Why Tea Party Conservatives Love Solar

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A splinter group of Tea Party Republicans have linked arms with environmental advocates and solar industry groups to fight for distributed energy generation.

For as unlikely as the alliance seems, the new Green Tea Party Coalition is growing in membership, geography and notoriety.

Earlier this week, Bloomberg published a story earlier detailing the unlikely union between Tea Party conservatives and the environmental movement.  While the new alliance seems wildly mysterious, a closer look at the recent battles between established utility companies and the solar industry brightly illuminates their common ground.

The Green Tea Coalition isn’t so much green as it is an advocate for the free market – a common conservative principle. As the cost of solar panels has dropped – more than 57 percent since 2011, according to Bloomberg – and new financing models have made it easier for home and business owners to afford solar installations, solar has become competitive.

While it still costs more per watt to install solar than it does to build nuclear or natural gas power plants, home and business owners can’t put nuclear reactors or gas-powered steam turbines on their roofs.

That makes solar the most disruptive new energy source there is. The fact that people can make their own electricity without having to buy it from a local utility company, which generally has a regional monopoly on a completely necessary service, means consumers have alternate choices.

And that consumer choice is at the heart of Tea Party politics, Coalition Founder Debbie Dooley told Bloomberg.

Characteristic of the Tea Party, members approached this free market and solar debate with guns blazing. The Green Tea Coalition has not been a quiet organization and has been carefully organizing its arguments and waiting to unveil them. They have now organized and partnered with the environmental groups that were decidedly surprised, but quite welcoming, oto battle utility companies and argue to utility regulators the importance of preserving and expanding access to distributed solar.

Barry Goldwater Jr., son of famed conservative California congressman, launched the Tell Utilities Solar Won’t Be Killed (TUSK) organization in Arizona and is working closely with solar industry group The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) to fight Arizona Public Service’s bid to reverse the financial benefits of distributed solar in that desert state. Probably no other battle between a utility and the solar industry has earned as many headlines or stirred as much emotion as thisone, which the Arizona Corporations Commission began hearing argument on today.

Debates over distributed solar are also raging in Dooley’s home state of Georgia, as well as North Carolina, Vermont, California and Colorado, amongst others.

Original Article on Cleanenergyauthority

50 GW Solar Production: A 2014 Reality?

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For the first time, the amount of solar photovoltaic modules manufactured across the world could break the 50 gigawatt barrier. That’s according to NPD Solarbuzz’s PV Equipment Quarterly report, which predicts that PV production will rise 10 gigawatts higher than last year’s  production of 39.7 GWs.

The report also found that the production of multicrystalline-silicon (c-Si) PV modules will dominate PV manufacturing in 2014. It states that p-type multi c-Si technology will likely account for 62 percent of all PV modules produced next year.  “This is in line with the upgraded forecast from NPD Solarbuzz that end-market solar PV demand will reach 45-55 GW next year,” a spokesperson of the company said.

This growth will be driven largely by expanded production of multi crystalline PV manufacturing in China.  It’s anticipated that leading Chinese c-Si suppliers will continue to increase production of p-type multi c-Si products during 2014, restoring operating margins to pre-2012 levels.

“PV manufacturers continue to prioritize cost-reduction across the entire c-Si value-chain, with improvements in efficiency coming mainly from higher-quality multi c-Si wafers,” said Finlay Colville, Vice President at NPD Solarbuzz. ”While there will inevitably be short-term supply issues throughout the year, polysilicon and wafer supply is considered adequate for 45-50 GW of c-Si module shipments in 2014. Chinese cell and module suppliers will continue to operate a flexible manufacturing strategy, with new capacity expected to come online during 2H’14.”

Unfortunately, the Chinese approach is somewhat limiting to the industry. According to the report, China’s PV manufacturers are taking a wait-and-see approach towards next-generation technologies, as well as boosting production. This dual strategy will continue to be the major barrier to any common technology roadmap being implemented within the solar PV industry over the next two to three years.

