Saturday, November 30, 2013

Solar Feedlots 'No Brainer' for AACo

Feed Central managing director Tim Ford, AACo group manager for feedlots and wagyu Greg Gibbons, Infinity Solar Toowoomba manager John Harrison and Infinity Solar engineer Mark Delaney inspect Feed Central's solar panel site.
Feed Central managing director Tim Ford, AACo group manager for feedlots and wagyu Greg Gibbons, Infinity Solar Toowoomba manager John Harrison and Infinity Solar engineer Mark Delaney inspect Feed Central's solar panel site.

IT'S an impressive sight - 960 solar panels producing enough energy to power 60 houses.

Feed Central at Charlton, on the Warrego Highway, was more than willing to show its facility to delegates of the recent Australian Lot Feeders Association conference, BeefWorks.

The hay and grain supplier's managing director Tim Ford said installing the solar panels was an important move towards diversification.

"One of our core aims was to get the block of land here at Charlton pay for itself, independent of the business," he said.

"Also, importantly, it is no labour, and no maintenance, it's a set and forget type of business venture."

Mr Ford said going solar came down to a simple numbers game.

"We made the decision to go into solar power because the numbers stacked up. We also wanted to do something new, different and positive for the environment."

When they first started looking into solar panels, AACo planned on only putting them on their outback stations.

But one of the major costs associated with feedlots is electricity, so setting up solar panels to supplement the feedlots' needs was the next logical choice.

AACo group manager for feedlots and Wagyu, Greg Gibbons, said the decision to install 19 solar setups was a "no brainer" for the company.

"It's about being eco smart and environmentally friendly," he said.

"In five years we'll own the facility and as I said, we hedge commodities, we hedge grain every day, so why not hedge your power?

"We'll certainly be looking to develop new strategies going forward - whether it be hybrid, solar, wind, or something else - we just can't rely on fossil fuels forever."

Mr Gibbons said they budgeted on the system supplying 20 percent of power. Depending on the day it could reach up to 30pc of their requirements.

Infinity Solar is the company behind these large-scale solar systems.

Toowoomba manager John Harrison said although he appreciated two or three-kilowatt systems on homes, they had decided to focus on improving farming sustainability.

"We are hunting a different beast altogether," he said.

"We are looking at facilities that use a lot of power that need a direct feed so we are king of hedging all along."

Mr Harrison said the desktop work that goes on prior to installation can take several months. Installation however, only takes a week.

"There's a lot of effort that goes into the design, development and all the applications and pre-build strategies.

"But when it comes down to doing it, if you've done your homework right and down it well then installation is pretty trouble free."


Friday, November 29, 2013

Largest Solar Plant in Japan Launched

A 70 megawatt (MW) solar power plant in Kagoshima Prefecture, southern Japan has come online. The Kagoshima Nanatsujima Mega Solar Power Plant went online officially on November 1, 2013 and is being operated by a special purpose company established by Kyocera Corporation and six other companies to sell the electricity to a local utility under Japan’s feed-in-tariff (FIT) program. An inauguration ceremony was held recently to celebrate the country’s largest utility-scale solar power plant.

Following the Great East Japan Earthquake in March of 2011, interest in solar energy has risen as a viable way to resolve power supply issues. To help promote the use of renewable energy, the Japanese government launched a restructured FIT program in July 2012 which mandates that local utilities are required to purchase 100 percent of the power generated from solar installations of more than 10 kilowatts (kW) for a period of 20 years.

Kagoshima Mega Solar Power Corporation was established by Kyocera and six other companies in July 2012 to explore a new business model for utility-scale solar power generation. Under a financing plan devised by Mizuho Corporate Bank, the new company was tasked to develop and operate the 70MW solar power plant on land owned by IHI Corporation with the power generated to be purchased by Kyushu Electric Power Co. based on the FIT program. As the largest shareholder of the new company, the Kyocera Group was responsible for the supply of solar modules as well as part of the construction, and will also undertake maintenance of the system with Kyudenko Corporation.

In addition, a tour facility has been built adjacent to the 70MW plant that is open to the public and features a circular viewing room where visitors can observe the 290,000 solar panels from an elevated vantage point and enjoy the view of the ocean bay and grand Sakurajima volcano in the background. Display zones for visitors such as students and tourists provide information about environmental issues and the science behind photovoltaic energy generation.


Thursday, November 28, 2013

Catching Solar Energy With Salt Balls

A pedestrian exercises on the Venetian Causeway, which connects
Miami and Miami Beach. When it comes to solar power,
Florida remains a laggard, trailing not-so-sunny places
such as New Jersey and Massachusetts.
(ANGEL VALENTIN/The New York Times)
To Florida’s big utilities, the Sunshine State isn’t as bright as its nickname indicates.

Too cloudy. Too hazy. Too much darkness. It just doesn’t have the pounding rays of, say, Arizona or parts of California.

As such, the reasoning goes, the Sort of Sunny State isn’t great for solar energy – unless someone develops storage technology to overcome those limitations.

Enter Yogi Goswami, an internationally renowned mechanical engineer at the University of South Florida.

His solution: salt-filled ceramic balls that can turn water into steam for hours after the sun disappears. The steam powers turbines that produce electricity, in much the same way as burning coal.

