Saturday, September 25, 2010

US Navy Solar Parking Lot - EV Charging Station

As part of its $100 million worth of new solar projects, the US Navy’s Seal Beach facility has become home to a new solar installation. Making optimal use of the existing infrastructure, the Navy has set up a new $1.9 million solar parking lot that also double as electric vehicle charging stations. The shade provided from the panels will also help extend the vehicle lifespan apart from cutting down the air-conditioning needs.

The new solar facility together with the two already existing ones ups the total number of solar panels set up to 200 and will help save 6.5% of the power used at Seal Beach. The installation will help $30,000 in electricity bills annually while at the same time creating a large number of green construction jobs.


The Latest Technology - Solar Power Leaves

U.S. researchers say flexible, water-gel-based "solar leaves" could be less expensive and more environmentally friendly than silicon-based solar cells.

Researchers at North Carolina State University say the bendable devices are composed of water-based gel infused with light-sensitive molecules coupled with electrodes coated by carbon materials, a NCSU release reports.

The molecules get "excited" by the sun's rays to produce electricity, similar to the way plant molecules get excited to synthesize sugars in order to grow, Orlin Velev, a professor of chemical and bio-molecular engineering, says.

The team hopes to "learn how to mimic the materials by which nature harnesses solar energy," Velev says.

Now that they've proven the concept, the researchers will work to fine-tune the water-based photovoltaic devices, making them even more like real leaves.

"The next step is to mimic the self-regenerating mechanisms found in plants," Velev says.

"We do not want to over-promise at this stage, as the devices are still of relatively low efficiency and there is a long way to go before this can become a practical technology," he says.

"However, we believe that the concept of biologically inspired 'soft' devices for generating electricity may in the future provide an alternative for the present-day solid-state technologies," Velev says.


REC to Shut Swedish Solar Module Plant

Renewable Energy Corp. ASA, the Norwegian maker of solar energy components, will close its 150- megawatt module plant in Glava, Sweden, to reduce costs.

REC ScanModule AB will continue production at a “somewhat” reduced capacity until the end of the year, the Sandvika-based company said today in a statement. The plant, located in the western province of Vaermland, has 300 employees who will be helped to find new jobs, REC said.

“The financial performance of the plant has remained unsatisfactory, and despite the efforts of the Glava team the prospects for long-term competiveness of the plant are weak,” John Andersen, executive vice president and chief operating officer, said in the statement.

All product warranties provided will remain intact, REC said. The company expects to book a provision cost for restructuring of 104 million kronor ($15 million) in the third quarter, including termination of employment agreements and other contracts. The plant’s earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization are seen to be close to zero in the fourth quarter, REC said.

REC’s shares were little changed at 19.11 kroner as of 9:46 a.m. in Oslo. The stock has dropped 49 percent this year, adding to last year’s 20 percent decline.

Property, plant, and equipment of the Swedish unit were written down to zero in REC’s financial statement last year.


Friday, September 24, 2010

MIT Creates Self-Repairing Solar Cells

MIT rsearchers have created tiny solar cells
that can repair themselves after damage from the sunlight they're designed to process.

The team was inspired by the way plants constantly break down their light-capturing molecules and reassemble them from scratch, so that the basic structures that capture the sun's energy are regularly renewed.

In full summer sunlight, says Michael Strano of MIT's department of chemical engineering, "a leaf on a tree is recycling its proteins about every 45 minutes, even though you might think of it as a static photocell."

Inspired by this, Strano created a set of self-assembling molecules that can turn sunlight into electricity; the molecules can be repeatedly broken down and then reassembled quickly, just by adding or removing an additional solution.

Synthetic molecules called phospholipids form discs whichprovide structural support for other molecules that respond to light, in structures called reaction centers, releasing electrons when they're struck by photons.

The discs are held in a solution where they attach themselves spontaneously to carbon nanotubes. The nanotubes hold the phospholipid discs in a uniform alignment so that the reaction centers can all be exposed to sunlight at once, and they also act as wires to collect and channel the flow of electrons knocked loose by the reactive molecules.

The system is made up of seven different compounds, including the carbon nanotubes, the phospholipids, and the proteins that make up the reaction centers, which under the right conditions spontaneously assemble themselves into a light-harvesting structure that produces an electric current.

Strano says he believes this sets a record for the complexity of a self-assembling system.

When a surfactant is added to the mix, the seven components all come apart and form a soupy solution. Then, when the researchers remove the surfactant by pushing the solution through a membrane, the compounds spontaneously assemble once again into a perfectly formed, rejuvenated photocell.

The team came up with the system based on a theoretical analysis, but then decided to build a prototype cell to test it out. They ran the cell through repeated cycles of assembly and disassembly over a 14-hour period, with no loss of efficiency.

