Wednesday, August 31, 2011

German Company Bringing Jobs & Solar Farms to Pinellas County

There's been a buzz about a large, overseas solar company setting up shop in Pinellas County, Florida and bringing with it hundreds of jobs. At the same time, the arrival of such a company could put the Southeast on the map in producing solar energy.

Word has it that this could happen in less than six months. Several sources confirm that a German company will build a solar plant and solar farms in Pinellas County.  Additionally, at least one business in Pinellas County making a commitment to go all solar.

The company chose the Dome Industrial site as a hub, where you'll find Pinellas Technical Education Centers.  The move is expected to bring 160 full-time jobs at the solar plant And 100 more jobs per solar farm built. Several solar farms are expected to be built.
Representatives with Florida Solar Energy Center said while solar electricity costs in Florida aren't competitive yet with electricity out of the wall, it's on par to be by 2016.

The name of the German company has yet to be released; however representative from the company will be back in the bay area at the beginning of September meeting with tax attorneys and firming up plans. This news has spurred interest from an Australian company, which is now also looking at building a solar plant in the bay area. Those talks are still in early stages.

Read more:

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tampa Florida Schools To Go Solar

Students at a dozen Tampa Bay area schools and about 100 others across the state will spend this fall harnessing the power of the sun.

The schools will generate solar electricity, about 10 kilowatts of it, or enough to power the average Florida home.

The energy will be used for areas of the schools that serve as emergency shelters. The schools also plan to use the systems as teaching tools for students and to add some electricity — albeit small — to the overall grid.

The Florida Solar Energy Center at the University of Central Florida developed the program, awarding about 80 schools with the systems through government and utility company money.

Progress Energy announced Wednesday that it was adding 10 primary and secondary schools and one postsecondary school to the list each year beginning this fall through 2014.

In addition to the solar arrays, Progress Energy will provide the schools it equips with batteries to store energy.

Schools will be outfitted with 1,000-square-foot photovoltaic solar arrays. Websites tied to the programs will allow students to analyze data.

The systems cost about $100,000 each to install. That covers the solar panels, installation, connections to the school and the power grid and equipment to analyze data. The panels will save the school some money but the small arrays are more designed for educational purposes.

The average Florida high school spends about a half million dollars on electricity each year, so reducing that cost would help as the economy continues to sputter along.


Monday, August 29, 2011

Florida Based Solar Company Opens Office in North Carolina

New office in Hayesville, North Carolina will facilitate future growth of solar energy in North Carolina

ESA Renewables, LLC, a leading turnkey solar system provider recently announced the opening of a satellite office in Hayesville, North Carolina.

ESA Renewables has an extensive track record of fast-track development and management of solar power projects. Based in Florida, the company has developed over 475 photovoltaic solar power generating facilities around the world.

“As ESA Renewables continues to design, engineer, construct and operate solar farms in Clay, Cherokee and the surrounding Counties, it has become necessary to have a centralized office in the region,” said Jeffrey Burkett, President of ESA Renewables. “The town of Hayesville was an ideal fit for our needs.”

To date, ESA Renewables has commissioned approximately 5MW’s of photovoltaic energy generating solar farms in Cherokee, Clay and Union Counties. These projects included Martins Creek Elementary School in Murphy, Holiness Road and Wingate Road solar projects also located in Murphy, and a 1MW solar farm in Culberson. Additionally, the company commissioned a 1MW solar farm just fourteen miles away in Blairsville, GA during the first quarter of this year.

“ESA plans for expansion in the North Carolina market are tremendous,” continued Burkett. “We are developing additional sites in the region surrounding Hayesville and throughout the state of North Carolina. For any business or land owner considering a solar project in North Carolina, ESA Renewables is capable of providing a complete turnkey solar solution, from EPC, to financing, O&M and more.”

The new office, located at 85 American Way will be staffed by engineers, construction and other administrative employees. As the county seat of Clay County, Hayesville is located approximately 120 miles north of Atlanta and combines small-town charm with the beauty of mountains, lakes, rivers and streams.

India Revamps Permit Rules For Solar Power Plants

India revamped the rules for its second national auction of permits to build solar power plants, which could boost sales for equipment providers and allow banks to lend more easily to the industry.

The government invited companies to register starting today for the auction that will award licenses to build as much as 350 megawatts of solar photovoltaic plants by 2013. New rules include changes that increase the size and amount of projects companies can win.

The government raised the maximum size of each project to 20 megawatts from 5 megawatts and each bidder could win as much as 50 megawatts of the total capacity. That could attract more companies to participate.

Easier Financing

India is positioning itself to become one of the world’s fastest-growing solar markets with plans to build 20,000- megawatt of capacity, equivalent to about 18 nuclear power plants, by 2022. Winning permits through the government auction allows companies to build plants that will get incentives including an assured buyer of their electricity and favorable payments for their power.

The government extended the deadline for the winners to arrange financing for their projects to seven months from the six months offered in the first auction. Companies in that round struggled to obtain loans from banks that were wary about lending to a technology new to India.

50 Percent Ownership

The new rules also require the controlling shareholder of each project to retain at least 50 percent ownership until a year after the plant starts generating power. That is up from 26 percent earlier after Renewable Ministry Secretary Deepak Gupta said the government wanted to discourage “fly-by-night” operators seeking to speculate by selling off licenses too quickly without building projects.

The new batch of permits will be for photovoltaic plants, which can use crystalline or thin-film panels to turn sunlight directly into power. Thin-film panels are made by depositing semiconducting material such as cadmium telluride onto metal or glass. Traditional panels are made by slicing crystalline silicon wafers into cells and assembling them into modules.

Bids are due by 5 p.m. local time on Sept. 23. The shortlisted candidates will be announced on Nov. 8.


Friday, August 26, 2011

Evergreen Solar Files Bankruptcy

The Marlboro-based solar panel manufacturer, Evergreen Solar is voluntary filing Chapter 11 debt restructuring bankruptcy filing.

The news came last Monday from federal bankruptcy court in Delaware. It's the latest blow to Evergreen Solar as the former alternative energy darling struggles to recover from a series of body blows.

In March, the last 800 employees streamed from the Devens plant with those jobs outsourced to Wuhan, China. On Monday, it was also announced that 65 employees will be cut from the company's European and US workforce, including a suspension of operations at Evergreen's Midland, Michigan plant.

The Massachusetts plant closure prompted outrage as the company was once the centerpiece of the Patrick Administration's "green energy" push. Evergreen benefited from millions of dollars in tax breaks and incentives to build its 450,000-square-foot factory in Devens.

The factory itself was at the epicenter of a two-year battle with residential neighbors in Harvard who struggled with Evergreen Solar for relief from the round-the-clock din produced by the then-humming plant.

