Friday, January 31, 2014

Are Utahn's Solar Projects Just Pie in the Sky? Claims Raise Questions in Millard County, Elsewhere

This solar "tree" is one of several that were put in west of Delta in Millard County, part of a solar project that has never received a license to operate. Millard County officials want the company to cease activity.
DELTA — For more than a decade, a Utah company has been touting its "revolutionary" low-cost solar technology, with projects announced in four states.

But those four projects have yet to generate any significant power, despite detailed announcements and news stories about planned multimillion-dollar solar plants.

The failure to produce any significant solar energy has several people asking questions about the company's proposals and the technology itself, and it has some officials wondering if the man behind the effort is trying to generate interest — and money — at the expense of a community's trust.

In Millard County, officials there say they are frustrated over their dealings with Neldon Johnson and his company International Automated Systems because of his failure to obtain necessary permits and licenses associated with his solar project, despite demanding them since 2011.

"(Johnson) has really been quite hostile with us," said Millard County Commissioner Daron Smith. The claims of a power-producing solar installation generate buzz about its investment potential, he said, but the claims leave county officials confused about what is happening in their own community.

Johnson is founder, CEO and president of IAUS, which has partnered with at least four companies in promising breakthrough technology that will change the renewable energy market. He has built several tall solar towers west of Delta near Hinckley.

But county officials say little is known about those towers.

Despite Johnson's claims of revolutionary technology, representatives of the Utah state energy office and the national Solar Energy Industries Association said they are unfamiliar with the technology and don't know how or whether it works.

In the past, IAUS and Johnson have caught the attention of federal regulatory officials because of claims he made about other kinds of technology that never came to fruition. A complaint by the Securities and Exchange Commission was filed against him and IAUS in 1998, and a federal court order bars him from violating any section of the law that deals with securities fraud or any type of fraud or deceit.

Johnson settled the SEC complaint, and the government wanted him to pay $2.5 million from the profits he made plus interest, but the payment was waived because of his unspecified "financial condition," court documents state.

Even Johnson agrees that none of the projects have generated any major power over the years — beyond a demonstration project in 2006 in Mesquite, Nev., that he said was successful.

Over the years, there have been multiple announcements promoting Johnson's IAUS solar technology — similar to announcements and press releases he disseminated in the mid-1990s regarding other types of IAUS computer technology. Such publicity for that technology drove up stock prices and earned him more than a million dollars in profits.

There have been many press releases over the past decade promoting Johnson's latest "breakthrough" solar technology, but Johnson told the Deseret News that neither he nor anyone affiliated with his company, IAUS, were behind those press releases. Yet company officials' names and phone numbers appear on several of the press releases as someone to contact for more information — and several of those press releases are posted on the company's websites.

IAUS and RaPower3

For the past several years, IAUS has partnered with Utah company RaPower3, described on its website as a renewable energy company. Documents filed with the state indicate a close relationship between the two companies. RaPower3's registered agent is Neldon Johnson, and its website states that it is exclusively licensed to use the IAUS "industry-changing solar technology."


Thursday, January 30, 2014

New Solar Projects in Utah, Nation Poised to Come Online

Hunt project manager Mike Carbine looks over a solar panel at Burton Lumber in Salt Lake City Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013. Burton Lumber recently finished installing 4.5 acres of solar panels, the largest local privately owned solar project in Utah, which falls within the governors 10-year Energy Plan.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — The allure of clean power coupled with an endless source of energy helped the United States double its supply of solar power from 2008 to 2012.

Just in the second quarter of this year, another 832 megawatts of solar photovoltaic power were installed in the United States, a 15 percent increase over the first few months of 2013.

It puts the country on track to have a record year for solar power, with 9,400 megawatts of solar energy installed. One megawatt is generally enough to supply power to 500 homes.

 Utah is getting in on the action with several projects slated to come online next year, and the Tooele Army Depot is soon poised to tap into the sun with a 1.5 megawatt project.

A Provo conference last month described solar as the "new Utah gold rush," predicting tax breaks and government rebates will help propel solar to rise "brightly" on Utah's energy horizon.

Owning solar can help the personal and business wallet, with the residential tax credits that are offered, state-sponsored incentives for bigger projects and Rocky Mountain Power throwing more than $1 million at community-based solar projects as well as throwing funding behind smaller business ventures. There are also federal cushions that can ultimately reimburse a solar power system owner as much as 60 percent of the costs over time.

Solar has also become an investors and inventors game. The U.S. Department of Energy boasts it is linked to more patents than any organization in the world, and installation costs have been shaved by 30 percent over the past four years, which adds to solar's appeal.

Nationally, some big projects and spectacular new technology full of promises have come and gone. Solyndra was one, touting equipment that didn't have to track the sun and technology that would accomplish solar power generation that had never done before.

After $535 million in loan guarantees by the U.S. Department of Energy and an FBI raid, the company went bankrupt, prompting a political scandal and criminal probe.

Other unique projects, like Nevada Solar One, became a success. Situated on the southwest fringe of Boulder City, the 75-megawatt field of 760 parabolic troughs is one of just a few concentrating solar power, or solar thermal plants in the country. Another one, Crescent Dunes Solar, is under construction in Nevada.

In Utah, major solar projects have been slow to catch on, although a nearly $9 million Department of Defense solar field in Tooele County is poised to be operational soon.

The inventor of the PowerDish technology, Infinia, declared bankruptcy in September, but the lead contractor on the project is following it through to completion, said depot spokeswoman Kathy Anderson.

Utah, ranked among the top seven states in the country by the Energy Department for its solar potential, has 10 megawatts of installed solar energy capacity, with most of that on site generation for homes and businesses.

Over the years, Utah's share of big projects have been announced, but currently, IKEA has the largest commercial solar system in the state on its store in Draper, generating 1 megawatt of power. Just last month, the largest Utah-based, local and privately owned roof-mounted solar project came online at Burton Lumber in Salt Lake City, featuring 2,676 solar modules that will produce 6.42 kilowatts of power.

Utah has three "solar zones" of nearly 19,000 acres designated by the U.S. Department of Interior as solar hot spots for utility-scale projects that will have the benefit of expedited permitting and project approval, but as of yet, no applications for projects have been received, according to Utah BLM officials.

In Iron County, a proposed 100-megawatt project announced two years ago is on hold, according to Iron County Commissioner Alma Adams. The waiting on securing power purchase agreements and other details essential to make the deal a success.


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Blackwood Solar Company Powers Utility-Bill Savings

Joe Collins of Blackwood, a SolarCity crew leader, holds a solar panel (top)
as his SolarCity crew installs solar panels on a home (above) in Pine Hill.
Photos by Chris LaChall/Courier-Post
Daniel Wilson’s energetic offspring have upped their father’s monthly electric bill.

“I have four kids and they’re always playing video games, watching TV,” the Pine Hill resident said. “And they wash clothes every day.

“I pay anywhere between $300 and $500 a month. It can get pretty crazy.”

Wilson’s solution? Solar panels.

“A few of my neighbors got them, and so did a couple people at work. I thought I would give it a shot.”

Joe Collins of Blackwood, a SolarCity crew leader,
holds a solar panel as his SolarCity crew installs
solar panels on a home in Pine Hill. 12.18.13
Photos by Chris LaChall/Courier-Post
The day before, a crew of six from Gloucester Township’s SolarCity placed 22 sunlight-absorbing panels, or modules, on the roof of Wilson’s tidy rancher. Wilson hopes they will save him $100 or more a month.

SolarCity is one of the country’s largest providers of solar energy. Last month, the San Mateo, Calif., company expanded into South Jersey when it opened an 8,500-square-foot operations center. It also has an office in Cranbury, Middlesex County.

The clean energy firm currently has about 1,800 residential customers in New Jersey, a number that is growing.

