Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Struggling Chinese Makers of Solar Panels Turn Themselves into Customers by Building Solar Farms

Beijing unveiled a plan in July to quadruple China's solar generating capacity
to 35 gigawatts by 2015. Photo: Reuters
China’s loss-making makers of solar panels believe they may have found a way out of their nightmare – by becoming one-stop renewable energy shops with their own solar farms.

Manufacturers of solar panels, hit hard by the scaling back of solar-power subsidies in Europe, are taking advantage of a new package of government subsidies at home and diversifying into solar-power generation.

In an apparent bid to prop up its ailing solar panel sector, which has been hit by overcapacity and price and trade wars, Beijing unveiled a plan in July to quadruple solar generating capacity to 35 gigawatts (GW) by 2015. Construction costs are estimated at US$50 billion.

Spurred by a package of initiatives from tariffs to tax breaks, and continued low prices due to global oversupply, many of the country’s panel makers are now looking to invest in solar farms to help them return to profitability, industry officials say.

“Definitely the trend is Chinese manufacturers will make more downstream investment,” said a senior official at Chinese solar panel maker Canadian Solar. “Now the domestic market seems to be particularly exciting.”

For manufacturers, generating projects mean a predictable source of demand for their panels. Manufacturers are still mostly losing money, although panel shipment has improved this year on orders from China, Japan and the United States.

Development of solar plants is a more lucrative business. They offer an annual gross return of about 10 per cent, depending on the proportion of debt financing and project location.

As solar panel prices tumbled following the 2008 global financial crisis, many Chinese makers of solar wafers, cells or modules, like GCL Poly, Canadian Solar and Hareon, ventured into solar power generation projects at home or abroad to offset manufacturing losses.

Overseas rivals such as SunPower and First Solar have also diversified into the higher-margin business as solar panel prices remain weak.

The government’s industry-friendly policies have set off a scramble by the likes of state power producers China Huaneng and China Merchants New Energy as well as manufacturers like Shunfeng, Yingli Green and JA Solar.

JA Solar said in August it planned to develop 300 megawatts of generating projects in Hebei province, in what its chief executive, Jin Baofang, said was a major step “to increase the role project development plays in our overall revenue mix”.

Shunfeng Photovoltaic, a small Chinese solar cell maker listed in Hong Kong, has said it will enter agreements to develop 1,079MW of solar power projects and have 600MW in operation or under construction by the end of this year.

To ramp up its own manufacturing capacity to cater for the expansion of its solar generation business, Shunfeng announced a plan last week to purchase the main unit of Chinese solar maker Suntech Power.

Shunfeng has offered 3 billion yuan (HK$3.79 billion) to take over bigger rival Wuxi Suntech, the bankrupt unit of Suntech Power. Wuxi Suntech filed for bankruptcy protection in March after its parent defaulted on a US$541 million convertible bond – one of the biggest defaults by a Chinese company.

The deal could increase Shunfeng’s solar cell capacity by five times to more than 2,000MW.

Analysts warn of financial, regulatory and technical risks. Previous investments in Chinese projects have been hurt by issues like delays in subsidy payments and poor infrastructure.

Like their overseas peers, Chinese panel makers may eventually spin off their power plants by listing them or selling them to funds and insurers to take profit and alleviate potential funding strains, analysts say.

“What we may see is an increased level of listings and spin-offs into Hong Kong and elsewhere to try to build up some sort of vehicles to house these type of assets,” an energy banker at an international bank said.

Source: http://www.scmp.com/business/china-business/article/1350783/struggling-chinese-makers-solar-panels-turn-themselves

Monday, December 30, 2013

Coming Down to Earth: Why Solar Power isn’t a Big Deal

(The cost of solar power has fallen from Rs 18 per unit a
few years ago to Rs 7.50, and is about to reach grid parity a
big accomplishment to promote clean energy.)
By Sajal Ghosh

The government targets 20 GW of solar power by 2022. With India importing almost 75% of its crude oil and 25% of its coal needs, it is imperative that solar energy should be given high priority. The cost of solar power has fallen from Rs 18 per unit a few years ago to Rs 7.50, and is about to reach grid parity — a big accomplishment to promote clean energy. But one must look critically at India's solar energy market and its distortions.

 Is the target too ambitious? Does the targeted capacity addition reduce India's import dependence? Of late, the country has been flooded with cheap Chinese panels. Chinese companies get cheap capital, subsidised power, free land and other incentives for exports. The US solar industry has also penetrated the Indian market by exporting cheap thin-film solar panels. US banks offer low interest rates (about 3%) and along repayment schedule (of up to 18 years) to Indian solar project developers to buy thin-film panels manufactured by US companies.

This is lucrative compared to high interest rates offered by Indian banks. Today, 80% of local manufacturers are in a state of forced closure, while US makers are getting orders from Indian solar power developers.

This has skewed the Indian market in favour of thin-film panels imported from the US; almost 60% of panels installed in India are thin-film, while the global figure is only 14%.

So, the reduction of the cost of solar power is not due to a technological breakthrough in terms of enhanced conversion efficiency, but due to the dumping of cheap imported solar cells and modules. Such high import dependence will pose a serious threat to India's energy security.

To protect the solar industry, the government has initiated anti-dumping investigations on imports of solar cells from China, Malaysia, Chinese Taipei and the US. Anti-dumping duties ranging from 18.32% to 249.96% on Chinese solar cells and panels have already been imposed by the US, while the EU imposes provisional anti-dumping tariffs on Chinese solar panels.

These duties may be welcomed by Indian manufacturers but it will raise the costs of solar power, a cause of concern for project developers. Questions have been raised if domestic solar manufacturers have the capability to cater to the growing needs in terms of both price and quantity.

As of 2012, the Indian cell manufacturing capacity was only 700 MW, much below the desired capacity. Also, Indian cell manufacturing technology lags. The quality of cells manufactured in India is inferior to global standards and they usually don't come with warranties that are critical for any solar project.

Acomplex tax structure also makes domestic cell production costly and unviable. The overall duty on raw materials and products such as silicon wafers is 10-15%. This duty is not equally imposed on finished silicon modules and cells. So, it is cheaper for the Indian module suppliers to buy internationally produced cells than to purchase raw material.

  Once anti-dumping duties are imposed, cell manufacturers will have to procure raw materials from international markets and it will make them more costly. Thus, the imposition of anti-dumping duty and heavy reliance on domestic solar manufacturers would pose a serious impediment on India's solar mission.

 We can learn from countries like Germany, which had an ambitious solar energy programme. In Germany, the high rate of returns on solar projects encouraged huge investment for around 25 GW though solar power contributes only 4% of the total electricity demand. Solar power is still the least efficient among Germany's other renewable energy technologies, but 50% of total green energy subsides go to solar power.

To address unaffordable and unreliable solar power, which increases power tariff and government's subsidy, Germany renewed its focus on renewable technologies.

The writer is professor, MDI. Co-authored with Surobhi Deb, astudent of Energy Management Programme at the institute

Source: http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2013-11-09/news/43855561_1_domestic-solar-manufacturers-solar-power-thin-film-panels

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Panasonic to Launch Solar LED Lantern

Panasonic Corporation is set to launch a solar LED lantern that doubles as a charger for people living in areas without electricity.

With a built-in rechargeable battery to store solar energy during the day, the lantern provides light at night and can also be used as a power source to charge small mobile devices, such as mobile phones, said a statement.

The company plans to bring the lantern to regions without electricity, starting from Asia and Africa in December, it said. The functions of the BG-BL03 Solar LED Lantern, such as 360-degree illumination and a charging time of approximately six hours, make it practical and convenient for everyday use in these areas.

About 1.3 billion people, or approximately 20 per cent of the world's population, are still living without electricity. Many of these people use kerosene lamps for lighting.

In addition, there are also problems with the infrastructure for charging mobile phones, which have become a popular communication tool in areas without electricity.

The new portable lantern, with a 3.5-watt output solar panel and a USB port, offers a clean and safe alternative as a light source as well as a power source, said the statement.

It can be used safely in rain, as it comes with an ingress protection rating of IP34 set by the International Electro-technical Commission (IEC) for dust and water resistance.

It will be launched in Kenya, Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Malaysia, followed by other countries. Starting with the solar lantern, its first product for BOP markets, Panasonic will continue to accelerate the development and strengthen product development to help improve the lives of people in regions without electricity. - TradeArabia News Service

Source: http://www.tradearabia.com/news/RET_246048.html

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Solar Array Installed at Germantown Water Treatment Plant

Panels to generate 17 percent of plant’s power needs

An 8,500-panel solar array is soaking up the rays at the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission’s water treatment plant in Germantown.