At times over the past year, the company struggled to keep its head above water with the NASDAQ stock exchange, which requires a value of at least $1 a share for listings. On Monday, the stock was trading down more than 60 percent of its value at just 16 cents a share.

Evergreen has indicated that it's brokered a deal to restructure its debt with holders of more than 70 percent of its outstanding 13-percent convertible senior secured notes through a vehicle called ES Purchaser, LLC, which will serve as a "stalking horse" for potential partial or total asset purchases or any possibly anonymous takeover talks. As part of its new survival plan, Evergreen Solar will sell off its String Ribbon silicon wafer technology business assets.

ESLR closed Monday down 57 percent or 24 cents a share to rest at 18 cents a share. Three years ago, the stock was selling at $60 a share.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Solar Trees Grow in the Silicon Valley

The new trees being planted at nine big parking lots in the South Bay aren't leafy green saplings, they're big silver specimens with 12-foot-tall trunks and broad steel canopies that will shield cars from the sun -- and produce solar power.

Known as "solar trees" because they are topped with photovoltaic cells, the "groves" are sprouting up in parking lots at Santa Clara County government buildings and health clinics in San Jose and Gilroy, and at Elmwood jail in Milpitas.

The shade they create for cars is just a popular side benefit, though cutting off the sun's glare also will save some energy by reducing the need for motorists to turn on the air conditioning right away in hot weather. The primary benefit of the parking lot projects is that the power they produce will save the county about $18 million in electrical costs over a 25-year period and reduce greenhouse gases.

The majority of solar power in California is still generated by rooftop panels. But parking-lot arrays have been springing up, including at UC San Diego, where they have been planted on the top floor of two parking garages, and at Google's Mountain View headquarters.

By March, the county will have installed more than 15,000 solar panels in nine parking lots at eight sites. The estimated $18 million in savings over 25 years is minor -- less than $1 million a year in a county that now pays $18 million a year for energy. But county officials point to the environmental benefits, saying the projects will reduce carbon dioxide by 4,116 metric tons -- the equivalent of taking 800 cars a year off the road. The projects also create at least 92 temporary jobs, they said.

The county is paying for the four smallest projects through a solar-power purchasing agreement with several cities known as a PPA. Under that arrangement, private firms build and own the solar arrays; the county and other cities buy the power at a discounted rate. However, the estimated savings from the PPA turned out to be negligible -- only about $2 million over 20 years. Construction on those will begin in January.

So at the urging of supervisors Dave Cortese and Ken Yeager, the county financed its four largest remaining projects through a combination of government incentive programs, including $7.4 million from the California Solar Initiative Program and interest-rate discounts on bonds subsidized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The county's share will be about $13 million of the $20 million cost, and it will own the arrays. Construction already has begun on Elmwood jail and on a two-lot project at the sheriff's office and nearby County Government Center.

Green as the parking lot arrays are, there's good news for the many county workers and visitors who haven't given up driving. The solar trees at the eight sites will eat up only six of more than 1,000 parking spaces.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

New Jersey Installs More Than 10,000 Solar Projects

New Jersey announced last month that it had reached a solar-energy milestone - more than 10,000 solar installations statewide.

But now some worry that the state's solar industry, second behind only California's in the United States, is being hurt by its own success.

That's because an oversupply of solar renewable-energy certificates, a major means of financing solar projects, has led to a dramatic drop in their price in the spot market.

Solar customers earn a certificate every time their system generates 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity. Power suppliers are required to buy a certain amount of the credits, known as SRECs, to meet New Jersey's renewable-energy standards.

"If the price of the [certificates] drops, then the time period I get my money back to break even is longer," said Gene Mulligan.

The Wildwood Crest resident received federal and state incentives to install a $30,000 solar system on his condominium last year. But he had also counted on paying off the system by selling solar certificates, which were selling for more than $600 on the Flett Exchange, an online trading exchange, when his system started generating power.

The price in New Jersey has fallen below $300 on such exchanges during the last six months.

Pennsylvania's solar market, fueled by the state's generous rebate program, has also led to an oversupply of SRECs and a dramatic drop in prices, analysts say.

In New Jersey, "we've done such a good job at stimulating solar that the market is now crashing," said State Sen. Bob Smith (D., Middlesex), chairman of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee.

Smith is the sponsor of legislation that would accelerate by one year state requirements for how much renewable energy must be produced, forcing power companies to buy more SRECs. The bill passed the Senate in late June and awaits action in the Assembly.

In the first three months of 2011, New Jersey installed 49 percent more megawatts of solar capacity than it did in the same period last year, the Board of Public Utilities said.

It reported that 520 solar projects totaling more than 40 megawatts had been installed in June - a record number of projects and solar capacity for one month.

Nearly 5,000 more approved projects are in the pipeline, the BPU said.

But industry observers project that in the next year or two, at least, the market will slow down.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Chinese Maker of Solar Products Wards Off Hostile Takeover

Shares of ReneSola Ltd., a Chinese maker of solar products, bounced Monday morning after the company announced it will buy back shares and adopted a "poison pill" plan designed to ward off a hostile takeover.

The so-called poison pill would allow current shareholders to buy more shares if any individual acquires more than 15 percent of the company's shares. Companies sometimes adopt such plans if they are approached by a potential buyer but they do not want to sell. However, ReneSola said that its poison pill was not in response to any specific effort.

The company also said it planned to buy back up to $100 million worth of shares. CEO Xianshou Li said in a statement that the company is buying back the shares because it believes they are undervalued.

"Despite relatively weak capital markets and a challenging solar market, we are confident in the long-term prospects of our business and the industry as a whole," he said.

Companies usually tout share buybacks as proof that they believe their shares will go up, because presumably they wouldn't buy shares otherwise. But the buybacks are also a way to give shares a short-term pop or draw attention away from bad news.

ReneSola saw its net income plummet 95 percent in the latest quarter, partly because cuts in European subsidies weakened demand for the solar power products that it makes.

Shares climbed nearly 9 percent, or 26 cents, Monday morning to $3.25. But for the most part they've been falling since February, when they reached over $12.

Rhode Island Approves Million Dollar Solar Array Grant

On Monday, the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation’s board approved a $1 million grant to Toray (Plastics) America Inc. to construct a solar array.  The grants was given in hopes the company to expand in Rhode Island rather than in Virginia, where it operates another plant and electric costs are lower. Toray says the expansion would create up to 200 jobs; however, this million dollar grant may not be enough to persuade the company to make a $200 million investment at its North Kingstown plant.

During the board meeting, Toray President and CEO Richard Schloesser told board members that the grant shows support for our company and we’re anxious to remain here.

But after the board’s approval, Schloesser was noncommittal in remarks to reporters. He called the grant a good first step to encouraging the plastics maker to grow in Rhode Island. He refused to say what other steps, if any, are necessary ensure that the expansion occurs in the Ocean State.