“To meet the type of demand we’re seeing in South Jersey, we need to cut drive times and get out to homes faster than we could from our Cranbury Operations Center,” said Leon Keshishian, regional vice president on the East Coast.

“We’ve had a lot of success here in South Jersey because we can offer homeowners from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds the option to get solar with no upfront cost, and make it possible for them to immediately pay less on their monthly bill.”

SolarCity — on Blackwood’s Lower Landing Road — has hired 20 people already, and wants to fill an additional 15 to 20 positions in the next few months, according to Keshishian.

Customers sign 20-year contracts with SolarCity, and both the panels and installation are free. Homeowners pay the solar company over a contract period, but it’s less than what they would pay for utility power.

“Let’s say we put a 5-kilowatt system on your roof,” Keshishian explained. “That’s about the average, and it will offset about 35 percent of your power. So say you’re paying $100 a month for power. Now you’ll be saving about $35.”


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Site Identified for 400 kV Solar Sub-Station

Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation (Tangedco) will set up a 400 kV solar power-based substation at Vellalaviduthi near here. It will come up on an area of 50 acres, which belongs to the agriculture department, said S. Bharathi, superintending engineer, Tangedco, Pudukottai.

Talking to The Hindu on Friday on the sidelines of the energy week celebrations, she said that the green energy would go a long way in meeting the energy needs of the district. She said that the Tangedco would set up three more power stations, one each at Gandarvakottai, Ammachathiram, and near the collectorate with 110 kV each.

“We have identified the site for these stations too,” the official said.

Ms. Bharathi said that it would ease the distribution process to a great extent, particularly in Pudukottai, where there was some overdrawn of energy from the present substation at Tiruvappur.

The new substation near the collectorate would considerably reduce the overburden in distribution.

Distribution transformers develop snag due to technical reasons at several places.

The Tangedco has identified 138 DTs, which need either technical maintenance or replacement. Such work has been completed on 78 distribution transformers and work on the rest will be finished by the end of this financial year.

Energy meters
The Tangedco has sanctioned 3,800 modern meters to be fitted for domestic and commercial consumers in Pudukottai and Aranthangi.

The old meters, which function based on electro-mechanical principle, has outlived their utility.

The modern meters, based on static principle, will be consumer-friendly with accuracy in reading.

With a view to sensitising school students to the importance of energy week, competitions were conducted for school students.

R.V.R. Dheenadayalan, Principal District and Sessions Judge, gave away the prizes to the winners at a function held here on Thursday.


Monday, January 27, 2014

New Center Ends Cloudiness Over Solar Power Use

Alternative Energy System co-founders Lance McClung (left) and
Tim Hamor (middle) talk with Sales Manager Paul Sullivan Thursday
at the solar design center in Chico. Homeowners and other consumers
can stop by the center to get information on solar power.
(Bill Husa/Staff Photo)
CHICO — Business partners Tim Hamor and Lance McClung found that solar projects are still confusing for homeowners and businesses; hence the north state's first solar design center.

The center is in the former Lambert's Masonry location at 13620 Highway 99, just north of Hughes Ski Hut in north Chico.

Residents can visit the center, either to do initial research about how a solar power installation could benefit them, or ready to talk design, measurements and money.

McClung noted the center provides details about solar electrical installations, as well as cost, configurations and more.

The center was launched by the partners' company Alternative Energy Systems, a Chico company that started in 2003. AES has partnered with solar panel manufacturer Sunpower, selling its systems, but the company ownership remains completely in the partners' hands.

"It's come from years of dealing with this company and their products," McClung said, adding that AES can also deal with other solar manufacturers.

The design center is adjacent to AES' offices, and offers an opportunity to see the solar panels and other details about solar installations, plus working out calculations like utility cost savings.

McClung noted homeowners may not want to have a solar contractor in their homes during initial interviews, which is why the center is set up with semi-private offices for discussions.

A lot can be discovered from utility statements, and McClung recommends that anyone interested in visiting the center should bring one along.

He noted AES takes care of the designs for both residential and business structures, as well as obtaining the permits and installation. The company can also provide information about tax credit programs, as well as talk about lease and loan programs.

AES can design a solar array that includes provisions for a vehicle charging station, and has such a station on display at the center for its own alternative-energy vehicles.

It actually is a public charging station that AES put in with cooperation from Corning Ford, which sells electric "plug-in" vehicles and was interested in assisting.

There's no doubt such electric cars are gaining interest, especially as the charging technology matures.

"If you're inclined to explore solar power, you're probably inclined to research electric vehicles," Hamor noted.

The center also provides room for meetings and employee training for the growing company, which reached 27 employees with the new center.

One aspect that interests the partners is reaching out into college and high-school classrooms to educate students about solar processes and employment.

"Solar is so new that the academic world isn't quite keeping up," said McClung, who said his company has the background.

Earlier this year, it helped a vocational class at Pleasant Valley High School learn how to install a solar system, working with instructor Jerry Joiner, who is known for his vocational programs around the county.

AES has completed more than 500 solar installations around the north state since the company's inception. The company's web is


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Liberia: Women Install 314 Solar Panels in Four Towns

Eight India-trained Liberian women have installed 314 solar panels in four towns as part of a pilot project to spread the concept solar energy in the country.

The beneficiary towns are Bahr in rural Montserrado, Juah in Grand Bassa, Salayea in Lofa and Bamballi in Grand Cape Mount counties.

The installation followed the six-month training of the eight women in Solar Power Electrical Engineering at Bedford College in India in 2011.

The UN Women and the Indian government sponsored the training of the women who were recruited from four counties.

The solar panels were donated by the Indian government, according to the Chief of the Women Empowerment Division at the Ministry of Gender and Development, Mr. Stephen Yekah.

He rated the ministry's rural electrification pilot project in the four towns as "very successful." Mr Yekeh told the Liberia News Agency (LINA) Monday that the residents of the four towns were now being encouraged to subscribe to solar power and save money used to buy kerosene, candles and batteries for light.

He has, meanwhile, expressed gratitude to the Indian Government and the UN Women for sponsoring the training.


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Duke Renewables President Talks Solar Prospects

Duke Energy is not known for embracing renewable energy in North Carolina. About one percent of the Duke Energy Progress’ and Duke Energy Carolinas’ electric capacities in the state come from renewables—mostly solar, as well as a small amount of wind and biomass. Duke’s favored plan projects that number to rise to just 3 percent, 15 years from now. At the same time, Duke has a subsidiary business solely focused on developing and selling renewable energy across the country. WFAE’s Ben Bradford spoke to the president of Duke Energy Renewables for a businessman’s perspective on the green revolution.

BRADFORD (narrating): In the past three years, Duke Energy Renewables has built about 100 megawatts of solar projects across the U.S., or about a third the amount of your typical coal plant. The company plans another 5 megawatt project in Eastern North Carolina in January. Now, this does not include renewable projects by other Duke companies, for instance the Duke utilities that provide most of us power in North Carolina. Duke Energy Renewables president Greg Wolf says he’s bullish on the right renewables in states that have the right resources.

WOLF: We’re advocates for renewable energy, but we’re not green zealots. We’re really in this business because there’s a tremendous opportunity.

BRADFORD: Yeah so, what do you think are the prospects for solar moving forward?

WOLF: We expect a lot of growth and bright futures for solar going forward. The technology’s going to continue to get better and for us. It’s an interesting business opportunity to invest and earn an attractive return.

BRADFORD: One of the things we’ve seen the cost really lower in the past few years. Tell me a little more about that.

WOLF: Yeah, we’ve been building projects for five years, and during that timeframe, the cost of building a solar project—a utility-scale solar project—has really been cut in half, and even a little more than half. The price that we’re charging today is probably less than half what we were charging three or four years ago, as well. But also you look and the panels themselves, just the fundamental chemistry, has gotten more efficient, able to capture the sunlight better. And, therefore, you’re getting more production throughout the day and at any one given time.

