sold.

Without the legislation, “each municipality (county, town, city, village) would have to get their own special enabling legislation passed in Albany allowing them to set up such a program,” said Carol Murphy, executive director of the Alliance for Clean Energy New York, in an e-mail message.

“The passage of this law means that all municipalities now have the ability to enact such a program once they also pass a local law,” Ms. Murphy added. But she emphasized that New York also needed to fix a law that provides incentives to businesses, schools and nonprofit groups to put in solar systems that meet only a fraction of their energy needs.

According to the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency, 16 states — including New York — now allow these programs, which originated in California and Colorado last year.

New York has had a somewhat similar mechanism, perhaps modeled on a widely praised efficiency initiative from the town of Babylon, in place since August, according to the database. But Ms. Murphy of the Alliance for Clean Energy New York said the new law was far more inclusive. For example, she said, the August version applied only to towns, but the new law includes towns, cities, villages and counties.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Solar Energy Stocks Jump After EPA Gas Ruling

Shares of solar energy stocks climbed Monday as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declared greenhouse gases a danger to public health and as an analyst turned bullish on several solar names, saying he expects strong demand to continue into the first half of 2010.

The so-called "endangerment finding" announced by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is necessary for the administration to move ahead with new light-duty vehicle emission standards and is the precursor to wide-ranging regulations on greenhouse gas emissions.


New Ruling through U.S. Clean Air Act Demonstrates US is Ready to Lead on Climate

Knoxville, Tn.
– Today Stephen A. Smith, Executive Director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, issued a statement in reaction to yesterday’s determination by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that global warming pollution does threaten public health and safety. Administrator Jackson indicated the agency would begin taking action under its Clean Air Act authority. This decision was announced just as the first day of international climate talks ended in Copenhagen, Denmark.

“This announcement strengthens the Obama administration in their efforts to regulate carbon in the United States and reinforces our commitment to clean energy in preparation for the international agreement in Copenhagen. While I agree with President Obama and Administrator Jackson that a legislative solution to the problem of climate change is preferable, I believe that if Congress fails to pass comprehensive climate legislation then the EPA should fulfill its obligation to respond to the 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that determined that greenhouse gases fit within the Clean Air Act definition of air pollutants. This ruling provides at least one route for the necessary and serious measures that are needed to reduce global warming pollution in this country.”

Underground Renewable Solar Energy?

A research team at Georgia Tech makes a game-changing breakthrough for the solar industry -- fiber optic solar cells that can work indoors (or even underground).

November has been a breakthrough month for the solar industry. On the heels of an announcement by an Australian research team that broke the 43 percent efficiency barrier in solar PV technology, another team at the Georgia Institute of Technology headed by Dr. Zhong Wang pioneered a new kind of solar cell that uses fiber optics to generate electricity.

This is one of the biggest breakthroughs in the industry, promising an eventual "liberation" from the traditional solar panel and the potential to produce electricity without having to max out your south-facing roofs with heavy and expensive rigid solar cells.

The researchers call it "3D" solar because protons are allowed to move in multiple directions via a bundle of transparent fiber optic cables coated with zinc oxide. The tips of the cable bundle would be exposed to direct sunlight, and as the photons collected moved through the cables, they generate electricity. Then each photon bounces back, allowing the cable to collect additional energy missed in the first pass.

The polymer cables are tiny (just slightly thicker than human hair) but they provide a low-cost method of producing electricity on demand. A single 10 centimeter cable can produce 0.5 volts, and a 10 watt light bulb could be powered by a 10-cm long bundle (equivalent to handful of human hair — 10,000 cables).

What the cables lack in efficiency (3-8 percent) they make up for in ease of production, low temperatures and no silicon. And because the cables are protected from outdoor weather, they could be made from cheap plastic. A great use, in my book, for petroleum.


Sunday, December 6, 2009

New York to Finance Homeowners Renewable Energy Projects

New York has joined more than a dozen other states in approving a fast-spreading new method of financing renewable-energy and energy-efficiency improvements.

This week, the legislature passed a bill enabling homeowners and businesses to finance improvements through higher property taxes — thus avoiding hefty up-front payments. It was signed by Gov. David Paterson on Thursday.

By enabling homeowners to pay for clean-energy projects through increased property taxes, the financing model allows them to avoid the high up-front costs often associated with these projects. Typically, the municipality, which can borrow at low rates, covers the up-front costs, and then a homeowner provides reimbursement through taxes. In a report released last month by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s office, the federal government said that it would also help to finance the up-front costs. New York clearly wanted its municipalities to have access that new pool of funds.

“To ensure New York’s ability to tap into this federal funding, we needed to pass this legislation, which authorizes municipalities to administer” the programs, Mr. Paterson said today in a statement.

Since the financing mechanism is through property taxes, the system allows homeowners to pass on the cost of energy improvements to future owners, if the house is sold.

Without the legislation, “each municipality (county, town, city, village) would have to get their own special enabling legislation passed in Albany allowing them to set up such a program,” said Carol Murphy, executive director of the Alliance for Clean Energy New York, in an e-mail message.

“The passage of this law means that all municipalities now have the ability to enact such a program once they also pass a local law,” Ms. Murphy added. But she emphasized that New York also needed to fix a law that provides incentives to businesses, schools and nonprofit groups to put in solar systems that meet only a fraction of their energy needs.

According to the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency, 16 states — including New York — now allow these programs, which originated in California and Colorado last year.

New York has had a somewhat similar mechanism, perhaps modeled on a widely praised efficiency initiative from the town of Babylon, in place since August, according to the database. But Ms. Murphy of the Alliance for Clean Energy New York said the new law was far more inclusive. For example, she said, the August version applied only to towns, but the new law includes towns, cities, villages and counties.


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Workers to receive green jobs training

The Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board has won a $98,364 grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to focus on training opportunities for workers in the solar and weatherization fields.

The "green capacity building" grant aims to expand Milwaukee Builds, a program designed to train low-income and unemployed people.

The initiative of the Workforce Investment Board should be a stepladder to lift people out of poverty, said Don Sykes, chief executive of the workforce investment board.