Monocrystalline PV module production will also grow in 2014, NPD Solarbuzz stated. While production in the segment – which includes manufacturers like SunPower and Panasonic – is expected to grow by 2.8 gigawatts, the overall share of such modules will shrink from 29.6 percent of the market in 2013 to 29.3 percent in 2014. This increase in high-efficiency c-Si modules is being driven by space-constrained solar PV deployment, characterized by the booming Japanese end-market.  Thin-film PV is set to shrink as well, falling to 8.9 percent of the market in 2014.

Original Article on Cleanenergyauthority

SunPower Buys Robot Solar Panel Cleaner Greenbotics

greenbotics

Robots that clean aren’t just the stuff of futuristic sci-fi movies anymore.

Sure, there’s Roomba, the disc-shaped vacuuming robot for your home. But what about something bigger, something on a commercial scale that could lead a company to triumph within its industry?

Greenbotics manufactures robots that clean solar panels. And SunPower, a leading U.S. solar manufacturer, announced today that it has acquired the solar-panel-scrubbing robot company.

SunPower did not revel the financial details of the cash transaction. The company has been using Greenbotics CleanFleet robots to wash hundreds of megawatts of solar panels at its solar farms in the Southwest and West ,where dry and dusty conditions can leave panels dirty and reduce their efficiency.

Regular solar panel cleaning in dry and dusty regions can increase annual energy production by 15 percent, according to the company’s release. But washing panels adds to the levelized cost of the power by increasing ongoing maintenance expenses.

The dry conditions that lead to increased dust collection on the solar panels make regular washing seem like a major expense and a wasteful proposition. The Greenbotics fleet, however, uses less than half a cup of water to clean each solar panel, which is about 90 percent less water than traditional cleaning methods require.

“Customers in markets such as the Western U.S., the Middle East and Chile will especially benefit, as dust and debris is a challenge and water is in shorter supply,” SunPower CEO Tom Werner said. “We are very pleased to add the valuable services offered by Greenbotics to our energy services offerings.”

The West, Middle East and Chile are important markets for SunPower and a lot of the company’s competition. These desert areas tend to have significant amounts of sun that make them ideal for solar power generation.

In addition to using less water, the Greenbotics robots save on labor expenses and can be deployed right when they’re most needed.  This eliminates the need to bring in cleaning crews on a regular schedule.  It also eliminates delays that occur when calling on such crews and having to wait a day or two before they’re available.

Having a robot cleaning crew on call can increase solar panel efficiency and overall solar farm power output.

The robots can be configured for most solar panel and mounting types, including fixed-tilt and single-axis trackers.

Original Article on Cleanenergyauthority

STUDY: Solar Not Just for Rich White People

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While not the first to announce that the Middle Class is leading the country in solar energy installations, a study conducted by the Center for American Progress (CAP) might be the most comprehensive.

The Center looked at solar adoption by zip code in Arizona, California and New Jersey and recently published a report noting that 60 percent of solar installations in those states occurred in zip codes with median household incomes ranging from $40,000 to $90,000.

In addition to leading solar adoption, solidly-middle-class zip codes saw significantly greater solar growth than others. Zip codes where the median income was $40,000 to $50,000 a year saw the biggest year-over-year growth in residential solar installations in California and Arizona. In New Jersey, zip codes with median incomes between $30,000 and $40,000 a year saw the biggest growth in solar installations.

The findings are contradictory to recent utility company arguments that residential solar is being adopted primarily by the wealthiest homeowners. This contention has been a very hot topic in Arizona, where friction between the solar industry and utility has been high following utility proposals to reduce or eliminate the state’s net-metering policy.

Advertisements supporting Arizona Public Service’s (APS) bid to modify or eliminate net-metering have suggested the utilities will have to hike rates on middle class homeowners in order to offset subsidies for wealthy solar customers.

CAP’s research found that nearly 80 percent of solar installations in APS territory were in neighborhoods with median household incomes between $40,000 and $90,000 and that less than 13 percent of solar was installed in neighborhoods with median incomes greater than $90,000.

CAP also found in Arizona that the highest number of solar arrays were installed in neighborhoods with median incomes between $40,000 and $50,000.