BRADFODR: So, in places like California they’re trying to hit 30 percent by, what is it 2025?

WOLF: Yeah, it’s interesting. They’re saying 33 percent by 2025, and they’ve recently come out and said that that 33 percent to them is a floor, not a goal, and talking about maybe as much as 40 percent.

BRADFORD: Do you feel like that’s doable at this point?

WOLF: It is doable; it’s not riskless, but California is going in with their eyes wide open. They’re trying to learn from other areas of the country and the world that have made significant investments. So, I think folks are aware that it’s not the same as what we’ve done for 100 years, but it’s still very doable.

BRADFORD: What are the risks?

WOLF: In simple terms, solar panels are very cost-effective, getting more so and produce zero-emission, great electricity, same as anything else, all day long. At night, you can’t use solar panels to produce electricity. So the quick answer is you’ve got to have a solution in total for your customers that provides the electricity they’re looking for 24 hours a day.

BRADFORD: How do you do that?

WOLF: I think a balanced portfolio is definitely the first lever, so having other generation sources at a company’s disposal still makes sense, and we believe will make sense for years to come. I think energy storage will be a second tool that will be used more and more. And then, on-site generation is something that’s getting a lot of attention, from natural gas or other sources. Those are still generally higher cost but are areas people are exploring to see if that makes sense.

BRADFORD: If it’s feasible for an enormous state like California to hit a third of its goals through renewables, what does that say to you about North Carolina’s goal?

WOLF: I think each state really needs to have a goal that’s commensurate with its resources. And then in North Carolina, I think we need to be cognizant that we’ve got an embedded set of generation—largely owned by Duke Energy Carolinas—that is fairly low-cost, fairly efficient and really should be utilized. So I think, again, having the renewables grow makes sense, but it still just needs to be a piece of the overall mix.

BRADFORD: When you look at the long-range planning docs for Duke Energy Carolinas, or even the joint plan between Duke Energy Carolinas and Progress, you’re talking about a growth of renewables between 2 and 4 percent—I mean, what do you think of that?

WOLF: I think each state has their process for figuring new technology additions, and the prices on solar have come down so rapidly that even that process has a little bit of a lag in its calculation. So, I think our team will feather more renewable energy into the mix, largely solar.  So, I do expect it to grow. Off of a low base, it’s going to grow rapidly. But still, in the grand scheme of things, it’s going to be less than 10 percent of the mix, I think, for the foreseeable future.

Duke Energy Renewables' map of projects across the country:

Friday, January 24, 2014

Solar Project Part of Larger Green Initiative

CHILLICOTHE — The solar project is just one green initiative at Ross Correctional Institution and across Ohio’s prisons.

The system began working in 2007 to identify ways to reduce electricity and begin recycling programs at its institutions. In June 2012, the system finalized a three-year strategic sustainability plan to keep initiatives moving forward, said Jenny Hildebrand, energy conservation and sustainability administrator.

At RCI, Dwight Presler, the prison’s business administrator, said they bought new shower heads to reduce water consumption and installing motion sensor lighting in certain areas. Future plans include changing over outdoor lighting to plasma/LED lights, which could mean about a 66 percent reduction in the amount of energy needed to light the campus at night, Presler said.

While similar efforts are going on at other institutions, they all also have created a recycling program that provides jobs for inmates, saves money on refuse hauling, and brings in revenue.

Currently, there are 70 RCI inmates involved in some kind of conservation job, Presler said.

“Anything we want or do with conservation, we build an educational component with it,” Hildebrand said.

The program has saved the state $2.2 million over three years and generated $1 million through selling the recyclables, such as aluminum and cardboard, Hildebrand said.

At RCI, Presler said they were spending $90,000 a year on refuse hauling and the recycling program has reduced that cost to $35,000. On the revenue side, RCI generated about $19,800 over the last six months, he added.

The revenue made from selling recyclables is split, with half going to the institution to spend on its green initiatives and the other half goes to the state to decide how to reinvest back into green programs across the system.

To boost the amount of recyclable revenue, Presler has been working with vendors to have all drink products at the institution be in aluminum cans rather than plastic bottles.

Presler also is cultivating plans to purchase a pulper that takes moisture out of food waste, to lessen its weight, and also to begin composting. He has hopes to start a greenhouse and wants RCI to be part of a new prison program that works with nature and science.

About five months ago, Marion Correctional Institution became a home for eastern hellbenders, which has been listed as an endangered species in Ohio, Maryland, Illinois and Indiana. The goal for MCI inmates is to successfully breed and raise the hellbenders so they can be successfully released back into the wild.

“The offenders are so engaged in it and the science involved,” Hildebrand said.

Inmates also are building concrete homes for them that will be placed into streams when they are reintroduced into the wild, Hildebrand said. The Wilds and the Toledo Zoo have partnered with the prisons for the project and regularly conduct on-site check-ins.

Meanwhile, inmates at Southeastern Correctional Complex in Lancaster operate a trout farm that helps feed zoo animals. Other programming across the state include things like gardening and bee hives.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Letting the Sunshine In, N.Y. Plays Catch-Up with Solar Energy Projects

This Dec. 10 photo provided by the Seneca County Sheriff’s Department
shows the solar panels at the sheriff’s department in Romulus.
ALBANY – An array of shimmering panels covering 3 acres in the Finger Lakes region is a sign of the state’s latest push to catch up to its neighbors in the Northeast that have set the pace in recent years for promoting solar energy.

The project in Romulus that will produce much of the electricity for the Seneca County Sheriff’s Office was funded in part with a grant of almost $1 million from the state’s NY-Sun program. The initiative by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration will provide tens of millions of dollars a year for public and private projects producing at least a megawatt of solar power, the equivalent of about 200 typical residential installations.

An initial round of competition in 2012 allocated $30 million to 16 developers in New York City and the Hudson Valley who planned to put a total of 34 megawatts online by the end of this year.

One aim of NY-Sun is to help meet goals for increasing the share of the state’s energy needs covered by renewable sources, now dominated by hydropower. Another is to close the gap with other states that moved more aggressively and quickly to encourage development of solar.

Massachusetts, for example, saw 129 megawatts of solar installed in 2012, compared with 60 in New York, according to an industry group. At the same time, 415 megawatts were installed in New Jersey, where regulatory policy created a system that has utilities effectively subsidizing solar owners to meet renewable energy standards.

“It quickly comes down to policies,” said Michael Johnson, a California-based expert on funding such projects, who returned to his home county this month to help flip the switch on the Romulus system. “Every state does it their own way.”

Developers say Massachusetts and Vermont outpaced New York, in part, because of more generous incentives for a wider range of projects.

They say New York limited subsidies to smaller residential and commercial projects until the launch of NY-Sun last year.

The program is run by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which is funded mostly through assessments on utilities.

NYSERDA said that as of the end of this year and several rounds of awards, 299 megawatts of solar power had been brought online or were in development through NY-Sun. A total of $126 million for 184 projects was awarded this year, the authority said.

“It’s changed our business structure completely,” said David Sandbank, president of OnForce Solar in the Bronx. “A lot of our jobs are in the boroughs. We have a lot of large roofs in the Bronx and Queens.”

He said his company is working on several projects – including a 2.3-megawatt system for the Town of Clarkstown in Rockland County – and is on a “hiring spree,” with 50 employees at a headquarters where there were a dozen last year.

Projects approved under the program range from a 600-kilowatt system at convenience store chain Stewarts Shops’ manufacturing plant in Saratoga County to a 2.7-megawatt array at an Owens Corning insulation plant near Albany. There are projects at a Cummins engine plant in Chautauqua County, Cornell and Clarkson universities, a Jetro Cash & Carry restaurant supply depot in the Bronx, and the Raymour & Flanigan furniture store chain in the Hudson Valley and Capital Region.

The 845-kilowatt project that Johnson’s company, Spear Point Energy, financed and built at the Seneca County Law Enforcement Center in Romulus is expected to save the county $1 million over the course of a 25-year agreement.

