Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Solar Water Heater Facility Opens

A R40million solar water heater manufacturer – with strong Taiwanese links – was recently launched at the East London Industrial Development Zone (Elidz).

Matla Solar Water Heating (SWH) is the first renewable energy sector investor to locate in the IDZ, and the first fully integrated mass production manufacturing plant for both domestic and industrial solar water heaters in South Africa.

“The opening of Matla is a major milestone for the Eastern Cape province’s vision to position itself as a prime location for renewable energy sector investment,” IDZ spokesperson Ayanda Ramncwana said yesterday.

The facility is set to provide between 80 and 110 jobs within a year. The project is funded partly by Matla Thermal Holdings – a Taiwanese investment consortium led by Funland Industrial Co – and the Eastern Cape Development Corporation (ECDC).

The ECDC holds 15 percent equity in the firm, Matla Thermal Holding holds 53 percent and Funland Industrial Co 32percent.

The Funland Industrial consortium includes Funland Industrial Co, Tz-Jeng Energy Technology, and Ming Yang Solar Energy. They have been producing high pressure solar water heaters in Taiwan over the past 25 years, and will be sharing their expertise and knowledge in the industry at the IDZ facility.

“Our market research noted that there are a number of small scale manufacturers in South Africa.

“With the technology and expertise we have based on our current partnerships, we will be able to produce on a large scale locally which will lower the costs for customers,” said Matla SWH general manager Andy Bin-Chi Lu.

“The main target market for us initially is industrial users such as mining sector change rooms, student residences, apartment buildings and hospitals.”

The industrial/commercial solar water heater market is estimated by Matla SWH to be worth around R4billion, representing a maximum of 1000MW of peak electrical demand to be reduced.

IDZ business development executive manager Tembela Zweni said the attraction of Matla SWH in the zone was part of the zone’s renewable sector strategy.

“We are striving to operate a world-class industrial park without costing the earth; and the launch of Matla Solar is a giant step towards achieving the goal of operating a green IDZ,” said Zweni.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Carports That Generate Electricity

And California begat cars, and the cars begat asphalt parking lots. And the lots spawned electricity, transforming the hills and the deserts.

Ersatz roofs made of solar panels have sprouted above dozens of school parking lots in the state, altering vistas and promoting a philosophy of green thinking among the young. Yet the primary driver of the solar roofs is economic.

By forming partnerships with banks and other backers, school districts get guarantees of reliably cheap electricity for their buildings for as long as 20 years. The institutions, which finance the systems and sell the electricity back to the schools, also receive tax incentives from the federal and state governments.

So far, solar carports have been installed at some 75 elementary, high school and community college campuses in California, the majority of them in the San Francisco area. Some are designed as a broad fan of panels canting slightly upward and supported by a single pole; more often they are an ode to rectilinearity, parallel to the asphalt and supported by a line of poles between the rows of parking spaces.

Walter Hood, a designer based in Oakland, said he sees the seeds of a new suburban aesthetic in the proliferation of the photovoltaic panels. “It’s an interesting piece of infrastructure,” he said, adding, “So maybe in the future we’re thinking of parking lots as something that is always covered.”

Schools were not the first to move in this direction. Leading the way in this re-creation of the suburban landscape was Google, which added solar canopies to the parking lots at its headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., three years ago. Some come with outlets for solar-charging electric cars.

“At the Googleplex, the P.V. is almost acting like a grove of trees,” Mr. Hood said.

But schools are now at the leading edge of the trend. “This will soon be the norm,” said Michelle O’Shea, a science teacher at Leland High School in southwestern San Jose, where the parking lot went solar a year ago. “It will be hard to imagine that we didn’t do this.”

For students, the new structures can offer an education in how clean electricity is generated. “Schoolchildren are growing up with it, so it becomes ingrained in their perception of how a society functions,” said Brad Parker, a consultant on a solar carport project for the San Luis Coastal Unified School District in central California.

And interest in the systems is growing. “I’ve gotten calls from Hawaii, from Canada, from all over California,” said John Cimino, the director of maintenance, operations and transportation for the Milpitas Unified School District, northeast of San Jose.

The solar panels fulfill 75 percent of his district’s annual electricity needs during the school year, he said, and 100 percent of its summer needs.

The company that brokered the district’s deal was Chevron Energy Solutions, a subsidiary of Chevron and perhaps the most active of a dozen such intermediaries working around California. The same company helped create a 2.1-megawatt parking lot system on the Fresno campus of California State University.

Brian Swanson, a spokesman for Pacific Gas and Electric, the utility that serves most communities in the Bay Area, said that the overall capacity of school-based photovoltaic systems there grew nearly fivefold from 2008 to 2009, to 15.5 megawatts from 327 kilowatts. This year, the cumulative total was 20 megawatts, enough to power 3,500 homes.

Yet in the Southern California city of Lancaster, a single parking-lot solar system being constructed by the Antelope Valley Unified School District could reach 9.6 megawatts, according to Mat Havens, the district’s director of facilities.

The estimated savings over the 20-year life of a generating contract can run from $12 million for a district like Milpitas (although savings last year were a much more modest $51,000) to $40 million for Antelope Valley.

Yet solar parking lots are not solely a California or Southwest phenomenon. In New Jersey, two elementary schools and a middle school in Newark plan to install them in addition to rooftop photovoltaic installations on the school buildings. Boonton High School in Morris County, N.J., is building solar coverings for its parking lots to supplement photovoltaic systems being installed on the roofs of its ice rinks.

While the solar parking lots have generally been welcomed by local residents, people in one town in San Luis Obispo County were less receptive. A community advisory board in the small coastal town of Los Osos voted 8 to 1 to oppose the panels on parking lots at a local middle and elementary school, with one panel member warning of “visual blight.”

Indeed, the current generation of solar carports does have a utilitarian feel and the bare-bones aesthetic of a Quonset hut.

But Mr. Hood, the Oakland designer, suggested that designers could work with manufacturers to change that, treating the photovoltaic materials as a potentially beguiling “surface treatment” rather than a mere assemblage of panels.

“They are becoming more ubiquitous in our landscape,” he said. “It’s not just parking lots.”

From schools to offices to malls, photovoltaic arrays could one day become as familiar as fire hydrants, Mr. Hood said.

“Once they become ubiquitous, they disappear,” he added.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Colorado Billionaire Battles to Stop Solar Power Plans

Reclusive billionaire Louis Moore Bacon is emerging from the shadows in a southern Colorado showdown over solar-power transmission lines.

One side of the environmental clash paints the 54-year-old hedge-fund-managing land baron and conservationist as a natural-resource champion protecting one of the state's last unspoiled ranches. The other sees a deep-pocketed NIMBY guarding his own private Eden and thwarting Colorado's pioneering push for statewide solar energy.

Bacon's goal is to stop Xcel Energy and Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association from running solar-transmission lines across his 171,400-acre Trinchera Ranch, home to the state's third-highest peak, Mount Blanca. He calls the peak and its surroundings a "state and national treasure."

"Having helped many others in their fights against outside, profit-oriented polluters, I couldn't shirk this battle when I know there is so much at stake for the San Luis Valley residents, the range, the environment, the animals and for all of Colorado," he said in an e-mail interview with The Denver Post.

The transmission project, however, is supported by Western Resource Advocates, a Boulder-based environmental law and policy group.

Three of the valley's county commissions — Ala mosa, Saguache and Rio Grande — also have voiced support for the line, which they see as helping to ensure electricity reliability and promoting economic development.

The utilities argue that the long-planned transmission lines not only meet requirements of new clean-energy legislation but provide a loop system that protects the flow of power to the San Luis Valley.

Initial hopes to have the line ready by 2013 are now stalled by at least several years, in large part because of Bacon's effort to push the $180 million project into more intensive environmental review.

