Sunday, September 30, 2012

Solar Power Is An Added Boon Of Atherton Estate

When Lynne and Bruce Pasternack saw the home at 43 Valley Road in Atherton, they were on the verge of becoming grandparents.
The spacious living room is surrounded by numerous built-ins,
including glass-front cabinets at the wet bar and a floor-to-ceiling
wine rack

"I had a vision of creating a warm and inviting atmosphere here," Lynne Pasternack said. "I could picture us outdoors with all the kids and grandkids, having family gatherings and meals."

Nine years later, she feels her mission was accomplished.

The four-bedroom, five-bath Traditional home has 5,490 square feet of living space and features a wraparound portico, a covered patio, a pool, spa and lush gardens. A section of the 1-acre, fruit-replete property has plum, apple and pear trees; another contains a lemon and orange tree grove.

The residence is listed for $4.498 million.

"I love the way the house flows," she said. "From every single room you have a view of something from the outside coming in. You almost always look out and it's green and full of flowers, warm and inviting and sunny. At no time of the day is the home dark."

All this sunniness offers more than spectacular garden views. Bruce Pasternack, who worked in the predecessor to today's U.S. Department of Energy during the Ford administration, said solar panels the couple installed a few years ago have reduced their Pacific Gas & Electric bills from around $1,500 a month to $200.

"We did a brand-new roof with five panels," he said. "But you can't even see them unless you look on the side driveway."

The home comes with a chef's kitchen, a breakfast room and an expansive family room with French doors that lead out to the pool area.

Lynne Pasternack said the master bedroom is her favorite.

"It's quite large, but the thing that's so nice about it is that it has a huge walk-in closet that's big and long," she said. "The room is almost like a retreat."

"The upstairs family room is ideal as a media room or extra guest bedroom," said Shirley Brown of Coldwell Banker Northern California. "The secluded study can be a secret hideaway for working or catching up on your reading."

With high ceilings and large windows, Lynne Pasternack said the home is "very open."

"Open but secure," her husband added. "We don't have a fence, we have a wrought-iron gate," she said. "You can't get in unless somebody lets you in."

Despite the open atmosphere of the property, Lynne Pasternack went on to say that the home offers considerable privacy as well.

"There are only seven houses on our street and they're all large," she said. "You feel like you're in your own little neighborhood but we're near a lot of things. The freeways. The park."

An adjacent property has a paddock with horses, which she said added to the "bucolic" mood.

She said the home provides the perfect setting for large family gatherings or small, intimate parties. "It's a great home for entertaining," she said. "All the rooms are large. But we're ready to downsize. This is now more house than we really need."


Solar Panels Coming To MBTA Site In Dedham

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is one step closer to reaping the benefits of a field of solar panels at the 18-acre Readville Yard 5 in Dedham, thanks to a recent decision by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation Board of Directors.

On Wednesday, the board unanimously approved 20-year contract with Gehrlicher Solar America Corp. of New Jersey, that calls for the company to design, install, and maintain a solar “photovoltaic” system at both the Dedham field and the Wonderland Garage in Revere.

The MBTA has been working to increase its use of renewable energy and said that between the two sites, annual savings for electricity will be around $48,900.

In the spring, the MBTA spent nearly $4.5 million decontaminating the Dedham property and hoped that by using a solar developer such as Gehrlicher, the agency would avoid paying operating costs.

“We own the land, they’d build, install, and use their own equipment, then sell [electricity] to us,” Andrew Brennan said in March.

According to a transcript of the decision made Wednesday, the MBTA board received four bids, three of which were eligible. Then on July 10, the review committee found that Gehrlicher was the “apparent highest, responsible, and eligible bidder.”

Under the terms of the contract, the MBTA will be the only purchaser of the electricity produced at the two sites, and Gehrlicher guarantees a minimum production of at least 1.7 million kWh per year.

Construction is expected to start this fall, and once it begins, the developer has one year to complete the project and begin selling energy to the MBTA.


First Solar: Too Volatile For Your Portfolio?

First Solar's (FSLR) business path has not been smooth, and that is why the company recently changed its business direction. First Solar will now focus on providing utility-scale PV systems in sustainable markets with immediate need. This shift in the company's strategy also means it will reduce its focus on the rooftop and off-grid market and focus primarily on serving the utility market instead. This is a major change of strategy for a company that had previously focused on customers that were dependent on government subsidies.

Recent First Solar Developments

On September 11th, First Solar announced that it had signed a deal with Pacific Gas and Electric Company to provide 72 megawatts of solar electricity, which would be generated at two plants that are being developed in California. One project is a 32 megawatt project in Kern County, and the second project is the Cuyama project in Santa Barbara County. Construction of the projects, which will produce enough energy to power some 24,000 California homes, could start in 2013.

On September 10th, First Solar announced that its Agua Caliente solar plant had achieved a peak generating capacity of 250 megawatts. "The project, which is under construction in Yuma County, Arizona, is currently the world's largest operating photovoltaic (PV) power plant and will have a generating capacity of 290 MWAC when completed." First Solar will operate the plant for owners NRG Energy and Mid America Solar. Pacific Gas and Electric has a 25 year purchase agreement for the plant's electrical output. The project is being financed with a loan that is being guaranteed by the U. S. Department of Energy's loan Programs Office.

On August 23rd, First Solar announced that it would develop solar farms in India to help against power outages which have driven demand for electricity derived from sun power. The company plans to take at least a "20% share of India's photovoltaic sales by expanding beyond First Solar's role as a supplier, said Sujoy Ghosh, the new India head of the world's biggest thin-film panel maker."

On August 1st, First Solar's CEO James Hughes said when speaking about Australia "we're positioned to capture at least 30% market share going forward. In June, we announced 2 new projects that we will be designing, constructing and maintaining for AGL Energy in Australia for a combined total of 159 megawatts AC."

First Solar recently announced that it anticipates earning $3 per share in the second half of the year. The $2 billion Topaz project in San Luis Obispo County, California will account for these earnings. Since the earnings from the Topaz project will be accounted for in the fourth quarter First Solar's third quarter earnings will be lower, but its fourth quarter earnings will be higher. First Solar will "build, operate and maintain the project for MidAmerican Energy Holdings. Pacific Gas and Electric will buy the electricity under a 25-year power purchase agreement."

Final Thoughts

First Solar is in one very volatile business. A large number of businesses like Solyndra, Sun Power, and Solar Trust of America have failed. The primary reason that these businesses have failed is because of diminished demand and intense competition. There have been charges that heavily government subsidized Chinese companies like Yingli Green Energy (YGE) have flooded the market with products that are so cheap that foreign companies cannot compete. In addition to dealing with government subsidized Chinese companies, First Solar must compete against companies with increasingly sophisticated low cost products. Companies such as JA Solar Holdings (JASO), Sun Power (SPWR) and Trina Solar Limited (TSL) are strong competitors.

In addition to strong competitors, First Solar faces the dilemma of cash strapped governments, which are no longer willing to subsidize projects to purchase solar energy. First Solar has responded to these problems by changing its business strategy. The company now has the unenviable task of convincing investors that, "building entire solar power plants for other electric companies, rather than merely manufacturing and marketing solar panels, is the way to go." That could prove to be a hard sell. But, the company has a good start, because in the second quarter, it increased revenues by 92% and increased net income by $560 million. The company also has new projects under way in the United States, India, and Australia. In addition the company sees the potential for additional projects in Japan and the Middle East.

First Solar is down by 77% over the last 52 weeks but up by 47% over the last 3 months. Risk adverse investors should not consider investing in First Solar. The stock is highly volatile, and there is a high possibility that the investment could lose money. But, investors who are willing to take a risk can take comfort in knowing that an investment in First Solar could possibly result in a big reward. I think that First Solar stock is more suited for short-term traders, than for long-term investors.


Saturday, September 29, 2012

Wal-Mart's Solar Initiative Expands - Analyst Blog

The leading grocery chain Wal-Mart Stores Inc. ( WMT ) has come up with its largest solar installation Buckeye distribution center near Phoenix in Arizona, which will generate up to 5.3 million kilowatt hours of renewable energy per year. The amount of energy generated has the capability of providing power to more than 400 homes.

