Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Korea - Big Player in Solar Industry

When you think about the supply chain side of the solar industry, China comes to mind. Visit a huge conference like Intersolar and Chinese firms that manufacture everything from thin film to ingot for modules to wafers, are everywhere in the exhibit hall. Wuxi, population 4.8 million, has become the solar capital of China, boasting industry giants including Jetion Holdings and SunTech.

But its small neighbor and economic tiger to the northeast, South Korea, has made big moves on the solar front as well. Long dependent on imported fuel, Korea and its conglomerates, or chae-bol, have built their economy over the years from exporting textiles, machinery, its workers to build huge chae-bol construction projects in the Middle East, and now, snappy electronic goods. Iconic companies including Samsung and LG have invested in solar technologies, and Hyundai will double its solar module and solar cell capacity next year. Now Posco, the steel giant, is in talks to purchase a major supplier of silicon for solar panels.

The acquisition of the Norwegian firm Elkem could set Posco back about US$1 billion. Founded over 100 years ago as an aluminum supplier, Elkem expanded its business into the rapidly growing silicon market over the past decade. Its owner, the conglomerate Orkla, is supposedly sharpening its business focus, which currently is all over the place, from food products to real estate.

Some analysts question the wisdom of a steel company investing in renewable energy technology. Korea, however, is rapidly becoming a hub of renewable energy innovation. Solar technology deals have increased throughout Korea, and the country has arguably become an open renewable energy lab: the controversial Songdo City master plan, for example, includes solar technology in its buildings’ plans. Korean firms have entered into partnerships outside the country’s borders, too, including projects in the San Joaquin Valley and Arizona.

In the end, the recent transactions Korean companies initiated reflect a country’s goal to maintain a secure energy supply. Hence Korea National Oil Corp’s hostile bid of the British firm Dana Petroleum, and deals on the renewable side like that of Posco’s. But Posco’s bid also reveals the maturity of the solar industry. While some standard-bearers in the business world like the Wall Street Journal deride solar power as “speculative and immature,” the industry is still growing and evolving, and is now marked with deals in the 10-figure range. Add Korea’s export-driven economy into the mix, and chances are that when solar panels go up in your neighborhood in the near future, they will have the Hyundai, Samsung, or LG logos on them.


Monday, August 30, 2010

Prince Charles to Install Solar Panels on his Home

Prince Charles, an ardent environmentalist, has received permission from the Westminster City Council to install solar panels on the roof of his 180-year-old home in London.

Once the panels are generating electricity, Clarence House will become "carbon negative," producing more power than it uses, The Daily Telegraph reports. It became "carbon neutral" three years ago.

The 32 panels, to be concealed by the building's parapet, are expected to produce about 4,000 kilowatts of electricity annually and cost about $46,500, to come from the prince's pocket, according to the Daily Mail.

Prince Charles, 61, has spoken of being born into his position "for a purpose" -- to tackle global warming, the story says. Last week, he told British families to take "short, refreshing" five-minute showers instead of baths to conserve water.

He's had energy-efficient boilers installed at Clarence House, where bath water is recycled to water the plants. He owns three luxury cars converted to run on biofuel, UPI reports, adding that although the Jaguar and Land Rover use biodiesel, his Aston-Martin runs on leftover wine.


Solar Panels Powering Colorado Schools

This fall, the future is bright at several Denver Public Schools thanks to new solar energy panels.

Five schools within the district started the year with fully functioning solar panels installed on the buildings, and by May, 11 more schools will be solar powered.

It's all thanks to a public-private-partnership between Denver Public Schools, Boulder-based Namaste Solar, Denver-based Oak Leaf Energy Partners and MP2 Capital, all of which helped secure more than $3 million worth of grants from Xcel Energy and $2.5 million worth of federal funding for the solar panels.

The solar panels are expected to save DPS $1.1 million over the life of the program and according to MP2's CEO Mark Lerdal, the savings are immediate.

"Denver Public Schools had savings on day one," Lerdal said. "They don't pay anything. They payed less for their electricity the second that we turned the project on. So for Denver Public Schools, it's a win right away."

Students at the solar powered schools are also benefiting. Namaste Solar is working with Denver Public Schools to create a curriculum that incorporates the science and economics of solar energy and will bring the curriculum into the classroom through individual monitoring systems that track energy output at each school.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

NEW - Self Dusting Solar Panels

Terrestrial solar panels could be kept dust free thanks to a technology developed for lunar and Mars missions, according to research presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society. Dust buildup can reduce the efficiency of electricity generating solar panels by up to 80 percent. The self cleaning technology can repel dust when sensors detect any concentrations on the surface of the panels.

BBC News reports that solar installations are abundant in sunny, dry desert regions where winds can deposit dust particles easily over solar panels. In the Mojave Desert solar panels can cover many miles. In a single month, dust fall can reach more than 40 pounds per square mile. Dust buildup reduces the amount of light that enters the panels and cuts the amount of electricity they can generate.

Cleaning dust manually is no way near practical because of the sheer scale of installations and also due to the scarcity of water in desert regions. Keeping the panels clean can be a major headache for companies deploying the installations. Malay Mazumder of Boston University developed the technology with NASA to keep solar panels powering Mars rovers clean.

The technology uses a layer of an electrically sensitive material to coat each panel. Sensors detect when dust levels reach a critical level and then an electric charge energizes the material sending a dust-repelling wave across its surface. This process can repel as much as 90 percent of the dust in under two minutes and only uses a minute amount of energy, according to Mazumder.

Though many large scale solar installations are found in the United States, Spain and Germany, dust deposition rates are highest the Middle East, Australia and India, where solar installations are also found. Mazumder believes he has the only automatic dust-busting technology that doesn’t use water or any source of mechanical movement.

With an increasing popularity in solar energy, the need for dust-repelling technology may be a huge market. While currently less than 0.04 percent of global energy production comes from solar panels, the use of such energy shot up by 50 percent from 2003 to 2008. Mazumder and colleagues expect the technology to be commercially available within one year.


Monday, August 23, 2010

Solar Grants Announced in Tennessee

The Tennessee Solar Institute has issued its first round of grants.

The awards announced Friday total $4.5 million and officials said they will result in 2.8 megawatts of new solar energy production in the state.

The institute - a partnership of the University of Tennessee and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory - is aimed at speeding construction of renewable energy resources. It falls under Gov. Phil Bredesen's Volunteer State Solar Initiative and is funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Companies can be reimbursed up to $245,000 toward the purchase and installation of small-scale photovoltaic solar systems, depending on the size of their project.

The awards announced Friday commit half of the $9 million designated for grants.


Solar Toothbrush - No Toothpaste Needed

Brushing your teeth is a regular ritual for most people, and normally that involves both a toothbrush and toothpaste to remove the gunk that builds up on our teeth and gums. The solar toothbrush looks to eliminate the paste, harnessing the power of the sun to kill off all that nasty bacteria.

The Shiken Soladey-J3X had a small solar panel near its base, which creates a stream of electrons that are emitted the head and react with acid in your mouth. Developers Dr. Kunio Komiyama and Dr. Gerry Uswak say that this results in "complete destruction of bacterial cells."

My concern is that bacteria isn't the only thing brushing takes care of. Most toothpastes include fluoride to fight cavities, and compounds to help remove any plaque deposits. If you get rid of the paste, will these problems become worse?

The Solidey-J3X is currently undergoing field trials.


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Orchard Goes Solar

A year ago on Carlson Orchards along the edge of Oak Hill Road in Massachusetts 50-year-old Macintosh apple trees were coming to the end of their productive life.

At the same time, owners of the farm were looking for ways to extend the life of their business. Today, those trees are gone, but a new product is bearing fruit — 1,050 solar panels generating close to two-thirds of the power needed to run the farm.

Franklyn Carlson, president of the 120-acre Carlson Orchards on Oak Hill Road, was joined at the farm yesterday by officials representing state and federal governments and private business to celebrate what he said was just the latest change in a farm his parents, Walter and Eleanor Carlson, started in 1938. He and his brothers Bruce and Robert own the business.