"The model will put people back to work and provide the necessary basic skills as a first step in their career path," Sykes said.

A total of $5.8 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is being allocated to boost training capacity for 62 Labor Department grant recipients across the country, with a focus on underserved communities, the federal agency said.

Training is envisioned for solar installers and weatherization-related construction and contracting jobs designed to make homes more energy-efficient.

The grant is the latest of several green jobs initiatives that are being funded by the federal stimulus package in Wisconsin. They include:

• A $3.2 million grant to the Midwest Renewable Energy Association to train technical college instructors and others on solar panel installation - an initiative aimed at having those instructors train more solar installers as the demand for green energy sources grows.

• The Wind Energy Education Collaborative, a joint effort of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Milwaukee Area Technical College. The two schools were awarded $330,184 in May to help train workers for jobs in the wind-power industry. The project seeks to increase the number of people in southeastern Wisconsin able to find jobs in the growing wind industry and to serve as a training model for other colleges and universities, said David Yu, associate dean in UWM's College of Engineering & Applied Science.

Meanwhile, student interest in green fields is expanding, says the University of Wisconsin Extension.

Nearly twice as many students have enrolled in an online degree program in sustainable management as university officials expected, the University of Wisconsin-Extension said Thursday.

The sustainable management degree attracted 166 student enrollments, compared with projections that 90 would enroll.

Enrollment for spring offerings is projected to expand again, to 275.

"With green jobs a centerpiece of the economic recovery plan, we predicted there would be a high demand for the sustainable management degree," said UW-Extension Dean David Schejbal. "Wisconsin is the first major university system to offer undergraduate students this online option for a degree."

Statistics released by the university show 75% of the students hail from Wisconsin, but the online offering attracted students from eight other states as well as China and Germany.


Friday, December 4, 2009

Colorado's Green Ski Resorts

Worms that eat coffee grounds. Old motor oil that heats workshops. Patio furniture made of recycled milk jugs.

Colorado ski resorts are going beyond standard recycling in an effort to green up their industry — and lure skiers and snowboarders concerned about the impact their sport is having on the mountains they love.

Sometimes it's hard to reconcile our ski-loving, traveling side with the side that cringes at the environmental effect of all those people on the snowy slopes and the travel we do to get there. On one hand, you're gliding past pristine, snow-frosted pines, sucking crisp mountain air into your lungs and bursting with love for the outdoors. Then you sit down for an hour at an on-mountain restaurant and watch heaps of napkins, disposable silverware and plastic cups get tossed in the garbage can.

Happily, resorts today seem more and more interested in reducing waste, pushing alternative transportation, using renewable energy, recycling and teaming up for environmental partnerships. Sure, there's a long way to go. But the effort is gaining speed, kind of like a downhill skier on a steep run.

In the past five years, Vail ski resort has doubled the amount of trash it recycles. Today, 70 percent of everything that comes off the mountain is recycled, says Luke Cartin, the environmental manager for Vail Resorts Eagle County.

"We fill the equivalent of three city buses every week with bottles, cans and glass," Cartin says.

It's not the only example. Used engine oil is re-used to heat workshops, antifreeze is recycled and a plan to reuse vegetable oil for electricity is in the works. The resort is even gearing up a composting program. "And I have worms in my office that eat coffee grounds," Cartin says.

But some things aren't yet recycled — like restaurant food waste and general trash from waste bins at the base area.

Vail is making a push to reduce energy use by 10 percent in two years. Cartin has been prowling the resort, taking infrared photos of buildings on the mountain to see where heat escapes and to repair those leaks. Crews installed solar panels on the roof of a mountain restaurant, and crews have changed out 3,500 light bulbs to compact flourescents. They're also looking at obvious ways to make the place more efficient, like consolidating food storage during off months.

"If we shut down Two Elk (the on-mountain restaurant) for the summer and leave the ice machine on, that's not a good thing," he says.

Gas consumption has dropped 16 percent in the past two years at Vail ski resort. "That's just by changing the way we do things, being more aware, not leaving trucks idling or out driving around for the sake of driving around," he says.

Aerators have been added to faucets to save water. Low-flow toilets and urinals have been installed. In the last five years, the resort has reduced its consumption of treated water by 27 percent.

On the slopes, crews are teaming with the U.S. Forest Service to study how stands of pine trees killed by a pine beetle explosion are regenerating. They're also looking at how to use the dead wood left behind. One answer? Replace natural gas firepits with pits that burn wood.

And at the on-mountain Nature Discovery Center, operated by the Gore Range Natural Science School, kids and adults learn about the environment through free guided snowshoe hikes, exhibits and interpretive programs.

Bat boxes have been put up around the mountain to encourage a population of mosquito-eating flying mammals, and the famous back ski bowls are closed in spring for elk calving.

"It's really, truly being responsible," Cartin says. "You have to be able to lay your head on your pillow every night. It's intrinsic to why people come out here — for the natural beauty. When people come out here, they feel that tie back to nature, so we want to lessen our impact on those surroundings."

Vail is not alone.

More than a third of Colorado resorts already offset 100 percent of their energy use through the purchase of renewable energy credits. Leading the way are Arapahoe Basin, Copper Mountain, Crested Butte and Wolf Creek, which offset all their energy use. Resorts including Powderhorn, Steamboat, Telluride, Winter Park, Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk and Snowmass offset part of their operational energy use.

Here's what other Colorado resorts are doing to green up operations:

Arapahoe Basin:Kitchen oil and grease are recycled, along with cardboard, bottles and paper. The new deck at Black Mountain Lodge is being built with recycled products. Employees are encouraged to compost food scraps. Worms are harvested, and the vermacompost (worm manure) is given away to staff for their gardens. The resort uses an airless snowmaking system that uses less electricity. It has expanded shuttle bus service and discounted lift ticket rates to carpoolers.

Aspen/Snowmass: Aspen's executive director of sustainability, Auden Schendler, recently published a book about how corporations can go greener. The ski area recently funded the ski industry's largest solar array and is exploring hydro and wind energy sources.

