Thursday, March 31, 2011

Solar Powered ATM Opens in India

Union Bank of India on Saturday unveiled its first solar-powered voice enabled biometric rural ATM at Ghawaddi in Ludhiana. Executive director of the bank S S Mundra inaugurated the ATM.

He was accompanied by general manager Lalit Sinha, deputy general manager P K Khandelwal and assistant general manager J S Khare.

Mundra said the ATM was a result of research and development efforts of IIT Chennai. The machine works on solar power, has low power consumption of 40-100 W, can work on single phase power connection, has ability to work without air-conditioning and has support for both biometric and PIN-based transactions.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Port of Morehead City to Sprout New Large-Scale, Rooftop Solar Array

Project is part of Progress Energy’s efforts to increase renewable energy on the grid

RALEIGH, N.C. (March 30, 2011) – The Eastern North Carolina power grid is getting a little bit sunnier, as Progress Energy has signed a contract with ESA Renewables, LLC, to build, own and operate a solar photovoltaic (PV) array at the Port of Morehead City. ESA Renewables will sell the entire output of the 800-kilowatt (kW) system to the utility for use with its customers.

“We are pleased that our portfolio of solar projects in Eastern North Carolina continues to expand,” said Lloyd Yates, president and chief executive officer of Progress Energy Carolinas. “We remain committed to responsibly pursuing renewable energy resources. Projects such as this, coupled with our aggressive energy-efficiency programs and advanced generation facilities, will provide the clean, reliable, affordable power our customers rely on us to provide.”

The Morehead City, N.C., solar PV array will be located on the roof of the Port Authority warehouse. It will be completed by the summer of 2011 and is expected to produce more than 1,125,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity per year, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by more than 700 metric tons annually. This is equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions from about 152 vehicles. The expected annual energy output equals the annual energy usage of about 78 typical households.

“The Port of Morehead City rooftop project is yet another renewable energy venture in which we are proud to be an integral part,” said Jeffrey Burkett, president of ESA Renewables. “This project validates ESA’s approach to help stimulate the economy and create new local jobs. Using this green energy will mean less energy needs to be provided in the conventional way, such as with coal or natural gas -- that means success for the city, the environment and for ESA as well.”

Rep. G. K. Butterfield of North Carolina, a member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, said he is encouraged by the project. “As we work toward energy independence, this is just the kind of innovative project we need to be looking toward,” Butterfield said.

This project was proposed in response to Progress Energy Carolinas’ request for renewable energy proposals, issued in November 2008, as part of the company’s plan to meet the requirements of North Carolina’s renewable portfolio standard. Progress Energy has about 100 megawatts of renewable energy under contract in North Carolina to help meet the requirements of this law, including solar, biofuels, landfill methane and other technologies.

About Progress Energy:

Progress Energy (NYSE: PGN), headquartered in Raleigh, N.C., is a Fortune 500 energy company with more than 22,000 megawatts of generation capacity and $9 billion in annual revenues. Progress Energy includes two major electric utilities that serve approximately 3.1 million customers in the Carolinas and Florida. The company has earned the Edison Electric Institute's Edison Award, the industry's highest honor, in recognition of its operational excellence, and was the first utility to receive the prestigious J.D. Power and Associates Founder's Award for customer service. The company is pursuing a balanced strategy for a secure energy future, which includes aggressive energy-efficiency programs, investments in renewable energy technologies and a state-of-the-art electricity system. Progress Energy celebrated a century of service in 2008. Visit the company’s website at

About ESA Renewables, LLC:

Located in Lake Mary, FL, ESA Renewables has positioned itself as a leader in the industry providing turnkey solar PV systems globally. ESA owns and operates a diverse portfolio of over 400 solar PV power generating facilities located in the United States, Puerto Rico, Spain and Italy. ESA’s scope of services includes financing, engineering, construction, testing and operation and maintenance. With headquarters in Castellon Spain, ESA has additional offices in Florida, Puerto Rico, France and Italy. For more information about ESA Renewables, LLC, please visit or call 407-536-5346.


Media Contacts:
Progress Energy Carolinas: 877-641-6397
ESA Renewables, LLC: 407-536-5346

DTE Energy Seeks Solar Panel Equipment

DTE Energy today initiated a Request for Proposal (RFP) to identify qualified solar photovoltaic (PV) panel suppliers to provide solar panels and logistics for the company's solar energy installations.

DTE Energy plans to install PV systems through 2014 at locations throughout the company's service area. DTE Energy will own and operate the solar energy systems, which will be ground-mounted or on rooftops of commercial and industrial customers, or at DTE Energy locations. This year, panels totaling 3 megawatts (MW) will be sought; up to 12 MW could be installed by 2014.

The company is seeking manufacturers or suppliers who have strong qualifications and proven PV module technology installed in the U.S.

The electricity produced from the proposed solar energy installations will help DTE Energy achieve Michigan's new Renewable Portfolio Standard, which calls for 10 percent of a utility's retail electric sales to come from renewable resources by 2015.

"This is another step in making Southeastern Michigan more self-sufficient when it comes to energy," said Trevor Lauer, DTE Energy vice president, Marketing and Renewables. "Moving to solar and wind energy is all possible because of the comprehensive energy legislation passed in 2008."

Detailed bid documents for the prequalification are available at

Potential bidders must register with the PowerAdvocate bid event platform to participate in the RFP. The PowerAdvocate registration site is Responses are due by April 26. If the potential respondent already has a PowerAdvocate user ID and password, they should send an email to and in the subject line request access to Event 26626.


Largest Public Urban Solar Display Almost Complete

Visitors to the Cincinnati Zoo are marveling at the sight: Nearly four acres of solar panels over a vast span of concrete parking lot.

Billed as one of the largest public urban solar displays in the country, the $11 million solar canopy will do more than help control the zoo's $700,000 annual electric bill when it's turned on by the middle of next month.

Developers see the project as a model for clean energy use in big public spaces. Already, a dozen zoos from as far away as California and Oregon have called to learn more. Locally, advocates say the project's sheer size and visibility may inspire increased interest in solar.

Developers insist the hype isn't overdone. The technology "will help put Cincinnati on the map as a national leader in the adoption and promotion of clean energy," says developer Steve Melink, Clermont County businessman and renewable energy advocate.

Workers installed the last solar panels on Friday.

"Some people wonder what the heck it is, and those who have heard about it are surprised at how big it is," said Mark Fisher, the zoo's senior director of facilities, planning and sustainability.

The project consists of 6,400 photovoltaic solar collection panels assembled on more than 100 metal arrays, 15 to 18 feet high. They cover 800 of the 1,000 parking spaces at the zoo's main entrance. The solar canopy is designed to produce 1.56 megawatts of electricity, about 20 percent of the zoo's annual need, or enough to power 200 homes a year.

Nobody tracks the size and number of solar canopy projects nationwide, which have been popular for years in warmer climates such as Southern California and Arizona. But last year U.S. photovoltaic installations of all kinds more than doubled to 878 megawatts, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, a Washington D.C., trade group.

The zoo's project isn't the largest solar project in Ohio. The Wyandot Solar Farm, a utility-sponsored project near Upper Sandusky in north-central Ohio, covers about 80 acres and can produce more than 10 megawatts of electricity.

But because the zoo's parking canopies are so public, officials think it will dramatically spur interest in solar here.

"The education aspect is worth a lot," said Raju Yenamandra, vice president at SolarWorld, a German-based company that produced the zoo's solar panels at its plant in Hillsboro, Ore. He thought so highly of the zoo project that he accelerated delivery so the project would be ready this spring.

"When you think of the number of people who visit the zoo (about 1.3 million each year), particularly younger kids, the educational aspect will be fantastic," he said.

Local businesses are benefiting, too.

"We're bidding multiple projects all over the country," said Dana Rudolph, president of Protek Park Solar in St. Bernard, which fabricated and installed the metal structures holding the solar panels.

Protek Park, a sister company of greenhouse constructor Rough Brothers Inc., has been building parking canopies for a decade. Today, solar projects are the fastest-growing part of his business, Rudolph said. The company supplied metal canopies for solar projects at two community colleges in New Jersey and recently completed a canopy for a 3.2 megawatt system at a New Mexico veteran's hospital.