CAP selected California, Arizona and New Jersey for its study because the three states are leading the country in solar adoption, according to the report.

“The oft-repeated utility-industry narrative [that net-metering taxes the poor and subsidizes the rich] is not only being used as a vehicle for solar policy scrutiny—it also serves as a distraction from the fact that solar technology provides the same benefits to the grid regardless of the homeowner’s income level,” the report reads.

“While it is true that the wealthy are generally the first adopters of new technologies, our research suggests that solar technology has moved beyond the early adopter phenomenon and onto more widespread installation by the middle class.”

Original Article on Cleanenergyauthority

FUTUREWATCH: Black Silicon Technology

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Natcore Technologies is preparing to take its black silicon solar technology to market now that it has third-party confirmation that it could not only increase solar cell efficiency, but also cut production costs by up to 23.5 percent.

“We knew there would be a cost saving,” said Chuck Provini, Natcore President and CEO. “We were surprised that it was so large, however. Production-cost savings of this magnitude will likely overshadow any power gains of black silicon and make Natcore’s technology a must-have for solar cell manufacturers worldwide.”

The savings realized occur in the production process. Solar manufacturers typically buy solar cells from outside sources that cut them from a single ingot, leaving saw damage around the edges that must be removed. Thae process requires time and special equipment.  It also reduces the useable surface area of the solar cell.

After the saw damage is removed, manufacturers then must texturize the silicon wafer surface and apply an antireflective coating, usually using a high-temperature chemical vapor deposition. It’s an expensive process that Natcore’s black silicon technology eliminates with its liquid-phase deposition technology.

Analysts, using a ‘bottom up’ manufacturing cost estimation, found that Natcore’s black silicon could reduce the manufacturing cost of a single silicon solar cell from 17 cents per watt to about 13 cents.

This type of savings is significant. GTM Research recently published a piece arguing that technology, rather than materials, will drive future cost reductions in solar. While this news illustrates that point, GTM also stated that Chinese manufacturers would likely reduce solar cell costs by 1 cent per watt over the next year.

“We could quadruple those savings in one fell swoop,” Provini added.

Natcore has been slowly preparing to take its technology to market. Initially, the company aimed to partner with solar manufacturers that would bankroll the research and development, but decided to retain ownership of its liquid-phase deposition and black silicon processes in 2012. The company raised money through private placement of its stock and began developing its technology with plans to take it to market on its own.  The time to do that has arrived with this recent announcement about cost savings..

“We feel so optimistic about this development that we’ve begun making plans to take our technology to market,” Provini stated.  “The company had already been working closely with some solar manufacturers that were interested in the technology and Natcore leadership is certain that this announcement will help the company progress.”

“When solar companies are scrambling to save fractions of a cent, a saving of 3 to 4 cents per watt is momentous,” Dr. Dennis Flood, Natcore’s Co-Founder andCchief Technology Officer said.

Original Article on Cleanenergyauthority

Soitec Nears 45% Solar PV Cell Efficiency

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The limits of solar efficiency are being pushed higher by the newest multi-junction PV cell from Soitec and its partners, Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE, CEA-Leti and the Helmholtz Center Berlin. The group announced in late September that they reached a PV conversion efficiency of 44.7 percent for a solar cell.

This puts them one step closer to 45 percent and knocking on the door of 50 percent conversion efficiency. The record was achieved under a concentration of 297 suns. The new champion cell is able to absorb light across the spectrum from ultraviolet to infrared. “This is a major step towards further reducing the costs of solar electricity and continues to pave the way to the 50 percent efficiency roadmap,” a representative from Soitec stated.

“We are incredibly proud of our team which has been working now for three years on this four-junction solar cell,” said Frank Dimroth, Department Head and Project Leader in charge of the development work at Fraunhofer ISE. “This four-junction solar cell contains our collected expertise in this area over many years.”

