Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Five Solar-Powered Trash Compactors Installed

The town recently received five solar-powered trash compactors free of charge from the state Department of Energy Resources. Tewksbury was awarded the BigBelly Solar trash receptacles because of its designation by the state last year as a Green Community.
Because they compact trash, the receptacles can each hold significantly more than a standard trash barrel and do not need to be emptied as often. Two of the compactors have been installed at Livingston Recreation Area, and one each at the Town Common, Wynn Middle School, and the public library. The compactor at the Town Common is for regular trash only, while those at the other four locations are for both regular trash and recyclables.


Old Town Parking Deck's Solar Power Generation Doing Better Than Expected

Bright sunshine isn't just helping the city's tourism sector — it's also powering a multi-million dollar public facility.

Solar power generation at the city's 2-year-old parking deck in Old Town is meeting and sometimes exceeding expectations, city officials and project contractors said.

Data from the city's Downtown Development Authority show the solar panel array on the roof of the public garage along Eighth Street generated one third of the deck's total electricity use in July.

"It's just been a phenomenal year, and I'm real pleased with how it's going," said Matt Vajda, owner of Voltage Electric Inc. of Traverse City that installed the 40-kilowatt system on the roof of the $7.9 million structure.

The city spent about $240,000 to install the solar power system, which has an estimated 20-year payback. The system produces little electricity in the winter months when the deck uses the most power. For example, the deck used more than 47,000 kilowatt hours of electricity in January, when the solar panels generated just over 3 percent of its power use.

But the deck's solar generation powered up thanks to a warm, early spring. The panels produced more than 4,300 kilowatt hours in March, more than 18 percent of the deck's total power use. April was even better, as the deck generated nearly 26 percent of its electricity from solar power.

Vajda said April's results were about 40 percent over projections, and May's solar generation was 22 percent higher than expected. April was a sunny, cool month, and Vajda said solar systems are most efficient in clear and cold conditions.

"You have more inefficiencies when it's warm," Vajda said.

The solar power system is among the features that helped the city gain a LEED certification for the deck from the U.S. Green Building Council, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

But city officials said it's more than just an environmental measure, as electricity costs are among the deck's highest operational expenses.

"There's a good amount of electric demand, even though it's not an occupied building," said Rob Bacigalupi, deputy director of the city's Downtown Development Authority.

It includes lighting, an elevator, electric heat, powering a small business office and operating the deck's snow-melt system. Those costs are highest in the winter months when the solar power system is generating at its low point. But officials said during a typical summer, when operating costs are lower, the deck should get about a third of its energy from solar panels.

"It's right on track," Bacigalupi said.

The DDA recently took steps to bolster energy efficiency at the city's Larry C. Hardy Parking Deck along East Front Street by installing more efficient LED lights throughout the structure. The $118,682 lighting project is expected to save the city more than $21,000 a year in energy costs, Bacigalupi said.


Board Of Education Looking At Solar Power Option For District Buildings

The Stow-Munroe Falls School District is looking at potential savings generated by solar energy.
Mariana Silva David Dwyer, an energy engineer for
Solar Planet, a solar power company, tells Stow-Munroe
Falls Board of Education members and the audience
about the benefits of solar power during a Board meeting

During a Board of Education meeting on Aug. 13, David Dwyer and former Republican Ohio Sen. Kevin Coughlin, told Board members how they can make a $20 million solar power system project happen at almost no cost to the district.

Dwyer and Coughlin, representing Solar Planet, a two-year-old company focusing on installing solar power for schools and public organizations with the goal of cutting their energy costs, told the Board and the audience that the company can virtually fund the entire project if the district agrees to a 25-year contract.

Dwyer, an energy engineer for Solar Planet, said the company has funds to cover the costs of operation, maintenance and design of the solar power system, and can also provide the school district with the capital to build it.

The presenters said district would basically have to pay for the costs of the contract which will likely be close to $3,000 and that the project could save as much as $8 million during the term of the contract.

"But there is no such a thing as a free lunch," Dwyer said.

Solar Power, which was created by the owner of the Columbus-based chain Charley's Grilled Subs, Charley Shin, would also benefit from the deal.

Coughlin explained that in exchange for paying for virtually all costs associated with the solar power system, Solar Power would get to collect benefits such as generating clean energy credits, which can be purchased by companies that are not meeting minimum mandates for renewable energy. The company also gets to collect tax credits.

The district would also have to agree to buy solar energy for the next 25 years and if Board members like the deal, Coughlin and Dwyer said they recommend they decide before Sept. 15. After that, the company cannot guarantee the same benefits to the district.

"Solar is great, I don't have a problem with it, we are going to have to go solar in the future [...] but there are other companies out there," said Board of Education member Rod Armstrong.

"I think before we commit to anything, one of the things we need to do, as a Board, [...] we should go out there and look at other companies."

Armstrong added Solar Planet is a young company and that he read about other companies out there with more years of experience in the area.

"I would invite you to please look up the competition [...]," Coughlin said. "We just had this discussion with a school the other day. They were told by their Board 'go find the competition,' they got a lot of disconnected phone numbers, they got no return calls. There is no one that can do that."

Also during the meeting, Director of Academic Achievement Karen Moore, and Director of Special Services Dr. Marty Saternow gave the Board presentations about federal grant updates, which show the district will likely be receiving less federal grants this school year.


During the meeting the Board also approved:

* The approval of the superintendent's personnel recommendations including employments, resignations, recall from reduction in force, 2012-13 school year supplementals, certified and classified substitutes and a transfer;

* The Board approved a list of home instruction tutors for the 2012-13 school year;

* The Board approved game help for the 2012-13 school year;

* The Board approved a cooperating teacher stipend for two teachers who complete the student teaching mentoring program in connection with The University of Akron;

* The Board approved a contract with Harbor Education Services to provide special education services in their LEAP program during the 2012-13 school year as recommended by the company's Individualized Education Program (IEP) team for five students;

* A waiver for the requirements set by the Ohio Revised Code that each student enrolled in kindergarten, third grade, fifth grade and ninth grade to be screened for body mass index and weight status category before the first day of May of the school year;

* A lease agreement with Central States Management for donation bins to be located at Echo Hills, Fishcreek, Riverview and Woodland elementary, Lakeview Intermediate, Kimpton Middle and Stow-Munroe Falls High schools;

* A change order for Tallmadge Asphalt and Paving Co. changing the original contract sum of $201,000 to $258,410;

* An extended field trip to the girls' varsity volleyball team to travel to Dublin to participate in a volleyball scrimmage.

Next Board meeting is at 7 p.m. on Aug. 27 at the Stow-Munroe Falls High School library. Some of the items expected to be discussed are the minutes, financial report and check register for June and July, a permanent appropriation resolution, energy education and a donation.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Solar-Powered Drone Is Big Brother With Wings

Usually, adding solar panels to something only makes me like it more. IPhone? Awesome. Solar-Powered iPhone? Way better. See how that works?

Unfortunately, a company over in New Mexico seems determined to make me question that logic. Silent Falcon UAS Technologies recently unveiled a six-foot-long unmanned aircraft that can be launched by hand and conduct surveillance for up to 14 hours. It’s a solar-powered drone, and if this company has anything to do with it, it’s coming to the sky above you very soon.

According to a company release, the Silent Falcon is a solar-electric unmanned aerial system designed to use the power of the sun to stay in flight longer. The drone features a solar electric propulsion system, rugged composite structure, and three interchangeable wing configurations. It was designed to be carried by a single man and launched by hand. It’s able to beam back high-definition video to a command post and is silent from a distance of 100 feet.

With a a $250,000 to $300,000 price tag, it’s unlikely that your creepy neighbor will be using the Silent Falcon to spy on your dinner party anytime soon. Still, what’s truly disturbing is all the interest local governments are showing in this drone.

