Monday, November 30, 2009

NY Training for Solar Electric Systems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Nobody wants that to repeat," Frickel said.

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

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

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Smart, Green Buildings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Green Jobs are Good for Wisconsin

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

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

Her talk was last Wednesday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, November 27, 2009

Renewable Energy Classes Fill Up Quickly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Solar Water Heaters = GREEN

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Connecticut Solar Program Being Discontinued

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Taiwan Embraces Renewable Energy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, November 23, 2009

Renewable Energy Costs Drop in '09

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


California College to Build $7 Million Solar Plant

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, November 9, 2009

Quick Reference - Solar Power Glossary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gigawatt = one billion watts.

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

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

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

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

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

Kilowatt = One thousand watts.

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

Megawatt = one million watts.

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

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

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

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

Panel = a group of solar cells; a module.

Photon = a "packet" of light energy.

Photovoltaic = the process of converting light into electricity.

Polycrystalline = see mulitcrystalline.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sunshine Solar Rebate Program Doubles Solar Energy Capacity in Pennsylvania

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOURCE: The Gov Monitor

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Solar Power When the Sun Goes Down?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOURCE: The New York Times

Friday, November 6, 2009

5 Important Factors When Buying a Solar Energy Kit

Do you have high home energy bills? Apart from the home bank mortgage, the next biggest household expense would be the amount of money we pay for electricity.

Many home owners are looking for ways to reduce their home power consumption. One solution is to use renewable energy such as solar. The fastest way to start enjoying the benefits of free energy from the sun is to use a solar power kit.

With so many solar power kits in the market, how would you know which one is right for you? When you are doing your shopping in a hardware store for a home solar energy system kit, consider the following 5 important factors.

1) The size of the solar panels - Make sure you get the dimension of the solar panels that comes with the kit.

Do you have enough space on the roof to house the solar module? Can the roof tiles support the extra weight? These are important structural factors which you have to know.

2) The power output - Do some initial calculation to figure out how much power you need. You have to decide how many electrical appliances you will be connecting to the solar energy system.

Based on that power needs (in watts), select the home solar gear that can meet your requirement.

3) Weather proof solar panel - Since the Photovoltaic (PV) cells are placed on the roof, they are exposed to sun, rain and even snow.

Make sure the solar panels have a strong design. Preferably, the frame should be made of durable aluminum and covered with tampered glass.

4) Long product warranty - The Return On Investment(ROI)for any residential solar power system can take years. Therefore, make sure the solar panels come with long product warranty. A product warranty of 20 - 25 years on the panels would do just fine.

5) Easy installation and maintenance free - Look for a solar kit what is easy to install and require minimal maintenance. The most maintenance it’ll need is cleaning the solar panels once a year.

Unless you are planning to engage a professional solar contractor to do the installation, get a kit that has all the parts and component for a Do It Yourself (DIY) setup.

About the Author:

Will Yap is a home renewable energy enthusiast and he writes about DIY solar homes on his blog. Are you looking for more information about residential solar power kit? If you are, go to www.diysolarhomes/blog to download a free copy of the "30 Solar and Wind Power For Homes" video e-book to help you get started.

SOURCE: Best Syndication

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Solar energy training to be provided to Southern students

The Department of Energy is providing a grant for solar energy training in a coalition of schools led by the Houston Community College system.

The solar installation curriculum for consortium partners - community colleges and vocational high schools in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas - is designed by Ontility, a provider of green technology training. The grant, funded by the DOE and the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, provides $3.57 million over five years.

"[The company] is proud and excited to be the sole industry partner in the South-Central Consortium," Ontility CEO Tom Pash said. Pash cited the DOE's desire to standardize solar training curricula as a reason for choosing Ontility.

Clean-energy research firm Clean Edge suggests in a CNN article that green tech will be "the greatest opportunity for wealth and job creation since the advent of computers and the Internet." By 2030, the American Solar Energy Society estimates, 40 million American jobs will directly or indirectly involve energy conservation.

In order for that to happen, though, members of the workforce must be educated about green energy technologies. Scaling up the solar energy workforce, says Pash, will help ensure the green future of the economy.

SOURCE: Cooler Planet

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Solar Industry Future is Getting Brighter

Last year at this time, the solar industry was staring into the abyss, uncertain about how disastrous 2009 would be. As it turned out, this year did not bring the apocalypse, and today there's a clear (but somewhat cluttered) path ahead of us.

After the Solar Power International conference, it appears there's a positive view of the prospects for the industry in 2010. Sure, executives are paid to be upbeat and sell their company — but much of the optimism is warranted. Companies are getting new orders, capital is flowing back into the space, workers are getting re-hired and some businesses have re-structured themselves to meet current market challenges.

This year, we may see around 350-400 MW of solar PV installations in the U.S. We'll probably see another 150,000-200,000 square meters of solar thermal collectors, and around 5 MW of CSP. That's just above last year's overall installations. Even though we won't see major growth like in previous years, the industry has held up well, considering the circumstances.

