Thursday, April 30, 2009

Solar Panel Plant and Headquarters Could Bring 3,600 Jobs to Florida

'Green energy' facility would increase scientific developments near airport

A solar-equipment manufacturer from Ohio signed a preliminary deal with a local development company Tuesday to build a plant and headquarters just outside Orlando, a project that could create up to 3,600 high-paying jobs by the time it's done in roughly six years, an executive with the firm said.Orange County likely has beaten out -- for now, if not completely -- a number of competing bids from Florida and elsewhere to land the project. A final deal has not been inked, and Willard & Kelsey Solar Group still is negotiating possible incentives from the state and Central Florida government and economic-development officials."We are very interested in Orange County," said Mossie Murphy, the company's chief financial officer said by phone Tuesday. "And we've entered into a preliminary agreement with a development group there."

A lawyer involved in the project, Fred Leonhardt of Orlando's Gray Robinson law firm, said a formal announcement could come within the next week or so but added, "It's not a done deal by any means. "Willard & Kelsey signed its tentative deal with Crockett Development Property, a company with ties to the Tavistock Group, the Orlando Sentinel has learned. Company officials and others with knowledge of the proposed site would not disclose its exact location, but Crockett owns about 238 acres near Orlando International Airport, county records show.Tavistock is the development company behind the Lake Nona community project in southeast Orlando that is set to include scientific and "medical city" research facilities. Already on the way are the new University of Central Florida College of Medicine, the Burnham Institute medical-research hub and Nemours Children's Hospital, among others. Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty spoke confidently about ongoing negotiations but could not go into detail because of confidentiality agreements surrounding pending economic-development projects."I believe it's potentially transformational," said Crotty, pointing to possible research synergies with the medical city and his Innovation Way plan for a homes and jobs corridor between UCF and the airport. "We're pretty excited."

In the project's first phase, worth an estimated $300 million, Willard & Kelsey plans to build a solar-panel manufacturing plant and administrative headquarters that could initially employ up to 800 skilled workers by 2012, Murphy said.The company, whose founding executives grew up professionally in the not-so-obvious solar-research hub of Toledo, Ohio, touts its work with thin-film solar panels that can be used on homes, businesses and for large power-generating facilities.Willard & Kelsey's competitive advantage, Murphy said, is producing low-cost panels that work even in cloudy and cold conditions. Florida officials already awarded the company a $2.5 million competitive grant last month. Ohio officials provided similar incentive help last year for a new research and development project in the company's home state, Murphy said.

In awarding the Florida grant, Gov. Charlie Crist's Energy & Climate Commission pointed to Willard & Kelsey's ability to cut production costs by as much as 50 percent off the industry standard. That state money could possibly pair with some of the federal funds the Obama administration wants to set aside for energy-saving technologies such as solar and wind projects. In his budget, President Barack Obama said his plan could create about 500,000 jobs nationally by making new investments in clean energy.What's unclear is how deep Orange could dig for incentives. The county likely can afford to offer only breaks or deferments on impact fees and tax rebates to close any deal to bring the company here.The solar deal has been evolving over several months in Orange.At points within the past month, Brevard and other counties were still in the running, according to a number of officials who declined to comment.

Commissioner Linda Stewart, whose southeast Orange district could host the project, said she urged the company to come here months ago and was buoyed by Tuesday's positive remarks from a top executive."This is exactly where we need to be," Stewart said, comparing the project's possible arrival to Burnham's decision to come to Central Florida. "We need to be a green city, and this could be a green anchor."

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Random Solar Industry Timeline Highlights

1954 Photovoltaic technology is born in the United States — the first solar cell capable of
generating enough power from the sun to run everyday electrical equipment. A silicon
solar cell with 6% efficiency and later, 11% efficiency is developed.

1960 Photovoltaic cells reach 14% efficiency.

1970 A significantly less costly solar cell is designed, bringing the price down from $100 per
watt to $20 per watt. Solar cells begin powering navigation warning lights and horns on
offshore gas and oil rigs, lighthouses, and railroad crossings.

1977 Total photovoltaic manufacturing production exceeds 500 kilowatts; 1 kilowatt is enough power to light about ten 100-watt light bulbs.

1980 At the University of Delaware, the first thin-film solar cell exceeds 10% efficiency; it's
made of copper sulfide and cadmium sulfide.

1985 Researchers at the University of South Wales break the 20% efficiency barrier for silicon
solar cells.

1986 The world's first commercial thin-film module is released.

1992 Researchers at the University of South Florida develop a 15.9% efficient thin-film
photovoltaic cell made of cadmium telluride, breaking the 15% barrier for this technology

1999 A 32.3% efficient solar cell is developed. Researchers at the National Renewable Energy
Laboratory develop a record-breaking prototype solar cell that measures 18.8% efficient,
topping the previous record for thin-film cells by more than 1%. Cumulative installed
photovoltaic capacity reaches 1000 megawatts, worldwide.

2000 Triple Junction solar cells began with efficiencies of approximately 24%.
2002 Triple Junction cells efficiency increased to 26%.
2005 Triple Junction modules up to 28% efficiency.
2007 Latest report is that Triple Junction solar cells have evolved to a 30% efficiency.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Is it time?

In the United States we comprise about 6% of the world’s population and consume 30% of the resources. Inexpensive and easy access to energy has been vital to our economic growth for close to a century. If today’s burgeoning middle classes in China and India were to consume the same amount as we do, that would be 90% of global resources between the three countries. This obviously is not a sustainable trend, economically or environmentally.

Global population is projected to increase to over 9.3 Billion people by 2030, up from over 6.3 Billion today. Energy demand in Florida alone is expected to increase 76% by 2030, twice the national rate. Current energy demand is satisfied primarily by fossil fuels, which take millions of years to form a finite polluting resource. With increasing population growth trends and rising global energy demand, supplies will soon be depleted.

We need solutions today to avert salvaging a crisis tomorrow.

Now, can we please GO SOLAR?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Renewable energy will benefit Florida

How we establish energy policy will go a long way to helping Florida and our nation get out of these tough economic times. State and national standards requiring electric utilities to generate a modest amount of clean, renewable energy will be an important step. We can unleash a new frontier centered on smart grid technology, energy efficiency and renewable energy starting right here in Florida. A diverse energy market based on these technologies will protect families from an overreliance on dirty energy sources that are price-volatile, such as natural gas, and expensive, such as nuclear reactors.

Prices for natural gas have spiked unpredictably over the last few years and the estimate to construct nuclear reactors has increased threefold since 2006. Indeed, Progress Energy's high nuclear cost ($17 billion) has already lead to sharp rate increases for Progress customers — $6 per month — even before construction begins. The company will be billing customers for close to 10 years before the first electron is ever produced from its nuclear reactors. Rates are projected to increase more than $40 per month in 2017 to cover construction costs.

But while this is happening, renewable power prices are coming down. For example, biopower produced from forest and agriculture waste materials has far less capital cost and can be brought on line faster and in smaller blocks than the massive nuclear plants that tend to overshoot demand and lock in high costs for utility bill payers.

Florida has the opportunity to jump into the growing solar market that allows customers to take advantage of a power source that is experiencing declining cost, tremendous employment opportunities and will provide true clean energy for our children and grandchildren.

The simple fact is that big power companies such as Progress want to maintain big profits for their shareholders at ratepayer expense, and the best way to do that is by building big, expensive plants that get into the base rate and garner a good rate of return for the company's shareholders.

Policies that promote smaller distributed renewable generation, like solar and bioenergy, will allow more players into the market, create jobs and provide more competition to the big power companies that force them to be more innovative. And that's exactly what the Florida economy, workers and utility customers need now.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

First Mexican Restaurant with Solar Power

Mi Cocina, a Mexican restaurant located for over 10 years at Belleview and Windermere recently installed a solar structure above an existing patio to create an awning that not only shades the diners, but generates the electricity used to prepare their food.
Solar Patio
Saul Sierra, owner of the restaurant has dedicated the popular spot to the renewable energy cause. After ten years at the same location he decided to make an investment in future generations. The 3.99kW solar awning structure is expected to cover up to 20% of the electric utility consumption. This will be an annual carbon offset of 7,958 pounds of CO2. The cost of the installation was offset by a rebate from Xcel Energy and a federal tax credit for businesses who utilize renewable energy options.
The installation was performed by Boulder, CO based Lighthouse Solar. It was their first use of the unique bifacial panels for a commercial application. They have also designed and built smaller versions to act as carports or residential awnings. This structure was custom designed for the location and to support the weight of the 28 solar panels. The electric meter and emergency shutoff were moved to the east side of the building so people can see how the solar PV system ties into the power grid.

