Friday, April 29, 2011

Hawaii -- Low Barriers to Solar Power

Hawaii is on the verge of using energy from the sun to replace much of fossil fuels as the source of the state's electricity. A major obstacle is the uncertainty about the integrity of electrical grids at night or during cloudy days when the sun is relied upon for much of the electricity. The financial burden in determining if a risk exists should not be placed entirely on homeowners or businesses wanting to join those who already have gone solar.

The issue arises at a time when use of rooftop solar panels in a photovoltaic system is at an important crossroad. The amount of energy generated from residential photovoltaic systems in Hawaii has doubled nearly every year in the past five, according to the Hawaii Solar Energy Association. That should continue to grow at that pace for the state to reach the goal of getting 40 percent of electricity sources from sustainable sources.

The state Public Utilities Commission allows Hawaiian Electric Industries of Oahu, Maui and the Big Island to require a study to be conducted on the effect of the addition of any solar electricity system in circuits for neighborhoods where at least 15 percent of the total capacity already comes from alternative sources.

That includes wind, which is even more unpredictable than the sun.

Eleven of Oahu's 465 circuits already have reached that point, along with 18 of the Big Island's 140 circuits and three of Maui's 90. Those neighborhoods effectively have reached their limit on use of solar since the cost of a study demanded by HECO ranges from $15,000 for a single-family home to $40,000 for a commercial power customer is beyond affordability. Not surprisingly, no homeowner or business has agreed to pay for a study in those 11 Oahu circuits since they reached the 15 percent threshold.

Todd Georgopapadakos, a partner in RevoluSun, a designer and installer of photovoltaic systems, told the Star-Advertiser's Alan Yonan Jr. that his company "would literally be able to do at least double the number of projects but for this restriction."

Only 4,000 of the state's 267,000 single-family homes have photovoltaic systems, and the disincentives in neighborhoods that have reached the 15 percent threshold could be significant. While some families and businesses may be quicker than otherwise in installing a photovoltaic system to beat the eventual threshold, neighborhoods that already have hit the limit are likely to become stagnant because of the cost of a study.

Such studies probably are needed. The 15 percent threshold, which also is required in California, was recommended by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, according to HECO. The concern is valid that a cloud passing overhead could create a problem, even an emergency, in providing adequate voltage throughout a circuit and avoiding an outage.

There must be a better way, though — perhaps via tax or other rebates, or other cost-defraying incentives — to pay for such studies other than slapping the cost on the family or business unlucky enough to have missed the threshold cut. Until then, the road toward reducing dependence on oil will be bumpier than need be.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

Solar Projects Expected to Create Jobs

The Bureau of Land Management is proposing solar development energy zones that could be a boon to Imperial County’s economy, says a local official.

Attending a BLM workshop here two months ago District 2 Supervisor Jack Terrazas, recalled BLM designated 14 energy zones in six states most suitable for environmentally sound utility-scale solar energy production.

On Friday, BLM announced a two-week extension for public comment period for the draft solar programmatic environmental impact statement, according to a press release.

Comments can be submitted until May 2 online at

The PEIS assesses environmental, social and economic impacts with solar energy development on BLM lands in California, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.

Without seeing the press release, Terrazas said if it is the same project as the workshop he previously attended he would support it. The site BLM had identified here is the East Mesa, just east of Holtville where there is a lot of BLM land.

East Mesa already has some geothermal projects and is on nonagricultural producing land, Terrazas said. But once selected, BLM could make those areas restricted and then he would like to weigh in on the prospect.

If BLM’s intent is to speed the permitting process, Terrazas said he backs the idea because permitting can be a very lengthy process here. Solar development would definitely stimulate the economy and alleviate unemployment, he added.

“To my recollection BLM sited lands where it’s easier to hook up to transmission lines and with less impact to the community,” Terrazas said.

But massive utility scale solar production on public lands is not the way to go about it, said Chris Clarke, Coachella Valley resident and co-founder of Solar Done Right, a solar advocacy nonprofit. Large scale solar farms are more expensive, and there is no reason to bulldoze desert tortoise and other habitats, he added.

Distributive rooftop solar panels, which most people have easier access to, are a better way to go green, Clarke said. Also, the smaller scale projects do not require new transmission lines such as Sunrise Powerlink because existing lines can accommodate a mix of different types of energy, he said.

If residents or businesses can acquire the necessary funding, rooftop solar can be installed in a couple of weeks, and it does not require an environmental impact report because commercial and residential rooftops are not a wildlife habitat, he said.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Foreign Firms Open Legal Proceeding Against Italy Solar Cuts

A group of foreign solar power investors has opened legal proceedings against Italy over planned cuts in incentives to the photovoltaic industry, it said on Wednesday.

Italy's solar sector, among the biggest in Europe, has boomed since 2005 when state-backed production incentives were first launched. But Italy has decided to scrap the existing generous solar incentives starting in June.

Photovoltaic Operators Investors (POI) hoped the draft solar decree could be changed to make it "more equitable so as to safeguard and not prejudice investments made", it said in a statement.

The group has brought proceedings against Italy under a 1994 European energy charter, it said.

POI includes AES Solar Energy BV (AES.N), Akuo Energy Sas, Fotowatio Renewable Ventures, Martifer Solar S.A. (MARTI.LS), Siliken S.A., Solarig N-Gage S.A. and Wurth Solar GmbH & co. KG.

Rome's new draft support scheme would in part cap subsidies for solar developers at between 6 billion and 7 billion euros ($8.8 billion and $10.3 billion) per year by the end of 2016, when installed capacity is expected to be around 23,000 megawatts.

The decree was presented to a meeting of Italian regional authorities and the state last week but the gathering was put back to April 28 to allow more time for study of the measures.

POI said its members had made investments in Italy under regulations passed in August 2010 which had been changed once and which could shortly be replaced by other measures that were "worse, retroactive and discriminating".


Huntsville Alabama Finalist for National Solar Observatory

The city known for helping send men to the moon may soon add the sun to its intellectual galaxy.

The University of Alabama in Huntsville announced Thursday that the city is one of two finalists for the new site of the National Solar Observatory.

Working closely with NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in the bid to bring the NSO to Huntsville, UAH survived the elimination of five other sites and is now competing against the University of Colorado in Boulder.

Just how important is Huntsville's bid to become the new site of the NSO?

"The first meeting I had when I learned I was going to be interim president was with Gary Zank to discuss it," said Malcolm Portera, chancellor of the University of Alabama system and interim president at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

Zank, an eminent scholar and chair of the UAH physics department, and Elizabeth Newton, director of Policy Research Programs at UAH, spearheaded the overall proposal effort.

"We're doing everything and more that we need to do to be able to attract it here," Portera said Wednesday in an interview with The Times.

The NSO currently has operations in Sunspot, N.M.; Tucson, Ariz.; and Pukalani, Hawaii. The NSO made a visit to Huntsville in February.

According to a UAH news release, the NSO is the nation's premier ground-based scientific research program to study solar physics and space weather and is operated under the auspices of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy on behalf of the National Science Foundation.

In short, Portera said, landing the solar observatory would mean "tremendous international and national exposure."

Then Portera provided an anecdote to prove it. He was in India last month, attending a conference at the Brabha Atomic Energy Commission. During a presentation on astrophysics, a conference official turned to Portera and said, "I understand you are competing for the national (solar) laboratory at one of your universities."

Portera then laughed about the distance between India and Huntsville.

"That's a few miles from here, by the way," Portera said.

UAH and Marshall are at the forefront of the project, but it has backing throughout the city and state. Other members of "Team Huntsville" include the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, Sci-Quest, Alabama A&M University, Oakwood University and other regional universities, along with companies and government laboratories.

Newton also singled out the support of Gov. Robert Bentley, Mayor Tommy Battle, the chamber of commerce, the airport authority, Redstone Arsenal and Cummings Research Park as aiding in the project.