Dr. Goswami, 65, isn’t the only researcher to develop a solar thermal storage technology for renewable energies. And he’s not the only one to use salt as a main component.

But he has devised a way to concentrate the energy storage into golf ball-size capsules that even at high volumes take up little space, reduce costs and last longer than other technologies so far.

“We think that this has a bright future,” Dr. Goswami says. “For solar, in my view, [storage] is essential.”

Storing power

In the renewable energy world, building a cost-effective, utility-scale system that can store solar power for hours at a time is a Holy Grail of sorts.

“That will be a game changer,” Duke Energy Florida president R. Alexander “Alex” Glenn told state lawmakers last spring. “Storage is going to be critical.”

A race is on to develop the best technology. A few systems are already in use or being tested.

Duke Energy for instance operates one of the nation’s largest storage technologies at its Notrees Battery Storage Project that uses lead-acid battery blocks at a wind farm in Texas.

Arizona’s Solana Generating Station already uses a salt-based storage system that powers two 140-megawatt turbines that generate electricity for as long as six hours after sunset. The system produces enough power for 70,000 Arizona Public Service customers.

Dr. Goswami’s system is similar to Solana’s, but instead of large tanks full of salt, his system employs small balls.

Dr. Goswami began with encasing salt in nickel and zinc. To increase efficiency, he moved to ceramic casings, with help from a partnership with electronics and ceramic maker Kyocera Corp., based in Kyoto, Japan.

During the day, solar thermal panels heat the balls to extremely high temperatures. The salt in the balls, which can be reused for years, melts to a liquid. The molten material keeps the balls hot enough in an insulated tank to turn water into steam for as long as 12 hours. The salt then turns back to a solid when it cools, and the process can start all over when the sun shines again.

The steam could power turbines on demand during cloudy days or throughout the night.

The footprint for a 100-megawatt storage system, which could power about 36,000 homes, would be about 12 metres by 12 metres.

The size of Dr. Goswami’s storage is one of its advantages. Dr. Goswami thinks he can drive costs down to $2,000 per kilowatt for the solar thermal system and $15 per kilowatt hour for the storage. Other solar systems and storage have been costing $3,000 per kilowatt for the system and $40 per kilowatt hour for the storage.

The hitch: No one has yet agreed to build one for commercial use.

Haresh Kamath, program manager for energy storage at the Electric Power Research Institute, an organization largely funded by the utility industry, says Mr. Goswami’s system “has some promise and should be investigated.”

Dr. Goswami’s pricing would make the system financially competitive, said Mr. Kamath, and the size of the storage is “a pretty small amount of space.”

“It’s something that needs significant testing before it’s ready for deployment,” Mr. Kamath said.

The Solana solar power plant in Arizona shows that the technology can work, he added.

“It’s not only under consideration, it is actually being used,” Mr. Kamath said. “Not this particular technology, but similar technology.”

Randy Wheeless, a Duke Energy spokesman, said the company would need to see Dr. Goswami’s technology used with a utility-scale power plant.

“We haven’t really been looking at that technology,” Mr. Wheeless said. “Thermal salt storage isn’t that ground-breaking.

“Obviously, it needs to be a certain scale,” he said. “How do you get this to scale?”

Dr. Goswami’s confident response: Test it. It’s ready.

Development began in 1990s

Dr. Goswami began developing the system in the 1990s while at the University of Florida.

His initial financial backing came from the U.S. Department of Energy, Florida Power & Light and Florida Power (now Duke Energy). The university, FPL and Florida Power each owned a third of the patent.

Dr. Goswami said the power companies abandoned the project when they returned their focus to more traditional forms of generating power. With no companies licensing the technology, the university did not renew the patent.

But Dr. Goswami powered on.

The University of South Florida hired him away from the University of Florida, and Dr. Goswami became the John and Naida Ramil Distinguished Professor and the co-director of the university’s Clean Energy Research Center.

John Ramil, president and chief executive officer of TECO Energy, the state’s third largest investor-owned utility, said Dr. Goswami’s stature in Florida and the world warrants serious consideration of his work.

“We are fortunate to have Dr. Goswami at USF,” Mr. Ramil said. “He’s an internationally recognized researcher and leader in the energy field.

“Dr. Goswami’s work to expand the usefulness of solar energy – to match customer consumption patterns – is valuable research that could have a lasting effect on the energy industry.”
Diversity of sources

When it comes to solar, Florida remains a laggard, trailing not-so-sunny places likes New Jersey and Massachusetts.

In his testimony to state lawmakers last spring, Mr. Glenn, the head of Duke’s Florida operations, said solar simply isn’t ready for prime time.

“Florida is not the greatest renewable state,” Mr. Glenn said. “We are the Sunshine State, but we’re also the partly cloudy state. What we have to do is develop a storage technology.”

To Dr. Goswami, it’s more a matter of Duke and other utilities embracing what is already available.

The sun is “the only inexhaustible [fuel] source,” Dr. Goswami said. “I’m not a purist who would say only use solar. Solar is intermittent. You can’t ignore that. You have to have your diversity of sources.”

But he said all fuel sources need to be managed.

“You use diversity of fuel sources, but in a sustainable way,” Dr. Goswami said. “You use fossil fuels, but in a sustainable way.”

Another reason solar has failed to blossom in Florida: It made little financial sense, thanks to electric rates that are much lower here than up North.