He also declined to say when the company, which is a division of the Japan-based Toray Industries Inc., would announce its growth plans, other than to say expansion would occur in stages and that more information may be available Tuesday.

If Toray is looking for more incentives from the state, the company may not get them. Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee said he was not prepared at this time to offer Toray additional enticements beyond the grant approved Monday. 

To pay for the grant the state will withdraw $750,000 from the Renewable Energy Fund, which is funded by a surcharge on electric bills. The remaining $250,000 comes from federal stimulus money received by the state.

Separately, Toray earlier received a $490,000 state grant paid for with stimulus funds and the project qualifies for a $454,482 federal tax credit.


90 California Schools Install Solar Power

The California School Boards Association has partnered with SunPower to bring solar installations to more than ninety schools across the state, including elementary, secondary, and higher-level schools. This project to bring schools solar power is being launched as the Solar Schools program.

These schools are taking advantage of the California Solar Initiative and installing solar projects, an incentive program to get companies, schools, and homes to switch to solar power. The program gives cash back for installing solar power, California hopes to move the state towards running completely on clean energy, from using a coffee maker in the morning, to opening your garage door, California wants its residents to operate on solar power. The program almost works like a rebate program, where residents are reimbursed for installing solar power and then receiving incentives on their bill.

It is estimated that California schools will be saving up to $1.5 billion over 30 years with the installation of solar power systems. School boards need to make every dollar count, and SunPower believes that their partnership with the schools is a step in the right direction both economically and environmentally.

This school district is scheduled to install solar power in five of its schools. The San Ramon Unified School District will save an estimated $2 million dollars in energy cost in its first year of solar installation. This district has also implemented renewable energy education in its courses. Students can take classes that specifically focus on energy, how to create clean energy, and how to find alternative energy sources. SunPower is working with San Ramon's engineering department to prepare students for future careers in clean technology fields. SunPower hopes to introduce similar curriculum into other schools participating in solar power installations.

The solar power systems are scheduled to be completed by the fall of this year.


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Ikea Southhampton Goes Solar

Ikea’s store in the city center of Southhampton is going green, thanks to the addition of half-a-million-pounds- worth of solar panels.

The Swedish furniture giant has fitted nearly 5,000 photovoltaic panels to the roof of its West Quay Road store.

The £495,000 investment will provide enough green electricity to cover 10 per cent of the shop’s power needs.

Ikea says its solar panels will generate around 217,450 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity per year, which is equivalent to the amount used by 66 homes. It is hoped the green energy will also cut the store’s carbon dioxide use by more than 2,200 tonnes over the panels’ 25-year lifespan.

The panels, which are now up and running, have been added as part of a near-£4m investment in solar power by Ikea in the UK.

By March next year, the firm wants to fit a total of 39,000 panels to the rooftops of ten stores around the country – each cutting the shops’ average electricity use by five per cent. In total, the scheme should generate 1,600,000 kWh every year, cutting Ikea’s carbon dioxide consumption by 662 tonnes a year.

Southampton store manager, Allesandra Taffe said: “Taking care of people and the environment is integral to how we do business, so we are continually working to significantly reduce our carbon footprint from all parts of our operations, while helping to reduce CO2 emissions in society.

“We believe that our solar panel initiative marks a major milestone in our ambition to source 100 per cent renewable energy.”

Solar panels are the latest green initiative at the store, which opened in 2009 and has a geothermal heating and cooling system in place.

Travel plans are aimed at maximising public transport use by customers and staff, while truck movements are reduced by taking more than half of all stock deliveries direct from suppliers.

Delphine Wolfe, from the National Energy Foundation, said: “IKEA’s commitment for sustainability issues is exceptional.

“It provides a real inspiration to all businesses wanting to develop their green credentials.

“Now with their solar installations, IKEA not only reduces its carbon footprint, it also sends a powerful message to all its consumers, promoting renewable energy generation as well as energy efficiency measures.”


Friday, August 19, 2011

Perdue's 1.6MW Solar Installation Comes Online

Perdue, the food and agriculture business, has announced that the first phase of a 1.6 MW solar installation is now online.

The Bridgeville, Del., facility consists of 6,720 solar panels. The installation, which will supply electricity to a nearby Perdue feed mill and Perdue AgriBusiness grain facility, is the first phase of a project in which a total of 11,000 panels are being installed at two Perdue facilities.

Washington Gas Energy Services owns the panels, which are being installed by Standard Solar of Rockville, Md. Both systems will generate a combined average of 3.7 MWh of electricity per year. At peak production, the panels will produce up to 90 percent of the electricity needed for each Perdue facility, the company says.

The company estimates that the solar panels will reduce carbon emissions by 3,000 tons per year through the life of the 15-year contract.

In related news, Cenergy Power has completed a 1.1 MW solar photovoltaic system for fresh produce container manufacturer Maxco at its factory in Parlier, Calif. The solar power system (pictured) covers more than four acres of ground at the Parlier complex.

As part of the solar arrangement, in addition to the design, engineering and installation of the solar system, Cenergy Power will provide 10 years of scheduled operations and maintenance for the system. Maxco expects the system to pay for itself within five years.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Idaho’s Biggest Electrical Utility Looks to Expand Solar Portfolio

The utility that built its business on hydroelectric power in the 1950s and ’60s and expanded with coal plants in the 1970s and ’80s will complete a natural gas plant next year.

But Idaho Power has no experience building or operating the renewable technology that is expanding worldwide.

So it plans to build a pilot photovoltaic solar plant that will give it the expertise it needs for the technology that already has risen over the horizon. Idaho Power also has approved two contracts to buy power from solar developers.

The focus comes as the company’s interest in renewable wind power has waned. One difference? Predictability.

Idaho Power’s interest in solar comes from the shape of the sun’s power curve. It rises just as people wake up and start using appliances.

Solar power peaks in the summer when customers are using air conditioners and farmers are running pumps to irrigate their crops. This is when electricity is most expensive on the open market.

Wind power comes and goes — making it harder to integrate into the overall picture, the company has said.

“The shape of solar’s load has a lot more value to us,” said Mark Stokes, Idaho Power’s power supply planning manager.

After being urged by many Idaho and Northwest groups, Idaho Power included solar options in the integrated resource management plan it presented to the Idaho Public Utilities Commission recently.

“I think if they built a plant and it’s on their system, they will be more comfortable about solar,” said Ken Miller, an energy analyst with the Snake River Alliance and a member of Idaho Power’s planning committee. “It will become less mysterious.”

The utility recently signed a contract to buy power from Interconnect Solar, a Boise-based company that is planning to build a solar power plant near Murphy. It already had approved a contract for a plant near Grand View.

Both have been scheduled to come on line in 2012, but the PUC said last week it needs until late September to review the proposed price structure — a delay Interconnect contends could derail the whole project.