The distribution center has 14,000 solar panels on a 1,000,000 sq. feet building and parking canopies which will produce approximately 30% of the center's energy needs.

The new facility at Buckeye distribution center is the second solar project in Arizona by Wal-Mart and came just a year after a 2 megawatt project in Casa Grande, Arizona. The installation was done in partnership with SolarCity, which installs, owns and maintains solar power systems for Walmart.

The company has more than 180 renewable ongoing energy projects around the world, capable of producing energy that can power 78,000 American homes annually. These renewable energy projects include solar rooftops, micro-wind on parking lots, biodiesel generators and fuel cells.

The company recently unveiled the addition of a 1 megawatt wind turbine at its Red Bluff distribution center in California. Wal-Mart also partnered with SolarCity in September 2011 to install solar-power panels in more than 60 stores in California and Colorado. SolarCity has installed solar power panels at Wal-Mart stores in California, Arizona and Colorado.

Walmart is working towards its goal of achieving energy self sufficiency via power generated from its renewable power generation sources. We believe that Walmart has got a good opportunity to expand and accelerate its solar power initiative program in the U.S. In addition to creating jobs and protecting the environment, these solar projects have also reduced costs for businesses by lowering power bills.

Walmart's second quarter fiscal 2013 earnings of $1.18 were ahead the Zacks Consensus Estimate by a penny and also increased 8% year on year. Total revenue increased 4.5%, driven by positive same store sales, which were driven by improved traffic and product offerings.

We currently have a Neutral recommendation on Walmart, which faces stiff competition from Target Corp. ( TGT ) and Costco Wholesale Corporation ( COST ). Wal-Mart currently has a short-term Zacks #3 Rank (Hold rating).


Shares of Chevron, First Solar Heat Up Sector

Energy stocks rose Friday to cap off a winning week, as crude-oil futures teased the $100-a-barrel level and investors again embraced the Federal Reserve’s latest stimulus plan for the U.S. economy

The NYSE Arca Oil Index (XX:XOI) sustained recent gains with a rise of 1% to 1,307, its highest closing level in about six months.

Earlier this week, the index of oil producers and refiners moved into positive territory for 2012, but it’s still trading below its highest closing point for the year — 1,346, set March 1.

Among the other major benchmarks tracking the energy sector on Friday, the NYSE Arca Natura Gas index (XX:XNG) rose 1% and the Philadelphia Oil Service Index (US:OSX) moved up by 1.7%.

In energy futures, crude for October delivery (US:CLV2) rose to an intraday high of $100.42 a barrel in electronic trade, then settled at $99 a barrel, up 69 cents, in regular trading. See Futures Movers for more on oil prices.

Shares of ExxonMobil Corp. (US:XOM) rose 1.2%, while Chevron Corp. (US:CVX) advanced by 0.6%, having set a 52-week high earlier in the session. The two oil and natural-gas producers are components of the 30-stock Dow Jones Industrial Average (US:DJIA), which rose 70 points.

The Energy Select Sector SPDR Fund (US:XLE) rose 1.3%. The fund includes energy stocks in the S&P 500 index (US:SPX).

Among that group, First Solar (US:FSLR) jumped nearly 9% in the latest in a series of big moves from the solar power plant builder. See related story about First Solar.

Alpha Natural Resources (US:ANR) rose 3.9% as the coal mining firm benefitted from a move into the materials sector. See related Market Extra story.

Also moving up, Marathon Oil Corp. (US:MRO) jumped 4.2% and Pioneer Natural Resources (US:PXD) drove up by 3.6%.

Among companies in the spotlight, Halliburton (US:HAL) continues to look for a seven-inch stainless steel cylinder containing a “sealed radiation source” used in oil and gas well sites, a company spokeswoman said Friday.

The cylinder was discovered missing en route between two well sites near Pecos and Odessa, Texas, the company said. Spokeswoman Beverly Blohm Stafford said in an email to MarketWatch that the company didn’t have an update on the status of the search as of 9:15 a.m. Eastern.

Halliburton said the cylinder is clearly marked “danger radioactive do not handle notify ... civil authorities if found.” It also shows a radiation warning symbol.

In a statement on Thursday, Halliburton said teams are searching with sensitive equipment. The company notified the Texas Department of State Health Services Radiation Control Program.

Among stocks on the move, small cap BioFuel Energy Corp. (US:BIOF) rallied 40% to $8.98 a share. The stock has been rising since hedge fund firm Greenlight Capital, which is controlled by David Einhorn, disclosed Sept. 6 that it acquired more shares of the company.
Energy stocks up for the week

Riding optimism around the latest stimulus moves by the U.S. Federal Reserve, the NYSE Arca Oil Index (XX:XOI) closed a 1,307 on Friday, above its week-ago ending point of 1,260.

The NYSE Arca Natural Gas Index (XX:XNG) ended at 691 on Friday, well above its week-ago close of 660.

The Philadelphia Oil Service Index (US:OSX) closed at 241 on Friday, compared to its closing level of 229 on Sept. 7.


House Bill Curtails Solyndra-Like Loans

Republicans pushed a bill through the House on Friday shining a campaign-season light on the most conspicuous failure of President Obama's economic stimulus package. The bill would phase out federal loan guarantees like those that went to the now-bankrupt solar power company Solyndra LLC and left taxpayers on the hook for more than $500 million.
Solyndra's failure cost taxpayers over $500 million.

The No More Solyndras Act, which passed on a mainly party-line vote, has no chance of advancing in the Democratic-led Senate and was assailed by House Democrats as an election-year stunt. The vote was 245-161.

The bill would curtail an Energy Department loan guarantee program that was the source of the more than $500 million investment in Solyndra. It was part of the $787 billion stimulus package enacted shortly after Obama took office in 2009.

The Fremont firm was the first renewable energy company to receive a federal loan guarantee under the stimulus, and its financial woes in the face of Chinese competition made it a target for Republican scrutiny. The company filed for bankruptcy protection in September 2011, and under its reorganization plan, taxpayers would lose almost all of their investment.

The bill would require the Treasury Department to review any future Energy Department loan guarantees made before the program expires and reaffirm that it is forbidden to "subordinate" loans so that private investors are repaid before the government.

Republicans pointed out that three of the first five companies that received loan guarantees under the stimulus, among them Solyndra, have gone bankrupt. Democrats said Republicans were ignoring the Energy Department successes, including saving nearly 300 million gallons of gasoline a year by supporting such projects as one of the world's largest wind farms in Oregon, a large solar generation project in California and a major photovoltaic solar power plant in Arizona.

The loan guarantee program falls under the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that was passed partly with the intention of promoting a revival of nuclear energy. The George W. Bush administration did not approve any loan guarantees and under Obama it shifted toward boosting development of innovative clean energy technology.


Friday, September 28, 2012

Idaho's 1st Big Solar Plant To Be Built Soon

Idaho's first big solar electricity plant will likely soon begin construction, a rare bright spot for renewables in a state littered with canceled wind farms, regulatory uncertainty and low natural gas prices that have soured alternative power's financial appeal.

Solar panels await installation at a 180-acre field 60 miles east of Boise that Grandview Solar PV I has leased from the J.R. Simplot Co.

Mark Scher, the Albany, N.Y.-based energy developer behind the 10-megawatt endeavor, told The Associated Press that construction will begin within weeks and it will begin selling electricity to IdaCorp Inc. unit Idaho Power Co. in January.

Idaho Power, the state's biggest utility, now buys a tiny amount of solar electricity from customers who feed power from their panels back into the grid.

Scher's project breaks new ground.

"When it comes online, Grand View Solar I will be the largest solar project connected to Idaho Power's system," said utility spokesman Brad Bowlin.

Other alternative energy developers, particularly those planning wind farms on Idaho's gusty Snake River plain, have struggled, as the state Public Utilities Commission considers rule changes pushed by utilities, including Idaho Power, that make it tougher for them to secure financing. Utilities complain renewable projects are driving up customers' rates.

By contrast, Scher's solar development is advancing after benefiting from a sales agreement with Idaho Power in June 2010, when terms were more attractive. Federal tax incentives helped, too.

He bought the project in June 2011, after its founders, Robert Paul, of Desert Hot Springs, Calif., and Peter Richardson, a Boise-based energy lawyer, completed initial legwork.