But the electricity rates in Florida are starting to rise. Meanwhile, the cost of solar continues to fall and expectations are that it will soon be on par with what residential customers pay the utility for electricity.

Dr. Goswami sees his system lowering costs even more.

He is working to reduce the size of the balls used for his system to make them even more efficient, much like computer servers evolved from filling a warehouse in the 1960s to a desktop today.

It’s these kinds of advancements that he thinks the utility companies ignore at their own peril.

“Innovation knows no limits,” Dr. Goswami said. “The utility companies have to recognize that or they will be left behind.”


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

California to Hold Meeting on NextEra Blythe Solar Power Plant

Nov 11 (Reuters) - California regulators will hold a public meeting on Nov. 12 with a unit of NextEra Energy Inc on environmental and other issues related to its proposed 485-megawatt Blythe solar photovoltaic power plant.

The California Energy Commission said in a press release on Friday its staff will discuss air quality, biological resources, paleontological resources, and soil and water resources it has found with the $1.13 billion project.

In September and October, the Commission staff issued an assessment that will serve as its testimony at an evidentiary hearing held by a committee of two Commissioners who are reviewing the project.

The committee will issue a proposal that will be presented to the full commission for a final decision on the project, the Commission said.

In September 2010, the Commission approved German renewable company Solar Millennium's proposal to build a 1,000-MW solar thermal power project using mirrors and sunlight to heat a fluid and generate power.

Solar Millennium wanted to build the plant on 7,043 acres of federal land managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management near the town of Blythe in Riverside County about 225 miles (362 km) east of Los Angeles.

Solar Millennium went bankrupt at the end of 2011 and in June 2012 filed an amendment with the Commission to change the technology to solar photovoltaic.

In April 2013, the new project owner, a unit of NextEra, filed a revised amendment to reduce the project's physical size and generation capacity. It is the revised amendment the Commission is considering.

NextEra wants to build the 485-MW project on 4,070 acres of Bureau of Land Management land in four phases, with the first three each 125 MW and the fourth generating 110 MW.

NextEra has said construction is expected to last 48 months and employ an average of 341 workers. Once operational, NextEra it will take about 15 workers to run the plant.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Solar Farm Surprise? HECO Won't Say Where It's Putting New Huge Energy Projects

Hawaiian Electric Co. is hoping to fast-track nine solar farms on Oahu that could mean hundreds of thousands of solar panels stretching across areas equivalent to 40 Ala Moana Shopping Centers.

The power is expected to lower consumer electricity bills, in addition to moving Hawaii away from its dependency on oil-fired generators.

But where will all of these solar panels go?

HECO won’t say.

Who is going to develop them?

That’s proprietary too. And HECO even wants state regulators to exempt the projects from competitive bidding requirements.

HECO will say that it hopes the solar farms will be up and running by the end of 2015. The utility already agreements with developers for specific projects, including timelines and prices for the power.

But the public won’t get more information about the projects until HECO submits final contracts with each developer to Hawaii’s Public Utilities Commission for approval.

“It is very weird,” said Henry Curtis, executive director of Life of the Land and longtime HECO critic. “It seems to me that you would want to identify (the location) sooner rather than later so you can figure out if the site is good or bad.”

Especially in Hawaii, where land is limited and energy projects rarely escape opposition.

HECO spokesman Peter Rosegg says keeping the information confidential allows developers to work with communities before a project becomes generally known. The agreements stipulate that the developer has to engage in community outreach.

“We don’t want anyone to wake up and read in the media that something is planned for their community,” he said.

But advance warning can also have a significant impact on a project if people don't want it in their community.

In 2006, a wind farm planned for the Leeward coast of Oahu was scrapped amid community protest. Residents complained that they were already hosting the island's dump and main industrial facilities.

The Kawailoa wind farm on Oahu’s North Shore went up without too much community protest, but the turbines have since sparked anger from some residents who say they were surprised by the towering turbines' visual impact. The turbines poke above the dense foliage of Waimea Valley, easily seen by drivers along the coastal highway.

And plans for 28 acres of solar panels on the Ford Island runway were recently dropped after veterans groups and historians worried that they would mar the historic World War II site.

Hawaii’s Consumer Advocate, Jeff Ono, says information on projects and locations should be kept confidential. “There could be competitive advantages and disadvantages if that information were being disclosed upfront,” he said.

Plus, solar farms haven't attracted the levels of community opposition that wind farms have, he said.

"The solar projects take a relatively low profile," said Ono. "They are not like 400-foot wind turbines."

But they do take up a lot of acreage. Unlike wind farms, which ultimately have a small footprint, solar panels cover large tracts of land.

HECO has said it wants the nine solar farms to provide up to 240 megawatts of capacity. The U.S. Department of Energy calculates a utility needs eight acres to produce a single megawatt. That means HECO would need about 1,920 acres and hundreds of thousands of panels. The Kauai Island Utility Cooperative recently broke ground on a solar farm that will use 45,000 solar panels to produce 12 megawatts.

The aggressive push for more commercial solar projects is part of HECO’s recent effort to bring consumers some relief from high electricity prices.

HECO says the average cost of electricity from the nine proposed solar farms is about 15.8 cents per kilowatt hour. That's compared to as much as 22.7 cents per kilowatt hour for oil-fueled electric generation.