The contract was a good deal for both the developer and Idaho Power, said Bill Piske, Interconnect’s solar manager.

“Idaho Power did a really good job of looking out for their customers,” Piske said.

Idaho Power plans to ask for bids later this year, and it still hasn’t decided whether it wants a project on open ground or on rooftops. That’s part of the learning curve, Stokes said.

Options include putting the solar panels in an area near a substation. The rooftop option includes several variants, but the company is not looking at putting them on residential customers’ roofs.

But companies with large flat buildings might fit the bill.

“One option would be for Idaho Power to pay someone to use their roof, and Idaho Power would own the system,” Stokes said.

They are seeking to build the one-half- to 1-megawatt plant in the Valley, near some of its highest customer load.

Idaho Power estimates it can build the plant for $3,750 per kilowatt, which would make it cost about $2 million to $4 million. The utility estimates it will require between 5 and 10 acres of land.

Part of the trick to solar is setting up the system to optimize its output for its altitude and location. Idaho Power will not only learn how to integrate solar onto its grid but also learn what solar technologies work best in Idaho.

“There is a kind of research and development component to this,” Stokes said. “It’s not just as simple as throwing some solar panels out there and you are done.”


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Overloading a Typical Residential Solar Installation

HelioPower, an integrated energy solutions company with over 2000 solar and clean energy systems engineered and installed since 2001, today launched "Solar Overload" a first-of-its-kind video demonstrating how many appliances it takes to overload a typical residential solar installation.

"Solar Overload, How Many Appliances Does It Take to Spin the Meter Forward?" features a 4 kilowatt (kW) residential solar power system in Laguna Niguel, CA. The system was installed in 2006 on the home of Scott Gordon, now the vice president of residential sales for HelioPower. Scott and team member, Bret Pursuit, demonstrate how many appliances it takes in Scott's 2200 square foot home to incur a utility charge, or "spin the meter" forward.

"As a leading solar installation firm in California, HelioPower is committed to educating consumers on the benefits of solar," said Scott Gordon, Vice President, Residential Sales, HelioPower, Inc. "In 'Solar Overload' I'm able to show just how many appliances it takes to activate a utility cost from my residential solar power system. Over the five years I've had the solar panel system my family has saved $10,000 in utility bills. We are able to demonstrate how that happens when you see the many appliances it takes to spin the meter forward."

Filming took place at approximately 2pm on a sunny day last month. Scott turned on two refrigerators, two DVRs, one laptop and 21" monitor, one cell phone charger, 56 light bulbs, one attic fan and five ceiling fans set on high. The solar power system still generated enough power to keep the meter running backwards. Find out what happens when he turns on a microwave, electric clothes dryer, energy efficient washing machine and a pool pump!

Click on the following link to download and view the "Solar Overload" video:

Denver Airport Leads US Airports for Solar Power

Denver International Airport (DIA) now has more solar power than any other commercial airport in the United States.

Renewable Energy World reports that DIA has just completed a 4.4-megawatt ground-mounted solar power system, increasing its total solar power capacity to more than 8-MW. In total, the DIA solar installations cover 45 acres of farmland near the airport.

Put into an operational perspective, DIA now receives over 6 percent of its electricity from solar-generated power. This is positive news from both green and economic standpoints.

“We support alternative energy applications at DIA because these projects are good for the environment while positively impacting our bottom line; they are financially sustainable,” said Kim Day, the DIA aviation manager in a press release. “This airport was built with a goal of being green.”

DIA has signed a 20-year power purchase agreement with a utility, Constellation Energy, to buy the electricity produced.

Baltimore-based Constellation Energy owns and maintains the solar PV system for this project. The company is a publicly traded (NYSE: CEG) Fortune 500 leader with nearly 10,000 employees. It has approximately 12,000 megawatts of generation capacity and reported 2010 revenue of $14.3 billion.

DIA’s solar generating capacity is estimated at 7,000 megawatt-hours annually from 19,000 Yingli solar photovoltaic panels.

This is the third solar project for the DIA. The first two installations were for 2-MW and 1.4-MW, respectively.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Solar Energy Training in Portland

Nationally recognized solar training company ONTILITY and Graybar Electric Co. will offer Entry Level Solar Electric Training on September 19-23, at Graybar in Portland, OR. The solar energy market in Oregon continues to grow rapidly and the demand for well trained installers is high.

“A well-trained workforce insures that solar installations will be done safely and that those systems will perform the way they are supposed to.”

ONTILITY presents our Professional Solar Training course for the purpose of preparing workers and businessmen to enter into the Solar Energy Workforce. Attending this award winning IREC Accredited Entry Level Solar Electric Training Class is the first step to becoming a member of the Solar Energy Industry. This class teaches the NABCEP Entry Level Learning Objectives and will get you started on a path that will lead you to a future in this exciting and fast growing industry.

During this five day class attendees will be taught valuable industry knowledge that is needed to join the Solar Industry as a:
  • Solar Business Owner
  • Solar PV Installer
  • Solar PV Project Manager
  • Solar Salesperson
  • Solar PV System Designer

This class is suitable for anyone interested in solar energy - entrepreneurs, electricians and electrical, mechanical and general contractors and all others in the building trades who are interested in business opportunities in the Solar Energy Industry.

At a time when the U.S. economy overall is growing at an annual rate of around 2% and job creation continues to lag, the Solar Industry is growing by more than 50% per year and is expected to create 24,000 new jobs in 2011. A 2010 survey showed that more than 80% of property owners are interested in and plan to install solar energy systems on their property within the next five years. Legislative action by the State of Oregon, Federal solar incentive and programs sponsored by electric utility companies are having a dramatic effect on the growth of the state’s solar market.

The rapid growth of the solar market demands a well-trained workforce and is a key element in the growth and long-term success of solar markets. According to ONTILITY Director of Education, Ken Whiteside. “A well-trained workforce insures that solar installations will be done safely and that those systems will perform the way they are supposed to.” Mr. Whiteside continued, “A comprehensive introductory solar energy course which includes system design and installation topics is a great way for anyone to get started in solar.” The upcoming 40 hour ONTILITY class consists of five days of training, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. each day. Those who complete the course are eligible to sit for the NABCEP PV Entry Level Exam. The 40 credits earned by completing the class also satisfy the education requirement for NABCEP PV Installer certification.

Japan's Complicated Solar Plans

The anticipated passage of legislation to introduce feed-in tariffs in Japan, or the guaranteed rates at which public utilities must buy electricity produced by the sun, wind and other renewable energy sources, is raising expectations that large-scale solar power generation will grow rapidly.

But three issues – higher costs, tight land regulations and the difficulties of cooperating with electric power companies – will likely create huge business obstacles to the development of massive solar power plants. Still, companies are now positioning themselves to cash in on a potential solar bonanza.