Other steps they have taken include replacing the interior lighting with compact fluorescent bulbs (CFL's), switching to recyclable or biodegradable to-go containers and using an energy saving feature on the appliances while they are closed. Mi Cocina uses Eagle Waste and Recycling for their 'single stream' recycling of cardboard, plastic and glass. They now recycle almost three times as much as they throw away by volume. The dishwasher is an energy star Auto-Chlor system that only uses 1.09 gallons of water per cycle (vs. 2+ gallons of water for conventional dishwashers.) There are also no phosphates in the soap used in the dishwasher which is environmentally friendly. Ultimately Saul sees a place to educate the community and encourage the use of renewable resources. They have planned events and school field trips to show interested residents that clean renewable energy works. Saul put it very simply "This is the right thing to do."

Friday, April 24, 2009

Solar Communities Program Launched in San Diego County

Applied Solar, Inc. announced the launch of its Solar Communities program in San Diego County. The program, which is being kicked off with a series of open house events, aims to expedite the number of homes utilizing clean solar energy by overcoming two of the most common obstacles to solar adoption: cost and aesthetics.

While Americans are increasingly interested in utilizing renewable energy applications in their homes, many are hesitant to make an investment in rooftop solar panels due to the high upfront costs, which can run tens of thousands of dollars. In addition, while state rebates and federal tax incentives have the potential to significantly defray the cost of solar power, many homeowners are unable to take full advantage of these incentives. Applied Solar intends to change this.

"While it is true that now, more than ever, Americans are concerned about the environmental impact of their actions, they are also keenly focused on controlling their monthly household expenses," said David Field, president and CEO of Applied Solar. "Any proposition to switch to solar power must also entail a way to save on household costs in the near term. If we are able to bring the payback period for solar down to three or four years versus the traditional 10 years, it makes a lot more financial sense for consumers."

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Reaching Grid Parity

Here's a chart to show conventional electricity cost converted into dollar per watt for grid-parity.

Currently with cost of grid-tie system is as low as $5.44/w installed, it is obvious to see that Hawaii and California already reaches grid-parity.

By 2009 grid-tie system cost will be at $4.77/w, $3.79/w in 2010 and $3.28/w by 2011.

In three years 16 states shall reach grid-parity.

Electricity Grid-Parity
States - Cost ¢/kWh - $/Watt
HAWAII - 18.10 - $7.31
CALIFORNIA - 12.50 - $5.27
NEW YORK - 14.50 - $4.33
NEVADA - 9.70 - $4.09
ARIZONA - 8.70 - $3.97
TEXAS - 9.70 - $3.92
MAINE - 12.20 - $3.86
RHODE ISLAND - 12.20 - $3.86
VERMONT - 12.90 - $3.85
NEW JERSEY - 11.20 - $3.74
NEW HAMPSHIRE - 12.50 - $3.73
CONNECTICUT - 11.60 - $3.67
MASSACHUSETTS - 11.80 - $3.52
FLORIDA - 9.00 - $3.48
COLORADO - 8.40 - $3.25
IOWA - 9.00 - $3.16
ALASKA - 12.40 - $3.05
UTAH - 7.20 - $3.04
NORTH CAROLINA - 8.50 - $2.99
KANSAS - 7.70 $ - 2.98
OKLAHOMA - 7.70 - $2.98
WYOMING 7.20 $2.91
MISSISSIPPI - 8.20 - $2.88
WISCONSIN - 9.10 - $2.88
PENNSYLVANIA - 9.60 - $2.87
LOUISIANA - 8.10 - $2.85
SOUTH CAROLINA - 8.10 - $2.85
NEBRASKA - 7.00 -$2.83
ILLINOIS - 8.40 0 $2.80
GEORGIA - 7.90 - $2.78
SOUTH DAKOTA - 7.70 - $2.71
ALABAMA - 7.60 - $2.67
VIRGINIA - 8.00 - $2.67
MONTANA - 7.90 - $2.64
DELAWARE - 7.80 - $2.60
MARYLAND - 7.80 - $2.60
ARKANSAS - 7.40 $ - 2.60
OHIO - 8.50 - $2.54
OREGON - 7.20 - $2.53
MINNESOTA - 7.90 - $2.50
MICHIGAN - 8.30 - $2.48
MISSOURI - 7.00 - $2.46
INDIANA - 7.30 - $2.31
TENNESSEE - 6.90 - $2.30
NORTH DAKOTA - 6.80 - $2.27
IDAHO - 6.10 - $2.14
WASHINGTON - 6.40 - $2.14
KENTUCKY - 6.10 - $2.04
WEST VIRGINIA - 6.20 - $1.85

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

USA ranks 3rd in Solar Energy - 342MW installed in 2008

In total, the global PV market grew to at least 5.5 Gigawatts (GWs) in 2008, up from 2.4 GW in 2007, according to the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA). This year, experts believe the market could reach up to 7 GW, according to the EPIA (Brussels, Belgium).
In 2008, the installed capacity totaled almost 15 GW, compared to 9 GW in 2007, according to the EPIA.

1. Spain - 2,511MW
2. Germany - 1,500MW
3. USA - 342MW
4. South Korea - 274MW
5. Italy - 258MW
6. Japan - 230MW
7. Czech Republic - 51MW
8. Portugal - 50MW
9. Belgium - 48MW
10. France - 46MW

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Cost Of Solar Panels For Homes

Now that climate change is public enemy number one and with all this talk of rising energy prices and dependence on foreign energy sources - what is preventing solar panels for homes from reaching their full potential? The growth of solar panels for homes is currently estimated at around forty per cent per year and solar hot water is being adopted at an even faster rate however this only represents a fraction of the total population. The major stumbling block for most people is still cost, price and more specifically return on investment. Currently solar power costs about $10 to $12 per watt installed. Most estimates show it takes between twenty and thirty years for a grid-connected solar system to “pay for itself” - that is, to recoup the initial outlay through savings made compared with exising bills. Some estimates are even as high as fifty years which means that solar power is currently the most expensive type of renewable energy. This article is going to discuss the main issues involved in calculating the costs of solar panels for homes and offer recommendations for reducing those costs in order to assist you in achieving a better return on your investment.

When calculating the cost of solar panels for homes and return on investment you will want to answer six main questions:
How much electricity do you need?
How can you reduce the overall amount of electricity that you need?
How much is it going to cost?
How can you offset that cost?
How can you best prepare your house for solar panels?
What other costs are likely to be incurred?

1. How much electricity do you need?
The first step is to asses what capacity you need and can afford. At this stage you want to consider the pay back period and also the environmental impact. An average household’s electricity use is about eighteen kilowatt hours of electricity per day. The most popular domestic size solar panel (a one kilowatt system) produces nearly four kilowatt hours (kWh) per day of electricity, depending on where you live. That’s about 20% of the average household’s electricity consumption. However, the bigger the system you buy, the more electricity you’ll produce.

2. How can you reduce the overall amount of electricity that you need?
Before you run off spending thousands of dollars on solar panels for your home you may want to consider what other, less expensive things you can do right now to reduce the total amount of electricity that you really need, for instance, some actions that you can take that will have a dramatic impact on your energy consumption are - double glazing windows, shutting off rooms to reduce heating requirements and installing energy efficient appliances and monitoring systems.

3. How much is it going to cost?
When considering costs you want to look at the cost of the technology as well as the cost of installation, with the technology you want to consider not only price but quality and other likely emerging technologies as well.

Price - The standard one kilowatt solar panel system costs between $12,000 and $15,000. A 2 kilowatt system costs about $20,000. The problem with photovoltaics is the high cost of refining silicon, a crucial component of the cell, to the ninety nine per cent purity required. Silicon represents about forty per cent of the cost of solar panels for homes. Whilst cheaper panels are becoming available you want to be careful when buying cheaper brands because some don’t last as long as you’d expect them to.
Quality - It’s impossible to tell a good panel from a bad one just by looking at them. Most of the good solar panels have branded names such as Schott Solar, Kaneka, BP Solar, Sharp, Kyocera, Unisolar and Suntech. The most important figures to look at are how much energy the system will produce each year versus the money spent, this also includes - how long the solar panels are likely to last. Also you should consider that, to be eligible for the government rebate panels must pass international testing and certification with testing performed by an international Electrotechnical Commission accredited lab but there’s concern about the quality of some panels on the market that don’t meet the standards.

Emerging Technologies - New “thin film” or “silver” technology is being tested which reduces the amount of silicon needed by up to seventy five per cent. Also, some companies are exploring non-silicon based solar cells which could see solar cells being embedded into manufactured roofing for houses and buildings.