The array was unveiled to the public with an event on Nov. 6. According to commission spokesman Jerry Irvine, the utility has been interested in solar power since 2009, when it studied the possibility of an array at multiple sites.

The utility issued a request for proposals for the Germantown array and another water treatment plant in Upper Marlboro.

The solar arrays “cost WSSC nothing,” Irvine said. Washington Gas Energy Systems, Inc. paid for the construction and materials, and Rockville-based Standard Solar built the grid for the array.

Washington Gas owns and operates the solar installation. The commission has a 20-year agreement with them to buy the power that comes from the array, he said.

The Germantown array will produce 2 megawatts of power per year, about 17 percent of the water treatment plant’s needs. The solar panels are mounted on the ground at an angle to catch the most sunlight. The panels are spread out over 10 acres on the site, Irvine said.

The land below the solar panels had been part of WSSC’s Seneca Wastewater Treatment Plant in Germantown before the solar panels were installed.

Source: http://www.gazette.net/article/20131108/NEWS/131109180/1124/solar-array-installed-at-germantown-water-treatment-plant&template=gazette

Friday, December 27, 2013

Solar Panels Present New Dangers to Firefighters

   See larger image below.
Developing and adopting cost-efficient and renewable energy sources are important tasks on the minds of many Americans. With every year, more homes and businesses are utilizing innovative forms of energy generators, particularly solar panels using photo-voltaic technology, to help the environment and their wallets.

However, as with all technology, innovation can come at a price. When a fire emergency situation erupts in a solar-powered structure, firefighters and first responders face a new and unique set of threats.

A study funded by the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) outlined several additional hazards for firefighters when encountering the emerging technology. These concerns are multiplied for firefighters when they come across a large structure that utilizes industrial-sized solar power systems.

AccuWeather.com spoke with Casey Grant, research director for the Fire Protection Research Foundation, who prepared the aforementioned study Fire Fighter Safety and Emergency Response for Solar Power Systems.

"I don't want to cause undue alarm to the hazards [of solar panels], but on the other hand, we do want to be aware when we push forward with this type of technology, that we are sensitive and understanding of the potential hazards that new technology presents," Grant said.

Solar panels on the roof of one of Rockefeller Center's buildings are unveiled on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2007, in New York. Tishman Speyer, the manager and co-owner of Rockefeller Center, says the panels will help to power the lights on the center's Christmas tree this holiday season. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
Electric shock hazards

One of the essential tasks firefighters perform when first arriving on the scene of an emergency is to cut electrical power to remove the electric shock hazard.

Traditionally, this task is accomplished by instructing the utility company to cut power to the portion of the electric grid the structure runs off. With solar panels independently generating their own power, this task is difficult and sometimes impossible.

"The bottom line is that with solar panels with photo-voltaic technology, when the sun is out and they are receiving that energy from sunlight or artificial sources [such as moonlight or emergency responder's lights], they are generating power," Grant explained.

The systems may also be equipped with battery storage that continues to provide power even when the system isn't receiving light. This poses the added threat of electric shock hazard for firefighters when entering the building to contain the fire.

This challenge is perhaps the most dangerous aspect of solar technology, as every system should be considered "live" and dangerous. This threat significantly impedes firefighters' tactical operations to contain fires and lessen the structural damage.

Dangers of slipping or tripping on rooftop solar panels

Another physical danger for fire services is slipping or tripping on rooftop solar panels.

Firefighters often perform ventilation tasks in structure fires which regularly require personnel to walk on rooftops to complete. Factoring in the emergency situation, possible inclement weather or low visibility at night, firefighters can be prone to slipping or tripping on solar panels installed on roofs.

Firefighters must always be aware of the physical dangers the solar panels present in order to complete their job safely.

Respiratory concerns over burning materials

The materials used to create solar panels may also present respiratory hazards in a fire. Caution should be exercised around all burning materials, especially since synthetic materials generally pose a concern when they are damaged in a fire.

"With the photo-voltaic panels being a part of those fires, it's producing materials in the products of combustion that are not good for respiratory and dermal exposure," Grant said. The foundation recommends that firefighters wear full respiratory protection with self-regulating breathing apparatuses to avoid unnecessary exposure.

Increased fire spread concerns
Since solar panels are constantly exposed to the elements, they need to be made of durable materials that can withstand all types of weather.

Unfortunately, the materials that perform well in this regard (like certain types of plastics) are not especially fire-resistant. Homes with solar panels are in particular danger from spreading wild land fires. The study notes that, "The components [of the solar panels] do not necessarily have good fire-resistant characteristics."

While there have been no studies conducted that confirm solar panels have contributed to an increased spread of wild fires, it is a concern that should be monitored and addressed as necessary.

Additional danger over commercial/industrial sized solar energy systems

Although a residential building may employ only a few solar power modules, the electricity it generates can be lethal to anyone who comes into contact with it. This risk is exponentially more dangerous with large warehouses or commercial buildings that have hundreds of panels installed.

Firefighters approaching solar energy systems of this magnitude should exercise the same caution as they would approach a burning power plant or transformer yard.

Grant mentioned that, "These commercial systems, they can be enormous and the level of energy they are generating is significant and note-worthy. So, it needs to be addressed wisely and with the proper pre-planning on the fire service side."

Looking to the future of solar energy

Although there are no recorded injuries or fatalities directly related to fires concerning solar power systems, the threat for fire personnel will continue to become more common as more consumers adopt this technology. Grant said, "It is a neverending task to continue to bring information and update the U.S. fire service."

The research being conducted by the Fire Protection Research Foundation aims to stay on the forefront of the solar panel technology, in order to anticipate possible threats for fire responders.

The benefits of renewable energy are tremendous and can mitigate the potential risks, with the pre-emptive measures being enacted and tactical operations for firefighters being amended. "Photo-voltaic power and solar panel systems are a great form of alternative energy in today's world. And the fire service in U.S. and elsewhere, they are big users of this technology as much as anyone else," Grant said.

He further explained, "With any new technology, there are often additional risks and the fire service is trying to stay ahead of those hazards. So as they perform their job functions, they do so in a safe and effective manner as much as possible to accomplish the task they need to do."

Source: http://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/firefighters-danger-solar-panels/19689021

Thursday, December 26, 2013

New Solar Cell is More Efficient, Less Costly

American innovators still have some cards to play when it comes to squeezing more efficiency and lower costs out of silicon, the workhorse of solar photovoltaic (PV) cells and modules worldwide.

A recent breakthrough - the product of a partnership between manufacturer TetraSun and the Energy Department'sNational Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) - could spark U.S. solar manufacturing when the approach hits the assembly line next year. The innovative design, simple architecture, and elegant process flow for fabricating the cells make the technology a prime candidate for large-scale production.

Solar industry leader First Solar acquired TetraSun in April 2013, about the time R&D Magazine honored TetraSun and NREL with one of its coveted R&D 100 Awards for the year's top innovations.

Potentially Disruptive Technology Attracted Attention of PV Incubator Program

Typically, silicon PV cell manufacturers add a grid of thin silver lines to the cell via a screen-printing process to form the front contacts.

The TetraSun cell instead loads 50-micron-wide copper electrodes on its front contacts in a way that prevents diffusion of the metal-which can degrade performance. The new process exceeds the performance of traditional heterojunction cells without the need of any special equipment, complicated module assembly, or costly transparent conductive oxides. That adds up to a significant cost advantage when it comes to high-volume manufacturing.

"It's a potentially disruptive technology, and that's why we decided to work with TetraSun," said NREL's Martha Symko-Davies, who headed the Energy Department's SunShot Initiative PV Incubator program when TetraSun received a grant from it back in 2010. "The Incubator program supports potentially disruptive innovations from small startups.

"This shows we still have innovation in the United States. People thought there was nothing left to be done in silicon, but there is something left to be done."

Symko-Davies was referring to the Shockley-Queisser limit, which postulates that the efficiency of silicon solar cells can't exceed 29%; that is, no more than 29% of the photons that hit the cell can be converted into electricity. Modern monocrystalline solar cells don't achieve much higher than 22% conversion efficiency due to practical considerations such as reflection off the cell and light blockage from the thin wires on its surface. That's why analysts are enthusiastic about the TetraSun cell, which comes in at 21% efficiency even as copper replaces silver to lower the cost.