Strano says that with conventional silicon-based photovoltaic cells, there is little degradation - but that with many new systems being developed, the degradation can be very significant.

"Often people see, over 60 hours, the efficiency falling to 10 percent of what you initially saw," he says.

The individual reactions of these new molecular structures in converting sunlight are about 40 percent efficient, or about double the efficiency of today's best commercial solar cells. Theoretically, the efficiency of the structures could be close to 100 percent, he says.

But the concentration of the structures in the solution is currently low, reducing overall efficiency. The team is now working on increasing the concentration.


Home Appraisals and Solar Panels

This steamy summer's electric bills might well have steered some of your dinner-table conversations to ideas for making the sun work for you, rather than the reverse.

Yet solar panels remain expensive, and government-sponsored incentives for installing them seem to come and go. So launching the process may remain talk, nothing more.

Solar power also appears to be absent from home appraisers' radar screens at the moment, which is a problem for Isaac Lichtenfeld, who has a house in Sewell that produces 14 kilowatts annually.

Aside from saving about $280 in electric charges each month, the Lichtenfelds receive $9,100 a year from selling clean-energy certificates.

"As far as we are concerned, a total income of $12,460 a year," he said.

The system cost New Jersey, which encourages and supports alternative energy with credits and other incentives, and the Lichtenfelds - homeowners have to kick in their share - $86,000.

Now, the couple had been given to understand that solar panels, if done correctly, would add substantial value to a house. And, based on government and housing-industry documentation, I have written scores of articles over the years saying the very same thing.

But that fact hasn't been passed on to appraisers in the field. Isaac Lichtenfeld says he has been told that solar panels add no value because there are no comps - that is, comparisons of similar homes.

Lichtenfeld reports that state appraisal guidelines say the value of a property increases $20,000 for each $1,000 of annual electric savings, which in his case is about $67,000.

The Appraisal Institute, the national industry's standard-setting group, provides no such guidelines, however, even though a bumper crop of solar-related websites says it does.

That's because one site misreads something and other sites repeat the mistake. I contacted Ken Chichester of the Appraisal Institute in Chicago to determine the reality.

"One of the challenges that appraisers face in 'green' valuation is the lack of available data and standards," he said.

While the institute is an innovator on green valuation in many ways, "I'm unaware of any appraisal standards regarding valuation of solar electric systems," he said.

Although I can't defend appraisers in every situation, based on what Chichester said, when it comes to solar, they are without proper tools.

The absence of these standards, Lichtenfeld contends, is "constraining an industry."

He was looking to refinance, hoping to find a rate that was more in line with a mortgage for a house in an area where prices have declined since the boom ended.

When Bank of America offered him entry into the government-backed program that backs first mortgages up to 100 percent of appraised value, Lichtenfeld said, "With our 6.7 percent mortgage and advertised rates in the 4.5 percent range, it was music to my ear."

He was assured there would be no problem with the appraisal. Not so.

"The appraisal computed the first-floor square footage as 'invalid' (I am not kidding), and based the value of the house at the 2,479 square feet of the second floor of a 4,333-square-foot house."

The Lichtenfelds have $600,000 invested in the property, and he believes that, given six months, he could sell it for $500,000.

"We need the house to appraise at $375,000, and the appraiser claims it is worth $340,000," he said.

"The shame is that they decided not to charge my credit card for the appraisal, so I really did not have much to sue for other than pain and suffering," he said.

"It's been a couple of months now, so I am almost able to laugh at the absurdity.

"Not quite yet, though."


Utility Seeking Arizona Solar Installers for Small Projects

Arizona Public Service Co., the largest and oldest electric utility in the state, announced Thursday that it is seeking solar installers for five small Arizona solar installations that the utility wants to build on government and non-profit buildings.

The solicited proposals will determine the final number of sites which will get solar installations, APS said, although five sites have already been identified. The utility is accepting submissions until noon on September 27, 2010.

The utility is seeking individual proposals for each location, which will be fitted with solar photovoltaic systems generating between 10 and 30 kilowatts apiece.

Among the sites already selected are the City of Tempe Beach Park, the Arizona Science Center and the Surprise Library.

Most of the funding will come from Energy Office of the Arizona Department of Commerce's Distributed Energy Leadership, which in turn derives its cash from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, also known as the stimulus bill.

APS will also front some of the money on its own through the Renewable Energy Incentive Program.


France to Cut Solar Subsidies Further

France needs to revise targets for solar energy and further cut subsidies to curb costs to consumers that may balloon to 54 billion euros ($70 billion) by 2020, according to a government report.

New installations should be capped at 300 to 500 megawatts a year, wrote Jean-Michel Charpin in a report published on the finance ministry’s website Sept. 3. France is on track to surpass its 2020 target for installed solar capacity by 2013 as companies rush to profit from inflated tariffs, he said.