The observatory is expected to bring about 70 scientists and engineers to Huntsville, as well as an annual budget of $20 million.

Portera talked about the "groundbreaking research" that would be done at the observatory.

"It's being able to do what, in this business, we're all about doing," Portera said, "which is discovering new knowledge and passing that knowledge on to young people."


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

New Mexico Unveils First Large Scale Solar Utility Plant

Wiithout a cloud in the sky, New Mexico's largest electric utility could not have picked a better day to unveil the first of five solar power generating stations it will build this year to meet state renewable energy requirements.

Officials with Public Service Company of New Mexico and Arizona-based manufacturer First Solar joined city leaders Wednesday to dedicate the 2-megawatt photovoltaic plant.

The massive collection of solar panels represents the utility's first venture into large-scale solar development in a state that has been recognized in numerous studies over the years as one of the nation's best spots for tapping the sun's energy.

It has taken years to set the regulatory stage for renewable energy development in New Mexico, but PNM bringing its solar arrays online this year couldn't come at a better time since pressure from environmentalists to curb emissions is growing and state renewable energy standards will only become more stringent over the next decade.

"This is a great new fuel source," PNM president and chief executive Pat Vincent-Collawn said as the sun beat down on the panels behind her. "It's not continuous, but it really helps us diversify our fuel sources, and as we've all seen with everything that's going on, having diversity is very, very important to us."

Nearly two-thirds of the electricity PNM generates for its 500,000 customers comes from coal and natural gas-fired power plants. The utility's portfolio also includes about 200 megawatts of wind energy, and it owns a stake in the Palo Verde nuclear power plant in Arizona.

Vincent-Collawn said coal and nuclear-generated power give PNM a critical base load that is available around the clock for customers. She said the utility is working on storage technology it hopes will offset the intermittency of wind and solar.

PNM's Albuquerque Solar Energy Center -- located just south of the utility's decades-old natural gas fired Reeves generating station -- is the largest collection of photovoltaic solar panels in the metro area.

Made up of 30,000 panels spread over 20 acres, the array is capable of generating enough electricity to meet the needs of about 630 homes.

It also marks the second major solar installation to open in New Mexico this week. On Tuesday, a Chevron subsidiary completed a 1-megawatt concentrating photovoltaic plant on a mine tailings site in northern New Mexico.

In all, PNM plans to add 22 megawatts of solar-generated power to its portfolio by the end of the year. That will be enough to power about 7,000 homes and offset 44 million pounds of the utility's annual carbon emissions.

PNM's $102 million investment in the solar arrays is driven by New Mexico's requirement that 10 percent of the electricity provided by investor-owned utilities come from renewable resources such as wind and solar. That requirement will increase incrementally to 20 percent by 2020.

About 30 states already have renewable energy standards, but there are some lawmakers who are pushing for Congress to establish a national standard.

U.S. Rep. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., who attended Wednesday's dedication, has been among the supporters of a national standard. He said PNM's solar arrays mark "a big step forward" in how power is produced, how the electrical grid is managed and how the nation ensures its energy security.

"Up to now, a lot of customers started this ball rolling by investing in their own systems," he said.

Experts agree that one of the factors delaying development of large-scale renewables has been cost.

The cost of PNM's solar arrays will be passed on to customers through rates beginning in July 2012 as part of an agreement approved by state regulators. Cost thresholds designed to protect customers are built into the state's renewable energy requirements. The threshold this year is capped at 2 percent. It will be 2.25 percent next year.

Vincent-Collawn said PNM was able to save some money by building the Albuquerque array on land already owned by the utility.

The other four arrays will be built in Los Lunas, Deming, Alamogordo and Las Vegas. Those facilities will be more than twice the size of the one in Albuquerque.


Monday, April 25, 2011

California City May Lower Permit Fees for Solar

Vallejo charges considerably more than two dozen other area cities to install solar panels, and that bothers at least one area solar nonprofit company.

But officials said Vallejo, which charges more than eight times what San Francisco does, is re-examining its rates and could soon reduce them.

Vallejo ranked as the highest cost for solar installation in a 27-city comparison undertaken by GRID Alternatives, a nonprofit Oakland-based organization focused on job training, energy conservation and cost savings for low income applicants.

Vallejo came to the nonprofit's attention earlier this month when GRID Alternatives installed solar panels on the roofs of three single-home properties citywide, with building permits running about $1,500 for each project.

Nearby Benicia waives its fees for nonprofits, San Francisco charged $174, Napa $390, and Sacramento $667, by way of comparison. On average, GRID Alternatives' study shows, permitting costs in the comparison cities run about $308.

Since 2007, following the Vallejo City Council's mandate, city fees have required full cost recovery for city services provided, offering little or no subsidies or incentives, Assistant City Manager-Community Development Craig Whittom said.

As it stands, the city assesses its building fee for solar installation based on the value of the project's costs, prior to solar rebates, Vallejo Chief Building Official Gary West said. If the City Council sets a policy that allows for low-income homeowner or nonprofit exemptions, fee waivers or fee caps, city fees could come down, he added.

"When you do solar, it's so spiked, because it's such a high product cost," West said.

Mary Biasotti, Bay Area Regional Director for GRID Alternatives, wrote Whittom, and asked the city to reconsider its building permit costs. Attaching comments from a Sierra Club chapter, Biasotti's letter noted that a pitfall of the so-called valuation method that Vallejo uses is that the "more a homeowner contributes to a city's renewable energy supply, the more that homeowner must sacrifice financially."

Concerns from Vallejo City Council members, business owners, GRID Alternatives and others' have not gone unheeded, West and Whittom said.

"Currently, we are working on a new fee study, which, based on the information I'm looking at, we're actually expecting the solar fee costs to come down," West said.

He expects to make a new solar fee recommendation to the council by as early as June.

Whittom said that fee subsidies or waivers are likely to be recommended for both solar and seismic retrofitting projects, in order to provide an draw to the community.

"Clearly, we're taking a much broader view .. in this update, compared to 2007, in incentivizing economic development," Whittom said.


Indiana Prison Uses Solar to Heat Water

An Indiana prison is using solar power to provide hot water for inmate showers, and a state official says county jails should consider doing the same.

The Wabash Valley Correctional Facility about 90 miles southwest of Indianapolis has been heating the water in one maximum-security housing unit with solar panels installed on the roof through a project that began in February. The unit houses 200 inmates and has 15 solar panels that measure 4 feet by 10 feet mounted on the roof.

The Tribune-Star reports that the facility is installing meters on the solar-heated system and on one in a different housing unit to compare their use of energy. If the data show a cost savings, the entire facility could be switched to solar-heated water, officials said.

The panels preheat water to 165 degrees, and the system is sized to provide about 40 percent of the thermal energy needed to heat the water.

Prison officials say the new system will save money by reducing the amount of natural gas needed to heat the water.

The new system cost $75,000 but could save $6,000 a year in energy costs, the Department of Correction said. That means it could pay for itself within 15 years.

Kevin Orme, director of construction services for the department, said the system in place would be enough to heat water at a county jail and says they should consider them.

"It does work, and there is grant money out there for counties to use," he said.


Friday, April 22, 2011

California to Set Ambitious Renewable Power Standards

Gov. Jerry Brown is poised to give California the most aggressive standard in the country for renewable energy, requiring that one-third of utilities' power comes from solar cells, windmills or other alternative sources within 10 years.

The Democratic governor is expected to sign the legislation Tuesday at a solar plant in the San Francisco Bay area, accompanied by U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

Supporters say the standard will mean cleaner air and lead to less reliance on foreign oil. They also say it will assure investors that demand for renewable energy is strong and will create an environment that promotes job growth in the industry.

Some critics say the move will drive up California's already-high energy costs, hurting companies' competitiveness.


