Monday, August 31, 2009

Solar Water Heater Thermosyphon Systems

Another relatively simple, passive system, and the most popular solar water heater worldwide is the thermosyphon. Common in Japan, Australia, India, and Israel, they are easily recognizable because the tank must be located directly above the collector.

Thermosyphon systems work on the principal of heat rising. In an open-loop system (for nonfreezing climates only), potable water enters the bottom of the collector and rises to the tank as it warms. In colder climates, an antifreeze solution, such as propylene glycol, is used in the closed solar loop, and freeze-tolerant piping, such as cross-linked polyethylene (PEX), is used for the potable water lines in the attic and on the roof.

Several international manufacturers make thermosyphon systems. The advantage of this system over the batch heater is that solar heat is stored in a well-insulated tank, so hot water can be used any time, without the penalty of overnight losses.

The following illustration includes the primary components of any thermosyphon system.

Thermosyphon System

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Solar Batch Heaters

Solar Batch Heating System For a hundred years, simple solar batch heaters have been used in the United States. The term ICS (integrated collector storage) tells us that the collector and storage tank are combined into one unit. A tank of water, enclosed in an insulated box covered with glass, is placed in the sun facing south. Cold water is piped to the bottom of the tank; hot water is taken off the top. Whenever there´s a call for hot water, water pressure from the home moves hot water from the top of the solar batch heater as cold water is pushed into the bottom.

Since the potable water is heated directly, this is an open-loop system. And since no pump is used to move the water from collector to end use, it is passive. The batch heater is a popular choice for homes in moderate climates where freezing is not much of an issue. Commercially manufactured batch heaters are relatively low cost. Crude batch heaters can even be homemade. If batch heaters are installed on the roof, weight has to be taken into account. Commercial batch heaters can weigh 200 pounds (90 kg) dry, and when filled with 40 gallons (150 l) of water, more than 320 pounds (145 kg) is added.

Because of their relatively low cost and simplicity, for those living in moderate climates with good sunshine available, the batch heater is probably the best value for heating domestic water.

The illustration includes the primary components of any solar batch heater system.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Solar Hot Water System Types

Five main types of solar water heating systems are sold today. These five are a distillation of dozens of types sold over the past 25 years. They are:

• Batch
• Thermosyphon
• Open-loop direct
• Pressurized glycol
• Closed-loop drainback

The proven winners are simple, reliable, and long lasting. Some systems are "open loop" (the domestic water itself is directly heated) and some are "closed loop" (a heat-transfer fluid is heated by the collector and the heat is passed on to the domestic hot water by means of a heat exchanger). Some systems are "active," using moving parts such as pumps and valves, and others are "passive," using no mechanical or moving parts.

There are many considerations in choosing the best system for a home, but the client and the situation will dictate the right system.

For instance, for a one- to two-person household in a temperate climate where hard freezes rarely occur, you might go with a batch heater, especially if the hot water will be used more at the end of the day rather than first thing in the morning. In a household with three or more people, where aesthetics and weight are not an issue, the thermosyphon system might fit the bill, especially if there´s no room for an additional tank near the existing water heater.

The drainback system, a personal favorite here in the Northwest, requires continuous drop between the solar collector and the solar storage tank. If continuous fall is not possible, there´s always the pressurized glycol system where piping can go up, down, over, and around without concern. Usually more than one option can work for any situation.

The number of people in the household will dictate how large the system will need to be, and which systems are even possible. Rebate and incentive programs may only qualify certain systems in a given area. Some systems are relatively easy to install for do-it-yourselfers, while others most laypeople shouldn´t attempt. See the comparative chart showing features of the different system types. Make your choice, and enjoy using solar energy to heat your water!

Comparison Table

Friday, August 28, 2009

Solar Hot Water Basics

While most people are captivated by the high-tech nature of solar-electric (photovoltaic; PV) systems, in most cases, a solar hot water system will harvest more energy at a substantially lower cost. In fact, compared to PVs, solar hot water (SHW) collectors are more than three times as efficient at producing energy from the sun.

Investing in an SHW system is a smart solar solution for most homeowners. This proven and reliable technology offers long-term performance with low maintenance. And with federal, state, and utility incentives available, these systems offer a quick payback—in some cases, only four to eight years.

A thoughtfully designed SHW system could provide all, or at least a significant amount, of your household hot water needs for some portion of the year. The California Energy Commission estimates that installing an SHW system in a typical household using electric water heating can shave 60 to 70 percent off water heating costs. To get the most for your money, you'll want a properly sized system that offers the best performance in your climate.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Solar Knowledge: What is a Backup Generator?

Backup GeneratorBackup Generator
AKA: gas guzzler

Off-grid solar-electric systems can be sized to provide electricity during cloudy periods when the sun doesn’t shine. But sizing a system to cover a worst-case scenario, like several cloudy weeks during the winter, can result in a very large, expensive system that will rarely get used to its capacity. To spare your pocketbook, size the system moderately, but include a backup generator to get through those occasional sunless stretches.

Engine generators can be fueled with biodiesel, petroleum diesel, gasoline, or propane, depending on the design. These generators produce AC electricity that a battery charger (either standalone or incorporated into an inverter) converts to DC energy, which is stored in batteries. Like most internal combustion engines, generators tend to be loud and stinky, but a welldesigned solar-electric system will require running them only 50 to 200 hours a year.