“Besides improved materials and optimization of the structure, a new procedure called wafer bonding plays a central role,” Dimroth explained. “With this technology, we are able to connect two semiconductor crystals, which otherwise cannot be grown on top of each other, with high crystal quality. In this way we can produce the optimal semiconductor combination to create the highest efficiency solar cells.”

The new record surpasses the 44.4 percent efficiency mark set by Sharp Solar earlier this year. That multi-junction cell reached the former record under the concentration of 302 suns. Both the Sharp cell and the new Soitec and partners cell are designed to be used in concentrating photovoltaics (CPV), which magnify the amount of sunlight that hits each individual cell through optic devices like Fresnel lenses. CPV modules can concentrate sunlight on the cells by hundreds of times, if not more. The cells themselves use more exotic, expensive materials like gallium and arsenide than conventional PV cells do, but they’re also far more efficient.

This new record holder uses a new solar cell structure with four solar subcells, according to Soitec. These solar cells are used in concentrator photovoltaics (CPV), a technology which achieves more than twice the efficiency of conventional PV power plants in sun-rich locations. The terrestrial use of so-called III-V multi-junction solar cells, which originally came from space technology, has prevailed to realize highest efficiencies for the conversion of sunlight to electricity. In this multi-junction solar cell, several cells made out of different III-V semiconductor materials are stacked on top of each other. The single subcells absorb different wavelength ranges of the solar spectrum.

The group has been able to ramp up the efficiency levels quickly. “Back in May 2013, the German-French team of Fraunhofer ISE, Soitec, CEA-Leti and the Helmholtz Center Berlin had already announced a solar cell with 43.6 percent efficiency,” a spokesperson for Soitec stated.

“This world record increasing our efficiency level by more than 1 point in less than 4 months demonstrates the extreme potential of our four-junction solar cell design which relies on Soitec bonding techniques and expertise,” added André-Jacques Auberton-Hervé, Soitec CEO. “It confirms the acceleration of the roadmap towards higher efficiencies which represents a key contributor to competitiveness of our own CPV systems. We are very proud of this achievement, a demonstration of a very successful collaboration.”

The cells will be used in Soitec’s Concentrix CPV systems, which are manufactured in San Diego, Calif. Soitec already has CPV installations in 18 different countries including Italy, France, South Africa and the United States.  Earlier this year, the company announced its CPV modules were producing electricity at 31.8 percent efficiency.

Original Article on Cleanenergyauthority

Li-ion Battery Backup Market: Ready to Launch

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While stationary battery back-up systems for industrial users, hospitals and data centers aren’t the exciting new darlings of the emerging battery market, they will provide a steady and reliable source of growth and revenue for battery manufacturers that are eager to grow.

While battery technology is growing by leaps and bounds to meet new market demand for solar-tied grid storageand electric vehicles, there are certain market sectors that have always relied on batteries.

Uninterruptable power supply is essential for certain industrial operations, at hospitals and in the growing data storage industry, where power outages are intolerable.

The market for lithium-ion battery backup and UPS systems is expected to grow six fold between now and the end of the decade, according to a recent report from market analysis firm Lux Research.

“The interesting thing is that the demand for these types of systems is actually shrinking slightly in the developed world as data center customers and others are constantly trying to reduce their total power demand,” said Steve Minnihan, author of the report. “But in the developing world, the demand is growing very rapidly.”

He said the developing countries are using UPS and battery backups in the same industry sectors where they’re applied in the U.S. Places like India, Southeast Asia and Africa, however, are building infrastructure at unprecedented rates, which drives demand for battery backup systems in new hospitals, manufacturing hubs and data centers.

“I think this is so interesting because it’s a very large market,” Minnihan added. “There’s 800 gigawatts of power capacity in UPS and battery backup throughout the world. That makes this a very, very large market.”

Eight hundred gigawatts is roughly 15 percent of the global power demand.

Even as the need for battery backup diminishes in the developed world, existing operators will be switching from lead-acid batteries to Li-ion technology when they replace their aging systems.

The report projects that lithium-ion batteries will lead growth in the stationary battery backup market, climbing from $143 million to $553 million in the next six years.