Installation - The cost of installing a grid-connected solar system is between $9,000 and $40,000 depending on the size of your house and family, with such a high cost it pays to get a range of quotes and to ensure that the designer / installer is accredited, that means that they’re deemed qualified to design and install PV systems. Also, you should consider that in order to be eligible for government rebates you must use an accredited installer. An installer’s work is usually guaranteed for one year but ideally you should also look for someone who has a good reputation: how long have they been in business for?; Do they have an established track record and experience / expertise?; And also, be sure to check with their previous customers, think of it this way, almost anyone can get a driver’s license but not everyone is a good driver - it’s the same with accreditation, just because someone is accredited doesn’t make them a good person.

4. How can you offset that cost?
When looking for ways to offset the cost of your solar panels for homes projects you will want to investigate the likely impact of rebates, net metering and also financing arrangements if applicable.

Rebates - Make sure that the panel is approved for a government rebate - even if your household is ineligible for rebates, buying an approved panel will give you more confidence about it’s quality.

Net metering vs gross metering - Some governments are planning to adopt “feed-in-tarrifs” which increase the rate home owners are paid for producing electricity from solar panels. Gross metering is best for households because it means you’re paid the higher rate for all the electricity you produce. That system has been used in most countries where solar power has been successful. With net metering, you don’t know what you’ll get so it’s hard to estimate your systems’ payback time - a disincentive to investing in solar panels.

Financing - Many people are still experieincing frustration with regards to obtaining financing for their solar panels for homes projects which is a shame considering the environmental as well as financial benefits of solar panels for homes but more and more financing companies are understanding the importance of solar panels for homes as well as realising that solar panels for homes are usually installed by higher income, more affluent households - the average household would much rather buy a new big screen television or high performance car.

5. How can you best prepare your house for solar panels?
You may not be ready for installing solar panels in your home yet or perhaps you are building a new home with an inclination that you may decide to go solar in the future. If this is you then you may wish to ensure that your home is designed with passive solar design concepts in mind and build with a roof at the correct angle and facing in the correct direction. A flat roof with tar and chip roofing makes for easy installation of solar panels. If you already own a home, you may want to get it assessed to see whether your house is suitable for solar panels and perhaps get a list of recommendations on what you can do to prepare.

6. What other costs are likely to be incurred?
Other cost considerations relate to pre-installation, post-installation and safety factors.

Pre-Installation - Be sure to check out what local council approval is needed, you don’t want to spend all of that money without consulting your local council and community members. Also be sure to look into warranties and guarantees provided by manufacturers. Manufacturer warranties or guarantees range from five to twenty five years. Solar systems should last at least twenty five years, obviously, a warranty or guarantee for that length is best.

Post-Installation - You will want to consider the likely costs of maintenance, cleaning and replacement parts, whether you do this yourself or get someone else to do it, you will still need to factor in the time and cost of getting this done to ensure that your solar panels for homes system remains efficient for the longest time possible.

Safety - Unfortunately with the boom of the solar industry, there are a lot of companies around with bad practices and shonky certificates. Some panels have the “CE” mark which is self-certification and therefore completely meaningless because it is not independent and not worth anything. Poor quality panels and wiring could reult in electrocution or even house fires so it’s important to check that your installer is accredited and also has good references i.e. talk to their past customers! It’s your money so be sure not to waste it!

Starting with small projects first
Even if you have the money and are very keen to install a bazzillion solar panels on your roof it may help to start with smaller projects first so that you can get used to the technology and see if it is right for you. So smaller projects that you can start with include installing a solar pool heater, a solar hot water system or purchasing a portable solar panel system that can be used to power a few appliances at a time such as a TV, computer or BBQ.

Solar Pool Heater - You can buy a pre-fab system to heat your swimming pool or hot tub for several hundred dollars - this will pay for itself very quickly.

Solar Hot Water - Solar hot water uses simple thermal technology - similar to what happens if you leave a bottle of drinking water in direct sunlight. A solar hot water system costs up to three times more than a gas or electric set-up but at about $4,000, it is still much more affordable than solar electricity. A solar hot water system should pay for itself within five or ten years and because solar hot water tanks usually last twenty years, installing a solar hot water system can mean free hot water for up to ten years. Therefore solar hot water makes ecnomic as well as financial sense.

Portable Solar Panel System - It is possible to buy a mini-portable solar panel system which is big enough to power a computer, television as well as a few other smaller items for about $700 to $1,000, this is a great way to get started, get comfortable with how solar power works and you can always add more solar panels later if you find that you like it.

Unfortunately if you don’t include the environmental costs of coal-fired electricity when comparing them with solar, it becomes very difficult to justify the investment in solar panels for homes. Saving money is not what motivates the early adopters and if that’s all that motivates you, then perhaps going solar is not for you. Whilst it’s possible to reduce the cost of solar panels for your home by being diligent and doing your research to ensure that you are getting the best possible return on your investment - the cost of solar panels for homes is still the number one biggest issue preventing most people from going solar. Many of these factors are within your control but some are not. The technology is continuing to improve, rebates becoming more widely available and net metering policies becoming more consumer friendly, the question that you have to ask yourself is - is solar power right for me now? And if the answer is no, then what else could you be doing to achieve the same outcome - reducing your energy costs whilst helping out the envrionment.

Monday, April 20, 2009

China Pledges Huge Solar Subsidies

The Chinese government announced what some industry analysts called the most aggressive and generous solar power subsidy in the world, giving Chinese solar companies a big market boost amid a generally gloomy outlook for short-term growth. China’s solar subsidy plan would offer 20 yuan (about $2.94) per watt for solar photovoltaic installations greater than 50 kilowatts. That would essentially cover half the cost of entire installations at today’s low solar panel prices, according to an RBC Capital Markets analyst note.

Shares of Chinese solar companies soared on Thursday’s news, though some were giving up part of their gains in Friday morning trading. American depository shares of Suntech Power Holdings (NYSE: STP) gained $3.44, or 43.8 percent, to close at $11.29 on Thursday but were down 43 cents, or 3.8 percent, to $10.86 in Friday morning trading. Trina Solar (NSDQ: TSL) likewise saw a Thursday gain of $3.54, or 40.8 percent, to close at $12.19, but were down 11 cents, or 0.9 percent, to $12.08 in Friday morning trading. JA Solar Holdings Co. (NDSQ: JASO) closed ahead by $1.11, or 41.7 percent, at $3.77 on Thursday, and had added 18 cents, or 4.8 percent, to rise to $3.95 in Friday morning trading.

Analysts were mixed on whether the Chinese subsidy plan justified big gains for those solar companies, given that they and their North American, European and Asian competitors are all facing big slides in prices for the solar cells and modules they produce.
“This new stimulus package is clearly a positive, but we believe stocks have over-reacted to the news,” Deutsche Bank analysts Steve O’Rourke, Peter Kim and Hari Polavarapu wrote in a Thursday research note. “Our near-term outlook for the broader solar PV industry remains negatively biased as credit issues drive prices down and inventories up.” Likewise, RBC Capital Markets analysts Stuart Bush and Sandeep Ayyappan noted Friday that the Chinese subsidy plan, while “an unexpected boost to global demand,” didn’t provide many details on when it would be implemented and how it would be structured.

Still, the Chinese subsidy announcement – combined with European nations’ existing feed-in tariffs and other supports for solar power, as well as new and more generous U.S. solar incentives – gave the analysts hope that prices would stabilize from their downward march, helping to stem the build-up of inventory throughout the silicon solar panel supply chain.

Whether China’s subsidies would directly boost already growing domestic manufacturers remained unclear, the RBC Capital Markets analysts noted. “We also do not know if China will dictate a domestic-produced requirement as they have done for the wind industry,” the analysts wrote. China has built up a sizeable solar industry based almost entirely on exports, but several large-scale domestic solar power projects have been announced in the past year.
Steve Chadima, vice president of external affairs with Suntech, said earlier this week that the company was bidding on a 10 megawatt solar field being supported by the Chinese government, and “We expect hundreds if not thousands of megawatts to follow” in the coming years. Of course, China – along with much of Asia – holds the advantage of lower labor costs compared to production facilities in the U.S. and Europe. Asia could produce 82 percent of the world’s crystalline silicon solar cells by 2012, up from 71 percent in 2008, according to a new GTM Research report, “PV Technology, Production and Cost, 2009 Forecast: The Anatomy of a Shakeout.”
But in the shorter term, the few solar power projects being built in the first quarter of this year have generally favored “Western” solar panels for quality assurance reasons, forcing Chinese panel manufacturers to offer steeper discounts on their products, RBC Capital Markets noted. How the subsidies might play into a host of Chinese government actions aimed at cleaning up the country’s environment also remains to be seen.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Cardboard Boxes Turn into $5 Solar Ovens

When Jon Bohmer sat down with his two little girls for a simple project they could work on together, he didn't realize they'd hit upon a solution to one of the world's biggest problems for just $5: A solar-powered oven.

