Wednesday, April 30, 2014

1,100 MW Solar PV Project Now Under Construction In China

The development of a huge 1.1GW solar power plant project in China’s Gansu Province has begun, with China-based solar manufacturer and developer, China Singyes Solar Technologies Holdings, announcing the commencement of the 300MW ‘first phase’ in Hongshagang Industrial Park in Minqin County, Wuwei.
Image Credit: China Solar Cells via Wikimedia Commons
Development of the 1.1GW PV plant was announced by Singyes in December last year, as part of a broader deal with the Minqin County government to establish an environmental industry and clean energy development zone, including a solar R&D base.

This 300MW first phase of the solar power plant is expected to be completed by the end of 2014, and have an average annual power generating output of 480 million kWh. The overall project has a planned construction period of five years.

Singyes, which is listed on Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index, has been enjoying a good run, lately – last week bucking a broader market slump to hit a record high at $HK12.58 during the Friday session.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Goldman Sachs added the stock to its “conviction buy” list last week, describing the solar-power products maker as “well-positioned” to benefit from growing demand for its products in mainland China.

Much of Sinyes’ positive growth in sales and revenue has come from its building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) unit, which makes building materials with solar power functions. In 2013, BIPV accounted for nearly half of the company’s revenue, compared with 40 per cent in 2012.

Singyes CFO, Jimmy Yu, said in August last year that he hoped BIPV would account for an even greater share of future sales because the gross profit margin of the product remained high at 32 per cent. The company also recorded growth in its renewable energy, new materials and curtain walls businesses.
In a media release last week about the Minqin County project, the company said the solar R&D base would focus mainly on local agricultural produce needs and on power supply to local areas with no ready access to electricity. It wouls also include the production of solar heating baking room and the R&D of smart micro grid systems.

“We hope that, by participating in solar project in Minqin County, Wuwei, Gansu Province, we can optimise the local energy structure, protect the ecological environment, as well as promoting the use of solar energy, and advancing the development of the PV industry,” said Liu Hongwei, chairman of Singyes Solar.

“We will make use of the Wuwei solar product R&D base and take advantage of local conditions to explore a new PV industry that incorporates PV power generation, desert management, and modern agriculture as well as the new approach of industrialised desertification control.”


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Solar farms: Blue steel

British fields adopt a new crop

Let’s take it to Spain
TWO nuclear bombs are among many curious machines which the Science Museum stores at an old airfield in Wiltshire. An early hovercraft stands with a fleet of submersibles and a truck that once roamed the Antarctic. Now a new acquisition is on the way. Around the runway workers are preparing to lay out 155,000 solar panels—at about 170 acres, one of the biggest solar farms in Britain.

Though Britain’s hillsides are peppered with wind turbines, solar panels produce less than half of one percent of its power. Racing to hit a European target that requires it to generate 30% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, the government wants a lot more. Gregory Barker, an energy minister, says the solar industry could expand sixfold within a decade. Laid on the ground, that many panels would fill an area of about 150 square miles.

Fields full of solar panels are less obtrusive than hillside turbines, and simpler to install. Whereas opposition to wind power is mounting, about 85% of Britons back new solar projects. Big arrays may even encourage some kinds of wildlife, for example by sheltering ground-nesting birds.

It is also getting cheaper. The cost of installing solar panels has fallen by half since 2010 due to heavy deployment in Germany and elsewhere. Weak British sunlight makes energy from solar farms about 25% more expensive than from onshore wind turbines—and more than twice the wholesale price of power—but the government expects a 20% reduction by 2020.

Solar companies say ministers must do more. Planners, fearing eyesores, are growing less co-operative (complaints from rural campaigners are holding up the Science Museum’s array). Grid connections are getting more expensive as developers choose sites ever farther from big towns. The biggest fear is of government backsliding. In January ministers said they will soon require solar farms to bid against onshore wind projects for some subsidies.

Yet caution is wise, for two reasons. First, hefty investment in sunnier countries means the price of panels will keep falling without much help from British taxpayers; government cash might go much further in a year or two. Asian competition means Britain’s firms are unlikely to become successful solar manufacturers, no matter how much money is thrown at them.

Second, the price of solar panels reflects only part of the technology’s costs. Panels produce very little power during winter; in summer they can generate too much. The National Grid, which manages Britain’s power-transmission network, says that a big solar programme would mean finding extra cash to mitigate these swings in supply. A preponderance of panels is already making it difficult to build more farms in the sunny south-west.

If Britain is serious about hitting its legally-binding target for renewable generation, more solar seems inevitable. But the roofs of offices, factories and warehouses are the best places for it. Putting panels there lowers energy bills for businesses while placing less strain on local grids. That seems a brighter idea.


Monday, April 28, 2014

Solar Power for NALCO Corporate Office

As part of green initiatives, National Aluminium Company Limited (NALCO) is setting up a grid connected PV system on rooftop solar project of 160 kilowatts peak (kWp) for its corporate office building here.

The project setting up activity was formally launched by NALCO's CMD Ansuman Das yesterday, a company release said.

The project is expected to generate green renewable energy of about 2.10 lakh units per annum. 30 per cent subsidy of the capital cost would be provided by the central government through the Solar Energy Corporation of India Ltd (SECI).

NALCO has already commissioned two wind power plants of capacities 50.4 MW and 47.6 MW at Gandikota in Andra Pradesh and Ludarva in Rajasthan respectively.

Besides, plans are also afoot to set up the third wind power plant in its own mined out area of Panchpatmali Bauxite deposit in Koraput, it said.

* * * * * *

UK trade fest in Kochi tomorrow

* As part of initiatives to strengthen its partnership with Kerala in new areas like startups and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) Britain is organising a promotional event in Kochi tomorrow.

The event, organised by the British Deputy High Commission in Chennai in collaboration with UK Trade and Investment (UKTI), will see over 35 British companies participating to encourage innovations and partnership in Kerala, British Deputy High Commissioner Bharat Joshi said in Thiruvananthapuram.

The event,"the Great British festival", also assumes signfifiance as it comes close on the heels of the visit of Prince of Wales to Kerala in November last.

"The royal visit was evidence of how much the UK values the relationship with God's Own Country," Joshi said.

He said apart traditional areas of co-operation Britain is ready to explore co-operation in start-up ventures and SMEs. Primary healthcare is another sector where the Britain is keen to enter into collaboration with Kerala, he said.

About 30 British companies are already operating in Kerala and there was scope for broadening and deepening the co-operation in new areas.

He said the British visa facilitation centre in Kochi is to be strengthened considering imporatance of the city as the commercial hub of Kerala.


Sunday, April 27, 2014

Solar-Powered Savings Come With A Catch

There's the usual fare at the home show, including the headset-clad chef, the pushy pools guys, and the timeshare people who lure buyers with free candy.

Then there are the energy booths, offering everything from solar panels to window treatments. They have the latest and greatest in cutting your electric bill. Plus, they say Uncle Sam will help pick up the tab.

And they're right.

"For the consumer, it's a win-win," said Greg Otero, whose company sells the solar-powered Solar Star Attic fan. The Solar Star sucks hot air out of your attic and helps cool the living are of your home, Otero said.

To help hawk his wares, Otero's booth is adorned with red, white, and blue graphics that boast about a 30 percent tax savings.

"You're getting almost a third of the cost of the product back at the end of the year," he said.

Residential Energy Credits are part of the IRS code. Form 5695 outlines the savings. And yes, you can save big money.

(PRINT THE FORM:,-Residential-Energy-Credits)

But wait. Please continue reading for a warning.

As with most things that involve the Internal Revenue Service, there is a catch to form 5695. And tax preparer Bibi Rudestedt was kind enough to warn me about it.

Rudestedt says she's fielding complaints from customers who are spending thousands on energy improvements, but receiving zero in benefits.


"Lots of people," she said. "They were very upset."

How's that happen? Rudestedt explains that the tax credit is limited to the tax you owe. And that limitation pinches some consumers.

Say you spend $10,000 on something like solar panels. You'd expect a $3,000 credit -- that's 30 percent.

But Rudestedt says that if your tax liability is (say) $500, that's your maximum credit. $500, not $3,000, no matter how much you spend.

"You don't get more," she said.

So, before you spend the first penny thinking you will get a tax break, pause for a moment, and get some professional advice.

"I recommend that they go to their tax professional," Rudestedt said.

It could save you thousands of dollars and weeks of heartache.