HECO is also asking state regulators to exempt the projects from the competitive bidding process. That might seem at odds with getting the best price for ratepayers and bringing down energy costs.

But Ono, the Consumer Advocate who is supposed to represent consumers' interests before the PUC, says he's reviewed some of the projects and supports exemptions because of their lower pricing.

“What you see on the mainland is incredible drops in pricing for (contracts) and we weren’t seeing any kind of drop in prices for wind and solar,” said Ono.

Ono said the HECO agreements require the developers to provide the PUC and Consumer Advocate with detailed financial information about their projects, something regulators haven't had access to in the past.

A bill that would have forced developers to disclose this information to regulators died in the Hawaii Legislature earlier this year.


Monday, November 25, 2013

Solar Powered Lights to Light Up RMI Streets

11 November 2013, Suva Fiji: Urban centres in the Republic of the Marshall Islands will soon be lit through solar powered street lighting systems.

The project funded through the Pacific Environment Community (PEC) Fund will see 78 solar powered Light Emitting Diode (LED) street lights installed in the urban areas of the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

“I wish to congratulate the Government of the Republic of the Marshall Islands on the commencement of this important PEC Fund project,” says Tuiloma Neroni Slade, Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat. “The solar LED streetlights will allow the Government of the Republic of the Marshall Islands to expand its street lighting to areas that do not have streetlights at present. Most importantly, the project will reduce reliance on the use of environmentally damaging fossil fuels, displacing the equivalent of 17,000 litres of diesel per year, and Greenhouse Gas Emissions by approximately three tonnes per year.”

The Financing Agreement which provides the terms and conditions for the use of the PEC Funds has been signed by the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and by the Government of the Republic of the Marshall Islands through the Minister and Secretary of the Ministry of Resources and Development on November 8, 2013.

On signing of the agreement, the first milestone payment is released by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and project implementation will commence. The support provided by the PEC Fund is for approximately $800,000USD. This is RMI’s second project with RMI now utilising its USD4million allocation. RMI is currently implementing a salt water desalination project with the remainder of the PEC Funding.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Illinois Not Meeting Goals for Solar Energy

Wording glitch in law at issue; state has yet to create market for trading renewable energy credits

Shedd Aquarium officials Roger Germann, from left,
Bob Wengel and Mike Delfini show its rooftop solar panels,
projected to shave $25,000 to $30,000 a year from its electricity bill.
(Terrence Antonio James, Chicago Tribune)
Shawn Temple, a development director for Weston Solutions, said he has manufacturers, grocery chains and retailers interested in erecting solar panels along large swaths of abandoned industrial sites in Chicago.

"We have lots of clients and sites available," Temple said.

But those companies are building large-scale projects in other states because they can't make the math work in Illinois.

A glitch in the wording of a state law has prevented solar power from being purchased for Illinois electric customers even though they are paying into a fund for that purpose. What's more, the state has yet to create a market for trading renewable energy credits, vastly extending the time it takes for solar power producers to recoup construction costs.

No chief financial officer is going to sign off on a big solar project without financial incentives, Temple said. "It needs to pass the CFO test."

The incentives are especially crucial, given Illinois' lack of sunny days and low electricity prices.

As a result, virtually none of the power flowing to Illinois electricity customers comes from the sun, despite aggressive statewide mandates that require increasing the number of homes and businesses supplied with renewable energy such as solar.

So far, $53 million has been paid into a fund by Illinois electricity customers. But the law allows the money to only be spent at the same time that power is being purchased for Commonwealth Edison and Ameren Illinois customers. But those utilities have more power than they need because most of their customers fled for cheaper alternative suppliers.

So the pot of money just sits.

A legislative fix would allow the agency that procures power to spend that money on behalf of all Illinois electricity users, regardless of whether they remain with their legacy utility. The fix was expected last week but was postponed after the Illinois Competitive Energy Association, a lobby arm of alternative energy suppliers, claimed that such a move would drive up electricity prices.

Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, who is sponsoring the legislation that would fix the law, said last week that the issue will be taken up after the veto session.

Illinois patterned its renewable energy market after New Jersey, a state that has made up for its dearth of sunshine and low electricity prices by paying well for renewable energy credits.

"On paper we have great incentive for people to invest in solar here," said Sarah Wochos, senior policy advocate and director of research for the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Chicago. "But there's some structural flaws in the mechanics of the law right now that make it impossible for those investments and that growth to happen here."

In the meantime, experts say, solar development in Illinois has been the exception rather than the rule.

"These are customers that really wanted to make it work in Illinois for one reason or another that went beyond the pure economics of the project," said Madeleine Klein, senior vice president of policy and strategy for solar rooftop developer SoCore Energy, a subsidiary of Edison International.

For example, SoCore Energy developed two of the state's largest rooftop solar panel installations, at Ikea stores in Bolingbrook and Schaumburg. The main reason for those projects is that Ikea is committed to having solar panels at its stores. Klein said about 90 percent of its stores have solar panels.

Ikea's projects also illustrate why the state is behind on solar installations.

In Illinois, Ikea's return on its solar investment could take decades, compared with only three years if the same project were hypothetically launched in a sunny state like Hawaii, said Jason Keyes, partner at law firm Keyes, Fox & Wiedman LLP and an attorney for the Interstate Renewable Energy Council.