That surge in demand will help to eliminate a glut of lithium-ion battery supply and restore supply and demand balance to the battery market by 2017. This is impressive because the battery industry hasn’t seen the same degree of oversupply and market tumult that most new markets, such as the solar industry, typically experience, Minnihan stated.

While there have been some bankruptcies and acquisitions, they were nowhere near what the solar and other new markets before have gone through.

Of course, once the market balances, big players that have been sitting on the sidelines, like Panasonic and Sony, are likely to ramp up production rapidly, which will likely spin the market into another cycle of oversupply.

Original Article on Cleanenergyauthority

Solar Light Bulbs from Nokero

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Nokero, a Colorado company that manufactures solar-powered light bulbs, is transitioning from a startup into a progressive and aggressive business.

Earlier this week, the company announced the release of two new products. The N180-Start, the most affordable and efficient solar bulb on the market, and the N22, one of the most technologically advanced affordable off-grid solutions for light and cell phone charging.

Nokero founder and owner Steve Kastaros said he plans to step aside as the company’s CEO in January.

“I’m the entrepreneur. We’re bringing in someone who has that builder CEO personality,” Kastaros stated. “We’re pivoting away from that small scrappy startup mentality of doing anything for anyone whenever they want.”

The company’s focus is on the developing world. When Kastaros first created his solar-powered light bulbs, he imagined Americans buying them for camping and outdoor light. But he quickly realized that international markets where only one in five people have reliable electricity would be the best audience for his product.

The latest iteration of the solar-powered light bulbs was specifically designed and engineered to help poverty-stricken families transition from expensive, dangerous and polluting kerosene lamps.

Nokero is able to wholesale the N180-Start for about $3. The lightbulb retails for $5 to $6. At that price, people living on $5 a day in the poorest parts of the world can recover the cost of the bulb by not buying kerosene within a few weeks.

Now that the business has been around for three years and developed relationships with distributors in emerging markets, Kastaros said he has a better feel for who his customers are and what they really need.

The N222 is designed for urban dwellers. It can connect to the grid, so people living in an apartment in Mumbai can have an electric light and a place to charge their cell phones without having to take it outside and risk theft.  Unfortunately, power is unreliable in a lot of urban centers in places like India. So, when the power fails, N222 owners can charge them in the sun and still have access to light and phone charging.

Even before the launch of the new products, Nokero was seeing significant market growth, especially in the developing world. The company just got its biggest order – 275,000 pieces – which must be delivered by December to a distributor that sells the bulbs.

With the new product designed specifically to meet the needs of the emerging market, where Nokero’s solar bulbs are most useful, the company is poised for even bigger growth.

Original Article on Cleanenergyauthority

1366 Technologies Raises $15 Million

1366-waferMassachusetts-based silicon wafer maker 1366 Technologies announced on October 15 that the company raised $15 million in funds to support construction of its new, full-scale manufacturing facility where it will produce PV wafers using its Direct Wafer technology.

Construction of the new facility is slated for 2014. When initial construction at the facility is complete, it will create 250 megawatts of PV wafers on an annual basis. Eventually the company plans to ramp production up to 1 gigawatt of PV wafers annually.

In total, 1366 Technologies has raised $62 million, which is helping the company advance to commercial production from earlier demonstration stages. The investor group was led by Tokuyama Corp. and other investors that previously invested in the company’s next generation wafering technology.

“1366 Technologies has the enormous benefit of being a ‘drop-in’ replacement for 60 percent of the photovoltaics market, enabling the majority of panel manufacturers to readily adopt the technology and immediately realize cost and efficiency gains,” said Hidenori Okamoto, Managing Executive Officer of Tokuyama Corporation. “As a strategic partner, we recognized the value in pooling our collective resources to accelerate the adoption of Direct Wafer. As an investor, we’re strengthening that partnership and reinforcing our commitment to advancing the technology.”