“I'm sure my father would have been scratching his head last April when we started cutting down the trees and he would have been scratching his head even more when he saw the concrete piers going down,” he said.

What grew out of the old section of orchard was a field of panels, which, at 220 kilowatts, is the largest solar installation at a farm in the state, eclipsing a 65 kilowatt system at Four Stars Farm in Northfield.

The solar panels were installed as a way of reducing some of the $80,000 per year in electrical costs, much of which is needed to power two large refrigeration barns where apples are stored after they are harvested.

David Weiher, a friend of the Carlson family, said the idea of installing solar panels at the farm had been discussed many times, but the demands of the harvest and running the farm always took precedence over developing something new. He said it wasn't until Symantha Gates, founded EC3 Sustainability Consulting in Amherst, N.H., and was looking for a green project to do, that idea became reality.

Ms. Gates said she is not a farmer and is not really good at growing things, but she understands what goes on behind the scenes at Carlson Orchards, including a heavy reliance on energy for its cooling barns to store fruit in. She brought together $1.25 million in financing for the project from private, federal and state sources, including $900,000 in grants.

Among the grants received was a $565,000 grant from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, a $30,000 grant from the state Department of Agricultural Resources and $287,638 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Jay Healey, of the USDA and a farmer and former state agricultural commissioner, said he visited Carlson Orchards 15 years ago as agricultural commissioner and is happy to be back and see the changes that have ensured the land remains in farming.

“Frank and the whole family have added value to the farm and we all benefit and get to see the views and see that these farms are still in operation,” he said.

Mr. Healey said he has a much smaller solar installation on his farm, but it is doing well enough that when he went out in November at night under a full moon, he saw it was generating 1.7 kilowatts of electricity.

Also attending was U.S. Rep. Nicola S. “Niki” Tsongas, D-Lowell, who was credited with helping get the federal grants approved. She said with 300 farms in her district, agricultural protection has become a priority.

“It's really important that we protect our farms,” she said.

The Carlson Orchards project was installed by Lighthouse Electrical Consulting of Boston, which hired Stephen Kelleher Architects to design the mounting of the arrays on slanted ground using I-beams set on concrete piers. The 210-watt solar panels were made by Evergreen Solar of Marlboro and the solar inverters and data acquisition equipment were made by Solectria Renewables.

Michael W. McCarthy, director of investor relations for Evergreen Solar, said the company ships to companies around the world for a variety of installations, but the company is happy to be part of the Carlson Orchards project, which is just down the road from where the panels are made at Devens.

“This is a great project for us just because it is local,” he said.

Mr. McCarthy said Evergreen, which produced its 1 millionth panel in June, has received state assistance in developing its company and the installation in Harvard allows it to pass along what it has developed to create an ongoing sustainable source of electricity. He said the panels have a life expectancy of 25 years but with little to deteriorate over that time, they could be generating electricity beyond that.

The solar installation should pay for itself in about five years, but Mr. Carlson is not ready to say it will be the last major change he will see at the 82-year-old farm. He said the farm fields have gone from growing potatoes to apples and more recently various other varieties of fruit.

“We've seen changes here and we'll see more changes,” he said. “I can't tell you what the next big thing will be here at Carlson Orchards, but our customers demand local produce and we will be here to supply them.”


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Former White House Solar Panel Goes to Chinese Museum

The fate of some former White House solar panels could be seen as an example of how differently the U.S. and China regard solar energy.

Since 1991, Unity College in Maine has owned 32 solar panels which Jimmy Carter had installed on the White House during his administration. In an unintentionally symbolic move, Ronald Reagan had them removed. Unity College was aspiring to be known as “America’s Environmental College” and acquired the panels in 1991. Some panels were used to heat water at the college’s cafeteria, but were past their useful life by 2005.

One of the historical panels was recently given to China’s Himin Solar Energy Group, the largest manufacturer of solar hot water heaters in the world. The company will display the panel at the Solar Science and Technology Museum in Dezhou, part of Himin's 800-acre "China Solar Valley" manufacturing complex. Unity gave another panel to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

Huang Ming, chairman of Himin Solar Energy Group, and a representative of SEIA accepted the gifts at a ceremony on the Unity campus. However, the ceremony was not well-attended by representatives of the U.S. government. Unity invited a number of congressional representatives, senators, and the governor. All said no.

"Here is the largest solar energy company in Asia and maybe the world; their CEO is visiting Unity, Maine, and we're not getting responses from the politicians who are charged with bringing businesses to Maine," said Mark Tardif, of Unity College. "You would think the people involved with economic development would be flocking to this, but they're not."

The panels are not the photovoltaic kind used create electricity. They are flat plate solar collectors, which heat water by circulating it though a series of fins. The panels are old-fashioned, but flat plate collectors are still commonly used for some purposes.

Most of the 32 White House panels are in storage at Unity. One was taken apart for educational purposes. Three have been donated, one each to: the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum, the Smithsonian Institution, and NRG Systems – a Vermont wind-energy company. Another panel was loaned to Google and recently returned and one is being displayed on the Unity Campus.


Law Requires Illinois Utilities to Buy Solar Power

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has signed a law requiring utilities to buy a percentage of their power from solar energy sources by 2015.

The law says utilities must purchase a half-percent of solar power by June 2012. The mandatory percentage doubles each year, until reaching 6 percent in 2015.

Quinn said Tuesday at the University of Illinois Chicago that the law is expected to create more than 5,000 jobs in the Illinois solar power industry.

An Environmental Law and Policy Center representative says similar benchmarks for wind energy have been working.

The Democratic governor also signed a law requiring homeowners' associations to inform potential residents about solar panel policies.


Friday, August 20, 2010

Plug-and-Play Solar Array

For eco-conscious homeowners who have considered a solar system for their rooftops but have found the cost and complexity daunting, Clarian Power thinks it has an idea.

The Seattle-based clean tech start-up is developing a “plug-and-play” solar appliance called the Sunfish that will generate clean solar electricity for the home. “You bring it home and plug it in, just like a refrigerator, and it will cost about the same,” said the company’s president, Chad Maglaque.

Today’s typical roof-mounted solar power systems start at $10,000 and go up from there depending on the amount of electricity generated and the home’s location. The bigger and more expensive systems can meet most of a house’s energy needs and even put electricity back on the utility grid, essentially turning the meter backwards.

A contractor usually installs the solar power system and turns it over to the homeowner in ready-to-use condition. An electrician will connect the system to the home’s electric panel through an inverter, a device that converts the DC power generated by the solar panels to the AC power used by lights and appliances.

Clarian is hoping to simplify this process through the use of its patented micro-inverter, which does not require a dedicated panel or circuit. In fact, they say that a handy homeowner can set up Sunfish in less than hour without the need for a contractor or electrician.

The company expects to retail a starter kit with one solar panel for $799. The system can handle up to five solar panels with the purchase of add-on kits, which would bring the retail price to $3,000 to $4,000.

Plug the Clarian micro-inverter, which they call the “power module,” into any electric socket in your house, typically an outdoor outlet. Connect up to five solar panels to the power module. The panels can be mounted anywhere on the house with the best sun exposure. Finally, plug in the kit’s circuit monitor into any outlet, and Sunfish will start feeding solar-generated power directly into the home’s electrical system.

Sunfish will be Wi-Fi-enabled so the homeowner can monitor the system performance using desktop software like Google’s PowerMeter. As a safety feature, the circuit monitor will shut the system off if the utility grid power goes down.

Clarian does not expect the Sunfish to satisfy all power needs for the average home, which the federal Energy Information Administration estimates at 920 kilowatt hours per month. The largest Sunfish kit, with five solar panels, will produce 150 kilowatt hours per month, according to Clarian’s estimates.

Still, with a starting price of $799, Mr. Maglaque hopes to hit a sweet spot where a homeowner’s desire to reduce home energy bills will match his or her budget. “This is about slowing the meter down and having an impact,” he said, “not getting the meter to run backwards, because if that’s your goal it’s going to cost you $30,000 to $40,000, which not many people can afford.”