While NY-Sun was initiated by Cuomo to run through 2015, both chambers in the Legislature passed measures last year that would extend it for 10 years.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Romania Halves ‘Generous’ Solar Certificate Allocation for 2014

Romania energy regulator, ANRE released a report
concluding renewable certificates are too generous.
Image: Wikimedia Commons.
Romania is to halve the green certificates available for new solar developments, according to Romanian financial news wire, Ziarul Financiarul.

The Romanian government approved a decree to halve the renewable certificates awarded to solar generators, from six, to three certificates.

Romania's energy regulator, ANRE, released a report concluding renewable certificates are too generous. Recommendations of the report are to be implemented 1 January 2014.

Currently each MW of energy generated from renewables can be traded for a certificate in Romania with up to six certificates supplied. From January, a limit of three will be awarded.

The changes will not affect existing PV plants, or those affected by the reduction earlier in the year.

Ziarul Financiarul reports billions of euros of renewables investment in Romania, and growth from 1MW in 2009, to 660MW of installed solar in the country. Deployment growth and future investments could now be at risk from the changes.

Wind and hydro certificates are also being decreased.

Reports have hinted that disputes over energy bills are the possible trigger for the ANRE review and subsequent decrease in renewables certificates.

In August the Czech utility ČEZ reported to the European Commission the Romanian government had deferred payments to renewable energy producers, as well as suspending the issue of green energy certificates which renewable energy facilities must have.


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Correction: NY Solar Story

ALBANY, N.Y. — In a story Dec. 22 about incentives for solar energy production in New York, The Associated Press incorrectly reported the size of projects eligible for the NY-Sun program. They must produce at least 200 kilowatts of power, not 1 megawatt.

This photo Dec. 10, 2013, provided by the Seneca County Sheriff's Department shows
solar panels at the sheriff's department in Romulus, N.Y. The project in Romulus that will produce
much of the electricity for the sheriff's department was funded in part with a grant of almost
$1 million from the state’s NY-Sun program. That’s an initiative of the Cuomo administration to
provide $70 million a year for public and private projects producing at least a megawatt of
solar power, the equivalent of about 200 typical residential installations.
A corrected version of the story is below:

Solar energy projects finally getting boost in NY

Sunnier outlook for solar energy projects as NY boosts incentives to close gap with neighbors


Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — An array of shimmering panels covering 3 acres in New York's Finger Lakes is a sign of the state's latest push to catch up to its neighbors in the Northeast that have set the pace in recent years for promoting solar energy.

The project in Romulus that will produce much of the electricity for the Seneca County sheriff's department was funded in part with a grant of almost $1 million from the state's NY-Sun program. The initiative by Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration will provide tens of millions of dollars a year for public and private projects producing at least 200 kilowatts of solar power, with most installed so far falling between that and a megawatt, the equivalent of about 200 typical residential installations.

An initial round of competition in 2012 allocated $30 million to 16 developers in New York City and the Hudson Valley who planned to put a total of 34 megawatts online by the end of this year.

One aim of NY-Sun is to help meet goals for increasing the share of the state's energy needs covered by renewable sources, now dominated by hydropower. Another is to close the gap with other states that moved more aggressively and quickly to encourage development of solar.

Massachusetts, for example, saw 129 megawatts of solar installed in 2012 compared to 60 in New York, according to an industry group. At the same time, 415 megawatts were installed in New Jersey, where regulatory policy created a system that has utilities effectively subsidizing solar owners to meet renewable energy standards.

"It quickly comes down to policies," said Michael Johnson, a California-based expert on funding such projects, who returned to his home county this month to help flip the switch on the Romulus system. "Every state does it their own way."

Developers say Massachusetts and Vermont outpaced New York, in part, because of more generous incentives for a wider range of projects.

They say New York limited subsidies to smaller residential and commercial projects until the launch of NY-Sun last year.

The program is run by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which is funded mostly through assessments on utilities.

NYSERDA said that as of the end of this year and several rounds of awards, 299 megawatts of solar power had been brought online or were in development through NY-Sun. A total of $126 million for 184 projects was awarded this year, the authority said.

"It's changed our business structure completely," said David Sandbank, president of OnForce Solar in the Bronx. "A lot of our jobs are in the boroughs. We have a lot of large roofs in the Bronx and Queens."

He said his company is working on several projects — including a 2.3-megawatt system for the town of Clarkstown in Rockland County — and is on a "hiring spree," with 50 employees at a headquarters where there were a dozen last year.

Projects approved under the program range from a 600-kilowatt system at convenience store chain Stewarts Shops manufacturing plant in Saratoga County to a 2.7-megawatt array at an Owens Corning insulation plant near Albany. There are projects at a Cummins Inc. engine plant in Chautauqua County, Cornell and Clarkson universities, a Jetro Cash & Carry restaurant supply depot in the Bronx and the Raymour & Flanigan furniture store chain in the Hudson Valley and Capital Region.

The 845-kilowatt project Johnson's company, Spear Point Energy, financed and built at the Seneca County Law Enforcement Center in Romulus is expected to save the county $1 million over the course of a 25-year agreement that calls for the county to buy electricity generated by the array from Spear Point at rates that will be lower than local utility NYSEG. Under the "power purchase agreement," the company will operate and maintain the system for the county.

While NY-Sun was initiated by Cuomo to run through 2015, both chambers in the Legislature passed measures last year that would extend it for 10 years.

The goal was to give businesses more certainty about the future of the program, said Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, a Westchester County Democrat and Energy Committee chairwoman.

But the legislation stalled over disagreement about a provision in the Senate bill that would have provided incentives to attract manufacturers of solar energy components to set up shop in the state.

Paulin said she expects agreement on an extension during next year's session.


Monday, January 20, 2014

Google Glass Does Solar Panel Installs in the California Sun

Michael Chagala. Photo: Sullivan Solar
You might think of Google Glass as one of those tech creations that’s more intriguing than practical. You might see computerized eyewear as a Silicon Valley nerd fantasy that’s unlikely to change the way the rest of the world works. You would not be alone.

But that’s not how Michael Chagala sees it. Chagala is the director of IT at Sullivan Solar Power, which is slipping Google Glass onto the heads of the field technicians who install its solar panels atop homes and businesses across Southern California.

Because every building is unique, these field techs need ready access to all sorts of specs and plans describing the job at hand. In the past, they’ve carried three-ring binders onto the roof, but those are so hard to handle — particularly when the wind is blowing pages. They’ve lugged laptops up there too, but that comes with its own problems, including, well, the sun. So Chagala and company are switching to Glass, allowing their techs to browse documents simply by looking through the eyewear. For the most part, they can do this without using their hands — though you do have to tap the side of the glasses to move from doc to doc.

“When you have someone on a roof, safety is your primary concern,” Chagala says. “Having both hands free is significant.”

Though Google Glass has limitations — including an undeniable geekiness — it can be quite useful. Some are exploring how it can serve people with autism and other disabilities. Tech outfits such as Workday and Fiberlink are building Glass apps for corporate workers. Now Sullivan Solar is taking the digital eyewear into the world of blue collar work.

Lead by Chagala, the company has built a custom Glass app that taps into a database housing its customer records, information about particular job sites, and its inventory of parts and equipment. But its technicians also will use other tools available with the eyewear. A field worker can, say, call headquarters with questions or transmit live video of a roof installation to get some feedback.

Chagala came up with the idea about a year ago. “I actually got my first Glass on eBay,” he says. “We started development on the app before we even got the device.” The company still has only the single pair, which must be shared among the field crews and the development team, but Chagala hopes to get more in the coming year as Google expands distribution.

At this stage, Chagala says, building an app for Google Glass isn’t like building for a mobile phone. “It’s really hard to fit all this info onto such a small screen,” he says. “There are established design patterns for a mobile phone app, such as where to put different buttons, but none of those patterns pre-exist for Google Glass. You sort of have to use your own judgement in how it will be used.”