Financing was the biggest hurdle to making the project work. And in the end, it isn't costing the zoo a penny.

Financial details aren't disclosed. But PNC Bank, which has built a national reputation financing green energy projects, agreed to finance the project for Melink with the help of federal renewable energy and low-income economic development tax credits.

Initially, efforts to put the complex financial transaction together using just federal energy credits fell short. That's when Melink and the zoo approached the non-profit Uptown Consortium about contributing some of it federal economic development credits to help finance the project.

"I thought it was great when the zoo and Melink approached us about the project last summer," said Beth Robinson, president of the Uptown Consortium. As part of their agreement, Melink will fund 10 scholarships at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College for Uptown area residents to be trained as solar equipment installers.

The project includes a number of firsts for all the parties. It's the first time Pittsburgh-based PNC combined both federal economic development and energy tax credits on a renewable energy project. It's also the first time the National Development Council has invested in a project here, Robinson said. The council is the nation's oldest non-profit community development organization working to increase jobs and development in under-served urban and rural areas.

Benefits for the zoo include favorable terms for the solar power produced.

Melink will sell electricity generated by its solar panels to the zoo for about 8 cents a kilowatt hour. That's about what the zoo currently pays its electric supplier, Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp., but the solar rate cannot increase for seven years.

Fisher expects the project eventually will save hundreds of thousands in electric costs. The deal also gives the zoo an option to buy the system after seven years.

Fisher said the zoo has used multiple strategies to hold down electric costs over the past several years. It has converted its annual Festival of Lights to more energy-efficient LED bulbs. Even after expanding the annual Christmas holiday display to more than 2 million lights, the use of LEDs has actually cut the festival energy bill in half, he said.

Lighting isn't the zoo's biggest electricity user. Pumping and moving water through various fish and animal tanks is. For example, Fisher said it costs $40,000 a year just to filter water through the 150,000-gallon Manatee tank exhibit.

"This shows that solar is proven and profitable technology right here in Cincinnati," Melink said. "The zoo hopefully will be the first of many larger scale projects in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the rest of the United States."

Fisher agrees: "Hopefully, we won't be the largest project a couple years from now."


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Solar Screens May Make Phone Chargers Obsolete

How would you like to have a cellphone that never needed to be charged? That’s the promise of French company Wysips, which wants to turn your phone’s screen into a solar charger.

It works like this: a transparent photovoltaic film covers the screen of your device, and provides 250mW of power to trickle-charge the battery. The film is thin — just 100 microns or 0.1mm — and won’t dim the screen when incorporated into the LCD panel. Wysips says the film will typically add just a dollar to the cost of a phone, and hopes to have shipping units within a year.

The beauty of the design is that it scales. The bigger the screen of a device, the bigger the solar panel. A typical phone will be fully charged in six hours, and the second-gen version will give you a half-hour’s worth of power with just one hour of charging.

The real winner here will be ebooks. These typically sip power anyway, and have pretty big screens. While you may still have to plug in an iPad to charge it at night, a Kindle with Wysips’ tech in its screen would likely never, ever need to be charged, especially as you can only read it when there’s enough light to do so.


Solar Panels Fit Better Than Wind in Suburban or Urban Areas

When it comes to distributed energy in suburban or urban areas, solar panels do a better job of fitting in than small wind turbines.

Small wind turbines, which are increasingly being marketed to homeowners, can provide power for both grid-tied and off-grid applications, typically require a strong steady wind to meet their generating capacity, and meet estimates for annual production. To tap into a good wind resource, turbines need to be placed high and clear of obstructions, such as trees and buildings, according to experts.

By contrast, solar photovoltaic (PV) panels are less fussy about placement. To make the investment worth considering, they need several hours of sunlight a day but, compared to small wind, that means a wider set of potential locations.

"Small wind is a viable distributed generation option, but it has a lot more siting constraints than PV. Part of it is the complexity and the analysis to determining if you have a good site," said Peter McPhee, a project manager at the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center where he manages the state's microwind program. McPhee was a speaker on a wind energy panel at the Building Energy conference here earlier this month, where there were fewer displays of small wind turbines compared to earlier years.

In the past few years, small turbines of various designs with a generating capacity under 100 kilowatts have been introduced in the U.S., leading to rapid growth and about 10,000 installed units by the end of 2009. Manufacturers often recommend that consumers or businesses should only consider small wind turbines if there is a minimum average wind speed of 10 miles per hour.

There are national wind maps, such as a free one offered by 3Tier, that rate the wind resources for different zones in the U.S. But determining wind dynamics at a specific location can be tricky.

For example, a review of one small wind turbine in Massachusetts found that obstructions from nearby buildings created a high degree of wind turbulence, resulting in a far lower performance than online tools had predicted, said Charles McClelland, an associate at the consulting company the Cadmus Group, which does wind project feasibility testing and monitoring. Similarly, a study of roof-mounted wind turbines in the U.K. found that turbulence diminished wind speed, one reason for disappointing performance.

To get around turbulence from trees and buildings, wind installers should have turbine towers at a minimum of 100 feet, McClelland said. But those high tower heights can often run afoul of local ordinances, making permitting complicated and limiting the available space.

Lonely places
In 2008, Massachusetts did a review of all its small wind installations and found that some of the turbines did not perform as well as expected. That led to a new microwind program in 2009 that sought to stiffen the siting requirements. It also developed a software tool to better assess the wind resource at a specific location, which is a requirement to receive rebates.

As a result of the changes, the state is focusing homeowners and installers on the best wind locations, which are typically near the water or in fields without obstructions. That makes small wind "not as applicable in scope as PV is," said McPhee.

In a survey with small wind manufacturers, the American Wind Energy Association noted that falling prices in solar PV have put more pressure on small wind installers and technology developers. The industry is pushing for equipment certification to provide more certainty on how small wind turbines will perform.

"Increasing publicity, public incentives, and competition from falling prices of solar PV technologies place greater pressure, survey respondents say, on small wind turbines to perform well in the field," AWEA said in its 2009 report on small wind.

Wind turbines can generate more energy per dollar than solar photovoltaics with the right conditions of a good turbine, site, people, as well as proper installation and maintenance, said Gary Harcourt, the founder and manager of installer Great Rock Windpower, who has commissioned more than 30 small wind turbines.

"Proper installation takes knowledge and experience. Short towers don't work--you need to get up there where the wind resource is," he said. "Most really good sites are pretty empty spaces--there's great wind out there."


Monday, March 28, 2011

Is California Getting the Wrong Kind of Solar?

Then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger made his way to a remote desert location last October, not far from the stretch of Interstate 15 that runs between Southern California and Las Vegas. So did U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and bunches of utility executives.

All pronounced themselves thrilled to mark what they called a landmark advance in energy, the start of work on a huge solar power farm that will help meet the state's goal of producing one-third of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

The project, on a site near the Mojave Desert's Ivanpah dry lake, is the second-largest of six solar thermal energy projects Salazar has greenlighted that will use about 12,000 acres of federal land for 30 years or more. The largest is eight miles west of Blythe, near the Arizona border and a bit closer to Los Angeles. This one was greenlighted three weeks after Ivanpah.

These two big projects will generate about 1,000 new jobs, making them a significant component of the "green" job growth counted on by Gov. Jerry Brown. When finished, they will produce about 709 megawatts from 28,000 solar dishes and panels, enough to power about 300,000 homes year-round.

The solar plans are now being challenged on grounds that they impinge on endangered species and treasured American Indian sites. A more serious question about them is whether they represent a colossal waste of federal money.

Altogether, more than $6 billion in federal stimulus money is earmarked for these projects, along with billions more in tax credits and other writeoffs for the solar firms that will build and own these, which will be among the world's largest solar power plants.

The question: Would that money be better spent on much simpler and smaller solar photovoltaic panels that can be installed on rooftops and parking lots in the cities where the power will be used than on vast expanses of solar thermal panels in the desert, where the electricity will have to be transmitted hundreds of miles to its eventual users? The jobs are not an issue here. Photovoltaic would create at least as many as solar thermal.

The answer, as outlined this winter in an article in the journal Natural Gas and Electricity, is that the same amounts of energy can be produced from photovoltaic panels for less than 55 percent of the cost.