Can Solar & Smart Grid Speak the Same Language?

Too much solar power can be bad for the power grid, if utilities can’t monitor it and control it. The wild up-and-down swings that come from lots of little rooftops plastered with solar panels can become too much for some local grids to handle. When that happens, utilities have little choice but to shut them off.

So it would be nice if solar panels — or more specifically, the inverters that turn their direct current into grid-ready AC — could talk to the smart grid, to let utilities know what’s going on. This week, the utility industry released a common standard for doing just that. The next step will be for solar inverter makers and smart grid vendors to make equipment and software that speaks the language, and start testing it out. (To learn more about the intersection of smart grid and solar come to Green:Net on April 21 in San Francisco, where we’ll feature a discussion between NRG Energy CEO David Crane and Silver Spring Networks EVP & CMO Eric Dresselhuys.)

The new standard from the Distributed Network Protocol (DNP) Users Group is the result of nearly two years of effort by the industry, aimed at capturing some of the extra benefits that come from solar panels and inverters. Besides delivering power, inverters can manage voltage and reactive power fluctuations, and can push power to storage systems to cover the the passing of clouds over panels — or save up to feed back into the grid when it’s facing peak demand.

Indeed, projects that integrate these kinds of functions are underway around the world. Echelon is working with big inverter maker SMA Solar Technology and Fat Spaniel was bought by inverter maker Power-One. Enphase uses its own technology for its microinverters, as does Petra Solar with its pole-mounted, solar panel-connected microinverter arrays. Big players like General Electric, Siemens and Schneider Electric are also getting involved.

But without a standard to build to, they’ve all progressed along unique, mostly proprietary lines, said Brian Seal, analyst with the Electric Power Research Institute. In practice, that means a lot of the cool things inverters could do for the grid were left untouched, just because they were too hard for utilities to operate, he said. It took two years, but the industry has finally come up with a common language to get around that problem via DNP3, one of North America’s most common grid control standards, he said.

“This release is significant, because we now have a standard document that allows manufacturers to pick it up and actually build to it,” Seal said. While he didn’t name any companies that have announced technology around the new standard, he did note that the working group that came up with it had 450 individual participants, including every inverter maker he knows of. EPRI coordinated the effort with the Department of Energy, Sandia National Laboratories and the Solar Electric Power Association. For more information, read my GigaOm Pro report, EPRI’s Solar Power Phrasebook — a Guide to Future Communications (subscription required).

What’s next? Eventually, a world in which every inverter and smart grid device can plug into a standards-based system and open up the innate abilities — absorbing and releasing power to keep the grid in balance — to manipulation and control by any number of software platforms, Seal said. Of course, there’s a long way to go before that happens, and interoperability testing and field trials are next on the agenda.

What are the benefits? First and foremost: enable solar to continue to grow. While it’s hard to predict just how much local solar power it takes to destabilize the grid, Energy Secretary Steven Chu has said that the 20 percent wind power levels seen in the Pacific Northwest present problems with stability. Local neighborhoods aren’t likely to be able to take much more than that either.

Instability can even force utilities to stop new solar arrays from being built, or force them to hook up smart grid functions to do it. In Germany, where generous government subsidies have led to the world’s most solar panel-saturated neighborhoods, new medium-voltage grid codes require all solar inverters to provide a long list of advanced grid support features such as reactive power and VAR support, Seal noted.

While DNP3 is the main technology used for grid field equipment for the U.S. and Australia, Europe relies on a set of standards known as IEC 61850, and the two are working together, he said. Standards geeks will also be interested to hear that the IEEE 1547.8 group, which deals with distributed energy resources-to-grid integration, is also getting involved.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Solar Powered Washing Machine Knows When Sun Shines

The new solar powered washing machine makes the most of the sunshine with smart grid. The system is being trialled in the Dutch city of Breda, where 300 new houses have been built using this new technology. Creators hope that testing it in this way will not only help to develop the technology, but also help them to understand how people use it.

The pilot is initiated by grid operator Enexis, in cooperation with power company Greenchoice and development corporation HEJA. Using special devices, residents of two neighbourhoods in Breda are able to select the most favourable time for using energy, which can be the cheapest or the most sustainable. A special website informs them about this. The test lasts for 2 years and will show if people are prepared to use these options or not.

The project involves 246 apartments with woodstoves and solar panels and 57 houses with heat pumps and solar panels, to be completed in 2012. In each home, smart devices like a smart electricity meter or a smart washing machine will be installed, connected to a smart energy computer. Besides giving residents information about the energy they use and produce, it collects their preferences and controls all devices as efficiently as possible.

Enexis' main purpose is to explore how much people are willing to use electricity in a flexible way in order to save money and the environment. The outcome shows us how we can integrate sustainable energy, like solar panels, into the grid and meet growing demands.

In this smart network, the washing machine, logged into an online weather channel, knows exactly when the sun shines or when the price of power on the energy exchange APX -ENDEX is most favourable. For example: it could be more efficient to do your laundry at night and not in the evening. Or maybe it's best to do it during the day, when solar panels produce power.

Enexis emphasizes that with this pilot it wants to contribute to a transition to sustainable power. Project manager Joris Knigge of the innovation department: "This is an example of proactive development of a smart grid. Our company, together with the others involved, prepares itself for the future. On the other hand, we ask ourselves if consumers are ready for this. That's what this test will show."

Enexis is an independent energy distribution network operator in seven Dutch provinces, responsible for the development, construction, control, maintenance and management of distribution networks. It is headquartered in Rosmalen and connects 2.6 million customers to their power companies.


Alternative Energy Runs Into Headwind

For the renewable energy sector, it’s a wonder either wind or solar power is still standing.

Austere budgets and small government have become Capitol Hill credos, and clean energy technology champions are scrambling to secure the tax breaks and loan guarantees they’ve depended on over the past decade to drive investments.

Cheap natural gas is beating renewables as the lowest-cost option for meeting the nation’s thirst for new electricity.

Scathing media reports have also raised questions about whether the Obama administration favored its green-tinted campaign contributors with federal stimulus dollars and wound up sending upward of three-quarters of the subsidies to companies that are now based overseas.

And when the industry does show signs of life, wildlife advocates and environmentalists have been making it difficult by blocking transmission lines to get the clean energy to urban centers.

Moderating an Import-Export Bank conference panel earlier last month alongside several top energy industry executives, Carol Browner, President Barack Obama’s former top energy adviser, bemoaned the lack of a long-term market signal to help renewables. Without private entrepreneurs, she said, the already small U.S. market could be swamped by foreign competitors.

“This is an industry evolving rapidly, whether it be on the supply or demand side,” Browner said. “From my perspective, on the public policy side, we need to do more to ensure there is demand for the technology. We are in danger of not being at the forefront of the industry. It’s because of people like this we’re at least able to hold on.”

John Denniston, a partner at venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, sounded off on the disparity, too, ticking through the top 20 renewable energy companies in the world and noting that just four are American.

Exactly what the federal government can do is a question.

Obama promised to put solar panels on the White House roof last year and has continued to talk up renewable energy. During a visit earlier this month to a wind turbine manufacturer in suburban Philadelphia, Obama pledged to keep up the fight to make the renewable industry’s tax credits permanent — rather than leave them exposed to the often last-minute dash for renewal.

“I want to kick-start this industry,” the president said. “I want to make sure it’s got good customers, and I want to make sure the financing is there to meet that demand.”

But several market experts doubt Obama can live up to his promises. While the solar tax credits are secure through 2016, wind will see some of its most cherished benefits expire at the end of 2012, just after the presidential campaign.

“We’ve seen this movie a number of times,” said Rob Gramlich, senior vice president for public policy at the American Wind Energy Association.

Some of the long-term options are also no longer looked at so kindly on Capitol Hill, either.

