Sunday, August 31, 2014

Germany Added A Lot Of Wind And Solar Power, And Its Electric Grid Became More Reliable

To hear its critics tell it, Germany’s ambitious push to switch over to renewable energy has delivered an electrical grid that’s capricious, unreliable, and prone to blackouts. But according to data highlighted by ECO Report last week, the reality on the ground couldn’t be further from that caricature.

Specifically, the availability of electricity in Germany was lost only for an average of 15.91 minutes per customer in 2012, according to figures from the Council of European Energy Regulators. That’s far better than the United States, which saw its electricity become unavailable for a whopping 244 minutes per customer in 2008. Germany also did significantly better than the United Kingdom (lost 81.42 minutes per customer in 2008), the Netherlands (lost 33.7 minutes per customer) and France (lost 95.1 minutes per customer). Of all the countries tracked, Japan and Singapore are the only two with grid reliability to match Germany’s.

And the country has actually maintained this record for several years: 2008 was the last year in Germany when the amount of minutes lost per customer breached 16.

ECO Report pointed to a recent article in Bloomberg as an example of the standard story on Germany. The argument goes that by making a big policy push to move the electrical grid onto to renewables like solar and wind — which produce power intermittently, since no one can control when the sun is out or the wind blows — and by making the purely political decision to phase out its nuclear fleet following the Fukushima disaster, Germany has left itself without the kind of reliable baseload power that can only be provided by nuclear reactors or fossil fuels like natural gas and coal.

As Bloomberg points out, Germany’s domestic electricity has become far more dynamic. Twenty of the country’s biggest utilities are now earning fees in the balancing market, an exchange where firms can earn additional profits by pledging to add or cut electricity within seconds to keep the power system stable. That’s double the amount of utilities that were participating in the balancing market just back in September — and the fees provided by the market can pay utilities as much as 400 times what they’d usually earn with wholesale electricity prices.

The unspoken assumption, then, is that an electricity system that is constantly switching that rapidly between different electricity sources and providers, with swings that big in price, must result in an unreliable experience for the average German consumer. The data from the Council of European Energy Regulators shows that’s not the case. The crazed internal dynamics of Germany’s grid may be stressful for its operators. But the country has managed to stitch all those changes together into a remarkably consistent and reliable stream of electricity for German customers.

There’s plenty of precedent for how this could work. Studies and demonstration projects have shown that by stitching together a diverse portfolio of renewables, and filling in the gaps with a modest amount of natural gas or coal that can be fired up when needed, grids that rely primarily on renewables can actually provide a level of reliability equal to that of traditional fossil-fuel-dependent grids.

For one thing, it’s not completely impossible to predict when wind power, for example, will be available. Operators can generally get a pretty reliable 24-hour notice, meaning they know when to fire up fossil fuel generators to tied the grid over.

Another big reason for this is that there are lots of different forms of renewable energy, and their differences can be complimentary. Hydro and geothermal power, for instance, can effectively provide continuous baseload power just as easily as fossil fuels or nuclear. And while solar obviously produces its power in the daytime, much of the wind blows at night — meaning that solar and wind power can, to an extent, naturally compliment one another in terms of when they feed the grid.

Germany is certainly not out of the woods yet, however. All the added cost from that switching means Germans face higher electricity prices than their European neighbors along with enjoying a greater level of reliability. And in the short-term, at least, the demands of Germany’s internal switching has driven a modest increase in the percentage of the power it gets from coal, by far its heaviest source when it comes to carbon dioxide emissions. Meanwhile, cleaner sources like nuclear and natural gas have declined. In particular, the country’s decision to shutter its nuclear power out of fears of a Fukushima-like disaster has been a self-inflicted wound on the affordability of Germany’s power supply.

But for all that, Germany got one third of its power from renewables in the first half of 2014, a remarkable accomplishment in comparison to its neighbors. For the first time ever, renewables made up more of the grid portfolio than brown coal did. The country also remains committed to the goal of getting 80 percent of its power from renewables by 2050.

Assuming that Germany can keep up the pace at which it’s adding renewables and that storage technology advances to the point it can help out more, then many of Germany’s current issues should smooth themselves out.


Why is the Sunshine State saying "no" to solar power?

Southeast utilities are blocking solar in favor of coal

You'd think that the places with the most sunshine would be the biggest proponents of solar power, but sadly, the world doesn't make that much sense. Cloudy Germany has long been a leader in solar power, while Florida, the self-proclaimed Sunshine State, along with most of the US Southeast, has created a regulatory environment that is outright hostile to solar.

While it's not surprising that the U.S. Southwest has the most solar capacity installed (just look at the map below to see why), it makes no sense that the Northeast is the second most solar-friendly region in the country (even New Jersey has over 20,000 homes with solar panels). A big part of the problem is that local utilities, who are very dependent on coal and natural gas, have successfully lobbied to put anti-solar regulations on the books; while in places like California you get a generous tax credit and the ability to run your electricity meter backwards (net-metering), in parts of the Southeast you actually have to pay extra taxes and fees on solar equipment and power generation.

And all these roadblocks are not just a reflection of lack of demand: "We get all kinds of inquiries every day" from the South, said Will Craven, spokesman for SolarCity. "People there want to be our customers." Florida, in particular, is known as the "sleeping giant" of his industry, Craven said. "It has a ton of sunshine, a ton of rooftops," he said. "But there is no rooftop solar industry in Florida."

The situation reminds me a little of how many states are trying to block Tesla from operating within their borders. It's mostly the old incumbents trying to block competition and protect their businesses. With electric cars, it's the dealerships trying to protect their profits (they make most of their money from maintenance, and electric cars don't need much of it, and to properly sell an EV, you need to point out how it's superior to gas vehicles). With rooftop solar, it's the power utilities that want to avoid demand destruction (once you install solar panels, you stop buying much electricity, if any, for decades).

Of course the utilities claim that solar power is hard for the grid to handle and expensive, but that's just an excuse. Many places have a lot of solar power and their grid is doing just fine, and rooftop solar is now inexpensive enough that it saves people money rather than cost them extra (it would be especially cost-effective in sunny Florida).

What the utilities are really afraid of is being less profitable. You can clearly see it happening in Australia, with solar shaving off the profitable demand peak in the middle of the day, and it's just a preview of what will happen in many other countries over time.

I have a tip for them: Don't try to fight progress. Embrace it and find ways to benefit from it. If I was running one of these utilities, I'd go into the solar leasing and solar installation business.


Saturday, August 30, 2014

The City That Made Solar Power Illegal

Dakar is embracing solar power as a way to mitigate power cuts. (Photo by AP / Sylvain Cherkaoui)
The rainy season coincides with summer in Dakar, which means it’s the power-cut days. The heat goes up, A/Cs kick into gear and the power utility, Senelec, cannot cope. The minute the lights go out, old-fashioned diesel generators fire up. Pharmacies, restaurants, shops that sell perishable goods – all have a generator on stand-by these days. It eats away at their profits but letting stuff go to waste is even more costly.

Senelec routinely bears the brunt of citizens’ anger. The office across the road from where I live is no longer in use; it was smashed up by a group of people who were fed up with a utility that sends bills but doesn’t deliver the goods. In fact, all of Senelec’s offices across this vast city have, at one point or another, been the target of wrathful Dakarois, exasperated with the low levels of service it provides.

These are old problems that have been compounded by the extremely rapid growth of the city. The utility relies on a few aging diesel-fueled power stations, made more expensive because Senegal imports all of its oil. The country’s power bills are the highest in the entire West African region and its service delivery is among the worst. Deep, long-term investments in new infrastructure are the only solution but Senelec has no money. In fact, it relies heavily on state subsidies and still cannot break even.

Enter solar. This potential renewable savior is a latecomer to Dakar because until recently solar power was banned in cities, as it was considered what the French pointedly call “compétition déloyale” – unfair competition.

But under pressure from Dakar’s own citizens, the ban was lifted under the last government of former President Abdoulaye Wade, a committed supporter of the free market. Hesitantly, the first solar panel importers made Dakar their home. They started selling water boilers and solar panels – at first, at very high prices. A simple panel set with a small water tank would set you back well over one million CFA Francs, or over $2,000.