In Hawaii the cost of a typical residential solar installation has dropped from about $40,000 four years ago to about $26,000 today, according to Brad Albert, owner of Rising Sun Solar, a solar installer in Hawaii. Federal and state tax exemptions further reduce the cost to about $12,100.

As a result, companies have popped up that pay for the solar installation for businesses and homes, and they make a profit selling the cheaper electricity back to the solar panel hosts. So much solar energy is flowing into Hawaii's electrical grid that the incumbent utility has refused to accept any more solar power along certain parts of its system.

"Three years ago, people installing solar were wealthy and had big homes, wanted to save money, but really, the big thing for them was being green. But now it has shifted. People are doing it just for the sake of saving money. And they're saving from day one," Keyes said.

Illinois solar power producers tend to be green enthusiasts, and their projects relatively small.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

NC Solar Farm Developer Expands Operations

ISS Develops and Installs Large Scale Solar
Farms for Less.
"Innovative Solar Systems is expanding our development
operations due to demand in other states. "
Asheville, NC (PRWEB) November 11, 2013

Innovative Solar Systems is an Asheville based developer of utility scale solar farms. The company’s current portfolio of projects range in size from 2MW to 100MW and ISS is currently in negotiations on a 4000 acre project in Texas. The company has recently made the choice to expand into several strategic states offering great incentives and purchase power agreement rates. ISS has offered its developer services to others over the last year on a case by case flat fee basis and that has driven the need to expand the development arm of the company into states where financial returns on these deals work the best.

It has been the experience of ISS that Institutional size investors and owner operators desire the larger size projects due to reductions in soft costs and being able to install the projects at a much lower price per watt. The 35MW to 100MW North Carolina solar farm projects in ISS's portfolio are being offered to buyers for approximately $1.30/watt installed and commissioned. At these low installed costs ISS also uses tier one bankable modules, inverters and racking equipment which make these deals much more attractive to equity funds and groups. Once partnered with large equity funds or groups ISS can also place the NC Tax Credits to sweeten the financials and make these deals even more attractive.

Many equity groups and OEM’s are currently partnering up with ISS on the front end on these large projects so that they have an 50% financial membership interest in the given project that also yields them a higher return once the shovel ready project is either sold off or built out. Groups seeking large scale solar farm projects in either NC or other states that would like to be a partner on these larger and more desirable projects should start a dialogue with ISS today. With dozens of large projects in various levels of development ISS has become the gold standard for solar farm projects in North Carolina and in the United States. These partnerships can yield entities the better solar projects at a lower cost of overall ownership.


Friday, November 22, 2013

El Centro Solar Mega-Project Operational

First Solar employees work on the last field of solar panels in the desert Thursday at the Tenaska
Solar Project.
Peggy Peattie / /UT San Diego

A solar mega-project spanning nearly 1,000 acres in the Imperial Valley desert has begun full commercial operations, delivering electricity to utility customers in the San Diego area.

Omaha, Neb.-based Tenaska announced the completion of its Imperial Solar Energy Center South power plant near El Centro, effective Nov. 1. At full tilt, the solar farm can power approximately 44,000 California homes. It consists of nearly 2 million solar panels. Construction began in December 2011.

Customers of San Diego Gas & Electric will purchase the plant's power under a 25-year contract. Terms of the agreement will not be available for at least three years, under provisions designed to ensure competitive bidding.

Tempe, Ariz.-based First Solar supplied the completed project's photovoltaic solar panels, and acted as the construction contractor.

A second, slightly larger Tenaska solar project, the Imperial Solar Energy Center West, is scheduled to break ground in early 2014 on land in the Imperial Valley straddling Interstate 8.

The Tenaska projects are among a slate of large-scale renewable energy power plants under development in the sun-drenched Imperial Valley. California utilities are pushing to comply with a state mandate to provide 33 percent of their electricity from renewable sources such as solar, wind, geothermal and recycled-wood burning plants.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

NZ's First Solar-Powered Commerical Building

Panels go up on the roof of the ecostore premises in
Freeman's Bay, Auckland. Photo / Supplied
Clean technology: The installation of 48 solar panels on the roof of the Ecostore premises in Freeman's Bay, Auckland, is hoped to turn it into New Zealand's first net zero-energy commercial building.

The system is designed to generate 17,500 kWh a year, which is expected to be enough to meet the building's entire electricity requirements. Research shows that if further savings are made through altering usage there is even the possibility that the building could become a net positive energy building.

The project is an initiative of Ecostore's not-for-profit arm, Fairground Foundation, multi-network infrastructure company Vector and the landlord of the building. "The Fairground Foundation has been set up to take on projects that have traditionally been seen as too hard, making them commercially viable and then passing the learnings back to the general community. This project fits in perfectly with Fairground's mission creating a healthier, more sustainable world through on-the-ground action, hence the enthusiasm for coordinating this project which has taken over 14 months," says Malcolm Rands, Ecostore founder and owner.

The solar system allows solar power to be intelligently integrated into Vector's electricity network. By combining solar panels with battery storage and a smart control system, the energy produced from the solar panels can be stored and used both when it is needed in the building and during times of peak network demand. The solution is designed to offset the tenants' electricity usage during the day when usage will be at its peak and also have the assurance, through the battery storage, of being able to use solar power when the sun isn't shining. The batteries are a Lithium-ion battery pack, the same technology used in the car industry to power hybrid electric vehicles. The batteries also provide a measure of resilience with some backup in the unlikely event of a grid outage.