Power projects

West Holdings Corp., a renewable energy company listed on the Jasdaq market, has launched a new project to build a large solar farm with a capacity of 1.5 megawatts in Toho, Fukuoka Prefecture. Next summer, Kyushu Electric Power Co. will start buying all power generated at the facility, which will be built on a 12,000-sq.-meter plot of land in a former coal-mining area.

West Holdings, which imports solar cells from China and installs solar power systems for households, plans to build 10 large solar farms across the nation within three years. “When the feed-in tariff scheme kicks in, solar farms will generate far bigger profits than installations of household solar systems,” said Naoto Ikeda, a senior executive at West Holdings. “We cannot afford to miss out on this opportunity.”

There are still only several large-scale solar farms in Japan, as the growth of the business has been slowed by the relative inefficiency of power generation. This makes it difficult to secure sufficient returns on the massive initial investment that is required.

But the new system, which will require utilities to buy all power produced at the solar farms at fixed prices, will boost the profitability of these projects. This is why companies in other business fields are starting to break into the solar business, including Softbank Corp. and Tokio Marine Asset Management Co., which is teaming up with Mitsui & Co.

Some analysts, however, are not so bullish about the prospects for the solar business. They point to the high costs of solar panels as a big barrier to profitability. Even if mass purchases drive down solar panel prices, a 1-megawatt solar plant will still cost at least 400 million yen to build, an official at a trading house said.

The prices and time frames for mandatory power purchases by utilities under the new system have yet to be determined. The most plausible terms are 40 yen per kilowatt-hour for 15 years, or 2 yen lower than the current price at which utilities buy surplus electricity. A 1-megawatt solar farm would generate some 600 million yen over such a time frame under these conditions, for mediocre investment returns of about 2 – 3%. And the returns end up looking even lower if land leases, tax payments and other costs are factored in.

Spanish success

In 2007, Spain established feed-in tariffs at about 10 times higher than the market prices for electricity, over a mandatory purchasing period of 25 years. These terms raised the returns on solar power investment to 15 – 20%, touching off a solar investment boom in the country. As a result, total solar power generation in Spain soared more than 20 times in 2008 from 2006.

However, the basic terms for feed-in tariffs in Japan are considerably less attractive than they are in other countries. Softbank President Masayoshi Son has ruled out massive capital investment in renewable energy, saying he will mainly use bank lending to finance his solar projects.

Another potential drag on the outlook for solar power is the factory location law, which bans power generation facilities from occupying more than half of the land on a power plant site. A provision allowing utilities to restrict the connection of solar power plants to the power grid, in order to secure stable power supplies, is also dimming prospects for the solar power business.

These hurdles must be overcome to promote large-scale solar power generation. The soon-to-be-enacted law to introduce a feed-in tariff scheme is clearly little more than an initial step in these efforts.


Monday, August 15, 2011

U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011 To Help Inspire Sustainability, Innovation, Education

To spur growth of the solar industry and support education, Dow Corning has announced that it is a sustaining sponsor of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011, which will be held Sept. 23 - Oct. 2 in Washington, D.C.

The sponsorship includes overseeing the creation of educational resources that will help strengthen middle school students' understanding of solar energy and sustainability and the importance of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The materials include:

-- A school curriculum for teachers, designed to introduce students in grades 5-8 to the principles and potential of renewable energy technologies by showcasing the cutting-edge applications of solar power and energy efficiency solutions at the Solar Decathlon;

-- A Student Welcome & Education Center on the Decathlon grounds where students, teachers and parents can access educational materials about solar energy and engage in a series of interactive, hands-on and video-based educational opportunities; and

-- A student-oriented Solar Decathlon program to be made available to students visiting the Solar Village in-person and virtually via the Solar Decathlon website.

"Education, research and development, and manufacturing are part of a cycle that allows the United States to compete in a fast-paced global market," said Dow Corning President and CEO Robert D. Hansen. "Our participation in this year's Solar Decathlon will help fulfill our promise to be an active, involved collaborator with students, researchers, manufacturers, and governments as we prepare the next generation to address the complex problems in our world."

The Solar Decathlon is an award-winning program that challenges 20 collegiate teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive. The winner of the competition is the team that best blends affordability, consumer appeal, and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency.

"There has never been a more important time to further develop viable, renewable, clean, domestically generated energy sources, and there is no better way to achieve that goal than by challenging great minds from universities all over the world," said Hansen. "The students' hard work is a testament to the endless possibilities attainable through math and science education. We hope these efforts will help fuel the next generation of scientific discovery."

The Solar Decathlon was previously held in 2002, 2005, 2007, and 2009. Dow Corning sponsored an electronic scoreboard that provided daily results to event spectators at the National Mall in 2009.

"The Solar Decathlon depends on the valuable support of our many sponsors," said Richard King, director of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon. "Our sponsors play an integral role in ensuring that the Solar Decathlon provides a rich learning experience for the student decathletes and that we effectively educate the public about the money-saving opportunities and environmental benefits presented by clean energy products and design solutions."

A global leader in silicones, silicon-based technology and innovation, Dow Corning is applying more than 65 years of experience to bring innovation and efficiencies to the silicon-based materials that are ideal for solar applications, including silicon-based materials for next-generation solar cells, protective coatings for solar cells, high-performance silicone encapsulants, adhesives, and sealants. Dow Corning is also the majority shareholder in the Hemlock Semiconductor Group joint venture, a leading provider of polycrystalline silicon.

In the past six years, Dow Corning and the Hemlock Semiconductor Group have announced investments of more than $5 billion to research and develop as well as to expand production of materials critical to the solar industry.


Portable Solar Power

SkyBuilt Power from Virginia has developed the SkyCase and the SkyPAK for the US Army. Both of them will work in tandem, where the former is a power storage and management module. The SkyCase will come in a weatherproof, crushproof and dustproof case which can be wheeled around like a traveler’s luggage.

The lithium ion batteries inside the SkyCase will feature sophisticated power management and safety features, where among them include graceful degradation, and short circuit/overload protection. There is an LCD read-out panel located on the case’s exterior, where it will let you know of information concerning the battery’s status during charging and discharging cycles.

The SkyPAK Portable Array Kits will work with the SkyCase, being fold-out crystalline solar arrays which are said to be twice as powerful compared to the traditional solar blanket. Since it comes in an accordion design, it is will deploy rapidly.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Ukraine To Open Europe's Largest Solar Power Plant

By the end of the current year the newly built solar power plant in Crimea is set to reach the production rate of 100,000 megawatt-hours of electricity in a year. This rate makes the station the most powerful solar power plant ever built in the region and one of the largest solar power plants in the world. The power plant of this caliber is estimated to reduce Ukraine's carbon dioxide emission by 80,000 tons.