Whether Clarian’s Sunfish catches on or not, industry watchers like Dave Cavanaugh, a senior analyst with Pike Research, applaud the effort. Innovations aimed at reducing home energy use will play their part, he believes, as the United States upgrades its antiquated energy grid system to the so-called smart grid.

“Products like this are a good first step to get people to use less energy from the grid and begin thinking about how they can use energy more efficiently,” he said.

Before the product can reach the market, however, the Sunfish components must go through Underwriters Laboratories testing to certify they are safe for home use, a process that Mr. Maglaque admits is not trivial.

If all goes well, Clarian expects to have the Sunfish on the market by the spring of 2011. Large retailers like Costco and Lowe’s have already expressed interest, he said, as have some electric utilities in the Northwest. He hopes the utilities will promote the product to homeowners as they do Energy Star appliances, compact fluorescent bulbs and other conservation measures.

In the meantime, the tech community has taken notice. The Sunfish was a semifinalist for the Pacific Northwest region of the Cleantech Open, a business competition in which regional winners move on to compete for grant money in a national contest.

The Sunfish is also among the top vote getters in the General Electric Ecomagination challenge, another competition for financing that kicked off last month.


Broward College in Florida Installs Solar

United Solar, a manufacturer of building-integrated and rooftop photovoltaics, has installed its BIPV product at Junior Achievement of South Florida's JA World Huizenga Center at Broward College in Coconut Creek, Florida.

UNI-SOLAR partner Advanced Green Technologies, in coordination with local installer Advanced Roofing, donated the UNI-SOLAR thin-film photovoltaic system to power JA World. The installation totals 175kW.

Mark Morelli, president and CEO of United Solar's parent company, Energy Conversion Devices, said: "United Solar sees great value in educating today's youth about making good financial decisions, while helping to improve their communities through knowledge and the use of practical renewable energy."


Solar Energy Jobs Look Bright

The state of the job market could perhaps be gauged by the age of the applicants at a solar job fair last week in New Paltz, NY.

Heads of salt-and-pepper hair bobbed from table to table in well-appointed suits, resumes in hand. Among them, a few heads of brown or blond weaved, then darted quickly out.

Now hiring:

The companies at The Solar Energy Consortium's second annual job fair:

Axio Power, Fala Technologies, Farm to Table, IBM, Mercury Solar Systems, Precision Flow Technologies, Prism Solar Technologies, Selux, Solartech Renewables, SpectraWatt, SunMaxx, SunWize, Taylor Recycling, and Veeco

By the end of the day, some 300 people had turned out for The Solar Energy Consortium's second annual job fair at SUNY New Paltz.

Fourteen companies were on hand to hire for about 140 positions — jobs like engineers, technicians, project managers and analysts.

Kingston resident Norman Jette was among the job-seekers. He's been unemployed since being laid off from HFC Finance in March 2009.

"There are so many people who are so highly qualified looking today, it makes it harder to stand out," he said. "But I think having varied skill sets is important and will help."

Solar technology is an industry that's growing, even in the recession. By the end of 2010, the region will have 500 new solar jobs, said Vince Cozzolino, CEO of the consortium.

"In this lousy economy," he said. "If the mindset of this country will just shift a little bit toward renewable energy, the solar market is going to increase exponentially, and we in the Hudson Valley are going to grow the economy significantly."

The economy needs it.

Orange, Sullivan, Ulster and Dutchess counties have lost about 13,500 manufacturing jobs in the past decade, according to the state Labor Department.

Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-Hurley, who helped create the consortium and attended the job fair Friday, thinks the solar industry could create thousands more jobs in the region.

Bill Jordan, project manager for Axio Power, said that if the state would create a renewable energy incentive program like the one in New Jersey — where power companies must buy excess energy from individuals — the industry would create even more jobs.

"If we get that change, we're going to have a lot more solar energy installed," he said.

Many of the job-seekers Friday were former employees of IBM and NXP, which laid off large numbers from their Dutchess County plants.

Michael Farrington, a Plattekill resident, has worked for IBM, Royal Philips Electronics and NXP. He was laid off when NXP closed in July 2009.

He's working for a temp agency now (where he took a 60 percent pay cut), but he wants to get back into his field, equipment repairs and production management.

"My thing is to stay employed and keep meeting people until I get a better job and get back to where I was," he said.


Georgia Power to Double Solar

Georgia Power is doubling the amount of solar energy it will buy from independent producers, the chairman of the state Public Service Commission announced Thursday.

Speaking to a conference of solar entrepreneurs, Chairman Lauren McDonald said the utility will buy another 2.5 megawatts of sun-made energy capacity from homes and businesses with solar panels, bringing its total purchases to just over 5 megawatts.

One megawatt has the capacity to power 250 homes or one Super Target. The company will pay 17 cents per kilowatt hour for the first 1.5 megawatts and take bids for the rest.

The announcement was a welcome bone to an industry that had tried and failed to get more business this spring.

The Georgia Solar Energy Association took part in a commission deliberation in hopes of getting Georgia Power to both buy 2.5 more megawatts of solar power and collect the cost through ordinary rates, instead of through a premium-priced green power program.

They got neither.

Still, Georgia Power was buying only 500 kilowatts -- half a megawatt -- of independently produced solar power a year ago. The amount had jumped more than five-fold, even before Thursday's news. McDonald credited the industry's "youthful but cooperative" presence at the PSC for the growth.

In addition to the 5 megawatts Georgia Power will now buy through its solar energy program, it is also building one megawatt of solar capacity and will buy 1.4 megawatts through another program from two larger solar arrays. A solar project near Savannah will generate 1.2 megawatts. A solar array on a South Georgia pecan farm is producing 200 kilowatts.

Under state law, only an area's designated monopoly utility can sell energy in its territory, with a one-time exception for very large spaces. Solar businesses sell solar equipment to customers, but not the energy it makes.

Their customers may sell the power to a utility, but Georgia Power hasn't been buying new solar power for months.

Solar entrepreneurs have said Georgia Power crimps the market by buying only as much power as it has demand from customers willing to pay extra.


PSEG Wyandot 80-acre Solar Farm in Ohio

A part of Ohio's energy future is emerging in a tiny farming town about 100 miles southwest of Cleveland.

There, a subsidiary of a large New Jersey utility has constructed a "solar farm" on more than 80 acres of county-owned land that grew soybeans until last year. Since April, the glass and silicon farm has "harvested" the sun.

The PSEG Wyandot Solar Farm consists of 159,200 solar panels -- nearly every one of them made by First Solar of Perrysburg. Together they generate up to 12 million watts, or 12 megawatts, when the sun is shinning.

When converted to the kind of power used in homes, schools and factories, that 12 million watts becomes 10 million -- still enough electricity to power more than 9,000 homes.

Wyandot is the largest but only the first very large solar farm you will see sprouting in Ohio and nearby states to meet the new state solar mandates.

Experts estimate that Ohio's utilities or solar developers will have to install solar systems with a total capacity to generate at least 300 megawatts of power by 2025. Some estimates are even higher. That will require millions of solar panels.

The dueling estimates of what will be required stem from the way the state law is written.

The new state regulations for solar are set as a percentage of power sold, not merely capacity to generate a certain amount of power. And nobody knows exactly how much power will be sold in 2025.

The new utility law requires that by 2025 at least 12.5 percent of all power sold in the state must be generated with renewable technologies such as wind, solar and biomass combustion.

One-half of 1 percent of that 12.5 percent total must come from solar, though half of that half percent can come from contiguous states.

Utilities can either build solar systems, buy power from solar developers or buy "solar renewable energy credits," or S-RECs, from developers or other utilities that have built solar systems. The S-REC market is just starting in Ohio but more developed in states that approved similar laws earlier.

FirstEnergy Corp., for example, has issued bid requests for S-RECS. The Akron company has not announced how many it has purchased. Spokeswoman Ellen Raines said the company has enough to satisfy the law for a couple of years.

Raines said FirstEnergy has talked to solar developers but has not signed any agreements to buy solar power from a solar developer or build any solar farms on its own. The company is prepared, however, to sign 10-year purchase agreements for S-RECS, she said.