Today, many more importers have started up, and while still expensive the price has come down noticeably. Much to the delight of users like Madame Kane Diallo Fatoumata Bintou Niang, a businesswoman who was interviewed at length by Senegal’s premier business magazine Réussir (Succeed). “My electricity bills have been reduced from well over $500 per month to nil. Yes, it was expensive to install and it took me a year and a half to pay it all off but I can only see advantages. Look, the installation cost me around three years worth of Senelec bills but it will run for 25.”

The report features a picture of Ms. Niang’s entire roof terrace covered in photovoltaic cells. The installation runs everything: washing machine, microwave, flat-screen television, fridge, you name it. And she has all the power she needs, free of charge.

So is the government of President Macky Sall listening? It is. It first got rid of an expensive emergency plan it inherited from the Wade government: a massive battery of power generators, the bill of which amounted to a staggering $1,900 billion CFA Francs, or almost $400 million, way beyond Senegal’s paying capacity. It then set out to solve the electricity conundrum using an array of energy sources. “What we need is an energy mix,” the minister for energy declared shortly after Sall’s election. Today, she runs a ministry that is called Energy and Development of Renewable Energy.

Part of that mix is a highly contested plan to build a coal-fired power station on the coast, some 40 kilometers outside Dakar in a small town called Bargny. But even the mayor of Bargny has joined in the protests, and the occupation of the building site has halted this Chinese project for the time being.

Senegal has solar energy in abundance, and on the peninsula where Dakar stands the wind is a permanent presence: you get either the ocean breeze or the desert wind. These, plus a root-to-branch revamp of Senelec, will eventually solve the city’s electricity crisis. Until then, have that generator handy, because the next power cut is only minutes away.


UK Solar Power Adds 1 GW Capacity In H1 2014 As Developers Vow to Fight on For Subsidies

Image Credit: First Solar
Solar power capacity has seen an impressive boom in the UK during the first six months of 2014. The figures released by the Department of Climate Change show the country managed to overtake Germany in capacity addition during the first half of the year.

The provisional statistics reveal that about 1,137 MW solar power capacity was added to the grid during the first six months this year. This is the highest capacity addition during the period across Europe. This is a massive jump of 56% of the 728 MW capacity added during the first half of 2013.

The cumulative solar power capacity in the UK now stands at just under 4,000 MW and is marching briskly towards the government’s goal to increase its share in the energy mix to 15% by 2020. Solar photovoltaics (PV) remains among the most popular renewable energy technologies in the UK. According to the data released by the DECC earlier this year, solar PV had the third-highest share in installed capacity among renewable energy technologies.

The DECC plans to have 22 GW of solar power capacity installed by 2020 and has implemented several measures to support such an ambitious target. The government is considering to implement automatic approval for setting up rooftop solar PV projects of size up to 1 MW. Currently auto-approval is restricted to projects with capacity up to 50 kW only.

While the rooftop solar power project developers may rejoice, the news is not so good for the developers of large-scale projects. The Renewable Obligation subsidy scheme has become so popular that it is eating into government’s subsidy kitty at a much faster pace than expected. As a result, the government has decided to shut down the scheme two years earlier. The decision will affect power projects with over 5 MW capacity.

Major developers like Solarcentury, Lark Energy, TGC Renewables, and Orta Solar Farms are planning to appeal to the DECC to review its plans for an early rollback of the scheme. The developers are already embroiled in another tariff-related legal battle with the DECC. The government’s decision to reduce feed-in tariffs in late 2011 was challenged by the developers in court. The Supreme Court sided with the developers while the High Court ruled that the project developers were entitled to a compensation of up to £132 million.


Friday, August 29, 2014

US Solar Carport Market Poised for Record Year, Continued Growth

Annual installations will exceed 100 megawatts for the fourth consecutive year.

The U.S. solar carport market has emerged as a substantial component of the U.S. solar industry.

According to the latest report from GTM Research, U.S. Solar Carport Market 2014-2018: Landscape, Outlook and Leading Companies, the U.S. is forecasted to add more than 180 megawatts of solar carports in 2014, making it the fourth consecutive year with more than 100 megawatts installed.

FIGURE: U.S. Solar Carport Market Installations, 2010 to 2018E

Source: U.S. Solar Carport Market 2014-2018: Landscape, Outlook and Leading Companies

“The U.S. solar carport market has historically been driven by solar incentives dedicated to government and educational entities coupled with physical and regulatory limitations for rooftop systems for these customers,” said report author Scott Moskowitz. “With the average system price of solar carports continuing to fall, commercial solar developers can offer increased value to customers in the form of larger project sizes and greater electricity savings.”

The report notes that solar carport installations in California have historically represented more than half of the national market, with lower penetration levels nationwide. While California will continue to anchor the national market, new state markets on the East Coast are emerging despite higher costs. GTM Research expects continued growth in California, along with market recoveries in Arizona and New Jersey, to drive the expansion of the market.

The promising market opportunity has led to an increasingly crowded U.S. solar carport vendor landscape, with pure-play carport manufacturers and vertically integrated developers competing with new entrants from traditional PV mounting solution suppliers.

FIGURE: U.S. Solar Carport Vendor Landscape

Source: U.S. Solar Carport Market 2014-2018: Landscape, Outlook and Leading Companies

“The vendor and developer landscape for PV carports is growing more complex as companies optimize their strategies to meet a challenging pricing environment,” noted Moskowitz. “In general, developers are moving away from vertical integration to tap into lower-cost structural suppliers, and vendors are increasing their scope of services to combat falling pricing.”

By 2016, GTM Research expects the total market value of the U.S. solar carport market to reach $843 million.


How Much Has The Dialog Changed on Desert Solar? Here's How Much

Desert Solar: no longer cool? | Photo: Alan Cordova
The way environmentally concerned people think about large industrial desert solar plants has changed over the last few years. In 2009, when the first few large projects started working their way off the drawing board and into the environmental review process, hearing criticism of those projects' environmental effects was rare.

Some expressed reservations from the beginning. A few groups like Basin and Range Watch and The Wildlands Conservancywent on record early with concerns about the big projects' effects on wildlife, hydrology, and air quality. But many of the bigger groups were reluctant to oppose desert solar projects, aside from quibbling about a detail here and there, lest they be seen as not doing everything they could to support renewable energy development.

Since 2009, though, with increasing data on those large developments' effect on wildlife and the increasing viability of rooftop solar as a cheaper, more efficient alternative, green groups seem to have far less trouble speaking out against ill-sited projects. Want some evidence of how far the swing has swung? An article this week in the Palm Springs Desert Sun offers a good example: it casts green group support of a desert solar project as a surprising twist.

The article, written by Sammy Roth and appearing in the Desert Sun on Sunday, August 10, acknowledges that green opposition to desert solar might seem counterintuitive, but then says
Groups ranging from the Sierra Club to the Center for Biological Diversity have argued that massive solar projects can kill birds, disrupt species and damage other environmental resources.
And Roth's second paragraph starts with the plot twist:
But those groups have come out in support of the Blythe Mesa project, a 485-megawatt solar plant that would be built on private land in eastern Riverside County.
In other words, the big news here is that environmental groups support a desert solar project.

That news is a little overstated. Seven groups -- the National Parks Conservation Association, the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, Audubon California, the California Native Plant Society, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Defenders of Wildlife -- did sign a letter in support of the plant, which was submitted as public comment on the project's draft Environmental Assessment/Environmental Impact Review (EA/EIR).

The name of the document is confusing enough to make your eyes glaze over, so let's take a minute to explain. The federal government and the state of California have similar procedures for evaluating a project's environmental impact, mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Projects that require both state and federal environmental review are often assessed in one process that meets the requirements of both laws. An Environmental Assessment is a preliminary document mandated under NEPA that can either precede a full-fledged Environmental Impact Statement, or serve as the only environmental review if a project isn't thought to pose a risk of significant environmental impact.

There's less wiggle room in CEQA: instead of getting by with a NEPA-style Environmental Assessment that may underplay the effects of a project, agencies following CEQA either have to prepare a full-fledged Environmental Impact Review or come out and state that a project won't have an impact on the environment. If they decide a project won't hurt the environment, they have to back up their call with a document called a Negative Declaration, which is then subject to the same public review as an EIR would be.