Inventor Jon Bohmer with the oven he has made out of a cardboard box.

The ingeniously simple design uses two cardboard boxes, one inside the other, and an acrylic cover that lets in the sun's rays and traps them. Black paint on the inner box, and silver foil on the outer one, help concentrate the heat. The trapped rays make the inside hot enough to cook casseroles, bake bread and boil water. What the box also does is eliminate the need in developing countries for rural residents to cut down trees for firewood. About 3 billion people around the world do so, adding to deforestation and, in turn, global warming.

By allowing users to boil water, the simple device could also potentially save the millions of children who die from drinking unclean water. Bohmer's invention on Thursday won the FT Climate Change Challenge, which sought to find and publicize the most innovative and practical solution to climate change. "A lot of scientists are working on ways to send people to Mars. I was looking for something a little more grassroots, a little simpler," Bohmer said Thursday. Bohmer, a Norwegian-born entrepreneur based in Kenya, said he also had been looking at solutions "way too complex, for way too long."

"This took me about a weekend, and it worked on the first try," Bohmer said. "It's mind-boggling how simple it is." The contest was organized by the Forum for the Future -- a sustainable development charity -- and the Financial Times newspaper. Among the judges were British business magnate Richard Branson and environmentalist Rajendra Pachauri. The public also voted on the finalists. Bohmer's invention beat about 300 other entries, including a machine that turns wood and other organic material into charcoal, wheel covers that make trucks more fuel efficient by reducing drag, and a feed supplement for livestock that reduces the methane they emit by 15 percent.

Bohmer named his invention the Kyoto Box, after the international environmental treaty to reduce global warming. The box can be produced in existing cardboard factories. It has gone into production in a factory in Nairobi, Kenya, that can churn out about 2.5 million boxes a month. Bohmer has also designed a more durable version, made from recycled plastic, which can be produced just as cheaply. He envisions such cardboard ovens being distributed throughout rural Africa. "In the West, we cook with electricity, so it's easy to ignore this problem," he said. "But half the world's population is still living in a stone age. The only way for them to cook is to make a fire. "I don't want to see another 80-year-old woman carrying 20 kilos of firewood on her back. Maybe we don't have to."

Friday, April 17, 2009

Proposed solar power plant criticized by state report

The proposed Beacon Solar Energy Project, a 250-megawatt solar power plant planned for the Kern County desert, has hurdles to overcome before getting the blessing of the staff of the California Energy Commission. A preliminary staff assessment released Wednesday identifies several unresolved issues related to construction and operation.

The plant, as currently proposed, would not comply with certain applicable laws, ordinances, regulations, and standards nor comply with state water policies that pertain to the use of fresh water in industrial applications and power plant cooling systems, the assessment says. The solar plant’s proposed use of potable groundwater for power plant cooling and the project's process and potable water needs would cause a significant adverse impact to potable water resources and could affect current and future users of groundwater, the report says. The preliminary analysis shows that, with the exception of soils and water resources, and its visual impact on the landscape, the solar power plant’s potential impacts could be mitigated to a less than significant level.

The commission’s staff says it is waiting to receive from the applicant new design data related to the engineering of the proposed diversion channel to determine if it impacts to the floodplain and neighboring properties will be avoided or mitigated. The project proposed by Beacon Solar LLC, a subsidiary of Florida Power and Light Energy is a concentrated solar electric generating facility proposed on 2,000 plus acres in eastern Kern County. It would use parabolic trough solar thermal technology to produce electrical power from a steam turbine generator, fed from a heat exchanger.

If licensed by the California Energy Commission, the solar thermal facility will begin construction in late 2009 or first quarter of 2010, with commercial operations beginning in approximately the fourth quarter of 2011.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Will Florida Legislature Go Solar?

The sun's daily rise is a predictable thing. A Florida legislative session, not so much. Solar power advocates want the state to allow so-called feed-in tariffs of the sort just recently adopted by Gainesville's GRU. But debate over that issue has not been given its day in the sun. The tariff approach is controversial, but it presents appealing economic and environmental benefits that deserve exploration.

Under feed-in tariffs, big electric companies are required to buy — at a higher than usual price, guaranteed through long-term contracts — the excess power produced by small-scale solar systems. Those could include your neighborhood grocery store's rooftop solar panels, for example, or an array on municipal land. Such installations can be expensive. The guaranteed tariff payments, combined with government rebates, would help defray buyers' costs and encourage wider use of solar power. That serves the vital goal of reducing dependence on fossil fuels, which contribute to global warming.

Large utilities aren't enthusiastic about the tariff approach. They tend to prefer a more centralized strategy involving "renewable energy credits," purchased through competitive bidding from big solar "farms," not rooftop providers. But credible research suggests that feed-in tariffs do more to broaden the use of clean energy, stabilize prices and create local job opportunities.

In Germany, where the feed-in tariff system has taken hold, "Germans pay 25 percent less per kilowatt hour for renewable energy and deploy seven times more renewable energy," a recent Environmental Defense Fund letter stated. Lawmakers have a crowded agenda and limited time. But we hope they reserve some of it for an open, informative debate on solar feed-in tariffs. Proponents should get a chance to present their case before the sun sets on the annual legislative session.

What is a Smart Grid

A smart grid delivers electricity from suppliers to consumers using digital technology to save energy, reduce cost and increase reliability. Such a modernized electricity network is being promoted by many governments as a way of addressing energy independence or global warming issues. For example, if smart grid technologies made the United States grid 5% more efficient, it would equate to eliminating the fuel and greenhouse gas emissions from 53 million cars.

Here's a good picture of "The Grid":
This is the basic simplified layout of the electrical grid as it existed before Alternative energy sources were added in recent years. Pretty simple stuff to understand really. Giant generating plant pumps electricity into a system of wires that transport it to homes and businesses. Need more power ... just turn up the generator. The system is so huge that small fluctuations in local demand are mere pebbles dropped into the ocean so they don't cause very big ripples at all. As you can imagine, turning up or down the power from a large generating plant is probably pretty inefficient and not too responsive to actual demand. But when oil, coal etc. was cheap ... and we didn't worry about pumping carbon into the atmosphere ... the system worked just fine ... although wasteful and ugly and polluting.

Nowadays we have several issues to face that are causing concern to humanity in general and the western world specifically. I don't think I need to repeat them here but basically they are environmental as well as geopolitical in nature. Hence, the old coal or oil burning power plant needs to be phased out and we must become much more efficient at generating and delivering electricity to end users or the costs become extraordinary over time. The powers that be have decided to attack this problem on several fronts at once ... which is a good thing ... finally.

Obviously the first thing to consider ... as we would with any engineering system ... is efficiency. OK then, only so much can be achieved by making the big old power plants more efficient because they are just that ... big old power plants.

Some efficiency can be gained along the way by improving transmission efficiency and presumably some of that is going on as we speak. Hopefully some of the infrastructure funding will be spent wisely in this area. Energy efficiency initiatives that reward consumers and businesses for reducing electricity and gas usage could result in utility bill savings of $168.6 billion, according to a report released by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).

Rising prices for power tends to get the end users to improve efficiencies ... but without having more information to base decisions on, it's tough to really make a difference. So, what we need then is some way to monitor each individuals power use so they can see what is costing them more money ... which then allows them to alter their behaviors if necessary.
The next partial solution to our energy problem is the addition of alternative energy sources such as solar, wind, tidal etc. Since these sources tend to depend on geographic location (i.e. tidal power needs to be at the ocean and solar panels need a sunny location to function) we need to be able to plug them into the existing grid so the electricity they generate can flow to the end users. Eventually we would like to be able to phase out those big old power plants completely and just use smaller, more efficient and earth friendly sources.
Although this sounds pretty simple in concept, there are some pretty basic problems that need to be addressed in order for it to work. Since most of these alternative energy sources are intermittant (i.e. the sun don't shine at night) we need to have some way of keeping the amount of electricity in the wires equal to the amount we are using at any given time. To do that we need to be able to accurately track what everyone is using ... and balance that with the power sources available.
How do we make it "Smart"?
Enter the first element of a Smart Grid ... namely the Smart Meter. This device will replace that old meter with all the spinning wheels that is currently only used to measure monthly use so the power company can send you a bill. Here's what one looks like:

What makes these meters smart is that they can communicate electronically with a central system via the powerline or internet or perhaps another electronic network. That means that the power company can instantaneously know how much electricity you are using. That allows them to balance loads thus increasing the efficiency of the grid. It also allows them to charge you without sending out a meter reader by the way ... which theoretically should save you some money. Not only that, power fees can be assesed based on time of day, low load periods etc.
Precise control over load management devices to offer superior demand response programs.
In conjunction with distributed energy storage technologies and renewables, enables utilities to dispatch clean, efficient power into the electric grid during peak periods. Basically they will be able to increase the efficiency of their existing operations and have the ability of adding intermittant (renewable) power generation.
For industrial and commercial users, there are a multitude of energy saving opportunities made available with this technology. The ability to schedule non essential power usage to off peak hours for example can save energy and money.