The author, San Diego engineer William Powers, cites federal Department of Energy statistics to argue that solar thermal energy is now outmoded, and not being pursued in other advanced countries such as Japan and Germany, both of which have large-scale solar photovoltaic energy projects under way.

One reason is that photovoltaic panels are far simpler than solar thermal ones. Photovoltaic energy is produced when sunlight is converted directly to electricity without the involvement of water or oil, while solar thermal uses fluids such as synthetic oil or pressurized steam to convert heat into energy in large-scale facilities.

The bottom line financially, Powers calculates, is that solar thermal energy, including all transmission expenses, would cost about $250 per megawatt hour, while photovoltaic would run only about $136 per megawatt hour for sites getting the frequency of sunshine seen in or near Los Angeles and San Diego.

There are two reasons why big power companies such as Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric (Pacific Gas & Electric remains mostly an interested spectator at this point) line up behind the big solar thermal farms in remote locations: One is that when photovoltaic panels are installed on private buildings, the utilities must pay the owners a "feed-in tariff" for power not consumed in the buildings themselves that is then put onto their overall grids.

The other is that building the transmission capacity to carry power from desert points to big cities and their suburbs would cause them to invest billions of dollars, thus increasing their "rate base" considerably. A major component of electricity pricing is the "rate of return" (yearly profit percentage) utility companies get on their rate base, the total they've spent over the past 20 years on facilities and equipment. The current estimate for building just one of the needed transmission lines ---- roughly paralleling Interstate 15 ---- is $750 million.

Which means large solar thermal plants could force even greater electricity price increases than building new conventional oil- or gas-fired power plants.

All of which suggests another look at the huge and politically connected solar developments in California's almost-always-sunny deserts is called for. Californians and all American taxpayers deserve to know for sure that these won't turn into just another massive government-supported boondoggle.


Thousands of Michigan Jobs in Wind & Solar

LANSING, Mich. - When it comes to job creation in Michigan, the wind and solar energy supply chain is a generator. According to a new report from the Environmental Law and Policy Center, more than 10,000 jobs in the state are tied to the wind and solar energy sectors. (View it online at

It says Michigan ranks fourth in the nation for number of jobs in the solar industry and first for clean energy patents. Howard Learner is the Center's executive director and an author of the report. He says Michigan policymakers have done their part, by creating policies that encourage growth in the clean energy sector.

Learner also suggests that continuing and strengthening such programs as the Michigan Renewable Portfolio Standard, along with wind and solar energy tax reforms, could help boost those employment numbers even more. The Michigan Standard, enacted in 2008, requires that 10 percent of all electricity purchased by utilities in the state be generated by renewable technologies by 2015. Government programs, along with a highly trained and skilled workforce, contribute to the bright jobs picture for wind and solar, he adds.

Jarrod Erpelding is with Dow Corning and Hemlock Semiconductor in Michigan, producing components for wind and solar energy production. He says jobs are already being created in Michigan with investments Dow has made.

"That's directly created about 1,500 jobs here in Michigan, most of that through our investments at Hemlock Semiconductor."

The report says clean tech is the state's fastest-growing sector, with $10 billion in announced clean energy development investments in the pipeline. The companies include new startups as well as old-line manufacturing companies that are retooling to make renewable energy equipment for growing markets.


Sunday, March 27, 2011

India's First Floating Solar Plant

Tata Power today said it will be building the country's first low-cost, high-efficiency floating solar plant in partnership with an Australian company which invented the technology.

Sunengy, the Australian company, and Tata Power will begin constructing a pilot plant that uses the Liquid Solar Array (LSA) technology from August this year, a press release issued here said.

LSA uses traditional concentrated photovoltaic technology but rather than mounting the cells on a frame, it is made to float on water, making it low-cost, cyclone-proof and less tedious as it does not involve any land acquisition, it added.

"It effectively turns a dam into a very large battery, offering free solar storage and opportunity for improved water resource management," the inventor of the technology and Sunengy''s Executive Director and Chief Technology Officer, Phil Connor, said.

Tata Power's Executive Director, Banmali Agrawala, confirmed the tie-up for the "nascent technology" and said this is a part of the company''s effort to invest in clean and eco-friendly technologies.


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Renewables Could Supply 25% of Oahu Hawaii Energy Demands

The Oahu Wind Integration Study has come up with some exciting numbers regarding wind and solar energy for Hawaii.

Combined with Oahu wind farms and solar energy, the Interisland Wind project to bring 400 megawatts of wind power from Molokai and Lanai to Oahu could supply more than 25% of Oahu’s energy demands.

The study has come up with a number of recommendations for successful integration of renewable energy:

* Provide state-of-the-art wind power forecasting to help anticipate the amount of power that will be available from wind;

* Increase power reserves (the amount of power that can be called upon from operating generators) to help manage wind variability and uncertainty in wind power forecasts;

* Reduce minimum stable operating power of baseload generating units to provide more power reserves;

* Increase ramp rates (the time it takes to increase or decrease output) of Hawaiian Electric's thermal generating units;

* Implement severe weather monitoring to ensure adequate power generation is available during periods of higher wind power variability;

* Evaluate other resources capable of contributing reserve, such as fast-starting thermal generating units and load control programs.

"The findings of this study show it is feasible to integrate large-scale wind and solar projects on Oahu but also have value beyond Hawaii. Both large mainland utilities and relatively small and/or isolated grids that wish to integrate significant amounts of renewable energy while maintaining reliability for their customers can learn from this study," says Dr. Rick Rocheleau, Hawaii Natural Energy Institute director.


Friday, March 25, 2011

Scotch Tape Maker Could Reduce Rooftop Solar Installs

Moisture resistant front-side film to support scale-up of flexible CIGS, CdTe, and OPV

The world would be quite a different place without Scotch tape or, for that matter, duct tape, and if history is any indicator then some time in the sparkling green future another kind of “tape” will be found in just about every household in America – not in a kitchen drawer, but on just about every sunny rooftop. That’s because 3M, the same company which brought us the ubiquitous Scotch and duct tapes, has just won a $4.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to speed up the development and commercialization of its new thin film solar technology, Ultra Barrier Solar Film.

3M’s Thin Film Solar Technology

3M introduced its Ultra Barrier Solar Film last October. The moisture-resistant film is designed to replace the glass used in conventional thin film solar panels, thereby eliminating the need to use metal rack systems. Without racks, installation costs are generally lower, and this is a factor in reducing the overall cost of the technology (it should be noted, though, that turnkey modular systems can also help reduce installation costs). To add a little green jobs frosting to the cake, 3M plans to expand an existing plant in Missouri to manufacture the new film.

SunShot Grants for Renewable Energy

The Department of Energy’s Sunshot Program is the source of 3M’s development grant for the new technology. SunShot is a reference to the Apollo “moonshot” project, the all-out race to the moon spearheaded by NASA. With SunShot, DOE is aiming to stimulate a similar kind of urgency, providing support for the private sector to create low cost renewable energy that is cost-competitive with fossil fuels. 3M’s contribution is to develop a cost-effective method for producing high efficiency CIGS [copper indium gallium (di)selenide] thin films, widely regarded as one of the most promising technologies for bringing that goal within reach.

Pesky Meddling Government Energy Programs

Sunshot was launched just weeks before the disastrous tsunami and earthquake in Japan, a natural catastrophe that has devolved into a manmade calamity due to the damage it caused to the Fukushima nuclear power facility. Sunshot was initially conceived in order to transition the U.S. more rapidly out of fossil fuels, in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and disentangle ourselves from global oil politics. Now it seems that a major result of the program will be to transition us away from high risk nuclear energy as well.


Thin-Film Manufacturing Plant Coming to Arizona

Tempe, Ariz.-based First Solar Inc. plans to build a new plant in the neighboring Phoenix suburb of Mesa for manufacturing thin-film solar panels.

Company officials said Thursday the plant will employ 600 and be built on a 135-acre property that previously was the site of a General Motors automobile proving ground.

The panels, called photovoltaic modules, convert sunlight into electricity.

Construction is to start in the next several months and take a year, with the project providing approximately 450 construction jobs.

Company officials cited Arizona's sunny weather and a supportive business climate in the Phoenix area for their decision to pick Mesa for the plant site.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

NY Daily News: Safety Concerns Only One Big Reason Solar is Better

The powerful earthquake and tsunami that caused reactors at Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant to shut down - releasing radiation and endangering workers and evacuees - have many Americans asking whether nuclear energy is worth the investment and risk.