Blythe Mesa occupies private land in Riverside County, so the county is required under CEQA to head up the state's environmental review. But a transmission line spur to connect the project to the grid would cross public land, which obligates the Bureau of Land Management to assess the project under NEPA. Hence the joint EA/EIR.

In any event, support for Blythe Mesa is by no means uniform across the environmentalist board. Despite the implication of support in the Desert Sun piece, the Center for Biological Diversity is actually calling for a full federal Environmental Impact Statement, saying the EA doesn't sufficiently address potential effects on a variety of birds including the Endangered Yuma clapper rail, along with fringe-toed lizards, badgers, and desert kit foxes.

The 3,600-acre Blythe Mesa plant would be built on private land, some of which has been disturbed for agriculture, so it's not displacing old-growth desert habitat like some other projects. That fact was lauded in the seven groups' comment letter.

Whether the project was planned for desert wilderness or a gigantic parking lot, however, having 3,000-plus acres of photovoltaic panels along a major migration corridor is likely to cause more of the water bird deaths ReWire has reported on in the last year.

Blythe Mesa is also nearly certain to have a significant impact on local Native cultural sites, according to nearby tribes and other Native groups, who steadfastly oppose the project. Local native people are likely to raise an eyebrow at the seven groups' comment letter, which states baldly that "We are pleased that the Project is planned for those Blythe Mesa Alternative lands due to their previously disturbed condition and absence of significant biological and cultural resources."

Desert Sun reporter Roth goes into some detail on the cultural issues in his piece, and he also mentions that project proponent Renewables Resources Group is yet to find a buyer for any of the 485 megawatts the plant's photovoltaic panels would produce at peak output.

But what really jumps out about his piece is the framing: "Green groups are supporting a big desert solar project, and that's unusual." That would have been unthinkable just four years ago, when the few groups speaking out against environmentally destructive desert solar projects struggled to get any press attention at all.

In reality, there hasn't been that much of a sea change in the environmentalist landscape over Blythe Mesa. Groups that have been taking a hard line on desert solar projects aren't being overly friendly to Blythe Mesa, and some of the groups that have signed the letter have been supportive of all but the most controversial projects. Nonetheless, public perception of the relationship between green groups and utility-scale desert solar seems to have shifted 180 degrees in the past five years. In 2009, greens raised eyebrows when they had reservations about a project. Now it's news when they don't.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Large Solar Array Planned at Ford Headquarters

DEARBORN, Mich. -- Ford Motor Co. and utility DTE Energy Co. plan to build a large, roughly $5 million solar array at the automaker's world headquarters in suburban Detroit, officials announced Thursday.

The project, funded by Detroit-based DTE, will provide Ford employees in Dearborn with 360 covered parking spaces and power for 30 charging stations for plug-in electric vehicles.

Ford executive chairman Bill Ford said in a statement that the project reflects the automaker's "long history of innovation and a deep commitment to sustainability."

The solar canopy will have the capacity to generate 1.038 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 158 average-sized homes. DTE will build, operate and maintain the carport for 20 years. Construction is set to begin in September and be completed in early 2015.

An on-site kiosk will provide information about solar power and details about the Ford carport. The solar installation is part of a DTE initiative called SolarCurrents to help fulfill a commitment to boost its use of renewable energy sources.

Michigan law requires utilities to produce 10 percent of their power from renewable sources by the end of 2015. Voters rejected a ballot initiative two years ago pushed by environmental groups that called for a 25 percent requirement by 2025. Opponents said that would boost electric bills.

The solar project is the second collaboration between Ford and DTE in recent years. In 2010, the companies teamed up to install a 500-kilowatt solar panel system at Ford's Michigan Assembly Plant in the Detroit suburb of Wayne. Energy generated by the system helps power vehicle production.


Chevron Puts Hawaiian Solar Projects on Ice

Aug. 13 (Bloomberg Businessweek) -- Chevron has taken another step away from its renewable-energy efforts, putting a pair of solar projects at its Kapolei refinery in West Oahu, Hawaii, on “indefinite hold.”

The tabled projects, first reported earlier this week by Pacific Business News, include a farm of solar panels that would have spanned almost five acres, supplying as much as 1 megawatt of electricity to the local utility. Chevron also shelved a demonstration solar thermal project, which would have covered about 15 acres and used mirrors to generate steam to help power the Hawaii refinery.

In recent months, Chevron, the second-biggest oil company in the U.S., has quietly been pulling back from renewable-energy endeavors, despite a long-promoted commitment to develop what its corporate website calls “newer, cleaner ways to power the world.”

In May, Bloomberg Businessweek reported that Chevron shuttered a business unit that had surpassed internal profit targets by helping to launch large-scale solar and geothermal power projects. In June, we wrote about the sale of its key renewable-energy subsidiary, Chevron Energy Solutions, to Oaktree Capital Management.

Each of the Hawaii projects would have reduced carbon dioxide emissions by about 5,000 tons and contributed to Hawaii’s goal of generating 70 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030, according to Chevron’s filings with the state.

Instead, they’re being put on hold as the oil company focuses its resources on other projects, such as its $54 billion liquefied natural gas plant in Australia, a company spokesman told Pacific Business News .

Reached by e-mail, Chevron spokesman Kent Robertson confirmed that the company has put its Hawaiian solar plants on hold.

Chevron’s pullback on renewables has come amid increasing concern that climate change and carbon constraints threaten fossil-fuel companies. Many organizations, including the International Energy Agency, estimate that as much as two-thirds of fossil-fuel reserves will need to remain unburned if the world is to avoid the most severe consequences of climate change.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Towards More Efficient Solar Cells

Potential use of a layer of silicon nanocrystals (large balls) and erbium ions (small balls) as a 'spectral shaper' for photovoltaic applications. This layer converts high-energy UV photons into infrared photons. These lower-energy photons are absorbed by an underlying solar cell. Credit: Fundamental Research on Matter (FOM)
A layer of silicon nanocrystals and erbium ions may help solar cells to extract more energy from the ultraviolet (UV, high-energy) part of the solar spectrum. Experimental physicists from the FOM Foundation, the STW Technology Foundation and the University of Amsterdam published this news in Nature Communications on 13th August 2014. When conventional silicon-based solar cells absorb UV light, much of its energy is lost in the form of heat. The researchers showed that this excess energy can be used to excite multiple erbium ions. This causes the ions to emit light, which can then be converted into electricity.

Conventional solar cells can only convert a small part of the solar spectrum into electricity efficiently. Low-energy light particles (photons) are not absorbed, as they do not have enough energy to bridge the band gap of the material from which solar cells are made. By contrast, high-energy photons can be absorbed, but in just a few picoseconds (10-12 seconds) much of their energy is transformed into heat. This limits maximum efficiency to just 30 percent.

Fast and efficient

Saba Saeed and her colleagues have now shown that the conversion efficiency can potentially be increased by making better use of the energy contained in these high-energy photons. This can be achieved with a layer consisting of silicon dioxide, silicon nanocrystals (particles with a size of a billionth of a meter) and erbium ions. The silicon nanocrystals transfer its excess energy to the erbium ions, before it is lost as heat. This leads to the emission of several low-energy infrared photons per absorbed photon, which can produce extra electricity. Compared to sunlight concentrators, which sometimes also make use of rare-earth metals such as erbium, this technique holds the prospect of a higher efficiency.

Spectral shaper

While the process has been demonstrated experimentally, it has not yet been used in a photovoltaic architecture (a solar cell). In the future, a layer of silicon nanocrystals and erbium ions could be placed on top of solar cells as a 'spectral shaper', to enhance their efficiency. The 'spectral shapers' would convert high-energy UV photons to several low-energy photons, which can then be used to generate electricity in a solar cell.

The follow-up study will focus on further refinement of the conversion layers by tweaking the size and spacing of the silicon nanocrystals, the concentration and type of rare-earth ion, and by optimizing the layer thickness. It will also be investigated if such a 'spectral shaper' can be integrated into the antireflective coating layer covering every solar cell.


County Laboratories Put Solar Power into Tour Riders' Bus

Josh Robson-Hemmings, left, and Ian Thompson, managing director of Sharp Laboratories at Oxford Science Park, with the Garmin-Sharp cycle team’s Tour De France coach
TOP cyclists taking part in the 2014 Tour de France, which starts in Yorkshire on Saturday, will relax in a state-of-the-art bus devised by an Oxford company.