Solar Knowledge: What is a Kilowatt-Hour Meter?

Kilowatt-Hour MeterKilowatt-Hour Meter
AKA: KWH meter, utility meter

Most homes with a grid-tied solar-electric system will have AC electricity both coming from and going to the electric utility grid. A bidirectional KWH meter can simultaneously keep track of how much electricity flows in each of the two directions—just the information you need to monitor how much electricity you’re using and how much your solar-electric system is producing. The utility company often provides Intertied-capable meters at no cost.

Solar Knowledge: What is an AC Breaker Panel and Inverter AC Disconnect?

AC Breaker Panel & Inverter AC DisconnectAC Breaker Panel
AKA: mains panel, breaker box, fuse box

The AC breaker panel is the point at which all of a home’s electrical wiring meets with the provider of the electricity, whether that’s the grid or a solar-electric system. This wall-mounted panel or box is usually installed in a utility room, basement, garage, or on the exterior of the building. It contains a number of labeled circuit breakers that route electricity to the various rooms throughout a house. These breakers allow electricity to be disconnected for servicing, and also protect the building’s wiring against electrical fires.

Just like the electrical circuits in your home or office, an inverter’s electrical output needs to be routed through an AC circuit breaker. This breaker is usually mounted inside the building’s mains panel, which enables the inverter to be disconnected from either the grid or from electrical loads if servicing is necessary, and also safeguards the circuit’s electrical wiring.

Additionally, utilities usually require an AC disconnect between the inverter and the grid that is for their use. These are usually located near the utility KWH meter.

Solar Knowledge: What is an Inverter?

InverterBattery-Based Inverter

Inverters transform the DC electricity produced by your PV modules into the alternating current (AC) electricity commonly used in most homes for powering lights, appliances, and other gadgets. Grid-tied inverters synchronize the electricity they produce with the grid’s utility grade AC electricity, allowing the system to feed solar-made electricity to the utility grid.

Most grid-tie inverters are designed to operate without batteries, but battery-based models also are available. Battery-based inverters for off-grid oGrid-Intertied Inverterr grid-tie use often include a battery charger, which is capable of charging a battery bank from either the grid or a backup generator during cloudy weather.

Most grid-Intertied inverters can be installed outdoors (ideally, in the shade). Most off-grid inverters are not weatherproof and should be mounted indoors, close to the battery bank.

Solar Knowledge: What is a Main DC Disconnect?

Main DC DisconnectMain DC Disconnect
AKA: battery/inverter disconnect

In battery-based systems, a disconnect between the batteries and inverter is required. This disconnect is typically a large, DC-rated breaker mounted in a sheetmetal enclosure. This breaker allows the inverter to be quickly disconnected from the batteries for service, and protects the inverter-to-battery wiring against electrical fires.

Solar Knowledge: What is a System Meter?

System MeterSystem Meter
AKA: battery monitor, amp-hour meter

System meters measure and display several different aspects of your solar-electric system’s performance and status, tracking how full your battery bank is; how much electricity your solar panels are producing or have produced; and how much electricity is in use. Operating your solar-electric system without metering is like running your car without any gauges, although possible to do, it’s always better to know how much fuel is in the tank.

Solar Knowledge: What is a Battery Bank?

Battery BankBattery
AKA: storage battery

Your PV panels will produce electricity whenever the sun shines on them. If your system is off-grid, you’ll need a battery bank—a group of batteries wired together—to store energy so you can have electricity at night or on cloudy days. For off-grid systems, battery banks are typically sized to keep household electricity running for one to three cloudy days. Gridintertied systems also can include battery banks to provide emergency backup power during blackouts—perfect for keeping critical electric loads operating until grid power is restored.

Although similar to ordinary car batteries, the batteries used in solar-electric systems are specialized for the type of charging and discharging they’ll need to endure. Lead-acid batteries are the most common battery used in solar-electric systems. Flooded leadacid batteries are usually the least expensive, but require adding distilled water occasionally to replenish water lost during the normal charging process. Sealed absorbent glass mat (AGM) batteries are maintenance free and designed for grid-tied systems where the batteries are typically kept at a full state of charge. Gel-cell batteries can be a good choice to use in unheated spaces due to their freeze-resistant qualities.

Solar Knowledge: What is a Charge Controller?

Charge ControllerCharge Controller
AKA: controller, regulator

A charge controller’s primary function is to protect your battery bank from overcharging. It does this by monitoring the battery bank. When the bank is fully charged, the controller interrupts the flow of electricity from the PV panels. Batteries are expensive and pretty particular about how they like to be treated. To maximize their life span, you’ll definitely want to avoid overcharging or undercharging them.

Most modern charge controllers incorporate maximum power point tracking (MPPT), which optimizes the PV array’s output, increasing the energy it produces. Some batterybased charge controllers also include a low-voltage disconnect that prevents over discharging, which can perma nently damage the battery bank.

Solar Knowledge: What is an Array DC Disconnect?

Array DC DisconnectArray DC Disconnect
AKA: PV disconnect

The DC disconnect is used to safely interrupt the flow of electricity from the PV array. It´s an essential component when system maintenance or troubleshooting is required. The disconnect enclosure houses an electrical switch rated for use in DC circuits. It also may integrate either circuit breakers or fuses, if needed.