Former Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Pete Domenici had once floated the idea of establishing a “green bank” that would put financial experts in place in the evaluation of clean energy projects. A similar idea is now a centerpiece of the Democrats’ energy plan, which makes it more likely to fall to partisan sniping.

“The Republicans are calling it a Fannie and Freddie for clean energy, but they don’t mean it in a nice way,” said Kevin Book, managing director of the Washington research firm ClearView Energy Partners.

Renewable advocates insist they long ago gave up on the idea of pricing carbon emissions as a way to get a toehold against their coal, natural gas and nuclear rivals. Now, they’ve put their eggs in another basket: the “clean” energy standard that Obama mentioned in January’s State of the Union speech.

But even here, their preferred policy approach appears to be stuck in congressional low gear.

“I think the door is cracked open and therefore worth pursuing,” Gramlich said.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton may be the biggest barrier to a “clean” energy standard. He opposes federal mandates and has shown no interest in responding to the issue, even if the Senate somehow were to come up with 60 votes on legislation.

In an interview, the Michigan Republican insisted that he wants to expand the nation’s renewable portfolio. But he quickly ticked through a number of the industry’s downsides.

“Solar would be dead without the extension of the tax credits about a year and a half ago,” he said. “So they continue to push out.”

Upton also took issue with local activists and environmentalists who have made it more difficult to get wind energy into the transmission system by challenging various transmission projects.

“That’s the dilemma,” he said. “You’ve got different groups challenging the building to improve the grid. It’s a problem.”

Despite the hurdles, industry officials see themselves in a strong light.

Wind produces about 2 percent of the nation’s electricity. That’s up from less than 1 percent in 2005, with turbines now churning out more than 40,000 megawatts of power — enough to supply electricity to more than 10 million homes.

Solar power is in its own camp. It still hovers below 1 percent of the nation’s energy pie. Its small size makes its growth look even bigger. Investments jumped from $3.6 billion to $6 billion last year. As of 2010, there’s more than 1,000 megawatts of installed capacity, up from 320 megawatts in 2008.

“We’re the fastest-growing industry in the United States, period,” said Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industry Association.

Indeed, both wind and solar can point to some useful figures as they try to sway political doubters. In 2010, 14 wind manufacturing plants opened, giving the industry 20,000 jobs stretched across 42 states. Fifty-eight new solar panel factories have opened in the past 18 months. Solar officials tout a similar number of jobs spread across 47 states.

Industry observers say wind and solar, while in different camps in terms of recent growth, can at least take heart in the policies they have been able to latch onto.

“It could have been worse,” Book said. “It could have been the case there was no stimulus to spend. It could have been the case that there was no grant program. It could have been the case there was no production tax credit.”


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Colorado Leaders Unite on Potential Solar Power Plant

Colorado lawmakers are trying to convince General Electric Co. to bring the nation's largest solar panel manufacturing plant to the state.

General Electric acquired the Arvada-based solar manufacturer PrimeStar Solar last week. Since then, GE has said Colorado is being considered for the site of its new manufacturing plant. It will employ 400 people and produce enough solar panels to power 80,000 homes a year.

Sen. Michael Bennet's office released a copy of a letter being sent to GE on Thursday urging the company to pick Colorado. Staffers say that the entire Colorado congressional delegation has signed on along with the leaders of the University of Colorado, Colorado State University and the Colorado School of Mines.

The letter advertises the state's dedication to clean energy research and points out that Colorado is home to several solar companies.


Clouds Part for U.S. Solar Industry

A potentially dim week for the American solar power industry ended on a bright note instead.

Solar advocates mounted a last-minute push Monday to prevent sweeping cuts to a federal loan guarantee program for clean energy development in a Republican budget plan. The cuts would have essentially closed the program, which is popular with solar power developers, and rescinded billion of dollars in loan commitments for dozens of projects.

A bipartisan group of legislators joined the campaign to spare the program, and in a conference call on Thursday with reporters, Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, announced that the cuts had been averted.

Mr. Reid noted that funds for the program would only last until October, however, raising the prospect of another budget fight in 2012.

“We need to get more money to continue this program,” he said. “I’m going to fight very hard for that in next year’s budget.”

The ability of the loan guarantee program to spur private sector investment in alternative energy was highlighted on Tuesday, when Google announced that it was investing nearly $170 million in the Ivanpah solar thermal plant, a 392-megawatt generating station being developed by BrightSource Energy.

The solar plant had previously secured a $1.6 billion loan guarantee from the Department of Energy, which was finalized this week.

“By driving energy innovation in the field, not just in the labs, the D.O.E.‘s loan guarantee program is playing a vital role in realizing our nation‘s clean energy and economic goals,” Jack Jenkins-Stark, chief financial officer for BrightSource, said in a statement.

In other action on Tuesday, Gov. Jerry Brown of California signed into law the country’s most ambitious renewable energy mandate, which requires utilities in the state to generate 33 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

Mr. Brown signed the legislation at a new solar panel factory in Milpitas, a suburb of Santa Clara County in Northern California.

“This bill will bring many important benefits to California, including stimulating investment in green technologies in the state, creating tens of thousands of new jobs, improving local air quality, promoting energy independence, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” the governor said at the signing.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Solar Power Without Solar Cells

A dramatic and surprising magnetic effect of light discovered by University of Michigan researchers could lead to solar power without traditional semiconductor-based solar cells.

The researchers found a way to make an “optical battery,” said Stephen Rand, a professor in the departments of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Physics and Applied Physics.

In the process, they overturned a century-old tenet of physics.

“You could stare at the equations of motion all day and you will not see this possibility. We’ve all been taught that this doesn’t happen,” said Rand, an author of a paper on the work published in the Journal of Applied Physics. “It’s a very odd interaction. That’s why it’s been overlooked for more than 100 years.”

Light has electric and magnetic components. Until now, scientists thought the effects of the magnetic field were so weak that they could be ignored. What Rand and his colleagues found is that at the right intensity, when light is traveling through a material that does not conduct electricity, the light field can generate magnetic effects that are 100 million times stronger than previously expected. Under these circumstances, the magnetic effects develop strength equivalent to a strong electric effect.

“This could lead to a new kind of solar cell without semiconductors and without absorption to produce charge separation,” Rand said. “In solar cells, the light goes into a material, gets absorbed and creates heat. Here, we expect to have a very low heat load. Instead of the light being absorbed, energy is stored in the magnetic moment. Intense magnetization can be induced by intense light and then it is ultimately capable of providing a capacitive power source.”

What makes this possible is a previously undetected brand of “optical rectification,” says William Fisher, a doctoral student in applied physics. In traditional optical rectification, light’s electric field causes a charge separation, or a pulling apart of the positive and negative charges in a material. This sets up a voltage, similar to that in a battery. This electric effect had previously been detected only in crystalline materials that possessed a certain symmetry.

Rand and Fisher found that under the right circumstances and in other types of materials, the light’s magnetic field can also create optical rectification.

“It turns out that the magnetic field starts curving the electrons into a C-shape and they move forward a little each time,” Fisher said. “That C-shape of charge motion generates both an electric dipole and a magnetic dipole. If we can set up many of these in a row in a long fiber, we can make a huge voltage and by extracting that voltage, we can use it as a power source.”

The light must be shone through a material that does not conduct electricity, such as glass. And it must be focused to an intensity of 10 million watts per square centimeter. Sunlight isn’t this intense on its own, but new materials are being sought that would work at lower intensities, Fisher said.

“In our most recent paper, we show that incoherent light like sunlight is theoretically almost as effective in producing charge separation as laser light is,” Fisher said.

This new technique could make solar power cheaper, the researchers say. They predict that with improved materials they could achieve 10 percent efficiency in converting solar power to useable energy. That’s equivalent to today’s commercial-grade solar cells.