The solar power plant in Okhotnykovo, Crimea, is a part of the country's national Natural Energy project. The State Agency of Ukraine for Energy Efficiency and Energy Conservation (SAUEEEC) launched the project in 2010. It is aimed at producing electric energy from the "clean" sources - the sun and the wind - in the amount of 2,000 MW. The objective of this initiative is to supply the low transportation cost electricity and preserve the environment. The SAUEEEC expects the production share of alternative energy to make up to 30 percent of Ukrainian energy market before 2015.

The Okhotnykovo plant will provide an output of 80 MW making it the largest solar power plant in Europe. Currently, the largest solar power plant is located in Italy and produces 72 MW.

After the construction of the remaining two out of four power production lines is finished, the area of the power station will equal 207 football fields. The power plant will provide green energy for around 20,000 households.

Kaveh Ertefai, the CEO of the Austrian company "Activ Solar" responsible for the project, said: "Project of this scale means a radical change of solar energy development in Europe, while securing Ukraine's position as renewable energy provider."

Ukraine funds its energy saving projects by the profits the government receives from selling CO2 quotes under the Kyoto protocol. In 2009, having traded its CO2 emission quota to Japan Ukraine received almost USD 400 mln from Japan.

The amount of solar radiation in Ukraine reaches from 800 to 1450 W/m² per year and provides for an expansive potential market of solar energy projects. As of 2009, Ukraine is the twelfth largest energy market in the world with an installed capacity of 54 GW. Ukraine exports its excess electricity to Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Russia, and Slovakia.

SOURCE Worldwide News Ukraine

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Solar Grant Installation Program Applications Being Accepted Monday

The Tennessee Solar Institute will start accepting applications for the second round of its Solar Grant Installation Program on August 15th, 2011.

The Solar Institute will distribute $1.15 million in grants that can be used by small businesses and nonprofits to install solar components on their buildings. Once the systems are installed, the companies can sell excess generated power back to the Tennessee Valley AuthoritybizWatch.

Several Memphis companies received $1.73 million of $9 million in grants during the first round of funding last September. Those companies included Great Neck Saw Manufacturers Inc.bizWatch , which manufactures hand tools for construction and automotive repair, First Tennessee BankbizWatch , Memphis Bioworks FoundationbizWatch , Sharp Manufacturing Co.bizWatch and Shelby Electric Co.bizWatch

Recipients of the latest round of funding can receive up to $105,000 in reimbursement funds for solar project installation. The first round awarded money to 125 applicants across the state.

“The response to the first round of Solar Installation grants confirms the statewide demand for renewable energy” John Sanseverino, director of programs at the Tennessee Solar Institute, said in a statement.

Applications will be accepted beginning Aug. 15, and can be found at

The Tennessee Solar Institute is part of the Volunteer State Solar Initiative, a comprehensive solar energy and economic development program that was established using $62.5 million from American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.


Harnessing Solar Energy After Sunset

Solar energy giant Brightsource, currently building one of the world’s largest solar thermal power plants (Ivanpah) in California's Mojave Desert, is now developing a system called SolarPLUS, targeted at utilities, to generate power even when the sun is not shining.

Brightsource is liaising with utilities to clarify which future projects would best benefit from this technology, which combines its power tower solar thermal technology with two-tank molten-salt storage - the latter technology is a proven one that has been around for the past decade.

Molten salt storage, otherwise known as 'solar salts', is used widely in solar thermal plants in Spain. Solar salts are composed of 60pc sodium nitrate and 40pc potassium nitrate.

Combining its solar thermal technology with molton-salt storage, according to Brightsource, will extend the production of electricity into later parts of the day and after the sun sets when it is most valued by utilities.

It predicts that the SolarPLUS technology will reduce the cost of renewable power for utilities' customers by increasing a plant's capacity factor and by offering higher efficiencies than competing solar thermal power plants.

Brightsource also says its technology will offer utilities and grid operators extra operational and market value, by "providing balancing and shaping capabilities, as well as ancillary services to support a reliable grid".

"Coupling storage with BrightSource's high-efficiency LPT solar thermal technology represents a natural and critical advancement in utility-scale solar power generation," said Israel Kroizer, EVP of Engineering, R&D and Product Supply, BrightSource Energy and president of BrightSource Industries (Israel).

Brightsource is currently building the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the Mojave Desert. When construction of Ivanpah is completed, it is expected to nearly double the amount of commercial solar thermal electricity produced in the US today.

Two new solar plants planned for California

The privately held Oakland, California-headquartered Brightsource has also filed an application with the California Energy Commission to develop two 250MW solar plants in California's Inyo County.

If the project goes ahead, Hidden Hills will be poised on 3,280 acres of privately-owned land in Inyo County, California, adjacent to the California/Nevada border. The proposed site is situated 18 miles south of Pahrump, Nevada, and 45 miles west of Las Vegas, Nevada. In the past the property has been used as an orchard.

The Hidden Hills Solar Electric Generating System (SEGS) will use the company's next-generation plant design, which Brightsource says will take advantage of economies of scale - driving down the cost of energy while also reducing the project's land use footprint.

For utility-scale solar projects of similar capacity, the new configuration reduces land use by 33pc or more compared to a typical photovoltaic (PV) farm and parabolic trough solar thermal plant, said Brightsource in a statement released on 8 August.

BrightSource is hoping to construct two separate 250-megawatt (nominal) solar thermal power plants, each with its own solar field and solar power tower. When complete, the two plants are expected to produce enough electricity to power 178,000 homes and avoid more than 500,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually.
1,000 green collar jobs for California

According to the company, the Hidden Hills SEGS project has the potential to create more than 1,000 construction jobs at the peak of construction and about 120 operations and maintenance jobs.

Over the plant's 25-year life, construction wages are expected to reach nearly US$160 million, with total employee earnings estimated at nearly US$390," said Brightsource on Tuesday.

"The economic benefits that will be created by the Hidden Hills SEGS are significant, especially in the context of the economic challenges the region continues to face," said Jeremy Aguero, principal analyst for Applied Analysis, a business advisory services firm that carried out an analysis of the economic and fiscal impacts of the Hidden Hills SEGS.

"After doing a detailed analysis of the HHSEGS, we expect the project to directly generate nearly 2,900 jobs related to onsite construction and the fabrication of materials over the two-year construction period, and contribute over $265 million in local and state taxes over the plant's lifetime. These new jobs and extra tax revenue will likely have a noticeable impact on the surrounding communities," he said.
Solar field design

Brightsource says Hidden Hills will harness the company's proprietary LPT solar thermal energy system, which generates power the same way as traditional power plants - by creating high temperature steam to turn a turbine - but using the sun's energy rather than fossil fuels or nuclear power.

"At the heart of the LPT system is a state-of-the-art solar field design, optimization software and a control system that allow for the creation of high temperature steam. The steam can then be integrated with conventional power plant components to produce predictable, reliable and cost-competitive clean energy," the company added.