Solar Knowledge: What is an Array Mounting Rack

Array Mounting Rack
AKA: mounts, racks

Mounting racks provide a secure platform on which to anchor your PV panels, keeping them fixed in place and oriented correctly. Panels can be mounted using one of three approaches: 1) on a rooftop; 2) atop a steel pole set in concrete; or 3) at ground level. The specific pieces, parts, and materials of your mounting device will vary considerably depending on which mounting method you choose.

Usually, arrays in urban or suburban areas are mounted on a home’s south-facing roof, parallel to the roof’s slope. This approach is sometimes considered most aesthetically pleasing, and may be required by local regulators or homeowner’s associations. In areas with a lot of space, pole- or ground-mounted arrays are another choice.

Mounting racks may incorporate other features, such as seasonal adjustability. The sun is higher in the sky during the summer and lower in the winter. Adjustable mounting racks enable you to set the angle of your PV panels seasonally, keeping them aimed more directly at the sun. Adjusting the tilt angle increases the system’s annual energy production by a few percent. The tilt of roofmounted arrays is rarely changed. Adjusting the angle is inconvenient and sometimes dangerous, due to the array’s location.

Changing the tilt angle of pole- or ground-mounted arrays can be done quickly and safely. Pole-mounted PV arrays also can incorporate tracking devices that allow the array to automatically follow the sun across the sky from east to west each day. Tracked PV arrays can increase the system’s daily energy output by 25 to 40 percent.

What are Solar-Electric Panels?

Solar-Electric PanelsSolar-Electric Panel
AKA: solar-electric modules, photovoltaic (PV) panels

PV panels are a solar-electric system’s defining component, where sunlight is used to make direct current (DC) electricity. Behind a PV panel’s shimmering facade, wafers of semiconductor material work their magic, using light (photons) to generate electricity—what’s known as the photovoltaic effect. Other components in your system enable the electricity from your solar-electric panels to safely power your electric loads likelights, computers, and refrigerators.

PV panels are assigned a rating in watts based on the maximum power they can produce under ideal sun and temperature conditions. You can use the rated output to help determine how many panels you’ll need to meet your electrical needs. Multiple modules combined together are called an array.

Although rigid panels are the most common form of solar electricity collector, PV technology also has been integrated into roofing shingles and tiles, and even peeland-stick laminates (for metal standing-seam roofs).

PV modules are very durable and long lasting—most carry 25-year warranties. They can withstand severe weather, including extreme heat, cold, and hail stones.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Solar Powered Oil Field?

BrightSource Energy has broken ground on a 29-megawatt solar steam plant at a Chevron oil field in Coalinga, Calif.

The 100-acre project’s 7,000 mirrors will focus sunlight on a water-filled boiler that sits atop a 323-foot tower to produce hot, high-pressure steam.

In a conventional solar power plant, the steam drives a turbine to generate electricity. In this case, the steam will be injected into oil wells to enhance production by heating thick petroleum so it flows more freely. Oil companies typically rely on steam generated by natural gas or other fossil fuels to maximize oil recovery in places like the oil patch in California’s Fresno and Kern counties, where the petroleum is heavy and gooey.

That part of California also has some of the state’s strongest sunshine and several large solar power plants are planned for the region.

Chevron is an investor in BrightSource, a solar power plant builder based in Oakland, Calif., and solar-powered oil extraction offers the oil giant an opportunity to reduce its carbon footprint while gaining a hedge against volatile natural gas prices.

For BrightSource, which has signed contracts to supply 2,610 megawatts of solar electricity to California utilities, the Chevron deal is a chance to scale up its technology –- the company so far has only built a six-megawatt demonstration power plant in Israel -– and explore new applications for its technology.

“It’s potentially a very lucrative market for us,” said Keely Wachs, BrightSource’s senior director of corporate communications.

He declined to discuss the financial terms of the Chevron agreement, however. The solar plant will be built by BrightSource and owned and operated by the oil company and is scheduled to go online by the end of 2010. The project’s existence was first reported by Reuters after Chevron disclosed the BrightSource deal at a city council meeting in Coalinga on Thursday evening.

Besides Chevron, BrightSource counts the oil giants BP and StatoilHydro of Norway as investors.

Two BrightSource competitors, Ausra and eSolar, are also eyeing the oil industry as a potential market for solar steam. Ausra, based in Palo Alto, Calif., last year flipped the switch on a five-megawatt demonstration solar power plant outside Bakersfield, Calif., and the company’s chief executive, Robert Fishman, said he had held discussions with oil producers about deploying the company’s technology.

The economics of solar-powered oil extraction depend largely on the price of natural gas, which hit a seven-year low last week when gas futures fell below $3 per million British thermal units. A February 2009 report by New Energy Finance, a London-based market research firm, estimated that that solar steam systems would be competitive with natural gas at $8.50 per million British thermal units.

The report noted that natural gas prices in California had swung 300 percent over the last four years, and that beyond California, the Middle East is a prime — and sunny — potential market for solar steam extraction of heavy oil.

Solar steam, however, works only when the sun shines, so oil companies will still need to rely on natural gas-fired steam.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Is China Beating the US in Solar?

President Obama wants to make the United States “the world’s leading exporter of renewable energy,” but in his seven months in office, it is China that has stepped on the gas in an effort to become the dominant player in green energy — especially in solar power, and even in the United States.