Scher's progress notwithstanding, solar power's future in Idaho has faded considerably from the past years' optimism. Another developer, Interconnect Solar, had its 25-year sales agreement with Idaho Power canceled after failing to post security to ensure it would deliver power on time.

Natural gas prices are at historic lows, making sun-generated energy too expensive — despite plummeting solar panel prices.

That's also hurt businesses that install small systems on homes or businesses, said Curt Gamel, sales manager at Meridian -based Solar Concepts, which focuses on solar lighting. "There's not a lot going on in terms of lining people's houses with solar," Gamel said recently.

And Paul and Richardson, with three additional utility-scale solar developments in the works, are locked in a dispute with Idaho Power over who should own their "renewable energy credits," or RECs. Utilities in a dozen states will pay millions of dollars for RECs to help satisfy requirements to buy electricity from alternative sources.

But Paul said Idaho Power wants him to surrender his projects' RECs without compensation before it signs a power purchase agreement.

"That's called extortion," he said.

Idaho Power's Bowlin counters that its customers "should be entitled to all of the benefits they're paying for, and that includes the renewable energy credits" because federal law requires the utility to purchase renewable energy.

The Idaho PUC has yet to resolve the dispute. Depending on its outcome, Paul believes his three projects will be Idaho's last big solar developments for years to come.

"It's very difficult for a developer, even if he could produce power for free, to go in there and make a project work," he said. "When you talk to the financiers, they're very leery of Idaho because of the certainty they need. I was back at a conference in Orlando, Fla. When you say 'Idaho,' they go, 'Whoa.'"


Agua Caliente Solar Plant Hits New Milestone

The Agua Caliente Solar Plant under construction near Dateland has hit a new milestone, achieving a peak generating capacity of 250 megawatts of power.
First Solar, Inc. announced that the Agua Caliente
solar project has achieved a peak generating capacity
of 250 megawatts (MW) connected to the electrical grid.
The project, which is under construction in Yuma County,
Ariz., is currently the world's largest operating
photovoltaic power plant and will have a generating
capacity of 290 MW when completed.

The project, which is under construction by First Solar Inc., is currently the world's largest operating photovoltaic power plant and will have a generating capacity of 290 MW when completed.

Initial construction work at the Agua Caliente site began in the fall of 2010 and solar module installation began in June 2011. The project began commercial operation just seven months later when it began generating 30 MW in January. It surpassed 100 MW of grid‐connected power this spring and 200 MW this summer. Construction of the project is expected to be completed on schedule in 2014.

The record-setting project has successfully met all of its contractual milestones to date and exceeded targets for the speed, quality and safety of the construction process.

With the project 85 percent complete, First Solar has adjusted the construction schedule to a slower pace in line with future contractual milestones and the scheduled completion date. With the adjustments, First Solar will be able to better meet increased demand for panels for the remainder of the year among its other projects.

“The Agua Caliente project exemplifies how utility-grade solar PV power can be rapidly deployed in a phased approach and seamlessly integrated into the electrical grid,” said Jim Tyler, vice president of development engineering in First Solar's Engineering, Procurement and Construction Group. “We are extremely proud to set a new benchmark for the industry with Agua Caliente, which incorporates the knowledge gained over years of experience designing, building and operating utility-scale solar projects for leading utilities and energy providers.”

First Solar designed and is constructing the project using its advanced thin‐film photovoltaic modules and will operate and maintain the facility for owners NRG Energy and MidAmerican Solar. During construction, the project employs a daily average of 400 to 450 workers.

Pacific Gas and Electric Company has a 25-year agreement to purchase the solar plant's electrical output. When it is fully operational, the plant is expected to general enough power for 100,000 homes and offset about 5.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide over 25 years, the equivalent of taking more than 40,000 cars off the road annually, according to First Solar.

The Agua Caliente project is being financed with support from a loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy's Loan Programs Office.


Delhi's Monuments Will Be Lit By Solar Energy

More and more of the capital's best known monuments may now be illuminated through solar energy.

Building on the experience gained over the last three years and keen on promoting the use of environment-friendly solar energy, the Delhi government plans to light up more of the capital's historical sites through cheap and plentiful energy from the sun.

The 13th century Qutub Minar, the 17th century red sandstone Red Fort and the 16th century Humayun's Tomb - all declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites - are among the six sites where the Delhi government plans to install solar power plants to replace conventional sources of electricity.

"We are planning to install solar photovoltaic (SPV) systems on the premises of heritage sites and historical monuments where footfalls are higher," a Delhi government official told IANS. SPV cells convert sunlight into electricity.

"Now, these monuments and sites will be illuminated at night by solar energy," the official added.

He said the environmental-friendly step would promote the use of solar energy in the capital.

"We have already illuminated two tourist spots - Jantar Mantar and Safdarjung's Tomb - by installing solar plants on their premises," the official said. These solar power plants were set up in 2009.

Installed at a cost of Rs. 25 lakh, the plant at Jantar Mantar generates nine kilowatts of power while the plant at Safdarjung's Tomb produces 10.4 KW which can light up the site for more than four hours. Seeing the success at these sites, the authorities thought of replicating it at other sites too that attract a lot of tourists.

"Sites like Humayun's Tomb, Red Fort and Qutub Minar come under the Archaeological Survey of India. We will have to take permission from them as they protect these sites," another official told IANS.

A top ASI official said they are yet to get a proposal but will consider it.

"We already have two solar plants at Jantar Mantar and Safdarjung's Tomb. If the Delhi government sends us any proposal to illuminate other sites we will see how can we go forward and how much power the plants can generate," the official told IANS.

The other sites the Delhi government is planning to light up through solar energy are Jama Masjid, the Old Fort and the Lotus temple.

"We are also in talks with the Delhi Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee to install a solar power plant at Gurdwara Bangla Sahib," the Delhi government official added.

Under the Special Area Demonstration Project Programme of the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) states are encouraged to popularise and promote the use of the renewable energy systems as alternate sources of electricity.

"The ministry provides subsidy to any organisation or department for installing SPV systems. The Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Management Centre of the Delhi government will install these plants as it is the nodal agency for the programme," the official said.

According to the official, the cost of installing a one-kilowatt plant, which requires an area of 10 sq m, is over Rs.200,000.

He said that at a time when the capital faces an acute power demand, solar energy can be a great of source of alternate energy.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Looking Into The Solar

My father was a major penny saver and environmentalist, and decades before “going green” became watchwords for me, he did what he could to save money and respect nature. He was a biologist, and to him protecting the earth was a pretty important thing.

Dad would coast down hills in our 1961 VW beetle to increase his mpg and cook meals on the woodstove so we wouldn’t have to burn any natural gas. And don’t get me going on his flushing rules for the household of two adults and four kids.

I’ve always tried to economize, both to save money and to reduce my use of non-renewable energy. I think that every lamp in the house now has fluorescent or LED bulbs, I improvised a programmable thermostat in 1979 before you could buy one, and the family cars always got pretty good mileage.

My wife and I live part of the year on an old family farm in northeastern Pennsylvania, where we have a rural electric cooperative. For heat and cooking we burn expensive propane. Even though we sit atop the Marcellus Shale and wells are spewing natural gas everywhere around, there is none for us, as distribution lines just don’t make sense when the houses are a half-mile apart.

I had been thinking about generating our own electricity for some time. Since we’re in a hollow where the winds would not power a turbine, and hydro would drain the ponds pretty quickly, solar energy seemed like the best possibility. Our part of the country is far from uniformly sunny, but it’s not bad. We also have a barn with a roof oriented perfectly for solar cells (due south), and our trees cast very little shade on it.

Solar energy has gone through several iterations as photovoltaic cell efficiency has improved and as a new way of thinking about it took over. Instead of making electricity and storing it in batteries, an expensive and cumbersome task, the most common practice is to make the electricity and put it into the grid. This uses the grid as a gigantic battery, being charged with our power in the sunny daytime, then giving it back when the sun goes down.

With the help of the electric cooperative, we found a solar cell installer in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., about 50 miles south of our place near Hallstead. After having a visit by the salesman and then by an engineer, we decided to take the plunge. Our electric usage over the years has been quite modest, so we opted for a relatively small installation – 12 panels, each 3 by 6 feet and generating 250 watts, for a total output under high sun of 3 kilowatts.