American Electric Power, based in Columbus, has a different strategy. AEP is buying the power and the S-RECS that come with it from Wyandot Solar through a 20-year contract.

Wyandot Solar Farm straddles the runway of the Wyandot County airport, all of it surrounded by corn and soybean fields. At official dedication ceremonies Thursday, Gov. Ted Strickland called the farm "a glimpse of the future."

Spokeswoman Terri Flora said AEP plans to add about 10 megawatts of solar power annually from 2011 through 2024. Those additions can come from big farms similar to Wyandot or from multiple smaller arrays on building roof tops, for example.

PSEG Solar Source LLC built Wyandot solar. The company is a subsidiary of the Public Service Enterprise Group of Newark, one of the largest investor-owned utilities in the United States.

The project is viewed as a boon to an area where most people are farmers or dependent on farming. Vaughn Industries, a local electrical contractor, built the plant, employing and training more than 50 skilled workers, who are now certified as solar installers.

The impetus for the project came from the Ohio State Extension service, with agent Eric Romich also serving as Wyandot County's first economic development director. OSU is now developing a program to help other rural counties.

Wyandot is the third PSEG project. It has built a 2 megawatt array in New Jersey for the Mars chocolate company and a 15 megawatt farm in Florida for local utility.

Diana Drysdale, vice president of renewables for PSEG and vice president of Solar Source, said the company is looking at a number of other Ohio projects.

"They are at various stages of development in Ohio. We are at least six to nine months away," she said.

Drysdale would not say how much the Wyandot project cost to build. But projects of this size currently are running between $40 million to $60 million.

Neither AEP nor PSEG revealed the per-kilowatt-hour cost of the electricity that flows from the farm.

Typically, solar-generated electricity can average 20 cents to 30 cents per kWh - more expensive that grid wholesale rates, now at 6 to 7 cents because of the recession.

Drysdale said her company has cut its price in half in just two years.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

PowerShift Solar Provides Solar for Florida Tour Shuttle

Melbourne, FL.
PowerShift Solar, a solar energy systems design firm, announced the completion of a solar power system used to power an electric shuttle in the Historic Cocoa Village district of Cocoa, FL. The shuttle will be used to give tours of historic sites, and will offer transportation to pedestrians visiting the collection of shops, restaurants, businesses, and boutiques in the area.

The solar array on top of the 6-passenger shuttle is expected to produce about a third of the power it consumes on an average day. It will produce clean, green energy from the sun, and allow the system to pay for itself many times over.

"The high-efficiency solar panels we installed are warranted to produce power for 25 years. If you take projected electricity rate hikes into account, this system could save over $5200 in electric costs during its life," said J.W. Jones, lead designer and co-founder of PowerShift Solar. "This cart is really unique because it gives people an opportunity to experience solar power firsthand as it operates today in a productive, everyday scenario. They can touch it, and see it, and that makes a lasting impression,"
he added.

The shuttle is pulling its environmental weight too. It will pick up recyclable materials from bins placed around Cocoa Village in a partnership with the city and BrevardsGreenTeam.org.

The shuttle was designed and built by ExtremeCustomCarts.com of Rockledge, FL. The vehicle was completely rebuilt from the frame up using refurbished and recycled materials. This reduced the overall environmental impact, and solidified the project's commitment to sustainable design.

"We love to challenge ourselves with new and exciting projects like this," explained Extreme Custom Carts’ owner Troy Tutterrow on his excitement over this project. He continued, "We were able to take our expertise in building alternative vehicles and add an element that benefits the community and our environment by using solar power. We can make the world a better place for our kids and grandkids, and we wanted to be a part of that. This whole project has been really easy to get behind."

The shuttle is owned by local entrepreneur Dewey Kessler. Mr. Kessler expects to have this shuttle running full time in Cocoa Village by the end of the summer, and plans to expand this concept to other locations in the coming months.

Those interested in learning more about solar power and its applications for use in their homes and businesses can call 321-385-SUN1 (7861) for more information, or to arrange a free in-home or in-office consultation.

PowerShift Solar LLC is east central Florida's premier designer of solar energy systems for homes and businesses. PowerShift Solar specializes in designing systems that will maximize the amount of energy savings to its clients and help reduce or eliminate their dependence on utility-supplied electricity. The company is headquartered In Melbourne, FL, and serves all of Brevard and Volusia counties. Additional information about the company is available at www.powershiftsolar.com.


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

APS to Develop Largest Solar Power System on U.S. Government Property

Arizona Public Service Co. will own and operate a new 15-megawatt photovoltaic power plant to be built at Luke Air Force Base in Glendale, Ariz. APS has hired SunPower Corp. to design and construct the solar plant, which is expected to come online in summer 2011. It will be the largest solar installation on U.S. government property.

Several critical steps remain before construction can begin in January 2011. These steps include environmental assessments, permitting and site preparation work.

"We continue to blend renewable energy into our current generation portfolio in a manner that enables our customers to receive reliable and affordable electricity," said APS President and Chief Operating Officer Don Robinson. "This solar project is another example of the strong relationship between Luke Air Force Base and APS, and helps both organizations meet their renewable energy needs."

The plant, which will be located on a little more than 100 acres of underutilized land on the base, will use 52,000 high-efficiency SunPower solar panels. A single-axis tracking system will allow the panels to follow the sun across the sky, capturing 25 percent more energy than if the panels were stationary. The plant's 15-megawatt capacity is equivalent to the energy needs of 3,750 Arizona homes or 50 percent of the Base's energy needs.

"The project and our long-term agreement with APS will benefit the American tax-payer," said Air Force Lt. Col. John Thomas, 56th Civil Engineer Squadron commander at Luke. "The Base will receive stable energy costs and increased energy independence associated with using reliable, emission-free solar power."

This is the second solar project collaboration for APS and Luke Air Force Base. In 2006, APS provided $1.5 million in incentives to reduce the cost of integrating a 375-kilowatt solar system into the Base Exchange's new roof. As with that project, the new solar facility will be paid for by customers and approved by the Arizona Corporation Commission.

"As a result of our previous experience working with the U.S. Air Force at Nellis Air Force Base, SunPower has developed federal procurement capabilities that help agencies procure reliable, high performance solar systems utilizing a variety of mechanisms," said Karen Butterfield, SunPower's director of federal accounts. "Reliability and quality are the hallmarks of SunPower systems."

APS, Arizona's largest and longest-serving electricity utility, serves more than 1.1 million customers in 11 of the state's 15 counties. With headquarters in Phoenix, APS is the principal subsidiary of Pinnacle West Capital Corp.

Solar Industry Pleads Obama to Help Restore Loan Guarantees

Solar industry officials are pleading with President Obama to restore billions of dollars in renewable energy loan guarantees that Congress is at least temporarily cutting to pay for emergency education and Medicaid help to states and other policy priorities.

The loss of these loan guarantee funds could help “send solar development into a tailspin that will be difficult to reverse,” according to a letter to Obama sent Monday from Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

House lawmakers Tuesday are slated to approve a $26.1 billion state education and Medicaid funding package the Senate passed last week that would be partially paid for by slashing $1.5 billion in renewable energy-loan guarantees approved in last year’s economic stimulus bill.

Renewable-energy groups sent House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) a letter Friday urging the House to drop that cut. But that isn’t expected to happen, and Obama is expected to sign the bill as is.

“From everything we’ve heard at this point is that it’s a done deal,” said SEIA spokeswoman Monique Hanis on Monday. “So we have to get it fixed when they come back in September.”

The letter to Obama from the solar industry comes amid increasing — and increasingly public — frustration from renewable energy groups.

When Congress last August took out $2 billion in Energy Department (DOE) renewable-loan guarantees to help pay for the “Cash for Clunkers” program, “we had continued in a polite way behind the scenes” to get it replenished, Hanis said.

But while the House has agreed to replenish those funds, the Senate has not. “We’re extremely concerned and in fact perplexed because it was one of the administration’s goals,” Hanis said.