Chinese companies have already played a leading role in pushing down the price of solar panels by almost half over the last year. Shi Zhengrong, the chief executive and founder of China’s biggest solar panel manufacturer, Suntech Power Holdings, said in an interview here that Suntech, to build market share, is selling solar panels on the American market for less than the cost of the materials, assembly and shipping.

Backed by lavish government support, the Chinese are preparing to build plants to assemble their products in the United States to bypass protectionist legislation. As Japanese automakers did decades ago, Chinese solar companies are encouraging their United States executives to join industry trade groups to tamp down anti-Chinese sentiment before it takes root.

The Obama administration is determined to help the American industry. The energy and Treasury departments announced this month that they would give $2.3 billion in tax credits to clean energy equipment manufacturers. But even in the solar industry, many worry that Western companies may have fragile prospects when competing with Chinese companies that have cheap loans, electricity and labor, paying recent college graduates in engineering $7,000 a year.

“I don’t see Europe or the United States becoming major producers of solar products — they’ll be consumers,” said Thomas M. Zarrella, the chief executive of GT Solar International, a company in Merrimack, N.H., that sells specialized factory equipment to solar panel makers around the world.

Since March, Chinese governments at the national, provincial and even local level have been competing with one another to offer solar companies ever more generous subsidies, including free land, and cash for research and development. State-owned banks are flooding the industry with loans at considerably lower interest rates than available in Europe or the United States.

Suntech, based here in Wuxi, is on track this year to pass Q-Cells of Germany, to become the world’s second-largest supplier of photovoltaic cells, which would put it behind only First Solar in Tempe, Ariz.

Hot on Suntech’s heels is a growing list of Chinese corporations backed by entrepreneurs, local governments and even the Chinese military, all seeking to capitalize on an industry deemed crucial by China’s top leadership.

Dr. Shi pointed out that other governments, including in the United States, also assist clean energy industries, including with factory construction incentives.

China’s commitment to solar energy is unlikely to make a

Monday, August 24, 2009

Solar Electricity Basics

The three most common types of solar-electric systems are grid-intertied, grid-intertied with battery backup, and off-grid (stand-alone). Each has distinct applications and component needs.

Grid Intertied Solar-Electric Systems

Also known as on-grid, grid-tied, or utilityinteractive (UI), grid-intertied solar-electric systems generate solar electricity and route it to the electric utility grid, offsetting a homes or business electrical consumption and, in some instances, even turning the electric meter backwards. Living with a grid-connected solar-electric system is no different than living with grid power, except that some or all of the electricity you use comes from the sun. In many states, the utility credits a homeowners account for excess solar electricity produced. This amount can then be applied to other months when the system produces less or in months when electrical consumption is greater. This arrangement is called net metering or net billing. The specific terms of net metering laws and regulations vary from state to state and utility to utility. Consult your local electricity provider or state regulatory agency for their guidelines.

The following illustration includes the primary components of any grid interied solar electric system.

Grid Intertied Solar-Electric System

Grid-Intertied Solar-Electric Systems with Battery Backup

Without a battery bank or generator backup for your grid-intertied system, when a blackout occurs, your household will be in the dark, too. To keep some or all of your electric needs (or “loads”) like lights, a refrigerator, a well pump, or computer running even when utility power outages occur, many homeowners choose to install a grid-intertied system with battery backup. Incorporating batteries into the system requires more components, is more expensive, and lowers the system’s overall efficiency. But for many homeowners who regularly experience utility outages or have critical electrical loads, having a backup energy source is priceless.

The following illustration includes the primary components of any grid intertied solar electric system with battery backup.

Grid-Intertied Solar-Electric System with Battery Backup

Off-Grid Solar-Electric Systems

Although they are most common in remote locations without utility grid service, off-grid solar-electric systems can work anywhere. These systems operate independently from the grid to provide all of a household’s electricity. That means no electric bills and no blackouts—at least none caused by grid failures. People choose to live off-grid for a variety of reasons, including the prohibitive cost of bringing utility lines to remote home sites, the appeal of an independent lifestyle, or the general reliability a solar-electric system provides. Those who choose to live off-grid often need to make adjustments to when and how they use electricity, so they can live within the limitations of the system’s design. This doesn’t necessarily imply doing without, but rather is a shift to a more conscientious use of electricity.

The following illustration includes the primary components of any off grid solar electric system.

Off-Grid Solar-Electric Systems

Friday, August 21, 2009

Brighter Skys Ahead for Solar Industry?

LDK Solar Co., Ltd. (LDK), RenaSolar Ltd. (SOL), JA Solar Holdings Co., Ltd. (JASO), and other solar stocks reported lower-than-expected earnings for the second quarter amid an oversupply of polysilicon and a reduction in subsidies by governments around the globe.

Solar Industry Faces Challenges

The solar industry faces several challenges as government subsidies were cut in key markets and an oversupply of raw materials flooded the market. The price of solar panels has fallen by nearly 40% from their highs last year, as tons of production has come online in countries like China just when demand has begun to tighten due to the impact of the global economic crisis.

Spain, one of the largest solar consumers in the world, capped its subsidies on solar panel installation at 0.5GW after installations hit 2.67GW last year, which put a major damper on its new orders. While a new German subsidy helped partially offset the amount, it was not enough to offset the lower demand in Spain, according to industry analysts.