Knowing how much energy you are using at any given time ... and what it is costing you based on the time of day etc. gives you a means to cut costs if you wish by scheduling or cutting usage. With a smart meter and smart grid you will be able to see exactly what is happening at any given time. That should save energy and money too.
Who will make it "Smart"?
The primary driver in the adoption of Smart Grids is of course the power companies. They will benefit the most by extending the life of their power plants and infrastructure and increasing the efficiency of their systems.

The government is on board and ready to provide funding for these projects. As we've all read lately ... there is a worldwide movement in this direction ... finally. Many companies are jumping into the fray now that it appears that we have our backs to the wall and need to implement this stuff right away. They will be the ones that design the systems, build the equipment, finance the projects, install and monitor the equipment and systems. Along the way we need training and education too. Almost every segment of the economy can benefit from this movement.

When will it become "Smart"?
It's already happening around the country and I'm sure the push will be on for others to get this going as soon as possible. On the forefront is a company called Xcel Energy with their SmartGridCity project in Boulder Colorado. This advanced, integrated smart grid system – when fully implemented over the next few years – will provide customers with a portfolio of emerging technologies designed to provide environmental, financial and operational benefits.
Also, MEREGIO (Minimum Emissions Region), is a smart power grid project currently under development for pilot deployment in the Karlsruhe-Stuttgart region of southern Germany, one of the most densely populated areas of the country and widely considered Europe’s biggest manufacturing and high-tech hub. The objective of the project is to create an optimized and sustainable power network that reduces CO2 emissions to as close to zero as is technically feasible and humanly possible.

With the US government throwing $8.3B at the development of smart grids, I think there will be a great deal of activity in the next few years. It will obviously take some time to build smart grid projects around the world ... but the desire and hopefully the investment funds are in place now so let's hope that the snowball keeps rolling.
What other stuff can a Smart Grid do?
Coming as I do from a background of Home Technologies (visit to see what I mean) I can tell you that being able to monitor energy is only one aspect of the smart grid vision ... and in the end, that may not even be the driving force that gets smart meters installed in the majority of homes.

What if the power company could deliver entertainment and communications to your home via the smart grid so that you could get rid of the cable and telephone connections and just have one set of wires in the house. Plug appliances in and have them communicate with each other. Phone or surf to your home system and turn on the hot tub so it's warm when you get home or turn off the lights you forgot. Plug in a set top box and have it connect to the internet so you can watch video on demand ... or tune into you favorite TV network. Plug in a telephone and communicate with your friends just as though you were on a regular phone. Plug in your car and have it provide backup power to your house ... or even sell the excess back to the power company.
This is not a daydream and I think you will agree that the Power Companies would find this scenario much more profitable in the long run than simply being able to increase the efficiency of their energy systems.

The HomePlug Alliance is one organization that has been working for years to make this dream a reality and they already have several member companies with products on the market that will do exactly what I'm talking about above.

In any case, the future looks bright for those companies that align themselves with the building and maintaining of the Smart Grid ... not only in the US, but around the world. If it's done right ... the main beneficiaries will be you and I.

Hunting for the Next Hot Solar Market

Travis Bradford of the Prometheus Institute surveys the global solar market landscape in his keynote speech at Greentech Media's conference in Phoenix. Germany is reliable but won't be growing much for long. The United States is now the magnet for the industry.

The global credit crunch is hitting the solar energy market at a time when solar cell and panel makers have to place bets on new markets.

Germany has been the top solar energy market thanks to a reliable feed-in tariff program that requires utilities to pay high prices for solar energy. But it's a maturing market with about 1.5 gigawatts of solar power capacity by the end of 2008, and is likely to hit the limit at 3 gigawatts to 4 gigawatts, said Travis Bradford, president of the Prometheus Institute, at Greentech Media's Surviving the Shakeout conference in Phoenix on Tuesday.

Germany's program costs the ratepayers in Germany €300 to €500 per household per year, he added. "That can't be left unchecked," Bradford said, noting that some German politicians had unsuccessfully pushed to significantly shrink the feed-in tariff program last year. The proposal was to slash the solar electricity rates by as much as 30 percent, which caused no small amount of fear among solar panel makers from Europe, the United States and Asia. Lawmakers ultimately lowered the rates to about 10 percent. Spain also proved to be a gold mine – but that was in 2008. The country has dramatically cut its feed-in tariff program, leaving solar panels makers eyeing Greece, Italy and the United States as the next hot markets.

Bradford, along with GTM Research's senior analyst Shyam Mehta laid out the global solar market landscape and players at the conference. Here are the highlights:

The United States "may be the greatest global hope for the PV industry," Bradford said. The series of federal tax breaks and grants, along with many state-centric incentive programs, have made the country a magnet for equipment makers in Europe and Asia.

Bradford cited a study by the National Renewable Energy Lab, which showed that nearly half of the 1,000 cities in the country could produce solar energy at the same cost as conventional power by 2015, if you factor in the 30 percent federal investment tax credit and the projected declines of solar panel prices.

Companies that can make solar energy equipment cheaply will have a better chance to stay in the market, of course, Mehta said. Many thin-film solar producers make that low-cost claim, but only First Solar has delivered in volumes.

Solar panel prices have declined around 5 percent per year. The average selling price for crystalline silicon panels, the most common panels found on the market today, are expected to reach a little over $2 per watt in 2010 $3.40 in 2008. The average selling price for thin-film panels, including all types of technologies, is expected to reach between $1.5 and $2 per watt in 2010 from $2.50 per watt in 2008.

The costs of buying and installing the components that go into a solar energy system have come down quicker than the prices for the solar panels in the last four to five years, Bradford said. The growth of large-scale installations on the ground (as opposed to rooftop systems) has contributed to the decline.

There are a growing number of companies that only recently began to produce amorphous-silicon panels. The challenges for this sector include the high upfront capital costs and low efficiencies – the rate at which the panels can convert sunlight into electricity, Mehta noted. Driving down the manufacturing costs will be key for these companies when their panels can't be as efficient as other types of thin-film or crystalline silicon panels.

The polysilicon shortage is no longer a problem, Bradford said. There are no supply problems for companies making thin-film solar panels, which don't use a lot of silicon or alternative materials for converting sunlight into electricity.

Minnesota Feed and Tariff

Minnesota Feed-In Tariff Could Lower Cost, Boost Renewables and Expand Local Ownership...

Read about it here:

Free Canberra Solar Power Information Session Times Announced

Energy Matters, a leading Australian renewable energy company, will be running free information sessions on grid connect solar power for Canberra residents this weekend as part of the company's "double dip" ACT solar incentives special offer. Canberra residents are currently the most advantaged group when it comes to solar rebates in Australia; thanks to the Federal Government's $8,000 rebate for households with incomes under $100,000 and the nation's most generous state administered feed in tariff scheme. The ACT was first to introduce a gross feed in tariff scheme in Australia in March this year. The Canberra feed in tariff pays a premium of 3.88 times the market rate (currently 50.5 cents) for all electricity generated by grid connected solar power systems for 20 years. The Energy Matters free information sessions will be held on Sunday 19 April at the following venues. - Southside: 10.30am - 12.00 pm, Vikings Club Lanyon , Heidelberg Street, Conder- Northside: 2.00pm to 3.30pm, Belconnen Premier Inn, Benjamin Way, Belconnen At these meetings, Energy Matters representatives will discuss the program and answer any questions attendees may have about grid connect solar power. Interested participants will be able to register for the program and secure a special discount on a grid connect system. The Federal Government rebate of $8,000 is due to finish on June 30, 2009, however solar industry speculation is that the government may stop accepting applications as soon one w eek before the budget announcements in May. After July 1 a new scheme w ill be introduced - a solar credits program. While the new program will be accessible to many more Australians, it will offer up to $4500 less in rebates on a 1kW grid connect solar power system.