"The losers here are the people of Colorado who have clearly expressed their desire for us to develop solar potential," said Xcel spokesman Mark Stutz.

Utility companies rarely lose fights for transmission upgrades, which many view as an essential step toward providing alternative energy. But utility companies seldom confront deep-pocketed conservation stalwarts like Bacon.

"He's never scared of a fistfight," said environmentalist Robert Kennedy Jr., whose Waterkeeper Alliance has tapped Bacon's bounty for protracted legal fights against industrial hog farms in North Carolina and a coral-reef-threatening development plan in the Bahamas. "He is our single largest supporter. He's one of the few supporters out there who are willing to fund litigation and fight long term."

Bacon bought Trinchera in 2007 from Malcolm Forbes largely for its undeveloped nature. Forbes, who in 2004 permanently removed development rights on 81,400 acres at Trinchera, sold to Bacon based on his promise to continue the ranch's environmental legacy, a Forbes spokeswoman said. The $175 million deal marked the highest price ever paid for a single-family home in U.S. history.

Bacon is an undeniable force behind the opposition.

He has paid Denver public-relations firm GBSM $100,000 in the past two years to help coordinate his fight against Xcel and Tri-State.

And he's no stranger to ramping up a fight. Or even a petty squabble.

Last summer, police visiting Bacon's Lyford Cay palace in the Bahamas found four high-end Meyer Sound speakers that local news reports described as "ultrasonic weaponry" capable of projecting powerful soundwaves across long distances. The speakers, typically used in outdoor arenas, can potentially damage structures and injure people.

The speakers, according to a statement by Bacon's local attorney, were used to "counterbalance loud music" emanating from boisterous parties at the compound of Bacon's across-the-cay neighbor, billionaire fashion designer Peter Nygard. Nygard's attorneys, in a public statement, said the "sound cannons" caused Nygard to suffer "headaches and irregular heartbeats." (The two billionaire neighbors remain locked in lawsuits over access and easements.)

"The continued escalation of Nygard's late-night parties and his refusal to abide by Lyford Cay protocols left few options but an effort to return in kind the music that he broadcast," read the statement from Bacon's Bahamas attorney Pericles Maillis.

Bacon's Colorado full-press PR campaign to highlight alternative routes for the transmission line is far reaching. Superstar crooner Sting this summer visited the Denver Art Museum and paused to gaze at a painting of Trinchera's Mount Blanca, on loan to the museum by Bacon. As if on cue, Sting told a gallery of invited reporters he'd be "very upset if there was a huge system of power lines in front of it."

"It's so bizarre to defend ourselves from this big rock-star guy," said Xcel's Stutz. "It is unusual for us to deal with a landowner who hires his own PR firm and bevy of lawyers."


Twenty Million Dollar Solar Powered Catamaran

A sleek outer space looking solar powered catamaran is heading for Miami.

Swiss engineer Raphael Domjan says the 102-foot-long Turanor PlanetSolar is the world's largest solar powered boat. The vessel docked in Miami this weekend.

Turanor's deck is covered in 5,700 square feet of photovoltaic panels of thin glass that charge a gigantic lithium ion battery. The vessel can last on battery for three to four days if there's no sun. Domjan is planning a eco-adventure around the world on the catamaran.

The Turanor costs about $20 million.


Los Angeles Delays Changes in Solar Incentives

Rebates for solar panels on Los Angeles rooftops may stick around as the new year begins. The L.A. City Council has agreed to delay changes in the solar incentive program.

Every utility in the state has offered cash credits for each kilowatt of power their customers get from rooftop panels. The state's Million Solar Roofs bill made that money available.

The idea was to help solar break into the energy market. From the start, the plan was to decrease the rebates over time as the market evens out. Then federal incentives for solar increased, the cost of the solar panels dropped and California's demand for rooftop solar has spiked.

About 70 percent of rebates so far have gone to commercial projects; residential solar is supposed to be half the program. L.A. water and power commissioners decided earlier this month to ratchet down the incentives, reconsider the program and possibly tweak it.

Unhappy with that, some solar installers lobbied the L.A. Cty Council to get involved. The council rejected the DWP's decision to reduce rebates, but added that the utility should freeze rooftop solar applications for three months as it works up a different plan.


World's Largest Solar Power Project Close to Loan Guarantee

The world’s largest solar power project is closing in on a loan guarantee from the federal government, its developers said this week.

Solar Trust of America, LLC, of Oakland, California, said on Monday its development subsidiary Solar Millennium has received a term sheet from the US Department of Energy for the loan guarantee it is seeking for the 1,000 megawatt Blythe Solar Power Project.

The project is to comprise four 250-megawatt solar thermal power plants on public land in Riverside County, Southern California, generating enough power to supply more than 300,000 single-family homes.

The Blythe plants will use parabolic trough mirrors to focus sunlight on heat-absorbing pipelines, which would use a special fluid to transfer the heat to a central power-generating unit, where it would be used to produce steam to drive a turbine.

The draft term sheet from the US Department of Energy covers the first two of the four proposed power plants, offering a 500MW combined generating capacity. The solar company is hoping to seal financing for the facilities next year, supported by the federal stimulus loan guarantee.

John Clapp, Solar Trust of America’s Chief Financial Officer, said receipt of the term sheet was an “important milestone” for the project.

He said: “We are very pleased with the proactive response of the DOE loan guarantee team regarding the Blythe project and the improvements the DOE has made to support this critical program for innovative renewable projects in the US.”

Mr Clapp said his company was expecting the government agencies to quickly support loan guarantees for fully-permitted projects like Blythe.

Solar Trust said the Riverside County area had an unemployment rate of 14.7% last month, but its project is set to create around 1,000 jobs.

Uwe T. Schmidt, Chairman and CEO of Solar Trust of America and Executive Chairman of project development subsidiary Solar Millennium, LLC, said: “This project construction is expected to create over 1,000 direct jobs in Southern California, 7,500 indirect jobs in related industries throughout the United States, and more than 200 long-term operational jobs at the facility itself. It will play a key role in stimulating the American economy.”


Saturday, November 27, 2010

$15 Million in Federal Stimulus Funding Allocated to NY

ALBANY - Governor David Paterson announced that $15 million in Federal stimulus funding has been allocated to the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) for residential and large-scale solar energy projects. The funding will assist LIPA in satisfying the significant demand it has experienced in its solar programs. An average solar installation saves homeowners approximately $1,650 per year on their electricity bill. The additional funding announced today provides rebates for approximately 600 homes.

"The Long Island Power Authority has seen incredible demand in its solar rebate programs – demand that has, in fact, outstripped dedicated funding resources. With this additional funding, LIPA can now continue to fund projects that help to promote a sustainable future for Long Island and New York while providing much-needed stimulus to the State's economy," Governor Paterson said. "Thanks to the leadership of the Obama Administration and New York's Congressional Delegation, these funds will help boost New York's economy while strengthening our energy independence."

Awarded through the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), $8.3 million in funding will support LIPA's Solar Pioneer program, which offers rebates to homeowners who install new residential grid-connected solar electric systems. In addition, $6.7 million in funding will allow LIPA to connect to the electric grid solar panels installed on carports at railroad station parking lots and other facilities owned by Suffolk County. These panels are expected to deliver up to 17 megawatts (MW) of electricity.

Last month, due to increased demand which outpaced LIPA's budget, LIPA was forced to suspend the popular Solar Pioneer program. At the request of LIPA, several solar installers and elected officials including Assemblyman Marc Alessi, Governor Paterson worked with NYSERDA and LIPA to petition the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to approve an amendment to the State's spending plan for clean energy stimulus funds. In the original plan, $15 million was dedicated to large-scale solar on Long Island. The amendment allows $8.3 million to support residential solar and $6.7 million will continue supporting large-scale systems. The DOE has now approved the amendment, allowing LIPA to re-open the Solar Pioneer program on December 1.

Since their inception in 2000, LIPA's solar programs have helped transform the market and provided rebates for 3,498 solar installations totaling approximately 20 MW. The solar industry on Long Island has grown from just two part-time solar installers to more than 50 full-time solar companies employing about 300 men and women on Long Island.

LIPA Chief Operating Officer Michael Hervey said: "I would like to thank Governor Paterson, our partners at the State and Federal levels and NYSERDA for securing additional funds to support LIPA's nationally recognized Solar Pioneer Program. These funds will allow LIPA to re-open its solar rebate program and serve as supplemental funds to support LIPA's continued investment in solar energy thereby helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, helping customers to lower their bills, and stimulating the economy through the creation of new clean energy jobs."

New York State Energy Research and Development Authority President and CEO Francis J. Murray said: "These Federal resources will continue to bolster New York's solar industry and help make New York a leader in renewable energy installations. I applaud our Federal delegation for securing the funding to support a program that will improve New York's energy security, help realize the Governor's clean energy agenda to create jobs, and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions."

LIPA's solar programs are an important component of Governor Paterson's '45 by 15' initiative to meet 45 percent of the State's electricity demand through energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy by 2015. According to Governor Paterson's Climate Action Council, which issued an Interim Report earlier this month identifying strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050, the State over time will need to significantly increase deployment of solar technologies to address climate change.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Solar Lions? Solar Wreaths? It's True!

The two bronze lions who guard the Art Institute of Chicago on Michigan Avenue will soon be wearing holiday wreaths again, but this year's wreaths will be a bit different.

For starters, they will be solar-powered. And their designers, the husband-and-wife firm of Stephanie and Bruce Tharp, have given them a different look, too. They have combined the look of traditional North American cranberry wreaths with the spirit of Buddhist and Taoist wishing trees.

The wreaths will be composed of a total of 2,011 spheres in various shades of red. And inside each sphere will be "a wish for the world in 2011" written by Chicago-area schoolchildren.

The wreaths will be placed on the lions the day after Thanksgiving.


New Solar Power Plant in France Brings 80 Jobs

French oil and gas company Total SA said Monday it will begin building a solar panel plant in the Moselle region of France early next year.

The installation is slated to house two production lines for a total capacity of 50 megawatt peak, or about 220,000 photovoltaic panels per year, the company said.

The first production line is expected to begin operating toward the end of next year.

The project will create about 80 jobs in the Moselle area, Total said.

"The production unit, situated near our French, German and Northern European customers, allows us to strengthen our market capabilities", said Philippe Boisseau, president of Total Gas & Power.

Shares in Total SA slipped 3 cents to $53.88 in afternoon trading.


Solar Train Station to Bring 200 Jobs

Massachusetts officials are breaking ground on the state's first all-solar powered commuter rail train station near Boston's Fenway Park.

The $13.5 million overhaul of the Yawkey commuter rail stop will extend the station's platforms. It also will more than double the number of times trains along the Worcester and Framingham line that can use the station from 17 stops per day to 40.

The station will also feature a solar array that designers say will produce more than enough power to serve the it.

The overhaul is part of a $450 million redevelopment of the Fenway area, including the right to build over the Massachusetts Turnpike, 330 new apartments and new office and retail space in one of the city's busiest neighborhood.

The train station overhaul is expected to create up to 200 jobs.


70 MV Solar Power Plant Interconnected in Italy

SunEdison, a solar energy services provider, has interconnected a 70MW solar photovoltaic (PV) power plant near the town of Rovigo in northeast Italy.

The Rovigo solar power plant was acquired through a joint venture (JV) between First Reserve Corporation and SunEdison.

First Reserve recently announced the execution of a EUR276m project finance facility for the project with some of the leading European banks, including Banco Santander, Unicredit Corporate Banking, Dexia Crediop, Natixis, Societe Generale and Credit Agricole.

SunEdison, a minority investor in the JV with First Reserve, will manage the ongoing operations and maintenance of the Rovigo power plant.

The company said that the Rovigo plant will create significant environmental benefits over its expected lifetime.

In its first year of operation, the system is expected to generate enough energy to power more than 16,500 homes and prevent the emission of more than 40,000 tons of CO2.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Solar Company Brings 450 Jobs to Austin Texas

In its first major U.S. expansion, SunPower Corp., a leader in solar panel technology, plans to open an operations center in Austin next year, bringing 450 jobs and an estimated $10 million in capital investment in the region's economy.

The California company is a significant economic victory for Austin, helping raise the city's profile as a clean technology center.

The jobs — in marketing, legal and finance areas — would pay an average of $70,000 a year, city officials say. The average wage for the lowest-paid 10 percent of local workers would be $40,000, the city said.

The jobs would be created over four years, with 80 percent of the positions filled locally. Hiring is expected to begin in December, with the new office opening in early 2011, said Ingrid Ekstrom, SunPower's director of corporate communications.

"This is great news for Austin — lots of jobs, and high-paying jobs. This is what we need at this juncture of our economic recovery," economic development consultant Angelos Angelou said. "They're a great company, and this is a good project to bring to Austin."

Gov. Rick Perry said the state would invest $2.5 million through the Texas Enterprise Fund, contingent on City Council approval of a local incentive package worth $901,710 over 10 years.

The city grant is tied to job creation.

The council will hear a presentation on the proposal Dec. 2; a vote is scheduled for Dec. 9.

SunPower designs and manufactures solar technology around the world for homes, businesses and utility companies. SunPower has offices in North America, Europe, Australia and Asia, and it reported $1.5 billion in revenue in fiscal 2009.

"Texas has great potential to become a significant solar market," SunPower CEO Tom Werner said in a statement. "If policies creating a stable solar market across Texas are enacted, this commitment by SunPower could be the start of significantly more investment and job creation in the state by the rapidly growing solar industry."

Dave Porter, senior vice president of economic development for the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, said SunPower's presence "will be a game-changer in terms of bringing global recognition to Austin and even more credibility in branding Austin as a clean-tech hub."

"It wasn't too long ago we would have lost out on an opportunity like this because our local incentives were not compatible with office-related projects," Porter said. In the past, the city's approach emphasized property tax breaks for large capital-intensive projects such as manufacturing plants.

But in the past year, the city has offered incentive packages tied to job creations to help land new employers, including Hanger Orthopedic Group, Facebook and LegalZoom, "and now, hopefully, SunPower," he said.

SunPower is proposing to create 115 jobs next year, adding 125 each in the following two years, plus 85 in 2014, said Brian Gildea, the city's economic development manager. Under the proposed agreement, SunPower could not receive more than $104,850 in any calendar year.

"If they create the jobs more quickly, they get paid more quickly, but it doesn't increase what they can get in terms of a total grant amount," Gildea said. "We didn't want them to be penalized if they created the jobs more quickly."

He said the city's cost-benefit analysis of the deal shows the city will have an $800,000 net benefit , in revenue from property and sales taxes and other sources, after the $901,710 incentive payments.

Gildea said SunPower is initially looking for 50,000 square feet of office space and ultimately 100,000 square feet. He said the company is considering locations downtown and in Northwest Austin.

Porter said the company has narrowed its search to three locations, but it will not sign a lease until the incentive process is complete.

Angelou said SunPower would join several companies in the solar industry coming to the area and enhancing its reputation in that field.

Solar farms that would generate an estimated combined 200 to 230 megawatts of power have been announced in Travis, Hays and Bastrop counties; if all are built, they would "make this region one of the leading regions in the United States for electricity generated by solar panels," Angelou said.

Austin Energy plans a $250 million solar farm in eastern Travis County, and RRE Austin Solar is expected to break ground Dec. 15 on a $230 million solar farm outside Pflugerville that would be one of the largest nationwide, Angelou said.

Gildea said SunPower not only will bring "a good number of quality jobs with good wages and benefits," but also, "we're hopeful this creates some additional development for Austin and Texas in the solar-development market."


Judges Dismisses Solar Power Rebate Lawsuit

A Missouri judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed over a renewable energy law that would require utilities to offer rebates to customers who install solar power systems.

Voters approved the renewable energy law in 2008, which included a requirement for investor-owned utilities to use solar power. Customers were to receive a $2 per watt rebate if they installed solar electric systems. The measure, called Proposition C, also required investor-owned utilities to meet thresholds for using renewable energy.

Months before the initiative petition was approved, the Legislature passed a bill exempting utilities from the rebate requirement if their renewable energy capacity was equal to at least 15 percent of their fossil fuel capacity by Jan. 20, 2009.

The lawsuit, which was filed in the Capitol's home of Cole County, sought to have that exemption declared invalid. The suit was filed against The Empire District Electric Co., a Joplin-based utility, and the Missouri Public Service Commission. The plaintiffs included two southwest Missouri residents who wanted the solar-power rebates.

The Empire District has said it should be exempted from the solar rebate portion of the voter-approved law because the utility exceeded the 15 percent renewable energy level in December 2008.

The lawsuit claimed lawmakers could not modify an initiative petition after voter signatures had been submitted and before the initiative appears on the ballot. It also suggested that the rebate exemption that took effect in August was overridden after voters approved the ballot measure in November.

Cole County Circuit Judge Paul Wilson dismissed the suit Friday and called it premature. Wilson ruled that state utility regulators have not determined how apply to the voter-approved law and the Legislature-approved exemption.

"It is for the Public Service Commission to say -- in the first instance -- what Empire may do and must do regarding Proposition C's renewable energy mandates and rebate requirements," Wilson wrote in his ruling.


Solar Bikini's? I Don't Think So

A year ago Bonnie modelled a solar powered bikini, but it was just a prototype. Now, the Guardian tells us that flexible solar cells will be woven right into our clothing, to charge our iPods and phones.

Dave Pritchard at Fujitsu, told David Smith of the Guardian: 'Within a year it will be possible to design clothing with solar cells on the back or arms, so you can recharge wearable devices.' He said the clothing would be useful on the ski slopes, outdoor holidays and for the emergency services. It would also appeal to the environmentally conscious as a means of reducing power consumption.

Hitachi is also working on flexible solar cells at its UK laboratory in Cambridge. Koichi Tsuzuki, head of research and development in Europe, said a full jacket of solar cells exposed to four hours of daylight could provide battery life for a typical day's use.


New Solar Power Plants Generate 4 Million Watts -Adding More

Southern California Edison (SCE) today announced that a solar power plant it has constructed on top of a 436,000-square-foot facility in Rialto, Calif. owned by an affiliate of AMB Property Corporation is now online and providing clean generation to Inland Empire customers.

Power from the 16,300 advanced solar panels installed on the Rialto warehouse is connected directly to the utility’s nearest neighborhood circuit and benefits all customers.

“This project is part of Southern California Edison’s ongoing capital investment in clean generation and smart grid technologies to meet our customers’ future energy needs,” said Alan Fohrer, the utility’s chairman and chief executive officer.

“Completing this project with Southern California Edison has allowed us to maximize benefits and minimize exposure by working with an experienced utility that shares our commitment to renewable energy in one of AMB's core markets,” said Aaron Binkley, AMB's director of Sustainability. “This project will become a model for future solar opportunities that allow AMB to benefit our shareholders and the environment.”

The utility completed similar installations in Fontana and Chino during the past two years. The three solar plants have a combined peak generating capacity of 4 million watts or enough power to serve 2,600 average homes. Ten additional solar plants will be constructed in the Ontario area and are expected online by the end of the year. These thirteen Inland Empire solar installations are creating approximately 500 temporary construction jobs.

During the next four years, Southern California Edison plans to install a total of 250 million watts of solar generation at up to 100 Southern and Central California sites. The utility also plans to sign power purchase agreements with independent producers for an equal amount of solar generation. The entire solar program is expected to create the equivalent of approximately 1,200 full time jobs per year.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Solar Benefits for Arizona - More Than Any Other State

Arizona stands to benefit more than any other state by producing and exporting solar energy, according to a study by the W. P. Carey School of Business.

The study found that Arizona has the greatest potential for solar energy and can create a strong industry by exporting that energy to other states.

Conducted by Matthew Croucher, assistant research professor in the department of economics, the study ranked states using three criteria: solar insulation, or the amount of sunlight to hit the ground on any given day; whether a large amount of energy can be produced in the state; and if that energy could then be transported at a low cost.

The top three states to benefit from solar production and export were Arizona, Colorado and Georgia. The study also ranked states that consume the most solar energy and those that would benefit from producing it for their own use.

Croucher said considering top solar energy-producing states together with top consuming states could change the way alternative energy is viewed.

“The issue that you have is that most states look at solar deployment and renewable energy within their own states,” Croucher said. “There’s a very state-centric way of looking at renewable energy generation.”

A little more than half the states in the country have renewable energy standards, or minimum amounts of energy that must be produced using renewable resources, Croucher said. This creates a demand for renewable energy.

States like Arizona can capitalize on their ability to produce solar energy by exporting their energy to states that don’t have the benefit of near-constant sunshine.

The problem then becomes a lack of transmission lines to transport the energy to the other states, which would require a significant investment to develop.

“Transmission lines have been mainly built with fossil fuels in mind,” he said, referring to lines that run from coal and nuclear plants.

These lines, while still capable of transporting both solar energy and energy produced by fossil fuels, are not in areas where the most solar power can be produced, he said.

“The best solar production is not necessarily where the transmission lines are located,” Croucher said. “Where the coal resources are and nuclear and gas resources are may not be the best places for solar.”

For Arizona to maximize its competitive advantage in solar, he said, the state needs to look into how to make this an export industry. It needs to be decided who is going to pay for the construction of these transmission lines.

“Should we charge the other state that we’re exporting to for it, or should we pay for it?” Croucher said. “We might have to change the way in which we look at the transmission system and who pays for that.”

He also said there is potential for some negative economic impact because of increases in energy costs.

“The potential negative economic impact comes from adopting a form of technology that is not the cheapest form of technology,” he said. “Solar is typically seen as a more expensive form of energy, which has to be true to some extent because there would be no renewable energy standards if solar energy was the cheapest to produce.”

Exporting the energy to other states would offset the potential rise in energy prices, which would constrict budgets for consumers.

As the country moves into a solar era with states adopting renewable energy standards, Arizona is situated to take advantage of this potential export industry.

“Solar is going to be one of the major producers of energy,” he said. “But the focus of the building of the transmission system has not been to maximize the transmission of solar.”

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., has been a long-time proponent of bringing solar production to Arizona, and said in an e-mail that several reports have shown the solar industry in Arizona has tremendous potential to expand.

“I am thrilled to hear that Arizona was found to be the state that would benefit the most from solar production,” Giffords said. “This study dovetails perfectly with what I have been saying. Because Arizona is the sunniest state in the country, there is no reason that any state should have more solar energy jobs than Arizona.”

She said other states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin have more solar energy jobs than Arizona, but states famous for cars, cheese and peaches should not have more of these jobs than Arizona.

“The growth potential of the solar industry in Arizona is like the sunshine that beats down on our state — virtually limitless,” she said. “When we harness the power of the sun and put it to work for us, we not only tap into a clean, renewable source of energy, we also strengthen our economy and lay the foundation for future prosperity.”


An Incredible Journey in a Solar Powered Wheelchair

Haidar Taleb set off  on 22 November on a journey that will take him across all seven emirates in a solar-powered wheel chair. Haidar, who built and designed the wheelchair himself, will travel more than 350km to promote innovation and renewable energy across the UAE in the run up to the National Day.

Starting in Fujairah, his 11-day journey will take him to schools, universities, police stations, and social centers for people with disabilities, before he finishes in Abu Dhabi's Corniche on 2 December.

Masdar, Abu Dhabi's renewable energy initiative, is sponsoring Haidar on his journey. "Masdar is very proud to sponsor Haidar and his mission to inspire millions of people across the UAE. We share passion and commitment for renewable energy and the sustainable use of resources," said Dr Nawal Al Hosany, Director of Sustainability at Masdar."  Masdar will be following him all the way to Abu Dhabi, and we wish him the best of luck."

Haidar, a 47-year-old Emirati, recently rose to national fame after setting a Guinness World Record for the longest distance travelled in a motorized solar-powered wheelchair, when he travelled 14 hours non-stop from Masdar City to Sharjah on 11 November. His many supporters are now following him on his website www.bewithHaidar.com and on Twitter http://twitter.com/bewithHaidar.

"With this journey I hope to raise awareness of disability and sustainability, as well as what we can achieve as individuals if we have the courage and determination to try. When we have this determination, there are no limits to our creativity. That is the message I want to spread," said Haidar. "I set off in the hope of inspiring people across the UAE, but it is the overwhelming support I have already received that will be my inspiration until I reach Abu Dhabi."

Haidar has already travelled part of the UAE with his first prototype of the solar-powered wheelchair, which he presented to the Young Future Energy Leaders (YFEL), a Masdar Institute initiative - part of the World Future Energy Summit (WFES) in 2010. Haidar will also participate as a speaker in next year's YFEL in January 2011.

"With my upgraded solar-powered wheelchair, developed with MasdarMasdarLoading...'s support, I want to visit the seven emirates to demonstrate the value of renewable energy and sustainability," Haidar said. "Investing time and effort to develop green technologies is very rewarding on different fronts. I believe there is a lot of talent in the UAE and one of the best ways to celebrate the National Day is by demonstrating what we are capable of achieving."


Auto Parts Manufacturer Adapts to Manufacture Solar Components

Ontario's growing clean energy economy is helping auto parts maker Samco Machinery Ltd. expand its business and create up to 60 jobs by adapting its auto parts plant to manufacture solar energy components.

“We applaud Samco Solar for seizing this new business opportunity in Ontario's clean energy economy. This is a great success story, benefiting all Ontarians by helping create the new solar projects that will produce clean energy, transform and modernize our electricity system and strengthen our economy.”

Toronto-based Samco is updating its machinery and investing in new equipment to manufacture solar racking equipment in partnership with US-based SunEdison. Solar racking equipment is used to hold solar energy panels and angle them towards the sun. The Ontario-made equipment will serve the growing demand for solar panels in the province and across North America.

By shutting down all dirty coal-fired generation and moving to renewable energy sources like wind, solar and water, Ontario is becoming a world leader in the clean energy industry. Ontario's clean energy economy is attracting investment, creating jobs and cleaning the air we breathe.

In recent months, Ontario has attracted over $1 billion in private sector investment and created more than 1,400 jobs through clean energy investments.

Attracting clean energy manufacturing plants is part of the province's Open Ontario Plan to build a clean energy economy that creates jobs and protects our environment.

"We applaud Samco Solar for seizing this new business opportunity in Ontario's clean energy economy. This is a great success story, benefiting all Ontarians by helping create the new solar projects that will produce clean energy, transform and modernize our electricity system and strengthen our economy," said Brad Duguid, Minister of Energy.

"Ontario's commitment to adding new sources of renewable energy has helped stimulate our business and create manufacturing jobs. Working with a solar powerhouse like SunEdison has provided Samco with a significant opportunity for expansion into the energy sector," said David A. Pichard, Vice President Solar Business Development, Samco Machinery Ltd.

"As we grow our solar business both in Ontario and globally, SunEdison is pleased to work with Canadian partners like Samco Machinery Ltd. We've been impressed with Samco's expertise and level of professionalism. Their skilled workforce and their enthusiasm for solar manufacturing have made them an important player in the Ontario solar industry," said Jason Gray, Vice President, Canada for SunEdison.


* Ontario is Canada's leader in solar capacity and is home to the world's largest operational solar photovoltaic farm in Sarnia.
* More than 1,300 solar projects are feeding electricity into Ontario's grid, enough electricity each year to power over 19,000 homes.
* Samco Machinery estimates that 10 per cent of its business this year - and about half its business in 2011 - will come from the solar market
* Since 2004, SunEdison has deployed more than 395 active solar power plants.


Some Solar Rebates in Florida Re-activated

Florida lawmakers have given consumers a new shot at claiming rebates from a pair of energy-saving programs that shut down months ago.

A vote during last week's special session of the Legislature allotted $31 million in federal stimulus money to help people who bought solar power systems or extra-efficient heating and air- conditioning systems. Gov. Charlie Crist has signed the legislation.

The solar rebates will be far short of what the state initially offered, which was up to $20,000 for people who installed lots of photovoltaic panels to power their homes. But it's a step up from the state's last answer, which was that the program was out of money and was finished.

"I'll take what I can get and be happy for that much. But I feel like we should get more," said Norma Stefanik, who spent about $38,000 in 2009 to outfit her Westside Jacksonville home with solar panels.

She said the state program advertised rebates without processing claims that were coming in, then abruptly shut down after becoming overcommitted.

"At the time we signed our contract, their website - and I have a copy of their website at that time - said they had money to pay their rebates," she said.

The state isn't accepting new applications for solar rebates but will take air-conditioning applications postmarked by Tuesday, Nov. 30 if they meet some narrow program requirements, said Brenda Buchan, a program manager in Crist's energy office. Florida's solar rebate program expired June 30.

State officials expect up to 4,000 air-conditioning applications that meet the state criteria, Buchan said.

The air-conditioning program only covers work that was contracted or bought between Aug. 30 and Sept. 14 of this year, and by the deadline has been completed and passed a test that shows little leakage from ductwork. There's a checklist of paperwork people have to attach to an application form, which they can get online at www.rebates.com/floridahvac.

The maximum air-conditioning rebate is $1,500, and can be awarded for installing heat pumps and geothermal systems.

Passing the duct test for the rebate cost J.B. Ulch of Jacksonville about $1,100 for repairs, but he figures he'll save on the power bill to his Southside home.

"I'm not air-conditioning my attic anymore," Ulch said.

Air-conditioning rebates should be issued by late winter, but solar rebates could take until April, Buchan said.

The bill that financed the payment specified that every air-conditioning application had to be processed first, and that whatever money was left could be used for solar consumers.

State officials previously estimated the money reaching air-conditioning customers might total about $2.5 million.

An estimated 13,000 to 16,000 solar applications could be approved, Buchan said. There won't be enough money to cover the original rebate offer, so Buchan said the state will pro-rate whatever money it has.

That way, she said, "everybody gets something."


$5 Billion Plan to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Power producer Exelon has said it will invest $5 billion, starting this year, on efforts to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

The Chicago-based company is halfway through its Exelon 2020 strategy, which aims to eliminate the equivalent of its emissions level seen in the year 2001 by 2020.

Today it detailed achievements to date and scoped out its intentions for the next stage.

Among the company’s plans are an expansion in its nuclear generating facilities and natural gas plants, as well as work to improve the output of its existing generating facilities and the closure of four “inefficient” coal plants.

But, it is also intending a major energy efficiency drive and investment in renewable energy.

As well as improving its environmental impact, Exelon said its “low cost” plans would support “thousands” of jobs within its own organization and at more than 5,000 suppliers.

John W. Rowe, chairman and CEO of Exelon, said: “There is no need to promote clean energy subsidies at any cost. At Exelon we are making new clean energy investments while minimizing the costs our customers will pay for a clean energy future.”

Renewable energy development will be led by Exelon’s newly-acquired development company John Deere Renewables (see this BrighterEnergy.org story), which has already added a 735-megawatts of wind power to Exelon’s portfolio in the form of 36 wind farms in eight states.

The company said it has the opportunity to pursue 1,468MW of new wind projects through John Deere Renewables, including 230MW in “advanced” stages of development. The acquisition is expected to close by the end of 2010.

$5 Federal Stimulus Funding for Solar

Exelon’s renewable energy plans also include piloting a residential solar power program to investigate the benefits of household solar panels.With $5 million of federal stimulus funding, it will study the benefits from solar systems at 100 homes.

And, the company is also working to re-license its Conowingo hydropower facility in Maryland and the Muddy Run pumped storage facility in Pennsylvania to keep the facilities operating for another 40 years.

Cutting the energy consumption of its own facilities and that of its 5.4 million customers is also a major part of Exelon’s plans to cut its carbon footprint.

Exelon operates more than 125 commercial facilities across its 13,000 square mile service territory, for which it intends to cut the energy consumption by 25%.

For its customers, Exelon is putting in place smart grid and smart meter technology, with plans to invest $290 million each year in northern Illinois and southeastern Pennsylvania over the next five years. The move should achieve cumulative savings of 3.7 million kilowatt-hours of electricity, the company said, and reduce its peak load by 388MW.

Among the plans, Exelon’s PECO utility has already begun deploying 600,000 smart meters for its customers, in a program set to be completed by 2013.

Exelon’s plans also include efforts to reduce the emissions from its vehicle fleet, through initiatives including an electric vehicle program set to begin next year. The PECO and ComEd utilities will deploy more than 300 plug-in hybrid-electric trucks and Chevy Volt extended-range electric vehicles, in a program backed by $45 million in federal stimulus money.


Largest Solar Array in Georgia Installed

Floor products importer and manufacturer USFloors has commissioned the largest solar array in the state of Georgia.

The 365-kilowatt system at the building in Dalton, in north west Georgia, was installed by United Renewable Energy, LLC, of Alpharetta, also in Georgia.

The facility now supplies about half of the building’s energy requirements.

It comprises 1,521 solar panels from Norcross-based Suniva, along with an SMA Sunny Central Inverter to turn solar-generated DC power into AC electricity suitable for use by appliances and export to the grid.

The installation is USFloor’s third solar array, which total more than 540-kilowatts in generating capacity, enough to supply 54 homes with electricity. The project received support in the form of a 30% federal stimulus grant and a 35% state grant from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority.

USFloors, which distributes and manufactures cork and bamboo flooring, said the solar installations form part of its “greenstreamed” operations, a move that has been taken to cope with the current economy.

It is in the process of turning its facility into an LEED-certified building with clean energy upgrades, to cut costs and its carbon footprint.

The company said its latest solar array is the largest in Georgia, eclipsing the record once held by the Georgia Tech Natatorium, installed for the 1996 Olympics.

Piet Dossche, President of USFLOORS, said: “USFloors strives to be an example of how a privately-owned company can be a part of the effort to contribute to the solution of cleaner power.”


Monday, November 22, 2010

One of the Largest Solar Power Purchase Agreements Announced

Martifer Solar and Silverado Power Announce One of the Largest North American Solar Photovoltaic Power Purchase Agreements in 2010 with Southern California Edison

Martifer Solar and Silverado Power have signed Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) with Southern California Edison (EIX 37.85, -0.11, -0.29%) for 113 MWp of solar PV projects. These joint-venture projects, slated for completion in 2013, are primarily in Los Angeles County, and are forecasted to supply clean power to thousands of homes via a 20 year contract with Southern California Edison (SCE). This news closely follows an announcement today of the projects from SCE.

"This is an important milestone for Martifer Solar, since it will allow us to significantly expand our PV portfolio in a market with great growth potential," said Henrique Rodrigues, CEO of Martifer Solar.

The Martifer Solar-Silverado Power joint-venture projects received the largest allocation of SCE's Renewable Standard Contract program, representing over 40 percent of the contracted capacity. The 113 MWp agreements consist of nine projects within close proximity to major utility lines in Southern California. The deal is part of a growing portfolio of over 400 MW of utility-scale projects in development for Martifer Solar and Silverado Power within the United States.

"These projects are a first step in bringing local job growth to Los Angeles County by building clean energy generation facilities," said John Cheney, CEO of Silverado Power.

The Renewable Standard Contract program is a voluntary effort from SCE to procure renewable power from small to mid-sized generation facilities. Hans Isern, Vice President of Engineering for Silverado Power, stated "We are excited to work with SCE to bring cost-competitive renewables online quickly. SCE's Renewable Standard Contract program offers an important mechanism to meeting California's renewable and distributed energy goals."


Largest Solar Power Plant Completed in Texas

Power company Duke Energy and renewable energy developer Juwi Solar have celebrated completion of a 14-megawatt solar facility in San Antonio, Texas.

The largest solar facility in the state, the Blue Wing Solar Project is located in southeast San Antonio, with 214,500 solar modules installed on a 113-acre site.

The facility is using thin-film solar photovoltaic modules provided by Arizona manufacturer First Solar, although part of the site is devoted to testing out eight different PV technologies, including a 50-foot tall concentrating PV unit.

A loan for $45 million to support the development was provided by Prudential Capital Group (see this BrighterEnergy.org story), while power generated at the site is being sold to local municipal utility CPS Energy under a 30-year agreement.

The Blue Wing Solar Project is expected to produce more than 26,570 megawatt-hours (MWH) of electricity per year, enough to power 1,800 average households.

CPS is aiming to supply1,500MW of renewable energy to its 707,000 customers in and around San Antonio by 2020, about 20% of its supplies. The company believes it will reach a 13% renewable energy level by the end of 2010.

“Blue Wing further solidifies our commitment to acquire affordable, renewable energy resources, while contributing to our community’s economic development,” said Doyle Beneby president and CEO for CPS Energy. “We are currently number one nationally in wind energy capacity among public utilities, and this project launches our venture into solar power, which will be pursued with equal effort.”

Duke Energy Generation Services, part of North Carolina-based Duke Energy, acquired the Blue Wing project earlier this year from Colorado-based developer Juwi.

Construction began in April and was completed in just seven months, two months ahead of schedule.

Keith Trent, group executive and president of the Commercial Businesses organization for Duke Energy Generation Services, said: “With the Blue Wing solar farm now on line, customers of CPS Energy can lay claim to using clean, renewable electricity generated at what is today the largest photovoltaic solar farm in Texas.”


Name Three Innovations That Make Solar More Affordable

Solar power as we know it has been around for almost a century. Many people believe that its still the same basic technology that helped power early spacecraft and the White House in the 1970's. But advancements over the past 10 years have brought solar to the cutting edge with new investment and an emphasis on research. Here are three solar innovations that are making this type of renewable energy more affordable, easier to obtain, and more efficient for generations to come.

1. Thin-Film Cells

When most people picture solar panels, they think of the large black cells with aluminum framing that resemble windows. These are crystalline panels and have been used for decades. The limiting factor with this technology is actually the energy required to produce the panel itself along with weight in shipping. The process for making this technology is similar to the process for making silicon computer chips, it requires highly trained technicians, clean rooms, and energy hungry machinery.

Thin-film solar is a completely different take on solar cells. The cells themselves often come in a roll and the manufacturing process is similar to a printing process. This dramatically reduces the cost of solar power. Panels that use traditional crystalline technology still cost in the $2/watt range. Thin film cells cost closer to $1/watt and that price is falling quickly.

Thin film cells are being consumed in large quantities by utility scale projects now, making it difficult for consumers to get their hands on them. This is changing daily though as nearly every major solar manufacturer has a thin-film model coming out, which will make it easier for the average homeowner to have this exciting new technology. For more information check out First Solar, the premiere manufacturer of thin film solar cells.

2. Micro-Inverters

Inverters are an essential piece of any solar power system. An inverter takes the power that comes from the panels, which is direct current (DC), and changes it into alternating current (AC). AC is what we have in our outlets at home and work and is what most appliances need to operate on. The inverters of the past were large, expensive, and generated large amounts of waste heat. The cheapest inverters cost around $3000, which meant that the cheapest solar power systems were in the $10,000 range.

Microinverters have changed the equation dramatically. Now, for less than $200, you can have an inverter on each solar panel, and have a system that consists of as little as one solar panel if you wish. That means the entry point for installing a solar power system is now as low as $1000. Many people start with just one or two panels, and add on a panel or two each year.

Micro inverters also dramatically increase the efficiency and decrease the installation time for solar power kits. In the not so distance future there will be microinverters integrated into the actual construction of solar panels themselves, which means you may just be able to plug your solar panel right into the wall... or your car! Visit Enphase Solar for more information on microinverters.

3. Flexible Racking Solutions

Most people would be surprised to learn that at least 25% of the equipment cost, and 75% of the labor cost of solar kits goes into the racking systems that hold the panels. And this technology really hasn't changed much in the past 100 years. The process of mounting bolts into the roof surface, rails to the hold the panels, and wiring and grounding systems has been time consuming and dangerous.

Now we are finally seeing some new options in racking for solar and the landscape is changing. In many cases rails are being all together eliminated and grounding systems can be installed in less than half the time it used to take!

Solar costs have already come down by as much as 50% in the past 5 years. Over the next decade, prices should come down even more dramatically, thanks to a renewed interest in this promising technology. Before long solar power will achieve the holy grail: the ability to profitably compete with fossil fuel generated power, without government incentives or subsidies.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Silicon Valley Solar Manufacturer to Relocate

Silicon Valley-based solar manufacturer and designer SunPower Corporation said today its growth plans require a move to a new headquarters.

The company said it will remain in San Jose, California, but will move next spring to a three-building campus on Rio Robles.

The existing buildings are being renovated to achieve the LEED gold standard in efficiency, before SunPower moves in its 300 corporate staff including its finance, communications, product development and engineering teams.

Staff numbers at SunPower’s new HQ are expected to grow to 500 over the next few years.

Tom Werner, SunPower CEO, said city incentives would help keep his company in San Jose, including an expected $2.5 million package over five years to help with permitting, utility and sales tax.

Mr Werner said: “This move to a larger campus reinforces our planned growth over the next several years, not just here, but around the globe, as we continue to design, manufacture and deliver the highest efficient solar cells and panels on the market today.”

SunPower is currently looking at a possible $30 million low-interest loan from the state of California, which it could use towards building improvements and equipment. It is already planning a rooftop solar array for its new campus, along with a solar carport.

The company currently employs 900 people in ths US, most in the San Francisco Bay Area, with another 100 to be hired as SunPower completes a new manufacturing facility in Milpitas.

Globally, SunPower employes about 6,000 staff.

San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed said: “SunPower’s new campus will serve as a showcase for innovation and green investment. I congratulate and thank SunPower for playing a crucial role in the implementation of the City’s Green Vision, adding clean tech jobs that will help stimulate our economy, retrofitting its new buildings to green standards, and for powering its campus with solar power.”


Chinese Firm Enters U.S. Market to Build Solar Power Plants

In Hong Kong, China, the name GCL means solar energy. So it wasn’t surprising when GCL subsidiary, Poly Energy Holdings Ltd., a world-leading polysilicon and wafer supplier, announced the formation of a joint venture (jv) with Los Angeles solar star SolarReserve, a design/build solar energy firm, to build solar photovoltaic (PV) power plants in the United States.

The jv signals Chinese intentions to enter the U.S./EU solar market – an intention strengthened by U.S. banker Wells Fargo committing $100 million in financing for GCL’s solar projects.

The move is not surprising in that, while China relented on its decision to stop shipping rare earth minerals (like silicon) around the world on Nov. 14 to none other than Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the fact remains that China – as the world’s largest rare earth minerals miner, providing 97 percent of supply – has a virtual stranglehold on the market, and what better way to exploit it than to join forces with U.S. and European solar firms?

GCL, which builds conventional power plants in China, as well as renewable plants like wind and solar, also has a San Francisco subsidiary, GCL Solar Energy, Inc., and sees expansion of the firm into new geographic markets as the only way to insure the company’s future success. Acquiring a 50-percent share of SolarReserve’s 1,100-megawatt pipeline (for an unknown amount) would certainly be one way to do that.

The solar PV plants are slated for the most desirable areas in the desert Southwest, in terms of utility-scale solar. SolarReserve, which also develops concentrating solar thermal plants (CSP) using molten-salt energy storage technologies, is not relinquishing the CSP portion of its operation.


NJ Paint Company Installs 1.7 Megawatt Solar Array

Baltimore-based Constellation Energy is nearing completion of a 1.7 megawatt solar power system for paint manufacturer Benjamin Moore.

The array will provide 68% of the electricity for Benjamin Moore’s 80,000 square foot product development center and testing laboratories in Flanders, New Jersey.

Constellation said the project would use 8,600 crystalline solar photovoltaic panels, making it one of the largest on-site solar installations in the state.

Power generation is expected to begin by the end of the year, with Constellation’s retail division selling power to the manufacturing company via a 20-year power purchase agreement.

Denis Abrams, chairman, president and CEO of Benjamin Moore & Co., a Berkshire Hathaway company, said: “We are embracing a commitment to renewable energy through our joint endeavor with Constellation Energy.

“We know that no one action or company will create the single solution to our energy needs. But this installation by Constellation Energy for Benjamin Moore, on our property, contributes to the overall global solution of sustainable energy resources that are sorely needed,” Mr Abrams added.

Once complete, the solar system is forecast to produce nearly 2,230,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year.

The terms of the power purchase agreement mean that Benjamin Moore will face no upfront capital costs for the solar array, which will be owned and maintained by Constellation.

The two companies said they are also exploring energy conservation measures that could help reduce the electricity consumption at the Flanders site, so that it could rely “almost exclusively” on the solar facility.

Michael D. Smith, senior vice president of green initiatives for Constellation Energy’s retail business, said: “”To make this work you need the vision, expertise, and commitment of companies like Benjamin Moore and Constellation Energy, combined with public support and the commitment of state, federal and local government leaders.”

Constellation said it worked with state and community authorities to develop the Flanders solar array. Local environmental regulations had to be amended to accommodate the project, it said.

The design of the project was also adjusted prior to construction, moving 1,500 solar panels from an open field to a parking lot structure, which will preserve more open space on Benjamin Moore’s land, and provide shade for parked vehicles.

The parking lot installation will also include recharging stations for electric vehicles, Constellation said.


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Unusual Place for One of Largest Solar Arrays in Maryland

Maryland-based solar installer Standard Solar has completed a 701-kilowatt solar power array for an ice rink in its home town of Rockville.

One of the largest single rooftop solar systems in the state, the facility is expected to provide about 30% of the electricity supply for the Rockville Ice Arena.

Stuart Schooler, managing member of the Arena’s owners The Maven Group said: “This was an easy business decision. Ice rinks are an energy-intensive operation.”


