Friday, October 29, 2010

i-Cool Solar Air Conditioning for Trucks

A solar-powered air conditioning system has been developed for use in trucks, and should be available commercially by early 2012. The "i-Cool Solar" system was the brainchild of companies Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation, ICL Co. Ltd, and Nippon Fruehauf Co. Ltd, who together developed the system, which uses a series of Mitsubishi Chemical photovoltaic (PV) cells on a Nippon Fruehauf mount fixed to the container of the truck to power the air conditioner in the cabin while the truck is stationary.

The new system adds photovoltaic cells to ICL’s “i-Cool,” which was released in May this year. The i-Cool air conditioner stores electricity in the storage battery while the truck is moving and uses it when the truck’s engine is turned off. The addition of solar cells ensures the storage battery is kept fully charged.

When the truck is stationary, the i-Cool Solar system can save around 1.8 liters of light oil per hour, and when moving can save an average of about 1% of fuel per year, depending on weather and driving conditions. For a 10 ton truck this equates to approximately 1,500 liters of light oil saved each year.

The i-Cool Solar system PV cells are thin-film cells mounted on the tops of the wings that are lowered onto the container, an area that provides a relatively large solar collection area. The maximum output of the cells is 900 W and excess power is stored in the battery for use on overcast days.

Mitsubishi Chemical is the largest chemical manufacturing company in Japan, and their calculations estimate that if all the trucks in Japan (around 1.4 million) used the i-Cool Solar system the country’s carbon emissions would be reduced by 1.65 million tons.

The companies plan to run trials of the truck system to enable it to be marketed in 2012. They are also planning a smaller version for use in cars. Japanese company Kyocera is also producing thin-film solar panels for roof-mounting on the next version of the Toyota Prius hybrid car.


Spain Gets 907 Solar Parks to Accept Lower Price

Spain, seeking to hold down electricity prices, convinced 907 solar-power installations to receive lower subsidized rates in return for avoiding investigations over permit violations.

The solar parks, with a combined 64.6 megawatts in capacity, will avoid investigation of whether they illegally earned the highest subsidized rates, or feed-in tariffs, the Industry Ministry said today in a statement.

Savings to consumers, who pay the subsidies in their power bills, will total 430 million euros ($595 million) over 25 years, the government estimated. The amnesty group represents about 10 percent of the more than 9,000 installations the energy regulator is probing on suspicion of falsely claiming eligibility for the top rate.

“The 64.6 megawatts that signed up for the amnesty prove that there was a significant level of fraud,” Tomas Diaz, spokesman for the trade group ASIF said by e-mail. “They represent about 10 percent of the 600 to 800 megawatts in suspicious capacity, according to our calculations.”

Projects with 955 megawatts in capacity were sent letters in late September requesting all relevant paperwork be sent within two months, so more information on fraud levels and any related savings will be known in late November or early December, according to the trade group spokesman.

Spain is seeking to reduce the impact of solar energy on electricity bills as solar plants claimed more than half the 5 billion euros in renewable-power subsidies paid in 2009 while providing only about 11 percent of zero-emission power consumed.

The 907 generators will earn 32 euro cents a kilowatt-hour under the 2008 rule, instead of 46 cents under the 2007 law.

The government gave a two-month amnesty period on Aug. 6 to plants it suspected may have falsely claimed they met all of the criteria to earn the highest subsidized price available before it was reduced after September 2008.

Those found guilty in further investigations will lose all subsidies and could face legal actions, providing further savings to consumers, the ministry said.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Technique Promises Indefinitely Storable Solar Energy

MIT scientists are developing an alternative to photovoltaic and solar-thermal systems for capturing the sun's energy.

Discovered decades ago, but largely undeveloped, the thermo-chemical approach captures solar energy in the configuration of certain molecules which can then release it on demand to produce usable heat.

fulvalene diruthenium
Unlike conventional solar-thermal systems, which even with effective insulation let the heat gradually leak away, the heat-storing chemicals can remain stable for years.

But researchers couldn't could find a chemical that could reliably and reversibly switch between two states, absorbing sunlight to go into one state and then releasing heat when it reverted to the first state.

One such compound was discovered in 1996, but it included ruthenium, a rare and expensive element - and nobody understood how it worked, making it harder to find a cheaper variant.

Now, researchers at MIT have worked out exactly how the molecule, called fulvalene diruthenium, accomplishes its energy storage and release. This, they say, should make it possible to find similar chemicals based on more abundant, less expensive material.

Essentially, the molecule undergoes a structural transformation when it absorbs sunlight, putting it into a higher-energy state where it can remain stable indefinitely. Then, triggered by the addition of heat or a catalyst, it snaps back to its original shape, releasing heat in the process.

However, it turns out there’s an intermediate step that plays a major role, says Jeffrey Grossman. In this step, the molecule forms a semi-stable configuration partway between the two previously known states.

"That was unexpected," he says. "The two-step process helps explain why the molecule is so stable, why the process is easily reversible and also why substituting other elements for ruthenium has not worked so far."

The discovery makes it possible to produce a rechargeable heat battery that can repeatedly store and release heat gathered from sunlight or other sources. In principle, Grossman said, a fuel made from fulvalene diruthenium, "can get as hot as 200 degrees C, plenty hot enough to heat your home, or even to run an engine to produce electricity."

The system, he says, has many of the advantages of solar-thermal energy, but stores the heat in the form of a fuel.

"It’s reversible, and it’s stable over a long term," he says. "You can use it where you want, on demand. You could put the fuel in the sun, charge it up, then use the heat, and place the same fuel back in the sun to recharge.”

The only problem now is to find a cheaper material that works in the same way.


U.S. Solar Requires Policy and Money - Not Sunshine

The United States is on the verge of a solar boom that could provide 4.3 percent of the nation's electricity by 2020, according to a new report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

There's just a 12-figure catch: Investors need to put $100 billion into the solar industry to keep the generation of solar electricity growing by 42 percent a year for the next decade to expand capacity from the current 1.4 gigawatts to 44 gigawatts.

"Policy measures such as tax credits, capital expenditure grants, generation incentives and renewable electricity credits will remain a key driver of solar uptake in the U.S. for at least the next three years," according to the report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a research and consulting firm. "The current drop in solar costs is taking place just as such policies are being implemented by the federal and various state governments, which is expected to lead to rapid growth in commercial, utility and residential solar power."

Over the past two years, solar module prices have plunged by 50 percent as low-cost Chinese manufacturers expanded production and entered the U.S. market.

"Policy, rather than sunshine, will remain the U.S.'s greatest solar resource for the next few years," Milo Sjardin, Bloomberg New Energy Finance's head of U.S. research, said in a statement. "By the middle of this decade, however, the U.S. retail solar market will be driven by fundamental, unsubsidized competition, which should transform the U.S. into one of the world's most dynamic solar markets."

Exhibit A for such a phenomenon is Germany. With about as much sunshine as Maine, the European nation became the world's solar stronghold through policies that rewarded homeowners, businesses, and farmers for generating their own electricity.

Such policies are needed in the U.S., according to the report, given that solar electricity remains four times as expensive to generate than coal-fired power.

Of course, the failure of Congress to pass national climate change legislation and the current attempt to kill California's global warming law shows that progress on green energy issues is not guaranteed in the U.S. And Congress' habit of offering short-lived tax incentives for renewable energy and then dithering about extending them when they expire has played havoc with the industry and investors.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts photovoltaic panels will account for 30 gigawatts of the 44 gigawatts of solar electricity generation by 2020, with 14 gigawatts coming from solar thermal power plants. Solar thermal farms deploy huge arrays of mirrors to heat liquids to create steam that drives electricity-generating turbines.

That might be a conservative estimate, if the California and federal officials' rush to green light big solar projects in recent weeks is any indication. On Monday, for instance, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar approved a 1,000-megawatt solar thermal power plant to be built in the Southern California desert.