A Solar-Powered Bloodmobile

Redlands, Calif.-based American Custom Coach will offer the nation's first-ever solar-powered bloodmobile. The Contra Costa Times reports that the $243,000 vehicle will be used by the Community Blood Bank of Palm Springs, Calif. The solar panels are designed to generate up to 50% of the vehicle's electricity, and the bloodmobile's wireless computer system, appliances, refrigerators and lights will be connected to the solar array. Charlie Mello, CEO of American Custom Coach, points out that the solar-powered air conditioning will come in handy during the summer, when the bloodmobile will be parked outside on days when the temperature can reach 120 degrees."You're still generating 110 volts for the system, but the solar panels take half of that," says Mello.

Feature Content Solar Heating Geothermal Hearth/Biomass Solar Electric

Pennsylvania's Commonwealth Financing Authority board has voted to borrow $30 million to get the long-delayed Sunshine Program into motion.The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the Sunshine Program was enacted in July 2008 as part of the state's Alternative Energy Funding Act. Under the program, businesses and homeowners can receive 35% rebates to cover the cost of purchasing solar power systems. Applications for the program are expected to be available by the end of the month."We think this is the front edge of a huge development of renewable energy in Pennsylvania," says Dan Griffiths, deputy secretary at the Department of Environmental Protection, which will administer the program.

Michigan Contractor Creates Green Division

Oak Electric Service, based in Waterford Township, Mich., has created a new Green Division for sales and installation of small wind turbines for commercial and residential applications."We are seeing major changes taking place for those of us that operate businesses in the energy field," says Gary Pipia, owner of Oak Electric, which began installing small wind turbines in early 2008. The company is planning to install a Skystream 3.7 kW turbine on a 30-foot pole at its headquarters.Pipia adds that Michigan’s net-metering policy will help encourage businesses and homeowners to consider small wind energy. "We believe that this type of policy encourages customer-sited generators to generate renewable energy in excess of personal needs," he says. "Our investigation also revealed that the single most effective driver for the industry continues to be the financial incentive programs offered by the state, and grid-connected, residential systems in the 1 kW to 10kW range constitute the fastest-growing market segment."

Telephone Seminar On Federal Solar Tax Incentives

The Interstate Renewable Energy Council and the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) are hosting a free telephone seminar that will address the subject of federal solar tax incentives.The seminar will take place May 4 at 2:00 p.m. EDT and will run approximately one hour. Keith Martin, a lawyer in the Washington office of New York law firm Chadbourne & Parke LLP and author of the Utility Solar Tax Manual published by SEPA, will host the seminar. For more information or to register, go to

Solar-Powered Movie Theater

SPG Solar, Novato, Calif., has completed the installation of a solar power system at the Fairfax Five Theatre in Fairfax, Calif. The cinema, which was built in 1952, now offsets 36% of its electric costs with a 31.5 kW photovoltaic system. The rooftop array consists of 170 solar modules that are tilted and oriented to the south for optimal production. A state rebate and federal tax credit helped pay for nearly half of the total system cost, according to SPG Solar, and the system is expected to pay for itself in eight years. "The Fairfax 5 Theatre is part of a progressive community," says Dave Corkill, founder of Cinema West, which owns and operates the theater. "The Fairfax Five Theatre is a landmark of downtown Fairfax. To have it be a display of environmental leadership represents the town’s social awareness and progressiveness."

California plans space-based solar power

Californians could soon be powering their homes, and no doubt their hot tubs, from a space-based solar electricity program. The plan by the state’s massive energy company PG&E calls for the generation of 200 megawatts over 15 years to be collected by space-based solar arrays and beamed down to earth via radio frequency.

PG&E hopes to have the system running by 2016 and is seeking permission from regulators to contract with a company called Solaren to put the system in place.

Experts say that harnessing solar power in space has advantages over terrestrial systems since solar energy can be harvested around the clock and is never obscured by clouds or bad weather.

Solaren’s solar-power satellite would consist of mirror arrays up to several kilometers wide, which would focus sunlight onto photoelectric cells. The electrical power would be converted into a microwave beam directed towards Earth, where it would be converted back into electricity.

According to the company, the system could generate roughly 1.2 to 4.8 gigawatts of power, at a price comparable to that of other renewable energy sources. “While a system of this scale and exact configuration has not been built, the underlying technology is very mature and is based on communications satellite technology,” Solaren CEO Gary Spirnak said in announcing the move.
“For over 45 years, satellites have collected solar energy in earth orbit via solar cells, and converted it to radio frequency energy for transmissions to earth receive stations,” he said.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

State Solar Update: FIT Regulatory Boost in California, Bills on the Docket in Arizona

The Solar Alliance and the Vote Solar Initiative announced support for four bills designed to advance solar energy in Arizona. The new legislation would allow Arizona's schools, homes and businesses to take full advantage of the state's strong solar potential. In California, the CPUC took another step toward a state level feed-in tariff.

“Thanks to the leadership of the Arizona Corporation Commission, Arizona has the fundamental policies in place to support a healthy and robust solar market. These bills are turbo-chargers: they reduce the cost of doing business, attract new customers, and help bring new jobs to the state,” said Adam Browning, executive director of the Vote Solar Initiative.The four Arizona bills designed to foster in-state economic opportunity in the growing solar energy market include:

HB 2335: Would allow municipalities to set up voluntary, opt-in financing programs for solar and energy efficiency investments on home. This type of city-run financing program helps property owners overcome solar’s upfront cost by spreading the system price over an affordable 20-year property tax assessment.

HB 2332: Would let schools implement solar and energy efficiency improvements by removing the upfront cost which would be paid back through monthly savings on the school’s utility bills.
HB 2329: Would cap permit fees for solar at US $375.
SB 1403: Degisned to give incentives to attract solar manufacturing companies to Arizona.
In California, the CPUC took another step toward a state level feed-in tariff. Key elements of a new set of rules created by the CPUC raises project size that will qualify for any tariff from 1.5 MW to 10 MW, and adds another 1000 MW (in addition to the 500 MW for the under 1.5 MW program).

The program would be limited to a 1,000 MW overall cap, allocated across the three utilities according to the share of coincident peak demand. Projects meeting the tariff requirements would be permitted to sign a standard form contract, which would not require CPUC approval.

"After a 8 month process, the Energy Division of the CPUC issued a proposed decision for its inquiry to expand the state’s feed-in tariff program," Browning said. "We will have some comments and recommendations in reply to the proposal, but the program’s general approach treats solar as if itwere a resource that can be the foundation for California’s renewable energy future: it integrates solar into the long term renewable planning process, and looks to provide a framework that providessecurity for solar project developers, utility planners, and regulators."

Browning noted however that the decision by the CPUC does not address price, which is likely to be the next step. Rulemaking should take place in the next few months.

What If The Electric Company Paid You?

Would you install a solar energy system or a windmill if the power company would pay you for the electricity? That's the idea behind a bill being debated in Augusta, Georgia.

The plan is called a "feed-in tariff," and supporters say it would dramatically increase demand for renewable energy systems in the state. The plan would require utilities to buy electricity generated by homeowners or small businesses, and pay them a premium price, far more than the cost of electricity from big power plants. The cost would be passed on to consumers, but supporters of the bill think Maine people would be willing to pay the extra cost.

Peter Drum from Midcoast Green Collaborative said, "I think they will when they realize what it means for Maine. For one there's huge job growth potential. Right now we're in a terrible economic strait. Germany has created over 300,000 jobs because of their feed-in tariff, and we think there will be similar rates of job growth in Maine. A conservative estimate we have is 3,000 jobs."
But not everyone thinks the "feed-in" tariff is a good idea. Central Maine Power Company says there are major problems with the plan. A lobbyist for the company testified to the legislature's utilities committee that Maine tried something similar, back in the 1980s when electric companies were told to sign long-term contracts with large private power plants called non-utility generators. The plan backfired and cost billions of dollars.
The sponsor of the bill, Representative Herb Adams of Portland, says the tariff plan is much different because it involves homeowners and small businesses and not big power plants.

Make the Power Company Pay You for Your Energy!

Developing your own energy is quickly becoming the norm. As energy costs increase and individuals are looking to save on anything and everything, more people are looking reduce their monthly energy bills. What’s really great is that many new products have come out on the market that can show you how to quickly and easily build your own source of renewable energy. The best part is that building your energy resources can begin offsetting your energy costs immediately.

Going green is not only being talked about on television and magazines, but its actually happening in neighborhoods across the United States and abroad. The largest reason for this adoption of alternative energy are the ever increasing costs of electricity and gas as well as the development of easy-to-build alternative energy sources involving solar and wind.

