Friday, May 31, 2013

The Big Solar Sell-Off: Siemens Puts Solel On The Block

German industrial giant Siemens on Monday said it has put its solar assets up for sale, including Solel, the Israel solar thermal power plant builder it acquired just three years ago for $418 million.

“Due to the changed framework conditions, lower growth and strong price pressure in the solar markets, the company’s expectations for its solar energy activities have not been met,” Siemens said in a statement, according to Bloomberg.

With the bankruptcy of German rival Solar Millennium and other companies, the number of solar thermal power plant builders continues to dwindle, leaving just a handful of developers, including California’s BrightSource Energy and SolarReserve, Spain’s Abengoa and France’s Areva.

Unlike photovoltaic power plants, which deploy thousands of solar panels that directly convert sunlight into electricity, solar thermal stations use mirrors to focus the sun on liquid-filled boilers to create steam. The steam then drives an electricity-generating turbine.

Although solar thermal power plants are more efficient than photovoltaics and can provide a more dependable electricity supply, they have faced increasing competition as the price of solar panels has plunged over the past three years.

And Solel relied on an older parabolic trough technology that uses long curved mirrors to focus the sun on tubes of synthetic oil suspended overhead to create steam.

Newer “power tower” technology like that developed by BrightSource focuses the sun reflected by thousands of mirrors called heliostats on a water-filled boiler that sits atop a tower to obtain greater efficiency. SolarReserve uses a power tower system to heat molten salt, which can store that heat to run a turbine at night and other times when the sun isn’t shining.

Utilities have increasingly demanded that solar thermal power plants offer energy storage, which is harder and more expensive to add to parabolic trough plants without sacrificing some efficiency.

So who are potential buyers of Solel?

Well, China has been shopping for solar, with renewable energy conglomerate Hanergy last month acquiring Silicon Valley startup MiaSolé’s advanced thin-film photovoltaic technology for $30 million after investors had put about a half-billion dollars into the company.


Thursday, May 30, 2013

UPDATE 1-IKEA to Move to Clean Energy by 2020, Protect Forests

IKEA, the world's largest furniture retailer, will shift to renewable energy by 2020 and grow more trees than it uses under a plan to safeguard nature that has won support from environmentalists.

The Swedish-based group, which wants to build on many customers' desire for a greener lifestyle, also said on Tuesday it would limit sales by 2016 to energy-efficient products including induction cookers and LED light bulbs.

"This will be a great driver of innovation," said Mikael Ohlsson, chief executive of the firm which is known for its flat-packs and giant stores that are expected to be visited by 776 million people this year.

Ohlsson told Reuters he had no doubt the "People & Planet Positive" strategy would save money both for IKEA and its clients, although he declined to estimate total savings.

Under the plan, IKEA will invest 1.5 billion euros ($1.95 billion) from 2009-15 in solar and wind power to produce at least 70 percent of the group's energy. By 2020 it would produce as much renewable energy as it consumes.

IKEA already owns wind farms in six European nations and has 342,000 solar panels on its stores, warehouses and factories that generate 27 percent of the group's electricity.

"We are a little under half-way in terms of investments" to the 2015 goal, said Steve Howard, chief sustainability officer. The company would also halve its greenhouse gas emissions from its operations by 2015, from 2010 levels.

By 2020 IKEA, one of the world's top users of wood, will grow at least as many trees as it uses to make products such as beds or cupboards. Already, IKEA says it does not take wood from natural tropical forests, such as in the Amazon or the Congo basins.


By 2017 it would buy 10 million cubic metres of wood - half the projected total for that year and four times current amounts - from sources such as those certified by the non-profit Forest Stewardship Council.

Environmentalists backed the shift. John Sauven, head of Greenpeace UK, said it "puts IKEA at the forefront of leading companies" trying to transform their businesses in the face of environmental threats.

Mark Kenber, head of the UK-based Climate Group think-tank, said IKEA's plan was a roadmap to a "clean industrial revolution" and urged other businesses to follow.

Both Kenber and Greenpeace confirmed the remarks, provided by IKEA. The firm said other environmental experts had praised the strategy, including the WWF conservation organisation.

Many companies, from chip maker Intel Corp to Wal-Mart Stores Inc, are setting green goals and moving towards renewable energy as part of efforts to combat global warming and ensure supplies.

As part of the shift to energy-efficient products, induction hobs use 40 percent less energy than conventional cookers.

IKEA announced the shift to LED lighting, which can last 20 years, earlier this month. Changing all 12 billion incandescent bulbs worldwide to LEDs would cut global greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those of the Netherlands.

A shift to more efficient appliances, such as fridges, cookers or lightbulbs, would reduce energy use by the average household by 30 percent. "That is like having a 10 percent pay rise for most people," Howard said.

IKEA also set stricter targets for palm oil, leather and cotton supplies. It would tighten bans on child labour and enforce workers' rights, partly with unannounced audits of suppliers. The company would also ensure greater supplies of clean water in communities where it operates, cut waste and promote recycling.

IKEA predicted the number of visitors to its stores would double to 1.5 billion by 2020, and forecast a potential 45-50 billion euros in turnover, up from 27.5 billion for 2012.

It predicted the number of stores would rise to 500 from 338 and that staff numbers would rise to above 200,000 from 154,000.

Ohlsson said IKEA had freedom to act partly because it is not listed on a stock market. "We are owned by a foundation, it means also that our whole focus is customers throughout the chain and not stock exchange and owners," he said.


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Masdar To Develop 15 MW Solar Plant In Mauritania

Masdar announced today the development of a 15-megawatt solar power project in Nouakchott, the capital city of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. The plant will deliver 10 per cent of electricity capacity in Mauritania. Masdar is a renewable energy company based in Abu Dhabi, UAE, which has large and small-scale power projects around the world.

The project is the first utility-scale solar power installation in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania.

“Mauritania has some of the highest levels of solar radiation in the world, making it an ideal place for solar power installations,” said Mauritania’s Minister of Petroleum, Energy and Mines H.E. Taleb Ould Abdivall. “We are pleased to be working with such esteemed partners on this important project and remain committed to harnessing our abundant renewable energy resources. Masdar has gained tremendous experience in the renewable energy sector through its projects worldwide and we look forward to future opportunities for cooperation,” H.E. Abdivall added.

Mauritania has an installed grid capacity of just 144 megawatts, supplied mostly by diesel generators, but the country has significant untapped renewable energy potential in the form of both solar and wind. In fact, the country’s wind energy potential is almost four times its annual energy demand.

The 15-MW solar photovoltaic project will provide for the annual demand growth in the country, estimated to be at a rate of 12 per cent in 2012. It will also supply much needed power to Mauritania, which currently faces severe energy shortages. The country has a low electrification rate of 60 per cent.

The Masdar solar power project is being built next to the university in Nouakchott, currently under construction, and will serve as a learning laboratory for solar energy development in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania.

“This project also proves that energy access and commercially viable renewable energy can go hand-in-hand,” said Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, chief executive officer of Masdar. “Partnerships are at the core of Masdar’s business strategy and projects like this one underscore the critical role collaboration plays in renewable energy development.

“With the demand for energy rapidly increasing – especially in the developing world – tapping into renewable energy is critical,” added Dr. Al Jaber. “The integration of wind, solar and hydro power helps to reduce the strain on our natural resources and serves as a bridge to energy security and economic development opportunities. Investing in renewable energy preserves natural resources, contributes to energy security and water security, and fosters sustainable development.”

Along with renewable energy projects in Tonga and Afghanistan, the Mauritania project is part of Masdar’s commitment to the United Nations’ Year of Sustainable Energy for All – a global initiative announced by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, which aims to ensure universal access to modern energy services, double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency and double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.

Once construction on the project is complete, the Nouakchott solar power plant will be owned and operated by Société Mauritanienne de l’électricité (SOMELEC), the government-owned electric utility in Mauritania.

“We’ve entrusted Masdar to represent us in this important project and are extremely pleased with the professionalism and speed of the process thus far,” said Moahmed Salem Ould Bechir, general director of SOMELEC.

Of the deal, Masdar CEO Dr. Al Jaber added: “Over the last several decades, the UAE has gained tremendous experience as an energy leader in the hydrocarbon industry. Through Masdar’s global clean energy projects, this leadership position is being further strengthened as we now export renewable energy.”