I say not. In fact, it should not have taken a disaster of this kind to move us decisively away from nuclear and toward safe, clean, renewable energy.

First, consider the meltdown. The risk of such a catastrophe is not trivial. In fact, the five reactor meltdowns in history represent more than 1% of the more than 440 nuclear reactors on Earth. Meltdowns can be caused not only by human error and natural disasters, but also by a terrorist with a large plane.

This scary possibility, though, is dwarfed by the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation, as evidenced by the attempted or actual development of weapons capabilities in Pakistan, India, Iran and to some extent North Korea secretly under the cover of nuclear energy facilities.

If the world's energy needs were converted to electricity for all purposes - and nuclear supplied such energy - 15,800 large nuclear reactors, one installed every day for the next 43 years, would be needed. The installation of even 5% of these would nearly double the current number of reactors, giving many more countries the potential to develop weapons. If only one weapon were used in a city, it could kill 1 to 16 million people.

Why do we need nuclear energy when we have safer, cleaner options that can provide greater power for a much longer period and at lower cost to society? These better options are called WWS, for "wind, water and sunlight." The chance of catastrophe caused by nature or terrorists acting on wind or solar, in particular, is zero.

During their lifetimes, WWS technologies emit no pollution - whereas nuclear does, since continuous energy is needed to mine, transport and refine uranium, and reactors require much longer to permit and install than do WWS technologies. Overall, nuclear emits 9 to 25 times more air pollution and carbon dioxide than does wind per unit energy generated.

Some argue that nuclear is more reliable than WWS systems. This is not true. A nuclear reactor affects a larger fraction of the grid when it fails than does a wind turbine. The average maintenance downtime of modern wind turbines on land is 2%. That of France’s 59 reactors is 21.5%, with about half due to scheduled maintenance.

What about matching energy supply with demand? Nuclear power plants most efficiently provide constant power when they are on. But power demand varies continuously. Some WWS options (such as geothermal and tidal) also provide constant output. However others (wind, solar, wave) are variable, and hydroelectricity can be turned on and off quickly. It has been shown with data that combining WWS technologies as a single commodity allows power demand to be supplied hour by hour with virtually no backup.

What about resources and space? Solar power in sunny locations can power the entire world for all purposes 30 times over; wind in windy locations on or near land can power the world 6 to 15 times over. Only 0.4% more of the entire planet’s physical land would be needed to power everyone, everywhere with WWS.

What about cost? Despite what you may have heard, on-land wind, hydroelectric and geothermal power are cost-competitive with conventional energy. Solar costs are higher but decreasing.

Policy makers who have begun leaning toward nuclear should consider the health and safety of the United States and the scientific method, instead of the trail of lobbyists, when deciding the future of this country.


Solar Powered Steam for Industrial Processes

The heat and rays of the sun aren’t just being harnessed for electricity. An early stage startup called Thermata, backed by Bill Gross’ Idealab, is looking to build a business around solar-powered boilers that produce steam for industrial processes, like paper making, food processing, and petroleum processing.

This type of industry already uses standard boilers, traditionally powered by natural gas. Thermata CEO Brad Hines said recently at the Cleantech Forum that the market for industrial heat via boilers is already a $26 billion business in the U.S. Thermata’s plan is to install heliostats (big mirrors) on the roof of a factory. The heliostats concentrate sunlight onto a receiver on top of an adjacent tower, which in turn powers the boiler to produce steam.

Hines said he thinks Thermata can produce steam in this way at a cost of $4.60 per MBTU compared to average prices for natural gas-powered steam, which can cost between $6 and $10 per MBTU. Beyond being lower cost, the process has far fewer carbon emissions.

However, you can probably already guess that it’s a complicated and expensive proposition to convince an industrial plant owner to commission the construction of one of these solar-power steam systems. It’s a separate tower, and then they have to connect the tower to the existing boiler and also install the solar tech on the roof. But Hines says even with the upfront cost, the pay-back period is two years for potential customers.

So far Thermata has a partnership with boiler and receiver maker Aalborg CSP, and has the benefit of the experience developed in the solar thermal incubation lab of Idealab. Hines was the founding CEO of concentrating solar photovoltaic startup Soliant Energy, and was VP of engineering for Idealab’s CPV startup Energy Innovations. Before that, he worked in NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab for 14 years.

Hines said that the company has been backed by $500,000 in funds from Idealab and is looking for another $600,000 from investors to build its first pilot system by 2012. Competitors include Sopogy, Chromasun, Heliodynamics and Cogenra.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

North Carolina Named a Top Solar State

Despite the still struggling economy, 2010 was the breakout year for solar power.

Although North Carolina is one of the nation’s top solar states according to a report, another study found that the state could do a lot more to take advantage of renewable energy.

North Carolina has 30.7 megawatts of electricity available from solar power — enough to power more than 30,500 homes. Only eight states have more solar power available, according to the 2010 Solar Market Insight report from the Solar Energy Industries Association.

“States have really increased their support of solar,” said Monique Hanis, spokeswoman for the association. “The fastest growth is in those states that have additional policies that are pro-solar.”

In 2007, the N.C. General Assembly passed a bill requiring 12.5 percent of utility kilowatt-hour sales to come from renewable energy by 2021, making it one of the majority of states with similar standards.

Hanis said standards like these have pushed the demand for solar energy upward.

Compared to U.S. GDP growth of 2.8 percent, the country’s solar market grew 67 percent in value in 2010, according to the report.

But because of high costs for these types of energy, many power companies are not investing in generating their own solar power — they are buying it from other companies.

“We don’t do any solar power generation ourselves,” said Progress Energy spokesman Scott Sutton. “But we do have a number of solar incentive programs that offer to feed that into the grid whenever possible.”

Progress Energy offers rebates to homeowners for installing solar panels on their roofs and also creates incentives for commercial clients to use solar, Sutton said.

Many companies and governments are following this trend, offsetting the high initial costs of installing solar because the long-term benefits weigh out, Hanis said.

Duke Energy received approval from the state to install solar panels on rooftops of some warehouses and facilities, said Paige Layne, spokeswoman for Duke Energy. The project will generate 10 megawatts of energy. Duke also buys solar energy from other partners across the country.

But money is still the main concern for both utility companies and clients, and that is an obstacle to solar power making a big dent in the dominance of traditional fuels.

“There’s still a significant gap between the most expensive fossil fuel and the cheapest solar fuel,” Sutton said.

Solar power costs went down 20 percent just last year so prices are becoming more equitable, especially with rising oil prices, Hanis said. But power companies make long-term contracts with fuel providers, so their prices don’t fluctuate as much.

The N.C. State Solar Center’s website outlines the rebates and incentives the state offers to energy companies and consumers for investing in renewable energy.

But the state still has not met its potential for renewable energy capacity, according to a study conducted at Duke University in March 2010.

“Even just beyond the fuel costs, even if solar was as cheap as natural gas, they are two completely different types of power that cannot be switched out,” Sutton said.

Solar and wind power generation is intermittent. Traditional power plants are running all the time, producing consistent energy, which solar and wind cannot do.

The late John Blackburn, professor emeritus of economics at Duke at the time he conducted the study, wrote that the drawbacks of solar and wind could be overcome by combining the two and spreading them across a wide area.

Solar and wind power combined would cover 76 percent of the state’s energy needs, according to the study.

Even though the state is not near that level of renewable energy generation, solar power does provide an important service, Hanis said.

“It does provide power, ideally, when you need it, which is peak times,” she said.

“It does provide stability in the grid during those times.”


Solar Greenhouse Innovations

Solar greenhouses have played a role in China’s agricultural scene for some time, but new innovations are taking them to the next level in addressing the global energy crisis and climate change.

A recently published report based on 20 years of systematic studies from the College of Agronomy and Biotechnology at China Agricultural University proposes that solar greenhouses can greatly improve current sustainability initiatives and goals worldwide.