By year's end, nearly four gigawatts of solar thermal projects are expected to be licensed. Just 10 gigawatts to go until 2020.


Spain May Limit Solar Subsidies

Spain may limit the hours during which photovoltaic-power plants may earn subsidies as part of a plan to rein in electricity costs for consumers, according to a government official involved in talks with the owners.

It’s too early to say how much the cut might cost companies that generate the solar power using photovoltaic panels, said Antonio Hernandez, general director of energy policy at the Madrid-based Industry Ministry. He said the ministry aims to reach an agreement during the next few weeks of negotiations.

“We want to prevent electricity becoming more expensive as the sun shines more,” Hernandez said in a telephone interview this week. “One of the possibilities is that the number of hours that subsidies can be earned would have limits.”

Plant operators and trade groups have held talks with ministry officials for months and threatened to sue the government for as much as 1 billion euros ($1.4 billion) should it cut the subsidies. The aid, which is added to consumer bills, is guaranteed for 25 years under a 2007 law, plant operator T- Solar Global SA Chief Executive Officer Juan Laso has said.

Hernandez is searching for a formula to hold down power prices for industry and households as the government tries to revive an economy emerging from its worst recession in 60 years.

The revenue from consumers’ electricity bills doesn’t fully cover the cost of delivering power under the current system, leaving utilities to finance a so-called tariff deficit that’s forecast to total about 3 billion euros just for 2010.

Renewable energy has become the focus of power-rate negotiations as Hernandez tries to meet a legal obligation to eliminate the tariff deficit by 2013.

Spain’s power regulator forecasts that the subsidies to renewable energy-producers plus those to co-generation, which includes more energy-efficient uses of fossil fuels, will reach 6.8 billion euros this year, 15 percent more than forecast, Europa Press reported Oct. 19.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Electric Bike Solar Charger

Bosch makes thin-film solar modules. They also make e-bikes. At Los Angeles’ Solar Power Expo at the end of this month, they’ll present a concept we hope will not remain a concept long: an integrated solar bike shelter designed to provide power to an e-bike equipped with a new type of drive system, designed to run on power from the sun.

These e-bikes help to iron out the hills on your commute, courtesy of electric assist. The company sees a future where that helpful electric kick comes via their UL 1703-certified, thin-film Bosch Solar Module µm-Si plus NA1110 modules–apparently mounted to a combo home bike shelter/charging station, as pictured–which can fully charge the bike’s eight ampere-hour lithium-ion battery in two and a half hours.

Bosch goes on to note that their thin-film modules don’t just work in southern California, either. These modules offer “impressively high yields even at sub-optimal levels of sunlight” making them ideal for “the less sun-kissed regions of the world.”


Monday, October 25, 2010

N.J. Manufacturer to Build 21-Acre Solar Farm

A South Jersey manufacturer is converting a 21-acre brownfield into a 5-megawatt solar farm - and it's not spending a dime up front.

Johnson Matthey Inc., a British manufacturer of specialty chemicals that operates a plant in West Deptford, Gloucester County, has signed an agreement with a subsidiary of Constellation Energy Group Inc. to develop the project.

Constellation Energy will finance, own, operate, and maintain the photovoltaic system, and Johnson Matthey will purchase the power under a 20-year agreement, said Michael Smith, Constellation's senior vice president of green initiatives.

Constellation did not disclose the project's cost or the terms of its agreement with Johnson Matthey.

A 5-megawatt solar system would typically cost at least $25 million. A megawatt is one million watts.

The project will use solar panels from SunPower Corp. that rotate to follow the sun's movement during the day, increasing sunlight capture as much as 25 percent over conventional fixed systems.

It is expected to generate about 20 percent of Johnson Matthey's electricity needs.

Smith said the project differs from utility-scale systems, such as the 20-megawatt solar farm in Salem County where ground was broken Wednesday, because it will directly supply a user rather than the regional power grid.

The solar project is the latest for New Jersey, which has enacted strong incentives to attract renewable-power generators. Constellation, the parent company of Baltimore Gas & Electric Co., will collect the tax credits and market incentives as owner of the system.

Smith said the project provides a long-term hedge and stable energy prices for Johnson Matthey.

Constellation is leasing the site for the solar project from Preferred Unlimited Inc., a Conshohocken investment firm that owns the West Deptford property.

Construction is scheduled to be completed in the first three months of 2011.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Desert Tortoises Moved for Solar Thermal Plant

Desert tortoises in a stretch of the Mojave Desert in Southern California are being moved to make way for a solar thermal power plant.

Desert tortoises (Gopherus agassizii) in Ivanpah Valley in the Mojave Desert are being relocated to make way for a solar thermal power plant in Southern California. Dozens of biologists and contract workers participated in a search for the desert tortoises, which will be kept in quarantine pens with artifical burrows, possibly for several months, until they are released elsewhere in the region in an area that is deemed disease- and predator-free, according to news sources.

In September, the California Energy Commission approved BrightSource Energy's plan to build the 370-megawatt facility on public land. According to news sources, environmental groups are opposed to the construction, citing the negative impact it could have on native plants and the desert tortoise, which is protected under the Endangered Species Act.

There is no way to tell whether some of the desert tortoises, which spend much of their time in burrows, have been left behind at the Ivanpah Valley solar thermal power plant construction site. According to news sources, there is concern that the desert tortoises that are relocated may have difficulty adjusting to an unfamiliar landscape and could be more vulnerable to predators, disease, dehydration and even passing vehicles.

Supporters of BrightSource's project, the Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System, say the benefits of the project outweigh the potential negative environmental impact. According to BrightSource's website, the solar thermal power plant will generate 1,000 jobs at the peak of construction and prevent 450,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year.


CT Has $3M for Solar-Power Projects

Connecticut's renewable-energy promotions arm says it has $3 million in federal money to invest in photovoltaic installations at commercial, industrial and institutional facilities.

The Connecticut Clean Energy Fund said grants of up to $1 million apiece are available for solar-power installations generating no more than 200 kilowatts of electricity.

The grants, officials say, are meant to enable owners of solar systems to "break even," counting the cost to purchase and install hardware and savings from the avoided cost of comparable power from an electric utility.

Eligibility is limited to real estate developers and landlords of commercial, industrial and institutional sites. Solar projects currently under construction are not eligible, the Clean Energy Fund says.

Equipment must be installed and working by April 30, 2012.


Saturday, October 23, 2010

Paper-Thin Solar Cells Show Promising Early Results

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology do, and early results indicate you may soon start seeing these paper thin solar cells on everything from window blinds to your laptop.

This development is the latest in a spate of good news about solar power, a type of renewable energy. Just last week, the White House announced plans to install solar panels on the roof of the building. And while wind power has become more popular than solar power in the United States, researchers at Washington State University have just decided to combine them.

At a news conference this week, MIT researchers showed off the prototypes of their paper thin solar cells by using them to power a small LED display.

Karen Gleason is the MIT chemical engineering professor whose lab has spearheaded the work. Members of her team developed a layer-by-layer manufacturing process to create the paper-thin solar cells.

Each cell has five layers of solid material that has been deposited onto a paper substrate. Each of those five layers serves a different action. For example, one layer contains the active material that releases an electron when it's struck by light and another layer contains the circuit that carries the current.

As you can imagine, this technology still has some wrinkles to work out before it's ready for the public. But Gleason told CNET News the technology could be made commercially viable soon.

"It'd be a matter of economics and investment on the time frame for large-scale commercialization," she says. "If everything went great, I think five years is not unreasonable."

But there's a lot of work left for the researchers. The problem with these early prototypes is they have a very low light-to-electricity conversion rate. Commercial solar panels with silicon solar cells have an efficiency greater than 15 percent, while these early paper-thin solar cells only achieved a one percent conversion rate. Researchers hope to bump that up to four percent on paper, or even higher on other materials.


Friday, October 22, 2010

Sports Stadiums Warming to Solar Power

Professional-sports teams and stadium owners are showing interest in a new informational guide for installing solar panels, with environmentalists and others pushing to remake arenas into exemplars of green-energy adoption.

Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said a solar-development guide he wrote with members of the Bonneville Environmental Foundation appears to be gaining traction.

“There are technological and financial barriers to solar, but more potent is a cultural barrier,” Hershkowitz commented. “Less than 20% of Americans follow science, but more than half follow sports.”

A new solar-development guide for sports arenas appears to be catching on with U.S. professional-sports leagues; L.A.'s Staples Center is called out as an example.

The National Football League, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League wrote letters to their respective teams last month to recommend the solar-development guide and endorse wider use of solar power.

The NRDC guide reviews the advantages and challenges of solar panels and the process for launching a project, along with cost estimates and financial incentives.

“We know you’ve heard solar is expensive, but there are many ways to lower initial capital cost,” according to the guide, which lists an energy audit as the first step. Read the NRDC’s guide, “Solar Electric Energy for Your Stadium or Arena.”

The cost averages about $7.50 per installed photovoltaic watt, or $3.32 million for a 500-kilowatt system. With a federal tax credit factored in, that cost would be lowered to $2.28 million.

The solar-development guide also points out the newer trend of power-purchase agreements, which avoids many of the up-front costs through agreements to buy the power generated by the panels, rather than owning them outright.

‘Many of our players got their start skating on frozen ponds. It’s not a good thing for the sports world or the world at large if the ponds melt.’ --Gary Bettman, NHL commissioner

This month, the New York Jets announced the use of 3,000 Yingli Green solar panels for the team’s training facility in Florham Park, N.J.. The sports team signed a power-purchase agreement with Syncarpha Capital for the solar-power system, which was designed and installed by SunDurance Energy.

Hershkowitz said other teams are taking a look at solar power as well. One early ally from pro sports is NHL goalie Mike Richter, a solar-energy proponent, he added.

Gary Bettman, commissioner of the National Hockey League, said the green guide will help teams make an informed decision, and added that he supports the solar push for stadiums to help fight global warming.

“It may sound trite, but many of our players got their start skating on frozen ponds,” Bettman said in an interview. “It’s not a good thing for the sports world or the world at large if the ponds melt.”

The newly opened Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh is the first NHL arena to win gold status under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental certification system, according to the commissioner.

The arena was built with recycled materials and water-saving toilets, among other energy-saving features.

NRDC’s Hershkowitz said the Staples Center in Los Angeles — which gets up to 5% of its power from solar panels — is a model of what he’d like to see at stadiums around the country.

Baseball’s iconic Fenway Park in Boston unveiled a 28-panel solar system in 2008 that replaces up to 37% of the natural gas used to heat its water. In addition, solar power is in the works for Qwest Field, home of the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks.

For sports stadiums and arenas, Hershkowitz said he’s brought some lessons to bear from his unsuccessful attempt to build a Bronx plant for recycling paper into new products, as detailed in his 2002 book,“Bronx Ecology.”

The book touts the creation of green-collar jobs and the long-term benefits of sustainable businesses — topics that he believes remain more compelling today than when the book was written. “Right now China is expanding its solar industry, but the U.S. is behind.” Hershkowitz said. “We need to invest in it.”


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Why Solar ETFs Are Getting Warmer

About five months ago, a major push was given to the solar industry by the Asian Development Bank. Can this initiative put some force behind solar exchange traded funds (ETFs)?

Under the plan, the bank will implement a variety of solar power projects that will push capacity to six times what it is today. In India, the push is especially huge: the government has allocated $20 billion to its solar program, reports Kevin Grewal for Daily Markets.

One of the most promising aspects of solar energy proliferating is that the barriers that were once in place are diminishing. For one, capital funding and financing came to a halt in the sector resulting in a glut of solar panels and ample supply to meet lackluster demand. Additionally, costs of solar panels have dropped due to technological advances and manufacturing in low-cost labor nations.

Todd Woody for The New York Times reports that Silicon Valley start-ups like Solyndra, Nanosolar and MiaSolé dreamed of transforming the economics of solar power by reinventing the technology used to make solar panels and slashing production costs. Now that they have resumed production, the companies are finding a different and more competitive industry, thanks to China, which has driven the cost of solar modules down by 40%.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

MIT Demonstrates New Energy Technology

MIT researchers are showing off some new energy technology for oil spill containment, solar energy and more.

The briefing is scheduled for Monday and hosted by Massachusetts Institute of Technology President Susan Hockfield and Paolo Scaroni, chief executive po Italian energy company Eni.

The innovations include a demonstration of "nano-sorbents" that can help clean up oil spills by identifying and capturing pollutants; and a solar cell printed on paper that can power a light bulb.

MIT and Eni announced an energy research partnership in January 2008 and the demonstration marks the halfway point of the collaboration.


City Land Lease and Sale Sought for Solar Project

There are some who believe Las Cruces, NM could become the solar energy capital of the world.

The claim could be put to the test Monday when city council considers a land lease request, and future consideration of a land sale, for what could turn out to be a significant "green" solar energy project.

Representatives of SunEdison, which owns and operates power plants in North America and provides solar-generated energy to commercial, government, and utility customers, are anticipated to be at Monday's 1 p.m. meeting to answer questions, provide information and persuade councilors to approve a 30-year lease for as many as 240 acres adjacent to Las Cruces International Airport.

If approved the lease could generate as much as $2.3 million for the city, according to officials.

The council will also discuss the proposed sale of as many as 200 acres at the West Mesa Industrial Park to SunEdison for possible development of a solar energy project. The council would formally consider the sale at its Nov. 1 meeting. The sale could net an additional $1.2 million, the city estimates.

Proceeds from the proposed land lease and land sale would be deposited into the city's Airport and West Mesa Economic Development funds, respectively.

"This would be a tremendous coup for the city," City Manager Terrence Moore said.

SunEdison was founded in 2003 by Jigar Shah, and is based in Beltsville, Md., with three additional California offices, in San Clemente, Sacramento and Ontario. In November 2009, the company was purchased by MEMC Electronic Materials for $400 million.

MEMC reported 1.16 billion in revenues in 2009, and operating income of $127 million. Its main offices are in St. Peters, Mo., and the company's stock is traded by the New York Stock Exchange.

According to SunEdison's website, it also has operations in Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Canada and India. It has generated almost 350 million kilowatt hours of electricity.

The company does not have any operational sites in New Mexico, and there are no records that the company is registered with the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission. But according to city documents, SunEdison is pursuing options for several other properties in Do-a Ana and Otero counties.

SunEdison officials have agreed, in principle, to immediately pay the city $1,000 for a one-year option that would allow the company to conduct feasibility and technical studies that would determine the exact size and location of a photovoltaic project site. The same terms would apply for the proposed purchase of 200 acres at the industrial park.

"Based on the results of feasibility and technical studies, four or five options may result in two or three actual leases or purchases," according to city documents.

There is a sense of intrigue among some residents regarding the proposal.

"So, SunEdison is looking at the city to possibly build a solar generation facility. To me, that makes a lot of sense, considering the amount of sunshine we annually get here," said Leon Tanner, a retired civil engineer, who has lived in Las Cruces the past four years. "Solar energy is the wave of the future, and this area seems to be an excellent candidate for projects like that.

"I'd be interested to know what effect, if any, this might have on our electrical bills."

According to city documents, El Paso Electric Co. has chosen SunEdison to provide power to EPE. At public meetings last year, EPE officials said there would be state - and ultimately federal - requirements that companies like theirs would have to generate at least a portion of their power from solar energy.

The council also has some unfinished business to tend to at Monday's meeting. It will consider a request from Las Cruces developer John Moscato to use individual septic systems in a proposed West Mesa subdivision known as The Overlook.

A city ordinance requires that any new subdivisions must be connected to the city's sewer system, unless homes or businesses are more than 200 feet from the nearest point of connection. Engineers for Moscato have said The Overlook is approximately 2 1/2 miles from the nearest connection.

Moscato has also agreed to several additional conditions, if the septic systems are granted. Those include: that all residential and commercial lots in The Overlook will have a minimum lot size of three acres; and all developed residential and commercial lots will have a septic tank installed between the building structure and dedicated roads, which would allow for easier future upgrades to a sanitary sewer system, if and when one becomes available.

Moscato has also agreed to: consider installation of sewer mains within proposed roadways of the development, along with sewer stub-outs to each lot, at the future time when the city is able to extend its sewer system to the subdivision; and that all proposed septic tanks will meet or exceed current New Mexico Environment Department regulations.

City Utilities Department officials have acknowledged that the special request to use septic systems in the proposed subdivision is unique and unprecedented. Historically, the council has been opposed to increasing the number of septic systems used within the city.


A Solar-Powered Portable Desalination System

A team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Field and Space Robotics Laboratory in the Department of Mechanical Engineering has developed a portable solar-powered desalination system that could be used to produce drinking water in a crisis or in remote areas where electricity and clean water are hard to get.

Steven Dubowsky, a professor in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, led a research group that has demonstrated that a small prototype desalination system can produce 80 gallons of water a day in a various weather conditions. A larger version could cost about $8,000 to construct and provide about 1,000 gallons of water a day. The team reported preliminary results from the prototype system at the EuroMed 2010-Desalination for Clean Water and Energy Conference.


Researchers have created a desalination system in which a solar
photovoltaic panel powers pumps that push seawater through a
permeable membrane to remove salt and other minerals.

The system uses reverse osmosis to remove salt from seawater. Electric power produced by the photovoltaic panel pushes seawater through various pumps. High-pressure water enters a vessel with a permeable membrane where minerals such as salt are removed as the water diffuses through the membrane.

The MIT system is designed to change certain variables, such as the power of the pump or the position of the valves, to maximize water output in response to changes in sunshine, temperature and water demand. In sunny conditions the system works faster and produces more water, but it will still produce water even when it’s cloudy.

Dubowsky and his team recently sent a small-scale unit to the Middle East for testing, and they continue to explore ways to produce more water and to make the system more durable.

The research is funded by MIT’s Center for Clean Water and Clean Energy in collaboration with the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.


Monday, October 18, 2010

Shortage of Financing Holds Back U.S. Solar Power

The U.S. solar energy industry is having its best year ever, yet financing remains scarce for the billion-dollar projects needed for it to gain ground on global leaders like Germany.

For the U.S. solar sector to move up from rooftop add-on technology to the scale of fossil fuel power plants, the country needs to build large plants covering hundreds of acres. Each can cost as much as $1 billion, a huge sum for the nascent industry to finance, even with U.S. government incentives.

“Because the debt market is so thin right now, it is very difficult to find lenders who are able to lend long-term,” said Scott Frier, chief operating officer of Abengoa Solar, which has two big U.S. plants under development.

Just last week, doubts arose about the largest thermal solar plant under development, a one-gigawatt plant proposed in Blythe, California, by Solar Trust of America, a partnership of Solar Millennium and Ferrostaal. The company warned that its application for a U.S. government loan guarantee was taking longer than expected.

U.S. solar sales are on track to reach about one gigwatt this year, equivalent to one nuclear reactor. While solar panel makers and project developers are optimistic that the country could become the world leader by the middle of the next decade, the U.S. industry remains far behind some of its counterparts, especially that of Germany.

Globally, solar installations are expected to reach 14 gigawatts this year. At least half of that will come in Germany, where developers have rushed to build projects before financial incentives are cut.

The U.S. government has two programs to help the industry: a cash grant that pays 30 percent of project costs for plants under construction by Dec. 31, and a loan guarantee program that covers as much as 80 percent of project costs.

Applicants to the loan guarantee program have complained that the process is too lengthy and murky, leading to just a handful of projects’ winning approval.

“We and everyone else” need a loan guarantee, said Solar Trust’s chief executive, Uwe T. Schmidt. “We and everyone else need a cash grant.”

This summer, Abengoa won a $1.45 billion loan guarantee for its 280-megawatt solar plant in Gila Bend, Arizona. Regulators are paging through applications for other projects, including a cluster of plants in California that would provide more than 4,000 megawatts of power.

Experts say it is unlikely that all the proposed projects will be built, in part because of high financing costs.

Bankers generally prefer smaller, less risky projects and shorter-term loans than the 20-year terms solar plants typically need. Even if big banks are willing to get involved, their lending rates run about 8 percent, roughly double the government rate.

Still, some bankers say developers, looking to keep the favorable government programs alive, have been exaggerating the difficulties of lining up bank financing.

“There is commercial project financing available,” insisted Jonathan Yellen, managing director for infrastructure and project finance at Deutsche Bank. “Renewable energy is attracting a large and growing portion of the available capital.”

The erosion of another key financing tool, the tax equity market, during the banking crisis also dried up a significant pool of capital for projects.

In that market, companies developing solar projects sell future U.S. tax breaks for renewable energy to a financial partner who in turn applies those credits to its own tax bill. By paying up front for the tax benefit, the financial sector provides the developers with cash to build projects.

While major banks have recovered from the worst of the recent crisis, their appetite for tax equity remains a fraction of what it was in 2007. Two of the biggest players in the market at that time were Lehman Brothers, now defunct, and the insurer American International Group, which needed a bailout and has sharply cut back its operations.

Tax equity market interest is beginning to emerge again and should grow, especially as solar makers continue to cut costs for the systems, one executive said.

“We have a model that’s gone around the world of countries’ paying too much for solar,” said Eric Hafter, head of U.S. operations for Sharp Solar, a unit of Sharp Electronics.

He said that as the United States came out of recession “and the tax equity looks for a safe place to park,” money would “flood into solar.”

First Solar, a maker of thin-film photovoltaic solar modules, has more than two gigawatts of solar power plants on the drawing board, but the company, based in Tempe, Arizona, will not develop those plants until it has a buyer in place.

The company, the lowest-cost producer of photovoltaic modules that turn sunlight into electricity, did finance the construction of the nation’s largest photovoltaic plant, a 21-megawatt facility also in Blythe, California, before selling it to the power company NRG Energy.

But First Solar does not plan to finance construction of other plants, such as the 290-megawatt Agua Caliente plant planned in Arizona.


Agency Approves Large Solar Plant for Nevada Desert, Bringing 300 Jobs

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has approved the first large-scale solar energy project planned for federally managed public land in Nevada.

Construction of the solar photovoltaic power plant, a project acquired this year by Arizona-based First Solar Inc., is expected to create about 300 new jobs at the site near the gambling resort of Primm, about 40 miles south of Las Vegas.

The Silver State North Solar Project calls for construction of a 50-megawatt power plant (60 MW of DC output), using First Solar's thin-film PV modules. It is the second large solar plant approved for the Ivanpah Valley near the California-Nevada state line in the past two weeks, and the fourth on desert land overseen by the federal Bureau of Land Management, part of the Interior Department.

The 370-megawatt Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, a solar thermal power plant, has been approved for construction by the company BrightSource on the California side of the line about 7 miles from the Silver State North installation.

First Solar also plans to later develop another 350 megawatts at the Silver State site, which would require additional environmental review.

The Bureau of Land Management has granted a right of way for the initial Silver State North Solar Project, and construction could begin by the end of the year.

Combined, the two Ivanpah Valley solar power plants now approved are expected to result in about 1,400 new construction jobs in the Mojave Desert region, where construction employment has been devastated by the recession. The work sites are within commuting distance of the Las Vegas metropolitan area, but are a farther drive from smaller cities in California and Arizona.

“Silver State is one of several renewable energy projects in the pipeline that will help Nevada and the nation create jobs as we build a clean-energy economy,” Mr. Salazar said in signing the department's Record of Decision. “This project will provide renewable energy that will help meet our nation’s growing demand as we strive to become energy independent.”

The first phase of the Silver State project will consist of the construction and operation of the solar photovoltaic plant and associated facilities on slightly more than 600 acres of public land. The electricity generated from the plant is expected to supply power for about 15,000 homes, and will be sold to the Nevada market through a power purchase agreement between the developer and NV Energy. It will connect to NV Energy’s existing electrical grid.

The approval of the project includes a plan accepted by the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the development company to relocate any desert tortoises found on the site. In a survey last spring, seven tortoises were found in the area where the first phase of the project is to be constructed. It is expected that about a dozen tortoises may be found and moved from the development area.

“The BLM is proud to play a major role in our nation’s quest to capture more renewable energy resources here at home,” said the bureau's director, Robert V. Abbey, in a news release. “Through wise planning and engagement with local communities and stakeholders, we can support large-scale solar development on public lands while protecting valuable natural and cultural resources. If we are smart from the start, we can capture America’s renewable energy resources in the right way and the right places.”

Some conservation groups have opposed large desert solar plants, urging instead that policies be enacted to encourage more rooftop and other "distributed generation" from installations closer to where power is used.

In June 2009 Mr. Salazar, with the support of Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and other federal and state officials, launched “fast-track” initiatives for solar development on western public lands. The bureau identified 14 solar fast-track projects, including the Silver State Solar Project, that could be approved by the end of 2010 and qualify for federal financing aid.

The project was initially proposed by NextLight Renewable Power and was acquired by First Solar during the summer. It is expected to generate about $250,000 in annual tax revenue for Clark County, Nev.

The Silver State project's first phase will take up 618 acres. The Bureau of Land Management said it oversees more than 2.5 million acres in Clark County, including more than 1.1 million acres managed for conservation. This includes more than 709,000 acres of habitat the bureau has designated primarily for the conservation of the threatened desert tortoise.

The completed Silver State project would generate a total of about 400 megawatts at the site about 2 miles east of Primm. Unlike the 370-megawatt Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System on the California side of the line, the Silver State project is to have low visibility because it will consist of ground-mounted solar panels. The Ivanpah SEGs plant will use "power tower" technology in which mirrors are used to create heat to power steam-driven turbine-generators. The California project's planned power towers are more than 400 feet high.

The Federal Land Policy and Management Act, which authorized the bureau to issue rights of way for the generation, transmission or distribution of electric energy on public lands, was signed by President Gerald R. Ford in October 1976. More recent laws signed by President Barack Obama specifically encourage the development of solar and other renewable energy, a policy approach also supported for national security reasons by top U.S. military leaders. Many military bases in the Southwest, including Nellis Air Force Base adjacent to Las Vegas, already are home to large solar PV arrays, and more are planned.

The U.S. Department of Energy and the Bureau of Land Management are working on a broad study that could be used to guide more extensive utility-scale solar development while reducing environmental effects in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah.

First Solar, the company developing the Silver State project, this week announced plans to open two new manufacturing plants, one in the United States and one in Vietnam. The company, headquartered in Tempe, Ariz., now employs about 1,100 workers at an Ohio manufacturing site. The new U.S. plant, the location of which has not yet been announced, would create about 600 more jobs, First Solar said. The company also is planning several utility-scale solar PV power plants in California.


Solar Array Proposed for Landfill Site

The Longmeadow, MA Planning Board is recommending a warrant article at the special Town Meeting that would allow large scale solar installations to be constructed on the former town landfill site.

Article 11 asks residents to amend the zoning bylaw to allow ground-mounted solar photovoltaic installations as a permitted use in the agricultural zone. The landfill between Birnie and Pondside roads is in the agricultural zone.

"There are about 16.3 acres of land that we really can't use for any other purpose, so why not allow a company to come in and use it to create renewable energy," said Select Board member Mark P. Gold, who presented the idea to the town after attending a seminar at Holyoke Community College about such solar installations.

Planning Board Chairman Walter T. Gunn says residents seemed supportive of the idea during a public hearing held Oct. 6.

"People had a lot of good questions, but there was no real opposition," he said.

The state has established a right-of-siting law that basically allows corporations to build these installations in whatever town they choose, according to Gunn.

"If a company approaches the town with the intention of creating a solar farm then they cannot be unreasonably denied," Gunn said.

He said what the Planning Board has done is create a bylaw that would give the town some control over where the installation would go and how it will be operated and maintained.

"There are provisions in the agreement that deal with what would happen if the facility is abandoned or there are other problems. With this bylaw, the town is protected," he said.

Gold said there is a lot of interest from corporations to build these solar farms because of incentives created by the state for developers to build alternate energy generation facilities.

"This year alone, electric utilities in the state have to generate 5 percent of their power from renewable sources, a requirement that increases by 1 percent each year until it reaches a 20 percent requirement in 2025," he said. "Now is the time to get involved with this."

Gold said there are several things that need to be done before a farm can be built on the land. First of all, the landfill is currently considered idle.

"Before anything can be built on the land, it must be officially closed," Gold said. "It will cost some money to do studies of the land and to close it, but we will get the money back through the savings on electricity."

Gold estimates that whatever company the town works with will sell them electricity for 1 cent per kilowatt as opposed to the current 17 cent per kilowatt rate. The town could also lease the land to the corporation.

Gold has worked closely with Greenfield which has already started working with a company named Axio Power to build a solar farm on its closed municipal landfill.

"In Greenfield, they are saving more than $250,000 a year on electricity in their municipal buildings, which is a significant amount," he said.

The special Town Meeting will be held Oct. 26 at Longmeadow High School. More information on the project is available online at


Portland Solar Manufacturer Adding 50 Jobs

A North Portland factory making silicon wafers for the solar industry will add about 50 workers as it expands capacity.

MEMC Electronic Materials Inc. took over the plant, which employs about 80, recently when it acquired the owner, California-based Solaicx Inc.

MEMC, of St. Peters, Mo., is accelerating Solaicx's expansion plan.

Company managers estimate the plant will ramp up from its 60 megawatts in annual production capacity to about 300 megawatts next year.

"This is great news for Oregon and for our growing solar industry," said Tim McCabe, director of the Business Oregon state economic development agency.

McCabe and Ken Hannah, MEMC Solar Materials president, made the announcement at a Los Angeles trade show Friday.


Solar Jobs Projected to Grow 26%

Solar jobs are expected to increase 26 percent, or 24,000 net new jobs, over the next 12 months, according to the National Solar Jobs Census 2010, considered the first attempt to quantify the employment and projected growth of the U.S. solar industry.

The study, based on input from 2,500 solar companies, was produced by the Solar Foundation, a nonprofit, non-lobbying organization that funds solar research and education, Green LMI Consulting and Cornell University.

California employers reported the most solar jobs with 17,352 as of the end of August; Pennsylvania, 3,193; New Jersey 1,475. Total solar workers nationwide: 93,502.

Information on wages was not provided.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

3M Expands Solar Film Manufacturing Facility

Manufacturing conglomerate 3M Co., which makes everything from Post-Its and Scotch Tape to respirators, said Wednesday it's expanding its solar film manufacturing facility to support growing demand for flexible solar power modules.

The majority of the facility expansion in Columbia, Mo., is scheduled to be completed in 2011.

3M said its Ultra Barrier Solar Film acts as a replacement for glass with high light transmission, moisture barrier technology and better durability. The film also require less installation time.


IKEA Stores to Install 20,000 Solar Panels

IKEA plans to expand its use of renewable energy this year by installing nearly 20,000 solar panels on eight of its California locations.

The Swedish home furnishings retailer expects the panels to generate 6.65 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually -- enough to power 580 homes for a year. Pending governmental permits, it will begin installation in late fall at its three northern stores (East Palo Alto, Emeryville and West Sacramento), four southern ones (Burbank, Costa Mesa, Covina and San Diego) and its large distribution center in Tejon.

"We are excited about this investment by IKEA in using renewable energy," said Mike Ward, IKEA's U.S. president, said Wednesday in announcing the plans.

IKEA has made other sustainable efforts such as flat-packing its goods for efficient distribution, recycling about 75% of waste (paper, wood, plastic, etc.), using less water and energy at its facilities and selling . On August 1st, it started phasing out incandescent light bulbs from its U.S. stores, aiming to eliminate them completely by January.

In the United States, it already has solar arrays in Brooklyn, N.Y.; Pittsburgh, Pa.; and Tempe, Ariz., and solar water heating in Charlotte, N.C.; Draper, Utah; Orlando, Fla; and Tampa, Fla. A geothermal system has been incorporated into a store under construction in Centennial, Colo.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Top States for Solar Jobs

Michigan has the fourth-largest number of solar energy jobs in the country, according to a report released today by the Solar Foundation.

As of August, 6,300 workers in the state were spending at least half of their time designing, manufacturing, selling, installing or maintaining solar energy systems, the National Solar Jobs Census found. Only California, Pennsylvania and Texas had more workers employed in this booming sector.

On the flip side, Michigan has only 76 solar energy businesses, far fewer than many other leading states in the industry. Many of Michigan's solar jobs are generated by two large companies, Hemlock Semiconductor Group in Hemlock and United Solar in Rochester Hills.

Jennifer Alvarado, executive director of the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association in Dimondale, said that Michigan's high ranking in the census reflects the state's numerous efforts to become a leader in renewable energy. She has seen an increase in solar system installations in Michigan this year.

Nationwide, 93,000 Americans are working in solar energy, according to the census. The Solar Foundation, a research and education organization, teamed up with Green LMI Consulting, Cornell University and others to produce the report, which attempts to quantify for the first time U.S. solar industry employment.

Despite the poor job market, solar companies are experiencing difficulties finding qualified workers, according to the census. Over the next year, the solar jobs most in demand are expected to be: solar panel installers, electricians and roofers with experience in solar installations and salespeople for solar equipment and installations.

The job numbers come amid predictions of 2010 being a record year for solar installations and manufacturing. The U.S. solar electric market is on track to install for the first time more than one gigawatt of capacity in a year -- which is enough to power 200,000 homes, the Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research said in a report released Tuesday.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Solar Installer’s Death Points to Job Hazards in a Growing, Green Industry

Hans Petersen took a deadly misstep in April while checking his work on a rooftop solar power installation atop a Northern California public housing complex. Petersen, working without a safety harness or a barrier to prevent a fall, tumbled off the pitched roof and landed three stories below on a concrete walkway. He was airlifted to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Following a six-month investigation, California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health is now seeking $26,500 in fines against SolarCity, Petersen’s employer, in connection with the death of the 30-year-old solar panel installer. The company has been cited by the state agency for one “serious” violation of failing to ensure that employees used fall-protection gear.

SolarCity was also cited last week for two “general” violations. According to agency inspectors, the company failed to train supervisors on the safety and health hazards faced by workers at the site and did not provide Cal/OSHA with records demonstrating that any fall-protection program was carried out.

Peter Rive, chief operations officer of SolarCity, said the company was waiting to receive Cal/OSHA’s full report on the incident and has not decided whether it will appeal.

The potential safety hazards in installing solar equipment are important because the field is widely touted as a potential boom industry that could produce an abundance of carbon-free energy and well-paying “green jobs.” It also has benefited from billions of dollars in state and federal tax credits and grants, especially through the stimulus plan passed by Congress last year.

While employment in most economic sectors continues to sputter nationwide, the solar industry added 10,000 new jobs last year, according to the trade group Solar Energy Industries Association. SolarCity, based in Foster City, Calif., is one of the nation’s largest solar installation companies, with approximately 780 employees.

But installing solar panels combines three of the most injury-prone jobs — roofing, carpentry and electrical work — making it particularly risky, safety experts say. At the same time, there are no federal or California workplace safety rules — and few, if any, rules in other states — that specifically apply to solar installers. As a result, companies deal with a hodgepodge of regulations.

No one keeps comprehensive figures on injuries or deaths in the the solar installation industry. However, California health authorities have investigated three workplace deaths in the industry in slightly over two years.

In June, 2008, a 34-year-old solar technician was electrocuted when the metal bracket he was hauling touched high voltage power lines. He fell 35 feet from a scaffold to the ground. In the other fatal incident, in April, 2009, a solar installer was carrying panels on a roof when he crashed through a skylight and plunged 40 feet.

According to two SolarCity employees contacted by FairWarning, neglecting to use safety harnesses on installation jobs was common before the accident, even though such gear was available in the warehouse. The employees, who asked not to be identified for fear of losing their jobs, said wearing a safety harness was usually up to the installer.

SolarCity’s Rive, however, disputed those comments. He noted that the company’s safety plan for the job called for workers to use protective gear. He said the reason Petersen wasn’t using the gear was “something that we’re still trying to understand and trying to prevent from happening again.”

Since the accident, company spokesman Jonathan Bass said, Solar City has invested roughly $500,000 to strengthen its safety practices. Company auditors are now doing spot safety checks at 40 percent to 50 percent of job sites, said Bass, compared to a maximum of 10 percent before the accident.

The two employees who spoke with FairWarning said safety gear has been required on all jobs since the accident, and Rive said disciplinary action has been taken against workers not following safety protocols.

Labor, environmental and industry groups all acknowledge that workplace safety needs to be improved in the solar installation field.

Sue Kateley, executive director of the California chapter of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said she is pushing solar companies to look beyond their focus on cost issues and devote more attention to safety. At a July solar industry conference in San Francisco, Kateley told her audience that she believes that “safety has got to get up there and become the first priority.”

Kateley, in an interview, said workers sometimes fail to wear safety gear because of a pervasive macho attitude in the construction industry. “They’re big and they’re tough and they think they’re invincible,” she said. “They still need to put their tethers on.”

Petersen’s friends and co-workers, however, described him as anything but macho. “He was the kind of person who made me believe there are good people,” one of the co-workers said in an interview.

A passion for alternative energy drove Petersen, a graduate of Oberlin College and a one-time seminary student, to find work as a solar installer. “He cared about his job, he cared about his friends, about the impact he was having, about the craft,” the co-worker said.

Petersen’s father, Glen, a Lutheran pastor, said his son loved to work with his hands and left the seminary to pursue carpentry and then solar work after a stressful summer of pastoral work at a Houston hospital. Petersen had been working for SolarCity for about six months when he died.

The elder Petersen said the family would wait for the full accident report from Cal/OSHA before deciding whether to sue the company, though he said the family was unlikely to take legal action.


Solar Firm to Hold Windsor Job Fair

WINDSOR, Ont. -- A Spanish-based manufacturer of solar panels plans to stage a job fair in conjunction with the Windsor Essex Economic Development Corporation to fill 175 jobs created when the company begins production in a plant near Windsor Airport in the second quarter of next year.

No further details were available Friday when the Siliken Group announced plans for an $8-million investment in the region which will be capable of manufacturing 50 megawatts of solar modules annually.

"We'll be looking for mainly assemblers but also skilled trades, quality control managers, sales people, shippers, receivers and other personnel," said Paco Caudet, Siliken's manager of business development. "We are confident we will find the right people for these positions because of the skilled workforce which exists in the Windsor area."

Siliken's decision to locate its second North American plant in Windsor will likely mean more work for area suppliers as well as providing solar panels to the growing number of area companies now involved in the renewable energy sector.

OYA Solar, a Windsor company which recently reached a $20-million agreement with Atlas Tube to place solar panels on 650,000 square feet of the Harrow company's roof, will likely be one of the main beneficiaries of Siliken's move into the region.

"It's a really strong positive development for our company in that it allows us to have a local supplier for our panels," said Manish Nayar, managing partner of OYA. "We have been speaking with Siliken representatives for a while now and nothing's firm at the moment but we're very happy they're here and looking forward to building a relationship."

Nayar said OYA's goal is to source 100 per cent of its parts from local suppliers and "at the moment, the only gap is the solar panels themselves so we're extremely excited they're here."

OYA, whose sister company Polar Racking makes racking systems, currently buys its solar panels from U.S. and German manufacturers but that will have to change in the coming months when made-in-Ontario content rules kick in under provisions of the provincial Green Energy Act.

Siliken hopes to begin manufacturing solar panels by the second quarter of next year.

"We've done it before," said Caudet when asked about the aggressive timeline. "We have equipment already available in Spain and once we acquire the site, we plan to ship it here and begin running tests on the assembly line by the end of January."

Siliken will be retrofitting an existing plant rather than building a new one which also shortens the timeline.

Caudet said Siliken decided upon Ontario for its second North American plant because of the provincial government's Green Energy Act and a feed-in-tariff program which allows energy producers to sell power back to the electricity grid.

"We selected Windsor for its location, its skilled workforce, the local development corporation's relentless efforts to sell the Windsor community and its inability to take no for an answer," said Caudet.

Mayor Eddie Francis said the announcement continues to help "create a critical mass of renewable energy companies which will enable us to position this region as a hub for this growing sector."

Francis said his role was to act as the chief sales officer for the region and that the city has made no commitment regarding funding for the project.

Siliken president and co-founder Carlos Navarro said Windsor and Valencia, where Siliken has its headquarters, both have "a rich history in the automotive industry and a skilled workforce which makes this initiative a perfect partnership."

Siliken is a group of companies specializing in the manufacture of modules and other photovoltaic components.

Founded in 2001, Siliken now has more than 1,200 employees. The company opened a sales office in Toronto in July to accommodate its growing Canadian customer base.

In addition to PV modules, the company also manufactures power inverters, installation structures, electrical security panels, monitors, low-power air generators and other components.

It also has business operations in Spain, Italy, France, Germany, the Czech Republic, Greece, Belgium, the Netherlands and the U.S.


Monday, October 11, 2010

Suntech Opens Solar Panel Factory in Arizona

One of the world’s largest solar panel manufacturers has opened its first US factory in Goodyear, Arizona.

When fully up to speed, the Suntech Power Holdings facility should have an initial 30-megawatt annual production capacity, with more than 75 operators, engineers and other professionals set to be hired by the end of 2010.

The Chinese company, which has its US headquarters in San Francisco, said strong demand for its solar panels means it is already planning to expand the new plant to a 50MW annual capacity early next year.

It has a target to employ more than 150 people by the end of 2011.

Ultimately, Suntech plans to expand the facility to reach up to 120MW of annual production capacity, it said.

Steven Chan, President of Suntech America, said the new facility would provide a local platform for his company to pursue the US and Canadian markets, which he said were set to exceed 1GW in 2010.

Mr Chan said: “This new facility represents yet another milestone of our ongoing investment in North America. Aside from our manufacturing facility, we already have more than 75 people on the ground in North America, a dealer network that includes close to 400 partners, and we are continuing to grow.”


Suntech will focus on manufacturing and testing of its 280W Vd-series modules at the 117,000 square foot facility, modules aimed at commercial and utility-scale projects.

The company said a range of factors had led to its locating the plant in Goodyear, including costs, logistics and Arizona’s renewable energy policies. The location will also allow for research collaboration with Arizona State University.

Dr Zhengrong Shi, Suntech’s founder, chairman, and CEO, said at the opening of the new plant: “The initial capacity of our Goodyear facility is three times larger than our first module production facility built eight years ago, in 2002; and the cost of generating solar energy has fallen by more than 50% since then.”

“Just imagine what we will accomplish over the next eight years as we work together and continue to drive solar to cost competitiveness in the United States, and everywhere under the sun,” added Dr Shi.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, who presided over the grand opening ceremony, said the new factory would help grow jobs in Arizona as well as diversifying and strengthening the state economy.

She said: “The U.S. solar market is dramatically expanding, and Arizona must remain a competitive leader in the renewable energy sector. This plant strengthens our credentials as the solar capital of the world. It is an encouraging step for the growth of the solar industry, illustrating that Arizona’s forward-looking policies are resulting in local job creation.”


Tessera Solar Proposes 145MW Facility In Colorado

Tessera Solar is proposing a 145-megawatt solar facility in Colorado's San Luis Valley that would use sun-catching dishes to capture solar energy.

Saguache County commissioners plan to hold a public hearing on the application by Houston-based Tessera Solar North America Inc. before voting on it later this year.

The facility would sit on 1,525 acres and use about 5,800 of the dishes, which move to track the sun's movement.

Tessera initially proposed a 200-megawatt facility but revised it after several residents expressed concern about noise from engines used to power the dishes.

Tessera says its project could employ 40 permanent employees and add about $1.5 million in annual tax revenue.


Solar Panels to be Installed at Illinois Governor's Mansion

Another place in Illinois is joining the list of venues in the state with solar panels: It's the governor's executive mansion

Gov. Pat Quinn says installing them will help bring the governor's official residence into the 21st century.

A statement from his office says the solar panels are being donated. So is the racking and bracketing.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 193 is donating the installation labor.

Quinn made the announcement on Sunday to coincide with the Global Work Party. That's a day of action for those committed to fighting climate change.


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Solar Power at the Kennedy Space Center

Monday, the NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida and the Sharp Solar Energy Solutions Group said work crews have begun installing a 79-kilowatt Sharp solar array at the center's new Propellants North Facility.

Most of the project's 336 solar panels will sit atop the building in a curved aluminum roofing system that uses next-generation, standing seam aluminum clamps, which eliminates the need for other structural connections and penetrating the roof.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

1.7 MW Plant to be Built in Italy

Canadian solar company Etrion Corp (ETX.TO) said it would build a 1.7 megawatt (MW) solar power plant in Italy, in partnership with German solar wholesaler Phoenix Solar AG (PS4G.DE).

The ground-based solar photovoltaic plant in Rio Martino is expected to generate more than 2 million kilowatt hours of electricity, and over 700,000 euros ($957,200) of earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization per year.

Etrion, which builds, owns and operates solar power plants in Italy, said construction will likely begin this month, and finish by the end of the year.

Tuesday's deal come as investors ranging from banks and funds to families and sports car maker Ferrari pile into Italy's solar market, Europe's third largest, lured by a generous incentive program launched in 2007 and due to expire this year. [ID:nLDE6681KJ]

In July, Etrion had also unveiled plans to build a 3.5 MW solar power plant in the country. [ID:nSGE66I0FP]

"We expect both the Rio Martino and Borgo Piave projects to benefit from the 2010 feed-in-tariff," Etrion said in a statement on Tuesday.

Shares of the company closed at 80 Canadian cents Monday on the Toronto Stock Exchange. ($1=.7313 Euro) (Reporting by Adveith Nair in Bangalore; Editing by Aradhana Aravindan)


Big Solar Companies Gobbling up Project Developers

Solar panel manufacturers continue to gobble up project developers like San Francisco-based Recurrent Energy, an integration that’s likely to lead to more and bigger projects in the United States and Canada.

Japanese electronics giant Sharp, the third-largest solar panel manufacturer in the world, announced Sept. 22 it would buy Recurrent Energy, which has signed contracts to develop 330 megawatts of solar projects, and has up to 2 gigawatts in some stage of development, for $305 million.

“The necessity of the transaction is driven by the success Recurrent Energy has had and the pace,” said Recurrent CEO Arno Harris. “This business, as we continue to develop and build out projects, demands a tremendous amount of capital to be deployed.”

While Recurrent would have been hard-pressed to raise the money to finance all of the projects in its pipeline on its own, deep-pocketed Sharp will have access to cheaper capital than independent developers would and will be able to finance project development. A lack of available financing has stalled tons of projects or made them too expensive to justify for independent project development firms like Recurrent over the last couple of years.

The acquisition also means Sharp will have access to a steady U.S. sales channel to sell its panels in an increasingly important market.

Lucrative incentives in Europe — especially in Germany, Spain and Italy — are being dialed back. Those incentives, until now, have made it hard for the United States to compete for a constrained supply of solar panels. Now manufacturers in and outside of the United States are looking to the North American solar market to make up for what they’re likely losing in Europe.

“The U.S. market is looked at as the next champion market — the next growth market to drive the market forward,” said Greentech Media solar analyst Shyam Mehta.

To get a foothold in the U.S. market, Sharp is following in the lead of San Jose-based SunPower Corp. and Tempe, Ariz.-based First Solar, which both manufacture panels and develop solar projects and both of which have bought development pipelines in recent years.

“The only two manufacturers that are clearly successful in the U.S. market are First Solar and SunPower,” Mehta said.

The interest in integrating solar manufacturing capacity with development pipelines and financial firepower is expected to continue to drive deals. San Francisco-based Renewable Ventures was taken over by Spanish solar developer Fotowatio in 2009, and the combined company started a joint venture with Suntech, the world’s second largest solar panel manufacturer. However, after pursuing just one project in Austin, Texas, the joint venture is now inactive.

Analysts are speculating that Fotowatio is an acquisition target, with its huge project pipeline but no dedicated source of solar panels. Other Bay Area companies could be added to that list, including Mill Valley-based Solar Power Partners and San Mateo-based Tioga Energy, which finance, own and operate commercial-scale solar projects.
Solar M&A flares

Solar manufacturers continue to buy project developers.

Date: March 2009.
Price: $400 million.
Solar contracts: 1.85 gigawatts.

NextLight Renewable Power
Date: April 2010.
Price: $285 million.
Solar contracts: 520 megawatts.

Date: November 2006.
Price: $332.5 million.

SunRay Renewable Energy
Date: February 2010.
Price: $277 million.
Solar contracts: 1,200 megawatts.

Recurrent Energy
Date: September 2010.
Price: Up to $305 million.
Solar contracts: 330 megawatts.


Monday, October 4, 2010

Latest Solar Technology - Jellyfish

Putting thousands of jellyfish in a blender to make a smoothie sounds like the start of bad joke. In fact, it's one way to source ingredients for a new generation of solar power solutions that could aid medical science and offer cheap energy.

Scientists say by liquidizing the humble Aequorea victoria -- a glow-in-the-dark jellyfish commonly found off the western coast of North America -- they can use the green fluorescent protein (GFP) it contains to create miniature fuel cells.

These, say their creators, could be used to power microscopic "nanodevices" that could operate independently inside the human body, helping reverse blindness or fight tumors.

Nanotechnology -- the manipulation of matter at an atomic scale (one nanometer is equivalent to one billionth of a meter) -- is seen by many as the future of medicine, but the science of powering nano-machinery is still in its infancy.

Which is where the jellyfish come in.

Zackary Chiragwandi at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden has developed a method of generating power at a nano-level by administration a droplet of jellyfish-type GFP onto aluminum electrodes and exposing it to ultraviolet light.

The biological fuels may be a means to independently power nanotechnology embedded in a living organism. The technique, he says, is more foolproof than existing light-powered cells, doing away with the need for expensive and tricky titanium elements found in "Gratzel cells" -- acclaimed solar-power fuel cells that mimic plant photosynthesis.

Chiragwandi says his cell can even utilize enzymes from fireflies and Renilla reniformis sea pansies to create its own light source, making it completely self-contained.

In Chiragwandi's "biophotovoltaic nanodevice," electrons flow through a circuit when light hits the green fluorescent protein. He says this generates a current measuring "tens of nano amperes."

The amount may seem negligible, but if scaled up would appear to offer a more efficient power supply than existing solar cells.

"The output characteristics of the biophotovoltaic nanodevice are comparable with those of earlier reported high efficiency solar cells," says Chiragwandi, adding that the power cells could be deployed within one or two years.

"The biological fuels may be a means to independently power nanotechnology embedded in a living organism, such as diagnostic, medical or even communication devices residing within a living organism without need for an external electrical power source," he says.

Meanwhile at the UK's University of Cambridge, scientists say they have worked out a way to turn living algae into what is effectively a floating biological solar cell that could be used to generate power from almost any non-freezing body of fresh or salt water.

Paolo Bombelli, who is part of the team developing the method, says it is possible to hack into the energy released by photosynthesizing organisms using specially-designed transparent electrodes.

By tapping into this process -- which sees water broken into oxygen, protons and electrons -- they have so far managed to generate enough electricity to run a digital clock.

"As we stand, we are not talking about a large amount of electricity," he added. The team were "quite far from a real application; definitely a long-term plan."

Although they have demonstrated that they could operate the technique on seawater in a broad temperature range -- thus opening up most of the world's oceans to potential use -- Bombelli says they have yet to exceed sunlight-to-electricity efficiency levels of 0.1 percent.

A major problem, he says, is working out "how we can push the system further without killing the organisms."

Although the algae might currently be at risk, for the jellyfish there is good news. Thanks to modern breakthroughs allowing scientists to grow their own green fluorescent protein using bacteria -- the unsuspecting sea creatures are no longer on the milkshake menu.


Friday, October 1, 2010

Proposition 23 Could End California Solar's Power Boom

It is fitting that the Golden State produces the most solar energy in the U.S. Solar power is expected to grow even more in California. The California Energy Commission (CEC) recently approved four major solar power projects, and is expected to approve two more projects this week. The solar power projects approved and pending approval could produce enough energy to power 675,000 homes. In addition, the CEC is expected to rule on nine projects by end of the year that could produce 4,300 megawatts (MW) of power

Rhone Resch, CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, says of the projects: “These are the first projects of this size in the U.S. They’re a sign to the rest of the country that solar is here, not a technology of the future.”

The solar power boom in California could end if Proposition 23, which would overturn the Global Warming Solutions Act, passes. Angiolo Laviziano, CEO of REC Solar, based in San Luis Obispo, wrote about Proposition 23 and California’s solar industry for the Business Journal. Laviziano says that in November the San Joaquin Valley, a region where numerous solar power projects are slated to be built, residents will have to “choose whether to save or sabotage their economic future.”

The San Joaquin Valley has five of the country’s top 10 farming counties, but it also has much poverty. In December 2005 the Congressional Research Service released a report that found the Valley’s eight counties to have lower per-capita incomes than in the 60-plus counties in the Central Appalachia region. The unemployment rate for Fresno County, the most populous Valley county, in August was 15.4 percent. California’s unemployment rate in August was 12.4 percent. That national unemployment rate is 9.6 percent.

Laviziano points out that Texas oil companies “are trying to convince California voters to shut down the fastest-growing sector of our economy.” The solar power sector is one that the San Joaquin Valley desperately needs. With its abundant sunshine, areas with fallow farmland due to lack of irrigation water and existing transmission corridors, the Valley is tailor-made for solar power projects.

Consider a few of the solar power projects slated to be built in the Valley:

* Chevron is building Project Brightfield, 7,700 solar panel project that will generate energy for the company’s Kern River Field Operations and the local utility grid.
* The Westlands Water District in Fresno County and Kings County plans to convert 47 square miles of fallow farm land into one of the largest solar energy projects in the world. The first phase will generate one gigawatts (GW) of energy, enough to power one million homes.

Come November, voters will essentially have a chance to either vote for or against the solar power industry to continue to grow in the San Joaquin Valley and the rest of California. If Proposition 23 is passed, projects like the ones cited above will be a thing of the past.