Saturday, April 26, 2014

Solar Tracking Technology at the Le Betout PV Plant in France

Exosun, a provider of solar tracking technologies for utility-scale ground-mounted photovoltaic (PV) plants, has signed an agreement with Fonroche Energie, a major player in the renewable energy field, to supply 12MW of trackers and product-associated services for the ‘Le Betout’ PV plant located in South West France.

The 12 MW plant, financed by Capenergie 2, a fund dedicated to renewable energy and managed by capital investment firm Omnes Capital,  will be installed over 79 acres in Saint-Hélène, near Bordeaux, and is expected to produce 16,900 MWh annually—enough electricity to power 4,828 homes.

In its role as construction contractor, Fonroche Energie has selected Exosun to supply and commission 81 Exotrack HZ horizontal single-axis solar trackers. They will support 40,640 panels and approximately 850,000 ft² of PV modules, orienting them toward the sun to significantly increase output throughout the year in comparison to fixed-tilt structures. At the heart of Exotrack® HZ is the Exobox,which enables on-site or remote (via the customer’s SCADA) centralized tracker control, as well as providing tracking data for monitoring. 

Moreover, Exosun will support Fonroche throughout the construction, commissioning and operation phases of the plant in order to ensure the optimal performance of the Exotrack® HZ.  To do so, Exosun will provide Fonroche with tracker installation training, delivered with specific tools, and tracker O&M training.

Tracker installation begins this month with commissioning scheduled for the third quarter of 2014.


Friday, April 25, 2014

Innovative Solar-Powered Toilet Ready for India Unveiling

CU-Boulder postdoctoral researcher Tesfayohanes Yakob, left,
and research engineer Dana Haushulz are shown here with a novel
solar-thermal toilet developed by a team led by CU-Boulder Professor
Karl Linden as part of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's
"Reinvent the Toilet Challenge" to improve sanitation and hygiene
in developing countries.
Image: Univ. of Colorado
A revolutionary Univ. of Colorado Boulder toilet fueled by the sun that is being developed to help some of the 2.5 billion people around the world lacking safe and sustainable sanitation will be unveiled in India this month.

The self-contained, waterless toilet, designed and built using a $777,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has the capability of heating human waste to a high enough temperature to sterilize human waste and create biochar, a highly porous charcoal, said project principal investigator Karl Linden, professor of environmental engineering. The biochar has a one-two punch in that it can be used to both increase crop yields and sequester carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.

The project is part of the Gates Foundation’s “Reinvent the Toilet Challenge,” an effort to develop a next-generation toilet that can be used to disinfect liquid and solid waste while generating useful end products, both in developing and developed nations, said Linden. Since the 2012 grant, Linden and his CU-Boulder team have received an additional $1 million from the Gates Foundation for the project, which includes a team of more than a dozen faculty, research professionals and students, many working full time on the effort.

According to the Gates Foundation, the awards recognize researchers who are developing ways to manage human waste that will help improve the health and lives of people around the world. Unsafe methods to capture and treat human waste result in serious health problems and death—food and water tainted with pathogens from fecal matter results in the deaths of roughly 700,000 children each year.

Linden’s team is one of 16 around the world funded by the Gates “Reinvent the Toilet Challenge” since 2011. All have shipped their inventions to Delhi, where they will be on display March 22 for scientists, engineers and dignitaries. Other institutional winners of the grants range from Caltech to Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands and the National University of Singapore.

The CU-Boulder invention consists of eight parabolic mirrors that focus concentrated sunlight to a spot no larger than a postage stamp on a quartz-glass rod connected to eight bundles of fiber-optic cables, each consisting of thousands of intertwined, fused fibers, said Linden.  The energy generated by the sun and transferred to the fiber-optic cable system—similar in some ways to a data transmission line—can heat up the reaction chamber to over 600 F to treat the waste material, disinfect pathogens in both feces and urine, and produce char.

“Biochar is a valuable material,” said Linden. “It has good water holding capacity and it can be used in agricultural areas to hold in nutrients and bring more stability to the soils.” A soil mixture containing 10 percent biochar can hold up to 50 percent more water and increase the availability of plant nutrients, he said. Additionally, the biochar can be burned as charcoal and provides energy comparable to that of commercial charcoal.

Linden is working closely with project co-investigators Professor R. Scott Summers of environmental engineering and Professor Alan Weimer chemical and biological engineering and a team of postdoctoral fellows, professionals, graduate students, undergraduates and a high school student.

“We are doing something that has never been done before,” said Linden. “While the idea of concentrating solar energy is not new, transmitting it flexibly to a customizable location via fiber-optic cables is the really unique aspect of this project.” The interdisciplinary project requires chemical engineers for heat transfer and solar energy work, environmental engineers for waste treatment and stabilization, mechanical engineers to build actuators and moving parts and electrical engineers to design control systems, Linden said.

Tests have shown that each of the eight fiber-optic cables can produce between 80 and 90 watts of energy, meaning the whole system can deliver up to 700 watts of energy into the reaction chamber, said Linden. In late December, tests at CU-Boulder showed the solar energy directed into the reaction chamber could easily boil water and effectively carbonize solid waste.

While the current toilet has been created to serve four to six people a day, a larger facility that could serve several households simultaneously is under design with the target of meeting a cost level of five cents a day per user set by the Gates Foundation. “We are continuously looking for ways to improve efficiency and lower costs,” he said.

“The great thing about the Gates Foundation is that they provide all of the teams with the resources they need,” Linden said. “The foundation is not looking for one toilet and one solution from one team. They are nurturing unique ideas and looking at what the individual teams bring overall to the knowledge base.”

Linden, who called the 16 teams a “family of researchers,” said the foundation has funded trips for CU-Boulder team members to collaborate with the other institutions in places like Switzerland, South Africa and North Carolina. “Instead of sink or swim funding, they want every team to succeed. In some ways we are like a small startup company, and it’s unlike any other project I have worked on during my career,” he said.

CU-Boulder team member Elizabeth Travis from Parker, Colo., who is working toward a master’s degree in the engineering college’s Mortenson Center in Engineering for Developing Communities, said her interest in water and hygiene made the Reinvent the Toilet project a good fit. “It is a really cool research project and a great team,” she said. “Everyone is very creative, patient and supportive, and there is a lot of innovation. It is exciting to learn from all of the team members.”

“We have a lot of excitement and energy on our team, and the Gates Foundation values that,” Linden said.  “It is one thing to do research, another to screw on nuts and bolts and make something that can make a difference. To me, that’s the fun part, and the project is a nice fit for CU-Boulder because we have a high interest in developing countries and expertise in all of the renewable energy technologies as well as sanitation.”

The CU-Boulder team is now applying for phase two of the Gates Foundation Reinvent the Toilet grant to develop a field-worthy system to deploy in a developing country based on their current design, and assess other technologies that may enhance the toilet system, including the use of high-temperature fluids that can collect, retain and deliver heat.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Solar Energy Farms on Oahu to Include Ranchers Raising Sheep

First Wind Solar Group, which is planning to develop large solar energy farms in Hawaii, says that at two of its sites in Central Oahu where there is enough rainfall to support grazing, it plans to have local ranchers raise sheep in and around the solar panels while the project operates to keep the grass down and provide fresh, locally-raised lamb meat.

“This could enable dual use of our ag land to provide local energy and local agriculture,” Wren Westcoatt, development manager for First Wind’s Hawaii operations, wrote in a letter, obtained by PBN, to a resident who raised the issue of these solar farms taking up massive amounts of agricultural land. “When the project is over, we will be required to remove all equipment and return the land to its previous condition.”

Westcoatt also pointed out the benefits of the projects, including lowering ratepayers’ energy costs, allowing the state to be less dependent on imported oil, as well as them being an investment paying off over time.

“In addition, with utility-scale PV projects that we install, the savings go to people that don’t have their own rooftop systems, like people who rent or who live in apartments,” Westcoatt said. “Everyone on Oahu benefits from the lower cost power of utility-scale systems. Since these projects are obviously much larger than any rooftop, the ground-mounted PV does take up many acres. We have looked for sites that are relatively flat with good sun.”

Earlier this year, First Wind, which has so far only focused on wind-energy projects in Hawaii, dove into solar energy with the unveiling of its first plans to build three separate major solar farms totaling 82 megawatts in Central Oahu.

The projects include the 20-megawatt Mililani South Solar I and the 15-megawatt Mililani South Solar II, which will be located in Mililani, south of Lanikuhana Avenue, and the 47-megawatt Waiawa Solar, which will be located in Waiawa, on the Diamond Head side of the H-2 Freeway.