Experts at Sharp Laboratories, the global innovation centre for hi-tech giant Sharp, fitted the coach with a range of high-end equipment including cookers, fridges, relaxation areas and an air purification system to give the Garmin-Sharp cycling team the best conditions in which to relax and recuperate between stages.

And the biggest innovation is that – despite the huge energy required to power the bus, which includes a 70in spectators’ TV monitor built into its side – it will all be provided by roof-mounted solar panels.

 These are the brainchild of research scientist Josh Robson-Hemmings.

Physics graduate Mr Robson-Hemmings, 24, said: “Normally we would not have been able to run the systems on the bus without generators, but the solar panels will power everything on the bus apart from the water heater.”

That the equipment on the bus is being powered without the use of fossil fuels should also benefit the general outside environment for the riders.

Sharp Laboratories managing director Ian Thompson said: “Cycling seems an environmentally friendly sport, but there are usually enormous numbers of vehicles around, and when the riders are warming up for the race they will be breathing in diesel fumes, which will affect their performance.

 “With this project we are ‘off the grid’ and emission-free.”

The solar panels provide a peak power level of 1,700 watts and charge batteries even when the sun is not shining.

The bus will house the team, made up of nine riders and 26 staff and mechanics, and will form a showcase for the Oxford Science Park-based company’s innovation, as well as helping the team achieve optimum results. Bosses declined to give a figure for the overall cost of the bus.

The official opening ceremony for the Tour de France takes place in Leeds today, with the first stage running from Leeds to Harrogate through the Yorkshire Dales on Saturday.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Australia’s Solar Boom Has Only Just Begun – Bloomberg

Australia is expected to spend some $55 billion on new electricity generation over the next decade and a half, but two thirds of this will be in the form of solar technology, and nearly half in rooftop solar PV.

These forecasts are included in Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s Market 2030 outlook, which includes detailed forecasts for Australia and Asia, both of which have major implications for the coal industry – exporters and local generators.

The most striking prediction is that for solar PV, which BNEF says will dominate capacity and investment over the next decade and a half. It expects 15.8GW of rooftop solar to be built in Australia out to 2030 – mostly on the basis of fundamental economics.

It suggests the payback for rooftop solar will halve to just three years by 2030. That is based on no subsidies and no carbon price, but it argues that it is still a compelling proposition to households.

“Australia, like Japan, has high retail electricity prices which, combined with continuously reducing technology costs, are the main reasons for the small-scale PV adoption rate,” it writes.

“The favourable economics of the small-scale PV technology – ie, the reduction in payback period – will drive the sixfold increase in small-scale PV capacity and the technology’s contribution to total capacity additions between 2013 and 2030.”

BNEF expects households and businesses will invest another $24 billion on rooftop solar (a similar prediction was made by ),

While the speed and breadth of the rooftop solar deployment will be influenced slightly by policy changes, the deployment of large-scale renewables is almost entirely dependent on the state of policies such as the renewable energy target.

Assuming that it stays in place, BNEF believes that nearly 8GW of utility-scale PV will be built out to 2030. Two thirds will be driven by the LRET – presuming it stays in place – and a further 2.7GW to cater for increases in peak demand, particularly in Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

It also predicts that 6.4GW of wind capacity is built to meet the LRET. Extraordinarily, this build out occurs until 2020, but then no wind energy is built at all after that because the only new capacity installed will be designed to meet summer peaks – hence the focus on utility scale solar. BNEF’s analysis suggests little solar thermal will be built.

Coal is not built at all, but gas enjoys a boom in the middle of next decade to also cope with summer peak demand, and to replace 6.2GW of retired capacity.

BNEF says coal’s total share of Australian generation capacity is projected to fall from 45 per cent in 2013 to 27 per cent in 2030. Gas also falls from 30 per cent to 23 per cent. In contrast, renewable capacity increases from 24 per cent to 48 per cent, with wind rising from 5 per cent to 10 per cent and solar from 5 per cent to 29 per cent of total capacity.

Fossil fuel generation falls from 85 per cent to 64 per cent, but most of this is at the expense of gas, because of the removal of the carbon price and high gas prices.

But the solar boom will not be limited to Australia. BNEF expects solar to form a significant part of the power generation build in the major economies of Asia, to the exclusion of coal-fired generation in particular – a bad sign for Australia’s aspiring coal exporters.

This graph above illustrates the point. BNEF says the expected capacity build for the Asia-Pacific region will require an investment of a cumulative $3.61 trillion by 2026.

Of this, nearly $1 trillion will be in the form of solar, $0.62 trillion for hydro and $0.55 trillion for wind.

And this graph below illustrates what it means in terms of capacity additions.  Coal declines rapidly, nuclear has the bumpiest ride, and eventually falls as India will allocate no more financing to the technology from 2023 due to policy uncertainty and fuel restrictions.

China will invest $38 billion a year on solar (utility and small-scale) and $28 billion a year on onshore and offshore wind, Japan will throw $11 billion a year on solar (mostly small-scale), India $10 billion (mostly utility-scale, off-grid or micro-grid), while Indonesia and the Philippines will each invest $3 billion a year in geothermal.


Army Vet Gets Free Solar System

EL CAJON (CBS 8) - An Army vet who was severely injured in Afghanistan received a free solar system at his El Cajon home Thursday.

Odin Ayala lost both legs in an IED explosion. He was at home a few months ago when a sales consultant from America Solar Direct came by to talk about installing solar panels.

The consultant was so moved by Ayala's story, he wrote to the head office, asking if the company could help him. Employees donated their time, and the company donated the materials to install the state of the art system for free.

"That money that we were going to spend on the electricity, we can put toward other debt and help us get out of debt quicker," Ayala said.

The company estimates Ayala won't have to pay for energy for the next 20 years.


Monday, August 25, 2014

Six-Field Solar Farm Bid A ‘Shock’

Land between Lilworth farm and the Mary Brook. Photo by Marcus Mingins 2714027MMR1
CONTROVERSIAL plans to build a solar farm near a Pershore village have been slammed by residents.

TGC Renewables have made proposals to construct the renewable site, which would cover almost 100 acres, 40 hectares, on land which forms the triangle between Great Comberton, Little Comberton and the Mary Brook.

The six-field development on Lilworth Farm would be bigger than Great Comberton or Little Comberton themselves, and both villagers and Parish Councillors have expressed their surprise and displeasure.

Kate Collingwood, chairman of Great Comberton Parish Council, said: "I don't think anybody is against renewable energy, but there are places for it.

"To put and enormous scheme like this next to an area of outstanding natural beauty, it would just be a massive eyesore.

"Things like this are very good for uniting the village, but I think the general feeling is one of shock and amazement.

"It may be the company proposing it come to their senses and realise they have very little chance of getting it through the planning stage.

"It's against the local policy, the local plan. National policy is in favour of renewables but not at the expense of extremely sensitive environmental land."

The greenfield site, which is overlooked by the top of Bredon Hill and carries organic status, is currently being used for agricultural purposes to farm wheat and hay.

An exhibition was held at the Village Hall on Monday, June 30, where residents were shown site plans. An unofficial poll counted 126 people against the development and only nine in favour.

Geoff Wright, who has lived in the village for 30 years, echoed Coun Collingwood's feelings.

"We were all shocked when they proposed to build the farm there, I don't think there could have been a worse choice," he said.

"It's not that we don't need solar energy, a lot of us have panels on our roofs, we do need solar energy but there should be

some plan to where you're going to put it.

"This is an exceptionally lovely area, we are just hurt anybody would want to spoil it.

"This makes out that we're being selfish and we've all got to swallow our love for the countryside and have the solar panels, but it's not like that.

"In Germany 50 per cent of their solar energy comes from building roofs and the rest lines the autobahn's. I just think it could be sited somewhere else."

TGC are due to hear on July 11 if there is capacity on the national grid for a development to go ahead.
Lilworth Farm. Photo by Marcus Mingins 2714027MMR2

Are These Solar Panels on A Brooklyn Building A Benefit or Bling?

© Manon Verchot
There are optimal angles for the setting of solar panels. That's why they are usually put on roofs, not facades.