According to company CEO John Brown, their ideal customers are law enforcement at the city, state and federal level, as well as the U.S. Border Patrol. ‘An eye in the sky could be used to interdict drugs, ensure port security, check power lines and fuel pipelines, as well as size up needs in disaster relief, fight forest fires, and count wildlife,’ Brown told Forbes. Oh I’m so glad he put that benign-sounding stuff in there at the end. Otherwise it sounds like the Silent Falcon is just perfect for spying on private citizens.

So let me see if I’ve got this straight: living in the “freest” country in the world means withholding tax dollars from the solar and wind energy technologies that could actually set us free from foreign fuels, but if that same solar or wind energy is put to use for militant, right-violating purposes, it’s totally fine to put it on the taxpayers’ tab? Does that seem twisted to anyone else?


Tanzania: Energy - Solar Cooker Ideal for Rural Areas

NYEGINA is one of the villages in Musoma District, Mara Region. The village is located some 16 kilometres from the town centre.

I recently visited the village, to pay homage to my ancestral home. It had been ten years since I last visited Nyegina Village. Not so much has changed except for more brick houses and the availability of electricity in some few houses.

However, what caught my attention was not this change but a cooker that uses solar energy. It's just not the solar cookers that we know about but a much simpler cooker. So many Tanzanians struggle to make the ends meet in providing their families with the daily basic needs.

Some of them succeed, but others barely make it. This cooker is an example of a cheap technology that will help the majority of population that struggles to meet its daily basic needs. It is another invention that would simply make life less miserable.

The cooker only needs a few materials to be made, which can be easily obtained; box materials, aluminum, and cloth used for book binds like those used on counter books. The cooker is designed in such a way that a cooking pot with food is simply placed inside it.

Depending on the size, even two cooking pots painted in black colour can be placed in the cooker which is then placed in the sun for the food to cook. The scientific process applied here is that the aluminum material is a good conductor of heat. Thus the material on the inside of the cooker receives heat from the sun and passes it to the cooking pot whose material also conducts heat.

This is because the black colour painted around the pot absorbs heat. Therefore the food is heated in such manner till it is fully cooked. For most of the technology we use today, we consider one important aspect; whether it is environmental friendly. In this case, the cooker serves the purpose.

Besides, environmentalists have always looked for alternative sources of energy other than charcoal and firewood which are largely used in our country. Further, the sun is an energy resource that cannot be overexploited and it never is exhausted.

The cooker also uses cost effective materials, no installation costs are incurred and the operation is easy. One only needs to place the cooking pot inside the cooker and place it under the sun It is suitable for rural areas where people spend most of their time on the farms and come back late in the evening.

Therefore, the food can be left in the cooker and can be removed in the evening when it will definitely be ready. In addition, the cooker is useful for foods that take long hours to cook such as makande and beans. However, despite its usefulness the cooker has its disadvantages. Perhaps it could be modified to improve its functioning. The cooker is time consuming since it takes long hours for food to cook.

During the rainy season or when sunshine isn't sufficient the cooker is not useful. And in rainy areas the cooker can get destroyed since it is made of boxes. It is also not adequate that once you place the food inside the cooker, one needs to watch for animals since the top of the cooker is not covered.

The question however is do people really benefit from such inventions? It seems the authorities is too busy to realize that such innovations do exist and support for improvement is important. According to a relative, the women in the village were taught by the parish nuns how to make these cookers.

The private sector has played its role inventing and educating the women, what then of the public sector? My aunty does not use the cooker and so do most of the women who attended the one week seminar at the parish church. Projects such as these could be expanded into bigger ones and start them in urban areas too were life is also expensive.


Solar Project Aims To Help Wean Army Off Grid

A celebratory fanfare with gushes of awe and respect dominated a Friday groundbreaking of a $10.8 million, 1.5-megawatt solar project at the Tooele Army Depot.
A PowerDish on display during a groundbreaking ceremony for the new
$10.8 million, 1.5 megawatt solar project at the Tooele Army Depot.

A glistening PowerDish standing 21 feet tall was one reason for the rush of excitement, and the presence of Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was the other.

Depot commander Col. Chris Mohan told the small crowd that the last time a chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff visited the 70-year-old military installation tucked away amid the grasslands south of Tooele was in the 1940s. That chairman was Dwight D. Eisenhower, before he became president of the United States.

"The bar has been set pretty high," Mohan said.

Dempsey, flanked by an entourage of military officers and assistants, was affable and unassuming under the hot August sun, taking sips from a bottle of water as he milled through the crowd.

He told them that projects like the Stirling Solar Array, which when finished will feature a field of 430 PowerDishes on 17 acres, exemplifies the innovative and new direction the military has to embrace to meet the needs of the country.

"This is a glimpse, just a glimpse of the future," he said.

The military is on a path to have its armed services branches produce 3 gigawatts of energy to help wean military installations off the electrical grid as much as possible, and Tooele Army Depot is marching quickly toward the goal of being one of 16 Army commands in the country to become "net zero," or practically off the grid. Depot officials said the solar field, in addition to a wind turbine installed in 2010, will get them to nearly 60 percent of their power derived from renewables.

"We are on a campaign of learning, particularly as it relates to renewable energy," Dempsey said. "The less we depend on fuel the better off we are from an operational standpoint."

He added the military's embrace of renewables will also make installations less vulnerable overall to domestic terrorism.

"I've been outspoken in my comments about threats from the Internet and cybersecurity," he said.

Ogden-based Infinia Corp. came up with the PowerDish that is made up of parabolic mirrors that track the sun, collect its heat and churn it into power. The field of mirrors in this remote section of Tooele County is the company's first large-scale project, but it has deployed the technology at a commercial dairy in Yuma, Ariz., as well as a Frito-Lay plant that coincidentally makes SunChips.

CDM Smith, an engineering and construction firm specializing in environmental projects, will begin installation of the dishes tracking east on the base property, with the PowerDishes anticipated to be fully operational by early next year.

Dempsey said collaborative efforts like this project will help ensure the military is successful.

"The days when the U.S. military could figure this out by ourselves are long behind us."

When he is asked to speak at events like Friday's, Dempsey said he looks for important historical milestones that happened on that particular day in history. He said it was worth noting that on Aug. 17, 1915, Charles Kettering invented the electric automobile starter and with his riches went on to establish a cancer center and patented the technology for an incubator for premature infants.

That combination of trust in ingenuity and generosity found in the American spirit is what Dempsey said inspires his faith in the United States and is his answer when probed if the country is on the decline, or an incline.

"As long as we got the people right, this country's going to be fine," he said.


Monday, October 29, 2012

Sunflowers Inspire More Efficient Solar Power System

A field of young sunflowers will slowly rotate from east to west during the course of a sunny day, each leaf seeking out as much sunlight as possible as the sun moves across the sky through an adaptation called heliotropism.

It's a clever bit of natural engineering that inspired imitation from a UW-Madison electrical and computer engineer, who has found a way to mimic the passive heliotropism seen in sunflowers for use in the next crop of solar power systems.

Unlike other "active" solar systems that track the sun's position with GPS and reposition panels with motors, electrical and computer engineering professor Hongrui Jiang's concept leverages the properties of unique materials in concert to create a passive method of re-orienting solar panels in the direction of the most direct sunlight.

His design, published Aug. 1 in Advanced Functional Materials and recently highlighted in Nature, employs a combination of liquid crystalline elastomer (LCE), which goes through a phase change and contracts in the presence of heat, with carbon nanotubes, which can absorb a wide range of light wavelengths.

"Carbon nanotubes have a very wide range of absorption, visible light all the way to infrared," says Jiang. "That is something we can take advantage of, since it is possible to use sunlight to drive it directly."

Video of a proof-of-concept of Jiang's design in action. Direct sunlight hits a mirror beneath the solar panel, focused onto one of multiple actuators composed of LCE laced with carbon nanotubes. The carbon nanotubes heat up as they absorb light, and the heat differential between the environment and inside the actuator causes the LCE to shrink. This causes the entire assembly to bow in the direction of the strongest sunlight. As the sun moves across the sky, the actuators will cool and re-expand, and new ones will shrink, re-positioning the panel over the 180 degrees of sky that the sun covers in the course of the day.