Wind powered generators are popular because they are easy to make and use. The materials used to create wind turbines, for personal home use, are quite prevalent and can be obtained at a very reasonable cost. The end result is the development of a renewable energy source that can create energy rain or shine. Having step-by-step instructions for building wind generators is recommended and readily available on the Internet.

The favorite of many environmentalists is the solar panel. Solar harvests the energy of the sun and converts that into a renewable energy source. The only downside to solar energy is that the sun must be shining to build up an energy charge. This charge is drawn down during cloudy days. If you are relying on solar alone, you may be low on resources during extended periods of inclement weather. The best bet is to use more than one alternative source of energy.

The problem faced by many first time energy seekers is that the cost of professionally installed solar powers is far beyond their budget. Additionally, could take a very long time to get a favorable return on their energy investment. The good news is that there are plenty of options when it comes to solar energy. You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars in order to be energy independent. In fact, building solar panels as a do-it-yourself project is fun, easy to do, and relatively inexpensive.

For anyone interested in going off the grid, building your own solar panels and wind energy sources are closer than you think. You wont have to spend a lot of money and the return is truly exceptional. The key is to start small and build from there. Most systems available today cost less than a couple of hundred dollars and can begin offsetting your costs in as little as 48 hours. Don’t be afraid to purchase a how to guide and start your first project today. The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll have a renewable energy supply and smaller monthly energy bills.

One final note. Before you get started with your move to green energy, do your research. You want to find a DIY kit or instruction guide that has been proven successful and that promises a guarantee. Don’t be fooled by knock off products or promotions that are unsubstantiated. You want your first experience with energy independence to be a positive one. And the only way to achieve that outcome is with the help of instructional guides, videos, and resources. Make a smart investment and it will pay substantial dividends.

Alaska senator, central in energy debate

WASHINGTON — Coming from oil-rich Alaska, Sen. Lisa Murkowski could be expected to promote oil and gas development zealously and give short shrift to renewable wind and solar power.

But Murkowski approaches energy with the same pragmatism that marks her general approach in the Senate. While championing the traditional fossil fuels so vital to her home state, Murkowski also embraces renewable energy and generally supports a cap on greenhouse gas emissions blamed for climate change.

Murkowski’s stance puts her to the left of many of her Republican colleagues, and even her father, Frank, whom she replaced in the Senate six years ago.

“It’s clear she’s not just picking the same old messages from the same old Republican playbook,” said Jim DiPeso, vice president for policy of Republicans for Environmental Protection. As the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Murkowski is poised to play a major role as Congress debates the nation’s energy policy this spring. Already, she and the panel’s chairman, Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., have spent months huddling over a massive energy bill that aims to advance renewable power and speed the deployment of high-voltage lines to carry that electricity across the nation.

Murkowski’s views are inextricably tied to her home state of Alaska, where drilling yielded enough oil and natural gas in 2006 to make it the nation’s second-biggest producer, behind Texas. The wells also produce royalty revenue that flows into state coffers and goes directly to Alaskans in the form of annual dividend checks.

But Murkowski insists it is a national imperative — not just a parochial concern — for Congress to chart the country’s energy path. Like other lawmakers from Alaska, including Democratic Sen. Mark Begich, Murkowski wants to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — an idea that is dead on arrival in the Democratic-controlled House and Senate.

Recognizing the dynamic, Murkowski this year is sponsoring legislation that would capitalize on advances in directional drilling by allowing oil and natural gas to be siphoned from under ANWR’s coastal plain, as long as developers don’t build wells or roads inside the refuge’s borders. Instead, operations would take place miles away, outside the refuge.

Murkowski has been a vocal proponent of federal loan guarantees to advance wind and solar production and the development of biofuels made from plant materials. But she stops short of wanting a federal mandate for renewable energy. She does not back Bingaman’s plan to require that utilities generate 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2021. And Murkowski argues that nuclear power should be count toward that mandate, which Bingaman opposes.

Murkowski’s biggest break with her party comes on climate change. While some Republicans dispute the science behind global warming, Murkowski says she has witnessed firsthand the damaging effects of a rising global temperature in Alaska’s melting ice pack and thawing permafrost.

Convinced that heat-trapping pollutants contribute to climate change, Murkowski generally backs federal limits on carbon dioxide emissions. Last year, she joined Bingaman in sponsoring legislation that would allow oil refineries, manufacturers and other industrial operations to comply with new emissions limits by buying and selling emission permits.

The issue will test Murkowski again this year. Home-state interests pull her in different directions, keeping her between fishermen and coastal residents alarmed at the melting ice pack and energy developers tapping the state’s oil and gas.

Further complicating the issue for Murkowski is the possibility of a GOP primary challenge next year from Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin — the 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate whose name became synonymous with a “Drill, baby, drill!” chant during the campaign. Palin’s first term as governor ends next year.

Murkowski chafes that the oil and gas industry is an easy political target and has criticized Obama administration proposals to raise taxes on the sector. “People get up in the morning to hate the oil industry,” Murkowski said recently.

Murkowski’s willingness to approach complicated problems from multiple points of view gives her credibility on Capitol Hill, said Lou Hayden, a senior policy analyst with the American Petroleum Institute. “When she speaks,” he said, “she’s listened to.”

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

FPL to Equip Six Florida Schools with ‘Next Generation Solar Education Stations’ to Teach Students about Renewable Energy

Florida Power & Light Company will install cutting-edge solar power arrays at six schools in its service territory to help teach future generations about the benefits of renewable energy. Each school receiving a ‘Next Generation Solar Education Station’ will be able to generate emissions-free electricity and provide students with a hands-on tool to learn how solar power works.

The recipients of the Next Generation Solar Education Stations are:
Mandarin Lakes Academy K-8 Center, Homestead (Miami-Dade County)
Deerfield Beach Middle School (Broward County)
SunCoast Community High School, Riviera Beach (Palm Beach County)
J.D. Parker Elementary School, Stuart (Martin County)
Hinson Middle School, Daytona Beach (Volusia County)
L.A. Ainger Middle School, Rotunda West (Charlotte County)

“The next generation of Floridians will live in a world where renewable energy is a central part of the economy and our way of life. The Next Generation Solar Education Stations we are building will give students a head start on understanding the critical role solar power will play in that future,” said FPL President and CEO Armando J. Olivera.

When each FPL Next Generation Solar Education Station is complete, it will provide 5 kilowatts of solar electricity. The solar installation will save the schools about $800 each year in electricity costs while giving teachers a way to focus science education on essential energy technologies of the future.

Photovolatic panels convert sunlight directly into electricity, which will help power the school’s lighting and air-conditioning systems, particularly on hot days when demand for electricity is at its highest. Any excess power will be fed into the electrical grid to offset electric costs. The FPL Group Foundation is paying for the installation of the six solar arrays this year as part of a pilot program. The Foundation is partnering on this initiative with SunPower Corp., a manufacturer of high-efficiency solar cells, solar panels and solar systems, and the company that designed and is building FPL’s commercial-scale photovoltaic solar sites in DeSoto and Brevard counties.

“We congratulate FPL on its on-going leadership in the development of renewable energy,” said Howard Wenger, president, global business units for SunPower. “SunPower is proud to partner with FPL on this initiative. It is our hope that these systems in Florida’s schools inspire new generations of informed energy consumers to be advocates for our environment and clean, renewable solar power.”

Unlike most small-scale photovoltaic solar arrays, which are mounted on rooftops, FPL’s Next Generation Solar Education Stations will be mounted on the ground to maximize their effectiveness as a teaching tool. The FPL Group Foundation also will provide teacher training and curriculum materials to help create age-appropriate renewable energy lessons for students.
In addition to these six Next Generation Solar Education Stations, FPL also is the first company to bring commercial-scale solar power to Florida. The company will build three solar sites around the state totaling 110 megawatts of emissions-free energy. When complete, these projects will make Florida the No. 2 producer of solar energy in the nation and strengthen FPL Group’s position as the nation’s clean energy leader.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Florida to Get World's Second Largest Solar Power Plant

This landmark solar project will achieve several milestones for solar power, including:
The second largest solar thermal power plant in the World
The largest solar thermal plant outside of California
The first hybrid solar facility in the world to connect to an existing combined-cycle power plant

This project, named the Martin Next Generation Solar Energy Center, will be located on 500 acres of land adjacent to FPL's Martin Plant. Using Parabolic Trough Technology to capture heat from the sun, this project will include approximately 200,000 parabolic mirrors. Total power produced for this new solar plant will be 155,000 MWh of power annually - enough power for 11,000 homes or 26,000 people.