Masdar continues to invest in renewable energy projects throughout the world. The company has several international projects that are either completed or under construction, including:
  • The London Array is expected to be the world’s largest offshore wind farm, generating up to 1GW of electricity in the United Kingdom.
  • Gemasolar is a concentrated solar power plant in Spain, producing 20MW of electricity 24-hours a day through the use of innovative energy storage technology.
  • Valle 1 & Valle 2 are concentrated solar power plants in Spain, each producing 50MW of electricity.
  • The Seychelles project is an 8-turbine, 6-megawatt wind farm that will supply 10-15 percent of Mahe Island’s installed capacity.
  • Shams 1 is a 100MW concentrated solar power plant in the western region of the Abu Dhabi emirate. When complete, the plant will be able to generate enough electricity to power 20,000 homes.


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

California Array Is Navy’s New Top Solar Gun

The Navy has a new 13.78 megawatt solar power plant in the high desert of California — the service’s biggest solar project yet — and it didn’t even have to pay for it.

SunPower Solar Tracker
Like tens of thousands of California homeowners, the Navy went the power purchase agreement route in bringing solar to the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, 120 miles north-northeast of Los Angeles. The system, which was dedicated last week, is the first federal agency project to be financed through a 20-year term solar PPA, according to developer SunPower.

Being able to do a 20-year PPA instead of one lasting 10 years can apparently make a big difference, allowing the Navy to buy the solar power produced on its land at “up to 30 percent below the rate available through shorter duration” arrangements. The array is expected to meet 30 percent of China Lake’s annual energy load, reducing the Navy’s energy costs — that’s your cost, Mr. and Ms. Taxpayer — by a projected $13 million over the full 20-year span. (Of course, some of that savings will likely be lost to the government as the system developers take advantage of incentives for solar.)

“This 20-year PPA will significantly lower long-term electricity costs at China Lake, and can be used as a template for additional large-scale federal solar projects,” SunPower executive Howard Wenger said in a statement.

The Army is embracing similarly long power purchase agreements. This past summer, it put out a “Multiple-Award Task Order Request for Proposal,” dangling up to $7 billion to purchase 2.1 million megawatt-hours of power sourced from solar and other alternative-energy technologies.

Meanwhile, back in January, the U.S. Defense Department’s Office of Installations and Environment concluded that some 25,000 acres on military land were “suitable” for solar development, and all told the study said 7,000 megawatts of solar energy capacity was technically and economically feasible. China Lake was pegged for 6,777 acres of possible development. That report was followed in August by an agreement between the Interior and Defense departments to work together to target “significant proven or potential solar, wind, geothermal and biomass resources on or in the vicinity of DOD installations throughout the West.”

The China Lake system now up and running uses SunPower’s Oasis Power Plant product, which integrates the SunPower T0 Tracker with SunPower’s high-efficiency panels. In a Sept. 30, 2011, announcement of new military contracts, the Department of Defense put the 20-year cost to the Navy at slightly more than $100 million. An affiliate of Metropolitan Life, the insurance company, actually owns the power plant, although SunPower will operate and maintain it.


Monday, May 27, 2013

Westport Solar Panels to charge cars at RR station

Westport is set to install solar panels that will charge commuters' electric cars at a local railroad station.

The Connecticut Post reports ( ) that Encon, a Stratford energy company, will install the solar array. The project will not require town funding but the town will be billed for electricity produced by the solar panels.

The rate is expected to be 30 percent less than if the town bought the power from a utility.

By the end of the year, the town is set to activate the first solar-powered electric vehicle charging stations at the Saugatuck station. A 27-kilowatt solar-panel array on the roof of the rail depot's eastbound terminal will feed electricity to the charging stations.

The Saugatuck station will open with four charging stations.


Sunday, May 26, 2013

Solar Geoengineering 'could be safe'

Solar geoengineering can be safely tailored to manage specific risks like the loss of Arctic sea ice, says a group of researchers keen to persuade the world that such techniques aren't necessarily a disaster waiting to happen.

By increasing the concentrations of aerosols in the stratosphere or by creating low-altitude marine clouds, such projects would scatter incoming solar heat away from Earth's surface, reducing the effects of climate change.

However, critics say that such a global intervention would have unequal effects around the world and could result in unforeseen consequences that could be a lot worse than the problem they're designed to prevent.

The answer, says Gordon McKay, professor of Applied Physics at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), lies in a new model designed to maximise the effectiveness of solar radiation management while decreasing the risks.

"We can be thoughtful about various tradeoffs to achieve more selective results, such as the trade-off between minimizing global climate changes and minimizing residual changes at the worst-off location," he says.

The study focuses on the feasibility of using solar geoengineering to counter the loss of Arctic sea ice.

"There has been a lot of loose talk about region-specific climate modification. By contrast, our research uses a more systematic approach to understand how geoengineering might be used to limit a specific impact," says McKay.

"We found that tailored solar geoengineering might limit Arctic sea ice loss with several times less total solar shading than would be needed in a uniform case."

Generally speaking, greenhouse gases tend to suppress precipitation, and cutting the amount of sunlight absorbed by Earth wouldn't bring this precipitation back. Both greenhouse gases and aerosols affect the distribution of heat and rain on this planet - but change the temperature and precipitation in different ways in different places.

The researchers suggest that varying the amount of sunlight deflected away from Earth both regionally and seasonally could combat some of this problem.

"While more work needs to be done, we have a strong model that indicates that solar geoengineering might be used in a far more nuanced manner than the uniform one-size-fits-all implementation that is often assumed," writes the team.

"One might say that one need not think of it as a single global thermostat. This gives us hope that if we ever do need to implement engineered solutions to combat global warming, that we would do so with a bit more confidence and a great ability to test it and control it."


Saturday, May 25, 2013

Siemens Exits Solar, Desertec in Green Portfolio Setback

Siemens AG (SIE) plans to give up its unprofitable solar-energy business after failing to turn the unit around, in a blow to the German engineering company’s effort to win more revenue from its so-called green portfolio.

Siemens is pulling the plug on a business
created with acquisitions including
Archimede Solar Energy and Solel Solar
Systems in 2009, as deteriorating prices
for photovoltaic modules have made
concentrated solar power less attractive.
Siemens is offering the asset to potential buyers, the Munich-based company said in a statement today. The company will also end its membership in a high-profile venture to generate renewable energy in the Sahara desert. Siemens will keep its wind and hydro-power activities, the company said.

“Due to the changed framework conditions, lower growth and strong price pressure in the solar markets, the company’s expectations for its solar energy activities have not been met,” Siemens said in the statement.

Siemens is pulling the plug on a business created with acquisitions including Archimede Solar Energy and Solel Solar Systems in 2009, as deteriorating prices for photovoltaic modules have made concentrated solar power less attractive. The solar-power activities had been unprofitable since Siemens bundled the operations into a separate unit a year ago.

The engineering company will continue to sell related products including steam turbines, generators, and control systems to customers operating solar power plants, it said.


“The decision to sell is really quite obvious,” said Ingo-Martin Schachel, an analyst at Commerzbank AG (CBK) in Frankfurt. “Solar is no core business and no core competency of Siemens. The growth prospects for these markets have deteriorated such that there is really no reason to remain active here.”

The retreat is part of an efficiency program targeted at taking profit margins back to the levels achieved in 2011. Operating profit at the renewable energy division plunged 34 percent to 100 million euros ($130 million) in the nine months through June 30, while sales rose 35 percent.

Chief Executive Officer Peter Loescher aims to generate 40 billion euros from sales of environmentally friendly products by 2014 and has pushed the company deeper into areas including wind power and solar energy. Siemens was forced to take a charge on off-shore wind parks after struggling to connect the to the mainland power grid.

Siemens solar and hydroelectric power units had sales “in the low triple-digit millions” in the past fiscal year, and employ about 800 people, 680 of which in solar, Siemens said. The loss at the solar businesses was about the same magnitude as its revenues, Chief Financial Officer Joe Kaeser said on a conference call with analysts on July 26. The company’s wind power business has more than 7,000 employees.

Germany’s photovoltaic industry is fighting for survival, as companies from Solar Millennium AG (S2M) to Solon SE (SOO1) filed for insolvency proceedings in the past year. OC Oerlikon AG (OERL), the Swiss maker of textile machinery and car gears, today rose the most in a month after saying Chinese regulators approved the sale of its solar unit to Tokyo Electron Ltd. (8035)

“This is more evidence that there is no such thing as too big to fail at the solar industry,” said Jenny Chase, head of solar research for Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “Solar thermal at the moment is a hard sell.”