But after several months of development, the app is in working order, and it’s already used in the field. “I’m confident that there will be measurable benefits, but it’s a little early to quantify,” Chagala says. “Feedback from field technicians has been very positive.”

He says other departments at the company are exploring the use of Glass as well. One big possibility is a training tool for new employees. An employee’s first jobs could be recorded and reviewed later, he says. Glass is still a long way from significantly remaking the way the company works, but the point is that Chagala believes it can.


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Solar Jackets to Make Next Summer Cooler

KOLKATA: Enjoy the chill in air for the time being instead of fretting over the sultry summer that will follow the brief winter season in city. By the time summer sets in, you may have a new jacket in your wardrobe to save yourself from the heat. Solar expert SP Gon Chaudhuri and scientists of the SN Bose National Centre for Basic Sciences are working on the final stages to introduce solar jackets some time next month.

Gon Chaudhuri, the former advisor to the state power department, said the prototypes had already been prepared and will be launched officially in the first week of January. "We will do an extensive research on how to give these jackets a smart look. One city-based company has already approached us to have a look at the prototype," Gon Chaudhuri said.

The price of the jackets also will also be very reasonable. They will be priced anything between Rs 1,400 and Rs 1,800.

"It has to be seen how we can maximize the possibility to providing comfort to the users. The SN Bose National Centre for Basic Sciences will conduct a study on this," Gon Chaudhuri said. He has already spoken with Kolkata Police top brass so that traffic police officers, who need to stay in the heat for long hours, can wear these solar jackets during hot summer days.

Before collaborating with SN Bose National Centre for Basic Sciences to work on the prototypes of solar jackets, Gon Chaudhuri, who has done various researches on solar power technologies, had been doing a research on the concept of solar jackets at the Arka-Ignou Community College of Renewable Energy.

Explaining the technology of the jackets, Gon Chaudhuri said they will be nothing but 'portable electricity". One wears a jacket in the winter to feel warm. The solar jacket will do just the opposite by making one feel cool during hot summer days. The jacket will have two layers that will have thread-like wires. They will be integrated with solar cells. Once solar cells get activated, mini computer-operated fans will start functioning. This will bring down the temperature inside the jacket. The user will feel at least 5 to 6 degrees cooler than outside temperature.


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Laser Processing can Lower Temperatures Used in Solar Cell Production

Rochester, NY - Natcore Technology has concluded that its black silicon technology could reduce silicon solar cell production costs by up to 23.5%. As a result, the company has recently taken additional steps that could further reduce production costs and hazardous effluents.

Black silicon technology can eliminate the plasma enhanced chemical vapor deposition (PECVD) of silicon nitride currently in solar cell production lines. Natcore scientists are now developing laser processing to replace the high-temperature diffusion furnace in the solar cell production process, thus significantly reducing energy and chemical costs associated with the furnace. The company has identified a versatile laser that the company plans to acquire for its R and D Center in Rochester.

In typical solar cell manufacturing, the surface of the cell is doped in a process that involves heating the entire silicon wafer to a temperature in the range of 800 to 900C. The process can damage the silicon and wastes considerable energy. Laser doping works by firing a focused laser beam on the wafer. A small amount of dopant is initially sitting on the surface.

The laser beam actually melts the silicon, which then re-solidifies, usually in less than one microsecond. The microsecond, however, is enough time to accomplish the doping.

Because the laser delivers energy to a very localized area, it would heat only that portion of the wafer that needs to be heated and can lead to more efficient solar cells. Furthermore, a laser would reduce the amount of energy required to produce solar cells, because it would no longer be necessary to heat the whole cell and the furnace around it.

The laser that is being considered by Natcore can be extensively manipulated so that optimum conditions can be found. Natcore is working with the laser producer to process an initial set of samples at its facility to accelerate Natcore's schedule.

To gain expertise in the use of lasers to process solar cells, Natcore has engaged Prof. Mool Gupta and his research group at the University of Virginia. Professor Gupta is a Langley Distinguished Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and is also the Founding Director of NSF Industry/University Cooperative Research Center (I/UCRC) for Lasers and Plasmas at the university.

"Between Prof. Gupta and Dr. Dave Carlson (a member of Natcore’s Technology Advisory Board) we have two individuals who have deep experience in this field," says Dr. David Levy, Natcore’s Director of Research & Technology. "For Natcore, adding laser processing to our repertoire has important implications. First, it gets us in on the ground floor with a technology that we feel will represent the next generation of high-efficiency/low-cost solar cells. Second, it’s an excellent fit with our black silicon technology."

"We are reinventing the way that solar cells are made," says Chuck Provini, Natcore’s president and CEO. "We are streamlining the process by removing costly steps and by eliminating dangerous and expensive chemicals, like silane and phosphorous oxychloride. We are making it a low-temperature process. Although we can’t quantify it yet, we believe the result will be lower cost, higher efficiency and better quality. We believe that’s what our licensees will want."

Photo courtesy of Natcore Technology


Friday, January 17, 2014

Could Big Batteries be Big Business in California?

Strong gusts in Palm Springs, Calif., generate plenty of energy, thanks to
turbine farms. But being able to store all of that energy is just as important.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

The California Public Utilities Commission has called on utilities and private companies to install about $5 billion worth of batteries and other forms of energy storage to help the state power grid cope with the erratic power supplied by wind and solar energy.

The need to store energy has become urgent because the state is planning to get a third of its electricity from renewable sources by the end of the decade. And the shift in strategy could open up some big opportunities for small startups, including one called .

Stem is housed in an abandoned showroom in Millbrae, Calif., just across the highway from San Francisco International Airport. And the company is not just aiming to help the state's power grid.

Storage batteries made by Stem, a Bay
Area startup, look like glitzy gym lockers.
"We make a product that reduces electricity bills for businesses," says Tad Glauthier, Stem's vice president for customer development.

In fact, Stem's first priority is to focus on individual businesses. To explain how this works, Glauthier walks over to a couple of large computer monitors hanging on the wall.

"The monitor on the right is showing the electric load from the carwash across the street," he says.

The graph is all over the place. There are lulls when the carwash is waiting for business — punctuated with big spikes when blowers, vacuums and other large pieces of equipment switch on.

"If you look at just the range within the last 15 minutes, that's an incredible amount of volatility," Glauthier says. "The utility has to serve them that electricity."

It turns out that the carwash has to pay extra on its electric bill for those periods of high demand. All companies in California get billed for their peak use, as well as their total electricity consumption.

So if the carwash can shave off those power peaks, they can also shave this extra charge from their electric bill.

Here's how Stem does it: When demand spikes, batteries kick in so the company doesn't have to draw so much from the grid.

The battery packs it installs in businesses look like glitzy gym lockers, and are controlled by a small computer connected to the Internet. The computer's job is to decide when a company should be pulling energy from its batteries, rather than from the grid. When the company's energy demand is low, it can recharge the battery.

"With the Stem system, they're not using less power," Glauthier explains. "They're just using power in a more level way."

And by doing that, the company is reducing the part of its bill that's based on peak power usage.

So is Stem simply building a system that allows companies to "game" their electric bills? Glauthier says no. "You absolutely help the [power grid] system," he says.

But Glauthier may be getting a little ahead of himself here.

"Right now, it does only help the customer," says Haresh Kamath, a battery expert at the in nearby Palo Alto.

Kamath says batteries will eventually help the state power grid deal with the ups and downs of electricity supplies from wind and solar. But it will take a lot of battery power to make a difference.

That's exactly why the California Public Utilities Commission has called for billions of dollars of energy storage to be installed between now and 2020.

"If you get a small energy storage system in everybody's home, or every business, that could have a substantial impact on the grid as a whole," Kamath says. "Of course right now it's difficult to do that because it's a relatively expensive product."