The solar greenhouse at a glance:


* Energy savings

* Reduced Pollution

* Improved Economic Development


* Heavy reliance on the sun

* Heavy reliance on weather conditions

"The solar greenhouse has a very bright future, especially given the amount of concern over the global energy crisis and climate change. Additionally, significant energy savings can be realized from switching to solar greenhouses. We hope this technology can be applied to regions of similar climate to help reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions", says Zhen-Xian Zhang, lead author of the study.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Colorado Solar Rebates to Be Reinstated March 23

Excel’s Solar*Rewards program will be reinstated March 23, with a reduced up-front rebate and an extended performance-based renewable energy credit. The Colorado Public Utilities Commission approved the new version of the program March 18. It’s based on a compromise agreement among the stakeholders, giving the solar industry some predictability and addressing some of the program’s cash-flow and debt issues.

The Public Utilities Commission heard a full day of testimony, mostly supporting the agreement. After deliberating, the three PUC members agreed to the settlement “with reservations.”

This has been a long, dry period for solar sales in Colorado. On February 16, Xcel Energy abruptly halted the successful Solar*Rewards program. At that time, Xcel proposed dropping the rebate from $2.00 per watt of installed solar power to $0.25 per watt. Xcel shut down the rebate program to await a decision by the PUC.

In response to Xcel’s move, The Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association filed a request that Xcel reinstate the Solar*Rewards Program immediately.

“COSEIA believes such conduct evinces bad faith and a breach of the public trust in the administration of the Solar*Rewards program and may be in violation of the statutory prohibition against discrimination,” COSEIA’s attorney claimed. “By taking the extraordinary step of closing its Solar*Rewards program to new applications, the company has brought the market for small (less than 100 kW) residential and commercial solar installations to a dead standstill.”

Xcel claimed that the Solar*Rewards program was too successful. The solar industry had far exceeded the expectations of the Xcel Solar*Rewards program management. Because the program is funded by a 2 percent charge to Xcel customers, the rate of rebate applications exceeded the available funding, so Xcel needed to borrow to pay the rebates.

The solar industry challenged what the perceived as a punitive move.

”Rather than rewarding the solar industry for its ability to install more solar projects at decreasing incentive rates, however, PSCo’s (XCEL) approach is to punish the industry for its success.”

In a March 4 PUC hearing, the commissioners instructed stakeholders to try and work out a compromise.

The compromise reinstates the Solar*Rewards program with an up-front rebate of $1.75 paid per watt, and $0.04 per kWh paid over 10 years.

This will ratchet down quite rapidly to performance-based incentives, meaning the price per kWh will increase as the upfront rebate drops from $1.75 to $1.00 to $0.50 to $0.00.

During public comments Dr. Schechter, of the Colorado Office of Consumer Affairs, said the proposed agreement was, ”in the public’s best interest.”

Johnathon Koehn, regional sustainability coordinator for Boulder, said he was concerned about the process, specifically Xcel’s abrupt curtailment of the rebate program.

“The customer and the citizen perceive that there has been a loss of credibility in the rewards program,” Koehn said. “The movement to performance-based REC payments will make solar installation only for the rich, and make solar installers become financiers.”


1MW Solar Array Commissioned in North Carolina

I had the pleasure of attending the ribbon cutting ceremony for ESA Renewables 1MW solar farm at Martins Creek Elementary School located in Murphy, North Carolina last Thursday (March 10th, 2011).

With temperatures in the low thirties and dense fog in the area, the morning of the ceremony was quite chilly for me, having flow up from Florida the previous day. Thankfully the sun chased away the clouds and warmed the day to a pleasant 78 degrees!

The 999 kWW array is installed approximately 500 yards adjacent from the school and is situated on five acres. It consists of approximately 4,382 ground-mounted Canadian Solar CS6P polycrystalline modules, which are known for their industry leading PTC efficiency ratings. The system will produce an estimated 1.3 million kilowatt-hours each year, which is enough to power more than 150 average sized homes. As well, the PV system reduces carbon emissions of 936 tons of CO2 a year, which is the equivalent of 4,681 trees sequestered annually.

All of the power generated will be sold back to Tennessee Valley Authority providing power to the local utility grid. Some revenue generated will directly benefit the school system for the duration of the contract.

About ESA Renewables, LLC
Located in Lake Mary, FL, ESA Renewables has positioned itself as a leader in the industry providing turnkey solar PV systems globally. ESA owns and operates a diverse portfolio of over 400 solar PV power generating facilities located in the United States, Puerto Rico, Spain and Italy.

Future plans for large scale PV farm implementation include the construction of commercial-scale power generation facilities in Florida, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Georgia, North Carolina, New Jersey and Ontario with the first of these facilities anticipated to be operational in 2010.

ESA’s scope of services for these projects includes financing, engineering, construction, procurement and commissioning and long term operation and maintenance. With headquarters in Castellon Spain, ESA has additional offices in Florida, Puerto Rico, France and Italy.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Saudi Arabia Falls Short on Solar Projections

Oil giant Saudi Arabia hasn't been shy about putting forward a vision to turn its massive potential for solar power into its second major energy export.

But the kingdom's ambitions and pronouncements have so far exceeded results. Though some projects are in the works, the country still doesn't generate any electricity from the sun's light or other renewable sources. Nor does it ship any solar equipment overseas.

So it is not surprising, then, that industry officials are responding cautiously to notions that a recently announced and much-hyped $1.5 billion plant for solar panel parts will help the Saudis make use of solar energy at home.

Last week, Saudi-based Polysilicon Technology Co. — a joint venture between Saudi Mutajadedah Energy Co. and South Korea's KCC Corp. — said it had signed $380 million deal with two Korean engineering firms to build the polysilicon plant along the Gulf Coast.

Polysilicon, short for polycrystalline silicon, turns sunlight into electricity and is used to make the wafers and thin-film cells in photovoltaic (PV) solar panels.

The plant will initially be able to produce 3,350 metric tons of solar-grade polysilicon by 2014. Capacity could tick up to 12,000 tons upon the plant's completion in 2017, a level analysts say would be slightly below most production levels at that time. The three-phase project is expected to cost up to $1.5 billion.

Domestic Industry 'Very Much Yet to Take Off'

Brett Prior, a senior solar analyst at GTM Research in Boston, told SolveClimate News that it is too soon to tell if the Saudi-Korean polysilicon plant would help the kingdom meet its rapidly growing energy demand.

For one, polysilicon must undergo a host of processes before the material can actually be used to generate solar power, he said, and would most likely end up on a global market rather than fuel at-home production.

Shyam Mehta, also a GTM Research analyst, said that in order for the plant to boost the domestic solar industry, Saudi Arabia would also need factories to manufacture the polysilicon into wafers, which are then made into solar cells and modules — which it doesn't have.

Today, most of the world's polysilicon is manufactured in the United States, China and Germany and is usually shipped to China or Taiwan to get assembled into wafers that are eventually turned into modules to generate power.

According to a December report by the Solar Energy Industries Association, the U.S. exported $1.1 billion in polysilicon in 2009, or 40 percent of the global polysilicon market. Germany has a 19 percent share and China a nine percent share. China controls nearly half of the global wafer market, while the U.S. has just a three percent share.

For modules, "China and Mexico were the locations that contributed the most to imports, while Germany, Japan, and China were the most prominent export destinations," the report said.

Saudi's Silicon Output Likely to Be Sold to Asia
"The solar industry today is entirely globalized in terms of trade flows," said Mehta, "so it is more than likely that a good proportion, if not a majority, of the [Saudi] plant's output will be sold to China and Taiwan, which is where the majority of wafer [and solar cell] manufacturing is located."

He continued: "My understanding is that the domestic industry, both in terms of manufacturing and installations, is very much yet to take off in Saudi Arabia."

Nathaniel Bullard, a lead solar analyst for Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said that polysilicon is an "extremely energy and capital-intensive" material that requires several years to develop.

The buildup is more costly for newer plants than for companies already well established in polysilicon production, such as Hemlock Semiconductor Group — which has plants in Michigan and Tennessee — and Wacker, a Munich, Germany-based chemical company, which just opened its first U.S. plant in Tennessee.

Bullard said that while the Saudi plant is intriguing because it is based in an oil-rich kingdom, locating the plant there has more to do with its "cheap and dirty" electricity than its potential market for solar power.

Prior explained: "If you have very low energy prices … then that's a good place to locate a polysilicon plant. [Saudi Arabia] can generate electricity really inexpensively."