Friday, May 24, 2013

Swiss Aviation, Solar Energy Companies Look to Invest in India

Swiss companies in areas such as solar energy and aviation are expected to invest in India following the country's decision to further open up its economy to foreign investments.

A senior minister from Switzerland said here that companies from that country have expressed willingness to make more investments in India and its move to open up the domestic market further to FDI is a good move.

"Market opening (up) would be a good thing for India. You are still a very closed market... We believe in open markets," Swiss Minister for Environment, Transport, Energy and and Communications Doris Leuthard told reporters.

Unveiling big bang reforms to boost the sagging economy, India last month cleared 51 per cent FDI in multi-brand retail besides giving green signal to overseas carriers for making 49 per cent investment in the aviation sector.

Leutherhad, who completed her three-day visit to India on Saturday, said that open markets would help in bringing more competition.

She indicated that Swiss carriers would be willing to explore opportunities in the Indian aviation sector.

"We have a lot of airlines... I don't see why one should waste a moment when there are opportunities," she said.

According to her, India has a big potential in the solar energy area as well, and Swiss companies are looking to make more investments in this sector.

Leutherhad also noted that Switzerland has been negotiating a free trade agreement with India for sometime.

Trade between the two nations was about $ 4.8 billion last year and is expected to increase fast in the coming years.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Tamil Nadu to be Hub of Solar Power

Tamil Nadu's Solar Energy Policy 2012 unveiled by Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa Saturday aims at making the southern state a regional solar energy hub.

Under the scheme, the state will have solar energy parks, will encourage households to adopt solar energy, make it compulsory for all new government buildings to have rooftop solar panels and ask big industries to use solar power. The scheme aims at generating 3,000 MW of solar power by 2015.

According to the policy, Tamil Nadu has around 300 clear sunny days in a year and southern parts of the state are considered the ideal locations for development of solar power projects.

The policy aims to set up 1,000 MW of solar power generation capacity during 2013-2015.

As per the policy, the state would make it compulsory for high tension power consumers like special economic zones (SEZ), industries, IT parks, telecom towers, colleges and residential schools and buildings with built up area of 20,000 square metre or more to purchase six percent solar power from Jan 2014.

The above category of consumers may fulfil their obligation by captive generation, buying from third party solar power generators or renewable energy certificates from solar power projects in Tamil Nadu or purchasing solar power from Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation Ltd. (TANGEDCO) at solar power tariff.

As per the policy, installation of solar water heating systems would be made mandatory for industries having hot water boiler/steam boiler using fossil fuel.

Power consumers falling under domestic, agricultural, power looms, low tension industries, cottage and small-scale industries categories are exempted from solar power purchase obligation.

Solar power projects would be developed through competitive bidding. Investments though joint ventures by state undertakings will also encouraged through competitive bidding.

Appropriate incentives will be provided to attract investors to this sector so as to make the state a regional hub for the solar power industry.

The Tamil Nadu Energy Development Agency will act as the single window clearance agency for solar power projects in the state.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Thomas Installs Largest Solar Panel System in State

The largest solar panel system in the state will be erected this week on the roof of the Alfond Athletic Center at Thomas College, according to college officials.

The 12,600-square-foot, 170-kilowatt solar photovoltaic array is expected to provide 11 percent of the college's energy needs and pay for itself in 15 years; it is projected to save Thomas more than $500,000 over its expected life span of 35-plus years.

"When we pay less for energy, students pay less for an education," said Christopher Rhoda, who is vice president of information services at Thomas and oversees energy conservation on campus. "For us, it's as much about controlling costs as it is about generating revenue."

The 700 solar panels will be installed on railings atop the athletic center roof, Rhoda said. Workers this week are expected to start installing the panels, which are roughly 3-by-5-feet, 1.5 inches thick and weigh 44 pounds each.

The $700,000 project -- for which Thomas will ultimately pay only about $175,000 -- is possible through a special program devised by ReVision Energy, the company doing the project.

Thomas is partnering with ReVision, a for-profit company, on the project, which is being financed through a power purchase agreement. As part of that agreement, Coastal Enterprises Inc. of Lewiston provides project financing to ReVision, which installs, owns and manages the solar energy system for six years. During that time, Thomas will buy the electricity it produces from ReVision and ultimately will purchase the system from ReVision at a reduced rate, Rhoda said.

Bill Behrens, co-founder of ReVision, which has offices in Liberty, Portland and Exeter, N.H., said his company has done smaller but similar partnerships with organizations including Good Will-Hinckley, Unity College, College of the Atlantic, Natural Resources Council of Maine and Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens.

ReVision is the only company that does such partnering with nonprofits on solar energy systems and does not make a profit, supporting itself with other projects for individuals and businesses, he said. But ultimately, the nonprofit projects keep people employed and provide alternative energy, which is important for the state, Behrens said

"Financially, we feel if we break even at it, we're actually creating something in Maine that wouldn't otherwise exist, so that's valuable to us," he said.

Behrens says there's no reason why Maine should buy electricity from outside its borders, because the state has plenty of sunshine and it is underutilized. It takes people with vision, such as educators and college officials, to work on a project that will be sustainable into the future, according to Behrens.

"You can't do this if you are just thinking about the next six months or a year," he said. "You have to have that vision that your institution is going to be here for the long haul."

Thomas College President Laurie Lachance said in a press release that the solar project is part of the college's energy plan.

"That plan seeks to provide Thomas College with diverse renewable energy sources that will lower long-term energy expenses and keep tuition costs down," she said.

Rhoda has 20 solar panels at his own home which offsets about 75 percent of his home electricity, he said. He also has solar tubes to heat hot water and, where he once used 1,300 gallons of oil a year, he now uses less than 30 because he also has a wood pellet boiler, he said.

Thomas uses a lot of oil, propane and electricity and always is looking at ways to reduce costs, he said. Diversifying energy sources for campus is a way of reducing costs, as when the price of one source goes up, another can be tapped. The college also hopes to take advantage of natural gas in the future, he said.

The college is planning to build a new academic center with a geothermal system to heat and cool the building, he said.

Studies have shown that about 80 percent of electricity is lost during transmission when it is generated offsite, according to Rhoda.

"Not only does local generation help the person it generates for, but overall, it helps the grid because it's generating the power closer to where it's being consumed," he said.

Work started on the solar energy system two weeks ago and the panels are scheduled to arrive on campus Monday. Behrens said the system should be operational by mid-November. Sunshine, he said, is the energy of the future and Maine has plenty of space for developing solar energy systems.

"It's honestly a demonstration of how we can create energy independence right here in Maine with a resource that's going to be with us for decades," he said. "It's not going to run out."

The largest solar array now in Maine is at The Step Guys, a company in Alfred that produces precast concrete products. Behrens said that solar array is 110 kilowatts, as opposed to Thomas' 170 kilowatt. Behrens said the Thomas array will be more than 50 percent larger than the one in Alfred.

ReVision is the leading installer of solar hot water and solar electricity systems for homes, businesses, schools and nonprofit entities in Maine and New Hampshire, according to the company's website.


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

How to tap our Solar Potential

For two centuries, we have been burning billions of years of photosynthetic residue, better known as fossil fuel, to power our factories, homes, vehicles and cities. But we may not need to do this much longer – solar resources are great enough for all of us. Indeed, it may surprise many to learn that the amount of solar energy striking the earth in one hour is equal to the total energy consumed by all of humanity in a whole year. Learning to capture more of this resource could yield huge dividends for humanity.

Here at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland we have developed a solar cell technology that takes its cue from photosynthesis: dye-sensitized solar cells (DSCs). By separating the components for light absorption (which determines the cell’s color) and the transportation of electrical current, this technology is remarkably similar to natural photosynthesis and provides unique benefits for integrating solar cells into everyday life. The color tunability and transparency of the cells, as well as an enhanced efficiency in indoor light – power conversion efficiencies can reach over 12 percent at full sunlight intensity and more than 25 percent for interior lighting – afford DSCs the opportunity to extend solar power generation seamlessly and conveniently into our office buildings and living rooms.

The start-up company G24i, meanwhile, has already licensed this technology for marketing commercial products and entered into partnership with Logitech and Texas Instruments to create light-powered computer and iPad peripherals, as well as solar powered blinds and shades. (G24i has produced a short video that gives some technical insight this technology).

Standby power consumption from home appliances accounts for almost 10 percent of the power consumption in an average U.S. residence, but many of these devices contain a design element that could be replaced with a solar cell, such as the frame around a TV set or the plastic body of a TV remote. As a result, lightweight flexible solar cell technology is a potential game changer for many power consumers around the world.