Everybody is hoping that creating this huge demand for batteries will also help drive down the cost.

Batteries can help with short-term power fluctuations — like those created when a cloud passes over a bank of solar panels, for example, or when the air goes still at a particular wind farm. And they can help keep the power grid stable, as operators work to match supply and demand second by second.

Stem plans to scale up its operations so it can play a role in stabilizing the grid. The grid operator actually pays for that service, so it could be another revenue stream for Stem.

Glauthier says the company has installed just 10 systems so far, but it has 150 more orders in the works. And once they reach a critical mass, the company will be able to control all of the batteries it installs from one central location.

"It's taken us 4 1/2 years to get here, and I think there's another three to four years to go before we're really blowing the doors off," Glauthier says.

And they do have competition, including Tesla Motors, which has teamed up with a solar energy company to get into this business as well.

The race is not simply to refine battery technology, but to invent business models that will make energy storage practical.


Thursday, January 16, 2014

Solar Grid Storage Saves the Sunshine for a Rainy Day

Fossil fuels like gasoline, or even coal, have a unique characteristic that we never thought about until we thought about trying to replace them. That is the fact that, not only are they energy sources, but they are energy sources that store the energy they contain, to be released whenever needed. That is not that case for wind power or solar. They do not come packaged with their own built-in storage capacity.

Or at least they didn’t before the folks at Solar Grid Storage, sensing a business opportunity, came up with a way to package solar energy and energy storage into an integrated system.

Combining technological innovation with business innovation, they retain ownership of their storage systems, providing storage-as-a-service to their customers. By maintaining the storage asset and dispatching power to the grid as needed, they can derive revenue from the grid support market, to help finance the storage assets. At the same time, their systems include the power inverter needed to convert the DC power coming off the PV arrays into grid synchronized AC power. This saves their customers the expense of installing the inverters, which all other grid-supported solar PV systems require.

The systems also provide resilience and stability to the grid, and they answer directly the FERC’s orders to grid operators “to develop and adopt programs aimed at creating and delivering fast reacting services that help balance power.” The net result is a more reliable grid, even during times of high stress. This is crucial to mission-critical operations and highly desirable everywhere else.

California regulators recently set new targets for energy storage capacity, recognizing the criticality of this capability to the continued growth of renewables, as well as the stability of the grid. A full 1.325 GW of storage, much of it from independent developers, is expected to come online by 2020.

These solar microgrids have already been deployed in a NJ school district that was shut down last year by Superstorm Sandy, at Konterra’s corporate headquarters in Laurel, Maryland, and at the Philadelphia Navy Yard.

The company has partnered with solar developers including Advanced Solar Products, groSolar, Standard Solar, Solaire Generation, Solis Partners, and Argand Energy.

Tom Leyden, Solar Grid Storage CEO, whose name corresponds to that of the Leyden Jar, one of the world’s first electrical energy storage devices, said, “We are very proud to be working with some of the most highly respected project developers in the nation to integrate storage into their projects.  Pairing solar with storage will help accelerate solar’s contribution to the energy mix and strengthen grid resiliency.”

SolarCity, recently announced a cooperative venture with Tesla Motors, a similar system called DemandLogic, which will provide batteries for solar storage projects aimed at commercial buildings.

According to Travis Hoium at Motley Fool, Sunpower is also testing a battery storage system that it hopes to commercialize in a year or two.

These systems are all based on established Lithium-ion battery technology, the same batteries currently being used in cell phones, laptops and electric cars. Meanwhile, other storage options, such as utility scale flow batteries and super-capacitors continue to be developed vying for a place in which will surely be a lucrative market.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Scientists Propose Using Solar Energy to Power Nocturnal Lunar Missions

New York: As India gears up to send Chandrayaan 2, its second lunar exploration mission to the moon, in the near future, there is some heartening news for those manning our Moon Mission. Scientists have proposed a system of mirrors, processed lunar soil and a heat engine to provide energy to rovers and crew during the lunar night.
The invention also means that during the lunar night, there would be no need for batteries and nuclear power sources used by the Chinese rover that recently landed on the moon.

The lunar night lasts approximately 14 days, during which temperatures as low as -150 ºC have been recorded. This complicates a rover’s movement and equipment functioning on the lunar surface, requiring heavy batteries from earth or the use of nuclear energy.

A team of researchers from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, along with collaborators from the US, have studied two options for storing energy on the Moon during the day for use at night.

The first system consists of modifying fragments of regolith, or lunar soil, incorporating elements such as aluminium, for example, such that it becomes a thermal mass.

“When the sun’s rays hit the surface, a system of mirrors reflects the light to heat the thermal mass, which later can transmit heat during the night to rovers,” said Ricard Gonzalez-Cinca, co-author of the study.

The second system has a more sophisticated series of mirrors and a heat engine. The heat generated converts the liquid into a gas, which in turn heats the thermal mass.

Afterwards, during the long lunar night, the heat is transferred to a Stirling engine to produce electricity.

“This system is better equipped than the previous model for lunar projects with greater energy needs, such as a manned mission spending the night on the moon,” added Gonzalez-Cinca.

The findings of the study were published in the journal Acta Astronautica.


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Clean Footprint Attends Keep Florida Beautiful Annual Meeting

Clean Footprint Founder to discuss green initiatives for the State of Florida with attendees of KFB annual meeting

Cape Canaveral, Fl., January 14th, 2014 – John Porter, Founder of Clean Footprint, Central Florida’s leading solar finance and development company, and Chairman of Keep Florida Beautiful Annual (KFB) will be attending KFB’s Annual Meeting today.

Being held at the Governors Club on Adams Street in Tallahassee Florida, the focus of the annual meeting will be creating a cleaner state through various initiatives. Affiliate County and City Organizations from across the state will be attending.

 The mission of Keep Florida Beautiful is to engage and educate citizens, visitors and communities to improve Florida through litter prevention, increased recycling and beautification efforts. Those involved in this green movement strive to be a one-stop source for concerns and interests in preserving the environment allowing for a safe and more natural future.

John Porter, the Founder of Clean Footprint and KFB Chairman said, “I am excited about coming together to look onward on how to work together to make Florida a Beautiful Place. I always come back from this meeting excited about our future.”

For more information about Keep Florida Beautiful and ways to get involved, visit to become familiar with the local Chapters.


About Clean Footprint
Located in Central Florida, Clean Footprint is a solar development and structured finance company that works with developers across the country to bring their utility-scale commercial solar projects to financial completion. If you are a solar developer with a shovel-ready project and need help getting your project to fruition, please contact John Kluwin at 727-466-8896, or visit our website at

Hyundai Motor Launches Ceiling Solar Power System at Asan Plant

SEOUL, Dec. 23 (Yonhap) -- Hyundai Motor Co., South Korea's biggest carmaker, said Monday that the country's single largest ceiling-mounted solar power system went into operation at its local plant.

Hyundai said the power system built in cooperation with Korea Midland Power Co. is made up of 40,000 solar individual panels that are all placed on top of the roof of the car production plant in Asan, 95 kilometers south of Seoul.

The system is set up to generate 11.5 million kilowatts of electricity per hour on an annual basis, it said.

The panels cover 68 percent of the ceiling space or 213,000 square meters and can produce electricity capable of providing power to 3,200 households for an entire year.

The clean power produced is equivalent to Hyundai cutting back on carbon dioxide emissions by 5,600 tons per year.

In addition, the flagship company of Hyundai Motor Group, the country's second-largest family-owned conglomerate, said the solar panels will help reduce temperatures inside the plant during summer.

This can raise work efficiency and help reduce use of air conditioning.

Hyundai said it plans to sell the electricity generated to Korea Electric Power Corp. The electricity will then be used in the Asan area.

"Hyundai has continuously striven to take steps to cut back on energy consumption and contributed to the development of clean reusable energy," a Hyundai executive at the Asan plant said.