The new investment follows the successful launch of production at the company’s Bedford, Mass. demonstration facility. 1366 Technologies’ process offers advantages over traditional silicon wafering processes, which require casting and sawing. Instead, the Direct Wafer technology can transform silicon into wafers in a single step. This process reduces capital expenditures by two thirds and cuts operating costs in half. The machines at the demonstration site are now able to manufacture more than 1,200 wafers per furnace per day, up from the 50 wafers per day that were being produced at 1366 Technology’s pilot furnace.

“The team continues to make progress against our goal of delivering solar at the cost of coal. Our Bedford operation is well funded and cash flow from operations will be positive in 2013. This new round, led by a strong strategic partner, provides scaling capital for our next phase and is a direct result of our ability to consistently advance the technology,” stated Frank van Mierlo, CEO, 1366 Technologies. “We’ve taken a very deliberate route to high-volume production. In the process we’ve built a stable, capital efficient business during the most challenging of times.”

While the ramping in production is already significant, 1366 plans to further increase production at each furnace, eventually reaching production per furnace of 3,500 wafers per day.

The company now has two operational furnaces and is closer to being able to make more exact copies of the furnaces to replicate in future facilities. PV cells constructed from the wafers are already reaching cell efficiency levels of 17.2% in customer trials.

Original Article on Cleanenergyauthority

Team Austria Wins Solar Decathlon

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Team Austria from Vienna won the 2013 Solar Decathlon, a U.S. Department of Energy-sponsored competition between college teams building energy-efficient solar-powered homes.

This was the first year Team Austria had an entry in the U.S. event, which has taken place every two years since 2002.

“The first-time competitor to the Solar Decathalon consistently wowed juries with its LISI House,” according to the Solar Decathlon blog.

The Decathlon consists of 10 competitions, including: engineering, architecture, comfort, market appeal, communications and affordability.

Team Austria won first place in communications and tied with others for first place in the hot water and energy balance competitions, which measured the house’s ability to keep up with typical household hot water demands, as well as whether it’s solar panels could produce more electricity than it would use.

Team Austria took second place in market appeal and tied for third in engineering. It ranked 14th in affordability amongst the 19 houses at the competition, but emerged as the winner of the all-around competition.

“The house adapts to a range of climate zones and flexes to meet a variety of lifestyles,” according to the team’s literature.

The house’s flexibility was fully demonstrated at the Solar Decathlon during the first week of the event, when aggressive Santa Anna winds forced the competition to close for a few hours one afternoon.

The house, which was usually wide open to take full advantage of the expansive deck space, was shuttered to protect visitors from the dusty desert gusts.

When wide open, the house seemed to almost have no walls or windows, but to be a simple airy shelter. It stood out from the competition, draped in a willowy white mesh. When closed, it looked more like some of the other homes with big windows and decks.

That stark contrast between the open and closed home was no accident. since Team Austria wanted to build LISI with two distinct personalities – extroverted and introverted.

The house was built with wood, which is considered to be one of the most sustainable construction materials. The team also used vegetation as natural shading during the summer.

The University of Las Vegas, Nevada took second place in the competition and Czech Technical University came in third.

The winners were the teams judged to best blend affordability, consumer appeal and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency.

Original Article on Cleanenergyauthority

Phatport Structures: Making Solar Look Good

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Phatport Structures is taking solar off the roof and making it more functional.

“There’s a huge percentage of people who can’t fit solar on their roofs, “ said Philippe Hartley, CEO of Phat Energy. “That leaves a huge demand for off-the-roof solar.”

Phatport, which builds solar shades for carports, patios, awnings, bus stops and other nontraditional applications, got its start five years ago.

“The big challenge for solar off the roof is designing it to be seen from below,” Hartley stated. “Everything about the bottom of traditional solar panels is designed to be hidden.”

Phat Energy set out to change that and to make the bottom side of a domestic solar energy panel aesthetically pleasing – without adding material cost and diminishing the beauty of the panels by completely covering the bottom.

“People are surprised sometimes when they see this; when they see how aesthetically pleasing the bottom of a solar panel can be,” he added. “The solar panels’ patterns allow diffused natural light to shine through a dynamic and beautiful ceiling.”

Hartley and his team found solar panels that looked good from below and then designed a framing system that hides the wiring and electrical work of the panels and inverters.