“To manufacture modern solar cells, you have to do extensive semiconductor processing,” Fisher said. “All we would need are lenses to focus the light and a fiber to guide it. Glass works for both. It’s already made in bulk, and it doesn’t require as much processing. Transparent ceramics might be even better.”

In experiments this summer, the researchers will work on harnessing this power with laser light, and then with sunlight.

The paper is titled “Optically-induced charge separation and terahertz emission in unbiased dielectrics.” The university is pursuing patent protection for the intellectual property.


Environmental Engineering Firm Goes Solar

Sunil Agrawal and other executives from Nova Consultants plan to attend the unveiling Monday of one of the state's largest solar power systems in Michigan at Monroe County Community College.

The $3-million, 500-kilowatt system was designed and constructed by Nova as part of DTE Energy's utility-owned SolarCurrents program.

Agrawal, 55, said the project is just one of several major solar-power systems that the firm has completed over the past two years as the company has transformed itself from an environmental engineering company into an installer of solar power systems.

In 2009, Nova won an $18.5-million contract from DTE Energy to serve as the utility company's exclusive contractor for SolarCurrents.

SolarCurrents is a residential and commercial program created by DTE Energy to help the utility meet the requirements of energy legislation adopted in 2008 by the state. The law requires 10% of power generated by Michigan utilities to come from renewable energy by 2015.

Nova also has either completed or is designing projects for Ford, General Motors and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

"We reinvented ourselves by getting into energy," Agrawal said.

Founded by Agrawal in 1992, Nova Consultants grew to as many as 70 employees by 2001 as an environmental consulting company. But in 2008, as the economy started to sour and the construction industry ground almost to a halt, Nova had to lay off employees and search for a new identity.

Nova first turned its attention to commercial lighting and energy-management projects.

At about that time, Sachit Verma, Nova's program manager for energy projects, installed solar panels on his own home. Shortly after that, Nova also installed solar panels on the roof of its offices in Novi. "We have not paid a single cent of electricity in 13 months," Agrawal said.

Verna said advances in solar panels in recent years have reduced the cost from about $5 to $6 per watt to about $2 per watt. And while many people think solar power works best in states such as Arizona, he said Michigan is actually a better climate.

"Solar panels work best when it is sunny and cold," Verma said.

In 2009, Nova was one of 35 companies that applied to be DTE Energy's contractor for SolarCurrents.

"I think their attention to detail was the key, as well as truly understanding what our requirements for the program were," said Ray Zoia, program manager for DTE's SolarCurrents program.

Since winning the work, Nova has hired about 25 employees and expects annual revenue to grow from $7 million in 2010 to $10 million this year.

Now, Nova is competing for the next phase of the SolarCurrents program, which is much larger. The projects in the first phase add up to a combined 3 megawatts of power while the second phase is for 12 megawatts, Zoia said.

While Nova is anxiously waiting DTE's decision, which is expected in early May, Nova continues to handle other environmental consulting work, such as mercury monitoring and mercury remediation, removal of asbestos, as well as designing and installing steam heating systems.

But Agrawal is convinced that the advances in solar power as well as the country's growing desire to decrease its reliance on traditional energy sources puts Nova in the right place for the future.

"It took us a long time to convince people that solar is a real thing, that it can supply real power," Agrawal said. "Oil and hydrocarbons are ingrained into our culture so much that we always think that is the only way to get energy. But actually there are many other ways to get energy."


Monday, April 18, 2011

Duke Energy Renewables Acquires Solar Farm at N.C. Elementary School

Duke Energy Renewables now owns a 1-megawatt solar farm on the grounds of an elementary school in the southwestern corner of North Carolina.

Approximately 4,400 ground-mounted photovoltaic (PV) solar modules on the property of the Martins Creek Elementary School in Murphy, N.C., will generate an estimated 1.3 million kilowatt-hours of electricity each year – enough to power more than 150 average-sized homes.

Duke Energy Renewables, part of Duke Energy's Commercial Businesses, acquired Martins Creek Solar N.C., LLC, from ESA Renewables, LLC, in March 2011. ESA Renewables designed and built the solar array, and operates it for Duke Energy Renewables. Electricity from the solar farm is sold through Blue Ridge Mountain EMC to the Tennessee Valley Authority, as part of TVA's Generation Partners(SM) program. The site began producing electricity in March.

The PV installation is believed to be the only one of its kind on school property in the state and the third-largest solar farm sited on school property in the U.S. The structure of the 10-year power purchase agreement with TVA through Blue Ridge Mountain EMC enables the elementary school to share in revenue created by electric generation at the site. This revenue roughly equates to the cost of staffing two full-time teachers at the school.

An interactive electronic display allows Martins Creek Elementary School students to track power production at the PV facility, which is located approximately 500 yards from the school.

The Martins Creek Solar Project is Duke Energy Renewables' fourth commercial solar farm in North Carolina and fifth nationwide. Duke Energy Renewables' initiatives are separate from the activities of Duke Energy Carolinas, which is part of Duke Energy's regulated business.

About Duke Energy Renewables
Duke Energy Renewables, part of Duke Energy's Commercial Businesses, is a leader in developing innovative wind and solar energy solutions for customers throughout the United States. The company's growing portfolio of commercial renewable assets includes nine wind farms and four solar farms in operation in five states, totaling approximately 1,000 megawatts in electric-generating capacity.

Headquartered in Charlotte, N.C., Duke Energy is a Fortune 500 company traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol DUK.

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.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

Arizona Solar Farm Fails to Get Support

What many observers see as solar energy's future is on a collision course with today's economic angst and environmental fears in a far-flung section of the Avra Valley.

There, a Spanish-based company that's partially owned by General Electric is proposing to build a solar energy farm big enough to serve power to 4,500 homes across the Tucson area.

The owners of Fotowadio Renewable Ventures see this project - to build 96,000 photovoltaic solar panels on 305 acres - as a linchpin for the future of solar here. But neighbors who have watched their home values drop during the recession fear the plant could make the declines worse.

This could be the second of 10 such solar energy projects of differing sizes from various firms from which Tucson Electric Power has contracted to buy power. They are in various stages of development, a TEP spokesman said.

An official with the city, whose water utility is leasing the land to the Spanish company, calls the Avra Valley solar farm as low-impact an energy supply as can be imagined. He points out it comes amidst growing concerns about imported oil, nuclear power and greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired plants.

The project would lie three to four miles west of the Tucson Mountains.

"We were approached by a third party who thought this looks like a good place for solar," said Chris Avery, a principal assistant city attorney. "This looks like perhaps the best place in the region we can find for the largest-scale solar project in the region. If we can't find a place to put the first large-scale solar project in the region, where do we put the rest?" Avery added.

But after a year of neighborhood, Pima County and state meetings, the company is still struggling to win over many of the homeowners living across the street from its site.

The county Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote April 19 on a permit needed for the project because its current zoning is for low-density housing, farming or other rural uses.

A county hearing examiner has recommended approval of the project. But many although not all neighbors of the still-unfinished Tierra Linda subdivision say they're worried that the solar farm will be ugly, glare-producing and heat-generating.

Tierra Linda residents have watched their home values drop by $100,000 or more since the subdivision was developed at the peak of the housing boom in the mid-2000s.

Today, three- to five-bedroom homes that once fetched $400,000 to $500,000 are going for $350,000 or less. Only 57 of the 170 lots in the subdivision have homes. At least 40 vacant lots have been foreclosed. Many streets are empty.

The neighbors are also distrustful of the project because they didn't learn it existed until after the solar firm had negotiated a city lease and an agreement to sell power to TEP.

The solar company has won some neighbors' support or non-opposition by promising to build a nearly mile-long wall to block views of the plant, among a host of mitigation measures. But many others say the wall itself will be ugly, although the company will shield it with landscaping.