Diane Pham of New York real estate website 6Sqft shows an interesting new project in Brooklyn with a façade that is dominated by a massive solar panel. She notes that "while the PV panels without question make the building stand out, they’re not quite positioned for optimal sun exposure, ultimately making the addition more of a really expensive ornament than a true measure for sustainability."

© Google Maps
It's an interesting point. This is supposedly a 7 kw array, but solar panels usually face due south (although some are now recommending that they should face west; these are sort of SSW). There are apartment buildings across the street that are as high or higher than this building, so there is a real question about how much sun they will get in winter (although we took our photos in the morning and 6sqft took theirs in the afternoon, and they both show full sun on the panels). So you have a high angle of incidence with the high summer sun, reducing output, and you probably have lots of shading in winter.

© Manon Verchot
Diane also points out that covering the wall with a panel like this reduces the opportunity for passive solar gain in winter, although it does provide significant shading in summer, reducing air conditioning load, which is probably a bigger issue.

© McMahon Studio
Given the lousy angles and possible shading, one has to wonder what size of a tracking rooftop array would give the same amount of juice. Then you wouldn't be so obviously shouting "look at me, I'm green!" But let's be charitable here, marketing is important too. The architect's website has a whole section devoted to (horizontal) solar panel installations he knows what he is doing here. And we should applaud Jeffrey McMahon and Amiel Savaldi for trying to build (and market) a better, greener building. Not a lot of developers are.


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Iran Embarks on Major Solar Energy Drive

Nothing more sinister than solar panels lurk amid the arid hills of rural Iran, apparently marking the country’s desire to wean itself off
fossil fuel and a contentious nuclear energy programme.

Large-scale solar projects have been implemented under President Hassan Rouhani, whose election last year brought about a change in Iran’s direction and policies.

The Iranian government has allocated $60m this year to develop photovoltaic solar projects compared to just $12m last year.

The Taleghan Renewable Energy Site, 160 kilometres northwest of Tehran, has photovoltaic solar panels and parabolic trough collectors that concentrate the sunlight for energy conversion into electricity

Saman Mirhadi is from the Photovoltaic and Solar Energy Office of Renewable Energy Organisation of Iran: “We are trying to boost the capacity of our renewable energy plants. Iran is planning to increase this capacity up to 5,000 megawatts from our present capacity, which is around 100 to 200 megawatts. Our target is 5,000 megawatts over a five-year period. Over the past two years new laws have been passed supporting the utilisation of solar and photovoltaic energy. The development of solar photovoltaic plants is our agenda.”

Iran has huge amounts of oil and natural gas reserves. However, sanctions have cut into the country’s refining and production capabilities.

Iran’s economy has also faltered, and the country’s push for nuclear energy has come under scrutiny over Western fears the program could be used to build atomic bombs.

Iran’s 300-odd days of sunshine a year make it one of the best spots on earth to launch a solar energy project:

Saideh Nasserabadi is a student of geomorphology from the
University of Kurdistan in Iran:
“Using solar panels could be very useful in Iran because we have long hours of sunlight because of Iran’s geographical situation. Therefore applying solar panels can be very productive.”

While being good for the environment, the panels also offer rural Iran a supply of steady power amid the uncertainty surrounding the country’s contested nuclear programme as it negotiates with world powers.

The government is offering subsidised solar panels for installation to ordinary families showing its resolve to expand solar energy.

Solar panels have been installed at some 1,000 locations across Iran, including the on rooftops of mosques, schools and government buildings.


Plans For Fourth Solar Farm in Test Valley Unveiled

MORE solar power is heading for the Test Valley.

Wiltshire-based Solstice Renewables Ltd has announced plans to set up a medium size solar farm just east of Romsey.

Around 32,000 solar panels will be installed on agricultural land at Warren Farm between North Baddesley and Ampfield, if the scheme gets the green light.

Solstice Renewables say the farm will produce enough energy to power 2,400 average sized homes.

Director of Solstice Renewables Giovanni Maruca said: “Warren Farm is a great site for a solar park as it will be well screened from the surrounding areas. The site is low-grade land which offers exciting opportunities for biodiversity improvement and it will remain in agricultural usage for the lifetime of the project.”

 The proposals will go on show to the public at North Baddesley Sports Pavilion on Monday, July 14 between 4.30pm and 8pm. “We are looking forward to meeting as many members of the local community as possible and welcome their suggestion for how this scheme can be improved,” said Mr Maruca.

Solstice is currently developing 10 sites across the UK from Devon to Leicestershire this would be its first in Hampshire.

Mr Maruca added: “We are also offering a community benefit fund of approximately £8,000 a year for the solar park’s life and we would be interested in hearing about any local social or environmental projects which we could support. We will be consulting all the neighbouring parish council about the best way to allocate the community benefit fund.”

 The proposed site is 14 hectares and is currently used for grazing livestock.

Solar panels will be installed 2.5mm above the ground and laid out in rows east to west. Solstice plans to sow wildflowers and create natural habitats between the panels.

A planning application is likely to be submitted to Test Valley Borough Council later this summer say Solstice which hopes to get the solar farm up and running by next spring. Building work will take three to four months.

Hampshire County Council’s leader Roy Perry said: “Clearly there is a need for energy and sustainable energy such as solar power, is good in principle. However, much depends on the details of the scheme and its visible impact. Also the area between Romsey and North Baddesley is an important rural gap that needs to be retained and that is a factor that needs to be taken into consideration.”


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Heraeus Photovoltaics Centralises Solar Cell R&D in US

The Heraeus Photovoltaics Business Unit is shifting all R&D activities for
its solar cell metallization pastes to the US in a bid to bring next-generation
products to market faster.
Image: Heraeus Photovoltaics Business Uni
The Heraeus Photovoltaics Business Unit is shifting all R&D activities for its solar cell metallization pastes to the US in a bid to bring next-generation products to market faster.

The move is seen as an unusual step, especially after the company recently announced it would start volume production of its silver pastes in China, home to the majority of leading PV manufacturers and 60% of solar cell production.

Scientists from its regional R&D centres in Hanau, Germany and Singapore are all being relocated to its original R&D headquarters in West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. A total of 200 staff will work from the facility, around 100 specifically focused on metallization pastes including technical support and production staff.

"The relocation of our worldwide research and development group to our West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania facility is a strategic move for our business," stated Dr. Weiming Zhang, Vice President of Technology for the Heraeus Photovoltaics Business Unit. "When Heraeus first began the development of metallization pastes for solar cells, we started with a few scientists in West Conshohocken [PA]. We successfully developed products with higher performance than what was commercially available at that time. To increase our competitive position, we recognized that we needed to attract additional talented scientists and engineers from around the world."

Talking with PV Tech, Andreas Liebheit, global manager of the Heraeus Photovoltaics Business Unit said that the West Conshohocken region of Pennsylvania had continued to be a key area for metallization paste innovation in general including Universities and support industries that had a unique talent pool for the company.

“The move means we will make much more use of shared resources and best practices that are expected to lead to better innovation, shorter product cycle-times and time to market,” noted Liebheit.

Liebheit also noted that centralising R&D activities would bring different field of expertise from the regional centres together for the first time.

“There are some regional R&D differences as to the metallization paste flavours, so to speak. The Singapore team had been very focused on pastes for double printing processes, while German team had focused on high efficiency solar cell requirements of 21% and above,” added Liebheit.

Pooling expertise into one centre was expected to lead to new innovations and the employees were all exited about the new opportunities, despite the relocation. Liebheit noted that no staff had left the company due to the relocation.

As the position of its centres in Germany and Singapore, Liebheit noted that the facilities would not be closed but shift emphasis to customer technical support duties.

With the next solar cell technology investment cycle underway, primarily focused on various forms of PERC cell design and processing steps for both P-type multicrystalline and monocrystalline wafers, metallization paste development is expected to intensify.


Goodhue County Fields Interest From Solar Energy Companies

GOODHUE — After years of controversy with the wind industry, Goodhue County is preparing to tackle another renewable energy push in solar power.

Mike Wozniak, the county's planning/zoning administrator, said he's heard from at least three energy companies interested in leveraging federal tax credits to fill excess space on local transmission lines.

Goodhue County does not recognize solar power as a permitted use on agricultural land, but Wozniak and other staff members have been researching the issue in hopes of introducing a draft ordinance to the planning advisory commission at its July 21 meeting.