Obama last week announced loan guarantees for two solar companies — a 280-megawatt power plant in Arizona and manufacturing facilities in Colorado and Indiana. “There are dozens of job-creating renewable energy projects like these awaiting loan guarantees from DOE, which are now placed at serious risk by the Senate’s action,” Resch wrote Obama.

The $3.5 billion amounts to more than half of the $6 billion set aside for renewable energy loan guarantees in last year’s economic stimulus bill, and its removal “will significantly undermine” DOE’s loan guarantee program, according to the letter sent to Pelosi Friday from trade associations representing the solar, wind, geothermal, biomass and hydropower industries. The loan guarantees would go towards the financing of $60 billion worth of renewable energy projects, they say.

SEIA's Resch is asking Obama to “swiftly restore” the $3.5 billion in loan guarantees and direct DOE and the White House Office of Management and Budget “to take every step necessary to expedite the closing of loan guarantees.” They also want a two-year extension of a Treasury grant program set to expire this year “due to the continued lack of tax-equity to finance renewable projects and the slow processing of loan guarantees,” Resch wrote.

Congressional Democratic leaders are promising that the funds will be restored. Pelosi “will continue to seek assurances for the restoration of these funds,” a Pelosi aide said Monday.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) last week also vowed that Congress will restore the funds eventually. An aide to Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a member of Senate Democratic leadership who successfully offered an amendment scaling back the funding to help pay for the education and Medicaid help, said she “worked closely with the administration to ensure that Recovery Act funding used to offset this bill would not be spent this year.”

Reid said the funding is merely a small piece of $20 billion in DOE stimulus funds the department has been slow to dole out. That includes $13 billion for state energy programs, among others, as well as the $6 billion for the renewable energy loan guarantee program.


Solar Bus Shelter in Corona, California

The new bus shelter was designed and installed by Solade Concepts based in Corona, CA. The solar structure consists of products and solutions proposed by Go Green Solar, based in Los Angeles, CA, which include six SANYO HIT-210NKHA6 210-watt HIT Power® solar panels with six Enphase Energy M210-84-240-S12 micro inverters and a LED lighting solution in an on-grid solar system.

There are other solar-powered bus stations out there, but what is really unique about this one is that it is on-grid not off-grid. In other words, this bus station is acting as a mini (yes, very mini) power station.

With bus stops every 650 to 950 feet in many cities, however, this can add up to a decent amount of power.

“The solar panels on top of Corona’s bus shelter are grid-connected which means the energy is contributed to the grid when the power is needed the most, during peak hours.” said Andrew Ferrick, President of Solade Concepts, a manufacturer of solar structures. “The meter will spin backwards during daylight hours, offsetting the City of Corona’s electric bill for its traffic signals and streetlights.”

“The grid-tie solar bus shelter is a perfect example of micro-generation. The solar technology available today combined with structures which exist in our environment have the potential to be mini distributed solar power plants with the combined potential to contribute megawatts of power back to our grid.” said Deep Patel, Founder & CEO of GoGreenSolar.com, a supplier of green energy products.

Patel was the one responsible for choosing the solar equipment that was used in the Corona Solar Bus Shelter. In order to get the most output out of such a limited amount of space, he chose SANYO HIT Power® solar panels, which reportedly generate the most watts per installed square foot of anything on the market, and GoGreenSolar’s very own Enphase Energy Micro Inverters.

The solar bus shelter in Corona is expected to generate 1,748 kilowatt-hours annually.


Solar Power Now Cheaper Than Nuclear

According to news aggregator Energy Collective, a historic era is upon us because solar power has become affordable. More specifically, solar power has become cheaper than nuclear power.

The article sites researchers from Duke University in North Carolina, who found that the cost of "producing photovoltaic cells (PV) has been dropping for years ... at the same time, estimated costs for building new nuclear power plants have ballooned." Thus, it's cheaper to put solar panels on houses than to build a new nuclear power plant to service them.

According to the article, this is a crossover moment because the researchers haven't even considered other pros and cons of solar power, including that North Carolina is not a "sun-rich" state. Other states with more sunshine could see more cost savings. The article also references an up-and-coming trend in solar power called concentrating solar power or CSP. According to the story, CSP "promises utility-scale production and solar thermal storage." This means that even after sunset, CSP-fitted homes can generate electricity.

The story lists the crossover price point at about 16 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh). This year, in North Carolina, the price of one kWh of electricity from solar energy fell below this point for the first time. Some solar developers offer electricity from solar energy at 14 cents per kWh and predict that this price will continue to drop.

The article ends by emphasizing how important it is to have an energy source that's more affordable than nuclear power, especially given the U.S. Senate's failure to pass a climate and energy bill this year. Since both nuclear and solar power are subsidized by the government, the author points out that "taxpayers now bear the burden of putting carbon into the atmosphere through a variety of hidden charges."


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Cloudy Times for Florida's Solar Energy Future

In a remote field awash with 90,000 solar panels, President Barack Obama praised the launch last year of the country's largest solar plant in secluded Arcadia as a watershed moment for Florida's emerging green economy.

Roughly 10 months later, Florida's time in the sun has darkened, with a smattering of renewable energy programs in place and other projects stalled.

Meanwhile, other states are busy promoting renewable energy policies aimed at reducing dirty fuel consumption and stimulating nascent solar manufacturers.

That Florida, with its bounty of sun-soaked land, might be left behind in the great solar race has become a source of concern among clean energy leaders. A crop of renewable energy projects planned across the nation in the next half decade will birth a lucrative industry, they say, and that is something Florida cannot afford to ignore.

At stake are thousands of new jobs each year and what could be the solution to the state's simmering debate over the use of foreign and increasingly controversial fossil fuels.

"We have this energy source that is renewable, it is safe, it is environmentally healthy, it can produce millions of jobs," said Neshama Abraham of the American Solar Energy Society in Boulder, Colo. "It is just that people need to wake up and know it is there."

It's not that Florida isn't a player in solar energy. Overall, Florida ranks fifth in the nation for its total grid-connected solar capacity.

But the gap between Florida and its rivals is vast.

Consider that all of Florida's solar panel installations combined produce 38.7 megawatts of direct current, or units of power, according to the Interstate Renewable Energy Council. In contrast, front-runner California produces 768 megawatts of direct current. New Jersey, in second place, produces 127.5 megawatts.

"Money is stopping it," said Nancy Argenziano, chairwoman of the Florida Public Service Commission, whose reappointment to the state utility board was recently rejected by lawmakers she claimed were bought off by powerful utilities, which are among the state's most generous campaign contributors.

"It has nothing to do with what is better for the country or the state," she said.

To be sure, solar energy is not cheap. It costs utility companies nearly 70 percent more than coal and gas, and personal equipment still requires a hefty investment from businesses and homeowners. Such market factors have hindered the industry's growth despite a heightened national focus on environmental policy and fossil fuel independence.

Still, Florida seemed poised to tackle those financial obstacles just four years ago.

Gov. Charlie Crist unveiled a raft of clean energy policies after his 2006 election that would force green power on the state's powerful electric utility giants and subsidize the purchase of solar energy equipment by businesses and homeowners.

The Legislature's Republican leaders played along at first. They funded a solar rebate program. They expanded the limit for solar power generation in the state, which Florida Power & Light, the state's largest electric utility, quickly reached.

The for-profit company followed its massive Arcadia plant with fields of shimmering solar panels in Martin County and Brevard County, importing more than 125,000 panels from a California company, where solar manufacturers receive financial incentives from the state.

The Arcadia plant single-handedly catapulted Florida from 16th to third place in grid-connected solar energy capacity installed in 2009. FPL also announced the start of Babcock Ranch, a planned community in southwest Florida's Charlotte County that would be the first solar-powered city in the world.

"There is no reason this state cannot be the national leader on solar and other renewables when they make sense," senior vice president Eric Silagy said last week.

Progress Energy, the state's other utility superpower, promoted a $450 rebate toward the purchase of a solar water heater. Roughly 3,700 customers took advantage of the offer.

A handful of the state's small public utilities companies also rolled out ambitious solar energy plans.

Florida's solar revolution, however, soon ground to a halt, and the political momentum abruptly shifted direction.

FPL says Babock Ranch is shovel-ready, meaning a shovel has yet to break ground.