The three solar projects are expected to save Oahu residents about $200 million on electricity over 20 years through federal tax credits if the projects are completed by 2016.


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Soaring Solar Panel Sales Lead To New Firefighting Dangers

MONSON, Mass (WGGB) — Solar panels are popping up everywhere these days, especially in western Massachusetts. The Commonwealth 4th in the nation in new installations. Nationwide, more solar has been installed in the last 18 months than in the 30 years prior. However, with all the new technology comes all new danger.

“It is surprising relative to the quickness that we have really taken off and exceeded what was the benchmark of the amount of solar that would be intalled for 2020,” founder of Green Earth Energy Photovoltaic Christopher Scyocurka said.

But if the building that solar panels are installed on catches fire, they bring added risks to crews. Among the concerns: a greater likelihood that the building will collapse because of added weight from the panels, a difficulty cutting holes in the roof where they are needed to ventilate, and concerns over electrocution.

“As long as it’s receiving some type of light source. That could be through the sun, it could be through the moonlight, or even artificial lights when we set up at night and we have the scene lit up with our big lights it will be always generating power,” Monson Fire Chief Laurent McDonald said.

The power to the house can be cut, but not the panels themselves. Monson firefighters stopped a fire at a home with solar panels before it spread to the roof earlier this month, but it reminded them how serious solar panel dangers are.

“We are now going out and training our people based upon these studies and the research that’s been done so that to be forewarned is to be forearmed,” McDonald said.

With solar panels eliminating or drastically cutting back utility bills, experts say their popularity will grow, Scyocurka says that’s why Green Earth Energy now holds informational sessions so customers and firefighters both stay safe.

“Just so that they have that working familiarity of the solar system, it’s components, and you know what are the easy ways of working around it safely,” Scyocurka said.

Homeowners can do their part, too by working with your solar contractor, local building code officer, and fire department.
This will allow you to strategically place the paneling and allow first responders to be aware of what they will be facing in a worst case scenario.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Solar Charging Would Significantly Augment Mobile Device Battery Power

  • It was recently reported that a GT Advanced Technologies process could be used to grow high-efficiency, thin-film solar cells with possible applications for mobile devices.
  • Solar-charging mobile devices would be desirable for manufacturers and consumers.
  • Here, I present calculations showing that solar charging would also provide significant augmentation to battery power.
  • Based on these calculations, I conclude that it is only a matter of time until solar-charged mobile devices become a reality.
  • I believe the companies that supply the solar-charging technology stand to benefit much more than the companies that make the mobile devices that use it.
A recent article on Seeking Alpha suggested that a GT Advanced Technologies (GTAT) patent with applications for epitaxial-grown, thin-film, multi-junctional, high-efficiency PV cells will lead to solar-charged mobile devices. I have no doubt that such technology would be desirable to consumers and manufacturers, so long as it was not just a gimmick. By that, I mean it must actually provide a meaningful benefit. In particular, solar-charging capability would have to provide a meaningful increase to battery longevity. I was skeptical of a high-efficiency mobile-device-sized solar cell being able to supply enough power to do this, so I did some calculations to find some clarity. My conclusion is that solar charging would provide significant power advantages. So, if a method to manufacture durable, thin-film, high-efficiency solar cells in mobile-device-sized form-factors is developed, it is likely to be commercialized. Moreover, the companies (including perhaps GTAT) that can cost-effectively provide this technology stand to benefit.


Monday, April 21, 2014

Mass. Must Welcome Hydropower, Even as it Promotes Wind, Solar

Deep in the forests of Quebec, a network of dams churns out massive amounts of hydropower that could help quench New England’s thirst for electricity and bolster the region’s climate-change agenda at the same time. Owned by the province of Quebec, Hydro-Quebec is the world’s largest hydropower producer, and some of its electricity already trickles onto New England’s grid, hundreds of miles away. Now, as Massachusetts and other states in the region hunt for cleaner energy sources to replace fossil fuels and aging nuclear reactors, Quebec officials want to expand.

But despite its proximity, Hydro-Quebec has never received the warmest of welcomes here, amid anxieties that if large-scale hydropower receives all the incentives offered to green energy suppliers, an onslaught of cheap Canadian power would crowd out wind, solar, and other emerging clean-energy technologies in New England. Now, though, a new bill before the Massachusetts Legislature, backed by the Patrick administration, finally strikes the right balance. The legislation invites more Canadian hydropower into New England, without making it eligible for the full range of supports reserved for the cleanest energy sources. The Legislature should approve it.

The bill, sponsored by state Representative Mark Cusack and state Senator Barry Finegold, would require electric utilities to put out a large solicitation for valuable long-term power contracts that would only be open to cleaner energy sources. Two previous rounds of solicitations in recent years have only been available to wind, solar, and small-scale hydropower generators. They’ve yielded contracts that have helped foster the fledgling alternative energy industry. The new legislation envisions a far larger solicitation in the third round and, for the first time, opens the bidding to huge dams like Hydro-Quebec’s. But it would not change a separate set of requirements that utilities purchase an ever-increasing percentage of their power from the cleanest sources, like wind and solar.

In addition to its climate benefits, using more hydropower is also strategically sensible: Right now, the region relies too heavily on a single energy source, natural gas, leaving consumers vulnerable to price spikes like the one in January. But two factors have prevented Canadian hydropower from playing a bigger role in the region: inadequate transmission lines from Quebec, and political uncertainty about how precisely Canadian power would mesh with the state’s clean-energy regulations. The bill would help address both concerns.

No fewer than four proposals have emerged to increase transmission capacity for Canadian power, including the controversial Northern Pass line through New Hampshire. But the same glut of cheap natural gas that has driven gas use in Massachusetts to such high levels has also made power lines to other generators harder to finance. By making Canadian hydropower eligible for long-term contracts, the legislation would make building new transmission infrastructure more economically feasible.

Hydro-Quebec’s political issues have been even thornier, since as an energy source hydro doesn’t fall neatly into either the clean or dirty category. Water rushing past turbines doesn’t produce greenhouse gases, but the destruction of forests for dams does exact an environmental toll. Plus, if utilities were allowed to count large hydropower toward their renewable requirements — as NStar, now part of Northeast Utilities, long urged — the incentive to develop local alternative energy sources like Cape Wind would vanish overnight. The new legislation would move past that debate, essentially creating a third category of energy source that’s not entitled to all the protections for wind and solar, but still gets preferential treatment over fossil fuels through access to long-term contracts.

Granted, it’s not universally accepted that cleaner energy from Canada is preferable to fossil-fuel generation closer to home. As coal plants shut down, some towns worry about a loss of revenue. But that’s a good reason to get moving on wind and solar projects in Massachusetts. When critics say that Canadian workers stand to benefit from the bill, they’re right. But that’s not an argument for the status quo; it’s an advertisement for what local governments have to gain if they welcome new renewable power generators.

The Legislature should, however, take steps to ensure the language of the bill establishes a neutral playing field among eligible energy sources. While Hydro-Quebec is probably the only generator that could realistically provide all the electricity envisioned in the bill by itself, there should be no unnecessary barriers to another bidder or combination of bidders. Multiple small clean-energy producers might be able to offer a better overall deal than Hydro-Quebec.

A final complaint, lodged by some power generators, is that, with the price of natural gas rising, market forces will make the transmission lines to Canada viable without any state intervention. But gas prices fluctuate, and one spike in January doesn’t change the reality that gas production in the United States has been rising for years. Given the urgency of tackling climate change, it would be unwise to put progress at the mercy of volatile energy markets. This bill could get more energy into the grid, without imperiling New England’s other alternative energy programs, and deserves approval.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

600 More Solar Panels Installed At Lake Mead NRA

The Lake Mead National Recreation
Area has added 600 solar panels which
will provide power for a park warehouse,
communications center and other offices.
PV panels (above) were added to the Alan
Bible Visitor Center during a 2013 renovation
of the facility.
Photo courtesy of iH Agency
Lake Mead National Recreation Area continues to "Go Green" with the addition of photovoltaic systems that not only ensure conservative energy, but also provide shade to government vehicles.

More than 600 PV panels were installed on the tops of three shade structures in an administrative area parking lot. These panels generate energy by absorbing sunlight that is transferred to solar energy that can travel through electrical circuits to power electrical devices.

The 10,205 square feet of panels produce a total output of 158.6 kilowatts, which power the Lake Mead maintenance warehouse, Interagency Communications Center and other nearby offices in Boulder City.