Solar technology is cheaper than it used to be, but it’s still costly. Our project had an initial cost of about $16,000, but rebates and tax breaks will cut the price roughly in half. The panels are guaranteed for 25 years, and the payback period is about eight years.

The project took three energetic workers four days. First, they dug a trench between the house and the barn for the cables that would carry power back and forth. The panels themselves were mounted on racks installed on the barn roof. Each one has its own microinverter, which converts the DC power to AC so that it is compatible with the grid. The electricity flows from the panels and inverters into the main power distribution box in the house.

If we are using electricity in the house, which is most of the time, the solar power, supplemented by the grid, meets our needs. At night, the grid supplies it all. In the daytime when we are generating more than we are using, the power flows out of the house, through a “net meter” and then a pole-mounted transformer, where the 240 volts are stepped up to 7,200, and into the grid. It is likely that neighbors’ refrigerators up and down our dirt road are humming with some of the wattage coming from our barn roof.

It is a very neat installation, and my favorite sight is when the net meter literally runs backward and shows that we have put excess electricity into the grid. In the first week of operation, with a mix of sunny and overcast days, we produced about 10 more kilowatts than we used. This is not a huge amount, but little by little, we will be paid for it and come out ahead.

Photovoltaic generation of electricity is surely going to get better over time, especially with cells that make even better use of the sun. But it’s like having kids – if you wait for the perfect moment, it never comes. I would encourage people thinking about going solar to look seriously into it. It’s good for the environment, and an array of solar cells on the roof is a very cool sight.


Walmart Expands Solar Initiative in Arizona

Walmart today launched an expansion of its solar initiative in Arizona at its Buckeye distribution center near Phoenix. The distribution center will feature Walmart's largest solar installation to date with over 14,000 solar panels on a 1,000,000 sq. feet building and parking canopies that will produce up to 30 percent of the center's energy needs. The solar panels at the distribution center alone will generate up to 5.3 million kilowatt hours of renewable energy per year, which is the equivalent of powering more than 400 homes and taking equivalent of approximately 600 cars off the road.

Making use of one of the region's most obvious resources, Walmart is expanding its sustainability efforts in Arizona at its Buckeye distribution center, one of Walmart's largest structures. This is the company's second distribution center solar project in Arizona, coming just over a year after 2 MW project in Casa Grande, Arizona, that used a combination of ground mounted and solar shaded parking canopy structures. According to the U.S. Solar Market Insight Report, Arizona ranks third in the U.S. for solar installations.

"Environmental sustainability is an essential ingredient to us for doing business responsibly and successfully," said David Ozment, Senior Director of Walmart Energy. "As the world's largest retailer, our actions have the potential to save our customers money and help substantially reduce our carbon footprint for generations to come."

Given the impressive size of the Buckeye solar installation, the combination of ground mounted, roof mounted, and shaded canopy structures at Arizona distribution centers Walmart will be better positioned to transfer learnings to other Walmart facilities across the country.

"Arizona has established itself as a national and global leader in the solar industry," said Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer. "The fact that Walmart has the vision to recognize the benefits of renewable energy shows great promise for the future of solar in our State."

Since launching its solar pilot program in May 2007, Walmart strengthened its commitment to renewable energy across the country. Currently, Walmart has more than 180 renewable energy projects in operation and development around the world, generating enough energy to power 78,000 American homes annually. These renewable energy projects include solar rooftops, micro-wind on parking lots, biodiesel generators and fuel cells. In fact, the company recently unveiled the addition of a 1MW wind turbine at its Red Bluff distribution center in California, as well as the 100th solar installation in the state. The combined focus on renewable energy in Arizona and across the country contributes to the company's aspirational goal to be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy.

"In person, the solar installation at Walmart's Buckeye distribution center is even more inspiring than it was when Walmart and SolarCity first envisioned it," said Albert Laird, SolarCity Arizona Regional Vice President. "It represents our largest installation on a single building and clearly reflects Walmart's ongoing commitment to renewable energy."


Canton Home Featured In Solar Tour

Michigan-based Srinergy will host a free bus tour of residential and commercial solar installations on Saturday, Oct. 6. The tour will begin at Srinergy's headquarters located at 24371 Catherine Industrial Drive, Suite 231 in Novi.

Michigan-based Srinergy will host a free bus tour of
residential and commercial solar installations, including this
one in Canton, on Saturday, Oct. 6.

The Srinergy Solar Tour 2012, which runs from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., will start with information and refreshments in Srinergy's offices, followed by a bus tour showcasing a variety of Srinergy-installed solar PV systems including projects in Novi, Farmington Hills, Canton, Detroit and Ann Arbor.

The event is open to the public. There will be a requested donation of $10 each for Srinergy's Solar4Schools Campaign, which promotes the education of solar energy throughout schools in the area. Registration is required and details are available at

Srinergy is joining the American Solar Energy Society and hundreds of solar-savvy installers and grassroots organizations throughout the United States to showcase more than 5,000 solar-powered homes, schools and businesses — in Michigan and across North America — for the 17th Annual National Solar Tour, the world's largest grassroots solar event.

The event offers the opportunity for participants to visit solar-powered homes and businesses in the Detroit metropolitan area and introduces the public to solar technologies that friends and neighbors are using to reduce monthly energy bills and improve property values as they assert their energy independence and create a cleaner community.

Last year's National Solar Tour attracted more than 150,000 people in 49 U.S. states and Puerto Rico. Tours afford participants the direct perspectives of homeowners and installers about the costs, processes and economic and environmental benefits of going solar.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Kenya: Solar Project to Light Up Makueni Village

A village in Makueni is set to benefit from a multimillion shilling solar energy research project by the University of Southampton and Imperial Colleg, London . The project is sponsored by the Research Councils UK and Department of International Development, United Kingdom.

The solar energy research project started three years ago, looking for options for electrification and its social implications in rural Kenya.

The project will be carried out in parts of in Makueni with Kitonyoni market selected as the ideal site by the researchers. Speaking yesterday when he arrived at the village to install the solar panels, "The project, is set to benefit 3,000 inhabitants and 40 direct connections to shops, school, churches and hospitals once completed," said the group's leader Prof AbuBakr S. Bahaj, who is the head of the Sustainable Energy Research Group at the University of Southampton said:

"The main aim of the project is to help the community through sustainable energy and this is exactly what we are giving this village today," he said. "Once the project is complete, the community can harness the solar energy to light their homes and also initiate viable enterprises to help alleviate poverty in the area."

He said the project will change the lives of the local community if used wisely. He however challenged the community to initiate viable income generating activities that could take advantage of the venture to change their lives saying that they identified Kitonyoni as the suitable site for the project over the other sites due to its grave needs and the remote locality and the enthusiasm of its community to support this activity.

"When we came to Kenya three year ago, we surveyed 1, 200 households in various locations to ascertain the suitability of the project. We eventually settled for Kitonyoni owing to its distance from the grid and facilities and businesses in need of electrification," he added. SERG is part of the Engineering and Environment Faculty working with Social Sciences at the University of Southampton and IC constituted an interdisciplinary team of researchers bringing the different fields involved in renewables, energy efficiency, social and economic aspects of these fields to rural community electrification.

SERG was established in 1993 and it concentrates on six major fields of research which span renewable energy generations, resource assessment, energy efficiency in Britain and other countries. Speaking while accompanying the team, the Makueni County Co-operatives Officer Mrs. Rhoda Mulili said the team arrived in the country last Sunday and was scheduled to wind-up the installation phase of the project before the end of this month.

She said the project was funded under the Makueni county solar energy supply co-operative society limited through the Ministries of Energy and Co-operative development. She asked the locals to own the project saying once it is completed it will be handed over to the community. "The co-operative leaders and the locals must strive to sustain this 13.5 kilowatts solar plant at Kitonyoni because it belongs to the community and the generations to come," she said.


Solar Installations Heating Up For Memphis Area Businesses

A winery, two self-storage firms, an electric and telephone supply business and a real estate developer were among 13 potential customers drawn last week to LightWave Solar's lunch-and-learn in the swanky clubhouse at the River Tower at South Bluffs.

Five of them proved to be keenly interested in having up to a 50-kilowatt solar array installed.