"Their attitude is wrong. They are going about it the wrong way," said Fred Fox, a 78-year-old retired geologist in Tierra Linda. "They are going to put up a wall eight feet tall, without ever thinking about what the people want and how it will lower property values. They are looking at it from the point of view that if you guys make enough noise, we'll try to make you feel better about it."

Rick Westfall, a non-Tierra Linda resident who owns 10 acres directly southeast of the project site, worries that the project will devalue his property so badly that he'll never be able to sell. He asked FRV without success to buy his site for millions of dollars, or to lease it.

"I walked through a small solar facility in Las Vegas in June 2010, and it felt 10 to 15 degrees hotter," said Westfall, an 18-year resident of the Avra Valley area.

"It will absorb the sun's heat. If it raises the temperature here 10 to 15 degrees it will make it unbearable," he said.

But FRV officials said numerous studies have shown that solar panels have a negligible impact on the heat island effect that causes temperatures to rise in urban areas. They said these systems operate quietly, with no air emissions, and produce little glare because they absorb light.

While no studies exist on solar farms' impact on home values, the company said one study found that putting wind farms near homes had little to no impact on property values. Tierra Linda residents say that isn't relevant.

Tim Lasocki, an FRV vice president, called the Avra Valley solar farm a new solar model, supplying a large number of people as compared to rooftop panels powering individual homes. Projects such as this lie close to the power grid, and don't require significant investments in infrastructure, Lasocki said.

"Our goal is to demonstrate that this kind of project is desirable and compatible with the idea of being a good neighbor for neighboring communities," he said. "It's closer to the places which would actually use the electricity, as opposed to being in the middle of the desert."


Friday, April 15, 2011

$600M Solar Panel Manufacturing Plant to Create 400 Jobs

General Electric Co. said Thursday it will build the nation's largest solar panel manufacturing plant, a $600 million project that would create 400 jobs and could end up in the Capital Region.

The panels the plant would produce would be the most efficient of their type, GE said. The panels have achieved efficiency of nearly 13 percent, the highest that's been reported for so-called thin film technology.

The plant would begin production by 2013. GE said it will decide on a site for the factory in the next 90 to 100 days.

GE also said it has lined up new orders for more than 100 megawatts of the thin film solar panels.

The announcement comes just two days after the U.S. Department of Energy announced it would award $57.5 million to the University at Albany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering to establish a solar panel manufacturing consortium similar to the Sematech consortium in the late 1980s that boosted the nation's semiconductor industry.

GE at this time isn't part of that consortium, a company official said.

GE's factory would be able to produce 400 megawatts of solar panels annually, the company said. A megawatt is enough to power as many as 800 homes.

The Capital Region might be a natural for the plant. After all, GE's global research efforts are based in Niskayuna, and its renewable energy headquarters is in Schenectady.

But Colorado is also in the running. GE said Thursday it had acquired the rest of solar panel manufacturer PrimeStar Solar, which is headquartered in the Denver suburb of Arvada. It was PrimeStar that produced the panel that achieved an efficiency of nearly 13 percent.

Nearby Golden, Colo., is the site of the National Renewable Energy Lab.

Victor Abate, vice president of GE's renewable energy business, said site selection would be based on a number of factors, including the site's proximity to scientific and engineering talent; the economics of the site, such as the cost and availability of utilities, power, and water; the supply chain for necessary materials; and federal, state and local incentives.

"These are extremely large factories," Abate said.

He also mentioned Greenville, S.C., as a possible site.

Local officials said they'd work hard to convince GE to choose the Capital Region.

"We hope to be considered for the new solar panel manufacturing plant and we will do everything we can to work cooperatively with GE, as we have done successfully so many times, to present the best possible case for making this new investment in Schenectady County," said Susan Savage, chairwoman of the Schenectady County legislature.

GE's panel uses cadmium telluride as the photovoltaic material in its panels. That's the same material used by First Solar Inc., the world's largest producer of solar panels.

The Albany Nanotech consortium is focusing its efforts on CIGS panels, which use copper, indium, gallium selenide films.

More common are the silicon solar cells, which make up about 70 to 80 percent of the market, said Pradeep Haldar, vice president for clean energy programs at the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering at the University at Albany. Those cells have efficiencies ranging from 15 to 22 percent.

While the thin film varieties -- GE's cadmium telluride, plus CIGS and a third type consisting of amorphous silicon -- are less efficient, they may be more cost effective because the material required costs less, although the panels typically occupy more area, Haldar said.

Thursday's announcements are the latest in GE's renewable energy efforts. Last week it announced it had completed the acquisition of power conversion company Converteam, which produces converters and related equipment to produce usable AC power.

GE said each 1 percent increase in solar panel efficiency translates into a 10 percent reduction in the cost of the system. Abate said cost was "the biggest barrier for the mainstream adoption of solar technology."

Haldar said the Albany Nanotech consortium chose to pursue the CIGS technology because potential efficiencies could reach 20 percent. With cadmium telluride, "you've got to have some breakthrough technologies to get above 14 percent," he said.

Abate said GE has achieved gains in efficiency at four times the industry rate. By 2013, he expects the panels coming out of the factory will be even more efficient.


New Solar-Thermal Device Harnesses Heat & Light

Researchers at Wake Forest University have developed a new type of polymer solar-thermal device that combines photovoltaics with a system that captures the Sun's infrared radiation to generate heating. By taking advantage of both heat and light, researchers say the device could deliver up to 40 percent savings on the cost of heating, as well as helping reduce power bills by producing electricity.

The hybrid cell is designed with an integrated array of clear tubes, five millimeters (approx 1/4 inch) in diameter. Lying flat, visible sunlight shines into the clear tube which is filled with an oil blended with a proprietary dye, heating the oil which then flows into a heat pump to transfer the warmth inside a home.

Electrical current is produced via a polymer photovoltaic sprayed onto the back of the tubes.

The result is a solar-thermal device with an impressive 30 percent conversion efficiency.

In comparison to flat solar cells, the tube design also has the advantage of being able to capture light at oblique angles, so it can accumulate power for a much longer stretch in the day and be more readily integrated into building materials – it could be produced to resemble a roofing tile for example.

The research team aims to produce a 3 foot square solar thermal cell over the coming months, a key step in bringing the technology closer to market.

"It's a systems approach to making your home ultra-efficient because the device collects both solar energy and heat," said David Carroll, Ph.D., director of the Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials at Wake Forest University. "Our solar-thermal device takes better advantage of the broad range of power delivered from the sun each day."


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Google Invests $5 Million in German Solar Power Plant

Google has invested €3.5 million (roughly $5 million) in a German 18.7-megawatt solar power plant in a small town near Berlin.

It’s Google’s first investment in clean technology outside of the United States, and it’s made the investment with German-based private equity firm Capital Stage.

The solar power plant occupies around 116 acres and can generate enough power for around 5,000 homes. More than 70 percent of the panels installed at the plant are manufactured in Germany.

The search giant has already been pushing clean technology stateside and its investment arm, Google Ventures, has invested in several clean technology companies.

Solar power farms use flat photovoltaic panels that absorb sunlight and convert it to electricity. One photovoltaic cell typically generates around a watt of power. Solar panels that are seen throughout the world are large collections of photovoltaic cells, usually around 6 inches across each.

The US solar power industry seems to be doing well and is on track to have a good year, but it looks like there is more interest in solar panel technology internationally — particularly in Germany and Japan. That’s because a massive surge in residential solar panels in Germany and Japan fueled consumer demand for small-scale solar power projects, according to a report by Pew.