Artificial heliotropism in action. "The idea is that wherever the sun goes, it will follow," says Jiang. In Jiang's tests, the system improved the efficiency of solar panels by 10 percent, an enormous increase considering material improvements in the solar panels themselves only net increases of a few percent on average. And a passive system means there are no motors and circuits to eat into increased energy harvest. "The whole point of solar tracking is to increase the electricity output of the system," says Jiang. The materials driving Jiang's design have only been available in the past few years, so for now, he and his team are researching ways to refine them for use driving larger solar panels, where the net energy gain from his system will be the greatest. But eventually, Jiang hopes to see huge industrial solar farms where fields of photovoltaic solar panels shift effortlessly along with the sunflowers that inspired him. "This is exactly what nature does," says Jiang.


Solar Services Usher in New Business Model for Power

Interrupting my rant about how Bill Gates is pushing nuclear power when he should be boosting solar, a savvy investor and CEO told me why she doesn't like solar: two years ago, at an intimate meeting she attended with him in New York, Gates commented that residential solar panels set roofs on fire.

Gates' comment seemed unnecessary and extreme, especially in that environment. It's not that Gates does not support solar energy at all. Cynthia Figge, co-founder of CSRHub, summarized his comments at the Wall Street Journal ECO:nomics conference earlier this year: "We have a chance of reaching 50% renewable energy use in the 2060 time frame, but it will take at least one of five miracles to come true, and about 200 crazy people working really hard at all five."

His tentative support for solar in general is simply absent for residential solar.

Yes, solar panels have caused fires.

It's a new industry short on installers, which led to a rush on training. Many installers weren't even licensed electricians, leading to shoddy construction. The density of the panels and the flammable polymers inside make fires hard to extinguish. Difficulty in shutting them down has given electrical shocks to at least 50 firefighters.

So it was with great relief that I read today's New York Times Magazine article "The Secret to Solar Power." Safety hazards and a $50,000 installation cost in 2010 slowed solar installations, but outright purchase is now secondary to the new model of leasing the panels, i.e., having someone else install and maintain the system.

According to Times author Jeff Himmelman, once the cost of solar panels fell, the business model for solar leasing schemes paid out and the market exploded. Installing solar panels yourself still costs $25,000, an amount that takes years to pay back. Instead, companies are selling "solar services."

Solar service companies use the utility company model which consumers understand, installing and maintaining their solar equipment as part of a lease arrangement where consumers pay a lower monthly charge for energy, often guaranteed not to change for some period of time. Companies like BP which entered the market to sell solar panels have left the business; dedicated alternatives like SunCity, Sungevity and SunEdison now account for 63% of new solar systems in California.

My question still remains: why don't we hear more about residential solar in the media? Himmelman blames two lingering misperceptions: entrenched associations of all things "green" with qualities like impractical, ineffective and expensive, and the Solyndra effect: Americans believe that solar is something we don't know how to do so we should leave it to the Chinese.

Fortunately, it's a message that has bypassed big investors like Google, which has invested $374 million in residential solar power.

And then there's the Gates factor. Speaking to Wired Magazine in 2011, Gates commented, "If you're interested in cuteness, the stuff in the home is the place to go. If you're interested in solving the world's energy problems, it's things like big [solar projects] in the desert."

Reminded me of Gates' comments to a banking industry audience in the 1990s, where, to strains of reggae music, he declared the Internet to be nothing but a fantasy, a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

It's a good analogy. At the time Gates made his prophecy that the Internet was a pipe dream, the transition was just as huge and to many, as unlikely, as the one that moved intelligence from hardware to software, oddly, the transition that Gates himself made happen. Yet the Internet required a dramatic shift in thinking, one that would change -- as Cisco's promotion puts it, "How we live, work, play, learn" and even love.

The same is happening now with energy, where the notion of a centralized source of energy from a power plant that draws from an oil well or a nuclear facility is giving way to a distributed system where energy is produced wherever its source, sun or wind, can reach.

The problem is, what Gates says has power, and people of influence like my CEO friend tend to believe him. That's why Sunday's New York Times article is so important. Himmelman is a smart guy talking to the influencers. With the residential solar industry running at $93 billion in 2011 up from $17 billion in 2007, no-one would call his commentary about the solar industry "cute."

Yet he can't resist the activist's glamor, and recounts in great detail the jungle adventures of Danny Kennedy, former Green Peace activist turned solar entrepreneur. Himmelman's story ends with Kennedy's comment that selling solar power is by definition a subversive act, a "march... that will get to its destination." Long live the revolution!


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Solar Future Gets A Boost

The future of solar energy in New York has brightened a bit, proponents said Friday as they announced legislation to extend or create tax incentives and other inducements to help homeowners, businesses and government agencies tap into the emerging technology.
Frank Murray, president of NYSERDA, talks about the
passage of new legislation aimed at improving the growth
of solar power in New York, Friday Aug. 17, 2012, at the Capitol
in Albany, N.Y. The bills, signed today by Governor
Andrew M. Cuomo, fall under the NY-Sun initiative which hopes
to make solar energy more affordable and to cultivate
new jobs within the state?s solar energy sector.

Robert Hallman, Gov. Andrew Cuomo's deputy secretary for energy and the environment, called the incentives "a major commitment" that should help quadruple the state's solar capacity by 2013.

Hallman and Frank Murray, president of the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority, joined solar industry representatives at a news conference in the Capitol's Blue Room.

They pointed to three bills signed by Cuomo that aim to lower the cost of going solar.

One measure provides homeowner tax credits worth up to $5,000 for purchasing or leasing solar equipment, provided they commit to using it for 10 years.

Another bill exempts commercial solar systems from state sales taxes, and allows municipalities to do the same.

The third measure extends through 2014 a property tax abatement for solar systems in New York City — which is considered an area of great potential due to the concentrated population and number of flat rooftops that make installing the needed equipment easier.

In total, the state is offering about $800 million worth of incentives through 2015 for this growing industry.

The inducements are needed, especially for residential uses, as solar still requires considerable up-front expenditures.

Responding to a question about the cost of solar energy compared to low-priced natural gas, Hallman said gas is a "bridge fuel" to the day when alternative sources like solar have evolved to the point where they can take over.

"That's the way we look at it," said Hallman.

Murray earlier said there is no "silver bullet" with solar power, but is instead something that will develop over time.

Murray said that equipping a home for solar electric power can run as high as $40,000.

But that price can fall to $16,000 after tax breaks, rebates and other incentives. The interest is there, he said, and his agency gets a steady stream of calls from people seeking to make use of the incentives.

Companies are also offering to lease solar equipment to homeowners long-term, which greatly reduces the cost and can lead to net savings on electricity.

Even schools are looking to the sun for savings as well as for some teachable moments. Schodack School Superintendent Robert Horan said the district used a NYSERDA grant — $208,000 — to put in three solar units, two on the roof and one on the ground, to help generate power for the 1,100-student district.

The installation didn't cost the district any money. Its leaders plan to use the system as a real-life tool for science lessons.

The idea, Murray said, is to ensure that New York captures the interest and business of an evolving and expanding solar industry.

"We want to make sure that we get more than our share of that investment in New York state," he said.


Debt-Laden Chinese Solar Firms Need Infusion of Funds

As solar panel prices continue to tumble, Chinese solar companies are struggling with heavy debt loads, fueling expectations that many will be forced to seek new infusions of funds through takeovers or mergers.

Suntech Power Holdings could be liable for hundreds of millions in new payments after it disclosed a potential fraud by a partner, while peers like LDK Solar, JA Solar Holdings, Trina Solar and Yingli Green Energy Holding are also feeling pressure.

With prices for solar panels barely covering the cost to build them, dozens of small Chinese solar companies are believed to have shut their doors, and equity investors have fled the sector, sending share prices of the U.S.-listed Chinese companies down more than 85 percent since early 2011.

Most of the Chinese solar companies will be able to stay open only if government lenders continue to keep lines of credit open despite forecasts of several more quarters of red ink.