Copper Mountain:The resort's environmentally friendly buses are nearly 60 percent more efficient than standard buses. The resort has reduced snowmobile fuel consumption by 40 percent in two years and installed solar panels in its transportation center. Recycling is a priority, and carpooling incentives like parking and season pass giveaways are available. Copper has partnered with the National Forest Foundation to fund local conservation projects.

Crested Butte:Besides resortwide recycling and green building, the resort donates a percentage of property sales and business sales to preserving open space in the Gunnison Valley.

Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort:The resort uses bio-fuels in vehicle fleets and machines and operates a resortwide recycling program and an employee carpool program. Guests who carpool get free close-in parking.

Silverton: This no-frills ski area has been built of recycled products either donated or bought used. The base lodge was donated by the town of Silverton, and the only lift was purchased used from Mammoth Resort in California. The equipment facility is an old school bus.

Steamboat: Three chairlifts use a combination of alternative energies including solar and wind power. Besides recycling glass, cardboard, aluminum, plastic, tin, and paper, the resort recycles coffee grounds. New patio furniture is made from recycled milk jugs. Disposable products used at the resort are made from renewable resources and are biodegradable. In a joint project with the U.S. Forest Service and the Boy Scouts of America, more than 800 spruce seedlings were planted at the ski area's kids area. Low-flush toilets and auto shut-off faucets have been added.

Telluride: The resort uses biodiesel in some on-mountain machinery. Restaurants use natural sugar cane to-go containers, and food receipts are printed only when guests specifically ask for them. The maintenance department now uses bulk chemicals and is phasing out aerosol cans. It uses cloth rags for cleaning instead of paper towels. A waste oil heater burns all food and beverage fryer oils and some maintenance shop oils. Old rental shop skis are used for trail sign posts.

Winter Park: Besides recycling, the resort uses biodegradable products such as plates and cups in food service areas.

Wolf Creek: Wind power and solar power are used to power small outlying buildings. The resort recycles just about everything, including kitchen oil, and is working to get ski boot manufactures to recycle old plastic ski boots. The resort has introduced a free online carpool service designed to match up visitors coming from anywhere in the country to the resort.; 445-3994

Who's green?

The Ski Area Citizens' Coalition ranks ski resorts from best to worst, according to what they are doing to save the environment. Among the greenest, according to the coalition, are the Colorado resorts of Aspen, Buttermilk, Aspen Highlands and Telluride. Among the least green? Copper Mountain and Breckenridge ski resorts.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

California School District Announces Solar Installation

The Irvine School District in Orange County, California recently announced its intention to partner with Beltsville, Maryland-based SunEdison, a design/build solar firm, to install solar panels on 21 schools across the district.

In what is being described as the biggest solar photovoltaic installation project in California schools, Irvine school officials say the distributed solar network will save the district up to $17 million in energy costs over the next two decades by reducing the amount of electricity purchased from Southern California Edison (SCE).

The installations will be created by leasing some of the district’s property to SunEdison, who will design, build and maintain the systems at its own expense and sell the electricity back to the school district, presumably at a rate less than that offered by SCE, and under a power purchase agreement, or PPA, that allows the district to predict energy costs for the full term of the contract, which hasn’t been specified but likely runs for at least 20 years.

Such PPAs allow solar firms to take advantage of federal and state tax credits that schools can’t access because of their non-profit status. This creates a win-win situation for solar firms and schools, and also furthers the agenda of solar energy as a significant player in America’s energy mix.

The project will begin at Rancho San Joaquin Middle School, and expand to an additional 20 campuses and school district locations. The systems will also be connected to a display terminal allowing students, teachers and staff to view electricity production and other data, though whether as cumulative totals or in real time is not mentioned.

In September, SunEdison installed a 440-kilowatt, roof-mounted solar photovoltaic system at glass-maker Owens Corning’s Kearney, New Jersey facility – a project completed just one day before SunEdison was awarded the first energy stimulus grant in the solar industry via the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or ARRA.

In November, SunEdison and Proctor & Gamble, or P&G, announced the activation of a 1.1- megawatt solar PV system at P&G’s paper products manufacturing megawatt plant in Oxnard, California.

SunEdison, reportedly the first solar firm in the U.S. to offer a PPA as a financial tool for otherwise unaffordable solar energy installations, currently manages more than 82.5-megawatts of solar power in the U.S., and 6.2-megawatts in Europe.

More recently, SunEdison is reportedly in negotiations with St. Peters, Missouri-based MEMC, a solar chip technology expert working in the semiconductor and solar industries, which will allow MEMC to acquire SunEdison for $200 million, 70 percent in cash and 30 percent in MEMC stock. The move, according to MEMC, integrates the two firms vertically across the solar energy marketplace, combining the best of both worlds.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Cost of Installing and Owning Solar Panels Set to Fall

A new research has indicated that the cost of installing and owning solar panels will fall even faster than expected.

According to BBC News, the independent EU Energy Institute has said that tests show that 90 percent of existing solar panels last for 30 years, instead of the predicted 20 years, which brings down the lifetime cost.

The institute said that the panels are such a good long-term investment that banks should offer mortgages on them like they do on homes.

At a conference, the institute forecast that solar panels would be cost-competitive with energy from the grid for half the homes in Europe by 2020 - without a subsidy.

Incentive programmes for solar panels in Germany, Italy and Spain have created manufacturing volume that’s bringing down costs.

Solar panel prices dropped 30 percent last year alone due to an increase in output and a drop in orders because of the recession.

But, Heinz Ossenbrink, who works at the institute, said that China had underpinned its solar industry with a big solar domestic programme, which would keep prices falling.

There are large-scale solar plans in the US and India too.

Panels had been expected to last for 20 years and price calculations were based on this.

But, according to Dr Ossenbrink, the institute’s laboratory has been subjecting the cells to the sort of accelerated ageing through extremes of heat, cold and humidity that has long been a benchmark for the car industry.

It has shown that more than 90 percent of the panels on the market 10 years ago are capable of still performing well after 30 years of life, albeit with a slight drop in performance.

Dr Ossenbrink said that 40-year panels will be on the market soon.