But solar energy storage presents a major challenge for the burgeoning solar industry. Storing the sun’s energy – packets of photons – in the form of chemical bonds is one way to accomplish this task. Nature stores solar energy by combining CO2 and water through photosynthesis to produce plant matter and the oxygen we breathe. We hope to do something similar: produce hydrogen and other fuels from water and CO2. This starts by splitting water with the power of the sun, just the way plants do. Once hydrogen is liberated from the oxygen bond in water (2H2O à 2H2 + O2), it can be used directly in a hydrogen fuel cell, burned in BMW’s hydrogen combustion engine, or used to chemically reduce the greenhouse gas CO2.

The reduction of CO2 to form liquid fuels such as methanol, which can be burned like ethanol in a flex-fuel engine, provides a way to mitigate the ongoing release of CO2 into our atmosphere while newer, greener technologies make it to market. Note here how sustainable and remediating this cycle could be: solar energy is used to convert greenhouse gas into fuel while producing oxygen, akin to the overall process accomplished by natural photosynthesis.

Another method, the photoelectrochemical (PEC) approach, can produce hydrogen or oxygen directly on the surface of a light harvesting material. In our own laboratories, we investigate using iron oxide (rust) and copper oxide to accomplish this task. These two materials can be produced at very low cost and could be scaled up to the quantities necessary for converting huge amounts of solar energy into stored chemical energy. Additionally, PEC technology can be integrated synergistically with DSC technology to form a “tandem” setup. With this approach, we have recently demonstrated that it is possible to produce hydrogen and oxygen from water, using only cheap, earth-abundant materials.

In my vision of the future, humanity has tapped the ultimate resource that is our sun, reliably harvesting, transferring and storing its energy to provide clean and sustainable power. I can see a day when the sun powers our electronics, our cars, our homes, our cities – our whole planet. We have been working to realize this goal for more than two decades, and I believe the technology is finally coming into maturity. Solar is not a thing of the future; it is ready and waiting for us to take advantage of right now.

Governments and companies that embrace this idea early will not only help the planet, but they may also win out in the long run economically. After all, fossil fuels will burn out long before the sun ever does.


Monday, May 20, 2013

Vikram Solar to commission Rs.410 crore plant in Rajasthan

Kolkata-based Vikram Solar, a leading solar product manufacturer, is likely to commission its 40-MW solar power generating plant in Rajasthan by the end of January 2013, investing more than Rs.410 crore.

The firm, an arm of Vikram Group and a top photo-voltaic (PV) solar-module-maker, has already signed a 25-year power purchase agreement (PPA) with the Rajasthan government.

"Our own solar power plant in Rajasthan will be commissioned by January next year. It is being set up under the National Solar Mission," Gyanesh Chaudhary, Vikram Solar director, told IANS.

The National Solar Mission, launched by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in January 2010, has an ambitious target of installing 20,000 MW of solar energy by 2020. For this the government has signed PPAs with different solar power developers for solar PV projects.

"We are investing more than Rs.410 crore in the Rajasthan project," Chaudhary said.

Vikram Solar has already commissioned a 2 MW solar project in Chhattisgarh, 5 MW solar power plant in Gujarat and a 1 MW project in Rourkela in Orissa, among others.

The company was currently in talks with the Tamil Nadu government for setting up facilities there, Chaudhary said.

The firm entered into a tie-up with Spanish solar power company Proener Renovables last year to take up engineering procurement construction (EPC) contracts for large solar power projects in India and overseas.

Vikram Solar GmbH, a fully owned subsidiary of the firm, has a 1.6 MW plant in Kottenheim in Germany.

According to Shaibal Ghosh, president, international business and head - marketing, the company is successfully running projects in France, Italy and Spain.

The company is also in the process of doubling its capacity in a photo-voltaic cell plant in the special economic zone (SEZ) at Falta in West Bengal's South 24 Parganas district, spending Rs.100 crore.

"At Falta, we have 70 MW solar power production capacity. We are in the process of doubling it. By the end of December this year, the full capacity of the plant will be 140 MW," Ghosh added.


Sunday, May 19, 2013

Global Solar Industry Failing Because We're Subsidizing The Wrong Side

Bad news looms for California buyers of solar panels: the economic malaise that's devastating U.S. manufacturers of photovoltaic panels is hitting the Chinese industry hard as well. Bolstered by aggressive government subsidies, Chinese companies have built far more production capacity than short-term market demand justifies.

This has pushed solar panel prices to record lows in the short term. Unless the Chinese government continues to prop up its country's solar manufacturers, though, Chinese companies may be pushed into the same cycle of consolidation and bankruptcy that their American and European counterparts now enjoy. This would lower production capacity, cutting down on the supply of available panels, and making it more expensive to add those panels to your rooftop.

According to a report Thursday by the Financial Times' Leslie Hook, Li Junfeng -- deputy director of China's National Development and Reform Commission's energy research institute -- Chinese solar companies will have to play a role in the decommissioning of at least half the planet's photovoltaic manufacturing capacity. Worldwide, the industry has about 100 gigawatts' worth of production capacity, with annual demand at just 30 to 50 gigawatts.

The United States has placed steep tariffs on Chinese solar modules, and the Euro zone has threatened to do likewise. According to Hook, though, Li called the trade sanctions "the straw that broke the camel's back."

"According to him," Hook writes, "the real culprit was the rapid, credit-fuelled expansion in Chinese solar capacity that has contributed to today's global production [over]capacity."

Li told Hook that China's central government would not be bailing the manufacturers out anytime soon, and he criticized cities and other local governments in China who had made recent offers of financial assistance to keep their factories open. "If other local governments follow the policies in Xinyu and Wuxi [the cities that gave bailouts], it is like giving solar firms poison to quench their thirst. It will only quicken their death," Li told the Financial Times.

It's another example of how the market is ill-adapted to meeting the needs of a global environmental crisis. We need to install as much PV as possible so that we can shut down fossil-fuel-fired power plants, and yet demand is low because the more destructive forms of power are, for the moment, cheaper. Some of that price difference is due to unbalanced government subsidies, and some due to coal and gas's environmental costs being paid under a separate check.

It would seem the solar industry's crisis is too big and too important for the free market to fix. Li may well be correct in saying that subsidies to manufacturers may just prolong the companies' metaphorical agony. Perhaps it's time to ramp up government subsidies on the demand side, by making solar installation even more affordable than the overcapacity has. There's no question that we'll need every bit of that 100 gigawatts of annual photovoltaic module production capacity in the coming years, as we'll need to install terawatts' worth of renewable energy generation capacity in the next decade.

Governments ought to make sure there's enough demand to keep those factories running at full capacity, and even expanding. Buying the total possible output of those factories and then giving it to homeowners, schools, government agencies and qualifying commercial. With PV prices at $1 a watt and dropping, the governments of the world could make sure those factories are running at peak capacity by spending $70 billion or less. That's less than companies spent on TV advertising in the U.S. in 2011, and less than half the amount Wall Street banks and securities firms paid in bonuses in 2009.

And if we increased PV module demand this way, typical California households could have between $30 and $300 extra in their discretionary income each month.

Just a thought.


Saturday, May 18, 2013

Lawrence Berkeley Lab Begins Construction On Solar Energy Research Complex

Crews broke ground Friday on a $54 million Solar Energy Research Center at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

McCarthy Building Companies, Inc. began building a three-story, 40,000-square-foot facility that will be devoted to researching and developing transportation fuels from sunlight using photovoltaic and electrochemical solar energy systems, according to a company news release.

The project is scheduled to be completed in late 2014.

The new building will be tucked in a hillside at the Berkeley Lab overlooking the UC Berkeley campus.

Heinz Frei, director of the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis, said the new facility will house some of the most cutting edge energy development work in the world, including generating fuels from sunlight, carbon dioxide and water.

"At this new building you will have fundamental research conducted by scientists working shoulder-to-shoulder with engineers to translate the science to new technologies," Frei said.

Frie said the Berkeley and Richmond campuses will both be leaders in renewable fuel technology, one of the most in demand research in the 21st century. The Richmond facility will be a leader in biofuel production, Frei said, while Berkeley will lead on converting sunlight to fuels using nanotechnology.

The Berkeley lab was started in 1931, and researchers have won more than a dozen Nobel Prizes. The U.S. Department of Energy lab is managed by the University of California.

The new construction and expansion at the dense Berkeley lab site follows an announcement earlier this year that a second lab campus will be built on Richmond's southern shoreline area.