A new ordinance regulating solar power could be approved this fall after multiple public hearings, Wozniak said. No solar proposals have been filed with the city, but at least one is in the middle of a feasibility study for a project that likely would cost well more than $100 million, he said.

"I think there are companies that are checking this out all over the place," Wozniak said. "I think they're examining — just like wind — where is all the capacity so they can get some sense about whether they can fit this here.

"If (they) want to propose things, that's (their) prerogative. But we're proceeding and their timetable may not be our timetable," he said.

The push for solar energy is being driven by two main factors:

• Last spring, the Minnesota Legislature mandated that four major power companies generate 1.5 percent of their power through solar energy,which adds to the state's existing renewable energy mandate of 25 percent by 2025. The solar mandate will result in 30 times more sun-powered energy by 2020.

• The federal government is supporting solar expansion by offering a 30 percent tax credit to any solar project that is operational by the end of 2015.

Those incentives have spurred strong interest throughout southeastern Minnesota, said Goodhue County Commissioner Dan Rechtzigel. He said seven of 11 local counties reported contact from energy companies interested in developing solar power at a recent regional meeting.

However, Rechtzigel doesn't see it "blowing up the same way wind did" — even though Winona County recently fired its administrator over a snafu involving a large solar proposal. That comment refers back to the $180 million wind project sited near Zumbrota that created national headlines during its four-plus-year permitting battle that was successfully halted by two citizen opposition groups in 2013. More than $15 million was spent by developers before New Era Wind LLC owner Peter Mastic pulled the plug last September.

The 100-megawatt Aurora solar project created headlines in March when the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission gave preliminary approval for Geronimo Energy's $250 million project sited across the state — including arrays near Pine Island, Dodge Center and Zumbrota.

That 20-site project would be the largest in Minnesota history and represents a sevenfold increase from the state's current solar capacity. However, it soon could be rivaled by a major project in Goodhue County.

RES Americas, a multinational company with headquarters in the United States, Canada and Chile, held a public meeting last month in the city of Goodhue to discuss a potential project that would reportedly cover 600 acres and create 78 megawatts of power. Company officials confirmed Thursday they're in the "early stages of the development process."

RES has acquired a 300-acre parcel and could seek another 300-acre plot in order to create two 39-megawatt projects that would use the "interconnection facilities" previously built by Mastic's failed wind project, the company said. The company declined to identify the exact sites being considered, but county officials said RES is looking at areas north of Goodhue and in Vasa, which is northwest of Red Wing.

Leia Ryan, a Goodhue City Council member who attended the June meeting, said she appreciates the early community outreach after the way the wind drama divided the rural community.

Mastic recently attended RES Americas' initial public meeting, which has some people wondering about his involvement with the company. RES Americas said Thursday via statement Mastic's involvement is limited to ownership of New Era Wind, which "may own certain rights for interconnection" that could be used in RES' solar proposal.

While Wozniak and Rechtzigel also downplayed Mastic's involvement, they raised separate concerns about the state's solar permitting process.

Each questioned why Geronimo Energy is being allowed to combine 20 small solar projects spread across multiple counties for one permit from the Public Utilities Commission without requiring local permits. On the flip side, RES Americas says it would not combine its two projects, thereby avoiding PUC scrutiny in favor of local permits for two 39-megawatt projects that are sited in close proximity.

"Why are these projects allowed to pick who's doing the regulating?" Rechtzigel said. "It shouldn't be that way. Rules should be in place where you go through the process, it's fair and the rules apply to everybody."

"I'm not sure it's totally sorted out whether these (solar) projects should be looked at individually or whether you should tally it up to determine who regulates it," Wozniak added. "Who makes that call? Ultimately, I think there could be some leadership from the state required."


Friday, August 22, 2014

Hopkinton Seeks Solar Farm Proposals

    HOPKINTON — The town is looking for companies interested in leasing town-owned land on Fruit Street to build a solar farm.

    A request for proposals from the town was released Thursday. The RFP also includes a purchase power agreement, which will help reduce the town’s energy bills, according to Dave Daltorio, town engineer and facility manager.

    The proposals are due to the town the first week of August. A review committee will examine them and make a recommendation to Town Manager Norman Khumalo.

    The RFP calls for a private company to build a 1.5-megawatt system, which will likely take up about 7.5 acres.

    The town owns over 250 acres off Fruit Street. Town Meeting in May 2013 approved setting aside 23 acres to pursue solar energy plans.

    The town’s Sustainable Green Committee was a driving force behind the proposal. The lease will likely be for 20 years.

    The committee at the time estimated the solar array could save the town as much as half its electricity costs annually.


Solar Tablet From SA Youth

Two entrepreneurs from Port Elizabeth have created the Millbug Vuya Tablet PC, a solar powered tablet that will help users who do not have access to electricity or who suffer from power outages.

Two young Eastern Cape entrepreneurs, Sabelo Sibanda (30) and Thulilsile Volwana (22), from Walmer, Port Elizabeth – who are both part of the Shanduka Black Umbrellas programme to help emerging businesses – have come up with an answer to help alleviate areas that have intermittent access to electricity.

They have created the Millbug Vuya Tablet PC, a solar powered tablet PC that will help users who may not have access to electricity or who suffer from power outages.

Sibana and Volwana understand the industry and through their company, Millbug, they conceived the tablet.

The tablet will retail for no more than R1499.99 to ensure that it is within reach of its intended users.

Millbug, which concentrates on technology hardware and web development, believes that the Vuya Tablet PC will allow for greater participation of Africans in the digital economy. Less than one percent of content online is created by Africans, they say, and this alarming statistic needs urgent attention. “Instead of celebrating the rise of the African consumer, this device seeks to catalyse the rise of the African producer,” they add.

Thulilsile Volwana (23) is an Economics graduate at NMMU and Sabelo Sibanda (30) is an MBA student at the Edinburgh Business School at Heriot-Watt University in Scotland.

Millbug was registered in April 2012 and it came about through a chance meeting with Fred Roed, of World Wide Creative who made them aware of the opportunities in technology and, more specifically, the vast opportunities in South Africa.

The Vuya Tablet PC is described as “a rugged, yet aesthetically pleasing tablet that effortlessly runs on the Android 4.4 KitKat operating system.”

Vuya means “be happy” in isiXhosa and it is the intention of the Millbug Vuya Tablet to bring happiness to those that need it the most. For this reason, this tablet has a 1.2 GHz processor, 512 MB of RAM, 4 GB of storage a photovoltaic (solar) power source as well as the ability to be charged using USB or a conventional power outlet.

Volwana and Sibanda joined the Shanduka Black Umbrellas incubation programme which helps budding entrepreneurs and small businesses because it offered a firm like theirs unprecedented opportunities to make a contribution to society: “The educational, networking and business incentives are second to none and they have a proud history of enviable achievements,” they say.

Millbug’s clients are spread out all over the country, providing web and app development services. “We have built some fantastic relationships around the continent with regard to our hardware innovations,” says Sibanda.

The company employs a team of 10 “Performance Partners” around the country who work as agents.

Sibanda and Volwana see their business becoming the leading mobile solutions company in Africa by 2020 – and this is their goal.

Asked how their company differed from others in the field, they said: “Besides constant innovation through our practices as a learning organisation, we believe that mobile has changed the face of Africa and it is now the time for Africa to change the face of mobile. This focus on developing proprietary solutions in our niche has helped us stand out from the crowd.”

The men say they are inspired by their clients “because everything we do is done proactively to solve problems they may face. We exist because clients trust us to make their lives better and that's as good a reason as any to enjoy getting out of bed at 5 am every morning.”

Their message to other people who want to start their own businesses is that entrepreneurship is “by far one of the most difficult exercises one can possibly undertake. It takes great commitment, sacrifice and an incalculable amount of guts. That said, there is no more rewarding endeavour for anyone who wants to make their dent in the universe.”

They add: “We would love to work with everybody who would like to see the African continent reach its full potential. Together we can!”


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Solar Cell Converts CO2 into Useful Acid

PRINCETON, N.J., July 3, 2014 — Researchers at Princeton University have found a way to convert carbon dioxide into a potential fuel with record efficiency.