Recent Q2 Solar Industry Earnings in Brief

LDK Solar Co., Ltd. [[LDK]] reported a second quarter loss of $2.03 per share on revenues that fell 48% to $228.3 million compared to a year ago. For the third quarter, the company issued revenue guidance of $240-270 million, wafer shipments between 260-300MW, module shipments between 10-20MW, which were well below analyst estimates.

ReneSola Ltd. [[SOL]] reported a second quarter loss of $0.03 per share on revenues that fell by 52% to $82.6 million compared to a year ago. Looking ahead, the company expects to see revenues jump 60-70% in the third quarter sequentially, as it looks forward to a rebound during the second half of the year.

JA Solar Holdings Co., Ltd. [[JASO]] reported a second quarter loss of $0.18 per share on revenues that dropped more than 50% to $88 million compared to a year ago. Looking ahead, the company sees “significant signs of market improvement” in both end-market demand and financing, anticipating that their cost-structure and customer relationships would drive results.

Brighter Skies Ahead?

Despite the gloom, many analysts are confident that an oversupply in raw materials will be good for the industry long-term. With prices that are more competitive with traditional energy sources, analysts see an increase in consumer adoption and continued political support. In fact, many investors and analysts believe that demand could rebound as early as 2010.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

California Moves Forward with Solar

State nonprofit organization California Statewide Community Development Authority (CSCDA), is planning to launch a solar financing program that could make the technology a lot more affordable all over California.

According to Greentech Media, the project is a similar but larger version of the one launched by the city of Berkeley recently.

In a nutshell, the city will sell bonds to finance residents borrowing money for solar installation, to be repaid (along with the corresponding interests) in a span of 20 years through property taxes. This project planned by CSCDA will allow California's cities and counties to launch initiatives similar to Berkeley's; by joining CSCDA's project, individual towns wouldn't have to find their own investors.

"Our program offers a good offset to the biggest hurdle for solar - the big upfront costs," said Terrence Murphy, a program manager at the CSCDA. Since the solar industry is currently in a slump, this could be a good starting point for mass array installations; something the other states can adapt in case this one proves successful.

Besides solar installations, CSCDA wants to extend the project to finance energy efficiency improvements for the home, specifically permanent installations like insulation and temperature retaining windows. Expected to begin this fall, cities and counties are given first dibs into the project that will open its doors later on to residents and businesses.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

System Installed by SPG Solar Benefits the Community

Wilson Elementary School in Phoenix, Ariz., has become one of the first schools in Arizona to install a solar system. SPG Solar, Inc., with offices in Tucson, Ariz., was chosen to design and install an 80 kilowatt solar photovoltaic (PV) system.

SPG Solar collaborated closely with Wilson School District to install a solar system that would fit their specific needs. SPG Solar designed a solar system that adjusts to the tilt of the roof. The building was reroofed and over 300 Kyocera solar panels were installed.

SPG Solar worked with school administrators and scheduled construction and installation around the school's schedule to ensure that their students were not disrupted.

"The solar panels on our school are something that we take pride in," says Antonio Sanchez, Superintendent, Wilson School District. "The students, their families and the community will all benefit from it."

The roof-mounted 80 kW system produces over 108,014 kWh per year providing energy during peak hours of the day, when electricity loads and prices are at the highest. The solar system requires minimal maintenance, runs silently, and has an expected operating life of over 25 years.

"As both a resident of Fairfax and part of the SPG Solar team, I am very proud to see the Town embrace environmental stewardship and deploy solar with an intelligent, cost-effective strategy," says Ted Walsh, Director of Commercial Development. "The Town managers carefully examined all the possibilities, and made an investment that financially and environmentally benefits the Town immediately as well as for the next generation. This type of social leadership is what makes Fairfax such a unique and remarkable place."

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the Wilson School District solar system will produce enough electricity to power 269 Phoenix homes for one year and reduce greenhouse gases by about 1,939 metric tons over the system's life. This is equivalent to removing 355 passenger vehicles from Phoenix's highways. Electricity generated by solar does not consume or pollute water or air during operation.

"Wilson School District is not only seeing the financial benefits of going solar but realizing the environmental and social advantages as well," says Thomas Rooney, CEO of SPG Solar. "The school, its students and the community are learning about renewable energy and its importance to their lives now and in the future."

Leading Solar Company Plans Layoffs

German company Q-Cells, the world's second-largest solar-manufacturing company, announced layoffs today of 500 employees and the closure of some production lines to offset its operating losses.

"The business performance shows how quickly and dramatically the markets have changed for us," said CEO Anton Milner, describing financial pressures from a global oversupply of silicon and project-funding woes.

Company sales through the end of June fell 37 percent compared with the same period last year. Combined with an operating loss of €47.6 million for the first six months, the company operated at a loss of €696.9 million.

The solar industry is facing a worldwide reshaping, largely from a boom in silicon supplies after material shortages earlier in the decade.

Milner described a three-pronged approach he dubbed "Q-Cells Reloaded" to turn the company's performance around.

Q-Cells plans to shut down production in Thalheim, Germany, where officials said older machines and inefficient operations resulted in costs that are about 30 percent higher than the competition. With the closure, 500 jobs will be shed and the company expects to reduce its production expenses by 25 percent overall.