The Richmond site plans call for a 2-million-square-foot facility at the 120-acre Richmond Field Station that will house more than 800 scientists doing research in bioscience, cancer, bioenergy and other research. Construction has not yet begun, but plans call for the facility to be operational by 2016.


Friday, May 17, 2013

Tamil Nadu to be Hub of Solar Power

Tamil Nadu's Solar Energy Policy 2012 unveiled by Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa Saturday aims at making the southern state a regional solar energy hub.

Under the scheme, the state will have solar energy parks, will encourage households to adopt solar energy, make it compulsory for all new government buildings to have rooftop solar panels and ask big industries to use solar power. The scheme aims at generating 3,000 MW of solar power by 2015.

According to the policy, Tamil Nadu has around 300 clear sunny days in a year and southern parts of the state are considered the ideal locations for development of solar power projects.

The policy aims to set up 1,000 MW of solar power generation capacity during 2013-2015.

As per the policy, the state would make it compulsory for high tension power consumers like special economic zones (SEZ), industries, IT parks, telecom towers, colleges and residential schools and buildings with built up area of 20,000 square metre or more to purchase six percent solar power from Jan 2014.

The above category of consumers may fulfil their obligation by captive generation, buying from third party solar power generators or renewable energy certificates from solar power projects in Tamil Nadu or purchasing solar power from Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation Ltd. (TANGEDCO) at solar power tariff.

As per the policy, installation of solar water heating systems would be made mandatory for industries having hot water boiler/steam boiler using fossil fuel.

Power consumers falling under domestic, agricultural, power looms, low tension industries, cottage and small-scale industries categories are exempted from solar power purchase obligation.

Solar power projects would be developed through competitive bidding. Investments though joint ventures by state undertakings will also encouraged through competitive bidding.

Appropriate incentives will be provided to attract investors to this sector so as to make the state a regional hub for the solar power industry.

The Tamil Nadu Energy Development Agency will act as the single window clearance agency for solar power projects in the state.


Thursday, May 16, 2013

Chinese Government Mulls Policies to Support Solar Power Industry

China is working on policies, including subsidies and easier access to the grid, to help its ailing solar power producers expand in the domestic market, the China Daily reported on Saturday, citing industry officials and government sources.

The State Grid Corp, China's largest state-owned utility, is considering giving its subsidiaries at city level the authority to approve solar power plants with less than 10,000 kilowatts of installed capacity to be connected to the grid, said deputy director Meng Xiangan.

At a meeting earlier this week, the State Grid also agreed in principle to waive charges associated with connecting to the grid, which usually costs millions of yuan, Meng said, adding that a plan to develop the country's solar industry has been handed to the central government and is awaiting approval.

"The obstacles companies face in order to be connected to the national grid are the biggest problem for the solar power industry," Meng was quoted as saying.

The National Energy Administration is also working on a plan to offer subsidies ranging from about 0.40 yuan ($0.06) to 0.60 yuan for each kilowatt-hour of distributed solar power.

The amount includes subsidies from both the central and local governments, the China Daily said, citing a senior official from the administration.

China's export-focused solar panel industry has been hit hard by excess manufacturing capacity and waning foreign demand as European nations cut back subsidies for green power. Companies have slashed prices 30 percent this year as stockpiles grow, virtually erasing the industry's profits.

Chinese producers, including Suntech Power Holdings and Trina Solar, are increasingly turning to their home market, which has become one of the world's biggest, for solar energy development.

Overseas, they battle not only a weak market environment but also anti-dumping tariffs in the United States. Europe also could impose import duties.


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Another Taxpayer-backed Green Energy Company Files for Bankruptcy

Massachusetts-based solar company Satcon Technology Corp. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Wednesday, becoming the second taxpayer-backed green energy firm this week to do so.

Steve Rhoades, Satcon's president and CEO, said that after considering its alternatives, the company's board decided that the Chapter 11 filings were a "necessary and prudent step" that would allow the company to continue to operate while it reorganizes.

“This has been a difficult time for Satcon,” he said in a statement. “Our goal is for Satcon to emerge from bankruptcy reorganization and continue to provide our customers with the quality products that they need."

The filing comes after electric vehicle battery maker A123 Systems filed for bankruptcy protection Tuesday. That company got $129 million in federal grant money.

Satcon also benefited from federal grants under the Obama administration, though it has received far less than A123 Systems. According to the Energy Department, the company was approved for two separate stimulus awards worth $3 million each. The company so far has received roughly $228,000 from them. The company also received a string of contracts under the George W. Bush administration worth millions.

The Energy Department, in its original justification for one of the Satcon grants, said it was developing a “compact, lightweight power conversion device” that could eliminate the need for large transformers by connecting large-scale solar power systems directly into the power grid. The goal was to “reduce the cost of operating, installing and siting” solar power systems.

But the company filed for bankruptcy following years of financial struggles and a severe downturn in the solar power industry.

The Boston company filed its petitions in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware after defaulting on a portion of its debt earlier this month.

Satcon has struggled financially for several years. Its power-conversion devices and other products were in steady demand in 2011, but never translated to profitability. The company posted losses each year from 2005 to 2011, and it reported a loss for the first six months of 2012.

In January, Satcon announced plans to cut 140 jobs, or about 35 percent of its workforce, and close a factory in Canada, blaming a drop in demand for solar power installations around the world.

The company said at that time that it planned to restructure its global distribution business to shift its focus from Europe, where most of the solar demand has been concentrated for the past few years, to North America and Asia.

The solar power industry has struggled for the past few years, hit by intense competition from cheap Chinese imports and then a steep drop in global demand.

Last year, Solyndra LLC drew national attention after it filed for bankruptcy protection, leaving taxpayers on the hook for $528 million in federal loans. Evergreen Solar, which also received millions in state aid, and Abound Solar have also filed for bankruptcy protection over the past two years.

Satcon also said Wednesday it expects its secured lenders will allow it to use collateral that will give it access to the funds needed to operate its business.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Scientists Use Solar Power to Study Elephants in Africa

A team of elephant researchers from Stanford University has transformed a remote corner of southern Africa into a high-tech field camp run entirely on sunlight. The seasonal solar-powered research camp gives scientists a rare opportunity to quietly observe, videotape and photograph wild elephants at Mushara waterhole, an isolated oasis in Etosha National Park in Namibia.
Stanford University researchers are using solar power to operate
an elephant field study camp in Namibia's Etosha National Park
"One of the really special aspects of solar energy is that it allows us to be in this incredibly remote area that's closed to tourists and is off the grid," said lead researcher Caitlin O'Connell-Rodwell, an instructor at the Stanford School of Medicine and a collaborating scientist at Stanford's Center for Conservation Biology. She is also co-founder of Utopia Scientific, a non-profit organization that promotes awareness about science, conservation and public health.

"We get to watch elephant society unfold before us in a very quiet environment – no generators, no people, no vehicles," she added.

O'Connell-Rodwell has been studying elephant communication at Mushara for 20 years. She was the first scientist to demonstrate that low-frequency calls produced by elephants generate powerful vibrations in the ground – seismic signals that elephants can feel, and even interpret, via their sensitive trunks and feet.

To identify individual elephants, Stanford undergraduate Patrick Freeman took hundreds of high-resolution photographs using a camera run on solar-powered batteries. His trip to Namibia was supported by a travel grant from the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education (VPUE) at Stanford. Each year, VPUE provides additional funding to support Stanford undergraduates working in the camp.

Solar energy was also used to operate a powerful speaker system that delivered low-frequency sounds to elephants gathered at the waterhole. The solar panels provided enough electricity to run a makeshift elephant dung laboratory, operate camera and editing equipment for a documentary video crew, and power two 12-volt refrigerators stocked with fresh meat, dairy products and beer.

Wildlife on parade

Mushara is home to hundreds of wild animals – including rhinos, giraffes, hyenas and lions – that parade to and from the watering hole 24/7. To keep inquisitive critters from wandering into camp, which operated from June through August this year, researchers installed a solar-powered electric fence around the perimeter that delivered a harmless shock to any animal that got too close. "It will just scare them away," said researcher Tim Rodwell, a Stanford MD who teaches medicine at the University of California-San Diego. "A lion tried to touch the fence in the far corner. He only tried it once."

Solar energy also enabled the Stanford team to stay connected to the Internet – allowing O'Connell-Rodwell to send numerous blog posts to the New York Times website directly from Mushara.