“Basically everything (in the industry) is bound to grow still further. Growing further means less cost. Less cost means grid parity,” said Dr Ossenbrink.

“We have been surprised in the past five years at the drop in prices. It’s due to good incentive programmes first in Germany then Spain and Italy. That created a kind of a boom that was helping industry to reduce costs and get into profitability. And when an industry is in profit it drives on its own,” he added.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Solar Crematorium - No Electric or Gas Cremation!

A crematorium running on solar energy is being built near Goraj Ashram in the city, a first of its kind initiative in the country of India.

The trust which runs the ashram has been aggressively trying to implement the use of solar energy for various requirements at the hospital, school and other facilities set up by it. Earlier, solar power was used for cooking, power and other requirements at the school.

The crematorium has been built as a chamber with special scheffler reflector developed specifically for this concept. The reflectors are designed to heat a two meter long crematorium chamber to above 700 degrees centigrade. "The facility was made operational on an experimental basis recently. It will be commissioned within two months and shall be free of cost for everyone using it," said trustee Uday Dalal. As an alternative to this, biogas will be used for cremation at the crematorium when sunlight is not there.

The traditional system of cremating people on woodpile consumes over 300 kilogram of wood. Many trees are felled to meet the requirement. The old method the woodpile was then to some extent replaced with electric and gas fired chambers.

"The crematorium is the brain child of the chairman of the trust, Dr Vikram Patel and expert on solar energy Deepak Gadhia. In fact, the concept of solar crematorium is unique and first of its kind initiative in India, developed with the aim of conserving environment," said Dr Rajesh Kantharia, associated with the trust.

Built with an investment of 75 lakh, the solar crematorium does not need electricity or gas. It makes it an energy and cost efficient method of cremation.

The trust has already got an inquiry from the Valsad municipality that wants to establish such a crematorium there. Dalal said that they have started contacting villages near Goraj to create awareness and acceptability of such crematoriums.


Monday, November 30, 2009

NY Training for Solar Electric Systems

Residential solar electric systems have become extremely popular in New York state because of a variety of incentive programs and tax breaks that are available to homeowners.

But the problem here and elsewhere across the country is that there aren't enough qualified people to install solar electric panels -- also known as photovoltaic, or PV, systems -- which can be dangerous to install without proper training.

"There's people being killed by PV systems, and they're burning houses down," said Jim Dunlop, president of Jim Dunlop Solar, a solar training and design firm based in Cocoa, Fla.

Dunlop was speaking Friday at the Albany Marriott hotel on Wolf Road in Colonie during a renewable energy work force training conference. The event was sponsored by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

He was trying to make the point that the country needs a stable group of trained solar system installers, and it needs them now.

"The key thing is training the trainers," Dunlop told a capacity crowd in one of the hotel's conference rooms. "Unfortunately, the training centers don't get the subsidies that the public programs get."

Luckily for the Capital Region, money to pay for training is coming from the federal government. Last month, the U.S. Department of Energy announced that Hudson Valley Community College in Troy will be getting nearly $3.5 million for solar electric system installation training.

"This funding will allow us to establish a network of certified instructors across the Northeast, which will have a significant impact on the photovoltaic industry and the promotion of sustainable renewable energy," HVCC President Andrew Matonak said in a statement.

The money is part of $27 million that the Department of Energy is spending on nine regional training centers across the United States, with $10 million of the amount coming from stimulus funding. A center to serve New England was designated at Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield, Maine.

Mark Frickel, an energy analyst with a company called Sentech Inc. of Bethesda, Md., who is working on the Department of Energy training program, says that the solar industry got a black eye in the 1980s with poorly-trained installers.

"Nobody wants that to repeat," Frickel said.

He said there is a shortage of solar installers right now, and so the outlook for training the trainers is promising.

"Solar training needs to be high quality, local and accessible," Frickel said.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Smart, Green Buildings

Homes and office buildings consume three-quarters of U.S. electricity, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory wants to lower that figure by erecting what it believes will be the largest “net-zero” energy building in the world — one that produces as much power onsite as it uses.

The Department of Energy, which runs the Golden, Colorado-based lab nestled in the foothills west of Denver, and its contractors hope the $64 million structure will provide a national blueprint for making buildings greener and cutting energy use.

“Our hope is that it really starts to change the direction of society and the way we think of buildings,” said Byron Haselden, president of Haselden Construction, the general contractor.

Achieving a zero-energy “green” building is driving the 220,000-square-foot complex’s design and construction.

“What typically happens is when a building gets designed, the architects design something and the engineers figure out how to build it, how to heat it and how to cool it,” said Eric Telesmanich, project manager of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s infrastructure and development office.

In this case, engineers steered the design. Stantec Consulting started by studying what materials to use and how to orient the building. What emerged is a large H-shape structure with the two prongs on the west end closer to each other than are the two prongs on the east end. That configuration provides the best daylight and cuts the amount of electricity needed for lighting.

The connecting structure is the lobby, which will feature paneling made from pine trees killed by the bark beetle infestation in Colorado’s central mountains. The wood also is used to fuel a heating plant on the campus.

Other features include natural ventilation, large windows to let in light and evaporative cooling.

For comfort, no employee will be farther than 30 feet from windows, which are 6 feet wide and 7 to 9 feet tall. The windows have a combination of glass and coatings to let in light while keeping out unwanted heat.

Transpired solar collectors — metal sheets with strategically cut holes designed by the energy laboratory — will pull air heated by the sun into the building on cold days.

In the basement, a labyrinth of concrete walls will capture the day’s heat or the night’s cool air to be slowly released upstairs. Engineers wrote a computer program to determine the labyrinth’s size and shape and calculate air flow.

Exterior walls feature an insulated precast concrete panel system. Water will flow through piping in the floors to warm or cool the air. Recycled materials include reclaimed natural gas pipes as the columns to support the floors and walls.

And the building will let people know when it’s a good day to open the windows or leave them closed, based on temperatures and historical climate information.

“There will be a little icon on your computer,” said Philip Macey of RNL Design Inc., the project’s designers. “It will tell occupants how the building is doing over the course of the year.”