TetraSun had a unique idea, but NREL's measurements and characterization capabilities made it practical. "As the margins go down with silicon, the cost of every component becomes significant, especially when you're talking about square miles of this material," said NREL Principal Scientist Mowafak Al-Jassim. "We're trying to make enough of these solar panels to generate gigawatts of power. That's a lot of silver. We needed to replace silver with an equally good conductor, but one that was much cheaper."

Detective Work: Finding Defects, Switching Recipes

Copper is a good conductor and connector, but unlike silver, copper doesn't like to stay where it's put. Researchers had to find a way to control the diffusion of the copper so it wouldn't shunt off and short out the cells and modules. Al-Jassim's role was to develop the means to characterize the new contacting scheme that uses copper. He turned to scanning capacitance microscopy to investigate and optimize the electrical properties of the contacts.

Source: http://www.hispanicbusiness.com/2013/11/8/new_solar_cell_is_more_efficient.htm

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Sun Shines Brightly on Morocco’s Solar Energy Ambitions

Last month, under the hot desert sun, King Mohammed VI of Morocco officially cut the ribbon on the construction of a large solar energy plant in the city of Ouarzazate. Upon its expected completion in 2015, the facility will be the largest in the world, with a 500-megawatt capacity.

This is only the beginning of a greater project to develop renewable energy in the kingdom. Currently plans are underway for four more plants and also for wind farms along the Atlantic coast. By 2020, Morocco hopes to source 42 per cent of its total power supply from renewable energy.

Aside from its obvious environmental advantages, this project has the potential to bring great economic benefit to the country.

In the short and medium-term, it will provide employment and will help to ease Morocco’s heavy dependence on energy imports. In the long-term, it could transform Morocco from an energy-importing to an energy-exporting nation.

More than 95 per cent of Morocco’s energy comes from outside the country – making it the leading energy importer in North Africa. Such a heavy reliance on imports has had a detrimental impact on the economy and the kingdom has also been left without any insulation from price fluctuations in the energy market.

According to the World Bank the project will cost an estimated $1.48 billion and much of this expenditure will be funded by the World Bank ($200m), the African Development Bank ($236m), Germany ($136m) and France ($136m). The UAE has also invested $100m.

Weaning itself off outside energy sources is especially important as the Moroccan government not only pays the market price for oil, but also offers significant subsidies, amounting to $6.6 billion in 2012 or 6.8 per cent of GDP.

The IMF authorised a $6.2 billion line of credit in 2012 to ease this economic burden, but expressed concern earlier this year over Morocco’s hesitance to cut public spending. If properly managed, energy production will offer Morocco much greater autonomy over its economic development.

Beyond this domestic benefit, the project in Ouarzazate may signal the beginning of a shift in the energy dynamic in the region as a whole.

After new governments took power in Tunisia and Libya in 2011, hopes were high for a new era of North African regional cooperation.

The Desertec Foundation, a non-profit organisation that supports policies that harness the desert’s solar energy, contributed to the planning of the Ouarzazate plant. The foundation’s website features a map of the Mediterranean, the Sahel and North Africa dotted with solar and wind energy plants and connected in a network of High Voltage Direct-Current (HVDC) transmission lines.

But such rosy expectations have turned sour as North Africa remains mired in political fragmentation and a resulting economic crisis.

While this might spell bad news for much of the region, it means that Morocco is poised to become a leading partner in the energy trade to Europe. As Libya’s oil production came to a near standstill this summer, European nations became anxious to explore other options.

And the news may get even better for Morocco as European countries move away from hydrocarbon to more environmentally sustainable renewable energies.

Already Germany has redirected funds previously invested in development projects in Egypt and reinvested in Morocco. Europe’s wealthiest nation aims to source 60 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2050. Undoubtedly there is huge potential for a future trade relationship between the two countries.

However, while Morocco remains relatively stable compared to its neighbours, plans for the project may be complicated by the fact that three of the four other planned plants lie in the Western Sahara.

Morocco claims sovereignty of this region but this assertion is contested internationally and the area is considered a non-self-governing territory by the UN.

In addition to Morocco, the exiled Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) also claims rightful sovereignty – a declaration that is recognised by Algeria and the African Union. Previous oil exploration in the region ground to a halt after pressure from SADR.

Even if these southern plants are built without a hitch, other barriers loom large. Offering sustainable energy on the European market will require substantial improvements to the HVDC infrastructure in Europe. Much of this development relies on Spain, the geographic link between Morocco and the rest of Europe, but the southern European country is unlikely to make any swift investment in this sector given the distress its economy is experiencing.

Morocco’s solar energy project will have positive economic benefits as it offers the kingdom greater energy self-sufficiency. It also has the potential to bring significant wealth to the country if the project continues as envisioned, if the market for North African energy remains robust and if the infrastructure needed to allow for exportation to Europe is progressed.

Rather than Libya or Algeria, by harnessing the power of the sun, Morocco may yet be the leading energy provider in North Africa.

Allison L McManus holds a Master of Arts in global and international studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara

Source: http://www.thenational.ae/sun-shines-brightly-on-moroccos-solar-energy-ambitions

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Solar Project Foes Organize in Rutland Town

Albert J. Marro / Staff Photo

“Not here” signs line Cold River Road and Stratton Road around the area
where groSolar plans to develop a solar energy facility on 15 acres in
Rutland Town. The solar farm would be built across the road from this sign,
on the south side of Cold River Road.
RUTLAND TOWN — Opponents of a proposed solar project in the town have formally organized.

Vermonters for Responsible Solar announced its existence Thursday via a news release from spokeswoman Kathy Aicher. She said three neighbors — Charlie Flanders, Ted Hubbard and Dave Fucci — have formed the group in opposition to a 2.3-megawatt solar farm planned by groSolar for an empty lot off Cold River Road.

The group’s central goal, Aicher said, is to get the town to adopt regulations requiring a 200-foot setback for projects the size of the one planned by groSolar. The design submitted by the company calls for 60-foot setbacks.

The neighbors “have been working with Rutland Town, the Select Board and the town administrator on the proposed amendment that would set new siting standards for solar projects,” she said.

In addition to that, the group has placed signs opposing the project along the road in the area of the site.

Aicher said the group stands ready to buy the land in question — for which groSolar has entered into a purchase and sale agreement — should the project fall apart.

Steve Remen, groSolar’s executive vice president, said a 200-foot setback would reduce the available area for development and that the 60-foot setback should be adequate.

“It’s our intent to plant shrubbery and trees, crab apples and all of that, around the site,” he said.

Remen said he was not sure the additional setback would make a difference in terms of effectively screening the property and pointed out that it was designated as industrial in the town plan — one of the reasons the company chose the property.

“We feel solar is one of the least offensive uses for land that was designated industrial,” he said. “There will be no emissions or noise, there will be no increase in traffic, we require no services from the town, and we are a net contributor to the town.”

Source: http://www.timesargus.com/article/20131108/NEWS03/711089939/1001/NEWS

Monday, December 23, 2013

Federal Funding to Boost Solar Installations

OLYMPIA — A $2 million federal grant to help ease installation of rooftop solar panels has brightened hopes of photovoltaic fans across Washington and Oregon.

“This funding will help reduce red tape, increase opportunities for businesses and cut energy costs for thousands of households,” said Washington Governor Jay Inslee.

The funding from the U.S. Department of Energy will be administered by the state Department of Commerce.

The state has already streamlined solar permitting for homeowners and builders by presenting standardized codes and regulations for solar installations, said a Commerce press release. In the last year, four cities — Ellensburg, Seattle, Bellevue and Edmonds — have adopted the new codes.

The DOE award includes funding to support 10 more cities or towns to adopt the solar codes to become “Northwest Solar Communities,” said the release.

For more info, visit nwsolarcommunities.org or eere.energy.gov/solarchallenge.

Source: http://www.wenatcheeworld.com/news/2013/nov/09/federal-funding-to-boost-solar-installations/

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Solar Power Begins to Shine as Environmental Benefits Pay Off

PARIS — Amid polemics over rising electricity prices in Europe and the level of green energy subsidies in various countries, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that the growth in clean-energy generation is a huge success story.

Michaela Rehle/Reuters
Solar panels on the roof of a barn in Binsham, Germany.
Last year, global photovoltaic generating capacity passed
a milestone of 100 gigawatts.
 Solar photovoltaic generation, known as PV, like wind power before it, is coming into the mainstream — at great environmental benefit.

Based on comparative life-cycle analyses of power sources, “PV electricity contributes 96 percent to 98 percent less greenhouse gases than electricity generated from 100 percent coal and 92 percent to 96 percent less greenhouse gases than the European electricity mix,” said Carol Olson, a researcher at the Energy Research Center of the Netherlands.