“Solar as an industry is going to continue to grow,” said Brian Salerno, portfolio manager for Huntington EcoLogical Strategy ETF. “However, my belief is that for most of that time it’s going to be profitless prosperity.”

Solar analysts have pointed to LDK Solar as also having one of the country’s most stretched balance sheets, with debt and other liabilities of $6 billion versus cash and equivalents of just $244 million.

JA Solar listed its debt and other liabilities at $1.5 billion versus cash on hand of $676 million at the end of the first quarter. Trina Solar’s debt was a more modest $1.08 billion versus cash on hand of $490 million, while Yingli reported debt of $3.44 billion versus cash of $675 million at the end of the first quarter.

Suntech, which has the largest panel-manufacturing capacity, may be on the hook for $690 million in collateral related to the possible fraud, and it also has a $541 million convertible bond payment in early 2013.

The company, which had said it was in violation of some loan covenants, listed total debt and other liabilities of $3.58 billion, versus abut $474 million in cash on hand as of March 31, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Beijing has provided billions of dollars in credit lines and other supports to its solar sector through state-run banks, prompting the U.S. government to impose import duties this year after U.S. manufacturers filed a trade complaint.

Though analysts and solar competitors outside China have long viewed government bank credit lines as a major funding advantage for Chinese solar makers, that support has encouraged the industry there to overspend on new factories, leading to a glut of panels on the market.

Obtaining a clear picture of the Chinese companies’ debts can be difficult, analysts said, because debts they often listed as short-term liabilities are perpetually rolled forward, essentially making them long-term facilities.

“Trina is probably the best positioned. The cost structure is great, and they don’t have as much debt as other vendors,” said Ben Schuman, an analyst at Pacific Crest Securities.

Nearly every solar company has been losing cash because of low panel prices, and policy makers in Beijing said last year that they wanted to see a healthier industry develop, with a smaller number of large, strong players.

Whether that consolidation will be spurred by Beijing or the debt-holding banks remains unclear.

“That’s the million-dollar question,” Mr. Schuman said. “I don’t know if it’s really even a question of if or when; it’s more a question of how. Is this going to be forced consolidation, or a bailout of the debt by state-owned enterprises?”

Analysts said that at least for now, Beijing was not likely to let its leading solar players collapse.

“As long as the government has deep pockets — and they do — you might just have the walking dead,” said Mr. Salerno of Huntington.

Local governments in China have also supported the companies in an industry that China sees as crucial to supplying electricity to its economy, but analysts said that support appears to focused on keeping the local job markets strong.

LDK Solar, which cut 5,000 jobs this year, was helped in July, when the government of Xinyu, in Jiangxi Province, announced that it would use taxpayer funds to repay the company’s loans.

Still, Yingli’s chief financial officer, Li Zongwei, said the Chinese state-run banks and foreign debt providers appeared willing to support the companies with the best prospects, and wait for a shakeout to trim the weaker players.

The banks “all believe that solar is an emerging industry that has a bright future, and a much better future after the consolidation,” he said. “They don’t want to give up their debt presence in the solar sector.”

Mr. Li said the company would generate cash flow in the second half of 2012, but predicted new players would enter China’s solar sector to take over or buy into weaker companies.

“To a large extent, I think the capital will be coming from the state-owned companies, or large domestic groups,” Mr. Li said.

For its part, Yingli, which tapped China’s debt market for about $236 million in May, is not interested in linking up with other companies, he said, but may seek to acquire equipment at low cost to expand operations.


Bill Gates' Foundation Puts Money On Solar-Powered Toilet

Bill Gates is betting the toilet of the future for the developing world will be solar powered.

The world's leading private philanthropist handed a $100,000 prize to the California Institute of Technology on Tuesday for its work on a self-contained, sun-powered system that recycles water and breaks down human waste into storable energy.

Gates is focusing on the need for a new type of toilet as an important part of his foundation's push to improve health in the developing world. Open defecation leads to sanitation problems that cause 1.5 million children under 5 to die each year, Gates said, and Western-syle toilets are not the answer as they demand a complex sewer infrastructure and use too much water.

The Microsoft Corp co-founder is looking to change that by sparking new inventions in toilet technology, which he says has not fundamentally changed since the invention of the flush toilet in 1775.

"Imagine what's possible if we continue to collaborate, stimulate new investment in this sector, and apply our ingenuity in the years ahead," Gates said at his foundation's Seattle headquarters on Tuesday. "Many of these innovations will not only revolutionize sanitation in the developing world, but also help transform our dependence on traditional flush toilets in wealthy nations."

His foundation announced $3.4 million in new funding on Tuesday for toilet projects being worked on by various organizations, bringing total investment in its "Reinvent the Toilet Challenge" to about $6.5 million.

About 2.6 billion people, or 40 percent of world's population -- mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia -- lack access to safe sanitation and are forced to defecate in the open, according to Gates.

Last year the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gave grants to eight universities around the world to help tackle the problem by creating a hygienic toilet that uses little or no water, is safe and affordable and can transform waste into energy, clean water and nutrients.


Gates presented prizes on Tuesday to the teams that showed the most progress, handing Caltech the first prize of $100,000 for its working model of a solar-powered bathroom, where a solar panel produces power for an electrochemical reactor that breaks down feces and urine into hydrogen gas, which can be stored in hydrogen fuel cells to provide a back-up energy source for night operation or use in low-sunlight conditions.

The workings of the toilet are designed to be buried underground beneath a conventional-looking stall and urinal set-up, which the Caltech team showed in cross-section at the Gates Foundation courtyard. Water recovered from the continuous process is pumped up again to provide water to flush the toilet.

Gates also handed out prizes to Britain's Loughborough University and Canada's University of Toronto for their designs, which focus on transforming feces into usable resources.

The software pioneer is hoping many of the universities work together to develop the best technologies and is aiming to get new-style toilets into use in the next two to four years.

Gates' foundation is spending about $80 million a year on water, sanitation and hygiene issues, areas where it thinks it can make a marked difference in people's lives.

The $370 million in total it has committed to that area so far is still only a small slice of global funding for health, development and education provided by the foundation, which has handed out, or is committed to, more than $26 billion in grants since Gates started his philanthropic endeavors in 1994.

The foundation, which Gates co-chairs with his father and wife, Melinda, is the world's biggest private philanthropic organization with an endowment worth more than $33 billion.


Saturday, October 27, 2012

New Jersey's Wildwood Convention Center Goes Solar With Eoplly Modules

Eoplly New Energy Technology Co., a designer and manufacturer of solar products, announced the completion of a 474kW roof-top PV system using Eoplly 285W Poly-Si Modules at the Wildwood Convention Center in Wildwood, NJ. This project was developed by Tioga Energy, a leading solar project developer based in San Francisco, and financed by Energy Finance Company, based in Manhattan Beach, CA.

Of the 1,700 roof-top panels which will supply 24 percent of the venue's annual energy needs, a significant portion were Eoplly's EP-156P/72-285W modules. "We are pleased to have Energy Finance Company and Tioga Energy supporting Eoplly as a Tier 1 brand," said Warren Nishikawa, CEO of Eoplly USA Inc. "This Wildwood Project near the shore illustrates that Eoplly solar modules are extremely durable against rain, wind, and salt."

Under a 20-year lease agreement, EFC will sell the electricity from the solar system to the convention center at a reduced rate. Tom Byrne, the chairman of the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement and Development Authority, noted that the project was a success for numerous reasons. "By taking on this project, and reducing our carbon footprint, getting in with the go-green movement, we are going to be viewed as leaders in this area," Byrne said.

Energy Finance Company CEO Reyad Fezzani commented, "We are excited to provide the capital required to construct, own and operate EFC's first East Coast project at such a noteworthy location. Wildwoods Convention Center is an excellent addition to our solar power portfolio and we are also pleased that the project was 100 percent constructed by local unions including an IBEW affiliate, representing approximately 4,800 man-hours."

Since 2006, Eoplly has been providing the highest quality solar modules and systems to the industry with over 700MW delivered worldwide. Eoplly is dedicated to being the optimized photovoltaic solution provider with offices in United States, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Czech Republic, Japan and China.