The solar panels and the rest of the electrical system were dismantled at the end of the season when the researchers returned home. O'Connell-Rodwell and her team plan to reconstruct the solar-powered camp at Mushara next year and resume their long-term elephant research project.

"Basically, all of our high-tech electronics are run off of a couple of solar panels, a couple of batteries and an inverter," she said. "The sun does the rest."

The Stanford team also received technical support from solar energy companies Soltec and HNU Energy.


Monday, May 13, 2013

A Crackdown on Solar Panels threatens U.S.-China trade

LAST WEEK THE Commerce Department finalized its plan to slap tariffs on Chinese solar panels . Commerce accuses Chinese manufacturers of accepting illegal subsidies and dumping products below cost on the U.S. market. Following the announcement, President Obama’s allies applauded the administration’s resolve to crack down on trade manipulators.

There’s not much to applaud. Tariffs are blunt tools that the government should deploy sparingly, and this case is a good example of why.

It’s true that Beijing has channeled state resources into solar-panel manufacturing. Chinese firms now claim two-thirds of the world market. Chinese panel manufacturers have driven down global prices to the point that even they have lost hundreds of millions of dollars this year.

But how much should a Chinese-made solar panel cost? The answer isn’t obvious. Commerce’s estimating methods — using Thailand’s economy as a surrogate for China’s — don’t inspire confidence. And U.S. firms that export polysilicon, a key material in the panels’ manufacture, or machinery to Chinese solar-panel makers could lose — if not because of the direct influence of the tariffs themselves, then because of the Chinese government’s likely reaction. Analysts worry that the Chinese will retaliate by slapping duties on U.S. polysilicon. Also at risk is the U.S. solar installation business, which has thrived during this period of low-cost panels.

These risks will be exacerbated if the administration proceeds more aggressively, as U.S. solar-panel producers and their allies in Congress urge. Under Commerce’s latest decision, regulators left in place a way for Chinese manufacturers to avoid the tariffs by assembling panels from solar cells built outside China. U.S. solar-panel producers call this a “loophole,” and they want broader tariffs.

It’s hard to see what public interest this would serve. Most of the U.S. solar industry’s growth has been not in manufacturing but in services such as installation and maintenance. And if the Chinese want to subsidize U.S. solar-panel buyers for the time being, there’s a good case to let them.

Now that Commerce has finalized its decision, it’s time for the U.S. and Chinese governments to talk this out before escalating the trade spat any further.


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Solar Power in Neighborhoods is Contagious

People are more likely to install a solar panel on their home if their neighbors have one, according to a Yale and New York University study in the journal Marketing Science.

The researchers studied clusters of solar installations throughout California from January 2001 to December 2011 and found that residents of a particular zip code are more likely to install solar panels if they already exist in that zip code and on their street.

Solar power in neighborhoods is contagious“We looked at the influence that the number of cumulative adoptions—the number of people who already installed solar panels in a zip code—had on the probability there would be a new adoption in that zip code,” said Kenneth Gillingham, the study’s co-author and assistant professor of economics at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. “Our approach controls for a variety of other possible explanations, including clustering of environmental preferences or marketing activity.”

They calculated that 10 extra installations in a zip code increase the probability of an adoption by 7.8 percent. If there is a 10 percent increase in the total number of people with solar panels in a zip code—the “installed base”—there will be a 54 percent increase in the adoption of solar panels.

“These results provide clear evidence of a statistically and economically significant effect,” said Bryan Bollinger, the other co-author and assistant professor of marketing at New York University Stern School of Business.

The study also shows that the visibility of the panels and word-of-mouth led to larger installations. “If my neighbor installs a solar panel and tells me he’s saving money and he’s really excited about it, it’s likely I’ll go ahead and do the same thing,” said Gillingham. “Then there are others who’ll install because they don’t want to be one-upped by their neighbors.”

The researchers found that white males between the ages of 45 and 65 who have a 30-minute commute and home repairs were associated with higher adoption rates. Gillingham suggested that a disproportionate number of engineers working in Silicon Valley may explain the result. In addition, larger households and people with longer commutes were more exposed to solar installations, thus more likely to adopt the technology, compared to people who carpooled and lived in smaller households.

“These findings have clear implications for marketers who are striving to reduce the high cost of consumer acquisition in the solar photovoltaic market,” said Bollinger.

In January 2006 the California Public Utilities Commission established the California Solar Initiative, a $3.3 billion, 10-year rebate program encouraging the installation of 3,000 megawatts of solar infrastructure over the ensuing decade. These subsidies, according to the authors, have increased the number of solar installations to 17,000 in 2010 from fewer than 1,000 in 2001. The authors used the 85,046 requested residential installations during that time in their calculations.

“Our finding of an increasing effect of new installations in a zip code suggests that targeting marketing efforts in areas that already have some installations is a promising strategy,” said Gillingham.


Saturday, May 11, 2013

Solar Mapping to Shed Light on Rich Resource

WE MAY be a nation of sun-worshippers but when it comes to forecasting where the sun shines longest, Australia’s energy authorities are stuck in the dark ages.

The CSIRO is hoping to fill that information void with a lot more riding on it than the best place to get that tan. Energy energy suppliers – current and future – need the data to predict how much solar electricity is likely to flow through the nation’s power grids.

For potential developers of large-scale solar power plants, radiation records are needed to bolster investment certainty as they try to secure finance from bankers or government agencies. The real urgency for hard numbers, though, is coming from the rapid take-up of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, with the total now approaching 900,000 across the country.

“It’s essentially an unknown quantity what those cities full of roof-top PV are producing and we’d like to be able to forecast it,” said Peter Coppin, the senior renewable energy researcher leading CSIRO’s bid.

The Australian Solar Institute, due to be rolled in to the larger Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) at the end of the year, has earmarked funds for solar resource forecasting techniques.

The ASI funding will be announced within weeks with CSIRO and its partners’ bid seen likely to succeed. The institute co-sponsored a talk yesterday by Dr Coppin at the Sydney offices of law firm Baker & McKenzie.

The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), a member of the bid consortium along with the Bureau of Meteorology, installed an advanced forecasting system for wind four years ago to help it manage a big increase in wind farms.

Capacity reached

Dr Coppin said the wildfire spread of solar PV is already straining the power grids of some regional areas, with so-called “hosting capacity” being reached.

WA’s government-owned Horizon Power, for instance, is restricting new capacity in some towns such as Carnarvon where the grid can’t cope with the intermittent supply that comes with solar power.

‘There’s been a huge up-take of solar in Carnarvon,’’ a Horizon Power spokeswoman said.

The problem is not just one of ageing grids initially built to carry power only from the utility to the consumer, but also the amount of solar energy being generated, Dr Coppin said.

“If you’ve got a lot of intermittent generation on an electricity grid, you really have to know when it’s coming to officially schedule the rest of the generation,” he said.

The ASI has alone invested $150 million in 60 solar projects around the country and there are at least two more large-scale solar projects approved, as the emerging technology takes hold across the sunnier regions of the country.

Earlier this month, First Solar, the world’s biggest maker of thin-film panels, officially opened its 10-megawatt Greenough River project in Western Australia, the nation’s first large-scale solar plant. The solar project, owned by General Electric and Verve Energy, may quadruple capacity.

According to AEMO’s 2012 report on national forecasting, rooftop PV will supply 3.4 per cent of annual energy generation by 2021 – although tumbling panel prices may see that tally exceeded. A separate recent government report tipped solar PV and onshore wind to have the cheapest generation costs by the mid-2030s.

The funding bid, which also includes the Bureau of Meteorology, universities and German and American groups, would aim to deliver the new mapping system by the end of 2014, Dr Coppin said.

“By two years’ time, when we’ve got something in place, it will be just in time,” he said.


Friday, May 10, 2013

Weak Demand for Key Solar Product Dents Air Products

Air Products & Chemicals Inc's (APD.N) quarterly profit narrowly missed expectations, partly due to weak demand for a solar product, and the industrial gas producer said Friday that its chief financial officer will retire.

The glut of supply affecting the global solar market is denting sales of silane, an industrial gas used to help apply silicon to glass inside solar panels.

Air Products recorded a $127 million, after-tax charge during the quarter as it canceled a silane supply agreement. Across the industry, supply should exceed demand "for the foreseeable future," the company said.

The charge dented quarterly earnings by 59 cents per share.

Seeking to reassure Wall Street, Chief Executive John McGlade said he will focus on improving the unit selling the silane gas and other products to electronics customers.