Photovoltaic generation offers several additional environmental advantages, Ms. Olson said in an interview.

“Compared with electricity from coal, PV electricity over its lifetime uses 86 to 89 percent less water, occupies or transforms over 80 percent less land, presents approximately 95 percent lower toxicity to humans, contributes 92 to 97 percent less to acid rain, and 97 to 98 percent less to marine eutrophication,” she said. Eutrophication is the discharge of excess nutrients that causes algal blooms.

Toward the end of last year, installed global photovoltaic generating capacity passed the milestone of 100 gigawatts — enough to meet the energy needs of 30 million households and save more than 53 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually, according to a recent report by the European Photovoltaic Industry Association, E.P.I.A., a solar power industry lobby group.

“Right now, today, the world has installed 130 gigawatts of PV, up from 1.4 gigawatts in 2000,” Wolfgang Palz, a former manager of the European Commission’s development program for renewable energies, told a conference organized by France’s National Center for Scientific Research, CNRS, in Paris last month.

Europe alone now has 80 gigawatts of installed photovoltaic capacity, of which 35 gigawatts is in Germany, the European Union leader, providing about 7 percent of the country’s electricity, he said.

Some regions of Germany are even further ahead: “If you buy an Audi today, manufactured in Bavaria, 10 percent of the electricity used to produce it is PV,” Mr. Palz said in an interview.

With large-volume installation, economies of scale have substantially reduced unit costs.

According to a report by the E.P.I.A., the European solar industry’s lobby group, photovoltaic costs have dropped 22 percent with every doubling of production capacity.

Going back 10 to 15 years, “we had to fight to find some crazy people who would install solar panels for $70 per watt on the rooftop,” said Eicke Weber, director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems, in Freiburg, Germany.

“We had to find some market support systems for the first thousand-roof program,” Mr. Weber said. “That became the 100,000-roof program — and then the million-roof program.”

Now, “the number that should be broadcast is that, in Germany now, we are able to put PV systems on the rooftop for one euro per watt,” or $1.34, “with the back-up system, with the inverter, and with the cost of installation,” Mr. Weber said. An inverter is a device that converts the direct current electricity produced by solar generation into alternating current that can be fed into the electrical grid.

“In other countries, in the United States, it’s about a factor of two to three more expensive,” he added.

The rapid expansion of renewable energy generation in Europe has been driven by policy, and specifically by the provision of relatively high guaranteed prices for renewable energy sold into the transmission grid — known as feed-in tariffs.

Ahead of the 2009 United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen, the European Union adopted a set of targets committing it to a 20 percent reduction in its greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels; an increase in the renewables’ share of E.U. energy consumption to 20 percent; and a 20 percent improvement in energy efficiency — all by 2020.

Since then, feed-in tariffs have been one of the main drivers of cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. The other has been reduced industrial activity resulting from economic recession. Between them, they appear to have been remarkably effective.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/11/business/energy-environment/solar-power-begins-to-shine-as-environmental-benefits-pay-off.html?partner=yahoofinance&_r=1&

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Local Experts Say Now is the Time for Solar Power

MARK JOHNSTON/Daily Herald A Photovoltaics solar array stands tall in the back yard
of the Preuss residence in Springville Saturday, March 8, 2008.
Now is the right time to purchase solar panels for your home or business according to a group of solar panel experts.

On Friday representatives from various solar power businesses, advocates and energy production companies spoke in favor of the alternative energy saying now was the time to ditch your local power company and invest in solar power.

"We believe we are at the infancy of the solar revolution," said Bernell Stone, Executive Director of Global Energy Management, an organization devoted to research education in areas of energy, environment and sustainability.

Stone compared solar technology to technology in flat screen televisions. He noted that flat screen TV's were once priced in the thousands in the 1990's but now are available for a few hundred dollars. He said the same pricing action is happening with solar power technology that prices were once high but now are dropping as demand for solar power increases in the market.

"It is all a front end investment," said Stone. "There's virtually no operating or maintenance costs."

Stone explained the panels made today are more efficient than panels made 20 or 30 years ago and that panels made today will more than likely outlive their 25 year warranty.

James Johnston, founder of the NRG Bureau, pointed out that a study in California had found that homes with solar power options are selling for more money than comparable homes without solar power.

He said he would expect that same trend to takeover in Utah though he admitted at this point in time bankers and appraisers are not giving additional value to homes with solar power. He hopes that will change in the future.

Norm Harrison, CEO of Progressive Power Solutions in Orem, told the Daily Herald that any home owner or business owner owes it to themselves to look at the option of solar power.

Harrison explained if a property owner is able to pay the up front costs to install a solar power system then they will be able to avoid having to pay a pricey electric bill for years to come.

"The power companies can raise their rates but that doesn't hurt me because I've already paid my rate for 25 years," said Harrison.

Multiple tax credits are available for those who choose to install solar in their home. Harrison said interested property owners could contact any solar panel distributor to learn more about how to take advantage of those tax options.

Source: http://www.heraldextra.com/business/local/local-experts-say-now-is-the-time-for-solar-power/article_874f78cc-6565-57d2-b91f-74b67e480ba5.html

Friday, December 20, 2013

Solar Cells Like Rock and Roll

Engineering researchers at Queen Mary University and the Imperial College of London have created photovoltaic (PV) cells that work better when they hear rock music. (Hey, I do too!)

The PV cells are made by growing zinc-oxide nanorods. Zinc-oxide is a semiconductor material with piezoelectric characteristics. It’s the latter property that converts sound into electricity. The scientists found that sounds as low as 75 decibels - slightly louder than a vacuum cleaner - can increase the efficiency of the solar cell by up to 45%.

Although any sound at a high enough level can trigger the effect, it was more pronounced in the presence of rock and pop music. The researchers concluded that rock-and-roll’s high frequencies were favored by the solar cells. (My son - who plays bass guitar - is less than impressed with their tonal preference, but that’s his problem.)

As an added bonus, the zinc-oxide cells are inexpensive to produce. Semiconductors made from zinc-oxide can be transparent, allowing windows - or virtually any surface - to become a photovoltaic cell. There’s a lot of innovative research regarding spray-on PV cells, but one problem is their low efficiency. If they can tune these cells to respond to the frequencies present in typical city noise, whose levels are usually above 70 dB, they might overcome that shortcoming and make PV cells as ubiquitous as paint.

I think Jimmy Page is smiling.

Source: http://www.engineering.com/ElectronicsDesign/ElectronicsDesignArticles/ArticleID/6612/Solar-Cells-Like-Rock-and-Roll.aspx

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A New Solar Material Shows Its Potential

A material described in Nature could help lead the way to high-efficiency, inexpensive solar cells.

A new solar cell material has properties that might lead to cells more than twice as efficient as the best on the market today. An article this week in the journal Nature describes the materials—a modified form of a class of compounds called perovskites, which have a particular crystalline structure.

The researchers haven’t yet demonstrated a high-efficiency solar cell based on the material. But their work adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting that perovskite materials could change the face of solar power. Researchers are making new perovskites using combinations of elements and molecules not seen in nature; many researchers see the materials as the next great hope for making solar power cheap enough to compete with fossil fuels.

Perovskite-based solar cells have been improving at a remarkable pace. It took a decade or more for the major solar cell materials used today—silicon and cadmium telluride—to reach efficiency levels that have been demonstrated with perovskites in just four years. The rapid success of the material has impressed even veteran solar researchers who have learned to be cautious about new materials after seeing many promising ones come to nothing (see “A Material That Could Make Solar Power ‘Dirt Cheap’”).

The perovskite material described in Nature has properties that could lead to solar cells capable of converting over half of the energy in sunlight directly into electricity, says Andrew Rappe, co-director of Pennergy, a center for energy innovation at the University of Pennsylvania, and one of the new report’s authors. That’s more than twice as efficient as conventional solar cells. Such high efficiency would cut in half the number of solar cells needed to produce a given amount of power. Besides reducing the cost of solar panels, this would greatly reduce installation costs, which now account for most of the cost of a new solar system.

Unlike conventional solar cell materials, the new material doesn’t require an electric field to produce an electrical current. This reduces the amount of material needed and produces higher voltages, which can help increase power output, Rappe says. While other materials have been shown to produce current without the aid of an electric field, the new material is the first to also respond well to visible light, making it relevant for solar cells, he says.