Solar Project's Permit Overturned

Rescinding permits for approved development projects is something the county Board of Supervisors seldom faces at its meetings, which is why Tuesday’s decision to rescind the permits behind a 50-megawatt solar project in Calipatria is arguably a rarity.

The request to reverse the approval of Calipatria Solar Farm II came from the applicant, said Armando Villa, director of the Imperial County Planning Department, “as a result of settlement negotiations.”

The project — approved by the board in November — had been involved in a lawsuit since December, said Salvador Salazar, a representative for the applicant 8minutenergy Renewables.

And one of the settlement’s components was to rescind the project, said Salazar, who pointed out that Donna Tisdale and Carolyn Allen — activists who oppose solar development on farmland — were involved in the lawsuit.

A member of the Protect Our Communities Foundation, the environmental organization to which Tisdale and Allen belong, stated that Tisdale did not wish to comment on this story. Allen, meanwhile, couldn’t be reached for comment.

The project in question would have been built on some 560-acres of private “low-quality farm ground,” said Salazar, and there was a public benefit agreement associated with this project.

But solar projects being placed on farm land is a long-standing concern for some residents and agencies in the agricultural industry, as they are thought to displace agricultural jobs.

While solar projects are known to create hundreds of construction jobs, these numbers drop to the dozens once construction is done.

This is in part why voluntary public benefit agreements were put in place, said Andy Horne, deputy county executive officer for natural resources. These funds, he said, will be used to offset negative impacts and to create jobs.

In this case, a public benefit agreement worth about $1 million was lost, said Horne, who noted the jobs and tax revenue associated with the project are also at risk.

“I would hope (this) is just a temporary setback,” he said, as “my understanding is that they (the developer) are now going to go back and do an environmental impact report.”

This report could take up to a year to complete, said Horne, who then explained the project was first approved with a study called mitigated negative declaration, which identifies potential impacts to the area and establishes a mitigation plan.

To approve a project with a mitigated negative declaration is lawful, Horne said, but this study is less intensive and weaker than an environmental impact report. Meaning it is also less defendable if a lawsuit is presented under the California Environmental Quality Act, he said.

But if rescinding permits is arguably rare, Horne suggests that lawsuits against development projects are becoming everything but that.

“We are seeing almost every one of them being challenged in court by various people who are concerned with the impacts that these projects are going to have,” he said, adding that even the geothermal projects are being challenged.

A report submitted to the board also on Tuesday shows that at least eight approved solar projects are involved in lawsuits while one recommended for approval by the Planning Commission has been appealed.

And Horne, who points out that labor unions and environmental groups are many times behind the lawsuits, said he doesn’t expect this pattern to change.


Fortum Plans $300 Million Solar Plant in Russia, Kommersant Says

Fortum Oyj, Finland’s biggest utility, may build a $300 million solar-power station in Russia, Kommersant reported, citing Evgeny Zagorodny, deputy head of Russian Association of Solar Energy.

The company’s Russian unit, OAO Fortum, previously known as TGK-10, plans a 100-megawatt solar station in the Chelyabinsk region, the newspaper said. Billionaire Victor Vekselberg’s Hevel Solar may supply solar modules for the project, which will be the country’s largest, according to Kommersant.


Friday, October 26, 2012

Solar Company To Create More Than 300 Jobs In NC

A designer and manufacturer of solar power mounting systems plans will set up its U.S. headquarters in Shelby, N.C. and create more than 300 jobs at a production and distribution facility.

Gov. Beverly Perdue said Monday that Schletter Inc. will create the jobs by the end of 2016 and invest more than $27 million in the facility in Cleveland County.

Since 2008, Schletter has been manufacturing its photovoltaic mounting systems at its only U.S. production facility in Arizona. The company now supplies 25 percent of all solar mounting systems produced and delivered in the U.S.

The average compensation is expected to be almost $41,000 plus benefits. The average annual wage in Cleveland County is almost $33,000.

The project was made possible in part by state grants.


Renewables Have Rough Ride In Idaho…

In 2011, Idaho's Department of Commerce devoted a 37-page magazine to renewable energy, with Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter touting geothermal, wind, solar and biomass. “Sustainable, renewable energy is going to play a big role in Idaho's future,” Otter proclaimed.
Despite high hopes, Idaho's renewable energy sector has had a rough ride,
reports the Associated Press, with major projects that the state  enthusiastically
touted ending up mothballed or killed, from Hoku Corp.'s $400 million Pocatello
solar polysilicon plant to Micron Technology's solar energy venture,
Transform Solar.

The publication now doubles as a grim recapitulation of projects where the lights have dimmed or gone out.

Hoku Corp.'s $400 million Pocatello solar polysilicon plant has been mothballed, while Transform Solar, Micron Technology Inc.'s energy venture, is dead. A biomass power project at an Emmett sawmill highlighted in the magazine failed, too, forcing its developers this month to pay Idaho Power Co. $200,000 in damages.

Additionally, independent wind and solar entrepreneurs complain Idaho's policies have suffocated development. The 2011 Commerce publication spoke of Idaho's renewables “sweet spot” — just as the Idaho Legislature that spring rejected keeping a tax rebate for alternative power producers alive.

Peter Richardson, a Boise energy lawyer and would-be solar developer, contends his industry faces a “train wreck.”

“New projects are non-existent,” Richardson said. “There's no support for renewables in this state.”

Even the future of funding for Otter's Office of Energy Resources' is in jeopardy because renewables haven't panned out.

The office was to be funded by royalties on federal geothermal leases, but those never materialized.

Geothermal developers say declining natural gas prices, expiring tax incentives and a surplus of cheap, existing power amid the economic downturn now make developments in Idaho a tough proposition.

“It would be very difficult for us to go out and take the risk to develop a new project,” said Boise-based U.S. Geothermal Inc. president Doug Glaspey, whose company operates one 10-megawatt project in southern Idaho and has another 22-megawatt plant due to come on line soon — in eastern Oregon.

For the last half-decade, Idaho's renewables industry has been dominated by wind projects.

Developers installed hundreds of megawatts that regulated utilities had to buy, according to a 1978 federal law. State and federal tax breaks also made their projects attractive for investors.

But the rush to wind turbines largely ended in 2010, when the Idaho Public Utilities Commission intervened on behalf of utilities that complained wind farms were driving up ratepayers' costs.

What has become a de facto moratorium was the subject of hearings last week at the Idaho Public Utilities Commission, pitting alternative developers against Idaho Power Co., PacifiCorp's Rocky Mountain Power, and Avista Corp. The utilities aim to overhaul the regulator's formula governing the price wind developers get for their electricity.

“Wind is just not a good resource for Idaho Power,” Mark Stokes, the utility's power supply manager, said Tuesday, contending wind is unreliable on hot, summer afternoons when the utility needs power for irrigation pumps and air conditioners.

Renewables developers say utilities are ignoring benefits of electricity that doesn't contribute to climate change.

Back in the 2011 Commerce magazine, Exergy Development Group President James Carkulis, one of the state's biggest wind developers, predicted his Boise-based company could install hundreds of megawatts of generation annually.

Barely a year later, Carkulis says financiers that back his projects have grown wary of Idaho.

“This has placed $323 million of our current 2012, under-construction renewable projects on hold and also impacted our cash flow from our operating projects in the state of Idaho,” Carkulis said.

The cost of electricity in Idaho, produced largely by dams, coal-fired power plants and natural gas turbines, is second-lowest in the nation, according the Institute for Energy Studies.

Consequently, regulated utilities have little economic incentive to buy electricity from renewables providers. And unlike Oregon and Washington policy makers, Idaho legislators haven't required utilities to buy a percentage of their electricity from alternative projects.

John Gardner, the director of the Energy Efficiency Research Institute at Idaho's Center for Advanced Energy Studies, contends the absence of such incentives may be driving innovation beyond Idaho's borders.

“Legacy hydro prices have made energy costs so low, that for lack of a better word, we're addicted to them,” said Gardner. “By focusing on cheap energy, what we've done is we've pitted new economic development against existing economic interests.”