To secure cash flow until some key contracts are renegotiated next year, the company plans to cut $300 million in investments.

It will also adjust research and development to maximize short- and medium-term prospects, officials said. Major efforts will focus on two thin-film solar companies in which Q-Cells owns controlling interests -- Solibro and Calyxo, which work with CIGS and cadmium-telluride technologies, respectively.

Milner said the company will also redouble its systems integration through its Q-Cells International branch. The company is part of a science and manufacturing park just across the U.S. border in Mexicali, Mexico, built in part to defend North American fabrication capacity.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Pros and Cons of Solar Energy

Solar Energy Pros

  • Solar power is a renewable resource. It doesn't cause pollution while you generate it.
  • Sunlight, unlike fossil fuels is all over, all though it's not evenly spread throughout the earth. Solar power can be generated anywhere, even when there are no local electric provider, therefore you are able to have electrical energy in remote areas.
  • With the right resources, the components required to make a solar system can be purchased or produced rather inexpensively.
  • The nicest thing about solar energy is that it's free to all.
  • The engineering in use to implement solar radiation as energy to get electricity, heating, and mechanical power currently exists.
  • Solar systems have no moving elements and can last numerous years.
  • You don't require fuel to be delivered to your home, and you'll never run out.
  • Granted the correct data, it's nearly always possible to calculate the amount of power a solar energy system will yield.
  • The systems are quiet and becoming more and more obscure.
  • You will be able to qualify for financial bonuses from the government to aid with paying for your system and also get tax breaks while it is in use.
  • Employing solar power entails one less house burning fossil fuels, and reduces the creation of greenhouse gas.

Solar Energy Cons

  • If you don't know where to get the components at a discount, the first costs can be substantial.
  • Solar panels can assume a lot of space. That's why the roof is the optimum place for them to be set up.
  • You can't generate solar energy at night, so you need a way to store it. Batteries are a good energy storage choice. With the proper information, you can purchase batteries for as low a $10 each or even free!
  • Bad weather conditions can impact the amount of energy generated.
Article Reference Information:

Friday, August 14, 2009

Tampa Florida Community Focuses on Energy Efficiency

An affordable townhome community planned for Tampa is expected to be one of the first in the nation to achieve a top-tier rating for energy efficiency, reducing usage by more than 45 percent.
The 57-home Westshore Landings One, expected to be complete in 2010, is a joint effort between TECO Energy’s Tampa Electric and Peoples Gas in cooperation with the Westshore Community Development Corp., said a release from TECO.

The nonprofit Westshore Community Development in its release called the development an affordable community and said the new townhome prices will range from $96,000 to $127,000. The Wilson Co. is Westshore Community Development's joint venture partner, and financing was secured from USAmeriBank along with the city of Tampa, Hillsborough County and Florida Housing Finance Corp.

WCDC worked with SunTrust and Fannie Mae to ensure mortgages are available, Ron Rotella, president of WCDC, said in the release.

Per an agreement with the county, 43 of the units will be sold to buyers making less than 80 percent of area median income ($33,150 for a single person; $47,350 for a family of four). The remaining units will go to buyers making up to 120 percent of area median income ($49,680 for a single person; $71,040 for a family of four).

Westshore Landings One will be built on Spruce Street between Dale Mabry Highway and Lois Avenue. Palm Harbor Homes, a national builder of modular systems-built homes, will construct the homes at its facility in Plant City and deliver them to the site, the WDCA release said.
The project marks the first time energy-efficient electric and natural gas measures have been combined in this type of residential capacity, said the TECO release.

Each Westshore Landings One townhome will feature a solar water heater, energy-efficient natural gas appliances, a high-efficiency heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, and other energy-efficiency measures.

The Florida Solar Energy Center will monitor the amount of solar energy produced by each townhome’s solar water heater. Annual energy costs for a 1,500 square-foot home configured with the high-efficiency equipment are estimated to be about $663, versus about $991 for a home with less-efficient equipment.

Energy conservation also helps the environment since each 1,500-square-foot townhome produced about 39 percent less carbon dioxide than a less-efficient home. A standard home’s carbon profile can be reduced by up to 4,000 pounds per year through the installation of natural gas furnaces, clothes dryers, ranges and water heaters.

“The energy usage profile of Westshore Landings One underscores the commitment of Tampa Electric and Peoples Gas to energy efficiency and sustainability for our customers,” TECO Energy President and Chief Operating Officer John Ramil said in the release.

Tampa Electric first offered its customers energy-efficiency programs in the late 1970s, prior to any state or federal legislation requiring electric utilities to engage in conservation activities. Since then, it has achieved a recent performance level in the 96th percentile nationally.

TECO Energy (NYSE: TE) is an energy-related holding company. Its principal subsidiary Tampa Electric Co. is a regulated utility in Florida with both electric and gas divisions, Tampa Electric and Peoples Gas System. Other subsidiaries include TECO Coal, which owns and operates coal production facilities in Kentucky and Virginia, and TECO Guatemala, which is engaged in electric power generation and distribution and energy-related businesses in Guatemala.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

SPG Solar Installs Solar System on the Progressive Town's Public Facilities

Novato, Calif. - The Town of Fairfax, known for its green initiatives and progressive values, took full lead in promoting the use of alternative energy by going solar. The Town of Fairfax chose SPG Solar, Inc., based in Novato, Calif., to design and install a 25 kilowatt solar photovoltaic (PV) system.