The researchers also showed that it is relatively easy to modify the material so that it efficiently converts different wavelengths of light into electricity. It could be possible to form a solar cell with different layers, each designed for a specific part of the solar spectrum, something that could greatly improve efficiency compared to conventional solar cells (see “Ultra-Efficient Solar Power” and “Manipulating Light to Double Solar Power Output”).

Other experts note that while these properties are interesting, Rappe and his colleagues have a long way to go before they can produce viable solar cells. For one thing, the electrical current it produces so far is very low. Ramamoorthy Ramesh, a professor of materials science and engineering at Berkeley, says, “This is nice work, but really early stage. To make a solar cell, a lot of other things are needed.”

Perovskites remain a promising solar material. Michael McGehee, a materials science and engineering professor at Stanford University, recently wrote, “The fact that multiple teams are making such rapid progress suggests that the perovskites have extraordinary potential, and might elevate the solar cell industry to new heights.”

But the cells in general have key challenges to overcome before they come to market. For example, the highest efficiency perovskite materials so far aren’t durable enough.

Source: http://www.technologyreview.com/news/521491/a-new-solar-material-shows-its-potential/

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Will Battery-Less Solar Power System Find Takers?

Would there be takers among domestic consumers of electricity for a battery-less rooftop solar power system?

This question has come to the fore in the wake of concerns raised by a section of manufacturers of solar power products over certain aspects of the State government’s scheme of subsidy for domestic consumers, who choose to install rooftop solar power systems.

As part of the government’s scheme, a capital incentive of Rs. 20,000 will be provided to a domestic consumer who installs a 1-kilo watt (KW) battery-less solar rooftop photo-voltaic system. The system has to be connected to the grid of the Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation (TANGEDCO). The State government’s incentive will be in addition to 30 per cent subsidy from the Union government.

For the current year, 5,000 domestic consumers will, initially, be chosen under the State government’s scheme. As the approximate cost of a battery-less solar power system is Rs. 1 lakh [which is the benchmark cost of the Union Ministry of New and Renewable Energy], a beneficiary is expected to shell out Rs. 50,000 and the remaining amount will be met through the schemes of the Central and State governments. The Tamil Nadu Energy Development Agency (TEDA), which will implement the State government’s incentive scheme, will coordinate with the Centre in getting the subsidy amount.

Articulating the view of the section of manufacturers, K.E. Raghunathan, managing director of Solkar Solar Industry, argues that the battery-less system would be suitable where there are no power cuts. His point is that when there is no grid power or power supply from the TANGEDCO, the system will not generate electricity. Only when there is grid power, solar power will be fed to the grid. This is why he insists on a rooftop solar power system with battery.

An official who is part of the TEDA replies that one has to look at the basic objective behind the installation of rooftop solar power systems.

If a consumer wants to address the problem of load shedding, he or she can very well go in for an inverter, which costs around Rs. 15,000.

In that case, one does not have to go in for a battery-less rooftop solar power system, whose cost is around Rs. 1 lakh. But, the purpose behind selecting such a system is to promote essentially the use of renewable energy.

Another issue raised by Mr. Raghunathan is about the availability of energy meters for the solar power systems. The official responds that the meters will be part of the systems to be provided by vendors to beneficiaries. Such vendors will soon be empanelled by the TEDA and they will indicate their cost of the systems.

Notwithstanding these concerns, the scheme has evoked a positive response from some others. R Sivakumar, Chief Operating Officer, Borg Energy India, says the incentive along with savings on electricity bills will enable the people to understand fully the usefulness of the solar systems.

Vineeth Vijayaraghavan, who is an advocate of renewable energy, running the non-profit initiative Solarillion, says people are able to achieve significant amount of savings – say about Rs. 50,000 – when they choose battery-less systems.

However, he has one suggestion to make.

There should be a provision for offsetting the loss of generated solar power that could go unconsumed in times of load shedding.

Source: http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/will-batteryless-solar-power-system-find-takers/article5335872.ece

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Waynesboro Trail Hikers Tap Solar Power

A shelter for Appalachian trail hikers in Waynesboro, near 14th Street and Arch Avenue, has a new solar-power charging station. The station will let hikers replenish their cell phones, tablets and other electronic devices. / Michael Neary/The News Leader
WAYNESBORO — The Appalachian Trail hiking season might be winding down, but Waynesboro’s shelter for trail hikers near 14th Street and Arch Avenue is poised to open next season with added power.

Solar power.

Last week, Waynesboro Parks and Recreation teamed up with Sigora Solar, in Waynesboro, to install a solar power charging station in the shelter.

“This makes us prepared at the beginning of next season to have (solar energy) available for the very first hiker,” said Spencer Eavers, the Waynesboro Parks and Recreation special event and programs coordinator.

Eavers said the move continues the city’s effort to reach out to hikers. Last year, she noted, Waynesboro received the designation of an “Appalachian Trail Community” from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

“As a community, we recognize the importance of the hikers,” she said. “We take pretty seriously being designated one of the friendliest cities on Appalachian Trail.”

Eavers said the trail serves as a kind of portal to Waynesboro, and so the chance to charge up a cell phone or tablet with sustainable energy can create a good first impression. The second impression lies with a new app that allows hikers, on their freshly charged cell phones, to gain a glimpse of area locations they might visit while they’re passing through town.

“They’re already coming here,” Eavers said of the hikers. She added that after they arrive, “We want to make ourselves stand out that much more.”

The city of Waynesboro partnered with Abingdon and Front Royal to develop the app, called VA Trail Towns, which is available at iTunes and the Google Play store.

Eavers said the city, in partnership with Waynesboro Downtown Development, Inc., raised about $4,500 to pay for the solar station’s parts, along with costs involved in moving the shelter from a previous spot to its current location. Eavers said Sigora Solar donated the labor. No tax dollars, she said, were used to fund the project.

The station has eight outlets, along with two batteries to store the solar power absorbed by the panel perched on the roof. The batteries will enable hikers to use the system at night and on cloudy days. Shawn Cooke, chief of operations for Sigora Solar, said the station should harness plenty of power for hikers to charge up just about any kind of electronic device.

“They’ve got 1,000 watts to play with,” he said. “That’s a lot of cell phones.”

Source: http://www.newsleader.com/article/20131112/NEWS01/311120018/Waynesboro-trail-hikers-tap-solar-power?gcheck=1

Monday, December 16, 2013

Solar Panels: Not Just Big Rectangles on the Roof Anymore

In designing the 28th Street Apartments in South Los Angeles, architects at KoningEizenberg had several underlying missions: to restore an 80-year-old structure, to add a new residential wing, and to modernise the entire complex, making it more sustainable. In sunny LA, adding solar energy was a no-brainer.

But where exactly to add that solar is becoming an increasingly difficult question.Part of this affordable housing project is an historic 1926 YMCA originally designed by Paul Williams, the first African American to be certified as an architect west of the Mississippi. The building is a gem, both aesthetically and culturally, and it was incredibly important to keep Williams’ vision as intact as possible.

The architects were able to add some photovoltaics (PVs) as well as solar water heaters to the narrow roof of the new structure, but, when it came to the historic structure itself, they didn’t want to crowd its roof with anachronistic panels. Further, it was important to keep some space as a roof garden for residents. As they looked for available real estate on the building, they realised the back of the building faced south and, at some times of the year, got far more exposure than the rooftop. The architects decided they would try to install their SunPower monocrystalline photovoltaic panels vertically, along the rear elevation.

It wasn’t easy proving that it could be done. There were only a few buildings that had set the precedent, none of which had been reviewed by the city of Los Angeles.

“We had quite a challenge trying to plan check the system, because most of the PV panels are not tested for vertical application installations,” says KoningEizenberg architect Paul Miller. Some community members were worried the panels would get hot and possibly cause a fire hazard. But, as principal Julie Eizenberg notes, the panels are installed a few inches from the exterior wall and rather than transfer heat onto the building itself, they actually allow air to circulate between the wall and the panel, creating a shading and insulating element. It’s a win-win situation.

The architects’ solution for adding solar was minimally intrusive and poetically simple. But it also made me wonder why we aren’t taking full advantage of all sides of our buildings to gather solar energy in innovative ways.

Building-integrated photovoltaics, or BIPVs, are a tiny but growing section of the solar industry looking beyond the traditional panel. First came “solar shingles,” that use copper indium gallium selenide solar cells, the lightweight and unobtrusive “thin film” solar technology that’s the slender cousin to the wafer-like traditional silicon cell. Dow’s Powerhouse shingles, for example, pretty much disappear when applied to a traditional asphalt roof. The thin film is also much more cost-effective when it comes to installation.