"This was a great project for a couple of reasons," said Bruce Nyhuis, chief, park maintenance and engineering division. "It demonstrates the National Park Service commitment to renewable energy. The new PV system will offset approximately 35 percent of the total energy used in our warehouse complex.

"Secondarily, this project has the added benefit of providing shade for vehicles, which really helps keep the interior of our vehicles cooler in our climate, as well as protection from sun damage," he added.

Lake Mead NRA continues to make green goals. PV panels were added to the renovated visitor center and native plant nursery in 2013. Single-stream recycling bins are being added throughout the park, and the park's Green Team is promoting recycling, composting and other environmental goals.

The construction project was funded by the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act. The contractor for the project was SunWize, a sustainable energy contractor out of San Jose, Calif.


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Park District to Pay $43,000 for Solar Panels at Nike Sports Complex

File photo.
Naperville Park District commissioners approved a contract Thursday night for just more than $43,000 to Solar Service for the installation of solar voltaic panels at the Nike Sports Complex.

According to staff reports, the panels will be able to generate as much as 30 percent of the energy used at the complex throughout the summer months and save the district at least $1,000 a year.

The majority of the cost for the panels was paid by other sources, including a renewable energy grant the Park District received from the city of Naperville worth $16,500 and a state rebate worth almost $19,000 that was approved by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

Commissioners also approved an intergovernmental agreement between the Forest Preserve District of Will County and the Park District for the design, construction and operation of the DuPage River Trail extension project from 95th Street to Knoch Knolls Park.

Director of planning Eric Shutes said the project reflects a portion of the district’s trail master plan.

“This is a multi-purpose asphalt bike and pedestrian trail connection to extend 95th Street northeast through Rivercrest Estates Park to the existing segment 4 trail located at Knoch Knolls Park,” Shutes said. “We expect this trail extension to enhance connectivity and recreation for activities such as walking, jogging and biking throughout the Naperville community.”

Terms of the agreement include construction of the trail by the Forest Preserve District with the Park District providing reimbursement for a portion of the trail cost. The Park District also will be charged with maintaining the extension after completion. The project is expected to begin in 2015.


Friday, April 18, 2014

Company Proposes Sprawling Solar Farm

Planned for 10 acres overlooking I-495 

METHUEN — A Tennessee-based renewable energy company wants to build a 1.2-megawatt solar farm on a hill next to Old Ferry Road using plans that align closely with a 2011 proposal which failed.

Ultimate Energy Source, based in Knoxville, Tenn., submitted a proposal on March 4 to build between 4,500 and 4,700 solar panels on nearly 10 acres on a hill overlooking Pleasant Valley Street and Interstate 495.

The Community Development Board will hold a public hearing on the proposal at its meeting April 9 at 6:30 p.m. in City Hall.

The land and some neighboring properties are zoned light industrial. However, some residential areas, including an apartment complex and subdivisions, lie immediately to the north and west.

Atlantic Group Development LLC, of Lunenburg, controlled by Scott J. Peacock, owns the property. A message left at his office seeking comment Friday was not returned.

Ultimate Energy Source will lease the land and sell the electricity generated there to National Grid, the company said on its website.

A voice message left at Ultimate Energy Source Friday seeking comment was not returned.

According to plans submitted to the city, Ultimate Energy Source, under the name Methuen Solar LLC, plans to build the panels in two large dense clusters on the east side of the hill, and one smaller group just off Old Ferry Road. The two large groups will have an access road around them and in between them, and the installation will be surrounded by a chain link fence with security cameras.

Regrading will be required. The plot sits to the east and below the crest of the hill.

Aerial Spectrum Energy of Burlington submitted a similar proposal in November 2011, but that project was not built. Stephen DeFeo, chairman of the Community Development Board, said concerns arose over the stability of the system used to anchor the panels into the ground, given the type of soil on the hill.

“We were very concerned that the hill would wash away,” DeFeo said.

Those plans, however, showed a similar number of panels spread out across the lot, including on a steep incline on the northwestern edge. The current plan shows the panels being clustered on a relatively flat cut on the hill, although the anchoring system appears to be the same.

Ultimate Energy Source is working on a half dozen solar projects in the United States, including the Methuen proposal, a 37-acre eight-megawatt project in Springfield, three projects in northeastern Pennsylvania and one in North Carolina.

One megawatt can power about 750 homes.

The proposed natural gas power plant in Salem, Mass., would generate 630 megawatts of electricity.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

SolarCity & Best Buy Team Up to Sell Solar in 60+ Stores

SolarCity and Best Buy announced this week that they have teamed to sell residential solar in New York, Oregon, Arizona, Hawaii, and California. There are now SolarCity kiosks in over 60 Best Buy stores.

“This is the largest consumer electronics retailer in the United States,” said SolarCity vice president Jonathan Bass. “When you come into Best Buy, at our kiosk we can look at your home on a satellite map and determine if it will be a good fit for solar.”

The deal is even being kicked off with $100 Best Buy gift card for anyone who signs up for SolarCity’s service before Earth Day, April 22.

It is part of SolarCity’s push to go mainstream. In the poll it recently conducted with Clean Edge, 62% of American homeowners said they want solar panels on their homes. SolarCity wants to help them do this. According to their brochure:
  • SolarCity and Best Buy have beta tested the program since September, and based on the success of the early pilots, are currently rolling out services in approximately 60 Best Buy locations in Arizona, California, Hawaii, New York and Oregon.
  • The decreasing cost of solar technology and the expansion of solar service models have made solar power far more affordable and accessible than was previously possible—SolarCity can make it possible for Best Buy customers to install solar panels for free, and pay less for solar electricity than they currently pay for utility bills.
  • A SolarCity representative at each Best Buy location will be able to provide Best Buy customers with a satellite-based assessment of their home’s solar potential—including how much they could expect to save on energy costs—in less than five minutes.
  • A great swath of Americans believe we should be using more solar, but fewer than 1 percent have it today. Best Buy is making solar power far more accessible—bringing it into the mainstream—as the first national consumer electronics retailer to offer a solar service option in-store.
  • Solar power can be used to operate any device that runs on electricity, and generates zero emissions. The use of solar power also significantly mitigates the air and water pollution associated with other forms of electricity generation.
Want to see how much you could save switching to solar? It all starts with a free consultation in your home.

If you don’t live in one of the specified areas, you can still phone one of SolarCity’s Energy Advisors (888.765.2489) or go to their website


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Strawberry Trees Offer Free Public Solar Charging for Gadgets

© Strawberry Energy
In a bid to bring more renewable energy choices to the public, while educating people on the benefits of solar power, one Serbian startup is building public solar charging stations that will energize mobile gadgets and serve as a social hub.

The vision of Strawberry Energy is to make renewable energy sources more accessible for all people, and to show that solar power and other clean energy solutions aren't just abstract concepts, but are instead practical and desirable. The way they're helping to get that message across is through their public solar charging stations, dubbed Strawberry Trees, which offer free charging for mobile devices, and in some cases, free WiFi.
"Recognizing that the best way to raise awareness about the issues of clean green energy is to present the benefits through practical example, Strawberry energy engages in research and promotion of renewable energy sources and sustainable development."
Because so many of us are dependent on our phones, our tablets, and our music players, all of which are likely to run out of juice just when we need them, offering a way for users to recharge them with the power of the sun might be a great entry point for showing how solar energy has a place in our everyday lives.

The Strawberry Tree public solar stations, which are designed to be permanently installed in busy public places, include 16 charging cords (so users don't have to have their charger with them), and can serve as a meeting place and WiFi hotspot.
© Strawberry Energy
Currently, 12 of the Strawberry Tree charging stations are installed in Europe, with ten of them in Serbia and two in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and have proven to be popular with the public. The company recently signed a US distribution agreement with 3fficient Energy of California, which could open the door for wider adoption of these public solar chargers. According to 3fficient, the California Community College system has already expressed interest in the Strawberry Tree system.

Strawberry Energy also makes two other versions of the solar chargers, the Strawberry Mini, which is a smaller portable model that could be used for festivals and events, and the Mini Rural, which is even smaller and is designed for offgrid and rural use in areas without electricity.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Vermont Lawmakers, Towns Worry About Solar Projects that Could be Seen as an Eyesore

Sungen Sharon Solar Farm in Sharon. (Photo by Roger Crowley/for VTDigger)
MONTPELIER -- Vermont has become the nation's leader in solar jobs per capita -- an achievement praised by the Shumlin administration, environmental groups and solar developers. But solar's growth is not so bright for those near the state's so-called "Solar Capital" in Rutland, who say they are struggling to keep up with the burgeoning industry.