The study, lead by chemistry professor Dr. Andrew Bocarsly, involved converting CO2 and water into formic acid using an integrated silicon PV electrolyzer system inside an electrochemical cell. By stacking three electrochemical cells together, the thermionic energy conversion efficiency using AM 1.5 sunlight was 1.8%, the highest achieved in any solar CO2 reduction scheme to date, according to the researchers.

The process could be used to generate formate salt, which is used to melt ice on airport runways and is less corrosive to planes and safer for the environment than chloride salts.

Bocarsly collaborated with researchers at Liquid Light Inc. of Monmouth Junction, N.J.; the energy company Public Service Enterprise Group provided a solar panel.


Solar + Battery Hybrid Inverters That Read Weather Forecasts

We know solar works, we know it is a billion dollar industry, but how is it going to evolve in the future? To answer this question we only have to look at the activity around batteries and the talk of grid independence, which is pervading all corners of the energy industry.

Solar with Battery Hybrid inverters (formerly known as Grid-Tie with Battery Backup or what the CEC calls multi-mode) have actually been around for a long time.

I, personally, got my hybrid inverter system installed back in the year 2000, and it cost a bomb. But systems were available for a number of years before then, from early movers such as Power Solutions Australia (whose product range was acquired by Selectronics and re-badged SB Pro), and Xantrex (which has now part of the Schneider Electric solar division).

In early systems, such as mine, the batteries were there primarily to bolster supply reliability. They stayed charged most of the time until there was an interruption in the grid (something that happens rarely on Australian’ grids, especially in cities with regulated service levels, meaning grid power must be supplied for 99.9+% of the time) at which point the household supply would seamlessly transition from the grid to solar and batteries or just batteries at night. This type of system was a niche product back then – for enthusiasts, but certainly not for the general public.

Fast forward to 2014, battery inverters are now being released by almost all inverter manufacturers, and their prices are dropping fast. Most of these units are converging on a number of capabilities beyond working as a simple “Solar UPS”.

Likely standard capabilities include the ability to timetable when the batteries will be charged from the grid, when batteries will be charged from solar, when the inverter will satisfy a customer’s on-site self-consumption by drawing on the batteries in preference to the grid (usually during peaks and/or critical peaks) and the ability to limit grid exports to a maximum amount, to keep grid operators satisfied (should they place a cap on household solar power exports) and also limit imports to a maximum rate.

Grid operators in future may only allow 3kW, 4.5kW, 5kW or 10kW maximum feed-in rate, but a hybrid inverter could have a higher rating itself (to both feed-in and satisfy local self-consumption) and be configured so as not to exceed those grid operator-imposed limits. In addition, grid operators could also mandate the maximum amount of energy that can be drawn from the grid through such an inverter. In this case the new hybrid inverters can be set to only ever pull say 3kW max from the grid (a requirement for battery inverters in some parts of the South Australia).

Such intelligent power management is the way that a solar hybrid inverter competes with the old energy industry – i.e. by maximising self-consumption of cheaper solar energy that you’ve generated whether it be consumed at the time or withdrawn from the inverter’s battery.

But next-gen hybrid inverters can save you even more money with just a simple software update and an Internet connection.

The third generation of hybrid inverters (very few people in Australia even have a first or second generation solar hybrid inverter) is hitting the market lead by the Bosch Power Tec’s BPT-S 5 Hybrid. Not (upfront) the cheapest solution but a premium, high quality one, and one that is showcasing weather forecasting technology.

What is weather forecasting technology, you ask? Well, without weather forecasting, a customer with a hybrid inverter and a decent sized battery bank to easily match his evening, night-time and morning demand on a day of low solar contribution would have to rely on the grid at some time during the evening peak (paying higher rates) and, if the next day was also to be a very low solar day (i.e. heavy rains and cloud), then they’d also be relying on the grid during that day and the next again paying higher peak usage rates.).

Enter weather forecasting by your hybrid inverter. A hybrid inverter with weather prediction capability generates solar during the day and uses approximately 30-50% of it on-site in real-time, depending on the time of the year. During the night the inverter downloads weather data from the Bureau of Meteorology or some third party aggregate of that forecast data. If at 11pm if it looks like the next day is going to have very little solar generation potential the inverter then decides to recharge the batteries based on that knowledge of tomorrow’s weather forecast at cheaper overnight off peak rates, which are often 50% or more cheaper than peak rates.

The net result is overall cheaper energy for the solar customer as any peak time usage will now just cost a small premium (losses in charging and discharging) over off-peak power instead of the full inflated peak power price.

Therefore weather forecasting reduces peak power consumption (peak power brings in more revenue for the conventional energy industry, including networks and generators) and causes more of old energy’s revenues to go to the solar PV juggernaut, which keeps it moving along as more volume and a bigger market decreases prices for everyone.

The hybrid inverter industry is moving fast and we can expect that within 12-24 months every offering on the market will be capable of processing weather data and making the decision to recharge our batteries on off-peak power if grid power is required.

In the future, with dynamic power pricing potentially matching 5 minute or 30 minute activity on the electricity market these kinds of inverters could become very reactive to price with minor updates to their software, something that would minimise costs to power consumers further.

In 2014 we already have the technology (with more coming) to really decouple our power capacity requirements (maximum grid power ‘upload’ or ‘download’) and our power usage requirements (kWh units used and billed) which now will allow us to always get our power at the cheapest price possible this also makes the risk premium that we are currently paying retailers for managing supply demand matching almost redundant which should lead to a further lowering of prices.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Super Computers, A Revolution in Solar Energy and One of The Coldest Places on Earth...

Quantum technology.

Not the easiest of subjects to get your head around. And it’s fair to say some scientists have a hard time defining it, too.

A physicist friend of mine tells me that no-one fully understands quantum theory, yet it’s accepted as fact.

Quantum technology is described as a new field of physics and engineering, which transitions some of the stranger features of quantum mechanics into practical applications such as quantum computing, quantum cryptography, quantum simulation, quantum metrology, quantum sensing, and quantum imaging.

Already the mind boggles, but I wanted to find out more about Lancaster University’s new Quantum Technology Centre, what it does, and how it aims to lead the race internationally in this relatively new scientific field.

Professor Yuri Pashkin is a director of the centre and Dr Mark Rushforth is head of the university’s business partnerships and enterprise in physical sciences.

Both meet me outside the new department on the university’s campus - which includes more than £4m worth of “clean room” – where the magic happens.

Before we enter the clean zone, Prof Pashkin explains a bit about the background of quantum theory, how it was developed in the early 20th century, and its practical implications today.

Essentially the new centre will be using quantum technology to develop chips that will have a range of benefits for medicine, computing, sensing, energy and security.

Prof Pashkin said: “Using the electron-beam writer we can create a pattern in the resist (layer) that is later used for the fabrication of nanoscale devices on the chip.

“We can fabricate various types of superconductor or semiconductor devices with a feature size down to 10nm, and it can take anything between a day and a week to produce one chip.”

Before stepping into the first clean room, which has no more than 1,000 dust particles per cubic foot, we don lab gear to protect the room from the dust we’re carrying on our clothes and skin.

Prof Pashkin shows me the state of the art machines used to fabricate the chips, with some individual pieces of kit valued at £1m.

“You can use these nanoelectronic devices as quantum two-level systems to construct quantum bits,” explains Prof Pashkin.

“You can use qubits as building blocks for quantum computing in that they can be used to build quantum processors.”

“Computers built of quantum bits would be much more powerful, you can do calculations in one hour that would take one million years with standard computers.

“Quantum mechanics tells us about some none classical properties of the quantum objects, and this can be used for different types of applications.”

“Many ideas are still just on paper, but there is progress being made on quantum communication and security, where the quantum nature of information makes any attempt at hacking or interception detectable, and the use of a special quantum key ensures that the transmission of information becomes completely secure.”

We step into the second clean room which has fewer that 100 dust particles per cubic foot and Prof Pashkin shows me one of the produced chips.

“There are many unknowns in quantum technology and the quantum states are quite fragile, meaning we must take utmost care to protect them. This dictates that we should engineer the measurement system very carefully, so that the quantum states live longer and can be used for practical purposes,” he said.

“There is continuing progress with the first generation of the quantum technology applications when it comes to energy production, including the development of solar cells using highly efficient multi-layer structures in photovoltaic cells, improving the efficiency of solar power conversion into electricity.”