August's lunch-and-learn session led to three sales.

A slight sense of urgency pervaded the swanky clubhouse at the River Tower at South Bluffs. As the cost of installing solar panels comes down, so does the level of TVA's incentives. The next big deadline is Dec. 31 to qualify a solar installation before the more lucrative incentives scale back some more.

LightWave designs and installs solar panel arrays, and its prospective customers on Thursday peppered the firm's Peter Calandrucccio with questions.

Does LightWave help write grant applications? (Yes).

Can one business with three separate sites get TVA incentives for each? (Yes).

How much roof space is needed? (A 50 KW system needs 6,000-7,000 square feet).

Do North Mississippi businesses qualify for incentives? (Yes, as long as they are in the TVA region).

What is the panels' life expectancy? (Guaranteed 25 years but they're expected to last up to 40 years).

What if my building doesn't face south? (A ground-mounted system could be installed).

The cost to install the 208 rooftop panels needed for a 49,920-watt system is $201,245, Calandruccio, an architect, told his audience.

But incentives include a federal tax credit, depreciation allowance, a $1,000 installation rebate, and TVA buying back the solar-generated power for 12 cents per kilowatt hour more than customers pay for a kilowatt hour. For example, if TVA charges a retail rate of 10 cents per kilowatt hour, the agency will pay 22 cents for power generated by a customer's solar array.

So solar-power generators can recoup $88,000 of that $201,000 cost in the first year and break even by the fifth year, Calandruccio said.

TVA's new incentives program, Green Power Providers, will replace the existing Generation Partners program starting Oct. 1, but will keep intact until Dec. 31 the opportunity to lock in the 12-cent solar premium for the next 10 years.

TVA has not announced how much the premium will drop after Jan. 1, but it is expected to fall to 5 to 10 cents per kilowatt hour.

The largest system allowed to get the 12-cent premium is 50 kilowatts, which fits a medium- to small-size business. By comparison, the average Memphis home would use 15,000 kilowatt hours a year, said TVA spokesman Mike Bradley.

The size restriction for the incentive is why the lunch-and-learn focused on systems of 50 KW or smaller. But the premium paybacks for arrays larger than 10 KW won't apply to power exceeding the average power consumption of the previous 12 months.

The new Green Power Providers program involves a 20-year contract, with the 12 cent buyback rate locked in for years 1-10. The base, retail rate will be paid years 11-20.

"It's important that participants realize Green Power Providers is a sustainable, long term program," TVA's Bradley said.

Participants in the Generation Partners program, which ends Sept. 30, will get 10-year agreements for 12 cent premium with an opportunity to extend those

agreements for 10 years during which they get the base, or retail rate only.

"Green Power Providers participants that sign on after Oct. 1 and before Dec. 31 will get a 20-year contract with a 12 cent premium for first 10 years and retail rate only in years 11-20," Bradley said.

The old Generation Partners program "exploded" with success, Bradley said. "It has been a tremendous factor in the growth of the solar industry across our area."

Three years ago the TVA region generated 1 megawatt of solar; now, more than 60 megawatts is on line "and we have probably twice that in the pipeline," Bradley said.

Memphis dentist Scott Edwards jumped on board relatively early when incentives were higher. In June 2010, he spent $94,000 installing solar panels on the roof of his East Memphis office at 6250 Poplar.

"Back then, part of the stimulus package was a grant from the State of Tennessee," Edwards said. "I got a $36,000 grant. You got lots of tax credits and other things that make it financially feasible."

His monthly electric bills for the building have plunged from about $850 to about $190, and Edwards calculates he'll break even after the sixth year.He credits his late son, Ryan, for encouraging him to install the solar. Edwards initially intended to stick the panels on the back side of the building and out of view. "Ryan said, 'They've got to face the south, and you want people to see it. That will be a source of new patients.'

Edwards recalled laughing at the time, but Ryan was right. Just last week the panels drew another new patient, who wrote on a form that he was referred by "solar panels."

Now, Edwards is leading the fundraising effort to install solar panels to power the buildings at St. Agnes Academy-St. Dominic School.

North of there, Inman Solar, another design/install firm, is helping the owners of the 98,000-square-foot Gattas Plaza prepare to install a 50 KW system atop its roof at 5000 Summer.

Tom Gattas, managing partner for the landlord GCI Partners, calculates the return on investment for the $200,000 project will be eight to 10 years.

"It's an exciting time," said Jeff O'Connor. He represents Inman Solar, which has completed or is working on about a dozen projects in the Memphis area.

He's much busier installing solar panels for businesses than residents, primarily, O'Connor said, because the commercial incentives help return all the investment in about half the time it takes for residential.


Visualized: Apple's 20 Megawatt Solar Farm

We've seen Apple's North Carolina data center in various states of undress, but never before have we seen its associated solar farm looking so complete. That sure is a lot of solar panels. We're not all that surprised though, with the intense thirst for energy from the servers that it feeds. In fact, initial reports indicated that -- although impressive -- the solar farm would still only be supplying 60 percent of the sites requirements. No fear though, as the remaining 40 is said to come from other equally eco-friendly sources. We'd be happy with enough to keep our iPad permanently juiced.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

IBM Sets New Record for CZTS Solar Cells

Most of today`s solar cells are based on silicon with extremely high purity, which is one of the major reasons why solar power is expensive. IBM has successfully created a new prototype of a solar cell that uses natural and abundant materials – copper, zinc and tin – to convert photons into electricity.

Lab results have shown that IBM`s new solar cell is capable of converting 11.1% of all sunlight it is exposed to into electricity – 1.1% more than it`s highest converting predecessor. Not much compared to silicon-based or other high-end solar cells, but when costs of materials are taken into account, it turns out to be a very significant technological advancement.

The high purity silicon that is required for traditional solar cells is expensive both in terms of processing and materials. The fact that most solar wafers are cut from large ingots, produces a lot of waste, which further adds to costs.

In the last couple of decades, there has been a lot of money and research going into the development of alternative solar cells. Copper, indium, gallium, selenium (CIGS) and cadmium telluride (CdTe) are two of the most promising new solar technologies at this point. Unfortunately they both incorporate rare and expensive materials. British Geological Survey (BGS), a world-leading geoscience center, gave indium a “relative supply risk index” of 6.5, which means that the economic feasibility of indium-based solar cells is uncertain in the near future. Our supply of tellurium is also worrying.

CZTS-based (copper, zinc and tin sulfide) solar cells do not rely on rare and expensive elements, but on those that are abundant in nature. These cells are easily manufactured by using ink-based techniques such as printing or casting – cheap and green ways to produce solar cells.

The research team behind the new solar cells is aiming to improve the conversion rate all the way to 15%. At this point, CZTS-based solar cells would become a highly viable alternative to current established technologies – both those that are crystalline-based and thin-film solar cells.“Our CZTS PV cells could potentially yield up to 500 gigawatts per year – getting closer to the Terawatt levels of renewable electricity the planet needs,” said Teodor Todorov and David Mitzi, IBM Research photovoltaic scientists.

It will be interesting to see if the research team at IBM announces further technological breakthroughs in the next coming years. Who knows, maybe CZTS will lower solar panel costs and make solar power accessible for more people.


Historic N.H. Hotel Wants To Advance Solar Power

ack Farrell was still new to his job at the historic hotel 10 miles off the New Hampshire coast when he woke up one morning to the sound of chirping birds and crashing waves.

In this photo taken Friday, solar panels are seen at the historic
Star Island Family Retreat and Conference Center at the Isle
of Shoals in Rye, N.H. The hotel 10 miles off the coast of
New Hampshire wants to establish itself as an environmental leader.
The island is essentially a self-contained system, and it is an
ideal spot to showcase energy innovations and could be become
a model for other communities.

“How did I get so lucky? This job is so great! What a beautiful place!” he marveled to himself, before quickly realizing that the reason he could hear such sounds was that the island’s diesel generator had broken down.

As facilities manager at the Star Island Family Retreat and Conference Center, it was Farrell’s job to get the generator fixed. Today, his job also involves planning for its replacement as part of a project that involves one of the largest solar panel installations in northern New England.

“To me that’s the whole story. You can hear it constantly. You can smell it. And where this is an environmental sanctuary, we can do better than that,” said Farrell.