Don Chioffi, clerk of the Rutland Town Select Board, said while Rutland City has been called the solar capital of the state (thanks to a notable Green Mountain Power project), Rutland Town - a rural community of about 6,000 citizens is not ready adopt that moniker because of the impact large solar could have on the town's rural character.

"Like most of the rest of the state, we have been pretty much overwhelmed by the rapid expansion of the solar industry within our state and as the duly elected officials of our community, we have been attempting to get ahead of a steeply rising curve," Chioffi told the Senate Natural Resources Committee Thursday.

Chioffi said he does not oppose solar, but the town would prefer to site solar projects in locations that do not disturb the aesthetics of the local landscape. "We do not want this quality destroyed by unregulated and industrial solar," he told the committee.

The committee passed a bill Friday designed to lump solar projects into the same zoning process as other commercial development. Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland, introduced S.191 this year.

The bill is not designed to stop solar projects, said committee Chair Bob Hartwell, D-Bennington. But lawmakers say something must be done to balance the state's renewable energy goals with the state's bucolic landscape, which includes giving towns a voice in deciding where solar projects are located.

"While it may be helpful for energy, it's not the most beautiful thing to look at," said Vice Chair Diane Snelling, R-Chittenden.

Chioffi said Rutland Town has been under pressure to adopt a zoning plan that includes solar in order to maintain the town's current agrarian landscape as the the solar industry moves in.

Environmental groups say anything that makes it harder to develop renewable power will delay the state from moving toward its goal of tapping 90 percent of its power from renewables by 2050.

Dylan Zwicky, a clean energy associate for the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, said Rutland Town's working energy plan will put "new barriers at the local level, making it more difficult for folks to generate their own power." VPIRG supports an expansion of solar energy projects under the state's net metering program.

"We feel that if we're serious about addressing global warming, Vermonters need to be able to take steps to generate their own power," Zwicky said.

Lawmakers want to be sure town plans have been weighed as part the Public Service Board's review process of solar projects. Snelling is concerned about town review and public input for solar projects. She recently participated in a hearing for the 2.2 megawatt "Charlotte Solar Farm."

"It was very sad as a legislator to be sitting in the Charlotte public hearing on this project and feel like the voices of the people were not being heard," Snelling said.

The developer, a company from North Chelmsford, Mass., has not received a letter of credit from the Public Service Board. The project received a certificate of public good last January.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Indiana County Considering Solar Farm Project

In this Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014 photo, an Indian security man walks by solar panels at a solar power project in Raisan village near Gandhinagar, India. For six years, India's monopoly coal producer has missed production targets that already fall short of the country’s demand. Industry has been left scrambling for pricier imports. Power cuts are chronic, and hundreds of millions still have no access. But what looks like a looming power crisis could actually be a rising energy transformation, with the country poised for a shift toward solar to end chronic energy woes and offer first-time access to hundreds of millions nationwide. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki)
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — A southern Indiana county is weighing a company’s proposal to build a five-megawatt solar energy farm on county-owned land.

Solar Zentrum has proposed using 15 to 20 acres in Monroe County for the project. That land is a part of an 85-acre plot owned by the county.

The company is seeking a site that could house between 4,000 and 5,000 solar photovoltaic panels that would turn sunlight into electricity.

The Herald-Times reports ( ) that Duke Energy has issued a request for proposals for solar farms that would gather the energy and then sell it to Duke.

The county property in question is near a power transfer station, making it an ideal site.

Monroe County’s commissioners and members of the county’s environmental quality commission have agreed to move the idea forward.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Company Tests Solar Power

Energy source could help astronauts travel solar system

A California-based private aerospace, defense and commercial products company, ATK, agreed to test its solar arrays at the NASA Plum Brook Station.

The work started earlier this month and extends into late April. Solar arrays can convert sunlight into electricity or energy needed for powering astronauts into deep space.

“The testing of the ATK array is a major milestone toward development of a new solar electric power system that will generate the high power needed for extending human presence throughout the solar system,” NASA officials stated in a release.

Severe weather forced ATK and NASA administrators, including those from Cleveland and Washington, to postpone a tour at Plum Brook this past Wednesday.

No make-up date has been announced.

NASA spokeswoman Katherine Martin answered questions about this new partnership at the Plum Brook Station:   

Q: What is the purpose of this testing?

KM: The testing will expose the array system to the unique conditions that Plum Brook can simulate.

Because this is a new, never-before-tested design for advanced solar array systems capable of collecting more energy than previous designs, it is imperative we test them before going forward with a space-ready version.

ATK is under contract to design, analyze and test a single solar array capable of generating more than 15 kilowatts of power. The Phase I teams also will demonstrate how this array can be scaled up to provide 250 kilowatts or more for future spacecraft with very high power requirements.

Q: What will this testing ultimately accomplish or strive to achieve?

KM: High power solar electric propulsion, where the power is generated with advanced solar array systems, is a key capability required for extending human presence throughout the solar system.

These advanced solar arrays will drastically reduce weight and stowed volume, meaning it takes up less room, when compared to current systems. They also will significantly improve efficiency and functionality of future systems that will produce hundreds of kilowatts of power.

These advanced solar arrays could be used in future NASA human exploration and science missions, communications, satellites and other future spacecraft applications.

Q: Where is testing occurring at the NASA Plum Brook Station and why?

KM: The Space Power Facility houses the world’s largest and most powerful space environment simulation facilities. The Space Simulation Vacuum Chamber is the world’s largest, measuring 100 feet in diameter by 122 feet high. The Reverberant Acoustic Test Facility is the world’s most powerful spacecraft acoustic test chamber.

Q: How many solar arrays are being tested?

KM: Two: ATK is testing their prototype array system at Plum Brook Station, and DSS (Deployable Space Systems) is expected to test their prototype array system later this year in California.

Q: How much does the testing at Plum Brook cost?

KM: The cost of testing the array is about $500,000. Note that this includes the use of the facility for about eight weeks and includes ‘vibro-acoustic’ testing, hot vacuum testing, cold vacuum testing, deployed dynamics testing and all instrumentation and cabling and labor to support the tests.

Solar power testing at a world-class facility in Erie County could help astronauts get to Mars and explore the universe.


Saturday, April 12, 2014

Solar Could Bring in Even More Money

SOMERSET — The companies that won the bid to put a solar farm on town-owned property off of Wilbur Avenue have changed their proposal to use less land but would generate more power, which will result in more money to the town than had been originally discussed.

The original proposal from Borrego Solar and NextEra Energy Resources would have generated four megawatts of power by installing solar panels on 27.7 acres of the property while the new proposal will generate six megawatts of power on 23.8 acres of the property.

Town Administrator Dennis Luttrell said the town could be compensated from the companies by a combination of buying electricity at a reduced rate, a lease they will have to pay for the property and taxes on personal property, which would be the equipment used on the land.

Over 20 years, Mr. Luttrell said the town could realize $16,390,091 from the solar farm, while over 25 years, the town could realize $19,814,844. Under the previous proposal, the town would have realized $9.1 million over 20 years.

"This is all subject to negotiations," Mr. Luttrell said. "It means a lot to the town when we don't have as much revenue these days. Every dollar we make from this is a dollar we don't have to charge the taxpayers or take from the budget."

He said the companies are requesting a payment-in-lieu of tax agreement that town meeting voters would have to approve.

The original proposal would have used five lots on the town-owned land, but some wetlands presented a problem with the layout of the solar farm, so the companies have proposed using a different part of the town-owned property. The parcel of land that the town owns off of Wilbur Avenue has 98 acres. It was formerly owned by New England Power and after the town bought it, it was leased out for farming. The design for the solar panels has been shifted west on the property.

Mr. Luttrell said the new layout of the solar farm would have to be approved by town meeting voters.

"Hopefully, the town meeting will see the wisdom of doing this," Mr. Luttrell said.

The new proposal would have more solar collectors on the property. The original design had the solar panels being closer to Wilbur Avenue and to the Somerset Ridge Center nursing home and Alzheimer's unit.

"This takes it farther away from populated areas," Mr. Luttrell said of the proposed new design for the solar farm.

Mr. Luttrell said there will be a buffer zone to the solar farm along Brayton Avenue and said there may be two houses that could see the solar panels. But he said a town bylaw requires plantings to screen the solar panels from the houses.

Mr. Luttrell said the new solar farm plan requires cutting more trees down on the town property. The selectmen last Wednesday tabled their decision on the solar farm proposal.