Once completed in June, the building will provide offices for 740 National Renewable Energy Laboratory employees. It’s expected to use one-half to one-third the power of an office structure of similar size.

The project’s architects, engineers and contractors have an exacting client. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory evaluates private-sector buildings for energy efficiency and is starting to track zero-energy buildings.

“It allows us to demonstrate what we can do with our technologies,” said Jeffrey Baker, director of the office of laboratory operations at the Department of Energy’s field office in Golden. “That’s what this project is all about. This is walking the walk and shouting the talk.”

The energy laboratory is documenting all work and will make that information public. Contractors working on the project insist that following the energy laboratory’s example won’t be too costly or cumbersome for the private sector, considering savings in energy costs over the life of the structure.

The roughly $280 per square foot construction cost is in line with comparable office buildings, Macey said.

“NREL and the design team should be commended for the vision and effort to go far beyond the minimum standards that many buildings are built to,” said Gordon Holness, president of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers.

The Department of Energy wants the complex to exceed by 50 percent the standard for energy efficiency used as a basis for building codes nationwide.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Green Jobs are Good for Wisconsin

State and local energy policy expert Satya Rhodes-Conway told an audience at Lakeshore Technical College that the green economy could create up to 5 million jobs in the coming years, and many American workers already possess most of the skills needed to fill those positions.

"Renewable energy generates more jobs per megawatt of power installed, per unit of energy produced and per dollar of investment than fossil fuel energy," said Rhodes-Conway, a senior associate with the Center on Wisconsin Strategy and organizer of the Wisconsin Apollo Alliance. "These jobs are really attainable for a lot of the folks who are unemployed or are just coming into the workforce. They don't require us to attain many new skills, but to produce something new with a skill set we already have."

Her talk was last Wednesday.

Rhodes-Conway defined a "green job" as a good, family-supporting, middle-skill job in the primary sector of the green economy. She said technical colleges are "a key part" in the process of supporting this economy, as they provide services to advance workers' skills so they can be applied in new areas.

"Places like Lakeshore Technical College, which trains people for green jobs, are key in all of this," Rhodes-Conway said. "You can't do the work if you don't have the workers to do it."

She emphasized retraining as key in not only preparing workers for new jobs, but in saving current jobs as well.

"Saving jobs counts more than ever these days," Rhodes-Conway said. "Conversion or retooling is important, and states need to help industries retool for the clean energy economy. If we enact the right policies and focus on the training, we really can move into a green economy — employing people doing good, well-paid work in an industry that is less harmful to our environment."

Rhodes-Conway cited Orion Energy Systems, Tower Tech, Flambeau River Paper, Franklin Energy, Cardinal Glass and Energy Composites Corporation as examples of green companies that have supported and grown Wisconsin's workforce in recent years.

Wednesday's presentation was part of LTC's EnVISION series, which brings thought leaders together with local business leaders and college staff to share their insights on timely topics.

"There's a lot of opportunity out there for businesses to start up and be successful in this new green economy," said LTC President Mike Lanser. "At LTC, we're committed to creating awareness and understanding of energy policy affecting the state economy, jobs and education."

The Center on Wisconsin Strategy is a national policy center and field laboratory for high-road economic development — a competitive market economy of shared prosperity, environmental sustainability and capable democratic government. The Apollo Alliance was founded as a joint project of COWS and the Institute for America's Future. The Wisconsin Apollo Alliance is administered through COWS.


Friday, November 27, 2009

Renewable Energy Classes Fill Up Quickly

Ryan Light expected to get just 15 students this semester for his community college classes in Bettendorf on installing wind and solar power equipment. Instead, 40 signed up, and enrollment since has grown to 45.

It's not just because he has the perfect name for an instructor on power generation. It's the prospect of good-paying jobs - starting salary about $40,000 - in a down economy.

Community colleges across Iowa are trying to fill the demand for green jobs by starting training programs in wind energy and biofuels and revising their curricula in automotive repair and building

Twenty of Light's students at Scott Community College have jobs lined up, and an Illinois company is interested in 25 more.

"Our industry needs trained people," said Light, who set aside his own business installing small-scale wind generators to start the program at Scott.

Iowa Lakes Community College has 165 students enrolled in a program preparing workers for large-scale wind generation. Des Moines Area Community College has 60 students in a similar program in Ankeny.

The wind industry "is a big growth area, they pay well, and there are not a lot of programs out there," said Scott Ocken, DMACC's dean of industry and technology.

At Council Bluffs, Iowa Western Community College has 19 students studying wind-industry management. The school has overhauled its automotive technician program to train students to maintain hybrid vehicles and revised classes in construction trades to train students on energy-efficient measures.

Programs in biofuels often tend to be smaller, reflecting the problems in the ethanol and biodiesel industries, college officials say.

"The biofuels economy dried up, so there hasn't been much going on," said Jack Thompson, a professor coordinator at DMACC's campus in Carroll, where a program on biomass processes was shelved.

But gearing up for this sector has raised concerns with presidents of the community colleges: They want to produce enough trained workers to attract new businesses but they need to avoid training more workers than there will be jobs.

To better coordinate their training programs, the colleges are hoping to commission a study of the state's job and educational needs in the energy sector.

"We're concerned that the jobs are lagging behind the production of workers," said Pat Keir, chancellor of the Eastern Iowa Community College District, which includes Scott. "We have to be careful and not climb on the renewable energy bandwagon without assessing how many will be needed."

But one of the challenges the colleges will face is that the renewable energy sector is heavily dependent on federal policies and it's not clear what those will be.

Climate legislation being considered in Congress would increase demand for wind and solar power by increasing the capping of greenhouse gas emissions and requiring utilities to produce increasing amounts of renewable electricity.

"I really hope they do" pass a climate bill, Light said. "It's going to help our business a lot."

The uncertainty about where the energy field is headed isn't missed by some of the students. Light knows of two in his classes, both laid off from the local Alcoa plant, who are on the fence about getting into the renewable energy field.

"If Alcoa rehires again I think they'll be out of the program and back in the factory. It's safe."