At 46 acres, Star Island one of the larger islands in the Isles of Shoals, a small cluster straddling the New Hampshire-Maine line. Dominated by the Oceanic House, a grand hotel dating back to the 1870s, it has been owned since 1916 by the nonprofit Star Island Corporation, which offers religious retreats and educational conferences, as well as accommodations for families and individuals if available.

The hotel and conference center essentially operates as a self-sufficient town, producing its own water and electricity and running its own wastewater treatment center. With that kind of closed system, it can test new energy technologies and see immediate results, making it a microcosm for other places, Farrell argued.

“We can do it in a way that shows how things work in miniature,” he said. “These are important lessons we can take to other communities.”

Touring the hotel Friday, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said it highlights the need for a more streamlined system to connect energy entrepreneurs with those eager to try the new technology. That’s good for both the environment and the economy, she said.

Shaheen, a Democrat, has sponsored legislation aimed at increasing the use of energy efficient technology in homes, businesses and government. One provision would allow states to set up revolving loan funds to help such projects, she said.

“One of the biggest challenges, whether it’s a factory or a facility like this, is getting the upfront money to make the changes,” she said.

Vicky Hardy, CEO of the Star Island Corporation, said half a dozen companies have expressed interest in entering a power-purchase agreement with the corporation to set up its solar array. She told Shaheen she hopes federal tax credits for investing in solar projects remain available past their scheduled expiration date next year.

“That encourages the private sector to invest in alternative energy projects with a good return, and allows us to have a facility out here that is going to cost us half of what it currently costs us for power. So they would build it, they would generate the power and we would buy it from them.”

Farrell hopes construction on the new solar panel system will begin next spring on a patch of land now overgrown with poison ivy. In the meantime, the hotel has reduced its solid waste by close to 40 percent in the last year, increased its recycling more than 70 percent and installed solar panels on the roofs of some cottages to heat water for showers.

“The island has a chance to re-establish itself as an environmental leader,” he said.


Major Retail Chains Lead In Solar Power Utilization

The aisles of a typical Walgreens drugstore are stacked with products promoting their green attributes, whether they are towels made from recycled paper or makeup brushes made from fast-growing grass.

But increasingly, on the roof, a less visible green endeavor is under way, in the form of solar panels feeding power to the store.

Walgreens, which has installed 134 solar systems across the country and has plans for many more, says its solar program stems from the brand’s connection to healthful living and a bottom-line desire to stabilize energy costs.

But it has plenty of company from other big-box retailers. Large chain stores, more than any other type of business, rely on rooftop solar power to help meet their energy needs, according to a report to be released this week by the Solar Energy Industries Association and the Vote Solar Initiative, an advocacy group.

“Five or six years ago, you probably would have read about a pledge in an annual report about what they’re doing for the environment,” said Rhone Resch, chief executive of the association, a trade group. “Now what you’re seeing is it’s a smart investment that they’re making for their shareholders, and this is a standard business practice.”

Led by the likes of Walmart, Costco and Kohl’s, commercial installations of solar power have increased sharply in recent months. More than 3,600 nonresidential systems were activated in the first half of 2012, bringing the number of individual solar electric systems to 24,000, the report said.

Whether driven by brand identity or cost concerns, almost half of the top 20 commercial solar customers are major retailers like Bed Bath & Beyond and Staples.

Ikea, one of the chains in the top 20, plans to have solar arrays on almost all of its furniture stores and distribution centers by the end of the year, Joseph Roth, a spokesman, said.

Some retailers, including Walmart and Kohl’s, now routinely evaluate the solar potential of older and new buildings.

At Walgreens, solar power is becoming so common that the chain changed its standard design template to more easily accommodate the equipment. “We literally will invest in solar in any state” if it makes sense economically, said Menno Enters, director of energy and sustainability for the drugstore chain.

Retailers are pursuing other forms of renewable energy as well.

Kohl’s, a department store chain, will have 150 solar locations by the end of this year, the company said. But it is also testing wind energy and plans to expand the number of electric vehicle charging stations at its stores.

Ikea has included a geothermal power system at a new store in Centennial, Colo.

Walmart, which has 150 solar installations and plans to have 1,000 by 2020, is also experimenting with wind. It has put small wind turbines atop the lamp posts in some of its store parking lots, and it has installed a giant one-megawatt wind turbine at a distribution center in Red Bluff, Calif. The chain, which has an aggressive goal of eventually deriving all of its energy from renewable sources, is also drawing power from fuel cells in some locations, said Kim Saylors-Laster, vice president of energy for the company.

Executives say part of the appeal of the solar systems is that big-box stores are exactly that: big boxes with plenty of roof space to put up their arrays to help cover heavy electrical needs for lighting, heating and cooling and, in some cases, refrigeration.

Many of the chains began with a few installations about five years ago but have picked up the pace in recent years as the price of equipment has plummeted. The average price of a finished commercial photovoltaic system, for example, dropped by almost 14 percent between the second quarter of 2011 and the second quarter of 2012, the report said.

In addition, new financing approaches — in which third-party companies offer to install systems for little or no money upfront and instead take fixed payments for the electricity generated over a long-term agreement — has made solar even more attractive. Although the cost savings from these arrangements are not as great as for residential customers, the agreements insulate the companies against fluctuations in electricity costs, said Lyndon Rive, the chief executive of SolarCity, which provides solar products and services, and counts Walmart among its commercial customers.

“When you look at renewables, there’s not a spiking of the fuel cost,” Mr. Rive said. “You’re locking your rates, which is a great hedge for a big percentage of your energy needs.”

Ultimately, Mr. Resch said, the growth of solar at retail chains reflects a shift in mindset.

“For most of these companies, the roof is a liability and is something they need to sink money into repairing every 10 or 15 years,” he said. “These companies are actually turning the roof into an asset. It’s a completely different way of thinking about their facilities.”


Monday, September 24, 2012

8-MW Solar Farm to be Built in NC

ESA Renewables, which plans to build a seven-acre solar farm in Selma, is exploring the possibility of solar farm elsewhere in Johnston County.

The company is closing in on a deal with Selma leaders that would allow it to build a seven-acre, $10 million solar farm on Ricks Road between U.S. 70 and U.S. 301.

The proposed 8-megawatt farm would generate enough electricity power hundreds of homes, said ESA spokesman Craig Livingston. The company would connect to the town’s electricity grid and distribute the power through Progress Energy. The project would create 80 jobs, Livingston said.
The company will have no problem meeting the town’s conditions for a solar farm, he said. “We try to follow town regulations everywhere we go,” he said. “We’ve received a list of conditions, and we will meet them all.”

Those conditions include a chain-link fence and an eight-foot vegetation buffer, said Livginston. Town planner Ryan Simons said Selma would also require the company to shield other properties from any outdoor lighting.

"We’re not asking for anything unusual,” Simons said. “If they can come to an agreement with Progress Energy … and it meets our approval, we’re fine.”

Johnston County could be getting more ESA solar farms, Livingston said. The company is looking at several sites in Smithfield and near Newton Grove along the Johnston-Sampson line. Those plans are in the early stages, but ESA wants its solar farms to be close to Interstate 95. That would make it easier for maintenance crews to reach them. Also, each site would need to be close to 10 acres and near power-transmission lines.

Smithfield planning director Paul Embler said the town has received a few informal inquiries from ESA, but the company has not yet submitted an application. Representatives of the company asked about one property, off Brogden Road, earlier Embler said. He has not heard back from ESA since and is unsure whether the company is still interested.

Embler said ESA was one of several companies inquiring about the possibility of building solar farms in Smithfield. “They have come in and talked to us, but no one has put in a formal request,” he said.
Smithfield has no solar farms, but zoning ordinances allow them in industrial and agricultural districts. Under the rules, solar farms would be subject to special-use permits, and as part of that, their requests would have to go before two public hearings.

Smithfield has plenty of room for solar farms, although residents and town leaders would have to decide how many would be too many, Embler said. “If we were to get a half-dozen requests in a six-month period, we may have to look at our land-use plan and see where it fits in,” he said. “It can get to a point where it’s too many.”