Friday, April 11, 2014

Solar Power More Economical than Natural Gas, Coal, Nuclear in Texas

Image CC licensed by Steve Rainwater
Austin Energy is going to pay under 5 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity from 2 new solar power plants, Cleantechnica has reported. This is a couple of cents less than it estimates it could have paid for electricity from a natural gas plant (7 cents), 5 cents less than from a coal-fired power plant (10 cents), and 8 cents less than from a nuclear power plant (13 cents).

The 5 cents per KWh is even more significant because solar produces the most electricity at peak demand times, around the middle of the day in Texas. When electricity demand is up, electricity prices rise, and when demand goes down, electricity prices fall. That 5 cents per KWh for solar power in the middle of the day is a good deal indeed.

Cleantechnica points out that although there are no subsidies for solar that help with this project in Texas, there is a federal investment tax credit (ITC) at work. Without the credit, the cost of the solar electricity would actually be 8 cents per KWh, just a little more than gas, and still a lot less than coal and nuclear. If the environmental cost of gas and coal were factored in, solar would already be far less expensive than fossil fuel-based electricity.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Legislator Tapped for Solar Panel Study Committee

CUMMING — District 24 state Rep. Mark Hamilton has been tapped to serve on the Solar Panel Study Committee, looking into the future of solar technology.

“I am honored to be appointed to this subcommittee and want to thank Representative Mike Dudgeon for bringing forth this legislation,” Hamilton said.

Both he and Dudgeon, who represents District 25, are Republicans from Forsyth County.

Hamilton went on to note that solar power is “a cost-effective source of energy, and citizens should have the freedom to use it to power their homes.”

The subcommittee was created after Dudgeon’s House Bill 874 failed to clear the chamber this session. The measure would help people access solar energy, but it could also open some loopholes, which is why further study was required.

The bill would have allowed retail electric customers to install solar technology to generate electricity for their own properties.

The technology could be financed through a loan, lease, power purchase agreement or other financing arrangement under the bill, which also would prohibit an electric service provider from interfering with the installation or financing.

“There were still concerns with it,” Hamilton said. “The hope and intention is that this study committee would come up with either an appropriate compromise or new language so that a new bill would be able to be introduced next year that would help satisfy needs.”

The seven-person subcommittee will be chaired by Rep. Harry Geisinger, a Roswell Republican. The other representatives include: Robert Dickey, R-Musella; Karla Drenner, D-Avondale Estates; Ben Harbin, R-Evans; Susan Holmes, R-Monticello; and Earnest Smith, D-Augusta.

“Technology has improved so much over the last few years in solar energy,” Hamilton said. “And with that, cost has come down dramatically, so that it’s getting close to being affordable to many consumers.

“The challenge then, is we want to balance how we provide this solar opportunity to businesses and consumers, while at the same time understanding that there’s a tremendous amount of capital already invested in infrastructure across the state that we need to make sure we don’t jeopardize.”

The subcommittee will work in the interim leading up to the 2015 Georgia General Assembly.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Solar Panels Give Derby Victorian Church Help and Inspiration from Above

The Rev Derek Honour, front, with his congregation inside the church, which now generates
its own electricity from 100 solar panels fixed to its roof.
Inset, the panels on the church.
A VICTORIAN Derby church has found a hi-tech solution to help people see the light.

St Barnabas's Church, in Radbourne Street, is now fitted out with 100 solar panels to generate electricity, resulting in about £35,000 savings, as well as profit, for the church over 20 years.

The Rev Derek Honour said the £41,000 project was important to help to combat climate change.

He said: "We want to try to reduce our carbon footprint. If we don't do something as a nation, we're going to get what's called catastrophic climate change, which would be much, much worse."

He also said that it was Christians' responsibility to look after the planet, according to the Bible.

He said: "As Christians, we believe that God has entrusted the Earth to us as stewards. He has entrusted us to care for the Earth, a bit like a landlord.

"In not looking after the Earth, we are accountable to God."

Mr Honour said he had been inspired to take the move after a church in Melbourne had solar panels fitted in 2011 – becoming one of the first churches in the UK to do so.

The money used to fund the panels project came from a permanent endowment fund, which had been created through the sale of land and garages belonging to the church.

These funds were originally intended for use constructing a new building for the church, but Mr Honour said he managed to get some of it released for the solar panel project.

He said: "We thought the money would be appropriate to use because it would go towards improving the church building as well as providing free electricity while the sun is shining.

"The panels will be able to generate up to 25Kw of electricity per hour."

The church will also receive money as part of a Government scheme to encourage people to use greener energy sources.

Mr Honour said: "The Government works out how much electricity it thinks we'll generate over a year and how much of that we will use.

"It pays at least 6.85p and up to 12p for each kilowatt we generate. Any excess electricity we generate is fed back into the National Grid."


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Solar Power Threatening Future for U.S. Electric Utilities

A persistent warning light is flashing for U.S. electric utilities. The utilities -- big and small, for- and not-for-profit -- are facing serious disruptive technology. The old business models are in danger.

The unlikely disruptive technology that is causing the trouble is rooftop solar power.

Back in the energy turbulent 1970s, solar was a gleam in the eye of environmentalists who dared to dream of renewable energy. It looked like a pipe dream.

Very simple solar had been deployed to heat water in desert homes since indoor plumbing became the norm. Making electricity from the sun was many orders of magnitude more complex and it was, anyway, too expensive.

The technology of photovoltaic cells, which make electricity directly from the sun, needed work; it needed research, and it needed mass manufacturing. Hundreds of millions of dollars later in research and subsidies, the cost of solar cells has fallen and continues to go down.

Today, solar certainly is not a pipe dream: It is looking like a mature industry. It is also a big employer in the installation industry. It is a player, a force in the market.

But solar has created a crisis for the utilities.

In order to incubate solar, and to satisfy solar advocates, Congress said that these “qualifying facilities” should be able not only to generate electricity for homes when the sun is shining, but also to sell back the excess to the local utility. This is called “net metering” and it is at the center of the crisis today -- particularly across the Southwest, where solar installations have multiplied and are being added at a feverish rate.

Doyle Beneby, CEO of San Antonio, Texas-based CPS Energy, the largest municipal electric and gas utility in the nation, said, “The homes that are installing solar quickly are the more affluent ones.” The problem here, he explained, is that the utility has to maintain the entire infrastructure of wires and poles and buy back electricity generated by solar in these homes at the highest prevailing rate -- often more than power could be bought on the market or generated by the utility.

Steve Mitnik, a utility industry consultant, said that 47 percent of the nation's electric market is residential and the larger, affluent homes -- which use a lot of electricity, and generally pay more as consumption rises -- are a critically important part of it. Yet these are the ones that are turning to solar generation, and expect to make a profit selling excess production to the grid.

But who pays for the grid? According to CPS Energy's Beneby, and others in the industry, the burden of keeping the system up and running then falls on those who can least afford it.

The self-generating homes still need the grid not only to sell back to but,more importantly, to buy from when the sun isn't shining and at night.

For some in the utility industry, net-metering is just the beginning of a series of emerging problems, including:

-  Big investments are needed in physical security after the sniper attack last October at PG&E Corp.'s Metcalf transmission substation, which took out 17 huge transformers that provide power to California's Silicon Valley.

-  New investment is needed in cybersecurity.

-  Improved response to bad weather is a critical issue, especially in some Mid-Atlantic states.

Beneby believes the solar incursion into the traditional marketplace might be the beginning of more self-generation -- such as home-based, micro-gas turbines -- and utilities will and must adjust. He is something of a futurist and points out that in telephones, once a purely utility service, disruption has been hugely creative.

Environmentalists are as disturbed as the utilities. Some are calling the imposition of a surcharge on rooftop generators, as in Arizona recently, an attempt by the greedy utilities to stamp out competition. But many are seeking alternative solutions without a war over generating, and without punishing those unable to afford their own generation.

Brian Keane, president of SmartPower, a green-marketing group with solar-purchase programs in Arizona and many other states, has looked for cool heads to prevail on both sides of the issue. “I don't have an answer,” he said, calling for dialogue. Also the Edison Electric Institute, a trade group, has been talking with the National Resources Defense Council.

It isn't your father's electric utility anymore, or your hippie's solar power.


Monday, April 7, 2014

Whatever Happened to Solar Charging Phones?