In 2008, the Legislature allowed FPL and Progress Energy to charge customers for construction of proposed nuclear power plants in Florida -- even if the plants ultimately don't get built.

The Legislature also slapped down Crist's 20 by 2020 plan, which would have required Florida power companies to produce 20 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020. At least 26 other states have passed similar mandates.

Most recently, the Legislature stopped funding the state's solar rebate program in 2009, citing the stagnated economy. As of last week, the program's waiting list had climbed to nearly 16,000 businesses and homeowners waiting for promised rebates totaling $52.7 million.

"We need to push forward," Crist said Thursday, citing the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster. "If that's not the greatest wakeup call that we need to do more in solar and wind and other energy forms, I don't know what is."

What happens next will in some ways be determined by what voters do at the ballot box.

Florida's four gubernatorial candidates all call for diversified energy plans, but their goals vary widely.

Democrat Alex Sink and independent Bud Chiles want to promote solar energy through policy. Republicans Bill McCollum and Rick Scott support allowing the free market to sort it all out.

Federal energy leaders claim solar energy equipment will become more affordable than traditional electric sources by 2020. For free market proponents, that means solar energy can find its way without a government boost.

But solar energy advocates said clean energy is too important to leave to chance. They note government has a long history of advancing innovation and safety, from computers to space exploration to car seat belts.

Requiring clean energy would create an instant market, while subsidizing solar equipment would help lower investment costs for consumers, said James Fenton, director of the Florida Solar Energy Center at the University of Central Florida.

"If you set a market goal, then the industry knows that, 'Okay, Florida is going to buy this,' " he said.

Advocates also argue that government intervention could level the energy playing field.

Fossil fuels benefited from $72 billion in government incentives from 2002 to 2008, while subsidies for renewable fuels totaled $29 billion during the same time, according to the Environmental Law Institute.

"The government needs to tell us we need to stop burning and polluting the air," said Fenton, whose research estimates Florida could create 42,240 jobs next year if just 3 percent of all Florida homes retrofitted their homes for clean energy.

Internationally, early adopters Canada, Spain, China and Germany have all integrated solar energy use through mandates and subsidies. But you don't have to leave Florida to compare the two schools of thought.

On the market-driven side, FPL and Progress Energy want the Legislature to let them build more power plants, even though Florida's population is not growing and energy use has declined since 2003. The companies would then pass those construction costs to customers.

Solar, "is not a silver bullet for all of our energy needs," said Silagy. "It is only part of the solution and not all of the solution."

Meanwhile, several of Florida's small government-run utility companies have launched programs to encourage customers to invest in solar energy.

In Gainesville, for example, the public utility company is paying residents for energy generated from solar panels arranged on homes and businesses. That hurts the city's bottom line, but it is still cheaper than building a plant, said John Crider, a planning engineer for Gainesville Regional Utilities.

"Our prime purpose is not to make a big profit," he said. "We want to promote conservation."


China Charges Ahead of World

Inside China's massive, $220 million pavilion at the Shanghai Expo, exhibits charting that nation's path toward modernization start with the humble transistor radio and end with electric cars and homegrown technology powered by sun, wind and algae.

The largest Expo in history has drawn more than 30 million visitors. It showcases the country's ambitions to become not just factory to the world but a global leader in technologies of the future — particularly green energy.

For a visitor from the Pacific Northwest, it's hard to escape the parallels with the Seattle World's Fair of 1962, when American ambitions pointed skyward with the Space Needle, and Boeing helped propel aerospace technology to new heights.

The Shanghai Expo, like the Seattle gathering nearly 50 years earlier, seems a watershed event, in this case heralding both a shift in global economic power and a leap in China's imagination.

A Chinese consortium is building a commercial jet to rival the Boeing 737. Chinese car and battery maker BYD ("build your dreams") is launching an all-electric car this year.

But nowhere is China's competitive push more evident than in its rush to dominate clean energy.

Environmental disasters and China's reputation as a prime polluter have driven some of that urgency. The country has become the world's largest energy consumer and its biggest carbon emitter.

Now it's investing billions of dollars in greener, more efficient energy production. Recent incentives and policies encouraging alternative energy have helped Chinese companies leapfrog over competitors to lead the world in areas such as solar power.

As a result, much of the manufacturing for photovoltaic cells and panels has gone to China.

In Washington state, the competitive stakes are high.

In the last decade, investors poured $783 million into clean-tech companies in Washington state, according to the Cleantech Group. The sector, which includes energy generation, green building and environmental engineering, employs about 23,000 people in the Puget Sound area alone.

Politicians and investors are touting clean tech as the growth opportunity of the future. But they worry that American companies are already falling behind.

"Many of these technologies were invented in the U.S., but they have since migrated overseas because there has never been much of a market in the U.S.," said Peter Brehm, vice president of business development and government relations at Infinia, a solar-power company in Kennewick.

Overall clean-technology investments in China reached $34 billion last year, more than any other country and almost double the U.S. investment of $18 billion, according to the Pew Environment Group.

This year, China has attracted more clean-tech financing than Europe and the U.S. combined, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Financing for wind turbines, solar panels and low-carbon technology in China rose 72 percent in the second quarter to $11.5 billion, compared with U.S. investment of $4.9 billion.

The size of the market and a sweeping array of incentives are acting as magnets. Chinese utilities are required to buy up all renewable energy generated in the country and sell to consumers at discounted rates. It helps that China's energy sector is largely state-owned. Government ministries subsidize half of the investment cost for solar-power systems.

That doesn't mean China's growth will be clean.

"A lot of manufacturing is very dirty," said Christopher McNally, a fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu who studies China's system of state-managed capitalism. "But the policy thrust is very clear. And that is actually what we lack. We don't have a very clear policy of where we're going."

Washington clean-tech companies are staking their future on how well they can both sell to China's growing market and maintain their own edge.

But that's getting harder to do as the U.S. lags in investments and policies that foster development of clean-technology products and build market demand for them, many business leaders say.

"China has a problem with pollution," says Robert Roche, the chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai. "They're addressing it from a national view. Our government hasn't decided there's a problem yet."

Recent Chinese actions include a cap on carbon, aggressive fuel-efficiency targets and a plan for $700 billion in investments over the next 10 years, said U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Bainbridge Island, who met with Chinese environment officials in July.

Without a bold U.S. strategy, money will go elsewhere and domestic enterprises will lose out, he said.

"It's pretty amazing, our lack of performance relative to Chinese aggressiveness in trying to seize these jobs," he said.

An hour outside Shanghai, factories fill the bland landscape around Kunshan, a satellite city that has become an economic powerhouse.

Amid the electronics companies churning out iPods, mobile phones and laptops, a solar-energy industry is taking shape.

Kunshan is encouraging biotech, wind and solar companies to set up shop. Taiwanese manufacturer Motech Industries started mass production of solar cells there two years ago, and demand now exceeds its capacity.

"The government is involved a lot in the development of industries," said York Wu, vice chief of investment promotion in the New & Hi-tech Industrial Development Zone.

The goal is to make Kunshan a base of renewable energy, producing 400 million to 500 million solar panels.

At a demonstration center near the Motech factory, a young woman in skinny black jeans and precariously high heels leads visitors on a tour of displays.

She shows miniature homes of the future, with green roofs and solar-powered lights, new types of small wind turbines and ultrathin solar-cell material that can be used in roofing or curtains. They even have a model handbag designed to tap sunlight to charge cellphones.

John Evans, an Asia-based business consultant, has been watching the growth of China's clean-technology industry and advising the Washington state Department of Commerce and local companies on strategy.

"China is going to be both a competitor and an opportunity," Evans said. "When the Chinese decide they're really going to push forward with something, they do it quickly and put a lot of money into it."

That means opportunities for Washington companies with cutting-edge technology, such as software to manage smart electricity grids, to sell into the Chinese market, he said. But they may eventually be competing with companies in China.

"China is putting in place incentives, such as tax reductions for investment, to attract companies from across the globe," he said. "That's not necessarily a great thing for Washington state."