In Otter's first State of the State speech in 2007, the incoming governor announced Hoku's Pocatello solar plant, promising hundreds of high-paying construction and manufacturing jobs. Today, Hoku's parent company faces potential bankruptcy; it laid off its last 100 Idaho workers this spring.

Why? Solar manufacturers worldwide are saddled with production glut, rock-bottom prices and U.S. allegations of predatory Chinese pricing, just as Italy and Germany are slashing incentives that had propped up their solar industries — and Hoku's hopes to supply them.

Hoku declined comment.

But an industry spokeswoman said these hardships are part of a global natural selection process weeding out the weakest competitors.

“We're seeing some companies succeeding and some companies consolidating, and others not,” said Monique Hanis, a spokeswoman for Washington, D.C.-based Solar Energy Industries Association industry lobbying group.

Transform Solar's short history in Nampa, Idaho, is nearly identical.

In 2011, Otter conjectured Micron's solar gambit might become Idaho's next J.R. Simplot, the potato-processing giant that supplies McDonald's fries. But this May, Transform's 250 employees were told their jobs were ending; the vast parking lot at the company is now empty.

The company's demise was a gut punch to Department of Commerce director Jeff Sayer.

Sayer was appointed by Otter in September 2011, months after the agency's optimistic magazine was published, but he was still cheering for the projects it highlighted.

“The setback of Transform Solar was a real blow to the state,” Sayer said. “I thought they were going to be one of our flagship tech-based companies.”

The 2011 Department of Commerce magazine, entitled “Energy Opportunities are ON,” predicted a renewables renaissance in Idaho. Things haven't worked out as well as many of the companies featured had hoped. Here's a partial list of projects that have faltered.

— Solar declines: In the 2011 magazine, the Department of Commerce announced Hoku Corp. was putting the “final touches” on its $400 million polysilicon manufacturing plant in Pocatello to supply the solar panel industry. The plant hasn't been completed and its employees have been laid off. Meanwhile, Hawaiian-based, Chinese-owned Hoku fights for its survival.

And Transform Solar, the joint venture between Idaho-based Micron Technologies Inc. and Australia's Origin Energy, were just preparing to hire hundreds at the time it was lauded by Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter in the 2011 publication. Earlier this year, the company announced it was shutting down, laying off its workers and closing the Nampa factory's doors.

— Turbine trouble: The agency publication predicted that Utah-based Pavilion Energy Resources would be building a new wind turbine manufacturing facility in Idaho to mass produce low-wind turbines, to fulfill an initial $100 million turbine order. Last month, the company's leader, Rick Wood, said from his offices in Salt Lake City, “If Idaho doesn't get its act together, there's a real chance we're not going to go ahead.”

— Geothermal fizzle: The Department of Commerce touted Idaho's 855 megawatts of marketable, reasonably priced geothermal power as putting the state in third place behind California and Nevada. Though one utility-scale project has been built — U.S. Geothermal revamped a former U.S. Department of Energy demonstration site in Malta and began commercial production in 2008 — others haven't materialized. Consequently, plans by the Idaho's Office of Energy Resources to fund itself through expected royalties from geothermal projects have been thwarted, forcing the agency to seek money elsewhere to help it survive.

— Biomass bust: Yellowstone Power, a company developing a $28.5 million biomass facility at a proposed sawmill in Emmett Idaho, won a 15-year electricity purchase agreement from Idaho Power that got attention in the magazine. Last week, Montana-based Yellowstone agreed to pay Idaho Power $200,000 in a non-performance damage settlement because the project failed and it couldn't deliver promised electricity.

—Wind departs: Notably, one of the Idaho Department of Commerce's biggest marketing coups of 2008, a turbine-manufacturing factory of California-based Nordic Windpower lured to a vacant military building in Pocatello, wasn't featured in that magazine. The reason? Nordic decided Idaho was too far from its customers in the Midwest so it moved to Kansas.


GM Increases Solar Energy Commitment With New Investment

GM is now manufacturing electric cars (Chevrolet Volt) and generating electric power to run them.

General Motors, in its growing commitment to solar energy, announced this week a $7.5 million investment in Sunlogics PLC a vertically integrated global solar energy systems provider specializing in solar project development and installation.

GM, through its subsidiary, General Motors Ventures LLC, also signed commercial agreements with Sunlogics for the installation of solar charging canopies at Chevrolet dealerships and GM facilities, as well as a power purchase agreement to install large-scale solar arrays at GM facilities and to purchase the energy they produce.

The investment will create 200 jobs in Detroit as Sunlogics will use some of the funding to establish its corporate headquarters and open a manufacturing facility in suburban Detroit, and to set up a manufacturing facility in Ontario, Canada.

“Global solar energy use is predicted to more than double by 2016, so we believe that investing in renewable energy is a smart and strategic business decision,” said Jon Lauckner, president of GM Ventures. “And the Chevrolet solar charging canopy project complements our electrification strategy that started with the Chevrolet Volt by helping our cars live up to their fullest green potential.”

General Motors is most publicly known for its development, manufacture and marketing of the Chevrolet Volt electric car.

Less known is the level of engagement by General Motors in working on and with solar energy initiatives that generate and distribute solar energy electric power for their own facilities, industry and the consumer.

As part the announcement, General Motors committed to double its own solar energy output globally by the end of 2015.

“Our GM facilities currently house 30 megawatts of solar power, and we are committing today to double that capacity to 60 megawatts over the next few years, which is equivalent to powering 10,000 homes annually,” said Mike Robinson, GM vice president of Energy, Environment & Safety Policy. “Not only does renewable energy make good business sense, it helps us continue to reduce the impact our facilities have on the environment.”

GM is the auto industry’s leading user of renewable energy. It currently has several of the largest automotive rooftop solar power installations in the United States.

Those facilities include service parts and operations distribution centers in Fontana and Rancho Cucamonga, California where rooftop arrays generate about 1-megawatt at each facility.

At Toledo, Ohio the first phase of a 1.8-megawatt array is now producing power being fed back into that transmission plant.

And In Baltimore, about nine percent of the power requirements for the complex housing GM's two-mode hybrid and heavy duty transmissions manufacturing will be provided by a recently completed 1.23-megawatt roof top solar panel installation.

Currently, in Detroit, GM is constructing a solar panel array in a six acre field adjacent to its Detroit-Hamtramck plant which will provide 516-kilowatts of power or a bit less than 10% of the plant's power needs ongoing. This installation, measured in consumer home usage, would power about 80 homes in the Detroit, Michigan area.

Globally, the largest rooftop solar installation in the world is located at the GM car assembly plant in Zaragoza, Spain. The array generates about 12-megawatts at peak output which translates to 15.1 million kilowatts of power annually or enough to power 1,500 Spanish homes.

Just this past month GM announced yet another solar energy array installation in North America to be built at the Detroit area Orion Assembly plant. In this case, the 516 kilowatt installation to be built on two acres adjacent to the plant will be fed back into the area electrical grid as part of a project partnership with DTE Energy.

This "SolarCurrents" pilot program from DTE Energy calls for the installation of solar collection arrays on customer rooftops or properties over the next three years with a goal of adding 15-megawatts of power to the Southeast Michigan grid in the next three years.

GM is looking into the future and working through investment partners like Sunlogics to position itself to increase its use and application of solar energy for both internal and local grid area needs.

“The investment in Sunlogics allows GM to strategically partner with a leading solar developer and operator that can help GM drive the use of solar, specifically large-scale solar installations at our facilities,” Lauckner said. “Sunlogics was the ideal choice because it is a vertically integrated company that has a global footprint.”

Part of the new investment partnership with Sunlogics includes installation of current generation solar charging canopies at Chevrolet dealerships and development of canopy installations that collect solar energy for community, private or consumer located electric car charging stations making them self sustaining and not reliant on a local power network grid.