Does the Kingdom Have a Choice But to Go Solar?

As a growing number of nations seek to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels — and as the Western world clamors for independence from foreign oil — Saudi Arabia sees its sunny skies as a chance to remain competitive in the global energy market while satisfying soaring domestic energy demand.

Due in large part to its steady population growth, electricity demand is increasing by eight to 10 percent a year, according to just-released confidential U.S. diplomatic cables.

The reports suggest that Saudi renewables could take the place of residual oil that is now used to generate most of the country's electricity, leaving more crude oil for exports.

No one doubts that it has the solar assets for such a move. For an average of 12 hours every day, the sun in Saudi Arabia emits about 7,000 watts of energy per square meter, according to the government.

Prior of GTM Research estimated that if less than 0.1 percent of Saudi Arabia's 830,000 square miles was covered in solar panels, the country could match the 40-million kilowatt capacity in its power plants.

Saudi Arabia's insolation levels, or the incoming solar radiation, are similar to those in the Sahara Desert, central Australia and the southwestern United States — some of the most solar-intensive regions in the world.

Various Solar Ventures Now Underway

While its solar potential has yet to be tapped, various projects to do so are already underway.

In April last year, Saudi oil minister Ali Al-Naimi told the press that the kingdom hopes to become a major exporter for solar energy in the next 30 to 50 years, and he recently called for Saudi Arabia "to become the Saudi Arabia of solar energy."

That fall, officials said the country would produce 10 percent of its energy supply from clean sources — primarily solar — by 2020.

Also in April, U.S. technology giant IBM announced a collaboration with Saudi Arabia's national research institution, the King Absulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST), to build a water desalination plant powered by solar electricity.

The plant has an expected production capacity of 30,000 cubic meters per day, or enough to serve 100,000 people in the city of Al Kahfji, although IBM did not specify by when the plant would be completed.

In October, California-based SolFocus said it would build the first concentrated PV system in Saudi Arabia, delivering around 300 megawatt-hours of energy, and Japanese firm Solar Frontier said it would supply 10 megawatts of thin film solar modules in a parking lot.

This year, the Oman-based subsidiary of Germany’s Phoenix Solar AG announced it would build a 3.5-megawatt solar park for the Saudi Arabian Oil Company, the largest oil producing company in the world.

On the manufacturing side, one other polysilicon plant is in the works.

In November 2009, Bahrain-based First Energy Bank said it would build a $1 billion polysilicon plant in Saudi Arabia with a local partner. The plant is expected to have a production capacity of 7,500 tons per year when it opens in 2013.

The First Energy plant will be built in the Jubail Industrial City, the same location as the country's new Korean venture.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Ford Michigan Assembly Plant Goes Solar

Having been announced ever since last year, the solar power generation system installed by American manufacturer Ford in cooperation with DTE Energy is slowly beginning to power up, with the first part of the system being switched on this week.

The installation will provide Ford's Michigan Assembly Plant with 500 kilowatts of pure solar energy, which will be used by Ford to power both the assembly lines and charge its electric vehicles through the ten solar-powered charging points that will be installed at the facility.

Working in conjunction with the 500-kilowatt solar photovoltaic panel system will be a 750-kilowatt energy storage facility, whose batteries will be able to retain 2 million watt-hours of energy for future use.

“This solar energy system allows us to test the viability of alternative energy to supply power for our manufacturing facilities around the world. It serves as a significant initiative within our corporate emphasis on sustainability,” said Jim Tetreault, Ford vice president, North America Manufacturing.

“Michigan Assembly Plant has been transformed into a facility that embodies our drive for flexible manufacturing and strives for new standards for green manufacturing.”

The Michigan Assembly Plant will be the birth place of the new Focus, including its electric version later this year. Two other hybrids, C-MAX Hybrid and C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid, will also be manufactured there.

Should the solar power project prove successful in Michigan (and Ford sees no reason it won't be), the concept will move to power other Ford facilities as well. Together with the 500-kilowatt solar panel system itself, a smaller one will also be tested as the supplier of energy for the plant's lighting systems.


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Hayward, California Unveils 8 Acre Solar Array

With no small amount of pride, city officials unveiled a solar array at the shoreline that uses 5,152 panels spread over 8 acres to generate nearly a quarter of the energy used at the neighboring water treatment plant.

"This isn't the first solar installation for Hayward," City Manager Fran David said at the Wednesday ceremony. "Hayward has been a leader at installing solar panels throughout the city for many years -- before it became popular. Unbeknownst to many, Hayward is a leader in the green world."

The 100 rows of sun-tracking panels make for a large installation, second in the county size-wise only to the one at Santa Rita Jail, said Dave Morosoli, vice president of REC Solar.

But Morosoli added that these are a bit more high-tech. As the sun moves across the sky, the panels tilt to follow it, resulting in a 20 percent boost to generation over nonmoving panels such as those at the jail.

The array generates about 1 megawatt of power a day. That's enough for 200 average Bay Area homes, and in 25 years, it will offset about 24 million pounds of carbon dioxide -- the equivalent of taking 183 cars off the road each year.

Morosoli said such installations are becoming more popular for facilities such as water treatment plants, which use a lot of power. He said that across the nation, REC Solar is erecting similar arrays for a total of 1.5 gigawatts of power generation.

Hayward's plant -- which can treat 12 million gallons of wastewater each day -- is the single largest energy consumer in the city, but it already has garnered attention and awards for measures that have been taken to make it as green as possible. That includes methane generators that already were producing 30 percent of the energy used.

The addition of the solar array puts it at 54 percent, and Bob Bauman, Hayward's director of public works. He said they plan to make it self-sufficient within a couple of years.

About $2.6 million of the $5.7 million project was paid for by the California Solar Initiative, and a low-interest $2.5 million state loan covered most of the rest.

Morosoli said the resulting savings will pay off the plant in six to 10 years, and the facility has a life span of 25 to 30 years.

"Solar systems are always feasible," he said. "It pays for itself."


Friday, March 18, 2011

Evergreen Solar to Delay Pay Back

Evergreen Solar Inc. (Nasdaq:ESLR) expects to have several years to pay back grant money owed to the state in connection with the closing of the company’s factory in Devens, Mass., according to the company’s annual report.

Executives at Marlborough, Mass.-based solar technologies company said on Thursday that they’re only expecting to generate $90 million from the sale of assets in Devens, just a fifth of the $430 million the company paid to open the plant in 2008.

Evergreen Solar had received at least $31 million in direct state support to help open the plant, where the company has produced solar panels, cells and wafers.

Greg Bialecki, the state’s secretary of housing and economy development, has said he expects the state to recover more than half of that amount through clawback provisions in the agreements. But Evergreen has claimed it only owes $4 million, at most.

Bialecki spokeswoman Kimberly Haberlin said Thursday that state officials are “aggressively pursuing recovering all funds owed to the commonwealth and are currently engaged in conversations with the company to that end.”

But it might be a while before the money is paid, Evergreen said in its 2010 annual report filed this week. “Based on our understanding of the grant agreements, we do not believe these amounts will need to be repaid for several years,” the company wrote.

Still, Evergreen said, “we cannot be sure that an adverse determination would not be made if our interpretation of the agreements were challenged.”

Evergreen announced in January that the factory would close — and that the factory’s 800 jobs would be cut — by the end of March. The layoffs are “occurring in phases through the end of the month,” investor relations director Michael McCarthy wrote in an e-mail.

McCarthy said the $90 million sales figure includes both cash generated from unwinding working capital and the sale of assets in Devens.

“That investment was made about three years ago,” he wrote in an e-mail. “When you account for (depreciation and amortization) over the regular course of business and consider that most pieces of equipment are written off over 5-year up to 10-year periods, there are changes in book value.”

McCarthy and other Evergreen executives have not explained how the factory itself, which Evergreen owns, would factor into the assets sale. The land is leased from MassDevelopment, which declined to comment on the plans for the assets sale.

Shares in Evergreen closed down 7 percent on Thursday after the company released its fourth-quarter financials, which included a nearly $400 million operating loss as a result of the Devens shutdown.

Bloomberg reported on Friday that JPMorgan equity analyst Christopher Blansett has downgraded Evergreen’s stock to underweight from neutral.