Utilizing the latest in Solar Thermal technology, this revolutionary solar project will help to advance the field of solar power by producing clean energy at a competitive price. According to FPL's website, the Martin Facility is expected to reduce green house gas emissions by approximately 2.75 million tons over a thirty year period, which is the equivalent of removing more than 18,700 cars from the road annually for the next 30 years.

"Lauren is proud to build this project and is dedicated to a project approach which minimizes disruption to the local community and ecosystem," said Cleve Whitener, CEO of Lauren Engineers & Constructors. In addition to this milestone solar project, Lauren also built the Nevada Solar One Power Plant, a 64 MW solar power plant located in Boulder City, Nevada. Construction for this plant, the largest built in over 17 years, was completed in June 2007.
Lauren's key role as the only contractor to have built a concentrated solar power facility in the US in the last 17 years has helped to solidify Lauren as the premier contractor for solar power facilities in North America.

Florida is poised to become a leader, but it must act soon

Solar power in the Sunshine State has exploded in the past three years, providing millions of dollars in new projects and hundreds of jobs even as most of Florida's economy withered.

The state's planned investment in solar energy crossed the $1 billion mark last week with the announcement of Florida Power & Light's 75-megawatt Babcock Ranch project, billed as the largest photovoltaic array in the world. FPL has three other large solar plants already under construction. Small solar installations have tripled in less than three years, and Progress Energy customers recently surpassed 1 megawatt of solar installed. Nearly 250 megawatts of solar projects have been announced statewide.

By this time next year, Florida will have more solar power installed than every state except California, said Eric Silagy, vice president and chief development officer for FPL.
"Solar is starting to come of age," he said. It's an enormous leap, considering Florida ranked dead last just a few years ago, said Philip Fairey, deputy director of the Florida Solar Energy Center. Just three years ago, there was probably less than a megawatt installed statewide.
"We were a nobody," Fairey said. "There was more solar power in New Jersey." If this is an industry just starting to come of age, then what's next?

• • •

Florida's solar industry hopes that solar can do for Florida what computers did for Silicon Valley.
If that seems farfetched, consider this: The 110 megawatts of solar that FPL has under construction will cost $738 million and employ 660 construction workers. For all that, the projects will generate only one-fifth of 1 percent of the power used by the utility's 4.5 million customers.

If FPL supplied just 3 percent of its power from solar, the investment will run into the billions of dollars and put thousands of people to work. What if other utilities around the country, spurred by new renewable energy requirements, did the same? And what if those solar panels were made right here in Florida? That could mean tens of thousands of permanent, high-paying jobs, Silagy predicted.

"Florida is, I think, at a crossroads," Silagy said. "There is a window of opportunity where we can really be a leader in the nation and around the globe on solar power."

The renewable energy lobby offers tantalizing estimates of just how green jobs could transform the economy. The national solar industry group estimates that solar could provide 440,000 permanent jobs nationwide by 2016. The Vote Solar Initiative, an advocacy group based in San Francisco, estimates that Florida could see 85,500 jobs in solar if the Legislature adopts Gov. Charlie Crist's goal of getting 20 percent of the state's power from renewable sources by 2020.
The developer behind Babcock Ranch, which will include 19,500 homes and 6 million square feet of commercial and retail space, is already negotiating with solar companies that may want to locate in Florida.

The state solar industry hopes to get a piece of the rapid expansion of solar nationwide. Solar power grew 17 percent, its third straight year of record growth, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. The installation of grid-connected solar panels surged 81 percent. Solar panel manufacturing was up 65 percent.

Some of that growth has already found its way to Florida. Rachel Doll, marketing director at Solar Source, a Largo installer and distributor, said the solar photovoltaic business remains strong. Solar Source added eight people last year, she said.

Silagy wants more. Manufacturing, research and development could bring tens of thousands of high-paying jobs, he said. Florida has to set itself apart from other states aggressively courting the same solar companies.

"We have an opportunity to do something here in Florida," Silagy said. "But if we don't act, then it will be in states like Michigan and Minnesota and Texas and Arizona."
Others share his sense of urgency.

"We're in the fourth quarter of the game," said Jerry Karnas, Florida Climate Project director for Environmental Defense. "We're not in Hail Mary pass time, but we certainly need the hurry-up offense."

Not everyone agrees, though, on what the next play should be.

• • •

Florida's solar industry owes its recent success to policies enacted in the past three years.
First, in 2006, the state started offering a rebate of $4 a watt for solar panels. The rebate cut the cost of installation by half or more, paying homeowners $20,000 for a 5-kilowatt system. Since then, the amount of solar on the state's electric grid grew to more than 3 megawatts, and there are thousands of backlogged applications for rebates. Then, starting in 2007, Crist began pushing a series of measures that would force the state's utilities to slash greenhouse gas emissions and get more of their power from renewable sources.

Now, lobbyists are peddling a slew of new policies in Tallahassee, hoping to kick-start an even bigger boom. Proposals include strong renewable energy targets, premium prices for solar electricity, tax incentives for solar companies, rebates for consumers and firm backing from state regulators. Similar debates are playing out in states across the country, and in the nation's capital.

In the next month, the state Legislature will decide which policies will win out.
The issue has attracted farmers, developers, small-business owners, big businesses like Florida Crystals and the usual complement of utility lobbyists and environmentalists.

Riddled with acronyms and technical jargon, the debate can often be impenetrable, with millions of dollars worth of jobs and investment in the balance. The Legislature is debating Crist's "20 by 2020" renewable goal, and utilities are pushing for a "clean" goal that would include new nuclear power.

A policy known as feed-in tariffs also is gaining traction, pushed by a renewable energy lobby that includes solar installers and manufacturers. The tariffs force utilities to pay more for electricity that customers generated from solar panels than those customers pay for electricity generated by the utility's power plants. Gainesville recently adopted the tariffs, and advocates want to see it enacted statewide.

The state also could extend the policy that paved the way for FPL's 110 megawatts. Passed last year, it allows the Public Service Commission to approve renewable energy projects up to a certain limit, even if those projects cost more than fossil fuel plants.

Despite the enthusiasm for solar, it still has a long way to go before it displaces fossil and nuclear fuels. Consider that the state's three largest utilities — Progress Energy, Tampa Electric and FPL — have seen a few hundred customers install a combined solar capacity of close to 3 megawatts. The utilities together serve nearly 7 million customers and have nearly 40,000 megawatts worth of power plants that run on coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear fuel.
"The true test will be when people look out of the window of a skyscraper in their city and see their communities transform," Karnas said. "It's when the landscape, what people can see from their windows, changes. That's when we'll know we have succeeded."

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Space station's solar boost

The International Space Station (ISS) flashes its newly beefed-up solar setup to the astronauts aboard Discovery as the space shuttle performs a fly-around after undocking from the station two weeks ago. Discovery, which landed safely at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Saturday, March 28, 2009, delivered the ISS's starboard 6 (S6) truss segment and the accompanying solar wings (rightmost truss segment and set of solar arrays). The station's newly completed truss, or backbone, spans 335 feet (100 meters)—longer than a football field. And the full complement of solar arrays covers 38,400 square feet (3,570 square meters), nearly an acre. Those arrays, generating up to 120 kilowatts of usable power, supply electricity for the station's day-to-day and science activities and charge onboard batteries for use when the solar panels are partly or totally shadowed by the Earth or by other parts of the station.

Florida Developer...Gets it

One of the realities about renewable energy is that we will have more of it when people are able to make money from it. That brings us to Palm Beach Gardens-based developer Syd Kitson. In 2006, he bought the Babcock Ranch in Charlotte County. The state allowed Mr. Kitson to buy the land with the idea that he would not turn his development into just another development.

But many developers have said that they would use smart-growth building and design techniques. Last week, Mr. Kitson became the first to say that he will power his "smart" community entirely by solar energy. Mr. Kitson was joined Thursday by representatives of Florida Power & Light and three environmental groups - the Sierra Club, Audubon of Florida and the World Wildlife Fund - to announce that the very green Babcock Ranch would become even greener.

Already, Mr. Kitson has sold off 73,000 acres, about 80 percent of the ranch, to the state for preservation. Now, he's got FPL committing to build a $300 million, 75-megawatt solar photovoltaic plant to power his new town on the remaining land. The town could have 45,000 residents and 6 million square feet of commercial space.

Mr. Kitson wants to show that there can be a different way to build. And he's not forgetting the profit motive. He's got $1 billion from Evergreen Real Estate Partners out of Chicago, as The Post's Jeff Ostrowski reported in September. If smart building can be made economically smart, Florida wins.