McGlade, though, expects Air Products to earn $1.26 per share to $1.31 per share for the October-through-December quarter, below the $1.37 analysts have expected.

"We are starting our 2013 fiscal year with weak economic momentum worldwide," McGlade said in a statement. "Our focus will be on taking actions in the areas that we believe can have the greatest impact on improving margins and returns."

For the fourth quarter ended September 30, the company posted net income of $138.7 million, or 64 cents per share, compared with $324.8 million, or $1.51 per share, a year earlier.

Excluding the solar-related charge and other one-time items, Air Products earned $1.42 during the period.

By that measure, analysts had expected earnings of $1.43 per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Revenue rose 4 percent to $2.61 billion. Analysts had expected $2.51 billion in revenue.

CFO Paul Huck, 62, will retire on February 28 and be replaced by Scott Crocco. Huck has been with Air Products for 33 years.

Crocco, 48, is currently the company's controller.

Shares of Allentown, Pennsylvania-based Air Products have slipped 3.5 percent in the past 6 months, closing Thursday at $85.35.


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Collier Adds Solar Energy to Public Works Building

Sprawling Collier, which traces its roots to the 18th century, is forging a new path in the 21st century with its decision to install a photovoltaic solar energy system on the roof of the public works building on Hilltop Road.

Commissioners voted Oct. 10 to award Scalo Solar Solutions of Crafton a $142,285 contract to replace the building's roof and add the electric generating system to it. The project will begin next month and will be completed by the end of the year with a 30-year guarantee on the roof.

It will be the first such operation for a government building in Allegheny County.

"Collier Township is a pioneer among municipalities in Pennsylvania for having the creativity to include renewable solar energy as part of its sustainability initiative," said Jack Scalo, CEO and president of Scalo Solar Solutions and a township resident.

"I am very excited that we are able to partner with them on this project, which will result in a win-win for both Collier Township and the environment," he added.

The photovoltaic solar system will have 110 modules to capture the sun's energy and generate electricity that will be used by the building, which faces south. The electricity the system produces will reduce township utility costs and decrease its carbon footprint.

It is estimated that the 22kW photovoltaic system will result in a $75,000 net savings over the next six years. Also, because the system will be grid-tied, the township may sell back unused electricity to the power provider in the seventh year. Because this system doesn't require batteries, it will allow the township to obtain electricity from the grid at night or when the sun isn't shining.

However, in order to participate in such a buy-back program, a limited liability company must be set up, said township manager Sal Sirabella.

Mr. Sirabella added the township has been working on this solar energy project for more than a year and is considering solar energy as well for the roof of the new community center at the park now under development off Nike Site Road. The township is also looking into grant money to fund it.

Bob Schuler, commissioners' president, said he hopes the township's energy position will be an inspiration to the rest of the municipality.

"Collier Township is committed to taking a leadership role in sustainability in our community," he said. "It's Collier's goal that our green efforts will encourage our residents and businesses to adopt similar environmentally friendly initiatives."


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

180 Solar Panel Manufacturers Could Disappear by 2015

GTM Research says many PV solar panel makers will go under or be acquired soon. The global marketplace is simply over-saturated, the company’s report states, so dramatic changes are coming. The difference in PV supply and demand could be 35 GW a year.

About 88 companies are predicted to shutter PV factories, mainly in the United States, Europe, and Canada. The cost of solar panels and their manufacture has dropped so much it is simply too costly to produce them competitively in certain parts of the world. The number of companies affected by the fast-changing market conditions is huge, and very sad for the demise of their once promising ventures.

“Manufacturing costs for firms in Europe, the U.S. and Japan are currently over 80 cents per watt. The cost for their Chinese competitors is between 58 cents and 68 cents per watt. The writing is on the wall: these companies will either take what they can get via acquisition or they will bow out,” said the report’s author, Shyam Mehta, Senior Analyst at GTM.

Even the Chinese manufacturers are vulnerable, though. About 54 of them are anticipated to go under as well. Some of these companies have been called ‘solar zombies’ because they have received government support while not functioning competitively on their own.

Of course, scores of workers will lose their jobs, and even though some national economies may experience a slight uptick, it is still a very tough time to find a good job.

Much political hay was made with the Solyndra demise and one can only imagine a huge loss of various solar panel companies might be similarly exploited. It is difficult to be sympathetic to failed government-supported ventures, but there are also gigantic and ongoing subsidies for fossil fuels, so I think the continued support for renewable energy is completely reasonable and justifiable.


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

DayStar buys Solar Projects to Gain More Access to California, India and Hawaii Markets

Shares of DayStar Technologies soared 40 percent higher following the solar company's announcement that it bought solar projects from Avatar Solar, in a cash and stock deal valued at $850,000.

The transaction valued DayStar's shares at $2 each. The company's stock rose 52 cents to finish at $1.81 on Tuesday.

Union City-based DayStar now can jump into solar energy projects in new markets where it was not previously located. DayStar manufactures solar energy panels based on thin-film technologies.

Over a 10-year period, Simi Valley-based Avatar has been active in developing solar energy projects in California, Hawaii and India.

"This transaction is representative of opportunities that we are evaluating," DayStar president Mark Roseborough said. "It marks the start of a new segment of business growth for DayStar."


Monday, May 6, 2013

Japan Benefits as Latecomer Offering Solar Subsidies, Ueta Says

Japan has an advantage as a “latecomer” introducing incentives to promote renewable energy investments, the chairman of a government panel overseeing the setting of rates for clean energy said today.

“Being a latecomer, we can introduce solar power with more advanced technologies,” Kazuhiro Ueta, head of the five-member panel that sets Japan’s feed-in tariffs, said at a symposium on solar energy in Tokyo today.

Japan can learn from countries such as Germany and Spain, which have already implemented the premiums, said Ueta, who is also professor of environmental economics at Kyoto University.

Tokyo introduced the world’s highest feed-in tariff, or fixed-premium rate, for power from solar plants in July to boost output and accelerate the nation’s shift away from nuclear following the Fukushima disaster. The program requires utilities to buy clean energy at higher rates with added costs passed on to consumers as surcharges. The feed-in tariff for solar is 42 yen per kilowatt-hour for 20 years.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government plans to cap renewable-energy subsidies when capacity reaches national targets. Guarantees of above-market prices for clean energy in Germany have helped make the country the biggest market for solar and have been emulated around the world, spurring a boom in renewable energy in nations including Italy and Spain.

Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry projects the nation will add 2,000 megawatts of solar capacity by the end of March. In the six months since April, 885 megawatts of solar were added, it announced last week.

The panel headed by Ueta makes recommendations on the appropriate level of the tariffs, which are set annually, or every six months if necessary. The panel’s recommendations are sent for approval to the industry minister.


Sunday, May 5, 2013

Final Plan for Solar Energy on Public Lands

Solar energy zones in six western states that have been finalized by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar on Oct. 12. The program is intended to spur development of solar projects initially on 285,000 acres administered by the federal Bureau of Land Management.

The Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for solar energy development provides a blueprint for utility-scale solar energy permitting in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. The final PEIS was released in July.

“Energy from sources like wind and solar have doubled since the President took office, and with today’s milestone, we are laying a sustainable foundation to keep expanding our nation’s domestic energy resources,” said Secretary Salazar, who signed today’s Record of Decision at an event in Las Vegas, Nevada with Senator Harry Reid. “This historic initiative provides a roadmap for landscape-level planning that will lead to faster, smarter utility-scale solar development on public lands and reflects President Obama’s commitment to grow American made energy and create jobs.”

The Solar PEIS establishes an initial set of 17 Solar Energy Zones (SEZs), totaling about 285,000 acres of public lands, that will serve as priority areas for commercial-scale solar development. Additional zones could be added. Projects in the designated areas could reach 2.37 GW.

The program establishes review on a case-by-case basis for possible solar projects outside SEZs on about 19 million acres in “variance” areas.
The document was endorsed by at least one environmental organization.

“This federal solar plan is an important step forward in how energy can be smartly developed on our public lands,” said Michael Powelson, The Nature Conservancy, North American Director of Energy Programs. “The Nature Conservancy commends the Departments of Interior and Energy and the Bureau of Land Management for their commitment to find workable solutions that support renewable energy goals and protect the needs of people and nature.”

Since 2009, Interior has authorized 33 renewable energy projects, including 18 utility-scale solar facilities, seven wind farms and eight geothermal plants, with associated transmission corridors and infrastructure.