Before Charpin’s report was made public, the government said it would cut the so-called feed-in tariff Sept. 1 for a second time since January. The move is the first in a planned solar-policy overhaul in coming months, the government said at the time. Rapidly declining costs for making photovoltaic panels are forcing governments to reduce subsidies shouldered by consumers when they pay for electricity from renewable sources.

Applications to Electricite de France for connecting photovoltaic capacity to the grid rose more than four-fold to 80,000 in 2009 compared with the previous year, amounting to 4,670 megawatts, or 90 percent of the 2020 target, according to Charpin. About 80 percent of the applications were for large installations on industrial or farm buildings.

If the trend continues, installed capacity will reach 17,000 megawatts in 2020 and cost consumers more than 4.5 billion euros annually, according to the report. This could translate into a 200 euro annual surcharge per household heated by electricity.

Feed-in tariffs require utilities to buy electricity generated by renewable sources such as solar panels and pay more than the standard rate. EDF, France’s former power monopoly, pays more for solar power than for the nuclear power it produces at 58 reactors and what it can buy on European spot electricity markets. The added cost is passed onto consumers.

Companies rushed to install solar power as tariff increases became automatic under a 2006 law and as installation costs declined, according to Charpin. Returns were as high as 26 percent in the sunniest parts of France.

France will have 850 megawatts of installed photovoltaic capacity by the end of 2010 compared to 81 megawatts at the end of 2008, the government said last month. The drop in feed-in tariffs is a “first step” in plans that could include a growth target of 500 megawatts annually.

Spain also plans to cut solar prices while Germany reduced the price for sun-generated electricity from July.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

India to Build Worlds Largest Solar Telescope

India is to build the world's largest solar telescope in the India-controlled Kashmir's cold desert region of Ladakh at an estimated cost of 31 million U.S. dollars, the Indian Institute of Astrophysics said Thursday.

"The solar telescope will help study the microscopic structure of the sun and derive specific observations that are speculative in nature," IIA Director Siraj Hasan told the Indo-Asian News Service.

Apart from IIA, the National Large Solar Telescope project involves the state-run Indian Space Research Organization and Tata Institute of Fundamental Research.

"The pre-technical discussion meeting will be held in October," Hasan said.

The proposed telescope, which will be used to observe the sun during the day, will need a location with long hours of clear sunshine and clean visible conditions.

The 10-meter optical telescope at Mauna Kea in Hawaii is currently the largest solar telescope in the world.


California Wine Producer Installs Solar Arrays

Californian wine producer Constellation Wines US is installing three new solar power arrays, taking its generating capacity up to nearly 4 megawatts.

The company will install solar systems at its Clos du Bois winery in Geyserville, Ravenswood winery in Sonoma and Estancia winery in Monterey County.

The projects follow on from the facility set up at the Gonzales winery in Gonzales, California, in 2009.

When complete, the company will have about 17,000 solar panels installed, the most of any US wine producer.

The projects will provide 100% of the energy needs of the Estrancia and Ravenswood wineries, along with 75% of the Clos du Bois winery’s power demand and 60% of the Gonzales winery.

Greg Fowler, senior vice president of Operations, Constellation Wines US, said: “The four systems will have a combined solar power of 3.95 megawatt DC, which is equivalent to 4.5 million pounds of emitted carbon being removed from the atmosphere. This amount equates to 9 million miles not driven annually or 226 million miles not driven over the next 25 years, a sizeable reduction.”


Constellation has hired Genesis Renewable Energy to design, install, operate, monitor and maintain the three new installations.

Genesis will work with locally-based contractors to complete the project, further utilizing community resources and creating local jobs.

Part of the investment in the multi-million dollar initiative came in the form of incentives provided by the federal government and the California Solar Initiative.

The project is expected to save $1 million in energy costs each year.

The Clos du Bois Winery – the company’s home base – will have 4,164 modules on rooftops, panels and carports, totaling 1.1 megawatt DC output.

The Ravenswood Winery will receive 2,148 modules, generating 107 kilowatts DC in a ground mount system and 474 kilowatts in a rooftop system.

The Estancia Winery will have 4,164 modules generating 1.1MW of power (DC), while the Gonzales Winery will have a 1MW system.

Constellation’s brands include Robert Mondavi, Hardys, Clos du Bois, Blackstone, Arbor Mist, Estancia, Ravenswood, Jackson-Triggs, Kim Crawford, Corona Extra, Black Velvet Canadian Whisky and SVEDKA Vodka.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

NASA's Solar Power Rocket

With the shuttle fleet due to retire and the Constellation program — which was going to give NASA an option in deploying personnel to orbit and beyond — entirely scrapped, all eyes have been on what NASA will work on next. The agency has the answer.