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Solar Water Heaters = GREEN

An ENERGY STAR qualified solar water heating system can cut your annual hot water costs in half, and is generally designed for use with an electric or gas back-up water heater. Demonstrate your environmental leadership by voting with your wallet for renewable energy solutions. Purchase an ENERGY STAR qualified solar water heater for your home and enjoy these benefits:

Save money. By using sunshine to heat or preheat your water, you can cut your water heating bill in half. This means you can save $190 annually if you combine solar with a backup gas-storage water heater instead of using the gas water heater alone. If you have an electric tank water heater for back-up, you'll save about $250 each year on electricity bills. Large families with greater hot water needs can save even more.

Invest in a better environment. Water heated by the sun just feels better. The purchase of a solar system can take about 10 years to pay for itself, but by taking advantage of Federal tax credits you can recoup the price premium more quickly. In the meantime, your investment will pay dividends for the environment. ENERGY STAR qualified solar water heaters can cut your carbon dioxide emissions in half. Installing a qualified solar water heater will reduce the load of your electric water heater by almost 2,500 kWh per year, preventing 4,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere annually. This is the equivalent of not driving your car for four months every year!

Long lifetime. The average life expectancy of qualified solar water heating systems is 20 years, much longer than standard gas or electric storage water heaters.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Connecticut Solar Program Being Discontinued

A leasing program for rooftop solar panels that made Connecticut a leader in green energy is being discontinued for lack of funds.

Dale Hedman, director of project development at the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund, which provided money for the program, said Friday that he was sending a letter to Connecticut's burgeoning ranks of solar-panel installers saying his agency will stop accepting applications for residential users Dec. 31.

The Clean Energy Fund is an independent state agency that supports alternative energy projects and education programs about green energy.

The solar-leasing program is funded by a mandatory checkoff on all ratepayer bills that generates about $29 million a year for renewable energy projects. It was designed, in part, to offset the historic disadvantage that Connecticut has against Midwestern and Western states that have abundant resources like coal and hydropower that keep electricity rates low.

Under the leasing program, about a third of the cost of buying a home solar system was defrayed with Clean Energy Fund money, making it possible for homeowners to lease the system without putting any money down. But, after about 750 homes across the state were approved for the program, the funds supporting the leases are almost exhausted and the Clean Energy Fund has no immediate plans to extend the program.

Solar panel installers, many of whose companies have boomed under the state program, expressed disappointment about the cancellation of the program but were divided about the impact of ending the leasing program.

"This was one of the most successful programs for deploying clean energy into residential housing, and now it's closed," said Ron French, president for solar projects at Alteris Renewables in Wilton, one of New England's fastest-growing alternative energy companies. "This will definitely curtail a lot of growth in the industry in Connecticut and now we'll just have to do more projects out of state."

Carolyn Humphreys is a former solar systems designer who is now the community outreach coordinator for Sunlight Solar Energy of Milford, another large solar installer that grew quickly under the leasing program. Humphreys pointed out that a state rebate program that defrays between 15 percent and 20 percent of the cost of a system is still in place. Homeowners who install solar panels are also eligible for a federal tax credit worth about 30 percent of the cost. And, she said, because of worldwide demand, the cost of solar panels is dropping, so a typical system that once cost about $50,000 now costs $35,000.

"When you put those three things together, we're approaching the point where a system can be paid off in 12 years when you consider the savings from electrical bills," Humphreys said. "There are still plenty of homeowners out there who would rather not lose all that money to an electrical utility because the falling costs of a solar panel system are beginning to make more sense."


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Taiwan Embraces Renewable Energy

Working to overcome the challenges of climate change, a school in Taipei, the first on the island to embrace renewable energy, is now being powered by a new solar panel installed above the playground.

The solar roof panel was inaugurated at the Taipei European School's (TES) Swire European Primary Campus on Nov. 17.

This school is “the very first to actually be involved with a renewable energy project, which is rare and unique for schools,” Allan Weston, the school's chief executive officer, told The China Post.

The pioneering structure, which cost NT$4.5 million and took almost three months to complete, was coordinated and designed by Abakus Solar AG, a technology company founded in Germany and operating in Taiwan since 2006. Abakus Solar AG is one of the world's leading companies in the solar energy market and photovoltaic (PV) technology.

The solar roof was named “PV Frisbee,” owing to the disc-like shape of photovoltaic (PV) modules; it was designed by Taiwanese architect Kao Ying-Chao to match the playground and the dynamic nature of the school.

According to Nicole Schneider, project director at the German Energy Agency, similar projects are being built at schools worldwide. So far, 21 such solar roof projects have been completed at schools in Europe, Africa, South America, Australia, and other parts of Asia.

“The idea is not only to transfer high quality technology to foreign countries, but also to implement the ideas of renewable energy in the heads of the people, starting from children to adults,” Schneider said. “The educational part in this program is very high. We want children and young people to see how it works.”

He added that part of a school's responsibility is teaching students about protecting the environment.

Using cutting-edge technology, the roof is composed of 32PV 210W modules with an output of 6.72kWp and can generate around 6,230 kilowatt hours of electricity annually, reducing CO2 emissions by more than 3.95 tons.

Co-financed by the German Energy Agency and the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology (BMWi), the solar roof project is part of the German government's “Solar Roofs Program for Foreign Market Development.”


Monday, November 23, 2009

Renewable Energy Costs Drop in '09

Solar energy costs will drop by half in 2009 while other low-carbon technology costs will see their pre-subsidy costs drop by 10-20 percent, renewable energy analysts said on Monday.

Prices for renewable energy equipment, including wind turbines and solar panels, fell this year, but they were offset by higher financing costs in the wake of the global economic slowdown, New Energy Finance said in a quarterly research note.

"As capital markets loosen up and equipment prices continue their decline, we will see the levelized costs decline, finishing the year 10 percent below the end of last year across the board and far more than that in solar," said Michael Liebreich, London-based New Energy Finance's chairman and CEO.

Levelized costs for solar energy, or the lifetime cost per kilowatt hour before government subsidies, will drop this year, with thin-film solar power generation rates falling to as low as $3 per watt, the report said.