NFL Team to Power Stadium with Renewable Energy System

On Thursday, Philadelphia Eagles announced plans to install solar, wind and duel-fuel renewable energy systems at the Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA.

They have partnered with Florida-based company SolarBlue, and will install 2,500 solar panels on the exterior of the stadium, 80 20-foot spiral wind turbines on the stadium rim, and build a 7.6-MW onsite dual-fuel cogeneration plant.

The self-generated renewable energy is expected to produce 1.039 billion kWh of electricity over the course of the next 20 years, and is estimated to save the NFL team $60 million in energy costs.

SolarBlue will invest $30 million in this project and expects to complete the installation by September 2011. The installation builds upon the team’s sustainability program, which includes water reduction, energy conservation, recycling, and toxic chemical avoidance.


Friday, November 19, 2010

University of Delaware Installs Solar Power

With the oldest solar lab in the nation, it’s no surprise that the University of Delaware is installing an array of solar panels across campus rooftops.

Delaware Online reports that the nearly-completed project will save the university about $30,000 annually in energy—making UD the state’s largest solar-power generator. A move that costs the university only about $90,000 will pay for itself in three years and make the campus the state’s leader in eco-friendly advancement.

In return from buying energy from Standard Solar, the company will compensate the price of the panels and installation. Schools receive accreditation and lower energy costs, and investors receive a federal tax credit.


South Africa Signs $435M Deal to Build Solar Plant

On Wednesday this week, Chinese company Yingli Solar signed a $435 deal to build a manufacturing plant in South Africa.

The solar company will partner with a local construction company on the project, and plans to begin building the plant within the next 12 months.

The director general at South Africa’s department of energy, Nelisiwe Magubane, has also signed an agreement between South Africa and the China Development to cooperate on a broad range of energy projects.

These efforts are representative of South Africa’s recently highlighted committed to increasing the country’s renewable energy usage.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Solar Arrays at Winery - Produce Electricity and Heat Water

A startup called Cogenra Solar recently installed a bank of solar arrays with a difference at a Northern California winery. The arrays combine conventional photovoltaic solar cells with a system for collecting waste heat. This produces electricity for lighting and bottling equipment, and it heats water that can be used for washing tanks and barrels.

Cogenra plans to install these "hybrid" solar arrays at businesses that use large quantities of electricity and water, and then charge them for supplying both. The company has not released an estimate for the cost per watt of its electricity, but it says that the cost of heated water will be considerably less than the norm.

At the winery, owned by Sonoma Wine Company, several parabolic dishes, each 10 meters long and three meters wide and lined with mirrors, concentrate sunlight onto two strips of monocrystalline-silicon solar cells suspended above. The parabolic dishes sit on top of mechanical arms that move them to follow the sun. Heat is collected with a mixture of glycol and water that flows through an aluminum pipe behind the solar cells. The glycol solution is fed into a heat exchanger, where it heats up water. The water is then pumped to a storage tank, and the cooled glycol solution is fed back to the solar arrays.

Similar hybrid solar systems have failed in the past because the solar cells have overheated. Cogenra uses sensors to monitor the temperature of its solar cells and an automated control system to draw fluid away more quickly if they need cooling down.

Overheating impairs the performance of a solar cell and is a big problem for hybrid solar systems, says Tim Merrigan, a senior program manager at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado. Merrigan notes that more sophisticated equipment for monitoring the buildup of heat and adjusting the flow of liquid away from the cells can help prevent this, but "it is certainly not an easy thing to do correctly." With Cogenra's technology, there is also a trade-off between the amount of heat that can be produced and the efficiency of the solar cells.

The winery installation will serve as an important test bed for Cogenra's technology and for hybrid solar technology in general. The system will generate data showing how efficiently it can produce electricity and heated water under different weather conditions and how well it can meet the fluctuating needs of the winery's operation.

The solar arrays will be able to produce 50 kilowatts of electricity, and the equivalent of 222 kilowatts of thermal energy. Gilad Almogy, the CEO of Cogenra, says this will cut the winery's use of natural gas for water heating by 45 to 50 percent and meet about 10 percent of its electricity needs.

Making the technology cost effective will be another challenge for Cogenra. But a growing number of government programs that dole out rebates for installing solar water heaters could help. One such program was launched in California in October. Lasting through 2017, it will provide $350.8 million in rebates for installing solar water heaters. Most water heaters in the state currently run on natural gas.

Vinod Khosla, whose venture capital company Khosla Ventures has invested $10.5 million in the project, says the technology is remarkably cost-effective. "Other solar companies used hundreds of millions of dollars to go to market," he says.


Two Solar Plants Being Built in Italy

Etrion Corp, an independent solar power producer, and SunPower Corp., a US-based manufacturer of high-efficiency solar cells, solar panels and solar systems, announced an agreement to build two solar power plants, totaling 10 megawatts, in the Puglia region of Italy. Etrion will own the power plants, and SunPower will design, construct and provide operations and maintenance services for the plants.

SunPower is installing proprietary SunPower Tracker technology at the Italian sites. The Tracker follows the sun during the day and delivers up to 25 percent more energy than fixed-tilt systems, while significantly reducing land use requirements.

The 10-megawatt ground-based solar photovoltaic project is expected to produce 17 million kilowatt hours of electricity and 6 million euros of earnings to Etrion before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) per year.

Construction of the solar project is targeted to begin by the end of November 2010. The first electricity sales from the project under the Italian feed-in-tariff regime are expected during the third quarter of 2011. The Italian feed-in-tariff guarantees the purchase price for solar electricity by the Italian government for 20 years from the start of operations.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Live in Scotland? Get Free Solar Power

In a move that seems to benefit everyone involved, Scottish Southern Energy (SSE) launched a new program that gives customers free access to renewable energy.

Following such trailblazers as A Shade Greener and ISIS Solar, SSE will offer to install solar panels directly on customers’ rooftops—free of charge—as long as they agree to keep those panels there for the next 25 years.

SSE can then collect the energy generated and relay it back to the national grid, with tariffs at 4.13p per kilowatt hour and 3p/kWh.

By relieving customers of the burden of up-front costs, SSE hopes to make renewable energy sources available to a wider group of residents. Better yet, customers can start saving on their energy bills as soon as the system is installed.


Old Russian Mining Pit to be Domed Solar City

There's a massive mining pit in Eastern Siberia, Russia. At nearly 4,000 feet wide and 1,804 feet deep, the mine in its heyday extracted 2,000 kilograms of diamonds per year, a fifth of that high-quality jeweler’s stones.

In fact, production at the Mirny Mine, as it was called, was so weighted toward these superior-quality stones that diamond giant De Beers was forced to buy them to keep the market artificially inflated.

However, the mine closed in 2001, leaving a gigantic hole in the ground with layers, or levels, reminiscent of the tiered paddy fields in China.

Now, Nickolav Lvutemosiv and a group of architects from AB Elis Ltd. want to convert the 2 million-square-meter space to a domed city powered by the strong Siberian sun.

Called Eco-City 2020, the concept future urban development would accommodate 100,000 people on three levels, as well as a vertical farm, forests and recreational areas. The sheltering glass dome that makes it all possible will be covered by solar photovoltaic cells that produce enough energy to run the city as a carbon neutral entity.

The project, aimed at “rehabilitating” the land, will use its dome to protect the “garden city” from the harsh Siberian climate, which is fiercely cold in winter and blazing hot during the short summer.

Critics charge that the idea is just a pipe dream – a clever play on words, since the original Mir diamond “pipe” delivered diamonds to the world.

Proponents argue that Eco-City is the solution of the future, removing the urban sprawl that threatens regional ecologies worldwide. Add to that its carbon-neutral status, and potential for growing food all year round, and you’ve got the makings of a perfect eco-solution for people and nature.