Another, newer approach to integrating solar cells into a building is the concept of solar windows, where layers of monocrystalline silicon cells are placed between two panes of glass. Visible light is diffused through the panels while the direct sunlight is collected in the photovoltaic strips, which also can prevent heat gain from the sun. A prototype of this technology by Pythagoras Solar called a photovoltaic glass unit, or PVGU, can be found in a handful of skyscrapers, including the Willis (Sears) Tower in Chicago.

The only issue here is that the glass isn’t completely transparent — it’s more like the effect of looking through a window with Venetian blinds. Of course, you don’t always need to see perfectly out a window, but perhaps the smarter application here are Pythagoras’ skylights, which bring in natural light and collect solar energy without needing to look like a regular window at all. These are also extremely cost-efficient, especially when you consider that you’re integrating it into the cost of the window.

Meanwhile, in France, a group of researchers at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) developed a different concept: dye-sensitised solar cells derived from an earlier technology called Grätzel cells, invented in 1988 by Michael Grätzel and Brian O’Regan at the University of California at Berkeley. This low-cost solar cell is based on the same concept as photosynthesis, using a photo-electrochemical process to generate power.

To demonstrate this new tech, the school commissioned artists Daniel Schlaepfer and Catherine Bolle to design a facade of 1,400 windows in various colours. These orange, green, and gold panels are currently being installed at the SwissTech convention centre, scheduled for completion in 2014. At over 275sqm, it will be the largest solar glass installation in the world. Of course, you could argue that they still do look like solar panels, just turned on their side and installed like a kind of decorative stained glass.

But panelled solar glass is just the beginning. A British company named Oxford Photovoltaics is upping the ante by printing a layer of solar cells (Meso-Superstructured Solar Cells or MSSC) directly onto transparent glass, which can then be tinted any colour, cut to almost any size, and won’t have any of the telltale lines from the other solar windows. Not to be outdone, the University of Sheffield and University of Cambridge claim they will soon be able to spray “solar paint” onto plastic surfaces.

Solar panels on the side of a building are innovative now, but eventually we could transform an entire wall into a semiconductor as easily as we could slap on a coat of paint.

Source: http://www.gizmodo.com.au/2013/11/solar-panels-not-just-big-rectangles-on-the-roof-anymore/

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Solar-Powered Toilet Caters to Needs of West Bengal Village

It consists of a solar panel that will generate power during the
day; this powers a set of micro pumps that draws water from the
nearby pond and stores it in a 5,000 litre overhead tank.
In Baikunthapur, a backwater village in the West Bengal Sunderbans, the German government in collaboration with a local technical institution has built a solar-powered water storage system that provides clean water and power to the toilets of the local hospital.

A bunch of students led by a former bureaucrat have devised a solar-powered toilet that caters to a village in West Bengal Sunderbans, with a little help from the Germans.

Up until now attendees had to line up near the only pond in the area to collect water for their ward in the hospital.

SP Gon Chaudhury, a renewable expert behind the project, says he was moved by the plight of patients including expecting mothers.

"The German government agreed to chip in and with the help of equipment suppliers, we devised a solar-based water supply system that will also provide light in the hospital toilets during the night," says Gon Chaudhury, former secretary of West Bengal renewable energy department and former chairman of Green Energy Corporation.

It consists of a solar panel that will generate power during the day; this powers a set of micro pumps that draws water from the nearby pond and stores it in a 5,000 litre overhead tank.

Once the tank is full, the rest of the power generated from panel is stored in a battery to power bulbs in toilets at night. Gon Chaudhury and a team of young engineers from his Arka Renewable Energy College designed the system.

"The system is not an invention by itself because solar panels and micro pumps are easily available. But the concept of assembly of equipment at a toilet is new," says Chaudhury.

The cost of assembling the entire unit is around Rs 4 lakh. Advantage: Water is available 24*7 at the hospital toilet.

"This set can be used at all government installed toilets that are forced to be shut after they are built due to lack of water," says Chaudhury.

Source: http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/solar-powered-toilet-caters-to-needs-of-west-bengal-village/articleshow/25764063.cms?adcode=101

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Rooftop Solar Could Generate Jobs

Workers install new rooftop solar panels on a house in Camarillo. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times / November 4, 2013)
Los Angeles County could create tens of thousands of new jobs and reduce global-warming-causing carbon emissions if solar-voltaic panels are installed on just 5% of available rooftops, says a just-issued report.

The study by the Environmental Defense Fund and the Luskin Center for Innovation at UCLA, released Wednesday, predicts that 29,000 installer jobs would open up. Carbon emissions would be reduced by 1.25 million tons, the equivalent of taking a quarter of a million cars off the roads each year.

Researchers came up with the data doing the Los Angeles Solar and Efficiency Report (LASER), which includes detailed maps of nine sub-regions that have the potential for cost-effective and efficient solar arrays on buildings. The "Solar Atlas" is to be used as a guide for local government officials, building owners and investors in planning to expand the use of renewable energy and to mitigate the effects of climate change.

The three zones with the best potential for expanding rooftop solar power are the San Fernando Valley, East Los Angeles and downtown Los Angeles, researchers said. All three areas have many large roofs and enjoy many sunny days, they said.

"Combined with California's innovative climate policies, the LASER Atlas can impact how the region invests new state resources to address pressing environmental challenges while providing job opportunities in its most impacted communities," said Colleen Callahan, deputy director of the Luskin Center for Innovation.

"This study sends a clear message to Angelenos: The potential to invest in L.A.'s clean, renewable energy economy and build healthier communities is huge," said Jorge Madrid of the Environmental Defense Fund.

Source: http://www.latimes.com/business/money/la-fi-mo-rooftop-solar-could-generate-jobs-20131112,0,2179750.story#axzz2kefqC0zm

Friday, December 13, 2013

Environmentalists Oppose Solar–Along With Coal, Oil and Nuclear

Environmentalists demand you stop using coal, oil or nuclear as a source of energy.  They further demand that water to be used for hydro-electric power be instead used to “protect” fish.  What is left is biomass, solar and windmills.  Not much to provide jobs.  If they have their way California and the United States will be more like a Third World country—people with bicycles and limited power for villages—cities will become chaos without 24/7 worth of power.

Now they are going after the creation of solar farms—stop these and all hope is lost—the Luddites would have won.

“The people who want to build the 500-megawatt Palen Solar Electric Generating System in Riverside County have made no secret of the fact that delays in approval could doom the project. If the 3,800-acre concentrating solar facility doesn’t win approval by January from both the state and federal governments, the facility might not be built in time to start delivering power to the utilities that have signed contracts with the builders, and that could make lenders reconsider their support of the project.”

The people who want to build the 500-megawatt Palen Solar Electric Generating System in Riverside County have made no secret of the fact that delays in approval could doom the project. If the 3,800-acre concentrating solar facility doesn’t win approval by January from both the state and federal governments, the facility might not be built in time to start delivering power to the utilities that have signed contracts with the builders, and that could make lenders reconsider their support of the project.

If you look through the transcripts of California Energy Commission (CEC) meetings discussing the Palen project, it’s not hard to find pointed references to that pressing schedule made by representatives of Palen Solar Holdings (PSH), the joint venture of BrightSource Energy and Abengoa that proposes to build the $2-billion-plus project 35 miles west of Blythe.

But now those very transcripts may add to the delay all by themselves.

The CEC approved a previous version of the Palen project in 2010, back when the project was owned by the German-owned company Solar Millennium. The version approved by the CEC involved using parabolic trough technology to generate power.

Solar Millenium went bankrupt when plummeting photovoltaic panel prices made parabolic trough technology less competitive; BrightSource bought the project in 2012 and redesigned it to use its homegrown power tower and heliostat design, later bringing on Abengoa to actually build the thing. The current design would put about 160,000 billboard-size mirrored heliostats around two 750-foot towers with boilers at their tops. The mirrors would focus solar energy at the boilers, which would generate steam to turn power turbines.

The CEC is now considering whether to approve an amendment to its original certification of Solar Millennium’s design. That process has already taken longer than PSH would have preferred. The federal government shutdown in October hasn’t helped: the Bureau of Land Management is working on the federal environmental assessment for the project, and it’s now at least 16 days behind schedule. PSH has already missed the fall window for tortoise clearance from the project site, which needed to happen in October and November: the soonest biologists can take on that unpleasant task would be in March.