The Next Big Thing for the space agency, at least in the works at the moment, is a prototype spacecraft that will be equipped with a solar array and an electric rocket for propulsion. It will be unmanned and won't have a test flight until 2014, but the solar-electric rocket will help NASA (and the private companies vying for a spot in space) determine the viability of alternative means of propulsion.

The Solar Electric Propulsion mission will see the craft test out an automated evasive maneuver system that will have take it to a dead satellite and — if all goes well — the craft won't just run right into it. After that, the solar-electric rocket will travel to a near Earth asteroid and use an array of scientific tools to study it.

NASA has three other missions planned in the near future. One is a satellite that will launch around 2015 full of cryogenic propellants and test out its ability to transfer that fuel from one craft to another, which could be a useful way to gas up spaceships in the future. Another is an inflatable habitat — much like the ones we've seen from Bigelow — that will be attached to the International Space Station in 2016. The last of the bunch sounds the most challenging: NASA wants to improve its ability to land "large loads" on Mars sometime in 2018, as right now the space agency wouldn't be able to safely deploy the kind of materials necessary for a human presence.


Denver Airport to Get Solar Array

Constellation Energy Group Inc. said Tuesday it will develop a new solar system at Denver International Airport this year.

The 4.4 megawatt installation is the third solar installation at the airport. Constellation will finance, own and operate the solar system, and the airport will buy the electricity over a 20-year period.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Construction is expected to begin in the fall and be completed by early 2011. Yingli Green Energy will supply the solar panels for the project. The system will supply about 7,000 megawatt-hours of electricity to the airport each year. Generating that much energy from traditional sources would release about 5,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.


New Jersey Can't Seem to Give Solar Rebates Away

New Jersey is trying to give nearly $7 million to homeowners for solar rebates and finding significantly fewer takers than three months ago.

The Office of Clean Energy began accepting applications for rebates on September 1st for the third time this year, according to a quarterly distribution cycle. One week later, it has received 599 applications requesting $3.25 million in rebates, almost half of the money available, the Board of Public Utilities said yesterday.

The last time rebate money was distributed, May 3, more than 1,000 people claimed $6 million in residential and $1.5 million in non-residential one-time payments as soon as the Office of Clean Energy opened its doors, including some contractors who camped out the night before.

Solar installers are relying less on solar rebates since the state announced a phase-out of the rebate program this spring; after using money from the Clean Energy Fund for the general budget, and passing a new law promoting the use of solar renewable energy credits took effect.

Since then solar renewable energy credits have traded at over $650 in the spot market. A homeowner with a five kilowatt solar system can generate approximately six credits a year.

Also, solar installers are selling more systems to homeowners using power purchase agreements, where the the homeowner buys the power, not the equipment, from the installer. In these cases the solar installer is able to take advantage of federal incentives and solar renewable energy credits and doesn't need the upfront rebates.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Spray Turns Windows into Solar Modules

New Energy Technologies, Inc. (OTCBB: NENE) is pleased to announce that researchers developing its proprietary SolarWindow™ technology have achieved major scientific and technical breakthroughs, allowing the Company to unveil a working prototype of the world’s first-ever glass window capable of generating electricity in the upcoming weeks.

Until now, solar panels have remained opaque, with the prospect of creating a see-thru glass window capable of generating electricity limited by the use of metals and various expensive processes which block visibility and prevent light from passing through glass surfaces.

New Energy’s ability to generate electricity on see-thru glass is made possible by making use of the world’s smallest working organic solar cells, developed by Dr. Xiaomei Jiang at the University of South Florida. Unlike conventional solar systems, New Energy’s solar cells generate electricity from both natural and artificial light sources, outperforming today’s commercial solar and thin-film technologies by as much as 10-fold.

New Energy’s SolarWindow™ technology is under development for potential application in the estimated 5 million commercial buildings in America (Energy Information Administration) and more than 80 million single detached homes.

“We’re always keen to see innovations in our laboratories turn into meaningful commercial products,” stated Valerie McDevitt, Assistant Vice President for Research, Division of Patents and Licensing, University of South Florida. “We very much look forward to the commercial development of New Energy’s SolarWindow™ technology, which, if successful, could literally transform the way in which we view the use of solar energy for our homes, offices, and commercial buildings.”

The University of South Florida Research Foundation has licensed Dr. Xiaomei Jiang’s groundbreaking discovery and important commercial processes and applications to New Energy Solar Corporation, a wholly-owned subsidiary of New Energy Technologies, Inc.

“It’s very exciting to see that our ongoing research has led to several significant breakthroughs with transparency and the production of electricity on see-thru glass,” explained Mr. Meetesh V. Patel, President and CEO of New Energy Technologies, Inc. “For the first time ever, these advances have allowed us to develop an early-scale working prototype of the technology, which I very much look forward to unveiling in the upcoming weeks.”

In recent months, numerous technical milestones have been surpassed by researchers developing New Energy’s see-thru SolarWindow™ coatings, including:

1. The use of the world’s smallest functional solar cells, measuring less than ¼ the size of a grain of rice, and shown to successfully produce electricity in a published peer-reviewed study in the Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy of the American Institute of Physics. Importantly, these cells generate electricity from both natural and artificial light sources, outperforming today’s commercial solar and thin-film technologies by as much as 10-fold;

2. Development of a novel, patent-pending process to spray SolarWindow™ coatings onto see-thru glass using commercially available technologies (presented in AZoNano’s Journal of Nanotechnology Online; Dec. 20, 2009, “Nanotechnology Thought Leaders” series); and

3. The ability to spray SolarWindow™ coatings onto glass at room temperature, eliminating expensive high-temperature or high-vacuum production methods commonly used by current solar manufacturers.


Hawaii Increases Solar Power in Oahu

Keahole Solar Power will be leasing land from the Department of Hawaiian Homelands to install a utility scale 5-megawatt solar power system in Kalaeloa in leeward Oahu.

That site will host the largest solar power system in the state when the project is complete a year from now. The power will be sold to Hawaiian Electric Co.

The solar power system will mark the first renewable energy project for the Department of Hawaiian Homelands. Funds generated will go toward an educational renewable energy program for Native Hawaiians.

Last year, Honolulu-based Keahole Solar Power completed the first solar power system on the Big Island, which now produces 2 megawatts of energy. The company hopes to bring 30 megawatts of solar power to the state by 2015. Keahole Solar Power has three subsidiaries: KSP Development, KSP Generation and KSP Innovation.


World's Largest Solar Thermal Plant will be in California

California regulators have licensed what is for the moment the world’s largest solar thermal power plant, a 1,000-megawatt complex called the Blythe Solar Power Project to be built in the Mojave Desert.

By contrast, a total of 481 megawatts of new solar capacity was installed in the United States last year, mostly from thousands of rooftop solar arrays, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group.

“Given the challenge of climate change at this time, it is very important to reduce fossil fuel use by moving forward with the largest solar project in California,” Robert Weisenmiller, a member of the California Energy Commission, said at a hearing Wednesday in Sacramento after a unanimous vote to approve the Blythe project.

“We’re taking a major step toward reducing the threat of future climate change impacts on the state, and at the same time the other real challenge for the state is the economy,” he added, referring to 604 construction jobs and 221 permanent jobs that the Blythe project would create in an area of California where the unemployment rate was 15 percent this summer.

After years of environmental reviews, the California Energy Commission has in the past three weeks licensed solar thermal farms that would generate 1,500 megawatts of electricity when completed.

A commission spokeswoman said the commissioners anticipated making licensing decisions by the end of 2010 on additional solar projects that would produce another 2,829 megawatts. At peak output, those solar farms would generate the equivalent electricity produced by several large nuclear power plants.

Developers are racing to start construction before federal tax incentives for big renewable energy projects expire at year’s end.

If all the projects are built, they would create 8,000 construction jobs and 1,000 permanent jobs, according to the energy commission.

At peak operation, the Blythe solar complex would supply enough electricity for 800,000 homes, said Karen Douglas, the energy commission’s chairman. The multibillion-dollar project will be built in four 250-megawatt phases.

It is notable for being the first big solar project to be licensed that would be built on federal land. The United States Bureau of Land Management is expected to decide by the end of October whether to approve the Blythe complex.

The project will be constructed by Solar Millennium, a German developer, and will cover 9.3 square miles in Riverside County in Southern California with long rows of parabolic troughs. The solar reflectors focus the sun on liquid-filled tubes suspended over the mirrors to create steam that drives an electricity-generating turbine housed in a central power block.

Many proposed solar power plants are planned for federal land, and the need to undergo federal environmental review has complicated the licensing process as disputes have arisen over the industrial projects’ impact on endangered wildlife like the desert tortoise and on scarce water supplies.

On Wednesday, Karen Douglas, chairman of the California Energy Commission, praised the Blythe developers for selecting a site with less intractable wildlife issues and for agreeing to use a cooling technology that sharply reduces the amount of water consumed by the power plant.

“Of course, it’s impossible to build a project of this magnitude without causing any environmental impacts,” Ms. Douglas said. “But I’m convinced the substantial benefits of this project definitely outweigh those impacts that can’t be mitigated.”

The developer’s next major hurdle will be to secure a federal Energy Department loan guarantee to allow it to obtain financing to build the power plant.

Solar Millennium, whose United States operations are based in Oakland, Calif., has two other solar power plants that would generate a total of 734 megawatts undergoing licensing in California, as well as projects in Nevada.