Image from Phone Arena
A lot of interesting news popped up in my feed today, one of them being that wireless electricity is coming to fruition. Although the technology is still in the baby stages, and initially will likely be optimized for medical usage (and rightfully so), I started to wonder how long it would be before wireless electricity would be used to benefit everyday mobile technology, such as for charging. However, this led me to start thinking that we already have unconventional methods of charging our phones wirelessly (via a charging pad, which isn't the same as wireless technology which uses magnetic fields to produce electricity) which still isn't exactly widely implemented today. We also, at one point in time, used to have phones that entertained the practice of solar charging.

I only ever saw one phone that tried this, and it was the Samsung Replenish, a little known Android device with a BlackBerry-like physical QWERTY keyboard. It was one of the cheaper handsets at Sprint, but in my opinion was also one of the most unique. It was described as an eco-friendly phone due to the box it came in, which was made out of recycled material, and the phone itself was made out of plastics that were safe for the environment. Although the phone didn't have solar charging included right out of the box, it was the only Sprint phone that offered an alternative back cover with solar charging capabilities. It was said that this solar charger would give users an extra 20 minutes of talk time, as long as it was held at a 90-degree angle for an hour in direct sunlight. It required extremely tedious conditions to work, if it did work; regardless, it looked like the beginning stages of what could be the next big alternative charging technique for phones.

Yet, after the Replenish was pulled from shelves, I never saw another smartphone quite like it. Not only was that about the same time that most Androids ditched whole physical keyboard aspect, but there was also little to no emphasis on trying to add solar charging panels on to phones. Perhaps it was because the technology wasn't exactly advanced enough to make any real progress, but with it being nearly 3 years since the Replenish was on shelves, I do wonder if the concept was ditched completely, and why.

A phone that can make use of solar charging generally seems like a good idea for a couple of different reasons. For one, it could be used for countries or situations that have limited use of electricity, even if it is charged just enough to make one or two phone calls. On a less serious note, it could also encourage people to go outside... even if it is just for one hour to check and see if the solar charging actually works or not. But mostly it just seems like it would be handy in emergency situations or for places without a lot of electricity.

Would I buy a phone that utilized solar charging? I would imagine so; the more ways to charge, the better, because you never know when you're charging port is going to fry up or give out. Then what do you do? If you're lucky and you have wireless charging, you could use that. Or, if you have solar charging, you could potentially use that. It might just be there as a safety net or last resort, but I'd rather have a last resort to use than no resort.

I don't know what happened to solar charging, or if it will ever make a comeback. If you ask me, though, I think it would be cool to have this feature return - at least to some phones. It uses a natural resource to bring power to these important devices, so it seems like it would make sense to try and make smartphones work together with solar charging.

Readers, what are your thoughts about solar charging in smartphones? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!


Sunday, April 6, 2014

Taking the Spotlight: Solar Energy

(L-R) Curtis Trivitt, Nelle Hotchkiss and Lynn Thompson
were on a panel at the 2014 NRECA annual meeting.
(Photo By: Luis Gomez Photos)
Distributed generation in the form of wind, landfill gas, and cogeneration got a mention, but solar by far is attracting the most attention from cooperatives and legislators, a panel of experts told the co-op crowd.

The panelists also informed co-ops that distributed generation is coming. They were told that it is best to get in front of it and that co-ops should develop their own DG projects.

Nelle Hotchkiss, senior vice president, corporate relations, with the North Carolina Electric Membership Cooperative, urged co-ops to develop expertise and messages on solar because of its broad appeal. While environmentalists promote solar as renewable energy, conservative politicians see free market and private enterprise appeals, she said.

Hotchkiss showed an animated video produced by the North Carolina statewide that describes the advantages, disadvantages, and complicated issues raised by use of solar energy.

Hotchkiss emphasized the value of spending time and resources on videos and other clear and simple ways of reaching members and legislators with distributed generation messages that can be difficult to explain.

“Anything you can do to talk about what you are doing for consumers is very important,” she said.

Curtis Trivitt, senior vice president, energy services at CoServ Electric in Corinth, Texas, emphasized the importance of developing rates that reflect accurate costs to the co-op, and then explaining those rates in ways that can be understood by members.

Trivitt described working with a developer of a sustainable housing development who was surprised to learn that solar electricity would cost more, rather than less.

Lynn Thompson, president and CEO of Eau Claire Energy Cooperative in Fall Creek, Wis., said his co-op’s “goal is to become a trusted, go-to resource” that is seen as supporting the interests of the members.

Eau Claire Energy Co-op is launching Community Solar, a Cooperative Research Network project that will build a solar installation that co-op members will support by buying into it. Thompson described it as a way for interested members to support solar without penalizing those who don’t want to pay the extra costs.

Panelists encouraged co-ops to review the rates charged for distributed generation, acknowledging the difficulty of balancing fairness to all members, and the true costs of distributed generation, including appropriate demand and energy charges.

They noted innovative ways to look at true costs, including the value of different forms of distributed generation, or the cost of increased transmission requirements. They said advanced metering systems could facilitate the design of those kinds of rate and accounting considerations.


Saturday, April 5, 2014

Threatened Solar Projects Find New Life

BARNSTABLE — Solar energy projects put on hold in January when the installer went out of business are back on thanks to an extension granted last week by state officials of the time available to qualify for a crucial incentive.

The Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative announced Friday that nearly 13 megawatts' worth of solar projects in nine towns had been successfully transferred from Broadway Electrical Company Inc. to G&S Solar Installers LLC of New York. G&S will contract with Fischbach & Moore Electric Group, LLC of Boston and other local contractors to build the systems, according to a cooperative press release.

The cooperative was formed in 2007 to pursue renewable energy projects for its 17 member towns, Barnstable and Dukes counties and the Cape Light Compact. The compact was formed in 1997 to buy power in bulk for electric customers on the Cape and Vineyard, provide energy-efficiency programs for local businesses and residents, and advocate for ratepayers.

The cooperative, which has relied almost exclusively on ratepayer funds collected by the compact to pay its bills, already has installed about 760 kilowatts as part of seven projects across the Cape. In November the cooperative held a series of groundbreakings for additional projects, totaling 16 megawatts, that are being installed by American Capital Energy at eight sites on the Cape and Vineyard.

Broadway Electrical was tapped in 2012 to install another group of projects for the cooperative known as Round II which, at the time, was estimated to include 50 megawatts of solar energy worth $200 million. That figure was cut in half by March 2013 because of problems with roofs, concerns over clear-cutting and complicated approval processes to connect to the grid and to locate panels on land used for other purposes.

Additional problems with projects in Brewster and Hyannis reduced the total to the 13 megawatts now under contract with G&S.

Since an abrupt stop to work by Broadway in January the company, which announced it was going out of business after existing for 77 years, has been in negotiations with G&S over the transfer of the projects, according to cooperative officials.

Representatives with G&S did not return messages left Friday seeking comment for this story. Broadway officials have not returned messages seeking comment since announcing the company was closing.

Beyond the transfer of the contracts, the agreements with cooperative members have not changed, cooperative consultant Liz Argo said Sunday.

The cooperative made sure that all of the protections in place for its members remained, she said.

One of the keys to the successful transfer was a decision last week by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources to grant an additional 30 days beyond a June 30 construction deadline to qualify the projects for incentives through the state Solar Care-Out program, according to Argo.

The program allows qualifying solar energy projects to generate solar renewable energy certificates, which can be sold to generators seeking to meet state renewable energy standards.

Krista Selmi, spokeswoman for the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, said cooperative officials had requested the extension which was granted.

"In the regulations an extension would only be granted in a case of force majeure," Selmi said.

Force majeure is a legal term for a circumstance that could not have reasonably been anticipated, as was the case with Broadway — a long-standing company — going out of business, Selmi said.

The cooperative is the only customer of Broadway to request an extension so far but the state would consider other requests under similar conditions, Selmi said.

Argo said it's not clear whether the cooperative's projects would be complete within 30 days of the original deadline because it depends on the schedule of the companies contracted to do the work. The state's extension is for "at least" 30 days, leaving the door open for the possibility of more time, Argo and Selmi said.

Argo said a reduction in the projects originally contemplated as part of Round II was not a surprise.

"The list was really to see what the vendors thought was feasible," she said.

It is unclear whether the Brewster and Hyannis projects eliminated from Round II might be possible under a second state-run solar energy carve-out program, Argo said.

Unlike other projects on roofs and capped landfills the proposed Brewster and Hyannis projects would have involved the clearing of trees, which is not the type of project being encouraged by state officials under the new program.


Friday, April 4, 2014

Solar Power: Cost of Production Dropped 60%; Price to Equal Thermal Power's in Three Years

(More importantly, the MP…)
Earlier this month, when Madhya Pradesh accepted the bid of Himgiri Energ y Ventures to supply solar power to the state grid at Rs 6.5 a unit, it was a figure to note even by the industry's standards of smashing records by the season. This contract award shaved off 13 per cent from the lowest price at which Indian industry was willing to supply solar power; over three years, the drop is a steep 61 per cent.

 More importantly, the MP tender brought the price of solar power closer to the price of thermal power — produced from coal or gas, and India's largest source. For 2012-13, Delhi's power utilities were projecting to buy conventional power at an average unit price of Rs 5.71.

In other words, at Rs 6.5, solar is just 14 per cent above thermal. Its price prognosis is also better. Even as coal and natural gas become costlier, solar plants bask in free and ample sunshine and falling equipment prices. All this is taking the energy sector towards a game-changing milestone: grid parity, or the situation where solar costs the same as conventional sources.

"Price bids in conventional power have been up to Rs 5 per unit," says Sanjay Chakrabarti, partner (clean energy), Ernst & Young. "Keeping that as the grid parity price, wind power has already achieved grid parity and solar is quite close." The ministry of new and renewable energy is projecting grid parity by 2017 -- five years ahead of its initial projection of 2022.

Cheaper solar power

Some countries are there. Like Germany, which has 36,000 MW of solar capacity, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. An early adopter, Germany started seeing a spike in solar capacity from 2001.

In India, the spike came only in 2012, since when its solar capacity has increased from 2.5 MW to 1,759 MW (See graphic). The Central government is looking to increase capacity through the National Solar Mission, which gives a certain set of incentives to companies and aims to put up 22,000 MW of solar capacity by 2022.

In its last round of bidding, held this January, the government received bids for 2,170 MW, three times the advertised requirement, from 53 companies. Among them were state power utilities, global renewable-energy players and fresh entrants with international funding, holding out an investment of Rs 5,000 crore.

Also active are select states. Madhya Pradesh leads, with Rs 30,000 crore in the pipeline for renewable power development. It is followed by Gujarat, an early mover that has 850 MW of solar capacity at an investment of—11,000 crore up and running. The jump in capacity is coming from the ongoing recalibration in tariffs.

The second phase of the National Solar Mission, from 2013 to 2017, set the tariff at Rs 5.5 per unit, with some financial support from the government in the form of 'viability gap funding'.

According to Tarun Kapoor, joint secretary at the ministry of new and renewable energy, viability gap funding was about Re 1 per unit. He sees this reducing with equipment becoming cheaper, particularly from China, and competing fuels becoming costlier.

"Our experiment with viability gap funding turned out to be successful, with foreign investment coming in," he says. "Looking at the current trend, this amount would gradually go down."

 The latest tenders floated by states—which don't offer viability gap funding, but offer subsidised land or tax breaks —give a glimpse. Price bids stood at Rs 6.5 per unit in Madhya Pradesh, Rs 7 in Rajasthan and Rs 8 in Punjab.

Increasing consumer adoption

Solar is also seeing increasing adoption at the consumer level. Micro grids, of 150 watts (powering 20 households) to 5 kilo watt (40 households and commercial use like water pumps) are being set up to independently power villages. There are solar lanterns and street lights.

Inverters, water pumps and other agri machines are increasingly coming in the solar option. Ajay K Goel, CEO of Tata Power Solar, which makes solar equipment, feels adoption of solar-based products has parallels with telecom. "Offgrid products have better reach in areas where grid connectivity is an issue," he says.

"Just as landline connections could not reach deeper pockets of the country but mobile phones did, decentralised systems would serve the same purpose." For example, Lucknow-based Naturetech Infra has installed micro grids in villages in districts of Uttar Pradesh, including Gonda, Sitapur and Unnao.

A micro grid entails installing a small field of solar panels at a central location in a village. The panels generate solar power during the day and store it in batteries. In the night, this power is released for seven hours to houses connected to the grid. Households pay Rs 120 per month to run two bulbs, one fan and a mobilecharging point.

Shubhra Mohanka, director of Delhi-based Solid Solar, says her company sold 10,000 solar inverters—a cleaner and cheaper back-up option than diesel, which costs Rs 16-18 a unit — in UP, Bihar, Delhi and Tamil Nadu last year. "Solarbased products have a huge market in remote areas, where they can easily replace costly diesel and kerosene," says Parag Shah, managing partner of Mahindra Partners and head of Mahindra cleantech division.

Solar is also diversifying into new spaces. Maharishi Solar, for example, does solar-powered garden lights, swimming pool heating, fridge, AC and cooler, among other things. "As more and more creative minds go into it, new technology development will take place," says Pradeep Khanna, the company's CEO & MD. A solar ecosystem is taking shape.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Solar Sailors Hit the Water

San Joaquin Delta College engineering student Jacob Heth pilots his team’s solar-powered boat on a test run Sunday at the Stockton Sailing Club at Buckley Cove in Stockton. Heth and his engineering classmates plan to enter a solar- powered craft in an annual regatta held by Sacramento Municipal Utilities District.
Hundreds of boats in Stockton are powered by renewable energy.

It's not a new concept. Columbus sailed the ocean blue - he didn't jet across it in a motorboat.

But the 12-foot dinghy launched by a dozen San Joaquin Delta College engineering students on Sunday just might be the only vessel in town powered by the Sun.

While a few Stockton Sailing Club members watched in wonder, students dunked "Tipsy" into the Delta for the first time, and were pleased - perhaps a little relieved? - to see her slice through the calm waters of Buckley Cove at a decent clip of about 3 mph.

"Unlimited fuel, buddy!" one of the boat's designers called out to Tipsy's captain, student Jacob Heth. "Knock yourself out!"

A top speed of 3 mph might not sound very fast, but it's not bad, considering the four solar panels mounted across the top of Tipsy are barely enough to power four light bulbs in your house.

The students are preparing for a competitive solar boat regatta which was dreamed up by the San Joaquin County Office of Education, and is hosted each year by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District.

So, on the surface, this is a story about a cool project requiring collaboration and creative thinking.

But it's also a story about Delta's ambitious engineering students, many of whom come from ethnically diverse and, in some cases, disadvantaged backgrounds.

You won't find engineering offered at many community colleges these days, instructor and project adviser Ben Howser said.

But Delta's chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers has more than 40 members. The club admits students of any ethnicity, but one of its goals is to increase the number of professional engineers from minority groups.

Right now, minorities across the country are underrepresented in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math.

"At Delta, we get these students ready to transfer to four-year schools," Howser said. "Davis, Cal Poly, and once or twice a year, Berkeley."

Which, incidentally, could be the very caliber of schools that Delta is competing against at the upcoming race.

No fear.

"I think we're going to be competitive," Howser said.

Everyone in the upcoming race gets the same number of solar panels. The trick is figuring out how to mount them to the boat, how to connect them to the motor, and how to do it using as little weight as possible.

Delta's students aren't divulging all of their secrets. This is a competition, after all.

The panels sit flat across the top of the boat. A battery - which they'll need for a separate battery-powered race - sits under the panels. A switch allows the captain to alternate between solar and battery power.

Waterproofed wires connect the panels and battery to the outboard motor.

There was no shortage of sunshine on Sunday, and sure enough, as soon as the hull was lowered into the water, the boat silently glided off from the pier.

Switching to battery power provided a little extra kick, getting Tipsy up to about 5 mph. When powered by the sun, she slowed down a bit.

But the students figure that by redistributing the weight of the panels, they might be able to coax a little more speed out of her.

Plus, when race day comes in May, the sun will be higher in the sky and should provide more juice.

In the end, the launch was a success. "It went," the instructor said afterward. "That's the important thing."

Chris Augmon, 22, has one more year at Delta before he transfers to a four-year university. He wants to be an electrical engineer.

The students involved in this project are at different levels in their studies, but all helped in some way to design the boat, he said. (By the way, Tipsy belongs to Howser, who likes to sail. She may go by a different name during the upcoming regatta.)

The race isn't just an exercise in creativity, Augmon said. Not with increasing limitations on fossil fuels and traditional energy sources.

"I think we need to come up with a novel solution," he said. "This gets people thinking about sustainability in the long run - renewable technology, at some level."

While all went well during the brief maiden voyage on Sunday, any engineer can confirm that when it comes to technology, you just never know.

Which is why, in addition to all the high-tech stuff on Tipsy, there was also a wooden oar stashed away beneath the panels.

Just in case, the students said.

And there's nothing wrong with that. Sweat is a renewable resource, too.