Saturday, May 4, 2013

JA Solar Faces Possible Delisting from Nasdaq

Debt-laden JA Solar Holdings Co Ltd said it received a warning from the Nasdaq that it could be delisted, making it the second solar company in less than a month to be put on notice by an exchange for failing to meet minimum share-price requirements.

The Chinese solar equipment maker failed to meet the exchange's criteria for continued listing as the average closing price of its American Depositary Shares was less than $1.00 over the preceding 30 trading days as of Oct. 11, JA Solar said.

Top solar panel maker Suntech Power Holdings Co Ltd received a similar notice last month from the New York Stock Exchange.

JA Solar said it had until April 9 next year to address the stock price issue.

The company, like its rivals, has been battling anti-dumping allegations in the United States and Europe, and a steep drop in solar panel prices.

JA Solar shares closed at 80 cents on Monday.


Friday, May 3, 2013

Japan's Solar Frontier to Shut One Plant, Boost Output at other

Solar Frontier, a unit of Japan's Showa Shell Sekiyu KK, will shut indefinitely its Miyazaki-Daini solar module plant to help its other factory, which has annual output capacity of 900 megawatts, run at full pace next year.

Concentrating production at the Kunitomi plant in southern Japan would enable Solar Frontier, which specialises in CIGS technology - solar panels made of metals copper, indium, gallium and selenium - to produce up to 900 MW of solar modules in 2013, a company spokesman said on Tuesday.

That would be a jump of around 50 percent from estimated output of 600 MW this year, aimed at meeting demand growth in the Japanese market.

"We want to use the newest and most cost-effective Kunitomi plant fully from next year," the spokesman said.

Kunitomi started working in February 2011. Solar Frontier shut one of its three plants in 2010, and Miyazaki-Daini, which has capacity of only 60 MW, will close this December.

In July, Japan's government introduced a scheme to subsidise renewable power suppliers, in a shift of its energy policy away from nuclear power after last year's Fukushima disaster

Companies and homeowners are rushing to register as power suppliers under the scheme. More than 80 percent of the total registered capacity of 1,778 MW is solar.


Thursday, May 2, 2013

Solyndra Sues Chinese Solar Makers: Entire Nonsense

Solyndra has decided to try and sue several of the Chinese solar panel makers over the bankruptcy of the firm. This is entirely stuff and nonsense: Solyndra’s bankruptcy came as a result of a technological choice they made, not as a result of any subsidies to any other manufacturers.

Solyndra LLC, the bankrupt solar- panel maker that received a $535 million U.S. government loan guarantee, accused Suntech Power Holdings Co. (STP) and other Chinese panel makers of driving it out of business by running an illegal cartel.

Solyndra, which filed for bankruptcy protection in August 2011, is seeking compensation “for the loss of the $1.5 billion value of its business and more which defendants destroyed,” according to a complaint filed yesterday in federal court in San Francisco.

The defendants schemed with each other, raw material suppliers and certain lenders to flood the U.S. market with solar panels at below-cost prices, the Fremont, California-based company said in the complaint. Panel prices for Wuxi, China- based Suntech, the biggest solar-panel maker, and two other companies moved in tandem, falling 75 percent in four years in the U.S. market, Solyndra said.
It’s possible that there was such scheming. It’s also possible that Chinese panel and cell makers were subsidised by hyte Chinese Government. As was Solyndra subsidised by the US one. But even if these things did occur they were not the cause of Solyndra’s bankruptcy. That was caused by the technological option they had taken.

Please do note, I’m not about to claim that Solyndra were wrong to make the choice that they did, nor that they made a mistake. Not in the sense that it was obviously wrong or a mistake when that choice was made. Rather that circumstances out of their control meant, over time, that it became a mistake. Prediction, especially about the future, is after all quite famously difficult.

The basic design choice people faced with solar cells a few years back was quite simple. Silicon, the basic raw material from which the cells are made, was expensive. $450 per kg is a reasonable enough estimate of the price back then. There are therefore two possible routes you can take. One is to either make such silicon more efficient in use or to economise on the amount of silicon used. These two are really the same option: using less to get the same power output is the same as making the silicon more efficient. The other is to look at ways of lowering the cost of the silicon.

Solyndra used the first of those two possible technological paths. Their tubular design was aimed at optimising the efficiency of the silicon that was being used. A reasonable enough choice at one time. Except for the fact that others decided to pursue the other route. Silicon ingot, from which you can slice off the wafers to make solar cells, has become much cheaper. New fabrication methods were developed and the supply shortage vanished. Essentially, the solar industry used to exist on the cast offs from the computer industry. Then people started making the ingot in the purity and quantities that solar required. As a result prices fell through the floor: to perhaps in the $30 to $40 a kg range today.

I’m afraid that if your business plan, your technological decision, is to optimise the efficiency of an expensive input, then that input falls in price by 90%, well, I’m afraid that while you didn’t actually make a mistake, one that people can blame you for, it does turn out that you have been mistaken. And you’re highly likely to go bust. By analogy, imagine that you decided to build small engined cars because you predicted that gasoline was going to get ever more expensive. Then gas falls to 50 cents a gallon. Your small engine decision isn’t likely to make you much money as everyone goes out and buys the 6 litre V8s.

I do of course wish everyone luck in the upcoming litigation: but Solyndra was pretty obviously going to go down from the moment that silicon ingot prices started to fall.


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

First Solar Says Industry in Australia Trails U.S. by Four Years

First Solar Inc. (FSLR), the biggest maker of thin-film panels, said Australia is four years behind the U.S. in building large solar farms and expects its project with General Electric Co. (GE) to help spur the industry’s expansion.

First Solar is supplying panels to the 10-megawatt Greenough River project in Western Australia, the nation’s first large-scale solar plant. The GE- and Verve Energy-owned solar project, which started this month, may increase capacity to as much as 40 megawatts, the companies said Oct. 10.

“This is less about the size and more about the fact that we now have a utility-scale solar project in Australia,” Jack Curtis, First Solar’s Sydney-based vice president of business development, said in a phone interview. “The local industry can now look to this project and see they can be developed, that they can be executed. It will provide local operational data that can be used to bring the rest of the industry along.”

The Tempe, Arizona-based company (FSLR) estimates as much as 3,000 megawatts to 5,000 megawatts of solar photovoltaic plants may be built in Australia from 2015 to 2020 as the country moves toward a target of getting 20 percent of its power from renewables by the end of the decade, Curtis said yesterday.

Australia currently has 1,936 megawatts of solar projects using photovoltaic panels to convert sunlight into electricity, including just 19 megawatts at large-scale plants, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. A large-scale solar project is defined by BNEF as having capacity of more than 1 megawatt.

Missed Deadlines

The Australian government in July started charging polluters for the carbon they emit to reduce the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels and encourage wind and solar power. The country also plans to invest A$10 billion ($10.3 billion) in Clean Energy Finance Corp. to help the industry.

“First Solar has labeled Australia as one of the more prospective markets globally, and we would agree with that,” said Tim Buckley, managing director at Sydney-based Arkx Investment Management, which owns shares in the U.S. panel manufacturer. “But progress to date has been limited,” partly because of uncertainty about government energy policy.

While Australia has the highest average solar radiation per square meter of any continent, according to the government, some projects picked to receive solar grants, including a venture led by Areva SA (AREVA) in the state of Queensland, have failed to meet financing deadlines and sign power-supply agreements.

“If you can’t create a sustainable solar market in Australia, it’s difficult to see how you can create one in other markets without strong government intervention,” Curtis said.

Landmark Project

First Solar completed its first 10-megawatt, utility-scale solar project in the U.S. in December 2008. More than 5,000 megawatts of First Solar modules have now been installed worldwide, according to the company’s website.

“It’s only by building a 10-megawatt facility can we then learn what the obstacles are to building a 20-megawatt facility and a 40- or 50-megawatt project,” Arkx’s Buckley said by phone. “The First Solar project is a critical landmark.”

First Solar and Sydney-based AGL Energy Ltd. (AGK) in June won A$129.7 million in government funds to build a 159-megawatt solar project across two sites in New South Wales. AGL expects construction to start in mid-2014, with the plants operating by December 2015, it said in August. The AGL plant will cost A$450 million, Energy Minister Martin Ferguson said in June.

Another First Solar proposal with TRUenergy Holdings Pty, which lost to the AGL venture in the government’s initial funding round, is now a candidate for funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, according to Curtis. The Australian agency has about A$1.7 billion in renewable energy funding that hasn’t been awarded, its website shows.