With limited roof and ground space optimal for solar production, Fairfax sought creative strategies to power as many of its Town facilities as possible with renewable energy. SPG Solar answered the challenge, installing the 25 kW solar array on the roof of the Fairfax Pavilion, the one Town building tall enough to rise above the trees, and then distributed the renewable energy to three separate facilities: The Town Hall / Police Station, the Fire Station, and the Pavilion.

"The Town strives to support local businesses," says Michael Rock, Town Manager. "We wanted to work with the best contractor and really like how many of the SPG Solar staff live in Fairfax. SPG Solar was great to work with and delivered exactly as promised."

The system's solar modules were installed on a single roof with optimal southwestern orientation and tilt, and the power was then distributed to three public facilities. In total, the system generates more than 43,250 kilowatts-hours of clean, renewable energy per year - enough to supply the most expensive "peak" energy for each utility meter.

"As both a resident of Fairfax and part of the SPG Solar team, I am very proud to see the Town embrace environmental stewardship and deploy solar with an intelligent, cost-effective strategy," says Ted Walsh, Director of Commercial Development. "The Town managers carefully examined all the possibilities, and made an investment that financially and environmentally benefits the Town immediately as well as for the next generation. This type of social leadership is what makes Fairfax such a unique and remarkable place."

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, The Town of Fairfax solar system produces enough electricity to reduce greenhouse gases by about 10.7 metric tons per year. In terms of avoided carbon emissions, this is equivalent to removing 143 passenger vehicles from the road or planting 178 acres of forest during the life of the system. Electricity generated by solar does not consume or pollute water or air during operation.

"The Town of Fairfax sets an example to the community and the nation by choosing to go solar," says Thomas Rooney, CEO of SPG Solar. "As a progressive town, having a reliable source of renewable energy is important. SPG Solar delivered that technology."

About SPG Solar, Inc.

SPG Solar, Inc. is a proven leader in the design and installation of photovoltaic power systems. With over 1,300 grid-connected PV systems in service throughout the Western United States and a senior staff with decades of experience in electrical engineering, construction and project development, SPG Solar provides its customers with the very best in solar technology and professional design-build services. SPG Solar delivers innovative and dependable solar systems with the highest quality of workmanship from the initial customer consultation to the final system commissioning and post installation analysis. For more information, please visit:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Old Manufacturing Methods Become Green Methods

As the clean energy manufacturing base in this country grows, it often builds upon the facilities and expertise of struggling traditional industries.

The old steel town of Pueblo, Colo., is adapting to the times with a new wind turbine plant. Similarly, in the town of San Angelo, Texas, a steel company took a 50 percent joint venture stake in a wind tower plant in June.

There are many more examples of the co-mingling of old and new industries. A few mills, suffering amid the pulp and paper industry’s retreat, are reorienting to process biofuels. These include a once-shuttered Maine pulp mill being refitted to make biobutanol, as well as two Wisconsin mills that will produce biodiesel from wood waste.

New is also building upon old in the solar industry.

SolarWorld, a German company, opened a manufacturing plant in Oregon last year that makes use of an abandoned semiconductor factory (and recruits many workers from the semiconductor industry). And Stirling Energy Systems, which makes solar electric machines called SunCatchers that will eventually be deployed in California, plans to use automotive suppliers in the United States to make several components (though Stirling will not yet specify its automotive partners).
“SunCatchers use steel, glass and engines,” a company representative said in an e-mail message, “so the natural supply chain is automotive.”

Sunday, August 9, 2009

US Solar Cell Manufacturer Gearing up for IPO?

Suniva’s sunny on 2010. And the solar cell maker is gearing up to soak in the sunshine. Late last month, Suniva closed on a $75 million investment, led by private equity firm Warburg Pincus. The financing will help the Georgia Tech startup expand its Norcross plant — adding a second production line and boosting capacity from 32 Megawatts to 100 Megawatts.

“The foot's on the accelerator,” CEO John Baumstark said. “We're continuing to ramp up and do what we said we would do a year ago.” Suniva has developed technology to make solar cells that can transform more of the sun’s energy into the juice that powers today’s plugged-in world.

The company’s cells are about 15 percent more energy efficient than the competition for about the same price, Baumstark said. Suniva has so far snagged nearly $1 billion in orders from Indian and European solar module makers. While demand for the company's sales is driven by Asia and Europe, Baumstark expects the United States to emerge as strong solar market
The trim Baumstark, who often waves one of his solar cells at presentations, is betting federal programs will incent consumers and businesses to install solar modules and spur domestic demand.

“Next year can be a really big year for the U.S.,” Baumstark said. “People have always talked about the U.S. being the largest solar market, ultimately.” To keep pace with demand, Suniva is mapping plans for a second plant. Baumstark was tight-lipped on where the company might put the plant, but sources have suggested it could be overseas — including India and Pacific Rim — where Suniva’s major customers are.

Domestically, Suniva is being courted by states salivating over a high-profile clean tech plant. The company has been approached by 10 to 15 states, Baumstark noted. In addition to economic incentives, Suniva’s would consider workforce and proximity to a major port and airport when location-shopping.