Germany came in second after the United States in the amount it invested last year in clean technology. The country investing $41.2 billion in 2010, double what it invested in 2009, according to the report. Total investments in solar power technology amounted to $79 billion — or 40 percent of all clean technology investments, up 53 percent from 2009.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Solar PV Test Lab Opens in Albuquerque, New Mexico

On April 7th, 2011, a consortium of testing organizations announced that they will open a new solar photovoltaic (PV) testing laboratory in Albuquerque in the U.S. state of New Mexico.
The CFV Solar Test Laboratory will offer complete certification and non-certification PV testing services, including testing for flat panel, thin film and concentrating solar power (CPV) technologies.
"Solar panels are high-voltage electrical devices - often being placed in very close proximity to people in offices and homes - that must be properly tested and certified as being safe and effective in generating power," said Ash Sahi, president and CEO of the CSA Group, a part-owner of the facility.
"We are proud to be one of the partners in this joint venture as no other solar testing facility offers the complete range of services and global capabilities as this new laboratory."

Facility to Enable International Certifications
The companies state that the facility will help manufacturers to enter the market rapidly and at lower cost, and will be able to certify PV modules to the standards used in several nations.

The facility's 2,300 square meter indoor lab will include climate chambers for thermal cycling and humidity freeze up of modules to 4m x 2.5m, a large area AAA+ rated solar simulator with temperature controlled enclosure for performance measurements.
The testing center will also feature a 20,000 square meter outdoor testing area with single and two-axis trackers for accelerated light soaking and CPV testing.

Joint effort of CSA Group, VDE Testing and Fraunhofer Institutes
The facility will be jointly owned by the CSA Group (Toronto, Canada), the VDE Testing and Certification Institute (Offenbach, Germany), the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (Freiburg, Germany), and the Fraunhofer USA Center for Sustainable Energy Systems (Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.).
The organizations state that this joint venture combines Fraunhofer's technical expertise and extensive research capabilities with CSA Group and VDE's solar certification proficiency. 


Solar Company Bring 20-40 Jobs to Ohio

TecnoSun Solar Systems AG, a German company that makes mounting systems for solar panels, plans to bring 20 to 40 jobs to Toledo in the next two years when it opens an office at the University of Toledo.

Peter Fischer, the company's chief executive, signed a one-year lease Thursday to open a 1,390-square-foot office at UT's Nitschke Technology Commercialization Complex. The facility will serve as the North American headquarters for TecnoSun, which plans to hire a CEO for the Toledo office within six weeks.

The company has an option to expand its office space by 1,039 square feet, as well as to extend its lease for at least two more years.

TecnoSun makes solar panel supports, called "trackers," that let panels follow the sun's path through the sky, maximizing their power output. The company will use northwest Ohio manufacturers to make its products in the United States.

UT President Lloyd Jacobs said TecnoSun fits with the university's goals to foster solar innovation in metro Toledo.

"We are building the supply chain," he said.

At a press conference Thursday, Mr. Fischer said the start-up company had considered locating its U.S. office in California. However, the firm selected Toledo after meeting in January with UT officials at the World Future Energy Summit, an alternative energy conference held in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

The firm was attracted to Toledo's skilled work force, access to highways and railways that would allow shipping throughout North America, and proximity to solar power research being conducted by UT and other local firms, Mr. Fischer said.

"I became convinced it would be worthwhile to think about," he said of how UT's presentation swayed his consideration of Toledo.

Mr. Fischer declined to discuss sales for TecnoSun, which launched in August and has 20 employees in Germany.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Central Florida Missed Out on $112 Million in Solar Research Funds

Palm Bay will be the site of research to study the yield of photovoltaic panels, but Central Florida missed out on most of $112 million in federal research funds to make solar power a viable alternative to fossil fuel within five years.

New York state, which put up $100 million in matching money, won the bulk of a $62.5 million U.S. Department of Energy grant, outbidding a group in Central Florida that offered about half as much matching money.

Two California-based groups each won $25 million, as well, in the federal SunShot Initiative's Advanced Manufacturing Partnerships, according to a Department of Energy news release.

The New York decision likely means that most of the 4,200 regional jobs supporters had envisioned for an area of the Sunshine State soon to be battered by thousands of aerospace layoffs will not materialize.

"Florida's current bid wasn't exactly what (the Energy Department) wanted at this time," Susie Quinn, a legislative aide to Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Orlando, said Wednesday. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu informed Nelson during a call Wednesday from Saudi Arabia that the Central Florida's research consortium's bid had been rejected.

There will be a Florida role, though.

The University of Central Florida will work on the project in Palm Bay, according to the Energy Department and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, who on Wednesday announced the winning partnership between the technology consortium Sematech and the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering at the University of Albany.

The work likely would take place at the former Intersil Corp. building in Palm Bay, which has been donated to UCF.

Researchers in New York will "work with the University of Central Florida to develop cost-effective in-line measurement and inspection tools to enable increased (photovoltaic) manufacturing yield," according to the Energy Department release.

UCF officials were at first floored by the apparent rejection and then uncertain about what lesser role they might play.

"What we have initially heard is disappointing. But until we hear more definitively, we are holding out hope," UCF spokesman Grant Heston said.

Nelson's office said the announcement was not all bad news.

"There should be other opportunities in the future, and Florida will be well-positioned. Meantime, folks at the Energy Department will sit down with UCF to discuss the stronger and weaker aspects of Florida's grant proposal and answer any questions," said Nelson's spokesman, Dan McLaughlin.

Disappointed Brevard officials were hopeful the competition's apparent result could be altered.

"Even though the information we learned today was not encouraging, we are still awaiting a final decision from the Department of Energy," said Lynda Weatherman, president and CEO of the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast. "This pursuit has been and continues to be a highly competitive process, and one I hope we continue."

Losing the solar energy research center is a particularly hard blow to Brevard, where unemployment is 11.4 percent, said Mike Slotkin, an economist at Florida Tech in Melbourne.

"That was a possible industry of the future," he said. "It was a possible anchor industry not for the last 30 years, but for the next 30 years."

Florida organizers had hoped working with Sematech, a consortium of technology companies, would help in the quest for tens of millions of dollars in grant funding. It certainly has a strong track record of revitalizing moribund industries.

Sematech was created in Austin, Texas, about two decades ago to develop semiconductors. Its name is a combination of SEmiconductor MAnufacturing TECHnology.

The company recently moved to Albany, N.Y., lured in part by massive funding, to study nanotechnology, which is the science of building new technology at the molecular level.

Sematech partnered with UCF, Enterprise Florida and others to compete for the entire grant.

UCF officials felt that their main competition came from Minnesota and California. It is unclear whether they knew that Sematech was negotiating with the Energy Department in partnership with the University of Albany, as well.


Solar Wafer Producer Invests $40 Million into LED Business

Solar wafer producer LDK Solar Co will invest about $40 million to enter into the business of sapphire substrates used to make LEDs, which are likely to see higher demand as power generation costs and greenhouse gas emission concerns rise.

Solar companies, including LDK and GT Solar, are diversifying into other businesses to offset potential setbacks in their traditional business because of subsidy cuts in major markets of Europe.

LDK plans to build a new plant, with the capacity to supply two million two-inch equivalent pieces of sapphire wafers every year, in the Nanchang city of Jiangxi province in China.

"This new investment in manufacturing sapphire wafers has a great synergy with LDK's crystallization and wafer engineering and manufacturing expertise, and will enhance LDK's product offerings," Chief Executive Xiaofeng Peng said in a statement early on Friday.

Because of their efficiency, LEDs are likely to see a rise in demand from television and lighting fixtures makers.

Last month, a joint venture led by Samsung Electronics tied up with Sumitomo Chemical for a $72 million venture to produce the substrates.

LDK shares closed at $11.71 on Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange.


Monday, April 11, 2011

April 29th - Feds Power Up Indiana's Largest Solar Project

The federal government is preparing to throw the switch on six acres of solar panels atop a mammoth office building that's set to boast Indiana's largest solar power project.

On April 29, an array of 6,152 solar panels on the roof of the Maj. Gen. Emmett J. Bean Federal Center in Indianapolis will begin generating more than 2 megawatts of electricity an hour. That's enough to power about 1,000 homes.