And now a delayed CEC transcript is complicating things. (Here’s where things get slightly more wonkish, but bear with us.) During the week of October 28 the agency held evidentiary hearings in Palm Desert to discuss how the shift to power tower technology would affect wildlife, visual resources, archaeological and cultural resources, and public safety issues among other issues. The hearings were attended by CEC staff, PSH, intervenor groups such as Basin and Range Watch and the Colorado River Indian Tribes who’ve taken a serious interest in the project, and expert witnesses called by all of the above.

We reported on one day of those proceedings, which took place October 29, earlier this week.

At the time, we noted that the hearing transcripts for October 28 weren’t yet available. That seemed unusual, but not horribly so: the CEC usually makes transcripts of its hearings and other meetings available online in about a week, but the agency does on occasion take two weeks to upload those transcripts.

As of this writing, on November 7, October 28′s transcript is still offline. CEC press spokesperson Sandy Louey tells ReWire that the transcriptionists are still working on the document, and that she expects it’ll be available Friday or early next week.

But in the meantime, one of the intervening groups has said the transcript’s unavailability is interfering with its ability to participate in the hearing process. After evidentiary hearings are held, intervenors use information gathered during those hearings to file legal briefs with the CEC — opening briefs making their cases why the project should be approved, changed, or denied, and rebuttal briefs arguing with other parties’ positions.

On Wednesday, Lisa Belenky, an attorney with intervenor the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), and CBD’s Southern California biologist Ileene Anderson formally requested that deadlines for delivering those briefs be extended due to the delay in the transcript. The request said that those deadlines had been set under the assumption that hearing transcripts would have been made available by the end of October, and asked that those deadlines be pushed back by four days.

Opening Briefs are now due November 18, and Rebuttal Briefs are due November 25, 2013. However, as stated at the pre-hearing conference and again at the evidentiary hearings, the briefing deadlines were set with the assumption that transcripts from the evidentiary hearings would be provided within 3 days. To date, the transcript for the first day of evidentiary hearings on Monday, October 28 has not been provided — 9 days (7 business days) later. The transcript from the second day of evidentiary hearings on Tuesday October 29 was provided yesterday, on November 5 — 7 days (5 business days) after the hearings. In light of these delays, the Center requests that the briefing deadlines be continued at least 4 days–with opening briefs due on Friday, November 22, and rebuttal briefs due on Friday, November 29.

Four days may not seem like much of a delay; CBD’s fellow intervenors Basin and Range Watch, the Colorado River Indian Tribes, and California Unions for Reliable Energy all signed on to support the extension. CEC’s staff agreed, though it suggested the extension be only two days long to account for the four-day weekend over the Thanksgiving holiday, during which time no one would be available to approve and post the briefs to the CEC’s website.

PSH attorney Scott Galati’s response was not so sanguine.

Palen Solar Holdings objects to the extension of the briefing deadlines. Over 90 percent of the evidence that any party needs to rely on is marked as an exhibit. The transcripts are helpful but not a prerequisite for preparing the majority of any brief. The parties have had over 18 days to prepare briefs since evidentiary hearings have concluded and one week with the official transcripts is sufficient time to cite to the record for support.

It’s worth noting that a span of time that seems “sufficient” to a corporate attorney may not be so for staff of a less-well-funded NGO, Indian tribe, or group of volunteers to respond to a complex set of documents. Shortcutting the established public comment process always works in favor of the parties that have the most capital to throw around.

Whether the CEC will grant the extension remains to be seen. Either way, this conflict illustrates pretty well just what’s at stake when state agencies weigh a corporation’s financial needs and the public interest as being of equal importance.

Source: http://capoliticalnews.com/2013/11/10/environmentalists-oppose-solar-along-with-coal-oil-and-nuclear/

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A New Paradigm for Solar Cell Construction

(Nanowerk News) For solar panels, wringing every drop of energy from as many photons as possible is imperative. This goal has sent chemistry, materials science and electronic engineering researchers on a quest to boost the energy-absorption efficiency of photovoltaic devices, but existing techniques are now running up against limits set by the laws of physics.
Now, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University have experimentally demonstrated a new paradigm for solar cell construction which may ultimately make them less expensive, easier to manufacture and more efficient at harvesting energy from the sun.
The study was led by professor Andrew M. Rappe and research specialist Ilya Grinberg of the Department of Chemistry in Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences, along with chair Peter K. Davies of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, and professor Jonathan E. Spanier, of Drexel’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering.
It was published in the journal Nature ("Perovskite oxides for visible-light-absorbing ferroelectric and photovoltaic materials").

An illustration of the perovskite crystal fabricated in the experiment.
Existing solar cells all work in the same fundamental way: they absorb light, which excites electrons and causes them to flow in a certain direction. This flow of electrons is electric current. But to establish a consistent direction of their movement, or polarity, solar cells need to be made of two materials. Once an excited electron crosses over the interface from the material that absorbs the light to the material that will conduct the current, it can’t cross back, giving it a direction.
“There’s a small category of materials, however, that when you shine light on them, the electron takes off in one particular direction without having to cross from one material to another,” Rappe said. “We call this the ‘bulk’ photovoltaic effect, rather than the ‘interface’ effect that happens in existing solar cells. This phenomenon has been known since the 1970s, but we don’t make solar cells this way because they have only been demonstrated with ultraviolet light, and most of the energy from the sun is in the visible and infrared spectrum.”
Finding a material that exhibits the bulk photovoltaic effect for visible light would greatly simplify solar cell construction. Moreover, it would be a way around an inefficiency intrinsic to interfacial solar cells, known as the Shockley-Queisser limit, where some of the energy from photons is lost as electrons wait to make the jump from one material to the other.
“Think of photons coming from the sun as coins raining down on you, with the different frequencies of light being like pennies, nickels, dimes and so on. A quality of your light-absorbing material called its ‘bandgap’ determines the denominations you can catch,” Rappe said. “The Shockley-Queisser limit says that whatever you catch is only as valuable as the lowest denomination your bandgap allows. If you pick a material with a bandgap that can catch dimes, you can catch dimes, quarters and silver dollars, but they’ll all only be worth the energy equivalent of 10 cents when you catch them.
“If you set your limit too high, you might get more value per photon but catch fewer photons overall and come out worse than if you picked a lower denomination,” he said. “Setting your bandgap to catch only silver dollars is like only being able to catch UV light. Setting it to catch quarters is like moving down into the visible spectrum. Your yield is better even though you’re losing most of the energy from the UV you do get.”
As no known materials exhibited the bulk photovoltaic effect for visible light, the research team turned to its materials scientists to devise how a new one might be fashioned and its properties measured.
Starting more than five years ago, the team began theoretical work, plotting the properties of hypothetical new compounds that would have a mix of these traits. Each compound began with a “parent” material that would impart the final material with the polar aspect of the bulk photovoltaic effect. To the parent, a material that would lower the compound’s bandgap would be added in different percentages. These two materials would be ground into fine powders, mixed together and then heated in an oven until they reacted together. The resulting crystal would ideally have the structure of the parent but with elements from the second material in key locations, enabling it to absorb visible light.
“The design challenge,” Davies said, “was to identify materials that could retain their polar properties while simultaneously absorbing visible light. The theoretical calculations pointed to new families of materials where this often mutually exclusive combination of properties could in fact be stabilized.”
This structure is something known as a perovskite crystal. Most light absorbing materials have a symmetrical crystal structure, meaning their atoms are arranged in repeating patterns up, down, left, right, front and back. This quality makes those materials non-polar; all directions “look” the same from the perspective of an electron, so there is no overall direction for them to flow.
A perovskite crystal has the same cubic lattice of metal atoms, but inside of each cube is an octahedron of oxygen atoms, and inside each octahedron is another kind of metal atom. The relationship between these two metallic elements can make them move off center, giving directionality to the structure and making it polar.
“All of the good polar, or ferroelectric, materials have this crystal structure,” Rappe said. “It seems very complicated, but it happens all of the time in nature when you have a material with two metals and oxygen. It’s not something we had to architect ourselves.”
After several failed attempts to physically produce the specific perovskite crystals they had theorized, the researchers had success with a combination of potassium niobate, the parent, polar material, and barium nickel niobate, which contributes to the final product’s bandgap.
The researchers used X-ray crystallography and Raman scattering spectroscopy to ensure they had produced the crystal structure and symmetry they intended. They also investigated its switchable polarity and bandgap, showing that they could indeed produce a bulk photovoltaic effect with visible light, opening the possibility of breaking the Shockley-Queisser limit.
Moreover, the ability to tune the final product’s bandgap via the percentage of barium nickel niobate adds another potential advantage over interfacial solar cells.
“The parent’s bandgap is in the UV range,” Spanier said, “but adding just 10 percent of the barium nickel niobate moves the bandgap into the visible range and close to the desired value for efficient solar energy conversion. So that’s a viable material to begin with, and the bandgap also proceeds to vary through the visible range as we add more, which is another very useful trait.”
Another way to get around the inefficiency imposed by the Shockley-Queisser limit in interfacial solar cells is to effectively stack several solar cells with different bandgaps on top of one another. These multi-junction solar cells have a top layer with a high bandgap, which catches the most valuable photons and lets the less valuable ones pass through. Successive layers have lower and lower bandgaps, getting the most energy out of each photon, but adding to the overall complexity and cost of the solar cell.
“The family of materials we’ve made with the bulk photovoltaic effect goes through the entire solar spectrum,” Rappe said. “So we could grow one material but gently change the composition as we’re growing, resulting in a single material that performs like a multi-junction solar cell.”
“This family of materials.” Spanier said, “is all the more remarkable because it is comprised of inexpensive, non-toxic and earth-abundant elements, unlike compound semiconductor materials currently used in efficient thin-film solar cell technology.”