Leaving the lab I visit another section of the university that has received very little attention – the ultra low temperature laboratory, where experiments are carried out at extremely low temperatures.

We’re talking temperatures of just above absolute zero, −273.15 °C (−459.67 °F), bizarrely making parts of this lab the coldest on the planet.

On leaving that day I must say I came out with more questions than I had before I went in, but what struck me the most was the university’s passion and drive for this type of new technology, and the potential of it becoming a world leader in this field.

Mark Rushworth said: “The university has made a significant investment in the Quantum Technology Centre, which forms part of the top physics department in the country for research.

“However, this is just the first phase. Our aim is to bring in additional funding to grow the centre into a world-leading facility.

“We believe the centre has the potential to become a significant driver for the future regional economy as we work with existing businesses to help them gain commercial advantages through our research, as well as attracting additional high-tech firms, and jobs, to the region.”

The university is now seeking additional funding for a range of activities including a new building, cutting-edge equipment, salaries for researchers, 
doctoral students, business support services with facilities access (to help companies to commercially exploit our research gains), basic research, applied research, Technology incubation/ new venture creation (spin-out companies)and high level skills programme.


NDMC Draws Up Plan for Rooftop Power Generation in New Delhi

In line with its project to earn the tag of 'solar city' for the New Delhi area of the national capital, NDMC has now drawn up a detailed plan for rooftop solar energy generation.

New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) has identified 40 buildings in the area under its jurisdiction for installation of rooftop solar panels, its chairperson Jalaj Shrivastava has said. The buildings belong to the civic agency and range from NDMC schools, sub-stations, inquiry offices, hospitals, etc. "We selected our own buildings for the pilot project as we did not require NOC for that from any agency. We will implement it in other government and private buildings based on the response," said an NDMC official.

According to a proposal, NDMC will appoint an operator to identify, design, erect, install, test, and commission rooftop solar units as defined by the Union Ministry of New and Renewable Energy.
NDMC has already invited tenders for the same. The civic agency's area was in February selected as one of the first townships nominated to be a 'Solar City' after the New and Renewable Energy Ministry gave its in-principle approval for the same.

After the installation of the solar rooftops, New Delhi would become the second solar city in the country after Chandigarh.

According to an MoU signed between NDMC and Solar Energy Corporation of India, the civic body should meet at least five per cent of its total energy consumption needs through solar energy. The plan says that NDMC will procure all the solar power generated by the operator and inject into the NDMC grid on the basis of rates determined by Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission (DERC).  NDMC expects to generate almost 8MW rooftop solar energy within a year, Shrivastava said.

With the residents of the national capital grappling with an acute power crisis, NDMC officials believe the plan will go some way towards solving the energy crisis in the city.

On an average, the NDMC area consumes a daily 350 MVA electricity during summer and 150 MVA during winter.

In an effort to ease the power situation, the civic body is also contributing 16MW of electricity to 8,000 households in the city by generating power using solid waste as fuel at a 'Waste To Energy' plant on NDMC land in Okhla.

Delhi government studying Gujarat solar power generation model
The 'rent-a-roof' model for solar power generation which has been adopted by the city of Gandhinagar in Gujarat can for now only be replicated in government buildings in the national capital, Delhi government has said. According to environment department officials, as most private buildings in the city are not properly aligned, unlike in Gandhinagar, which is a planned city with buildings of similar height and size, 'the rent-a-roof' model can only be implemented in government buildings, offices and hospitals. Delhi government officials recently visited Gujarat to study the electricity generation system there.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

There are Already More American Jobs in The Solar Industry Than in Coal Mining

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse says there are more U.S. jobs in solar industry than coal mining
For more than a year, U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse has delivered weekly Senate speeches about the dangers of climate change. He frequently denounces climate-change deniers, and urges growth of green jobs and technologies to reduce America’s reliance on foreign fossil fuel.

In a May 27, 2014 commentary in The Providence Journal, Whitehouse argued for a nationwide price on carbon pollution. And he expressed hope for a prosperous, clean-energy future and faith that "there is more economic security in our own American know-how than in corrupt foreign fossil fuel countries."

To that end, Whitehouse noted that there "are already more American jobs in the solar industry than in coal mining."

This claim is reminiscent of his November 2012 statement that "we have more people working in clean and green energy than in oil and gas in this country." (PolitiFact Rhode Island ruled that claim as True.)

The solar industry has seen tremendous growth.  But have solar industry jobs actually eclipsed the number of coal-mining jobs?

Whitehouse communications director Seth Larson cited two sources to back up the senator’s claim.

The first is a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report issued in May 2013 that counts an estimated 80,030 jobs for all occupations within the coal-mining  industry -- a sector of the coal industry as a whole.

For solar jobs, Larson cited The Solar Foundation’s "National Solar Jobs Census 2013," which states that the solar industry "employs 142,698 Americans as of November 2013."

First, let’s look at coal-mining jobs.

We checked with the Bureau of Labor Statistics and found that Whitehouse had quoted the May 2013 number correctly. (The more recent April 2014 BLS month survey counted  78,500 coal-mining jobs. Neither of those include self-employed contractors.)

BLS press officer Gary Steinberg said its estimated numbers are drawn from "an annual survey of employers, by occupation," based on data sent by businesses. They reflect jobs, not people.

We also found three other sets of coal-mining numbers. Spoiler alert: they are not all apples-to-apples. They use different methodologies and different definitions. But they provide an overall picture.

A 2013 report from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration cited 123,227 jobs -- substantially more than the BLS, but still less than the number of solar jobs Whitehouse cited. MHSA surveys the mines themselves as opposed to the companies, and therefore includes contractors as well as regular workers.  

SNL Energy, a leading energy data provider, analyzes MSHA data to capture "snapshot" industry trends. Its June 2014 report, "U.S. coal miner employment sustains free fall beyond 2nd year," cites an 8.3% drop in  the one-year period ending March 31, to 79,658 employees. That excludes contractors and 33 not-yet-reported mines. 

By contrast, the National Mining Association, a trade group, counted 195,494 coal-mining jobs in 2012. The breakdown: miners (including contractors): 137,650; support activities: 6,930; transportation: 50,914. That’s nearly 53,000 more than Whitehouse’s solar jobs number.

Spokeswoman Nancy Gravatt said the NMA maintains that the additional support services "should be included because all of these activities are integral to the daily work in the mines."

But the NMA’s definition of coal-mining jobs goes far beyond those used by the federal agencies, including such transportation workers as railroad engineers and seamen on coal freighters.

In other words, data from three sources supports Whitehouse’s claim.

The NMA count does not.

Now let’s check out the solar data.

Larson cited The Solar Foundation’s "National Solar Jobs Census 2013," which states that the solar industry "employs 142,698 Americans as of November 2013."

The Solar Foundation is an independent, national 501(c)(3) nonprofit, non-lobbying group, that strives "to increase the widespread adoption of solar energy through educational outreach, policy research, and market transformation." Their data is considered "the most authoritative" by the Congressional Research Office.

Its report defines "solar workers" as those who spend "at least 50 percent of their time supporting solar-related activities." According to its 2013 census, "approximately 91 percent of those who meet our definition of a solar worker spent 100 percent of their time working on solar."

Andrea Luecke, the foundation’s executive director, said the foundation surveys the "known universe" of self-identified solar companies, of which there are about 6,000 nationwide.

"We go out directly to those companies. This year, we made 74,000 phone calls and sent 11,000 emails," over the course of one month.

The foundation also surveys companies "that help supply the ‘known universe’ with raw materials," Luecke said. "It’s a census approach, so we’re doing a direct count and extrapolate to get national numbers, which is how the BLS does it."

Luecke said by the census report’s measure, "the solar industry is outpacing coal mining." But she noted, "You have to understand that coal-mining is one aspect of the coal industry - whereas we’re talking about the whole solar industry."

If you add in other coal industry categories, "it’s more than solar, for sure. But the coal-mining bucket is less, for sure."

Our ruling:

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said that solar industry jobs have now outpaced coal-mining jobs.

The most recent data from three objective sources support his claim.

The one source that offered a contrary view, the National Mining Association, cited two-year-old numbers and counted categories such as off-site transportation workers on coal barges and ocean freighters.

Because Whitehouse’s statement was specifically about coal-mining jobs, we rule it True.