At its factory in Kennewick, Infinia makes a device that captures sunlight through a mirror and converts the heat directly into electricity. Infinia was listed by the Cleantech Group as one of the 100 most promising private companies in the world for addressing environmental challenges.

There is little market yet for its products in the U.S.

Instead, Infinia's technology is in demand in Spain, India and China. Much of its manufacturing may soon follow.

"Other countries are smart enough to incentivize manufacturing. We're not," Vice President Brehm said. "They make it very easy for you to win projects and develop markets over there if you manufacture over there."

Recently, the U.S. Senate scrapped energy legislation that would have placed a cap on carbon emissions by utilities and set new renewable-energy standards.

Opponents called that legislation "cap and tax," saying it would increase energy prices and hamper growth. But Brehm argues the failure to pass that kind of energy legislation is likely to drive more investment overseas.

"The decision not to go forward — all it does is perpetuate the uncertainty that's already in the market for companies like ours that manufacture renewables."

The same factories that make parts like vehicle doors for the U.S. auto industry also make parts for Infinia on the same assembly line, using the same machine tools.

"For converting dwindling auto jobs to real jobs, we are literally the poster child," he said.

Federal stimulus money has helped boost renewables, but the benefits have gone disproportionately to companies with technology that is being made overseas, Brehm argues. Incentives focused on emerging technologies are needed to keep his industry ahead of the curve and support jobs that are still based here, he says.

"Our argument is: where things are manufactured matters," Brehm said.

Inside China's bright-red Expo pavilion, which replicates an ancient Chinese building style, the larger upper tier is designed to shade the rest of the building, which has a rooftop garden, natural ventilation and rainwater collection.

A display compares carbon emissions of various forms of transportation, and two of China's electric cars are shown, including the YeZ, or "leaf" in Chinese, a concept car designed in Shanghai that absorbs carbon dioxide from the air and emits oxygen. Another display shows how algae is being converted to biodiesel.

The pavilion offers a sharp contrast to the grittier reality of everyday life in most Chinese cities, with their heavily polluted skies and water and sprawl. Near Shanghai, a giant new eco-city was supposed to be completed in time for the Expo, but never made it past the planning stage.

Still, Chinese officials such as Song Chao, director of the Shanghai municipal government's information office, insist the Expo is showing that China can be as innovative as any country.

He said that demonstrating how to make cities more sustainable through clean technology is one way to "let young people know what are the most advanced civilizations and technological developments in the world today."


Solar Thermal Systems Gain Popularity

Solar hot water is getting a new day in the sun.

While most of the recent publicity has focused on its higher-tech sister, photovoltaic production of electricity, the solar thermal business is also growing.

"Solar thermal" means liquid is heated by the sun's rays and then used in homes, businesses or institutions. Most commonly, it produces what engineers call "domestic hot water," or what comes out of the hot water faucet.

But it can also be used in some cases for heating the air in a building, primarily through radiant floor systems. Another approach is solar walls, which involve using the sun to heat exterior surfaces and capturing the warmed air to supplement the heating systems.

The basic technology is an old one and fairly simple, said Ron Kamen, who is head of sales and senior vice president for EarthKind Solar in Lake Katrine and who also serves as president of the industry group the New York Solar Energy Industries Association.

The hot water approach is easily adaptable to home use and not nearly as expensive as the photovoltaic approach, Kamen said, though he advocates and handles both.

"There's 10 times as much solar hot water installed as solar electric," he said. "Everyone else in the world pretty much does it. It's a very simple technology, very straightforward. It's the most cost-effective method."

"There's a tremendous need for residential. Hot water is about one-third of the average family fuel bill," Kamen said.

Among the convinced are Robin and Rashmi Sen, both architects with a practice in New York. They have designed and are building a house and studio in Salt Point where solar hot water is used to supplement both domestic hot water and space heating.

They got into green design in some Brooklyn projects, Robin Sen explained, and then brought the approach home.

"We wanted to put in as much as we could in terms of using the least amount of fossil fuels," he said. The house burns no fuels on site, but uses electricity. It has a hybrid heating system that consists of a geothermal heating-cooling system and a solar hot water array ground-mounted near the house.

The house has a ceramic floor that becomes a heater when the solar-heated water is run through it. Sen said that the solar water panels can heat the house adequately when outside temperature drops to as low as 50 degrees. Lower than that, and the geothermal kicks in to help.

Interest is spreading. Contractor Joseph Malcarne has expanded his business into the installation of these units and put some atop his house in Staatsburg.

The solar association list of members is growing, as contractors from various trades get interested in offering such work.

Alteris Renewables has opened a two-person office with hopes of growth at TechCity, the same Lake Katrine facility that houses EarthKind and a growing number of solar-related businesses.

A major solar hot water system was dedicated Monday at Benedictine Hospital in Kingston, for which EarthKind was the source.

It was part of a $428,000 federally funded solar technology and energy efficiency project at the Kingston, Benedictine and Margaretville campuses of the Health Care Alliance. Rep. Maurice Hinchey, instrumental in obtaining the funds, said it was aimed at energy efficiency and cutting carbon emissions.

The Solar Energy Consortium and engineering students at the State University of New York New Paltz assisted.

Environmental consciousness is one stimulus for the solar movement, as is federal and state aid. But the economy hasn't been one.

Elaine Lacy, marketing director for EarthKind , said the slow economy has been felt.

"I think more people are hesitant," she said. "But people are still interested, still calling."

The savings in energy costs are a key selling point. The recession put soaring fuel costs on a holiday, but in the long term, the economics favor alternative sources, Kamen said.

He said fuel prices would rise, and cited the need for energy independence. And as for oil, "It eventually is going to run out. It's just a question of time."

Perhaps the biggest hurdle to jump is the capital cost of the systems. A two-panel solar hot water rig and its associated gear can cost a homeowner about $8,000 to $10,000 and would save about half to two-thirds of the operating costs of getting domestic hot water.

But that upfront cost can soon be offset not only by the savings, but by the hefty federal and state tax credits that can be claimed on the next tax return.

A credit is a dollar-for-dollar savings off one's tax liability. The federal credit is 30 percent. So, for example, a $10,000 system cost brings a $3,000 credit. The state offers a 25 percent credit, which would be good for $2,500. Combined, the credits are $5,500, cutting the homeowner's final cost to $4,500 in this example.

The cost recovery through savings is fastest for people who heat their water with electricity, Kamen said. The second-fastest is oil and the longest recovery is with natural gas.

The final cost recovery may come when the house is sold and fetches a higher price because its energy efficiency is a selling point.

Kamen said solar hot water for heating air is an emerging field. It's being done, as Sen's case shows, but mostly in new construction. Solar hot water does not get up to the range needed for baseboard heaters, for example. But engineers are finding ways to integrate solar hot water with other techniques in combination systems that use solar as a pre-heater and some other gear to handle the rest of the temperature rise.

An obvious shortcoming is that solar is weakest when you need it most, in the winter, and strongest when you need it least, in the summer. A system sized to perform well in winter will produce waste heat all summer. Kamen said some installations use that heat for swimming pools and hot tubs.

Research is aimed at finding ways to turn the excess heat into energy that can then run cooling systems. It's been done, but not yet in a cost-effective way, Kamen said. These sun-driven coolers will most likely be used in commercial buildings first.

Straight solar air is getting used, too. At the Army's Fort Drum in upstate New York there is what's claimed to be the nation's largest installation of solar walls.

There, 50 SolarWall skins have been installed on 27 buildings to collect hot air that is then pumped inside to handle part of the heating. The company says tests on one system saved about $1,000 a month in natural gas costs.

The New York Solar Thermal Consortium, a group of institutions and businesses, has begun drawing up a "Solar Thermal Road Map for New York State" with the aim of growing from about 500 systems now to about 20,000 in a few years and half a million by 2020. That would create 20,000 jobs, too, Kamen said.


Solar Technologies Designs One of the Largest Solar Arrays in San Jose

Solar Technologies, a Santa Cruz, CA solar company, designed a $3.6 million solar installation for Power Integrations (Nasdaq: POWI), a leading high-voltage integrated circuit manufacturer, known for its energy efficient products. The company is headquartered in Edenvale Technology Park in San Jose.

The project is expected to reduce 10,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions over the next 25 years. The City of San Jose's Mayor, Chuck Reed applauded the company for helping the city achieve its Green Vision Goals.

Honoring the company's commitment to sustainability in the community, local government officials, U.S. Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, Council member Ash Kalra, and Silicon Valley Leadership Group President and CEO Carl Guardino was on hand at the facility for a "powering on" event Thursday.

When the project began in 2009, the scope was limited to the roofs of two buildings with a total potential of 200 kW. The Power Integrations team quickly concluded that their investment needed to cover a significantly larger portion of their usage. Solar Technologies determined that by using the parking facility, approximately 50% of their usage would be offset. A new plan was developed that covered a 44,448 square-foot lot.

As the scope of the system grew, Solar Technologies called upon two established solar partners – Atlas-Pellizzari Electric of Redwood City and Legacy Roofing of San Jose. Atlas-Pellizzari took over the responsibilities for system construction with Legacy managing the construction of the parking structures.

“Large commercial solar PV installations require the teamwork of multiple disciplines. Solar is a long term investment that requires full consideration of the vendor’s capabilities. Atlas and Legacy were instrumental in the success of this project,” reported Solar Technologies’ Commercial Sales Manager, Kent Bossange.

The finished project provides shaded areas for vehicle parking, while producing clean energy to power the facility and reduce electric bills. Balu Balakrishnan, president and CEO of Power Integrations, estimates that the system will pay for itself in twelve years through accumulated energy savings.

Power Integrations is committed to energy efficiency compliance and the company made a bold move with this sizable installation. The array uses 2,531 Sharp panels and two SatCon inverters.

The system will power two buildings, including their chip testing operations with 100 employees and produce lighting for their parking facilities. The project is expected to reduce 10,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions over the next 25 years.

"We are proud to be part of this project, working with an innovative company who is setting new standards for resource conservation in Silicon Valley. With a system of this magnitude, Power Integrations has established its position as a role-model for a sustainable future," said Matt Ledna, Director of Sales and Marketing at Solar Technologies.

The City of San Jose's Mayor, Chuck Reed applauded the company for helping the city achieve its Green Vision Goals.


Unity College Bestows a Solar Gift

A world leader in solar energy came to Unity College Thursday to accept one of President Jimmy Carter's solar panels as a donation to his Solar Science and Technology Museum in China's Shandong Province.

A world leader in solar energy came to Unity College Thursday to accept one of President Jimmy Carter's solar panels as a donation to his Solar Science and Technology Museum in China's Shandong Province.

Huang Ming, center, chairman of Himin Solar Energy Group of China, acknowledges applause after accepting a solar panel donated to his Solar Science and Technology Museum from Unity College during a presentation on Thursday in Unity. At left is Dana Connors, president of the Maine Chamber of Commerce, and Unity College President Mitchell Thomashow.

Huang Ming, chairman and founder of Himin Solar Energy Group, said in exchange for the panel he'd like to offer the White House a state-of-the-art solar water heating system made by his company.

The gift of the solar panel, Ming said, marked the beginning of a relationship between his company and the college -- and progressive cooperation between China and the U.S.

Flying into New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, he said he only spotted a couple of rooftops with solar heating systems. That's something he'd like to help change.

"Change is necessary. It's possible. It's easy," he said. "Change our behavior, change our activities, change our minds, and we will change the world."

Unity officially handed off the solar panel to Ming around noon Thursday in the college's Centre for Performing Arts. The event was the culmination of a months-long conversation among Unity officials, Ming and his friend Julian Chen, a physics professor at Columbia University.

Chen was researching solar energy online and learned that Unity College had acquired the solar panels that Carter had had installed on the White House in 1979. He knew that Ming would want one.

In fact, when Chen told Ming about the panels, Ming said he'd pay anything to get one for his museum. Much to the men's surprise, the college offered to give him one for free, Chen said.

After the solar panels were removed from the White House during the Reagan administration, Unity installed them in its cafeteria, where they heated water for 12 years. The college recently donated one of them to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

Last month, a documentary about the panels, called "A Road Not Taken," was screened at the Maine International Film Festival in Waterville.

At the event Thursday, Ming talked about his company's efforts to promote the use of solar energy.

Himin Solar, the world's largest manufacturer of solar water heaters, produces 3 million water heaters annually and was a driving force behind the creation of China's Solar Valley, a massive development in the city of Dezhou in Shandong Province that maximizes the use of solar energy.

Solar Valley is home to Himin's headquarters, called the Sun-Moon Mansion, as well as the Solar Science and Technology Museum.

Ming said the Carter solar panel, which he'll show with pictures displaying its historical significance, will be his second favorite artifact in the museum. His favorite still will be a 3,000-year-old mirror that used the sun to start fires.

Unity College President Mitchell Thomashow said Thursday that Ming's visit was "the highest possible compliment."

The honor came on the heels of another significant achievement, Thomashow said. On Monday, The Princeton Review named Unity to its Green Rating Honor Roll -- a list of the 18 most environmentally-friendly higher-learning institutions, which also includes Harvard College, Yale University and College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor.

Mick Womersley, a professor and director of sustainability at the college, agreed it was significant to have someone of Ming's stature visit the school.

"It's a bit of recognition for the hard work we've done," he said.

Huang Ming, center, chairman of Himin Solar Energy Group of China, acknowledges applause after accepting a solar panel donated to his Solar Science and Technology Museum from Unity College during a presentation on Thursday in Unity. At left is Dana Connors, president of the Maine Chamber of Commerce, and Unity College President Mitchell Thomashow.

Huang Ming, chairman and founder of Himin Solar Energy Group, said in exchange for the panel he'd like to offer the White House a state-of-the-art solar water heating system made by his company.

The gift of the solar panel, Ming said, marked the beginning of a relationship between his company and the college -- and progressive cooperation between China and the U.S.

Flying into New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, he said he only spotted a couple of rooftops with solar heating systems. That's something he'd like to help change.

"Change is necessary. It's possible. It's easy," he said. "Change our behavior, change our activities, change our minds, and we will change the world."

Unity officially handed off the solar panel to Ming around noon Thursday in the college's Centre for Performing Arts. The event was the culmination of a months-long conversation among Unity officials, Ming and his friend Julian Chen, a physics professor at Columbia University.

Chen was researching solar energy online and learned that Unity College had acquired the solar panels that Carter had had installed on the White House in 1979. He knew that Ming would want one.

In fact, when Chen told Ming about the panels, Ming said he'd pay anything to get one for his museum. Much to the men's surprise, the college offered to give him one for free, Chen said.

After the solar panels were removed from the White House during the Reagan administration, Unity installed them in its cafeteria, where they heated water for 12 years. The college recently donated one of them to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

Last month, a documentary about the panels, called "A Road Not Taken," was screened at the Maine International Film Festival in Waterville.

At the event Thursday, Ming talked about his company's efforts to promote the use of solar energy.

Himin Solar, the world's largest manufacturer of solar water heaters, produces 3 million water heaters annually and was a driving force behind the creation of China's Solar Valley, a massive development in the city of Dezhou in Shandong Province that maximizes the use of solar energy.

Solar Valley is home to Himin's headquarters, called the Sun-Moon Mansion, as well as the Solar Science and Technology Museum.

Ming said the Carter solar panel, which he'll show with pictures displaying its historical significance, will be his second favorite artifact in the museum. His favorite still will be a 3,000-year-old mirror that used the sun to start fires.

Unity College President Mitchell Thomashow said Thursday that Ming's visit was "the highest possible compliment."

The honor came on the heels of another significant achievement, Thomashow said. On Monday, The Princeton Review named Unity to its Green Rating Honor Roll -- a list of the 18 most environmentally-friendly higher-learning institutions, which also includes Harvard College, Yale University and College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor.

Mick Womersley, a professor and director of sustainability at the college, agreed it was significant to have someone of Ming's stature visit the school.

"It's a bit of recognition for the hard work we've done," he said.