Vector currently operates a solar pilot residential programme with a limited number of Auckland homeowners, one of which includes Rands.
"The idea is to bring smarter energy choices to all Aucklanders. We have taken the learnings from our early successes in the residential solar programme and are applying them in new areas," says Simon Mackenzie, CEO of Vector.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Solar Energy Scheme Helps Small Businesses

A scheme set up to allow Britain’s small businesses to save money by tapping into the growing demand for alternative energy by converting their roofs to mini solar farms will today announce the first 70 partnerships across the UK.

As part of the new Energy Bonds scheme, farmers and factory owners can convert their roof space to mini solar farms at no cost to themselves in exchange for significantly reduced energy bills.
The solar panels collect energy from the sun, even on cloudy days, and convert it to electricity.
The scheme is possible due to the government’s commitment to providing subsidies to green businesses and underwriting energy efficient schemes in order to meet Kyoto Protocol carbon emission reduction targets.
The announcement follows a growing interest and increase in similar schemes across Britain. At the end of 2011, 230,000 solar powered projects were already up in running in the UK generating 750 megawatts which had increased to 1,000 MW by February 2012.
Furthermore, last year the government predicted that around four million homes across the nation would be powered by the sun by 2020.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Zoning Board to Consider Solar Project

The Daily News

KINGMAN — The county’s planning and zoning commissioners will discuss Wednesday a Mohave Valley recreational vehicle park.

The commission will discuss a permit for a recreational vehicle park, camping and outdoor storage of vehicles off of Stage Coach Drive in Mohave Valley. The lot is zoned agricultural residential, one-acre minimum lot size.

In other action, the commission will also look at an extension of time for a rezone in Fort Mohave for a solar project. The lot is zoned energy overlay, solar photovoltaic.

The project’s applicant, Greenstone Renewables LLC of Scottsdale has coordinated with the Mohave Sun Valley Airport as to glare off the solar panels that could affect pilots.

The commissioners will also look to approve the 2014 calendar for meetings. The commission meets the second Wednesday of each month with another meeting that may be scheduled the following Wednesday if needed.

The planning and zoning issues will go before the county supervisors for approval at their Dec. 2 board meeting. The commission meeting starts at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the board of supervisor’s auditorium at the county administration building located at 700 W. Beale St. in Kingman.


Monday, November 18, 2013

Transforming the Solar Discussion

The sun's energy has been a central component of the renewable energy cache, including several harnessing technologies such as solar heating, photovoltaics, thermal, architecture and artificial photosynthesis.  Researchers at the University of Cincinnati are bringing forth a new method of solar capture and storage called SmartLight that includes the use of electrofluidic cells in concert with embedded photovoltaics placed at the top of a building's windows.
These solar capture elements are then used to project light into the building through a continuous grid-strip of electrofluidic cells. Lead researcher, Jason Heikenfeld envisions these cell channels running across the top of a room and through room adjoining transom windows for distribution as needed within any of the office building's rooms regardless of its position within the building.

Each tiny cell, 4-5 millimeters wide, contains fluid with special optical properties that can project directly onto the space to be lit or to the next cell. With minimal electrical stimulation, the fluid's surface tension can be rapidly manipulated into lens shapes or prisms creating a controllable source of light.  Each grid is composed of many cells would be directed according to its function. For instance, the grid might direct some light to reflect off the ceiling to provide ambient room lighting. Other light might get focused toward special fixtures for task lighting. Yet another portion of light might be transmitted across the empty, uppermost spaces in a room to an existing or newly installed transom window fitted with its own electrofluidic grid. From there, the process could be repeated to enable sunlight to reach the deepest, most "light-locked" areas of any building. It can all be done without installing new wiring, ducts, tubes or cables.

The tiny electrofluidic cells are made using a fire rated varioptic lens. A varioptic lens pairs up a bit of water with a bit of oil sandwiched between two pieces of glass. With the introduction of the sun's energy, the water changes shape. The newly formed concave shape becomes refract-able and transmittable.

By being transmittable, Heikenfeld points out that the energy from a typical sunny day can then be stored for use on a cloudy day. This is because sunlight on any given normal day, typically 100,000 lux, provides a much more intense lighting than would ever be needed to light a building. SmartLight can funnel surplus light into a centralized harvesting storage hub for later be use when natural light levels are lower. The SmartLight grid provides a dynamic response to varying light levels throughout the day meeting office lighting demand.

Heikenfeld and research partner, Anton Harfmann are very enthusiastic about Smartlight opportunities. Heikenfeld says much of the science and technology required to make the Smart Light commercially viable already exists. He and Harfmann have begun evaluating materials and advanced manufacturing methods. The only thing missing at this point is enough funding to create a large-scale prototype, which could call the attention of government or industry partners interested in bringing SmartLight to market.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

17MW solar power plant for Smorgon District

GRODNO, 11 November (BelTA) – Plans have been made to build a solar power plant in Smorgon District, Grodno Oblast with the total capacity of 17MW, BelTA learned from Andrei Sviridov, Head of the Investment Office of the Economy Committee of the Grodno Oblast Executive Committee.