He said the start of solar power production will solidify Hyundai's image as a leading eco-friendly company.



Monday, January 13, 2014

Top 10 Energy Technology Headline Grabbers for 2014

Record-breaking solar sector leads the list

SAN FRANCISCO, USA: For the third consecutive year, Antenna Group has announced its top 10 energy technology areas to watch in the coming year.

San Francisco-based Antenna Group, a Beckerman company, is the nation's largest energy technology communications firm, representing companies across sectors including renewable energy, energy efficiency, alternative fuels, energy storage, finance, waste management and water. Antenna Group's top 10 headline grabbers for 2014 are drawn from the company's experience with more than 40 clients in these sectors, as well as conversations with analysts, media and other industry influencers.

"Our diverse roster of market-disrupting clients gives us unique insight into the energy technology trends that will shape our world in the year to come," said Keith Zakheim, Antenna Group's CEO. "Last year, we correctly predicted a number of sustainable technologies and services that entered mainstream in 2013. We look forward to seeing this new round of emerging technologies secure a firm foothold in the energy marketplace."

"Each day, the Antenna team works to elevate emerging energies and clean technologies to underscore economic viability and support widespread acceptance," added Anna Cahill Leonard, Antenna Group's president. "This list of energy technology trends charts the technologies of tomorrow. We look forward to watching these conversations progress throughout 2014."

Four out of Antenna's top 10 trends take place in the solar sector, spurred by solar's record-breaking year of growth. According to a recent report by the Solar Energy Industry Association and GTM Research, Q3 was the largest quarter ever for residential solar installations - and the second largest quarter in the history of the US solar market.

Driven by solar PV module price reductions, the rising cost of grid-tied electricity and the growth of innovative financing models, the nation's solar PV capacity could rise five-fold to 50 gigawatts or more by 2017, according to a recent report from Deutsche Bank.

Other important trends focus on making better use of existing resources, including by transforming wasted flare gas into valuable gasoline; recycling electronic components, rubber and plastic into new products; and implementing new types of financing for sustainable technologies.

Here are Antenna's top 10 energy technology headline grabbers for 2014:

Soaring solar securitization. Solar securitization was off to the races at the end of 2013 with the announcement by SolarCity of a $54.4 million solar asset-backed financing package. The deal, which pooled solar contracts from more than 5,000 installations, represents the first time that securitization, or the practice of pooling disparate sources of debt and selling the package to investors, has been applied to solar. Such deals accelerate solar adoption by increasing access to capital; expect more in 2014.

Solar Big Data, at last. The lack of financial, technical and operational performance data on solar PV systems has held back banks, insurers, credit rating agencies and utilities from investing in solar.


Sunday, January 12, 2014

Understanding What Makes a Thin Film Solar Cell Efficient

(Nanowerk News) For many years scientists and engineers have been trying to provide low-cost solar energy by developing a cheap solar cell that is both highly efficient and at the same time simple to build, enabling it to be mass produced. Now, the team led by Empa researcher Ayodhya N. Tiwari has made a major leap forward: the researchers are presenting a new manufacturing technique for CIGS solar cells, in which tiny quantities of sodium and potassium are incorporated into the CIGS layer. The special treatment alters the chemical composition of the complex sandwich structure – thereby altering its electronic properties, as confirmed by various methods including detailed electron microscope investigations.
Details of the new method have now been published as an "Advance Online Publication" in the renowned journal Nature Materials ("Potassium-induced surface modification of Cu(In,Ga)Se2 thin films for high-efficiency solar cells").

This shows high efficiency, flexible CIGS solar cells on polyimide film developed
using a new process.
With this technique, the Empa team has again been able to significantly increase the energy conversion efficiency from sunlight into electricity using CIGS thin film solar cells on flexible plastic foils – to a new record level of 20.4%, representing a marked improvement over the previous record of 18.7% established by the same team in May 2011. This finally enables CIGS cells to compete with the best polycrystalline silicon cells.
Until recently, the Empa CIGS cells were the most efficient in the world; at the end of October, though, a German research team at the Zentrum für Sonnenenergie- und Wasserstoff-Forschung (ZSW) in Stuttgart presented CIGS cells with an efficiency of 20.8%, although they use far higher processing temperatures and (rigid) glass as the substrate. The slightly improved record shows that CIGS thin film technologies are a "hot" topic – and that Empa is right at the cutting edge.


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Solar Cells Utilize Thermal Radiation

A two-sided silicon solar cell – positioned here on aluminum
cylinders – is illuminated from above by an infrared laser.
Credit: Fraunhofer ISE
Thermal radiation from the sun is largely lost on most silicon solar cells. Up-converters transform the infrared radiation into usable light, however. Researchers have now for the first time successfully adapted this effect for use in generating power.

There is more to solar radiation than meets the eye: sun- burn develops from unseen UV radiation, while we sense infrared radiation as heat on our skin, though invisible to us. Solar cells also ‘see’ only a portion of solar radiation: ap- proximately 20 percent of the energy contained in the solar spectrum is unavailable to cells made of silicon – they are unable to utilize a part of the infrared radiation, the short-wavelength IR radiation, for generating power.

Researchers of the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE in Freiburg, together with their colleagues at the University of Bern, Switzerland, and the Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland, have now for the first time made a portion of this radiation usable with the assistance of a practical up-converter. The technology that transforms infra- red into usable light has been known about since the 1960s. However, it has only been investigated in connection with solar cells since 1996. “We have been able to adapt both the solar cells and the up-converter so as to obtain the biggest improvement in efficiency so far,” reports Stefan Fischer happily, a scientist at ISE. The potential is big: silicon solar cells theoretically convert about thirty percent of sunlight falling upon them into electrical power. Up-converters could increase this portion to a level of forty percent.

A ladder for light particles

However, how does the up-converter manage to utilize the infrared radiation for the solar cells? As solar radiation falls on the solar cells, they absorb the visible and near-infrared light. The infrared portion is not absorbed, however, it goes right through them. On the back- side, the radiation runs into the up-converter – essentially a microcrystalline powder made of sodium yttrium fluoride embedded in a polymer. Part of the yttrium has been replaced by the scientists with the element erbium, which is active in the optical range and responsible in the end for the up-conversion.

As the light falls on this up-converter, it excites the erbium ions. That means they are raised to a higher energy state. You can imagine this reaction like climbing up a ladder: an electron in the ion uses the energy of the light particle to climb up the first step of the ladder. A sec- ond light particle enables the electron to climb to the second step, and so on. An ion that has been excited in this manner can “jump down” from the highest step or state. In doing so, it emits light with an energy equal to all of the light particles that have helped the elec- tron to climb on up. The up-converter collects, so to speak, the energy of several of these particles and transfers it to a single one. This has so much energy then that the solar cells “see” it and can utilize it.

Researchers had to adapt the solar cells in order to be able to employ an up-converter such as this. Normally, metal is vapour-deposited on the backside, enabling current to flow out of the solar cells – so no light can shine through normally. “We equipped the solar cells with metal lattices on the front and rear sides so that IR light can pass through the solar cells. In addition, the light can be used by both faces of the cell – we call this a bi-facial solar cell,” explains Fischer. Scientists have applied specialized anti-reflection coatings to the front and rear sides of the solar cell. These cancel reflections at the surfaces and assure that the cells absorb as much light as possible. “This is the first time we have adapted the anti- reflection coating to the backside of the solar cell as well. That could increase the efficiency of the modules and raise their energy yields. The first companies are already trying to accomplish this by implementing bi-facial solar cells,” says Fischer, emphasizing the potential of the approach.


Friday, January 10, 2014

5 Reasons Solar is Already Beating Fossil Fuels

It's frustrating to still hear dissenters say that renewable energy is not ready to compete with fossil fuels as a means to power our country. The solar industry is growing dramatically every year, while fossil fuels continue to be phased out. Solar is no longer the cottage industry it was decades ago. Stunning advancements in production and financing have brought solar to the playing field with coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear. And here are five reasons why solar is already winning.

1. Jobs
There are more people in the U.S. employed to create solar energy than to mine coal. The banal argument that transitioning to a clean energy economy will cost us jobs is false. Solar is growing over 10 times faster than the American economy.

In 2012, solar added 14,000 new jobs, up 36 percent from 2010 and the industry will add another 20,000 jobs this year. The fossil fuels industry cut 4,000 jobs last year. During their recent solar boom, Germany doubled their solar workforce to over 400,000. The most important point is that renewables are more job-dense than fossil fuels, so even at the same price, solar will employ more people than fossil fuels. When it comes to employing Americans, solar is winning.

2. Price 
Solar panels have a seen a consistent drop in prices over the last three decades, and in the last few years that drop has been meteoric. In the last 35 years prices have gone from $77/ watt to around $.75/ watt. That makes solar 99 percent cheaper than it used to be. Since 2008, the cost of coal has risen 13 percent. In some parts of the market, solar has already reached parity with coal!

I'm sure you've heard the argument that solar is economically effective only by relying on government subsidies. Currently this may be true, but if solar prices reach Citigroup's prediction of $.25/ watt by 2020, subsidies may not even be needed.

And then there's the glaring fact that oil, gas and coal receive subsidies that dwarf those for renewables ($409 billion v. $60 billion globally).

And that's ignoring the extra costs that burning fossil fuels impose on the rest of society, that aren't paid by fossil fuel companies (called "externalities" by economists). The Harvard Medical School estimates that burning coal in the U.S. costs $500 billion in environmental and health damage. If those costs were taxed back onto coal plants, the price of coal would more than double.

And that's not even considering the whole climate change thing.

(Image Courtesy CleanTechnica)

3. Capacity
With the cost of solar dropping rapidly, installations are escalating at an exciting rate.

Earlier this year, the U.S. became the fourth country to have 10 GW of solar energy capacity, with installations increasing at a rate of 50 percent annually for the last five years. That rate is expected to increase to 80 percent this year.

⅔ of global solar capacity has been installed over the last two years. In contrast, 175 coal fired power plants in the U.S. are expected to be shut down over the next five years (over 10 percent of total capacity). This reflects the rising costs of coal and the implementation of stricter environmental regulations.

(Photo courtesy GTM Research)

4. Investment
While fossil fuels have been an omnipresent part of investment portfolios for decades, their reign may be coming to an end.

Recently a number of reports have shed light on an impending "carbon bubble". Fossil fuel companies are valued in the market based on their reserves of unburned fuel still in the ground. If international regulations are put in place to prevent atmospheric CO2 from rising above 450 ppm (the estimated cap to avoid irreversible climate change), much of the listed reserves couldn't be burned for fuel.

This means that many fossil fuel companies are overvalued as they potentially have huge unburnable reserves of fuel. British bank HSBC estimates that once stricter climate regulations are put in place, the value of fossil fuel companies may fall drastically. Already, the market cap of coal companies has dropped in value 75 percent over the last 5 years.

Firms like Mercer and WHEB are advising investors to move their investments out of coal and oil and into renewables. Major investors are already making this move. Warren Buffett has invested $5.4 billion invested in solar and has predicted the end of coal as an American power source.

New financing models like solar leases and PPAs allow more consumers to make the home-solar investment for little or no money down. Additionally, the company where I work, Mosaic, has created a new investment platform that enables you to directly invest in solar projects and earn steady returns.

5. Environmental Impact
This one should be pretty clear, but here are some interesting impacts of coal extraction and burning that you may not be aware of (sourcewatch, US EIA):
  • Acid mine drainage and coal sludge pollutes rivers and streams.
  • Air pollution which causes acid rain, smog, numerous respiratory illnesses and cancers, and toxins in the environment that are harmful to ecosystems.
  • Coal dust from mining causes respiratory illness.
  • Coal fires in abandoned mines put tons of mercury into the atmosphere every year and account for 3 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions.
  • Coal combustion waste is the second largest contributor to land fills after solid waste
  • Mountaintop removal for mining causes flooding, destruction of entire ecosystems, and release of greenhouse gases.
  • Emission of 381,740,601 lbs of toxic air pollution annually.
  • Emission of 3.3 trillion lbs of CO2 annually - an enormous contribution to global climate change.
(Photos courtesy ASU News)


Thursday, January 9, 2014

Largest Solar Power Plant in US Up, Running in Arizona

GILA BEND, Ariz. - If you've driven on the I-8 near Gila Bend on the way to San Diego, you've probably seen it: tons of large mirrors from the Solana solar power plant.

It's the nation's largest solar power plant in the US and it's right here in Arizona.

After years of construction, it's finally up and running.

It's three square miles in the middle of the desert.

The massive solar power plant is called Solana and it's the first plant in the US to feature a thermal energy storage system.

Thousands of curved mirrors follow the sun and use its heat to generate electricity.

"You have invested in all this equipment, you want the most sunshine you can possibly collect and this is where it's at," said Brad Albert, APS general manager of resource management.

But it doesn't stop once the sun goes down, it even generates electricity at night.

Solar mirrors heat oil and pipes carry the oil to heat exchangers that turn the water into steam. Using that steam, they're able to generate power for up to six hours after sunset.

"The benefit of this facility with the energy storage is this facility can keep operating at full power levels through our peak periods even on into the nighttime hours," said Albert.

The plant generates enough power for 70,000 homes that will go to APS customers.

"APS has entered into an agreement to buy all of the power Solana will produce over the next 30 years," said Albert.

The $2 billion plant took nearly three years to complete.

A lot of its parts were made right in Arizona, including all the mirrors you see when you drive by.

"We are reducing abating 475,000 tons of carbon dioxide from being produced at other generating sources," said Armando Zuluga Abengoa, solar general manager.

Solana went online last month and although the power coming from this plant may be more expensive than natural gas or oil, APS expects that to change.

Many say solar power is the future for Arizona and there are plans to build even more plants.


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Solar Industry's Next Frontier may be Battery Systems that Store Electricity

Some companies are selling lithium ion battery systems to store
electricity generated by residential solar systems. Above, workers
install solar panels at a home in Pompton Lakes in 2010.
Star-Ledger file photo
The electric vehicle maker Tesla is among several companies now offering lithium ion battery systems to capture and store the electricity generated by residential solar panel systems, according to a report in Fortune.

The benefit of such systems is that in power outages, there remains a day or two storage supply of electricity to power a home's lights and appliances.

But the storage systems are expensive, and it remains unclear what the payback is or even whether there is one, Fortune reported.

New Jersey has been a leader in solar energy, with more than 20,000 solar projects installed statewide. But the installations have come with the help of subsidy credits, and have yet to prove a consistent return on investment.

The U.S. currently has no subsidies for solar storage.


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Solar Powered Seats Installed on Boston's Greenway

Solar powered seats installed on Boston's Greenway
Sandra Richter and Kris Carter explain the green initiative

(NECN) - We've all been there: You're out and about - and then your cell phone dies.

There's now a new option to re-charge your phone in Boston, and all it takes is for you to sit down.

The Rose Kennedy Greenway in downtown Boston now features solar-powered seats.

The seats' creators Sandra Richter and Kris Carter joined NECN Business with more insight into their green initiative.

"Basically you just need to sit down on the chair, and then you open up a little clap and then you take your USB charger and you just plug it into the solar seat and that charges your phone all by itself," Richter says.

Carter, who is an adviser to Mayor Menino on green initiatives, says there are other sustainable projects in the works for the city of Boston.

"We think of this as part of the Complete Streets policy that's focused on being green and smart and whether that's a bench where you can charge your phone or whether it's something down the line where we have parking sensors that tell you where vacant spaces might be," he says.