“The Blythe Solar Power Project will help build the bridge for renewable energy here in California,” Alice Herron, a senior director at Solar Millennium, said at Wednesday’s meeting. “It will take renewable energy from a small portion of our energy base to becoming the backbone of the state’s power base.”


100 Kohl's Department Stores Have Solar Panels

Kohl's Department Stores says 100 of their locations across the country now have solar panels.

The panels at their 100th location were activated earlier this month at its Mays Landing, N.J. location.

The Menomonee Falls-based company started installing the panels in 2007 and currently has them at some stores and distribution centers in Wisconsin, California, Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland, Oregon and Colorado.

In a news release, the company estimates their energy management programs have helped prevent nearly $50 million in electricity costs.

The company says it is also expanding its solar program into Pennsylvania.


Homeowners Can Now Lease Solar Panels

More home builders are putting solar panels on new homes and have come up with a novel way of making solar more affordable for buyers.

Builders Lennar and Toll Bros. recently opened new home developments in California in which solar panels are included at no upfront cost to buyers. Solar companies own the systems, and the new homeowners lease them from the company.

Solar companies have offered solar lease programs for owners of existing homes for several years. Now, the option is spreading to new homes.

It makes the most sense for new home buyers who are unable to wrap the solar system cost — often $10,000 to $20,000 — into their mortgages.

Builders are considering the lease arrangements as a way to make solar affordable and distinguish their new homes in a tough economy.

"Most of the major builders have nosed around it," says Robert Hammon of energy consulting firm ConSol. He expects new home solar — and the lease option — to spread slowly in the next year.

Most of the solar-system-buying action has been in California, where state incentives and a 30% federal tax credit can halve the cost, says Lynn Jurich, president of solar company SunRun.

And now California also is the center of the budding solar home-lease business for:

Toll Bros. Eighteen of 20 home buyers recently chose the solar-service option at Toll's development in Yorba Linda, Calif., says Jim Boyd, regional president of Toll, which expects to expand the program to three other California developments. "It's another feature of a new home that will help us sell."

Toll has partnered with SunRun to offer 20-year leases. For a home that would have a $150 electric bill, the solar program would save about $50 a month, Jurich says.

When the lease expires, homeowners can renew, buy the panels or remove them. Leases can transfer with home sales.

Lennar. In June, Lennar rolled out solar lease options for several developments in Fresno and Southern California, after testing the concept last year in Sacramento. Lennar partnered with solar company SunPower. Of the 260 solar homes sold, half were with leased solar, says Matt Brost, general manager of SunPower's new home division.

SunPower has put solar on 4,500 new homes since 2006, largely in California but also Nevada, Arizona, Colorado and New Jersey. Brost says 5% to 7% of new homes in California now have solar.


Walmarts Greener Plan

PALMDALE, Calif. — The parking lot at the Sam's Club here looks like others in Wal-Mart Stores' empire, except for one thing. Seventeen wind turbines spin atop the parking lot lights, producing up to 5% of the store's energy.

The turbines, installed in March, represent the largest retail installation of its type in the U.S. and a major test of the technology, Wal-Mart (WMT) says.

In a nearby city, Lancaster, a Walmart gets 50% of its energy from a potentially revolutionary fuel-cell technology.

And Monday, Wal-Mart is expected to announce plans to almost double the number of locations to have solar, with a next-generation solar technology planned for many of them.

In 2005, Wal-Mart set the goal of being 100% reliant on renewable energy. It didn't give a time frame and hasn't said how far it's come. But given Wal-Mart's 8,400 locations worldwide, it's barely made a dent in the goal. Nonetheless, the world's biggest retailer is running real-world tests on green-energy technologies. Because of its heft, it could quickly deploy winning technologies and propel them into the mass market while proving to other companies that the economics work, renewable-energy experts say.

"If these technologies can pass the Wal-Mart hurdle, other people will say, 'We ought to look into it. It's not just a novelty,' " says Gwen Ruta, vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund.

Wal-Mart — one of the USA's largest private users of electricity — isn't pursuing renewables just for good PR. It'll turn to green energy, but only if it costs the same as or less than traditional power. So far, more than 90% of Wal-Mart's renewable projects have met that bar, says David Ozment, Wal-Mart's director of energy.

Since 2008, Wal-Mart's solar facilities, now numbering 31 in California and Hawaii, have even cut the retailer's energy costs by $1 million, Ozment says. That's small change for a company with annual revenue of $405 billion. But it's noteworthy because solar is still, on a national basis, more expensive than traditional energy, such as coal.

Some environmental groups have criticized Wal-Mart for not being more green. Advocacy group Wal-Mart Watch also says that Wal-Mart's green efforts divert attention away from the pollution created by the distance that many shoppers drive to get to its stores, which are often on the edges of cities. But other retail and green analysts say Wal-Mart is pursuing renewables with as much pace as possible, given the economics.

"They're trying to figure out how to apply their low-price model to solar, which isn't low-price," says Joel Makower, executive editor of "This is hard stuff."

A big push to go green

Wal-Mart's work on renewables has happened in conjunction with its other major steps to go green. Five years ago, Wal-Mart pledged to eventually send no waste to landfills because everything is re-used, and to sell only products that sustain people and the environment. The company has since opened prototype stores that are 25% more energy-efficient, thanks to such steps as using more skylights and lights that automatically dim. Its U.S. truck fleet has become 60% more efficient, in part because of better route planning. By 2013, Wal-Mart wants its 100,000 suppliers to reduce packaging by 5%.

Creating green energy is a longer-term challenge. Last year, 10% of the USA's electricity was generated by renewables, led by hydropower and biofuels, the Department of Energy says. That's expected to go to 17% by 2035, the department says.

Wal-Mart says that's a realistic goal, but it hopes to move the needle more. This year, it'll expand use of:

•Solar. Wal-Mart first put solar on 20 U.S. sites starting in 2007 and added 11 more the past 18 months. In the next year, it'll put solar on another 20 to 30 facilities in California and Arizona, it'll announce today. The solar installations produce up to 30% of the facilities' energy.

More than half of the new solar stores will get non-traditional solar panels, dubbed thin film. Wal-Mart's use of thin film on rooftops is expected to be one of the largest commercial installations of the technology in the U.S., says Jonathan Bass, spokesman of SolarCity, which is installing the solar at the stores.

Thin-film solar panels usually cost less than traditional solar panels and require less raw material, making them more environmentally friendly, Wal-Mart says. The technology, around for decades, is less efficient than traditional solar. That has limited its deployment.

But the thin film's lower cost and recent advances in efficiency have made the panels more suitable for large rooftops.

"We're trying to pull thin film from the drawing board to the mainstream, and a company like Wal-Mart has more ability than anyone else to do that," Ruta says. The Environmental Defense Fund worked with Wal-Mart to develop its thin-film plans.

•Fuel cells. Late last year, Wal-Mart installed Bloom Energy fuel cells — rectangular boxes each about the size of a parking space — at two stores in Lancaster and Hemet, Calif.

At the Lancaster store, four of them hum like smooth-running air conditioners. They produce energy around the clock. Customers are unaware of them, tucked behind the store where trucks bring in goods.

"Never noticed them," Dannette Griggs, 49, a substitute teacher who lives in Lancaster, says as she shopped the store.

Bloom Energy, a 9-year-old company, unveiled the technology in February and says it could eventually power homes, apartment complexes, cities and even slices of countries that lack modern electrical grids. Bloom's unveiling won global attention, including a segment on CBS' 60 Minutes. With Bloom's fuel cell, air and fuel — such as natural gas, ethanol or biogas — are fed into the cell. The oxygen ions react with the fuel to produce electricity. There's no burning, so the fuel cell is two-thirds cleaner than coal-fired plants, Bloom says.

Wal-Mart has found the fuel cells work so well that it'll add the boxes, which Bloom says cost at least $700,000 each, to eight to 10 more California facilities within a year, it says. Operational issues have been nil, Wal-Mart adds.

Wal-Mart was one of 20 companies to roll out the technology with Bloom. Others included Google, eBay and Coca-Cola. Bloom expects to have about 100 Bloom boxes deployed in California by the end of the year, and one in Tennessee. In February, it had about 20, says Stu Aaron, Bloom vice president of marketing and product management.

Bloom sought out Wal-Mart, in part, because of its "frugal nature," Aaron says.

Wal-Mart is testing renewable energy at other sites, too.

Twelve mini wind turbines help power a Walmart in Worcester, Mass., and at facilities in China and Japan.

In Canada, a Walmart in Burlington, Ontario, is testing a geothermal installation that includes 9 miles of piping 7 to 9 feet deep under the parking lot. In the winter, the relative warmth of the ground heats a liquid. That's piped into the store to produce heat. In the summer, the earth cools the liquid, providing the opposite effect. Wal-Mart has no plans to expand the concept — yet.

"It's still a living laboratory for us," says Andrew Pelletier, vice president of sustainability for Walmart Canada.


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Flexible Stick-On Solar Panels

Global Solar has just introduced a line of flexible solar modules that have been designed for flat commercial rooftop buildings.

Rather than install racking systems to hold heavy glass-covered solar panels, the company's PowerFlex BIPV modules can be adhered onto a roof or built right into roofing materials. According to the company, the modules are quicker to installer, lighter, and don't require any penetrations into the roof.

The installed cost of Global Solar modules is about the same as traditional polycrystalline silicon panels with racks, but because there is no need for spacing between racks, the flexible thin-film modules can cover more roof space and generate more power.