“There are three reasons people give for not going solar,” Hartley explained. “It’s too expensive, too ugly and they don’t have the roof space. We have eliminated two of those three issues.”

That, combined with dramatic price drops in the cost of solar panels over the last year and a half, have given Phatport reason to celebrate.  One of the company’s biggest issues now is shipping and setup.

Because the solar structures – which Hartley says act as personal energy plants – are constructed with steal, they’re not easy to ship.  Phat Energy is based in Southern California and currently only sells its solar structure within the state.

In order to keep up with growing demand, Phat Energy is looking at building a network of manufacturers in other parts of the country that can build the systems and ship them locally.

Hartley stated that those plans are just in their infancy, but he also added he’s hopeful he will be able to make announcements about growth in the near future.

Original Article on Cleanenergyauthority

Fuel Cell Cars at the Solar Decathalon

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While many of the solar-power homes on display at the Solar Decathlon in Orange County, Calif. this week have electric vehicle charging stations, another cutting-edge automobile technology is being showcased at the U.S. Department of Energy event.

Several car manufacturers are debuting their first hydrogen fuel cell vehicles for sale in 2014. In addition, the California Fuel Cell Partnership brought several fuel cell vehicles to the Solar Decathlon to demonstrate how the technology works, as well as how advanced it is.

The Solar Decathlon, which challenges college teams from around the world to build energy efficient solar-powered houses, is being held in California for the first time since it began back in 2002.  The event traditionally has taken place on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

As it turns out, California is a good location for the event – and not just because most of the National Mall is closed due to the partial government shutdown. California is presently the only state in the country with the infrastructure to support wide adoption of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

There are a few other locations where hydrogen vehicles could be an option, including cities like Boulder, Colo., but California is ground zero for the new technology, said Chris White, Communications Director for the California Fuel Cell Partnership.

One vehicle on display is the Honda FCX Clarity, which is currently available for lease in Southern California. The lease is $600 a month and includes the cost of refueling. Other manufacturers have fleet lease programs for their first hydrogen cars.

When the cars become available for sale in 2014, White added that they are expected to be comparable in price to hybrid vehicles.  They can’t be a lot more than hybrids or they won’t make it.

Establishing the infrastructure for hydrogen vehicles will be the biggest challenge in introducing them to the masses. California Governor Jerry Brown recently signed legislation approving funding for the first 100 hydrogen fueling stations in the state.

Right now, the fueling cost is included in the lease.  But once the fuel becomes available at pumps, it will probably cost about $6 per kilogram, which is equivalent to about $3 per gallon of gas. A tank of hydrogen fuel will likely carry a car 350 to 400 miles.

That makes hydrogen vehicles similar to – but competitive with – standard gas burning cars. The biggest difference is that the only byproduct of a hydrogen vehicle is water vapor.

Of course, most hydrogen fuel is currently derived from natural gas, which doesn’t eliminate dependence on fossil fuels.

“But there are a lot of people working on that,” White was quick to point out.

Researchers are using solar energy to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen, which could provide an alternative to current hudrogen fuel – and at a lower cost.

There is also a group making hydrogen from the biomethane in wastewater, White said.

“Ultimately, that’s a renewable resource.  We’ll never run out of poop.”

Original Article on Cleanenergyauthority

Passive Solar Tech Alive and Well at 2013 Solar Decathlon

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When you stroll through the pop-up neighborhood of 19 solar-powered homes along an abandoned airstrip at The Great Park in Irvine, Calif. this week, you might get a kink in your neck.

It’s hard not to gravitate toward the homes lining the north side of the runway at the 2013 U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon. Big glass windows and open patios beckon visitors to gawk and drool over the ultra-modern, airy designs inside.

The houses on the south side, by contrast, look small and closed. There’s good reason for that, however. And the truth is that all of the homes have those beautiful glass windows and open airy decks – even the ones on the south side of the street.  So why the stark contrast?  All of the homes are oriented to the south to take advantage of passive solar heating and cooling techniques.