The project to use renewable sources of energy will be implemented by OOO Ecological Energy, a company with Belarusian-Lithuanian-Russian capital.

An area as large as 36ha in an industrial zone of the district will be used for deploying the solar power generators. The power plant’s efficiency factor may reach 20%. The energy it will generate will be fed into the public power grid.

About $40 million will be invested in the project that will be implemented in three stages. The first one is supposed to be ready as early as late 2015.

A solar power plant with the total capacity of 1.26MW already operates in test mode in Shchuchin District, Grodno Oblast. This project has been implemented by OOO Agrohimsvet (AHS) at the expense of $1.5 million. Investment proposals filed by a Lithuanian company to build several more power plants of the kind in Zelva District, Lida District, and Svisloch District are going through the approval procedure. Projects to use solar energy are being implemented by several enterprises and organizations of the oblast. Apart from that, solar-powered water heaters are installed in recreation camps and at individual enterprises of the oblast. Plans have been made to raise their number over 20 by 2015. The production of solar panels by OAO Grodno Glassworks is under consideration.


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Harnessing Acoustic Vibrations Boosts Solar Cell Efficiency

Increasing the efficiency of a hybrid solar cell simply by placing it near a source of ambient noise or vibration would be a boon for photovoltaics in urban areas, in the military, or on machinery or transportation.

According to Gizmag, hybrid organic/inorganic solar cells are already a tempting option over silicon because of their lower cost, but they suffer from their own drawbacks of efficiency. However, new research demonstrates that the piezoelectric qualities of the cells' inorganic layer can be used to boost the overall efficiency of hybrid systems, which is promising for wherever sound and sun are together.

Piezoelectric materials generate electricity when exposed to vibrations, sound, and even touch. While it's known that the zinc oxide (ZnO) nanotubes studied in this research have piezoelectric properties, few studies have addressed it. Additionally, focus has been on the electricity generated by the piezoelectric effect itself, a negligible percentage of the overall output, rather than how this layer interacts in its hybrid sandwich.

However, scientists at Queen Mary University and Imperial College London found that sound levels as low as 75 decibels (quieter than city traffic) improved the efficiency of their photovoltaic device up to 50 percent. In particular, efficiency peaked at 10 kHz, the resonant frequency of the ZnO nanotubes and right about where a lot of high notes of pop music hit.

Music was tested for fun, with pop having the most effect and classical the least.

By vibrating the system in the dark, they were able to eliminate the possibility that the increased voltage was merely due to the piezoelectric layer generating its own electricity. The small amount of electricity generated was not comparable to the increase attainable with both light and vibration.

They concluded that the electrical field set up by the vibrating ZnO nanotubes interacts with electrons migrating from the organic polymer layer. This process decreases the likelihood of recombination, in which electrons are energized but settle back into a hole instead of migrating to the electron-accepting ZnO layer.


Friday, November 15, 2013

Solar-Powered ‘Desert Cascades’ Cube Gushes Water in the Desert

The same team behind SunGlacier, an extraordinary solar-powered artificial leaf that produces ice in the middle of the desert, has come up with a new concept – ‘Desert Cascades.’

Whereas SunGlacier produces ice from water vapor, Desert Cascades creates a cascading waterfall. Still in its conceptual phase, this art project proposes a self-powering cube of solar panels that collects water vapor from humidity in the air.

Technology like this is easily deployed in Arabian Gulf countries such as Abu Dhabi, where humidity levels hover – on average – around 70 percent.

Like the SunGlacier, which sounds improbable at first but has proved its potential through a simulated desert environment inside a shipping container, the Desert Cascades project aims to encourage other artists, designers and scientists to stretch their imagination when it comes to solving some of the world’s most pressing problems.

“Developments in technology are ever increasing in speed,” writes Ap Verheggen, the Dutch artist who continues to develop fascinating answers to the problem of water shortages in arid environments.

“What appears impossible at the present can quickly become a reality within a number of months or a few short years.”
Verheggen trusts that solar technology has progressed at a considerable pace, and hopes to inspire people to use these technologies in new, inventive ways. A waterfall gushing in the middle of the desert, in other words, can open people’s eyes to previously unexplored possibilities.

Ambitious, yes. Slightly unrealistic? Perhaps. And Verheggen is honest about this.

“We’ve noticed a huge gap between theory and reality in testing our ideas, so naturally it has been impossible to make conclusions before empirical testing,” he says.

Despite the challenges presented by his wild thinking, he remains undaunted.

Referencing both SunGlacier and Desert Cascades, the UNESCO-IHE ambassador writes, “Both are conceived with the purpose of demonstrating that we need to think in terms of solutions as man always has done – also in adapting to a changing climate.”

He added that in order to adapt to a changing climate, we also need to rewire our mind set.

“For me it is clear that climate change = culture change.”


Thursday, November 14, 2013

What Solar Power Needs for a Brighter Future

Solar power has been on a roll in recent years, as plummeting prices for solar panels and generous government incentives have helped to make it much more affordable.

Advocates are convinced the boom times have only just begun. They predict solar power will become even more attractive to consumers over the next two decades as prices decline further and new technologies lead to expanded uses.

"People won't think solar is novel 20 years from now," said Minh Le, director of the U.S. Department of Energy's SunShot Initiative, which funds solar technology research and development. "It will be so cheap that it will be on your house, your car, the back of your iPhone."