The company plans to sell its solar modules--long strips of solar panels almost 19 feet long and 1.5 feet wide--through roof membrane manufacturers. The solar cells are made from a combination of copper, indium, selenium, and gallium (CIGS) and perform comparatively well in areas that don't have direct sun, Poirier said.

Global Solar’s high-quality solar technology is incorporated into a range of products from its foldable Flex Portable Solar Chargers, offering everyone from outdoors enthusiasts to commuters to military applications a solution to charge their tools, to solar panels in traditional arrays around the globe, to the burgeoning technologies surrounding building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) and the infinite array of possibilities therein.

State-of-the-art facilities producing 75 megawatts of power are located in Tucson, Arizona USA as well as in Berlin, Germany manufacture Global Solar’s solar products, they are then distributed worldwide to serve customers on each continent.

The company plans to get certification for the modules, which are being evaluated by roofing membrane companies now, by the end of the year and hopes to start production early next year.

Four Solar Power Rebates

For consumers, solar is starting to look pretty enticing thanks to government incentives. Find out what you can get for choosing to solar to power your home.

Why Solar?
Solar power is theoretically limitless, clean and costs nothing to produce. The cost resides in collecting, storing and transmitting the sun's energy. To offset the cost to consumers, the federal government, and many state governments as well, have instituted programs to incentivize the purchase of various solar power systems.

The best part about it is that if you do choose to use solar power, it's not an all-or-nothing choice. Solar can be adapted for specific needs, rather than providing all the power for a home. For example, you can install a system to provide only hot water or heat a swimming pool, while continuing to power the remainder of your home with more conventional energy sources.

Passive solar heating is very effective in areas with lots of sunshine since storage is not an issue. Passive systems use the floors, walls, windows and custom landscaping to absorb and distribute solar energy without the use of any mechanical equipment or devices.

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009
Commonly known as the "stimulus bill", this act extended energy-related tax benefits that were originally included and amended in two prior acts: the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008.

The advantage of tax credits in this act over tax deductions is that every dollar spent is subtracted directly from the amount of tax owed, dollar for dollar. Itemized deductions allow you to recover only a fraction of what you spend depending on your income tax bracket.

Beyond the tax credits, rebates are available for specific energy-efficient appliances, automobiles and home improvements. Some of the current programs that apply to solar power are summarized below.

1. Residential Renewable Energy

A 30% tax credit is available for solar systems that are installed and operating by the end of 2016. There is no longer a limit on the amount of the credit, and it applies to energy systems for both existing and new homes. These credits are available for both a principal and second residence, but not for rentals. The credit applies to solar electric systems and solar water heating.

2. Home Improvements
A 30% tax credit is available for the purchase and installation of certain products that make homes more energy efficient. The limit is $1,500 per home and is effective through the end of 2010 for an existing principal residence. (For more on saving energy, see Home Energy Savings Add Up.)

While these improvements are not directly tied to solar power, they do increase the ability of the home to retain the heat and cooling generated by solar systems. The following items are eligible for this credit:

* Metal and asphalt roofs
* Insulation
* Windows and doors
* Ventilation systems

3. Solar and Wind
Going strictly solar for many people is currently an expensive option, making solar a long-term investment. According to, it's estimated that the average home solar system can be installed for about half the retail cost after accounting for tax credits and rebates. For a 2,000 square foot house, a system with an expected lifespan of 20 years would cost about $30,000.

Sunshine is a scarce commodity in many areas during certain times of the year, not to mention its lack of availability at night. In addition, battery technology has not yet reached the point where solar power can be cheaply and efficiently stored in great quantity.

The near-term answer may be a combination of solar and wind power, both of which are eligible for various tax credits and rebates. The rebate payments are in addition to the tax credits and vary by state. Massachusetts, Minnesota, Wyoming, Arkansas, Utah and Vermont are among the states offering sizable rebates for solar thermal, solar photovoltaic and wind energy systems.

In Massachusetts, for example, residents receive $1 per watt of generated energy and an additional $1 if they meet certain income requirements. A 10-cent per watt bonus is paid if the system is made in the state. A one-kilowatt solar system in Utah qualifies you for a rebate of about $2,000.

4. Connecting to the Grid
One advantage of producing your own power is that you may have the opportunity to sell the excess power that you don't need. A net-metering agreement between you and your utility company provides the option for the excess to be purchased by the utility at full retail price.

This power swap is accomplished as the electric meter spins backward when your power is fed into the grid. No additional metering is required as your existing meter can measure electricity flow in both directions.

The Bottom Line

Widespread implementation of solar power depends on reducing the upfront cost and dramatically improving battery technology. When deciding to purchase a solar system, do a thorough analysis of the cost and benefits. You may find that the credits and rebates make such a system a practical investment if you plan to remain in your home for many years.