Chinese and European solar power companies were upbeat about next year, saying last week that demand for clean energy systems was rebounding after a dismal 2009.

Wind turbines have dropped to their lowest level in several years, shedding 18-20 percent of their cost in 2009, New Energy Finance said, adding that equipment prices could be offset by higher construction costs as developers build in deeper waters.

Geothermal energy rates also eased as low oil prices caused many drilling rigs to sit idle, meaning more equipment was available.

Geothermal uses underground hot water and steam to spin turbines and generate electricity.

New Energy Finance said drilling costs, having dropped by nearly 50 percent earlier this year, recovered somewhat alongside oil prices in the third quarter.

The U.S., Europe, China and South Korea lead global renewable energy spending plans after committing about $500 billion to push 'green' technologies under wider plans to stimulate their own economies.


California College to Build $7 Million Solar Plant

Strapped for cash and searching for creative ways to generate revenue, Victor Valley College officials are planning to partner with a private energy company to construct a $7 million solar plant on vacant campus land.

The solar plant is expected to pay for itself through energy savings within five years and pump $22.1 million back into the college’s general funds over 25 years, according to estimates by the college’s program manager, Al McQuilkin of gkkworks.

“The bottom line is we want to save money,” said VVC President Robert Silverman, along with creating opportunities for students to learn about the solar industry.

The energy conservation facility, which will be built within a 10-acre vacant parcel on the far northeast side of the college’s main campus, is expected to generate about 1 megawatt of electricity per year, or roughly one-third of the college’s average electricity.

The energy savings and incentive credits will offer the college a steady source of income as the state looks to make deep cuts to close billions of dollars in shortfalls over the next several years.


Monday, November 9, 2009

Quick Reference - Solar Power Glossary

This solar power glossary defines many terms and vocabulary related to solar electricity and home solar energy systems.

Alternating current (AC) = the type of electric current that powers all electric appliances in your home.

Amorphous semiconductor = a semiconductor that is not made out of crystalline silicon. It is used to make some thin film solar panels. Although it's easier to make than crystalline semiconductors, it's also less efficient.

Array = a set of photovoltaic panels. A home solar electric system might include several arrays on different parts of the roof.

Azimuth = the direction a solar electric system faces (e.g. north, south, east, west).

Balance of System = all the parts of a solar electric system excluding the solar panels and the inverter. Balance of system usually includes items like racking, wires, conduit, and safety shut-offs. The balance of system might account for 15% of the total cost of a solar electric system.

Base load = the amount of electric power a utility must supply constantly to meet the demand for energy.

Battery = a battery back-up for a solar electric system stores the extra power the solar system makes. A home can use that power when the solar system isn't producing enough energy, at night, or in a power outage.

BIPV panel = a type of solar electric panel that uses silicon as a semiconductor and acts like a part of your roof. They're also known as solar roof shingles. BIPV can be done on new or existing roofs.

Cell = the smallest part of a solar panel that converts light into solar electricity.

Direct Current (DC) = a type of low voltage electrical current. DC electricity is produced by solar cells and must be converted into AC before it's usable in a house.

Gigawatt = one billion watts.

Grid = a system of high tension cables in a region that distributes electricity to homes, businesses, and other buildings.

Grid tied/Grid connected = a solar system that is connected to the power grid and uses the grid as a backup source of power.

Ground mount = a solar electrical system that is mounted on the ground instead of on a roof.

Interconnection = the process of hooking up a solar electrical system to the power grid.

Inverter = the electrical device that converts direct current (DC) electricity into alternating current (AC) electricity.

Kilowatt = One thousand watts.

Kilowatt-hour (kWh) = 1,000 thousand watts acting over a period of one hour. A kWh is the unit of energy.

Megawatt = one million watts.

Module = a solar panel, or a group of solar cells.

Monocrystalline panel = a solar panel that's made from a large, single silicon crystal and has a patchwork pattern. Monocrystalline panels are more expensive and more efficient than multi- or poly- crystalline panels.

Multicrystalline panel = (also polycrystalline) a solar panel that's made from small silicon crystals oriented in lots of different directions. Multicrystalline panels are less expensive and less efficient than monocrystalline panels.

Net meter = an electricity meter that spins both forward and backwards. It can track how much electricity your solar system puts into the power grid and how much electricity your home pulls out of the grid.

Panel = a group of solar cells; a module.

Photon = a "packet" of light energy.

Photovoltaic = the process of converting light into electricity.

Polycrystalline = see mulitcrystalline.

Power purchase agreement (PPA) = a contract between a power producer and a power consumer, which states that the consumer will purchase a certain amount of power from the producer.

Semiconductor = a material that has a limited ability to conduct electric current. Semiconductors used in different types of solar panels include copper indium diselenide, cadmium telluride gallium arsenide, and silicon.

Silicon = a dark gray, semi-metallic, chemical element. Silicon is the material most commonly used semiconductor used in solar cells and computer chips.

Solar constant = the average amount of solar radiation that reaches the earth's upper atmosphere, equal to 1353 watts per square meter.

Solar energy/power/electricity = power that is generated by the sun

Solar noon = the time of day when the sun reaches its highest point in the sky. This time divides the daylight hours for that day exactly in half. Solar noon may be quite a bit different from 'clock' noon.

Stand alone = (also, off grid) a solar electric system that is not connected to a power grid and which may or may not have a battery.

Thin film panel = a solar panel that is thin and flexible. The term refers to both amorphous photovoltaic solar panels, which use silicon as their semiconductor, and panels that use other semiconductors like cadmium telluride and copper indium gallium diselenide.

Tilt = the angle a solar panel makes with the horizon. The ideal tilt for a location will mean that the panels absorb as much sunlight as possible.

Tracking panels = solar panels that can change the direction they face to follow the sun's movements.

Watt = a unit of power equal to amps times volts.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sunshine Solar Rebate Program Doubles Solar Energy Capacity in Pennsylvania

Program helps add 5 Mega Watts of capacity, meets first goal...

Governor Edward G. Rendell said today that the new PA Sunshine Solar Program is performing better than expected and has helped to double the state’s solar generating capacity in less than 6 months.

According to the Department of Environmental Protection, the program has reached its first incentive milestone for small business rebates—the deployment of 5 megawatts of solar power, or enough to supply electricity to about 575 average homes in the state.

The Governor said achieving the goal is good news for those small businesses interested in lowering their electricity costs through clean, renewable energy, and also for Pennsylvania’s environment and economy.

“When we enacted the PA Sunshine program, we said it was going to help reduce electricity bills for consumers, make solar energy more affordable, create economic opportunities, and help produce more renewable energy that will help improve our environment,” said Governor Rendell. “Reaching this milestone, not to mention the overwhelming response we’ve had to the program, is proof that it’s performing as intended.

“PA Sunshine is putting people to work across the state doing everything from manufacturing solar technologies to installing and maintaining them, while helping people and businesses become less dependent on the electrical grid and other fossil fuels, which saves them money. And because of the program, we’re also emerging as a national leader in developing and deploying solar technology. With the projects this program is making possible and others in the works, it is likely that we will be among the top five states for total solar capacity within the next year,” he added.

Since the program opened on May 18, the commonwealth has committed $12.5 million in 625 projects by residential and small business consumers. The projects represent at least $50 million in private investment, according to DEP.

More than 300 installers have been certified to install solar systems under the program and DEP continues to receive and accept applications.

The solar electricity capacity created by the small business program, 5 megawatts, is enough to offset 5,580 tons of carbon dioxide, 16,000 pounds of nitrogen oxide, and 77,500 pounds of sulfur oxide.

A running tally of completed projects is kept on the rebate program’s Web site so perspective applicants and solar developers are able to track the program’s progress.

“Among the small business community in particular, we are seeing a very high response rate to the program, so much so that in less than six months, we’ve more than doubled the solar capacity in Pennsylvania,” said DEP Secretary John Hanger. “As the market continues to develop, the intense competition among solar installers and greater efficiencies on the part of manufacturers will help bring down prices for solar. As such, the need for the incentive will continue to decline.”

The $100 million PA Sunshine Solar program reimburses homeowners and small business owners up to 35 percent of the purchase and installation costs of solar energy technology. In combination with federal tax credits, consumers could reduce system costs by 45 percent. It is part of the $650 million Alternative Energy Investment Fund Governor Rendell signed into in law in July 2008.

Under the original guidelines of the program, reaching the 5 megawatt threshold means the incentive rates for small business solar projects will be reduced. Originally, the program offered $2.25 per watt for 3-10 kilowatt (kW) projects, $2 per watt for 10-100 kW projects, and $1.75 per watt for 100-200 kW projects.

As of Saturday, Oct. 31, all small business incentive rates were reduced by 50 cents across the board. Homeowner incentive rates will remain at the original level of $2.25 per watt.

For more information, call the Office of Energy and Technology Deployment at 717-783-8411 or visit, keyword: Pa Sunshine Solar Rebate Program.

SOURCE: The Gov Monitor

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Solar Power When the Sun Goes Down?

The holy grail of renewable energy is a solar power plant that continues producing electricity after the sun goes down.

A Santa Monica, Calif., company called SolarReserve has taken a step toward making that a reality, filing an application with California regulators to build a 150-megawatt solar farm that will store seven hours’ worth of the sun’s energy in the form of molten salt.

Heat from the salt can be released when it’s cloudy or at night to create steam that drives an electricity-generating turbine.

The Rice Solar Energy Project, to be built in the Sonoran Desert east of Palm Springs, will “generate steady and uninterrupted power during hours of peak electricity demand,” according to SolarReserve’s license application.

So-called dispatchable solar farms would in theory allow utilities to avoid spending billions of dollars building fossil fuel power plants that are fired up only a few times a year when electricity demand spikes, like on a hot day.

SolarReserve is literally run by rocket scientists, many of whom formerly worked at Rocketdyne, a subsidiary of the technology giant United Technologies. Rocketdyne developed the solar salt technology, which was proven viable at the 10-megawatt Solar Two demonstration project near Barstow, Calif., in the 1990s.

United Technologies has licensed the technology to SolarReserve and will guarantee its performance — a crucial advantage for the startup when it seeks financing from skittish bankers to build the Rice solar farm.

As many as 17,500 large mirrors — each one 24 feet by 28 feet — will be attached to 12-foot pedestals. The mirrors, called heliostats, will be arrayed in a circle around a 538-foot concrete tower.

Atop the tower will sit a 100-foot receiver filled with 4.4 million gallons of liquid salt. The heliostats will focus the sun on the receiver, heating the salt to 1,050 degrees Fahrenheit. The liquefied salt flows through a steam-generating system to drive the turbine and is returned to the receiver to be heated again.

SolarReserve isn’t the only developer planning to tap molten salt to store solar energy. Abengoa Solar, for instance, intends to use salt storage at its 280-megawatt Solana solar trough plant outside Phoenix.

That project, however, will heat tubes filled with synthetic oil to create steam and transfer some of the heat to salt-filled storage tanks. By using salt for both steam and storage, SolarReserve can generate higher-temperature steam, which will allow the Rice power plant to operate much more efficiently, according to Kevin Smith, SolarReserve’s chief executive.

“Consequently, our system can capture three times the energy for the same pound of salt,” Mr. Smith wrote in an e-mail message. “Plus they have additional ‘bolt on’ equipment, plus multiple heat transfer steps to go from oil to salt to oil and then to steam for electricity generation.”

SolarReserve’s plant will be built on private land — the site of a former World War II-era Army airfield — near the desert ghost town of Rice. The company will air-cool the power plant, avoiding controversies over water use that have dogged other solar projects.

But the height of the solar tower — 653 feet when a maintenance crane is attached to the top — could generate resistance from conservationists worried about the impact of the project on desert vistas. A proposed SolarReserve power plant in Nevada ran into resistance from Air Force officials concerned that the tower would interfere with radar at a nearby military base.

The company said it is negotiating with California utilities to buy the electricity generated from the Rice project and expects the solar farm to go online in October 2013, barring unforeseen delays.

SOURCE: The New York Times