All 19 of the solar-powered houses lined up in Orange County’s burgeoning Great Park were designed by college students from around the globe. They have brought their ultra energy efficient and modern architectural designs to compete in the Solar Decathlon, a competition that judges the houses on 10 criteria, including architecture, engineering, energy production and affordability.

The Solar Decathlon started in 2002 and takes place every two years. The DOE-sponsored event has historically taken place on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Fortuitously, the year Congress shut down the federal government  – and most of the National Mall –the decathalon was already scheduled to take place elsewhere.

“We believe the cleanest energy is the energy that is never consumed,” said an architecture student guiding visitors through the AIR House designed by Czech Technical University in the Czech Republic.

While this is the mantra of the Czech team, it’s a principle embodied in all of the Solar Decathlon entries. Each team used advanced insulation techniques to reduce energy loss and all of the teams have incorporated passive solar designs.

Most homes, like the one designed by Stanford University, have large windows that stretch from floor to ceiling, spanning most of the south side of the home. This allows for direct solar gain. When the windows are closed in the winter, the sun will shine through them, heating the home in the process.

Many of the homes also have overhangs that shade the windows from too much direct sunlight in the summer. Nearly all of the glazing opens wide to let fresh air flow into the house during warmer months.

The teams from Stanford, Kentucky and Indiana, University of Nevada Las Vegas, Santa Clara University and Missouri University of Science and Technology all included vaulted ceilings on a slant in their designs with operable windows located high on the north wall. When both the southern glazing and northern windows are open, a cross breeze cools the home naturally on hot summer days.

Teams from West Virginia University and Missouri incorporated indirect solar gain technology into their designs, with a narrow sun room to collect and concentrate solar heat that could be let into the house by opening inner doors or out by opening exterior doors.  This use of passive solar heating and cooling technology saves energy when HVAC systems are in use, giving certain teams a stark advantage in the engineering, energy balance and comfort zone competitions.

Original Article on  Cleanenergyauthority

Liberty Interactive Invests $300M in Solana

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Abengoa Solar’s first giant concentrating solar power system in the U.S., the 280 megawatt Solana Project, is nearly complete and is in final testing stages. And on the eve of completion the project, which is located near Gila Bend, Ariz., Liberty Interactive Corp has announced that the company will be investing $300 million.

The $300 million only represents a portion of ownership in the $2 billion project, which is supported by a $1.45 billion loan guarantee from the federal government. As such, the investment had to be approved by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Abengoa will remain the managing partner of the project and will manage, operate and maintain the plant. Arizona Public Service (APS) will be purchasing all power produced at the Solana project through a power-purchase agreement.

Abengoa said Solana is the largest parabolic trough solar plant in the world and the first in the U.S. with thermal energy storage, which allows the storage of energy for up to six hours without light.

“One of the advantages of CSP over other renewables is its ability to store energy efficiently,” said a spokesperson from Abengoa. “The thermal storage system makes the energy generated dispatchable, permitting plant operation during transient periods or after sundown. This dispatchability eliminates the intermittency that other renewables, like wind or photovoltaics, experience and thus the electricity generated from CSP plants has a higher value.”

The final testing of the system will ensure that the plant can deliver the power it promises. “During these final tests, the concentrating solar power (CSP) plant is demonstrating that it will generate electricity during the day and night, and its capacity to store energy and adapt to consumption demands,” the spokesperson added.

The land the project sits on was previously used for agricultural purposes, according to Abengoa. As a result, Solana reduces the amount of water needed at the site to 25 percent of what it used to need. These reductions will help reach state renewable energy goals, as well as reach the U.S. national goals for climate change mitigation.

The new investment should help Abengoa – which has 931 megawatts of CSP (both solar towers and troughs) in operation and 710 megawatts under construction, as well as CSP projects in general – attract more investments. While photovoltaics have taken off in the past few years, the CSP market has not seen an massive influx of new projects undertaken. But with completion near for Solana, as well as BrightSource’s Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System, interest in CSP may again be on the uptick.

Original Article on Cleanenergyauthority