Solar Installation at Camp Pendleton - US Marines Base

The U.S. Marines recently made news for their innovative use of suitcase-sized portable solar energy systems, and now they’ve gone in the other direction, sizewise, with a new 1.4 megawatt solar array at Camp Pendleton. It’s the largest solar installation at a Marine Corps base, and one of the largest in San Diego County – and it also illustrates how the U.S. military is becoming a powerful green jobs generator.

Green Jobs and the U.S. Marines

The new installation features solar modules from industry leader Kyocera Solar, Inc., which is an offshoot of the Japan-based Kyocera Corporation. Back-office operations are headquartered in Arizona and California, but the real green jobs story is the company’s new photovoltaic factory in San Diego. The plant opened last June and produced the 6,300 solar modules for the Camp Pendleton system. All together, the system will generate about 2,400 megawatt-hours per year and save the Marine Corps about $336,000 in annual electricity costs.

Camp Pendleton and Sustainability

As reported by Eric Woff of North County Times, Camp Pendleton has become the “epicenter of new green construction.“ One example is a barracks upgraded for efficiency last year, which included replacing an inappropriate lawn with a water-conserving rock/tree garden, dual-flush toilets, Energy Star appliances, extra insulation, and a 50-kW rooftop solar installation among other features. Wolff notes that the base is also constructing water reclamation facilities and installing 1,ooo smart meters. Back in 2009, Camp Pendleton also made news for its recycling and alternative fuel vehicle programs.

The U.S. Military and Green Jobs

When you put together all that activity and multiply it by military facilities across the U.S., that adds up to a lot of employment for workers in green jobs fields, including geothermal and wind power. The U.S. taxpayer stands to benefit because, as illustrated by Camp Pendleton’s money-saving solar installation, the long term effect is to lower the military’s fuel costs. However, with Congress casting a stinkeye on the military budget, let’s hope those green jobs don’t wind up on the chopping block.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Reliance on Solar Energy, Fossil Fuels May Increase

Concerns about the safety of nuclear power plants following Japan's magnitude-9.0 earthquake could be an unexpected boon for the U.S. solar energy but could also serve as a spur for increased reliance on coal and other fossil fuels.

Balancing the opportunities and challenges of renewable energy development was a unifying theme for speakers at Tuesday's Greentech Media Solar Summit at the Hyatt Grand Champions Resort in Indian Wells.

“Renewables have a hard time being deployed at the scale of nuclear,” said Scott Clavenna, CEO of Greentech Media, an energy industry news and market analysis firm. “If you shut down nuclear, you could argue for the commissioning of coal. It's really hard to transition off fossil fuels.”

Solar and utility executives at the two-day event, which started Monday, pointed to financing, reliability and costs as obstacles for for the industry.

Highlights of Tuesday's presentations included:

Utility-scale solar: Keynote speaker Fong Wan, vice president for energy procurement at Pacific Gas & Electric, challenged the more than 250 summit attendees to bring down costs and improve storage technology so solar power can be used 24/7.

“Your success is what leads to lower customer costs for us,” Wan said. “I prefer forecastable output; I like solar that fits the profile of our customer demand in California.”

Financing: Federal energy grants and loan guarantees are essential to maintain current momentum in larger-scale solar development, but may not be sustainable for the long term, a panel of solar and investment experts said.

“The Treasury grant program enables us to do (larger projects) and get into the global market that is very interested in financing these projects,” said Arno Harris, CEO of Recurrent Energy, a San Francisco solar developer. “The opportunity to tap lenders allows us to sustain our business as a developer and deliver price to market.”

Feed-in tariffs: In a pro-con debate on feed-in tariffs, Barry Cinnamon, CEO of Westinghouse Solar, argued for the incentives, which pay solar owners for their excess production, but said rates must be flexible.

“When there's a policy that sets a price, it's either too high or too low,” he said. “If it's too low, nothing happens. If it's too high, you're going to end up putting out more solar than you need at higher prices.”

Travis Bradford, president of the Prometheus Institute, a nonprofit focusing on sustainable development, favored more market-based incentives such as the California Solar Initiative, which decreases consumer rebates as more solar is installed.

“The real problem with feed-in tariffs is they are going to be polarizing and disappointing, and it's going to create backlash,” he said. “I think the market should set the price.”


Cuts to DOE Loan Program Could Set Back U.S. Solar Industry

Industry executives say that several planned solar plants would be canceled if House Republicans succeed in eliminating key DOE loan guarantee programs

Solar companies are warning that if Congress kills two major Department of Energy funding programs this spring, the country would squander the opportunity to exploit recent breakthroughs in solar energy development.

For Tenaska Solar Ventures in Omaha, Neb., a cut in DOE loan guarantees could mean losing two planned solar plants in Southern California, which in turn would halt operations at a new manufacturing facility for solar parts.

"It would kill off a number of projects that otherwise would have been created," Tenaska spokesperson Bart Ford told SolveClimate News.
Through its CSOLAR Development subsidiary, the firm plans to supply 130 megawatts of photovoltaic (PV) capacity from its Imperial Solar Energy Center (ISEC) South project.

A second 150-megawatt project at its ISEC West location would triple the amount of concentrated photovoltaic (CPV) capacity that research consultancy Strategy Analytics expects to be installed in the U.S. this year.

The facility is the largest power station of its kind to be announced worldwide, with potentially enough capacity to serve 55,000 California homes.

CPV currently accounts for 0.1 percent of the total domestic PV market, as the relatively new technology slowly begins to compete with traditional lower-cost silicon PV projects.

The technology, which is best suited to extremely sunny areas, uses optical lenses to concentrate sunlight onto high-efficiency solar cells. The panels are mounted on tracking systems to follow the movements of the sun's rays.

Ford said that both projects have secured 25-year power purchase agreements from San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), and that pricing for the deals was based on receiving credit subsidies.

He declined to disclose the total costs of the projects or the amount of DOE funding on the table, explaining only that, "If the loan guarantee goes away, then likely our solar projects go away."

Solar Surged in 2010 From Loan Guarantees
The DOE loan guarantees encourage investment in risky, innovative energy projects by ensuring financial institutions and project developers that the government will cover loans they cannot pay back.

Under 2009's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the Obama administration created the temporary Section 1705 program to provide loan guarantees to projects for renewable energy, advanced biofuels or upgrades to the national transmission system.

The program initially appropriated $6 billion for credit subsidy fees, which is the amount the government estimates it would have to pay out. The subsidy account was later reduced to $2.5 billion.

The 1705 program has since allowed the DOE Loans Programs Office to conditionally commit or close $18 billion in loan guarantees to 20 clean energy projects, creating or saving 20,000 jobs across 13 states, office spokesperson Ebony Meeks told SolveClimate News.

"For every dollar appropriated, the loans are driving thirteen dollars of private sector investment," she said via e-mail. "The DOE has thus far pledged to finance eight renewable energy generation projects with a combined capacity of more than 4,000 megawatts — enough to power more than one million homes."

Section 1705 is a follow up to Section 1703, a permanent loan guarantee program to support innovative energy technologies that are not commercially available. Applicants in this program pay an insurance premium and include projects in nuclear power, fossil fuels, carbon capture and storage, industrial energy efficiency and renewable energy.

The loan office's budget for fiscal year 2012 proposes $200 million in credit subsidies for the 1703 program. The average credit subsidy for solar generation and manufacturing projects is $156 million in total, with biomass, geothermal plus wind generation and manufacturing averaging a collective $150 million in credit subsidies.

Solar utility installations surged last year due in large part to the loan programs.

In 2010, the U.S. installed 242 megawatts of utility PV capacity — more than double its capacity from 2009, according to a 2010 market review by the Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research.
An additional 700 megawatts of utility PV are slated for installation this year, the report says, although this number is largely contingent upon sections 1703 and 1705 remaining intact.

Resolution Would Put 31 Clean Energy Projects At Risk

The sections could be scrapped altogether if the GOP House majority's proposed continuing resolution has success in shaving $2 billion from the entire DOE budget. A third loan program — the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing — would be saved.

Meeks said that if the resolution passes this spring, then 26 nearly finalized loan guarantee agreements would never be completed, while five commitments for loan guarantees  that had already been issued would be withdrawn.

More than half of the total are solar projects.