This new investment with Sunlogics enables GM to build electric cars with electricity they produce as well as provide electricity for them in the consumer grid or directly through electric car charging stations in the community or at the home.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

10 Solar Projects In India That Can Help Fight Grid Blackouts

India’s massive grid blackouts this month have been the subject of much debate and much concern — and from a clean power perspective, highlights a market where there is much opportunity. But there are actually a good deal of projects in India that are already focused on installing solar projects, both for rural villages and larger utility-scale programs. Here’s 10 that I’ve been following:

1). Solar-power microgrid service in rural villages: Startup Mera Gao Power wants to have a total of 70 villages electrified with its solar panels, cell phone charging service, and distribution lines by the end of 2012. Co-founders Jaisinghani and Brian Shaad have been working on these projects for about two years, and their business innovation was to sell the solar power as a service. One microgrid system that can electrify about 50 households costs $1,200 and includes two solar panels, two batteries and four distribution lines. The villages agree to have the system installed and then households in the villages pay about 25 rupees per week for the service (the cost of kerosene for lanterns can be around 30 rupees per week). The system starts to pay for itself after a certain period of time.

2). One of India’s first megawatt-scale rooftop solar projects: Azure Power, a startup run by entrepreneur Inderpreet Wadhwa, is developing a project that puts solar panels on dozens of rooftops and shares revenues from power sales with the building owners. Five-year-old Azure is venture capital backed and engineers, builds and operates its own power projects and sells the electricity to utilities. Most of the at least 56 MW worth of solar projects that Azure has built are ground-mounted projects, but more recently Azure won this deal to build part of a huge rooftop system in the Gujarat state government. Azure plans to install solar panels on over 60 rooftops and complete the project by March 2013.

3). 600 MW of solar in Gujarat: The Indian state of Gujarat in April threw a big party to celebrate the commissioning of 600 MW of solar energy projects over a year. Much of that occurred (214 MW) from a solar park in the Patan district. But over 50 companies have built solar power projects in Gujarat, including SunEdison, Tata Power, Lanco Solar, Moser Baer, Adani Enterprises and GMR Gujarat Solar Power.

4). The aspirational country goal: The National Solar Mission in January 2010 set a goal of installing 20 GW of grid-connected solar and 2 GW of off-grid solar by 2022 — that’s 3 percent of the country’s power using solar by 2022. This has led to auctions won by developers at rock bottom prices (almost too low to get them done profitably). Individual states also have their own solar plans.

5). SunEdison experimenting with rural projects, too: While project developer SunEdison has brought 45 MW of solar projects in Gujarat online, it is also looking at how it can make solar panel projects work in rural villages. Its project will focus on building a business model for designing, installing and managing solar systems for 29 villages in India’s Guna District. The 29 projects will be funded through a combo of government grants and private funds from other investors and corporations.

6). Selling solar like cell phone service: Startup Simpa Networks has developed a home solar panel product for off-grid customers controlled by a mobile, pay-as-you-go system. Customers pay for only the electricity produced by the solar panel at their home, in addition to a small upfront payment for the system. The basic solar system is 25 watts to 50 watts, which can power a couple of CFL lights, a mobile phone charger and maybe a fan or a TV cable box.

7). Solar teaming up with water use: One of SunEdison’s solar projects is a 1 MW installation over nearly half a mile of the Narmada Canal in the state of Gujarat. It will produce electricity and conserve land and water. Other companies are looking to sell solar-powered projects to the agricultural and water industries. Claro Energy is looking to sell solar-powered irrigation pumps to Indian farmers.

8). Solar lanterns: Startup d.light recently celebrated its fifth anniversary and the company has reached the goal of 7 million people using its solar-powered products (see photo) in 40 countries. The company says sales growth between May 2011 and 2012 was 400 percent and d.light focuses on India and countries in Africa. The company is backed by Indian VC firm Nexus Venture Partners, Indian conglomerate the Mahindra Group, venture firm DFJ, and others.

9). Giant solar thermal projects: Areva Solar is building a 250 MW solar thermal project in the northwestern part of India (in the state of Rajasthan) that will use mirrors to concentrate sunshine onto water filled tubes to produce steam — steam that will drive a turbine and make electricity. The project is supposed to be half way done by spring 2013.

10). Solar for cooking, heating, making stuff: A company called Flareum sells solar concentrating systems that can be used for cooking, and for producing steam and heat for industrial applications. Siemens is using some of the solar systems at factories in Bangalore.


NASA Chooses Solar Array System Development Proposals

When it comes to operating in orbit around the Earth, many satellites rely on solar power. The satellites are launched with their solar panels stowed away, and then the panels are extended to gather power once in orbit. Solar arrays allow a spacecraft to gather power while in space, and are one of the most important components of space flight.

NASA has announced that its Space Technology Program has selected two companies for contract negotiation to develop advanced solar array systems for powering spacecraft. The two companies are Deployable Space Systems (DSS) and ATK Space Systems. According to NASA, high-power solar electric propulsion that generates power with advanced solar array systems is one of the key capabilities for extending human presence in space.

Both firms are intended to offer innovative approaches for the development of next-generation, large-scale solar arrays and mechanisms to deploy the solar arrays in space. NASA says that the next generation arrays will dramatically reduce the weight and stowed volume of the arrays compared to current systems. The systems are also expected to significantly improve functionality and efficiency compared to existing solar arrays with the new systems having the ability to produce hundreds of kilowatts of power.

NASA conducted a competitive selection process with two acquisition phases. Under phase 1, both companies will develop their solar array system technology over the next 18 months. Once phase 1 is completed successfully, both companies and other companies able to demonstrate a comparable degree of technical maturity will move to phase 2. Phase 2 will prove flight readiness with an in-space demonstration of a modular and extensible solar array system. The awards granted in phase 1 range between $5 million and $7 million.


Kinnelon Solar Ordinance Too Restrictive

Solar ordinance too restrictive

In the Princeton area, the mayor of Kinnelon saw solar panels on a residential lot and came and back home and vowed "not in my backyard" and so an extreme ordinance was created. That residential lot contained a large wetland and an enterprising builder’s new home community sold out quickly because low electric rates that were part of the package. The supporting framework for the angled racks and rows of solar panels were put in the wetlands.

My home in Pompton Lakes has an unrestricted view of the sun. My solar contractor got the necessary construction permits, double checked the roof supports, and the town’s electrical, building, and fire inspectors were involved in the project. When the system was turned on I saw my power meter go backwards. Unfortunately, my friends in Kinnelon, where I lived until 2001, will not enjoy that experience.

Under the Kinnelon rules, my solar panels should be on the rear of my home or in the back yard – too shady. But their restriction does not apply to borough buildings. My public school teacher used to say, "Do as I say, not as I do."

The only comments from my neighbors were how they can go solar. There are two ways: the best way, $25,000 and you own the system, or my way for $600.

And there is no glare either onto neighboring properties, roadways, or anywhere!

The Kinnelon ordinance is entirely too restrictive. They didn’t see any benefit in contacting solar companies to get their input since it would be biased, unlike their own biased ordinance.

Residents have the option of going to the Kinnelon Board of Adjustment to get relief from the ordinance’s restrictions. Don’t bet on that outcome!


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Research Funding for Solar in North America

It is hard to say whether the next great leap forward in solar energy efficiency or economics will come from the basic science research performed largely at universities and national labs, from incremental engineering improvement, or from investing in start-up companies to get their products from the laboratory to store shelves.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) requested a total of $29.5 billion dollar for 2012, an 11% increase from 2010 (including a significant endowment that year from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as the Stimulus). This includes research, development, loan guarantee programs, grants for efficient buildings, smart-grid upgrades, and many other programs all the way to reducing the risk of nuclear proliferation. The DOE’s Office of Science, which is responsible for much of the basic research on energy problems, is requesting $5 billion (compared to $11.7 for National Nuclear Security Administration).

The DOE has focused much of its available solar funding on the SunShot Initiative, which has a goal of reducing installed solar electricity costs by 75%, to $1/Watt approximately the level of grid parity, by 2020. Despite the economic downturn, funding of solar energy research and the development of a clean energy technology is still considered a priority by many policy makers as well as the public.