The new plant design at Hidden Hills will also feature a taller tower that allows for greater concentration of heliostats, which Brightsource says will significantly lower the amount of land required to produce energy.

The company is also planning to place mirrors on individual poles that are placed directly into the ground, allowing the solar field to be built around the natural contours of the land and avoiding areas of sensitive vegetation.

Closed-loop cycle

And in order to conserve desert water, Brightsource says Hidden Hills will use an air-cooling system to convert the steam back into water in a closed-loop cycle.

"By using air-cooling, the project will use only 140 acre feet of water per year, less than ten percent of the total amount of water used in competing solar thermal technologies with wet-cooling," the company said.

Hidden Hills SEGS will provide power to Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) pursuant to two power purchase agreements approved by the California Public Utilities Commission in 2010.

Brightsource currently has 2.6 gigawatts (GW) of power contracts with Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric Company, California's two largest utilities.

The company also manages an 110,000-acre development site portfolio in California and the US Southwest, which it says has the potential to allow for approximately 11GW of installed capacity.


Friday, August 12, 2011

US Department of Energy Confirms $967 Million Loan Guarantee for Solar Project

A $967 million loan guarantee has been confirmed by the US Department of Energy (DOE) for the 290 MW Agua Caliente Solar project under construction in Arizona’s Yuma County.

This development will be the largest solar power plant in the world once completed.  It has been acquired by NRG Energy from First Solar for a reported $800 million.

Meanwhile, NRG Energy’s subsidiary NRG Solar and Japanese partner Eurus Energy have announced the start of operations at the 45 MW Avenal Solar Generating Facility in California.

First Solar has also got the go ahead for an even larger 550 MW photovoltaic facility in California. The Topaz Solar Farm will join a 250 MW project being developed by California Valley Solar Ranch.

The company is also joining forces with Sempra Generation to expand the existing 48 MW Copper Mountain Solar complex in Boulder City, Nevada. The partners will install a further 92 MW by January 2013 and 58 MW by 2015.

Elsewhere in Nevada, ENN Mojave Energy, a subsidiary of the Chinese ENN Group, plans to build a solar thin-film manufacturing plant and an adjoining 720 MW solar farm. But the plans will require $4-6 billion in investment and the US Department of the Interior (DOI) to change the land use restrictions.

Meanwhile, the DOI has approved two solar projects on public land in California – Abengoa’s 250 MW solar thermal parabolic trough Mojave Solar project in San Bernardino County and the 200 MW Imperial Solar Energy Center.

And yet another solar farm is under construction in Niland, California thanks to a $77.4 million loan agreement from the North American Development Bank for developer Imperial Valley Solar Company, a subsidiary of privately-owned SunPeak Solar.

Outside the US, AES Solar – a joint venture between AES and Riverstone Holdings – has secured €68 million for the construction of solar photovoltaic projects totalling 18 MW in the Lazio, Puglia and Sicily regions of Italy.

And finally, GE Energy has confirmed a strategic investment of $40 million in concentrating solar thermal power technology developer eSolar.

The company announced the investment earlier this summer, but did not reveal the scale of the investment. As part of the deal, GE Energy’s president and CEO of thermal products will join eSolar’s board of directors.

“Together, we are able to bring to market a power plant solution that drives down the cost of solar and meets the growing demand for renewable energy generation,” says eSolar’s president and CEO John Van Scoter.

The deal enables GE to incorporate eSolar’s solar thermal technology with its fleet of combined cycle power plants, which include a gas turbine, steam turbine, generators and a heat recovery steam generator, boosting fuel efficiencies to over 70%.

The two companies will target Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the US for the combined-cycle systems and are already working on a 530 MW project in Turkey, which features a 50 MW concentrated solar thermal tower technology integrated into a combined cycle power plant.


Solar Powered Electric Vehicles To Come With Household Solar Package

Ford and solar-panel maker SunPower have created a solar-powered electric-car package.

Buyers of Ford's electric vehicles will have an option to have SunPower's rooftop solar panels installed for about $10,000 after a federal tax rebate. The companies estimate that the 2.5-kilowatt array will generate enough juice, about 3,000 kilowatt-hours a year, to fuel a car for about 1,000 miles a month of driving.

A SunPower solar panel array. Charging an electric car for a year will take 11 of SunPower's efficient panels.

The "Drive Green for Life" program means drivers can cut the cord on fossil fuels by generating power during the day and charging at night, according to the companies.

Ford plans to release an all-electric Ford Focus and its C-Max Energy plug-in hybrid in 19 states next year and in Europe in 2013.

SunPower makes high-end solar panels, which means a 2.5-kilowatt array will require 11 of its residential panels, which will take less space than less-efficient panels. Like other panels, they have 25-year warranties. SunPower said that state-specific incentives and rebates could lower the installation cost below $10,000.

The panels will be installed by SunPower's installer network and financing to offset the upfront cost is available. Customers can also monitor the solar panels' output over the Web application or an iPhone app.

In practice, grid-tied solar panels offset an entire home's electricity consumption, rather than only the power from an electric car charger. But coupling rooftop solar panels with an electric car will make for a low-polluting car and lower monthly electricity bills.

Ford's competitor General Motors last month announced a program to install large solar arrays at some offices and dealerships, including solar canopies with Chevy Volts underneath.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Soldiers to Use Solar Power in Combat

Australian soldiers could soon be using the sun to power their devices in the field thanks to wearable lightweight solar panels.

The solar cells, developed by the Australian National University (ANU) convert light directly into electricity via SLIVER solar cell technology.  The ANU Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems developed the SLIVER cells as part of a $2.3 million contract with the Department of Defense.  The project's chief investigator Professor Andrew Blakers said the new sliver cells built by Transform Solar in Boise, Idaho were the basis for the wearable solar panels.

The silver cells are flexible in that they can be rolled up, put in a package, and carried long distances and then unfurl them for use in remote areas. The wearable panels could be worn on a soldier's helmet, on their front and/or back, their packs, their weapons and tents.  The solar panels were more rugged than conventional panels and they could operate in temperatures from minus 40 degrees to 65 degrees.

The sliver solar panels would reduce the weight soldiers carried in the field.  Whereas typically they need to carry dozens of AA, AAA, C cells and D cells for operations in Afghanistan. The average soldier would be carry around half a kilogram of batteries to operate radios, night vision devices, torches, communications.

The sliver cells could be used also by civilians to provide mobile power for things like iPods, iPhones, remotes, sensors and the like.


Undergrad Builds Largest Solar Farm In Michigan

Building a solar farm isn't hard if you have the money; you just pay contractors to show up, install electrical service, build the solar panel support infrastructure, and truck in the panels. But if you want to do it cheap, you could buy some land from a friend and set up your own fabrication shop, spending an entire summer welding together 50,000 pounds of structural steel and pouring concrete around 20,000 pounds of rebar to save serious cash on the infrastructure.

Connor Field, a Michigan resident who built the largest solar farm in the state this way in late 2009, said drily, "I would not do that again."

"Do you know how to weld?" I asked him when we met recently in Ann Arbor to discuss the project.

"I do now."

A solar farm, whose sole purpose is to soak up much sun energy as possible, loses out if its panels remain locked in a fixed position. The sky position of the sun varies throughout the year, and moving the panels periodically is essential to efficient systems. Unfortunately, when Field decided to build his own solar farm, he couldn't get a moveable "tracker" system for anything that was "close to reasonable"—so he built one himself. Even with the startup costs of equipping his own fabrication plant, the do-it-yourself approach was so much cheaper that it looked like a necessity if his project was to break even.

Field's trackers are simple steel structures with a hinged mechanism that allows the panel to be unlatched and then tilted into several specific angles based on time of year; the design is based on research from federal renewable energy studies. Field's two acre parcel of land—just off I-94 beyond a Target distribution center in rural Michigan—can have all its panels moved by 2 people in just 30 minutes. The setup was 8-10 percent more efficient than a fixed solar array, and when built was one of the most efficient large array systems in the state.

This wasn't a project installed by a major corporation; indeed, what's most remarkable about the solar farm is that Field is still a student studying both economics and electrical engineering at the University of Michigan. When we met, he had just come from a final exam.
Solar power isn't just for Arizona

Long interested in renewable energy, Field entered the university as an economics major and began researching energy projects in his spare time. “I went through a series of very bad ideas,” he said, before coming to the conclusion that “building wind generation infrastructure in Michigan is a terrible idea.”

But solar didn't look so bad. While it's true that sunny states like Arizona capture the public's imagination when it comes to solar, Midwestern states like Michigan can be workable. Arizona gets two-thirds more sun than Michigan's average of four usable hours of sun per day. But Arizona is also significantly warmer than Michigan, and most solar panels are significantly limited by heat. On Field's own solar farm, the effect is easy to see. His monitoring equipment shows that, on an 80 degree day, his panels drop to 75 precent efficiency and decay from there as the temperature rises.

Thanks largely to this temperature affect, Field's farm produces more power in the spring than in the summer. The total solar array can produce a maximum of 149kW, enough to power a couple hundred homes, but it never exceeds 130kW in summer thanks to the temperature effect and to the higher summer humidity (which scatters the light).

Field had a simple goal with the farm—“not to lose money on the first project"—and added that he's “not interested in proving that solar's not economically viable." Losing money on renewable power is simple; it's turning a profit that's hard.

And Field wants to show that renewable tech, even on this scale, can be profitable. To do so, he partnered with his father (a lawyer) and with a family friend who owned 250 acres of land outside Battle Creek. To reduce risk on the project, the team negotiated a 12-year fixed rate for their power from the local electric company Consumer's Energy. (Making that deal was made easier by a state guideline that 10 percent of power come from renewable sources by 2015, and by a Consumer's Energy feed-in tariff program for arrays up to 150kW.) The panels have a rated life of 25 years (after which they should still produce electricity at 80 percent of their initial efficiency), so calculating a break-even date was straightforward.

The challenge came in upfront construction costs when it became clear that a moveable commercial tracker system was simply too expensive. Field's decision to build the entire set of support structures with his father shaved costs significantly, but the team still had to bring in an electrical contractor ($80,000), purchase the panels from Evergreen Solar, buy the electrical inverters that make the panel power compatible with the electrical grid, set up their small factory, and get structural engineers to look at overall site designs and at the concrete footings used to hold the arrays.
An interview with Sam Field, Connor's father

Field and his father coordinated all this work and were on-site watching most of it get done. The idea wasn't just to save money; it was to get a crash course in all the necessary disciplines associated with large-scale renewable power projects.

“The goal was to learn how to do it,” said Field, and the numerous mistakes the team made were dubbed "tuition moments."

In the end, it all worked as planned, and the solar farm now nearly runs itself. As we talked, Field pulled out his iPhone and showed me the farm's realtime power generation stats, which are pulled directly from the inverters and available over the Internet. Combined with perimeter security system and some live-feed Internet video cameras, Field can keep an eye on the team's investment from an Ann Arbor classroom without having to run back constantly to check that everything is functioning properly.

Problems cropped up, of course. Nearby lightning strikes blew out fuses at the farm, while the light beams on the security perimeter failed (twice) without any apparent reason.

But the most serious issue came from the taxman. After installation of the solar farm on its two acres of land, the local tax assessor upgraded the site from "leasehold improvement" to "real commercial property"—and property taxes went up dramatically. The team believes the designation is improper, and the legal expertise of Field's father has proven helpful as the decision is appealed.

The project was designed to break even in 12 years, but the higher tax rates could throw off that calculation. Field has learned his lesson from the tax scrap; his new projects now get "prenegotiated" tax rates from local townships to avoid these kinds of unexpected surprises, and he's found that most towns welcome well-thought-out, financially viable renewable power projects.

Now that the key lessons have been learned, Field is forging ahead with several more ventures, though he's hesitant to say too much about them yet. One hint: they will all be significantly larger than the solar farm, which required electrical service work that could serve a much larger project for the same amount of investment. Motorized panel tracking systems have dropped dramatically in price, and Field plans to buy in bulk for future projects, so hot summers of welding are behind him.

Indeed, Field is spending this summer interning with a University of Michigan project researching new solar technology. He's also developing future projects of his own, including one that should get under construction by summer's end. Not bad for an undergrad.

Despite the hard work involved, Field has some simple advice for anyone who might follow his lead: "Do it."


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Stanford Solar Car on Display Before Big Race

A team of Stanford students is racing to finish what could be the next new thing in automotive technology. Or just the fastest solar panels on wheels.

If the school's $500,000 car is made of the right stuff, it will cross the finish line ahead of 30 teams at this fall's grueling World Solar Challenge, the international Super Bowl of solar car racing across a bright, flat, empty and hot Australian outback.

"Our goal is to make the most aerodynamic solar car the world has ever seen," said mechanical engineering student Ian Girard, 22, taking a late-night rest from last-minute tests, tweaks and repairs.

"It's not science fiction. It's not stuck in a lab," he said. "It's real. It's here. There's no gas anywhere in the car. And it's on the highway, next to you."

Only a year ago, "Xenith" was a mere collection of CAD files and dreams.

Now it resembles a sleek spacecraft. Street-legal and already road-tested on Bay Area and Central Valley freeways, its solar cruise speed is 50 to 60 mph, propelled by a 1300-watt solar array and 150-volt battery pack.

On Thursday, Xenith will be on display at its official "coming out" party -- proving that a vehicle can be both green and mean.

Next, it gets carefully boxed up and shipped across the Pacific, to arrive in time for the Oct. 16-23 competition.

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