The project paid for by $35 million in federal stimulus funding will save about $475,000 a year, or 20 percent, on the Bean Center's utility bills, said Dave Wilkinson, a spokesman for the General Services Administration.

The GAO owns the 1950s-era office building at a former U.S. Army base on Indianapolis' northeast side, where workers process the payroll for the U.S. military services and other defense finance and accounting units.

Energy experts tell The Indianapolis Star that the 1 million square-foot building's solar panels are thought to be the largest installation of its type in Indiana. They're also a visible sign of President Barack Obama's renewed call for the nation to embrace solar, wind, biomass and other renewable forms of power.

Because it's such a high-profile project, it's creating strong interest in central Indiana in the renewable energy source. The project, like others elsewhere, are benefiting from federal tax breaks and heavy federal subsidies for solar power.

Government incentives available this year can subsidize up to 60 percent of the investment in new solar power arrays.

"The tax advantages through 2011 and the investment tax credits ... it all makes these projects more feasible," said John Haselden, principal engineer for Indianapolis Power & Light Co.

IPL has received about 25 proposals from investors, developers, not-for-profit organizations and others eager to take advantage of the incentives to create arrays much larger than the one at the Bean Center.

The solar array will be connected to an IPL substation nearby, so if the building doesn't use all the power, some of it can be routed onto the electric company's regional grid, Haselden said. But in reality, the building is a hog for power, so there might not be any leftovers.

Wilkinson said the solar array won't meet all the building's power needs, but it will create significant savings and is a valuable investment in technology development.

In addition to generating electricity, four banks of solar panels installed on the roof will catch the heat of the sun to make hot water for the building's restrooms. Water will be delivered to the tap at 120 degrees.

And about 1,000 square feet on the southeast corner of the Bean center' roof has been set aside for a solar laboratory, said Brad Dwelle, senior project manager for Shiel Sexton, general contractor on the project.

Engineers say the array will be capable of generating 2.01 megawatts of electricity per hour on peak sunny days. In Indiana, solar panels are expected to deliver electricity at least 20 percent of the time.

While the 6 acres of solar photovoltaic panels on the roof of the Bean Center seems large now, it might not be the largest in Indiana for very long.

The Indianapolis Airport Authority is expected to issue an invitation next week for solar power developers to offer proposals for a 30-acre array producing up to 10 megawatts of electricity.


Solar Power Manufacturing - Is it Green & Safe?

Major solar companies aren't just prioritizing market share and installed megawatts these days, according to a study that contends that the environmental and health effects of photovoltaic panels also are becoming a major consideration.

In its most recent Solar Scorecard, the nonprofit advocacy group Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition ranked international solar manufacturers on factors such as extraction of the raw materials, toxic chemical use in production, worker safety issues, product disposal, recycling and more.

German company SolarWorld nabbed the top score of 91, followed by Trina Solar in China. Next came a three-way tie among Abound and First Solar in the U.S. and REC of Norway. SunPower, based in San Jose, Calif., trailed close behind.

The 15 companies included in the study represent nearly half of the solar photovoltaic industry by market share. Of those, just two said their products contained no cadmium or lead.

But 13 said they conducted audits and monitored their supply chain for environmental, health and safety issues. Eleven said they would publicly support a law that would require companies to take back and recycle panels at the end of their life.

All five of the manufacturers that said they had undergone the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure test and passed, meaning that their photovoltaic modules are not considered to be hazardous waste.

Three companies took two similar tests offered by the state of California. One company failed both tests, and the two others each failed one.


Saturday, April 9, 2011

Long Beach City College Unveils Solar-Powered Parking Structure

Lighting, elevator systems draw juice from fifth-level panels.

Mayor Bob Foster led a delegation of college officials Tuesday in the dedication of a $27 million parking structure that provides more than 900 spaces for students.

Foster, LBCC President Eloy Ortiz Oakley, LBCC Board President Tom Clark, Daniel Sullivan of Sullivan Solar Power, and members of the Long Beach City College community came together Tuesday to dedicate and open a new 295,485-square-foot parking structure that features over 900 new parking spaces for students. The $27 million project was built with Measure E facilities bond money approved by the voters in 2008.

"I am proud to help dedicate such an important project for Long Beach City College and the City of Long Beach," said Foster. "This structure is now the second largest solar project in Long Beach, and will become a sustainable model for other public and private projects in the city."

The structure's lighting and elevator systems are 100-percent solar powered, along with a few adjacent buildings, according to campus spokesman Chi-Chung Keung.

Anchored on the southwest corner of Carson Street and Clark Avenue, the structure is the second largest solar powered system in the city, after the Convention Center. Built with sustainable materials, the solar power will provide an estimated 451 kilowatts of power, Keung said. It does not feature charging stations for electrical cars.

"This parking structure is something that I and our Board of Trustees promised our students and community when I became President," said Oakley.

"It will greatly relieve some of the parking pressures that exist on campus and in the surrounding neighborhoods."

The building is five stories, with the solar panels on the fifth level, according to Keung. The garage provides drivers with updated counts on the number of spaces vacant at each level.


Friday, April 8, 2011

Iowa Senate Approves Renewable Tax Credits

The Iowa Senate has approved a measure providing up to $10 million a year in tax credits for the installation of wind and solar power generators at homes, businesses and farms.

The Senate voted 49-1 Monday to approve the bill, which provides up to $15,000 for businesses and farms and $3,000 for homeowners that install wind or solar generators.

The bill now goes to the House, where its future is unclear.

Rep. Thomas Sands, a Wapello Republican and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, says majority Republicans are more interested in broad-based tax reform than targeted tax credits.


Does Solar Energy Hurt the Grid?

Solar power is in on the rise in the U.S. and it is helping consumers take control of their electric bills. Instead of simply consuming energy through the grid from a power plant, solar homeowners are generating their own electricity but also sending excess electricity generated from their solar panels back onto the grid. A recent article from the San Diego Union-Tribune wonders what the impact is of thousands of solar systems turning the electric grid from a one-way highway from a power plant to your home to a bi-directional flow of electricity.

Power then flows both ways, affecting the amount and quality of electricity. As more and more solar panels are installed, the possible headaches for those who run the grid grows….

…a single large installation in the county, a one-megawatt array, fluctuated from making 700 kilowatts to making nothing on a second-by-second basis as clouds passed by.

That caused the voltage on the circuit to which it's connected to fluctuate beyond the standards, as more power had to be brought in to deal with it.

Voltage is a function of how much power is on a system and where it comes from Fluctuations can cause malfunctions for customers.

The one draw back to solar power is that it is sunlight dependent so, as the article points out, a large solar array could be generating large amounts of energy for the grid one minute and then completely shut off the next minute creating a huge power fluctuations that can affect non-solar customers.

One way utility providers are trying to deal with this issue is through better forecasting, energy storage and cloud tracking. In addition, understanding consumer behavior with respect to electricity usage will also help as utility providers could potentially engage turbines that are already spinning in reserve and ready to put power on the grid or in grid batteries. The problem with this is that these changes cost money and for the most part, those using renewable energy systems are not shouldering their share of the burden.

Most solar customers right now put extra power they make during the day on the grid, then draw power at night when the sun is not shining.

In effect, they're using the grid as a giant battery.

Right now, the cost of the wires, cables and substations is included as part of the electricity, the actual energy you use. But if people are making as much electricity as they use -- or if they make more -- they're not paying for the cost of running the grid.

Renewable energy, particular solar energy, is a wonderful technology that can help provide clean power to consumers and help them save money over the long term. However, this article highlights some of the issues that we have to face as we attempt to integrate these technologies into our existing infrastructure. As more and more people turn on to solar power, grid issues will only get worse unless the proper solutions and funding for those solutions are found.