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Affordable Solar-Powered Air Conditioner in a Neat Little Package is Finally Here

Kingtec has developed affordable solar-powered air conditioning in a relatively neat package. Here are some of the key details:

  • Price: $2,895 USD.
  • Cooling capacity: 16,000 BTU (4.7 kW of cooling capacity).
  • Power consumption: 850 watts.
  • SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio): 22.5.
  • EER (Energy Efficiency Ratio, which is a measure of the BTUs of cooling capacity per watt of power consumed): 18.8.
  • Weight: 200 pounds (This is tremendous for a window air conditioner of this size! But it does contain extra parts for the solar setup).
Why Solar Panels Are Not Integrated Directly into A/C Units
A/C units tend to be shaded by the roofs of houses, as well as awnings, so they are usually not exposed to direct sunlight, and they shouldn’t be. It is best that they are kept as cool as possible.

This single issue is a big one, but as long as the solar panels can be a decent distance away, this isn’t a problem.

Main Benefits of Solar Air Conditioning
Normally, to solar power an air conditioner, you would have to buy an air conditioner, then a separate inverter, separate batteries, solar panels, and hire both an electrician and a building contractor to set up the system for you, and that costs a fair bit of money.

Home solar power systems tend to cost $7 per watt in the United States (without tax credits), and around half of that cost is installation alone — this is because you have to hire contractors to set up the electronics such as the batteries, panels, etc. by hand.

However, for situations where it works, there are some big advantages.

The second benefit: Solar panels tend to generate more electricity at the same time that air conditioner power consumption increases. The fluctuating power consumption of air conditioners (caused by weather variation) is a problem for the electricity grid because power plants are not able to adjust their power production quickly enough to meet power demand spikes.

Cutting Your A/C Use
Finally, while this is a clever invention which can take advantage of economies of scale (due to factory production), unlike traditional hand-built solar setups, you can substantially reduce your air conditioner usage using simple measures such as closing window blinds on some windows, opening other windows to facilitate ventilation, and much more.

One of the greatest conservation tips of all is to use less energy (not reduce your standard of living, just turn things off when you aren’t using them — you don’t have to use them less to conserve energy), then go about obtaining energy from more sustainable sources, in general.


Advanced Solar CPV Manufacturing Plant to Open in NC this Month

Semprius is readying the opening of its first manufacturing facility later this month in Henderson, North Carolina. With backing and support from the Obama Administration, the DOE, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado, Semprius has developed the world’s most efficient solar PV cells. Its concentrating photovoltaic (CPV) technology is capable of converting 33.9% of the energy in sunlight to usable electricity, according to the parties involved.

Management initially expects to produce five to six megawatts (MW) worth of its leading-edge CPV modules per year at the Henderson, NC plant. That could over time expand to as much as 35 MW and employ as many as 250 people in doing so, according to a Bloomberg News report.

Swimming Against the Tide
Semprius is opening its CPV plant amidst a general backdrop of solar energy market and industry turmoil, manufacturing plant slowdowns, shutdowns, and layoffs — both in the US and other other major solar-producing countries, including Germany and China. Management and its investors believe that the combination of high-efficiency and low-cost production will prove the company viable in a fiercely competitive global solar PV market that governments around the world have targeted as a low-carbon, green economy growth engine.

“Semprius’ modules are the most efficient in the world and ‘very price competitive’ with rivals such as First Solar Inc. (FSLR) and SunPower Corp. (SPWR), among others,” Bloomberg quoted Semprius CEO Joe Carr as saying. “In very high brightness areas where we do our best work, we’re highly competitive.” Carr declined to discuss cost details.

Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne and Siemens AG — both of whom have taken equity stakes in the emerging solar CPV manufacturer — are two of its initial customers. Semprius has raised $40 million from investors over the past 15 months, Bloomberg reports. Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne and Siemens together own 16% of the company.

A SunShot CPV Manufacturer Ready to Go Commercial 

Semprius received initial seed funding from the DOE under President Obama’s “SunShot Incubator” program, refining and proving its technology with NREL in Golden. NREL validated Semprius’ tiny, dot-sized CPV cells as having an energy conversion efficiency of 41% at a concentration of 1,000 suns.

In its search for a location to build a manufacturing plant to commercialize its CPV cells and modules, Semprius landed in Henderson, NC. Construction of its 50,000-square-foot plant began earlier this year, with the state government and local agencies contributing $7.9 million towards construction.

About the diameter of a dot made by a ballpoint pen, Semprius’s solar photovoltaic (PV) cells are triple-junction cells made of gallium arsenide. Low-cost lenses concentrate sunlight 1,100 times onto the cells. Their tiny size reduces module cost, as they take up only 1/1000th of the entire solar module area. It also enables a high density of cells per module, which better distributes unwanted heat across the entire solar module solar area. That eliminates the need for heat dissipation hardware, such as heat fins, further reducing production costs.

Semprius’ patented micro-transfer printing process allows thousands of its concentrated solar PV cells (CPV) to be transferred from a growth substrate to a semiconductor wafer or other form factor. It’s a continuous, massive parallel process that runs continuously and allows the growth substrate to be used repeatedly, which cuts costs dramatically, according to NREL and Semprius.


Alameda County is A Hot Commodity in the Solar Industry

Even at the eastern edge of the Bay Area, where power lines crisscross a sprawl of nearby waterways and browning rural land, location is a hot commodity.

Spurred by California's mandate that all utilities produce 33 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2020, solar companies hoping to harness the sun's energy have eyes on flat land just west of Mountain House near the San Joaquin County line. It is a prime location next to transmission lines and substations.

At least four applicants showed interest in that area of Alameda County last year. They proposed building solar energy facilities -- ranging from 14 to 2,000 acres -- on prime farmland, prompting members of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to ask their planners to begin work on a policy to guide development.

"It seems to be the place to be if you want to be in the solar market," said Albert Lopez, planning director for Alameda County. "It is that part of the county that is fairly sunny and hot a good chunk of the year. It is also pretty flat."

PG&E predicts that its solar production will balloon from 1 percent of its renewable sources in 2010 to 40 percent by 2020, PG&E spokeswoman Lynsey Paulo said.

County supervisors did approve two facilities in the area before the policy planning began. Together, the two projects took up about 154 acres in the area and were considered capable of producing 13 megawatts.

But it was a proposed 2,000-acre facility by Pegasus last year that stirred supervisors to action. Pegasus has since canceled the project, according to the county.

The area of focus for the new policy is south of Byron Highway near Kelso and Mountain House roads and takes in about 2,000 acres of prime farmland.

After more than a year of the county's staff working with landowners, ranchers, environmentalists and solar facility developers, the policy is at least another year away.

Thursday, at a county supervisors' Transportation/Planning Committee meeting, a very rough draft was presented to committee members and Supervisors Nate Miley and Scott Haggerty. Both said the priority should be to save prime farmland and put such solar facilities on land that won't affect agriculture.

"We are trying to avoid 2,500 acres being covered up," Haggerty said at the meeting, at which he and Miley agreed more work must still be done before any amendment to the general plan begins. He said the county needs to explore ways to put more solar farms in urban areas, for instance, on rooftops.

Ranchers, farmers and environmentalists echoed similar feelings during four community meetings held since January.

Environmentalists are concerned about the loss of open space and the effect the facilities could have on the bird population, already hurt by Altamont wind farms just west of the popular solar site.

With solar panels covering so much land, ranchers and farmers fear a loss of workable acreage on which to produce food or agricultural products.

"It is interesting that when we talk about things like where to locate these (solar) facilities, where food comes from never really seems to get addressed," said Darrel Sweet, a fifth generation rancher with about 1,000 acres near Livermore and chairman of the Alameda County Agricultural Advisory Committee.

Most of the 2,000 acres attracting the attention is protected through the Williamson Act, a state law enacted in 1965 that preserves prime agricultural land and open space by offering landowners property tax relief if they leave the land as is for a minimum of 10 years.

Cool Earth Solar, the most recent and largest solar project approved by the county in the area, chose a plot of land not governed by the Williamson Act and is the process of building a 140-acre facility in two phases that will eventually produce 10 megawatts, enough energy for 7,000 homes.

"The density of existing power lines and substations (in the area) is useful because we can put the renewable power onto the grid without creating new transmission corridors," Tony Chen, director of business development for Cool Earth Solar, wrote in an email to this newspaper when the project was approved in March.