Source: http://www.nanowerk.com/news2/newsid=33172.php

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

How to Market Solar Energy to Women , and Why It's Important

Women control 80% of household spending. And women spend a lot of time on the Internet. But many women feel misunderstood by marketers. To gain insights on how to market solar to the keepers of household budgets, Raina Russo and Glenna Wiseman have been conducting the industry's first woman-directed survey. At Solar Power International last week, they unveiled their findings.

There’s a lot of discussion in the solar industry these days about how to reach consumers. With less than 1% of power in the U.S. coming from solar, we’re talking about a huge untapped market. And most people still have misconceptions about solar power.

So how do we get the good solar word to the American consumer? The first step is to identify the American consumer. Raina Russo of #SolarChat and Glenna Wiseman of Identity3 are convinced that when it comes to solar, that consumer is often a woman.

Women as consumers

Russo and Wiseman had a strong suspicion that women were a key part of the market. They knew that:
  • Women control 80% of household spending and initiate 80% of home improvements.
  • Women are “digital divas,” with 89% using the Internet at least twice a day and 84% visiting social media sites.
  • 70% of women feel misunderstood by marketers.
And they realized that the solar industry could improve its effectiveness in talking to women. But they found that there wasn’t much data on women as solar consumers. Never content to let gaping holes remain unfilled, they decided to do something about it. The result: the industry’s first ever woman-directed survey, Shining a Solar Marketing Light on Women.

Survey findings

At Solar Power International last week, Russo and Wiseman unveiled their preliminary findings. After reaching out to 150 women in solar, they looked outside the industry. In just a couple weeks they heard back from 200 women consumers.

Their survey posed 20 questions based on Marti Barletta’s five stages of buying. Answers in so far confirm that women are crucial to the solar market:

  • Stage 1: Deciding when to enter the market. About 63% of women surveyed said that if they’d had the discussion about going solar, they were the ones who initiated it. About 27% of discussions were initiated by both partners, with only about 11% by men alone. The numbers were similar for doing the legwork and research.
  • Stage 2: The short list. Over half -- 56% -- of respondents who had pursued solar for their homes talked to 2 – 3 companies once they were serious about it. While this result is not specific to women, it shows that we need to start by selling consumers the idea of solar, not a specific company.
  • Stage 3: In-person meeting. Choosing a contractor was more of a joint effort, with 67% of respondents doing that with their partner. When just one partner made the decision, though, it was far more likely to be the woman: women picked the contractor by themselves in 30% of cases, compared to 3% for men.
  • Stage 4: Paying bills. As noted previously, in most households, women are the ones who pay the bills and track the budget. That was borne out in this survey: 83% of respondents said they’re the ones who pay the bills.
  • Stage 5: Word of mouth. Women like to share information with their friends, family, and co-workers. But we don’t like to do it for money. When asked to rank the gifts they’d prefer as a thank-you for going solar, 76% of women said they'd like a check back, while only 26% preferred a check for each friend they referred -- numbers were even lower for non-monetary gifts (the numbers reflect that each woman could rank multiple options). Given that women are such an important part of the market, solar companies may want to rethink giving referral checks.
Solar industry perspectives

Russo and Wiseman didn’t stop at presenting their survey findings. To round out their session, they invited a few women from the solar industry to give their thoughts on marketing to women:

  • Jill Hansen of Talesun Solar urged us to put imagery of women on our websites. And she emphasized the importance of hiring women in solar – especially on the sales team, to sell to women. She also suggested we segment the market further to better target different audiences.
  • Joy Hughes of the Solar Gardens Institute described the model she advocates, which lets people who can’t put solar on their own roof – a big part of the population – subscribe to solar installed elsewhere. As far as commitment goes, this is more like being an aunt than being a mom. She imagined a woman subscribing to a solar garden telling her partner, “Oh honey, by the way, we have solar power now.”
  • Jennifer Runyon of Renewableenergyworld.com suggested we look to their almost 200,000 registered users for marketing. Women love to talk to each other and get together in groups, so good places to market solar are book groups and neighborhood associations. The Tupperware party model, she noted, is also effective for selling solar.
  • Kathryn Schwartz of Solar Energy International emphasized the importance of actively involving women in the industry – salespeople, installers, designers, executives. When we use photos of women, they should not be of booth babes. And she added that electricity is not easily understood, so women need to help take the mystery out of it.
Next steps

This is just the beginning. The survey will be open till the #SolarChat on November 13, so we can expect to hear more after that. Russo and Wiseman plan to continue gathering information, to build a solid data set on women solar consumers. Women are not all the same, so we need to work on segmenting the female market to identify the major demographics.

But it’s already clear that when marketing solar, we ignore women at our peril. So we’d  do well to heed these words of wisdom from Russo, Wiseman, and the panelists:
  • Be present where women live, work, and play.
  • Partner with brands that matter personally to women.
  • Engage in straight talk, convey trust, and have women talk to women about solar.
  • Engage women on issues important to them: a legacy, the environment, and future generations.
Source: http://theenergycollective.com/rosana-francescato/302001/how-market-solar-energy-women-and-why-its-important

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Solar Panels Produce More Juice When Rocking out to Top 40

Sorry, but classical just won't cut it: British scientists find that experimental, low-cost zinc oxide solar cells are 40 percent more productive when blaring pop and rock music is involved.

If you are ever happen to find yourself in the presence of a solar array composed of experimental zinc oxide PV cells (which, in all likelihood you probably won’t anytime soon), feel free to grab your nearest, umm, boombox and pump up the jams in a big way. However, you can forget about classical, country, smooth jazz, or your grandpa’s old Lawrence Welk records as these solar cells seem to strictly benefit — harnessing sunlight and transforming it into electricity in a more efficient manner — from being subjected to blaring pop and rock music.
While experimenting with low-cost alternatives to standard silicon-based solar cells, researchers Steve Dunn of Queen Mary College and James Durrant of Imperial College London found that one promising yet highly inefficient silicone substitute, zinc oxide, was made 40 percent more efficient when exposed to Top 40 tunes. It’s a bump from 1.2 percent efficiency to 1.8 percent efficiency — tiny figures in the overall scheme of things but impressive nonetheless. The bump in efficiency is due to the formation of nanoscale rod – “nanorods” — clusters within the zinc oxide cells that produce electricity when exposed to vibrations, particularly the vibrations produced by, let’s say, certified biohazard Katy Perry or space cadet Lady Gaga.

When it comes down to it, it’s all about the high-pitch frequencies produced by pop music. Elaborated Dunn: "We tried our initial tests with various types of music, including pop, rock and classical. Rock and pop were the most effective, perhaps because they have a wider range of frequencies. Using a signal generator to produce precisely measured sounds similar to ambient noise they saw a 50 per cent increase in efficiency, rising from 1.2 per cent without sound to 1.8 per cent with sound.”

Yessir, these panels prefer Miley over Mozart. There’s no word from Dunn and Durrant if the zinc oxide cells spontaneously burst into flames when exposed to Don Henley.

Dunn and Durrant, whose findings were recently published in the journal Advanced Materials, see the potential for low-cost printed solar cells made from zinc oxide to thrive not just in the presence of pop music played at full volume but also in acoustic vibration-heavy locales including next to roads and on top of air conditioning units.

Source: http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/energy/blogs/solar-panels-produce-more-juice-when-rocking-out-to-top-40