"These 31 projects are seeking $15.5 billion in loans to finance $24.2 billion in new energy infrastructure, which would put more than 35,000 Americans to work," she said. "The proposed cuts will drastically decrease the opportunity for any renewable energy project to receive support from DOE."

Tenaska spokesperson Ford said: "Hopefully Congress will take into account ... that providing a stable business environment is very important to long-term project development."

The solar developer's uncertainty has also trickled down to Soitec, a French solar parts manufacturer whose CPV-focused subsidiary Concentrix Solar is supplying modules to the ISEC West solar plant.

Clark Crawford, who heads Soitec's local operations, said the firm was investing more than $100 million in a new San Diego manufacturing facility that would supply 200 megawatts worth of solar modules for IPEC West and other large-scale solar projects.

He said that while Soitec itself did not apply for a DOE loan guarantee, the firm's new plant is highly dependent on the completion of Tenaska's project and its corresponding power purchase agreement with SDG&E.

He added that slashing the loan guarantee program "delays or threatens the go-ahead with our manufacturing facility plans in San Diego," as well as some 450 high-end technology jobs the facility would create.

SolarReserve: 'Calamitous Outcome' if Funds Cut

Michael Whalen, chief financial officer for SolarReserve, said that cutting the DOE funding plans would have "a calamitous outcome" for two utility-scale concentrated solar thermal projects set to start construction this year.

He said that the Santa Monica, Calif.-based development firm was an ideal candidate for the 1703 innovation loans because its projects utilize technologies that have yet to be deployed on a large scale.

Solar thermal technology does not involve PV cells, but rather uses a field of mirrors to direct sunlight at a central receiver atop a tall tower. As the receiver heats up, a fluid made from salt compounds runs through a boiler-like system that captures the heated liquid.

Unlike solar panels that only operate when the sun shines, the thermal tower can store the heated fluid during the day and run liquids through a heat engine at night to turn a generator and make electricity.

Last December, SolarReserve secured a power purchase agreement with Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) for its planned 150-megawatt Rice Solar Energy Project near Blythe, Calif. — enough solar power for 68,000 homes annually.

That same month, the firm won approval by the Department of the Interior to build its 110-megawatt Crescent Dunes Solar Energy project on federal lands in Nevada. State utility NV Energy had already committed to purchase electricity generated by the plant.

SolarReserve has also received environmental permits from Arizona for its proposed 150-megawatt Crossroads solar thermal power plant and is now looking to sell the potential electricity.
Whalen did not disclose the size of the anticipated DOE loan guarantees for the projects, but said that cumulative investments on the first two solar plants were well in excess of $1 billion.

"We have invested a considerable amount of time, energy and money in bringing these projects forward on the basis of the [DOE] programs that have been set up," he said.

Not only would solar projects in general lose private investment and green job creation as a result of ending the DOE loan guarantee programs, but states would struggle to meet the clean energy components of their renewable portfolio standards (RPS), he said.

"A substantial quantity of utility-scale projects need to be constructed in order for states with RPS to meet those objectives," he said. "Although there was significant [solar] growth in 2010, the reality is that a large bulk of those projects have yet to commence construction."

"Most of these projects have in one fashion or another made applications to the DOE and are counting on those programs being available."


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Tough Few Weeks for Solar Rebates

Over the last few weeks, solar news came from Hollywood—not in the form of a movie—and stretched across the country to New Jersey. Most of the news was positive but some, like news coming from Colorado, was a bit cloudier.

In Colorado, Xcel Energy, the largest utility in the state, froze its Solar Rewards rebate program until it is a able to reduce its solar rebate rate to $1.25 per watt. Solar installers say the lowered rebate rate is forcing them to layoff workers. The proposed decrease follows on the heels of a reduction the utility announced just two weeks prior, from $2.35 per watt to $2.01 per watt—the lowest amount currently allowed in Colorado. The proposal is now being discussed by Colorado’s Public Utilities Commission, but installers are already planning layoffs. It’s a move that Xcel could take in other states it provides services in.

However, utilities in other states, like California, are participating in new rebate and incentive programs. California’s new Energy Upgrade California rebate program leverages funds from utilities and the state to offer residents rebates for making their homes more energy efficient and for photovoltaics. Rebates can reach as high as $4,000 to help pay for solar and other home upgrades.

Delaware announced a total of 41 block grants supporting energy efficiency and solar projects in its smaller towns and cities. The grants leverage federal funding to help the local towns use less energy and save money, while providing new jobs as the state recovers from the recession.

Cities are also remaining active in promoting solar through rebate programs. For instance, Beaverton, Ore., launched its Solar Beaverton campaign last week. The campaign aims to put solar on the homes of 220 more homes in the 87,000-person city by offering solar at fixed cost.

The solar news coming from Washington, D.C., last week was mixed. On one hand, 51 residents that installed solar are stuck waiting for rebates from the city they were approved for, but the money for the rebates was apparently used to help close the city’s budget gap. On the other hand, the city has a strong group of solar co-ops that are helping residents learn about the benefits of solar and are helping to reduce the costs of a system by working with contractors.

In a unique application of solar power, a new solar thermal system is being used to extract oil in what’s known as an enhanced oil recovery application. GlassPoint recently completed its first solar thermal trough system, which superheats water into steam. The steam is then pumped into an oil deposit to heat the oil, freeing it from rock and making it harvestable.

That might seem like a dirty use for clean energy but you could say GlassPoint’s new device was offset by the Environmental Protection Agency’s use of solar at Frontier Fertilizer Superfund site in California. That, combined with a special heating system, will help clean up the site in a fifth of the time originally estimated.

The Randolph Sports Pavilion in Randolph, N.J., went nearly 100 percent solar, thanks to a 1,556-module solar array on its roof. Owner Jeff Walder said the system will lead to six-figure utility savings this year.

In Hollywood, solar was in the spotlight as Twentieth Century Fox Film turned on its new solar array on its historic Building 99. The move could soon be emulated by other movie and television studios looking for long-term pricing stability.


Bill Would Benefit Solar Installers That Buy Panels in New Jersey

The solar industry is thriving in New Jersey, with hundreds of firms, many of them installing solar systems in homes and businesses. In fact, there's so much activity that the state is second behind only California in the number of solar installations.

But the state also is hoping to attract manufacturing jobs to local factories as a way to create the blue-collar, middle-class jobs that will help drive a new green economy. In an attempt to make that happen, the Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee yesterday approved a bill that would make it more attractive for solar businesses to buy equipment made in New Jersey.

The bill (A-2042) would give firms that buy solar panels manufactured in the state a slightly easier way to accrue solar renewable energy certificates (SRECs). Lawmakers believe this would make manufacturers who sell panels more attractive to the companies that install them

"It’s just another attempt to help create jobs and to increase the use of renewable energy in the state," said Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo (D-Mercer), the sponsor of the bill. He said his bill would help bring new manufacturing facilities back to New Jersey, including the contaminated brownfield factories, that now lie idle.

Under the bill, manufacturers that sell solar panels in the state would generate solar renewable energy certificates after their systems generate 850 kilowatts of electricity, instead of the 1,000 kilowatts normally required.

This is yet another subsidy bestowed upon the solar sector, which has created more than 3,000 jobs in New Jersey, but one that is raising concerns among industry leaders and those who advocate a strong push toward renewable sources of energy in the state.

Jeff Tittle, executive director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club and one of the strongest advocates of promoting solar in the state, opposed the bill in the committee, saying it could undermine the state’s efforts to develop solar power by interfering with the free-market system set up by the state to encourage solar installations.

"Once the legislature starts to interfere with the free market system, it just won’t stop," Tittel said. "If we start adding things to it, it will create a real mess that will undermine renewable energy sources."

Terry Sobolweski, business development manager of SunPower, a solar firm that has installed 90 megawatts of solar systems in New Jersey, also expressed concerns about the bill, arguing the current program has proven very effective in promoting solar in the state.

If the bill was approved, Sobolweski said, it would deny customers in New Jersey the best and lowest-priced solar products available in the free market. He also said it would complicate the trading of solar renewable energy certificates and possibly be a violation of interstate commerce laws.

But DeAngelo defended the bill, saying the state has a lot of contaminated brownfields that could be put to better use. “There are companies that are looking to come to Mercer County because New Jersey is so solar friendly," he said.