The rough draft of Alameda County's solar facilities policy presented to the Transportation and Planning Committee put a limit of 1,000 acres on a proposed solar farm area, and says the Altamont wind farm area should be off limits to solar.

Supervisor Haggerty suggested looking at land north of Livermore and east of Vasco Road, where there's little prime agricultural land, but where there are no transmission lines.

"We need sources of clean, renewable energy, and there are no qualms about that," said Michael Gatzman, a member of the county's Agricultural Advisory Committee. "But we also have to protect the integrity of the food system."


Saturday, September 22, 2012

Chinese Solar Panels Installed on Federal Building

Government officials blame unfair competition from China for the collapse of solar panel manufacturer Solyndra, but such concerns didn’t stop the federal government from breaking stimulus program rules to use Chinese solar panels atop a federal building housing the offices of a senator, congressman and several agencies.

Even the contractor questioned whether Chinese-made panels could be used under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the stimulus program that mandated use of U.S.-made products. His query in early 2010 was dismissed and the General Services Administration moved forward with using the Chinese panels on the Sen. Paul Simon Federal Building in Carbondale, Ill., records show.

Questions about the panels, which were assembled overseas, were raised in a four-page advisory memo sent by the inspector general to the GSA in the summer of 2011, but the findings take on added significance as government officials increasingly place blame on Chinese subsidies for troubles in the U.S. solar market.


Solar Installations Continue to Rise

McClatchy-Tribune Regional News - Alan Yonan Jr. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Hawaii homeowners and businesses installed a record amount of solar power generating capacity in the second quarter of this year, according to a new industry report.

Hawaii added 16.6 megawatts of solar generating capacity during the April-to-June period, a 12 percent increase from 14.8 megawatts in the previous quarter, according to the report produced by the Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research.

The report noted that there is a growing trend in Hawaii and elsewhere in which homeowners are opting to have solar systems installed with no upfront cost. Under the most popular arrangements, a third party owns the system and either leases it back to the homeowner or sells the electricity to the homeowner. In both cases, the homeowner pays the third party less than the rates charged by the local electric utility.

The third party usually raises the financing from investors, who are attracted to the tax benefits and steady stream of income that come from owning a stake in the solar systems. The financing vehicle has attracted more than $600 million in new investments in recent months, according to the report.

Although the report didn't have firm numbers for Hawaii, its researchers estimated that anywhere from 70 percent to 80 percent of the solar systems installed in the Aloha State are being done this way.

While the price of solar systems continues to fall, many homeowner still can't afford the upfront cost, according to the report.

"For homeowners looking to lower their energy costs or to reduce their environmental footprint, the option to avoid upfront payments and have a contract with a company to monitor and repair the PV (photovoltaic) array is appealing," the report said.

The latest increase brings Hawaii's cumulative solar energy generating capacity to 113 megawatts, enough to provide the power needs of about 24,000 homes. Data for the report were gathered from utilities and state agencies.

The 16.6 megawatts installed ranked Hawaii 10th among the top 25 states for the three-month period, according to the report. Of the 16.6 megawatts, 7.9 were installed at residences and 8.7 were at commercial buildings.

Although Hawaii trailed much larger states like California, Arizona and Texas on an absolute basis, it has traditionally compared more favorably on a per capita basis. Hawaii's 62.6 watts of installed PV per person in 2011 was third-highest of any state, according to the Interstate Renewable Energy Council.

The top 25 states installed a total of 742 megawatts of photovoltaic capacity in the second quarter of this year, a 45 percent jump from 512 megawatts in the first quarter, the Solar Energy Industries Association report said.

Falling prices for solar panels continued to drive down the cost for residential PV systems in the second quarter, with the average cost nationwide declining to $32,435 from $37,144 a year earlier before tax breaks, the report said. The average installed price per watt for a residential system fell to $5.46 from $5.81.

Hawaii's 35 percent state tax credit for PV system installations is one of the nation's most generous and can be combined with a 30 percent federal tax credit. The loss of state revenue as a result of the tax credit has stirred debate about whether it should be curtailed.

The state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism told the state Council on Revenues recently that the cost of the renewable energy tax credit has grown from $34.7 million in 2010 to an estimated $173.8 million in 2012. However, some in the local solar industry say the amount is overstated because it is based on building permit applications that may never result in completed projects.


Tanzania: Kigoma Solar Power Project Takes Off

Rex Energy, a subsidiary of a Holding company - Rex Investment Ltd, has started to implement the long awaited solar project in Kigoma region financed by the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a US-based development agency.

The initial installation of solar systems has already been successfully implemented in various sites in Kigoma over the last few weeks. These sites include a secondary school and dispensary in Kiganza, Vitale Health Center and Msimba Village Market all in Kigoma (Rural) District.

This solar project - the largest of its kind in Tanzania's history, is carried out through a joint effort between Rex Investment Ltd and Camco International from the UK. In this project Rex handles the technical aspect of the project - designing, supply and installation of a wide range of solar systems whereas Camco is responsible with training, marketing and raising public awareness on the use of solar energy for the targeted consumers.

The successful installation of solar systems in these various sites marks an important stage in this project which is essentially aimed to facilitate social-economic development through the use of renewable and alternative power solutions in a region that is not yet connected to the national grid.

The Kigoma urban area is served by Tanzania Electric Supply Company (TANESCO) using diesel generators. The energy situation is worse in rural areas where residents are used to life without electricity. The energy problem in Kigoma was initially dependent on power from Malagarasi Hydropower Project before it was scrapped-off due to negative environmental impacts.

However, the national grid might eventually be extended to Kigoma from Shinyanga region but this might take a long time given budget constraints. That being said, in the meantime, there is a huge potential for the use of solar power to this region and Rex Energy is taking an active role in making that happen through this project funded by the US government.

In a statement by the US Embassy in Dar es Salaam dated August 21, 2012 and made available to the local media, Karl Fickenscher, the Millennium Challenge Corporation Resident Country Director states that this project "calls for more than the delivery and installation of modern solar PV technology." Fickenscher adds that "The goal of the program is to develop all of the elements necessary for a successful solar PV economy in Kigoma."

The Kigoma Solar Project will provide power for households, businesses, government facilities and so forth that primarily rely on small diesel generators. When the project is completed by next year, the direct beneficiaries will include 45 secondary schools, 120 dispensaries, 10 health centers, 25 village market centers and 60 battery-charging beach management units (BMUs) along Lake Tanganyika to be used to power LED lights.

Currently, fishermen use kerosene lanterns at night to attract fish but the kerosene used is costly and harmful to the environment. In terms of job creation, this project will provide employment opportunities (directly or indirectly) to many people throughout Kigoma which, in turn, will help increase the region's Gross Domestic Products (GDP) per capita which is currently Tsh. 206,356 - one of the lowest in the country.

Moreover, Kigoma suffers from persistent refugee problems due to ongoing conflict in neighboring countries. Rex distinguishes itself as the leading solar power provider in Tanzania and one of the best in the East African region because it values quality. It imports products from the most reputable and reliable manufacturers of solar systems in the world.

The products Rex Imports are of highest quality and approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) while at the same time meeting local quality and technical specifications. The Kigoma Project is just one out of many projects Rex has undertaken, although this one is of higher magnitude and scale. Rex has played a key role over the last 12 years contributing to government's effort to make alternative power such as solar available to more people.

Rex has done so by installing solar systems for individuals, private businesses, government institutions, religious and charitable organizations, international organizations etc. Some of the major projects done by Rex include the installation of solar systems for Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences in Dar es Salaam, NSSF field offices, Selous Game Reserve, Mandela University in Arusha, Dar es Salaam Institute of Tourism, Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA) field offices and many more.

In addition to these projects, it supplies solar products to dealer networks, shops and individuals around the country. Some of these products include solar lanterns, gel deep cycle batteries, inverters, solar panels, solar charge controllers.Rex designs, supplies and installs solar systems by customizing them to meet the individual needs of its clients.

The company has a qualified team of in-house technicians and engineers, sales, customer service and managers all dedicated to provide services of the highest quality. It installs a wide range of solar systems for its clients. These systems include solar water heaters, solar street lights, regular lighting and back-up systems for households, corporate clients, government institutions, international organizations, NGOs and the list goes on.