While the demand outlook for Suniva might be sunny, clouds linger in the near terms. The solar industry has suffered softness in demand and pricing, amidst a global recession. Solar was growing at a 40 percent compounded annual growth, Baumstark said. “We won’t see 40 percent growth this year in the industry,” he added. 2010 could not only bring improved demand, but carry Suniva to an IPO.

“We have investors, and at some point investors need a return on their money,” Baumstark said. “An IPO is a good way for giving liquidity to investors and providing opportunity for employees and others who have helped build the business.” While the IPO market “right now, is all but closed,” Baumstark noted, Suniva could go public in late 2010, or early 2011.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Sustainable PV Web Conference - from First Solar

AltaTerra Research is pleased to announce the first web conference in a series of events on environmental issues in the solar industry. “First Solar: Toward a Sustainable PV Industry,” featuring Lisa Krueger, Vice President of Sustainable Development at First Solar, will be held Tuesday, August 25th at 9:00 am Pacific /12:00 noon Eastern.
While solar power provides significant environmental benefits compared to conventional power generation, including substantially reducing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, there is increasing recognition of the opportunities for solar companies at each step of the supply chain to provide even greater environmental benefits.
First Solar (FSLR), developer and manufacturer of thin film solar modules, is a leader and innovator in environmental responsibility in the solar industry.
During “First Solar: Toward a Sustainable PV Industry”, Ms. Krueger, who heads First Solar’s sustainable development group, will explain First Solar’s sustainability approach, experience, and plans for the future.
In addition, she will offer a perspective on achieving a sustainable solar industry, including the economics and market value of sustainability, and opportunities for cooperation.
Further details about the web conference and registration are available on the event webpage:
A limited number of press passes are available. About AltaTerra Research Founded in 2007, AltaTerra Research is the first research consultancy dedicated to corporate environmental sustainability and commercial markets for clean technology solutions. With consulting services, industry research reports and executive events, AltaTerra helps business leaders make informed decisions on green business. Current topics include commercial solar and green power, the corporate carbon footprint, carbon credits and environmentally-friendly product strategy. More information is available at

Thursday, August 6, 2009

San Francisco Solar Powered Bus Shelter

Situated at Geary and Arguello boulevards in the Richmond District, the new bus shelter features an undulating solar roof that calls to mind both the hills of San Francisco and a seismic wave (this is earthquake territory after all!) The roof is constructed from an innovative 40% post-industrial recycled polycarbonate material embedded with thin-film photovoltaic cells, and the steel structure is composed of 75% recycled material. The shelter also features a pushbutton update system, more room for transit information, and is expected feed back energy into the city’s electrical grid.

Ironically, the site of the first shelter happens to be one of the foggiest parts of town, but it sets a great standard for things to come. The current ruby red color scheme will see a shift to amber as more shelters are installed along Market Street and throughout San Francisco. Mayor Newsom has stated: “Transit shelters that use photovoltaics, LEDS, and WiFi are going to be standard in the future and I’m proud that San Francisco is once again acting like the pace car for other cities by trying and implementing these technologies.”

Monday, August 3, 2009

Earn Tax Credits with Solar Energy System

Florida homeowners who improve their roofs or install systems that use solar, geothermal or wind energy may be able to claim federal tax credits of up to 30% of the cost of the project. Tax credits for roof, window, door and insulation improvements are capped at $1,500, but tax credits for the energy systems have no cap. Observers note that installing a metal roof is a simple way to improve energy efficiency because metal roofs offer both durability and energy savings.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

San Francisco's Solar Energy Program Gets Thumbs Up!

In July of 2008, the City and County of San Francisco launched the first local solar energy incentive program in the nation. The results are in, and the program is an unequivocal success.

In the year since our solar energy incentive program GoSolarSF launched, we have seen a 450% increase in applications for solar installations in San Francisco over the previous year, from 200 to 850. And despite the current recession, 56 applicants met our low-income standards and will receive incentive payments.

And nonprofit and affordable housing organizations are going solar too. Just last week, I joined a local affordable housing developer, our San Francisco Housing Authority and our San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to announce three new solar installations at Hayes Valley North and South and Plaza East public housing in San Francisco.

The dramatic increase in solar installations in San Francisco over the last year, coupled with the City’s aggressive plans to deploy large-scale solar on municipal properties like the mammoth Sunset Reservoir, have helped catapult San Francisco to state leadership in solar power and renewable energy. A report issued last week by Environment California ranks San Francisco third, just behind much larger and much sunnier Los Angeles and San Diego, in number of rooftop solar installations in California. On a per-capita basis, San Francisco leads the state’s large cities for rooftop solar.

The good work to create this program started with our local Solar Energy Task Force, chaired by our Assessor Phil Ting, who joined me and many others in thinking creatively about how to incentivize and accelerate solar power and renewable energy in San Francisco.

This year, we’ve managed to fund GoSolarSF at an even higher level despite a very tough budget year. That’s because making clean energy and the environment a priority is also good for San Francisco’s economy. Every solar installation incentivized creates good green jobs. The GoSolarSF program alone has created dozens of green jobs for low-income City residents who graduate from our workforce development programs.

By any measure, our solar energy incentive program has been a stellar success after just one year. If we continue making smart investments guided by the right priorities, imagine what we can do for our economy and our environment this year and in years to come.