Moving to commercialisation

While the basic science needed to drive the next great breakthrough in solar energy is largely taking place in universities and national labs, the US government still provides funding for research in private industry. Much of the available capital is focused on helping small- and medium-sized businesses participate in advanced research. Unfortunately, there remains little support toward spanning the so called “valley of death” which is the stage between R & D and bringing a technology to commercial market.
Small business research

Through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (SBTT) Programs, federal agencies allocate 2.5% and 0.3%, respectively, of their federal funding toward supporting small businesses. Since 1990, the Department of Energy/SBIR and SBTT programs have supported 600 small businesses and are offering up to $9 million this year .

In the SBIR program, the DOE determines its research priorities and uses private industry to reach their goals. The current solar goals follow those of the SunShot Initiative.

The awards available are broken down into two phases. In phase I, companies are offered up to $100,000 for six months to determine the merit and feasibility of a new technology and determine the best plan towards commercialization. In phase two, those technologies which have proven their technological merit in phase I expand their research to determine the commercialization potential of the technology. Once the commercialization potential has been established, the companies must find capital outside of the SBIR program to finally bring their product to the marketplace.

The SBTT program offers research opportunities and funding for small businesses interested in collaborating with non-profit research institutions like universities and national labs.

Funding early-stage projects

The Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E) was created in 2007 and funded in 2009 to promote research into revolutionary and cutting-edge technologies that might not be otherwise fundable or pursued by private industry because they are too radical or uncertain. While the DOE’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) program focuses on incremental steps and improvement to existing technologies likely to lower costs, ARPA-E looks for early stage projects that might fundamentally change the template by which we generate, store, transport and use energy. This year, APRA-E will offer $150 million to universities, labs, and private industry in the hopes of sparking such chance.

Funding power electronics

The Solar Agile Delivery of Electrical Power Technology (SolarADEPT) Program through APRA-E specifically focuses on achieving the goals of the SunShot Initiative by improving the electrical components that help convert the sun’s rays into electricity.

States funding solar

Though the US federal government is by far the largest provider of funding for solar energy research, some progressive states like New York, Colorado, and California are also funding their own research in the hopes of nurturing burgeoning clean energy economies. California, for example, since 1996 has set aside a portion of utility taxes collected to fund a number of energy-related programs through their Public Interest Energy Research (PIER) program. This current renewable energy solicitation has $4.5 million available for California-based businesses, to support, “developing renewable energy technologies” and, “conducting longer term research on advanced renewable technologies that will help meet tomorrow's electricity needs”.

Canadian funding difficulties

In Canada, solar energy research funding has become harder to find in recent years. At present, many of the programs that have previously supported renewable energy research and development for Canadian businesses, like the ecoEnergy Innovation Initiative , which received almost $100 million through the Canada’s Economic Action Plan, and the Clean Energy Fund, which has provided $795 million for demonstration projects, are no longer accepting proposals and don’t expect to in the future.


New York Announces $107 Million For Large Solar Power Installations

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority is seeking proposals for large scale solar power installations to benefit from a $107 million investment from the state’s solar initiative.
Part of a 256-panel solar energy system in Hempstead, New York which
uses photovoltaic technology to convert solar energy into usable electric
current, will save the town an estimated $19,000 annually in energy costs.

Under the NY-Sun Competitive PV Program, a total of $36.4 million will be available in 2012 and $70.5 million in 2013.

The first round proposals are due November 8. The funding cap is set at $3 million and to better leverage the state resources, the projects will require co-funding from private developers.

“The NY-Sun program has helped establish New York State as a leader in solar power, and these investments in photovoltaic systems will allow businesses and municipalities to put in place green, cost-effective electric generating installations,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said. “I encourage all businesses and municipalities eligible for these grants to apply."

Sixteen new developers including American Capital Energy Inc., EnterSolar LLC, GreenLogic LLC, and TriState Solar Alliance, have already benefited from $30 million awarded through the state’s solar initiative to assist businesses and other facilities increase solar power generation capacity by 34 MW in 2013.

Other developers are Solartech Renewable Systems LLC, SunEdison Commercial Solutions LLC, Dynamic Solar LLC, OnForce Solar Inc., Orion Energy Systems Inc., Ross Solar Group LLC, Safari Energy LLC, EmPower Solar CES LLC, Lighthouse Solar, Mercury Solar Systems Inc., Solar Energy Systems LLC, and SunWize Technologies Inc.


Eaton Corp. Project A Bright Spot For Local Solar Energy Industry

As you drive through Beaver County, the sight of rusted steel frame buildings and abandoned brownfield sites are reminders of a once-thriving industrial past.
A circuit breaker is reflected in the safety glasses of
assembly line worker Shawn Verrico. The Eaton Corp. plant
in Vanport Township is one of three company locations that
will soon implement a solar project using many Eaton-made
electrical components.

Soon, however, those who pass by Eaton Corp. on Georgetown Lane in Vanport Township will get a glimpse of the area’s bright future in the renewable energy industry.

On Monday, the company will begin a project to install what will be the largest solar energy array in western Pennsylvania on property adjacent to the 500,000-square-foot plant, company officials said.

The ground-mounted system will include solar panels made by Motech Industries in Newark, Del., and will occupy currently unused parking lot space on the west end of the site.

The photovoltaic system, which uses sunlight to produce electricity, will be the larger of two local Eaton projects, with a 200-kilowatt rooftop array also being installed soon at the company’s Cherrington Office Park facility in Moon Township.

John Vernacchia, global segment manager for alternative energy at Eaton, said the Vanport location was selected partly for its space availability and also because of the products the plant manufactures.

“This project is an opportunity for us to demonstrate some of our new solutions for customers and utilize them ourselves,” Vernacchia said.

Eaton electrical components have been used in solar energy systems since the technology was developed, but the company has only introduced its first solar-specific products beginning in 2010, Vernacchia said.

Some of those products — including solar inverters, which change the direct current power generated by the panels into alternating current power that the building uses, and DC circuit breakers, which are fabricated at the Vanport plant — will be used in the new solar project.

Plant manager Rob Griffin said the project is an exciting opportunity for his employees to see the products they make put to use, and also for the company in its goal to become 100 percent sustainable.

“No one was using this lot,” Griffin said, overlooking the cracked pavement and overgrown brush at the array site. “The other cool thing is that we can repurpose something for a good cause.”

Eaton will install the system over the next several months, but the company will not own the end result. Rather, Eaton will buy the generated electricity at a set rate through a 20-year power purchase agreement with Tangent Energy Solutions Inc. of Philadelphia, which will own the array.

“You don’t own the nuclear power plant, you just buy the power off of it,” Tangent President and CEO Dean Musser explained. “This is the same kind of concept.”

Musser said Eaton will not incur any capital costs, because the $5 million project was financed through a grant from the state’s Commonwealth Financing Authority and private backers Laurel Capital of Radnor, Pa., and First Niagara of Buffalo, N.Y.

Although the photovoltaic system will generate only about 25 percent of the electricity the plant uses, it will provide significant environmental benefits, Griffin said.

According to a company environmental impact analysis, the solar array will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 79 million pounds of carbon dioxide over 25 years — about as much as what would be produced driving a small car 133.9 million miles.

When it is complete, the Vanport solar array will be nearly twice the size of the 694-kilowatt rooftop installation at Ikea in Robinson Township, — currently the largest solar energy system in western Pennsylvania — according to figures from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the environmental advocacy organization PennFuture.

Sharon Pillar, a project manager at PennFuture, said the Eaton arrays will go a long way to increasing the amount of solar energy produced in this part of the state.

“We have 157 megawatts installed in the whole state, but we only have 3 megawatts in the 10-county region in southwestern Pennsylvania,” Pillar said.

While the state’s other energy industries are booming, Pillar said solar energy is rapidly expanding as well.

“Everyone calls us the energy capital of the country, and solar is going to be a big part of that mix,” Pillar said. “That Eaton is willing to invest to that scale is a testament to what is the future of the electrical and energy industry.”