It took the greatest economic crisis in 80 years just to slow the growth of the solar industry. It's exciting to imagine what will happen next year when the credit markets are healthier, consumers have more purchasing power and we finally have a carbon-weighted policy in place.

Our quick take: We are finally emerging from the darkness that descended upon us 12 months ago.

SOURCE: Renewable Energy World

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Sanyo Electric opens new solar panel plant in Salem

At the entrance of Sanyo Electric Co.'s new Salem factory, an awning holds the secret to the company's competitive edge in an increasingly cutthroat industry.

Black solar cells between two panes of glass cover the front walkway. And on a dim Oregon morning, the solar panels can collect sunshine from both sides, making them more efficient -- and more expensive -- than other brands.

"Sanyo is the only company that has this technology," said Robert Zerner, a business development executive based in San Jose, Calif. "No one else has a cell that can gather sunlight on the top and the bottom."

The differentiation is key for the Japanese electronics giant as it prepares to launch production at its new $80 million wafer plant, which opened Monday after nearly a year of construction. The factory employs 100 workers and expects to employ another 100 by April.

Sanyo Solar of Oregon -- as the local division is known -- represents a departure from other players in the state's growing solar industry, racing toward affordability to gain market share in a sector that's spawned hundreds of manufacturers worldwide. While other companies compete on price, Sanyo touts a unique and costly technology with a global manufacturing process that includes factories in Japan, Hungary and Mexico.

But the global recession continues to cloud the solar industry. Over the past year, prices have fallen by as much as 50 percent. And analysts predict many companies, particularly small and untested ones, will fail as prices continue to drop and profit margins shrink.

The state's investment in Sanyo -- nearly $45 million in government tax incentives and grants -- hinges on the company's success. Together, the subsidies total about $225,000 per job if the company employs 200.

"Focusing our efforts on clean technology even during these economic times is the right strategy for Oregon," Gov. Ted Kulongoski said at Monday's opening ceremony. "We are now competing globally for companies deciding to locate in new places and create jobs."

In Salem's 80-acre Renewable Energy and Technology Park, Sanyo's 130,000-square-foot factory houses the first two steps of solar manufacturing -- growing crystals and slicing them into wafers. From there, the wafers travel to Japan to be turned into cells, then to Hungary or Mexico to become finished panels.

By the time a Sanyo solar panel lands on a customer's rooftop, it will have made a lap around the world.

"We have a higher cost overall, but the performance benefit outweighs the cost," Zerner said. "You can put thousands and thousands of wafers in one pallet. They're really thin."

Sanyo North America -- the Sanyo Electric subsidiary that oversees the Oregon division -- intends to nearly double its solar panel production in Mexico and the United States by November 2010. Sanyo Electric, a leading manufacturer of rechargeable batteries, digital projectors, cameras and televisions, reported $18.1 billion in sales in 2009. The company has 86,100 employees worldwide.

The Oregon factory is critical to establishing a foothold in the solar market, said Mitsuru Homma, executive vice president of Sanyo Electric.

"Sanyo aims to be the leading company in environmental energy," said Homma, who traveled from Japan to tour the Salem plant. "We need to reduce the production cost closer to the cost of current energy generation."

In Salem, the company will pump out about 350,000 200-watt solar panels per year, with the potential to expand onto another 20 acres. This week, Sanyo also will be opening a new module assembly plant in Monterrey, Mexico.

Sanyo's combines two solar technologies, monocrystalline and thin-film. Zerner said this hybrid technology makes Sanyo panels among the most efficient, with about 25 percent better performance than SolarWorld, its German competitor. The Sanyo panels, which are also about 15 percent more expensive, are better for specific conditions, including extreme heat or cloudy skies.

At Pringle Creek Community, a green subdivision under construction in Salem, Sanyo panels have already been installed.

"It's good for residences in Oregon because you have limited space," said Alan Hickenbottom, president of Tanner Creek Energy, a commercial installer who often uses solar products from companies with factories in Oregon. "It's a beautiful panel."

Sanyo may never consolidate all of its manufacturing processes in one place, as SolarWorld is doing at its massive campus in Hillsboro.

The company worries about theft of its technology. By keeping cell production in Japan, the company hopes to protect its technology, spokesman Aaron Fowles said.

"In Japan, people are lifetime employees," Fowles said. "In the U.S., people switch employers a lot."

The growing competition in the industry also sparks rivalries between governments, hoping to land big companies and high-paying jobs.

To lure the company to Salem, city economic development officials threw in up to five years of property tax exemptions, which total about $1.2 million each year. Road and infrastructure improvements totaled about $1 million. Another $180,000 for a sewer and water connection fee waiver.

Under the Business Energy Tax Credit program, Sanyo will receive $40 million in credits for creating 200 jobs, said Marc Zolton, of the Oregon Business Development Department. In addition, the company received $225,000 for workforce training.

Kulongoski said Monday more effort will be made to grow Oregon's solar industry, which has already resulted in high-paying jobs and promises an additional $100 million in investment in the coming months.

"We have the highest percentage of green energy jobs in the nation," Kulongoski said. "This growth is not by accident."

SOURCE: Oregon Live