Perhaps, but we aren't there yet, and plenty of skeptics would argue otherwise. Solar power isn't economically competitive without government incentives, they say, and the variable nature of sunshine is a problem.

Even with solar power's rapid growth in recent years—the U.S. Energy Information Administration says solar generation capacity should reach 14 gigawatts by the end of this year, a more than fivefold increase from 2010—it remains a tiny part of the U.S.'s overall energy mix at less than 1%. That should rise to 4% by 2040, based on EIA projections.

Still, advocates say solar has a very bright future. Here is a look at some of the developments they say could help the rooftop solar market take off in the next two decades.

Prices continue to fall.

Why it matters: Polls have shown that consumers like the idea of using cleaner sources of electricity and producing their own power. But many are reluctant to pay the high cost of installing a solar system, so prices will have to come down further for solar to become a more common sight.

Installation prices for residential and commercial rooftop solar systems plunged 40% between 2008 and 2012, largely because of a supply glut, according to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Price declines are expected to continue, with the average installation price for a residential rooftop system set to drop to $2.88 a watt by 2017 from $4.45 a watt in 2012, according to GTM Research. At that price, solar may become attractive even for those who don't rack up high electricity bills each month, supporters say.

The solar industry also is expected to increase its use of long-term lease deals to entice those who may want to go solar but can't afford the upfront cost. The residential leasing market is forecast to grow to $5.7 billion by 2016 from $1.3 billion in 2012, says GTM.

The obstacles: The time it takes to recoup a rooftop solar investment depends not only on installation costs, but also on utility rates. Rapidly rising utility rates typically shorten the payback period, increasing solar's appeal. Stagnant or falling rates might change the equation.

The leasing market, meanwhile, will grow quickly only if banks and other investors are willing to increase their investments to finance the leases. Raising those funds remains a big challenge for solar companies because they need to show they can deliver the promised returns over time.

Continued solar-friendly policies and subsidies.
Why it matters: The recent boom in solar owes a great deal to state rebates and the federal investment tax credit that covers 30% of the cost of installing solar equipment. A policy called net metering also has been instrumental in helping the spread of solar-topped roofs. Net metering requires utilities to give homes and businesses credits on their utility bills, sometimes at retail rates, for whatever excess solar electricity they generate. While 43 states have net-metering policies, most have limits on the amount of power that can be sent to the grid.

Advances are needed for solar-heavy neighborhoods 
like this, in Richmond, Calif., to become more common.
Advocates say cutting government subsidies or mandates too much or too soon will squelch growth in the solar market. Germany became the world's largest solar market with help from a policy that requires utilities to pay for solar electricity at premium prices. Now those government-set prices are being reduced, and Germany's solar-energy installations are forecast to plummet by about half this year from 2012.

The obstacles: The 30% federal tax credit is set to fall to 10% in 2016, and its renewal is far from assured. Utilities, meanwhile, are fighting to scale back net metering. They say the policy benefits mostly affluent households and that customers whose electricity bills are greatly reduced each month are underpaying for grid maintenance.

 The development of ultrathin, high-efficiency solar cells.

Why it matters: The solar cells used to power satellites today are lightweight and more efficient at converting sunlight into electricity than rooftop panels. These ultrathin cells, made with such materials as gallium arsenide instead of silicon, convert more than 30% of the sunlight they absorb into electricity, versus 24% for the most efficient silicon cells. Packing more powerful cells into a limited rooftop space would boost the amount of power a building can produce.

The obstacles: Ultrathin solar cells cost a lot more—about $200 a watt wholesale, compared with less than $1 a watt for the silicon solar cells that populate most rooftop panels today. Until manufacturers find a way to make these thin, highly efficient cells more cheaply, they won't be brought to the terrestrial market.

Better energy-management technologies.
Why it matters: Solar electricity that isn't consumed on site usually flows into the grid, which must maintain a balance of supply and demand to avoid blackouts and other problems. Sudden infusions or drop-offs of power can destabilize the whole system.

There isn't enough rooftop solar today to cause trouble. But if solar generation reaches projected levels, the inverters that regulate the voltage and frequency of the electrical current flowing from solar panels to the grid—and the grid's communication network—will need to be improved. New inverters will have to respond quickly to signals from utilities and be able to tap energy stored in on-site batteries.

The obstacles: Building this kind of sophisticated communication network will require billions of dollars and coordination by government and private groups to upgrade the existing grid.

Finding profits in solar for utilities.

Why it matters: For most utilities, there is little reason to promote rooftop solar because every kilowatt of energy a homeowner or business produces is one the utility can't sell to them. If utilities can find ways to profit from solar, however, their size and reach could mean a dramatic increase in the production of sun power.

Utilities could, for example, use their long relationship with customers to sell solar-installation services. Or they could offer solar leases or power sales contracts, in which their customers essentially rent out their rooftops in exchange for a discount on their electricity bills. Some utilities have already begun to dabble in rooftop solar, and others have said they are exploring their options.

The obstacles: Utilities often need approval from regulators if they want to change the way they make money, a process that can be contentious and lengthy. If they decide to install their own solar-energy equipment on customers' properties, they will face competition from solar companies that have attracted consumers by convincing them not to rely only on their utilities for power.

Ms. Wang is a writer in Oakland, Calif. Email: