California and Arizona: Full Solar Ahead

Arizona and California solidified their reputation as national leaders in solar energy production and installation following several solar arrays recently being constructed in the states.

With more people and businesses realizing the benefits of solar energy around the country, solar installations in the Grand Canyon State and the Golden State are going up at a particularly fast pace. Given their sunny climes, they are perfect places for solar energy companies to prosper and enhance technology for future use.

Solar Junction orders from


Solar Junction, based in the California city of San Jose and one of the leading developers of high efficiency multi-junction solar energy cells for the concentrated photovoltaic market, recently announced that it has entered into an agreement with SolFocus to receive five megawatts of solar electricity.

Solar Junction is continuing to develop high-efficiency solar cells to heighten the competitiveness of concentrated photovoltaics. The company also recently announced a 50-megawatt project in Baja California, Mexico, which is the first stage of a planned 450-megawatt capacity facility that is planned to begin operating in late 2012.

“It is great to see growth in the sales and manufacturing sides at Solar Junction. It’s an indication that, ?technical? innovation in solar, will win the day,” said Jim Weldon, CEO of Solar Junction. “Our multi-junction solar cell technology provides the pathway to higher efficiency leading to higher performance for CPV system end users.”

Phoenix teams up for solar


Phoenix recently announced a partnership with the National Bank of Arizona, APS and SRP that resulted in Solar Phoenix 2 launching, which is the largest city-sponsored residential solar program, according to the Arizona Republic. It places solar panels on 1,000 roofs in the city each month, saving families 10 to 15 percent in energy costs monthly.

More than 150 jobs will be created in the Phoenix area and $25 million will be produced from the solar project, the Republic stated.

While Phoenix is emerging from an economic downturn with the rest of the country, the city has made significant progress to produce solar power to provide manageable green energy for residents. In addition to the Solar Phoenix 2 launch, U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu recently partnered with the city and Arizona State University to implement energy efficient strategies that will save residents energy and money, according to the newspaper.

Solar park planned for


Sun Edison also recently signed a loan agreement with the North American Development Bank in the amount of $65 million for a 20-megawatt solar park that is expected to be built in Picture Rocks, Arizona, according to EcoSeed. The NADB is an institution that was established and capitalized by the United States and Mexico for financing environmental facility projects along the border.

“We are very pleased to sign this loan with SunEdison, a company with a well-established presence in the solar energy sector,” said the development bank’s managing director Geronimo Gutierrez.

The project is expected to power an estimated 3,500 homes in Arizona and is subject to a 20-year power purchase agreement with Tucson Electric Power, the news source stated. Receiving power from the Picture Rocks solar park will allow Tucson Electric to meet the state’s renewable energy standard, which mandates that utilities produce 15 percent of their energy from green sources by 2025.

Original Article on

Solar Reliability Examined by ASU Polytechnic Project

Students from Arizona State University Polytechnic recently partnered with SRP on a solar energy project that is expected to make green energy sources more reliable.

Many people are confused about solar energy, and believe that residential solar power systems are independent and immune to a widespread outage, according to the Arizona Republic. In reality, most solar households are connected to the grid and lose power in a blackout even if the sun is shining.

Rooftop solar systems are known to reduce the amount of natural gas that utilities burn to produce electricity, which is an environmental positive. But having many of them on the power grid results in complications, as utilities have to account for power flowing from houses – not just to them – and this production fluctuates due to factors like cloud cover. Thus, the ASU Polytechnic students are working on the project for SRP, constructing a microgrid to make it more dependable as an increasing number of homes install solar power and alternative energy sources.

“There have been so many technological changes with (solar) and other energy sources, the microgrid can simulate what type of impact it would have when different energy sources drop off or are added,” said Freddie Dobbins Jr., an SRP engineer who helped with the project. “We have to look, as the (electrical) loads become more concentrated, especially with solar, when the sun passes over, we have a cycling effect. Different solar units are dropping in and out. It could have an impact on how we distribute loads.”

The project is expected to help SRP and other utilities predict how they can manage the fluctuating power from high concentrations of rooftop solar systems and other sources of distributed energy, the newspaper stated. Thousands of residents of Arizona have added solar power to homes, but since the concentrations are not high, experts have not had to explore different options in distributing loads on the grid.

“We can use it for teaching students power engineering so they understand the principles of converting direct current (from renewable-power systems) to alternating current,” said Scott Pollat, senior lecturer at the university. “We can simulate time-of-use (billing that charges more for power during high-demand hours). We can do all of those things.”

The Town of Prescott Valley, Arizona, recently announced the completion of two major solar projects that are expected to provide a significant amount of energy. The installations are located at the town’s water pump stations and wastewater treatment plant.

Original Article on

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West Goes Solar

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West is known as a National Historic Landmark and home to the architect’s archive of designs and school of architecture, with about 100,000 visitors annually. This month, Wright’s Scottsdale winter home and current training ground for aspiring architects installed solar technology to offset energy costs.

More than 4,000 solar panels were installed on the home through a partnership with Valley of the Sun companies Big Green Zero and First Solar, according to the Arizona Republic. The Arizona solar installation is expected to slash the $200,000 annual energy bill in half for the 500-acre campus and generate the rest of the electricity for the year. The installation will make Taliesin West a net-zero-energy property, which will eliminate its carbon emissions as well as increase solar energy use in the country.

“Our business is about sustainable energy, and partnering with a global icon is an incredible opportunity,” Ted Meyer, First Solar spokesman, told the Republic. “It gives us a showcase for our technology and how it integrates into a world-famous site. It is our hope that architects and designers who make the pilgrimage will see what’s possible.”

According to Sean Malone, the new CEO of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, the extra $200,000 that has been freed by the solar installation will allow the foundation to spend money on programming or preservation efforts, the news source stated.

More than a half-dozen Valley companies volunteered their services, technology and manpower for the project, which was called the Energizing Taliesin West program.The system was donated by Tempe-based First Solar, which didn’t hesitate to give the 250,000-kilowatt solar system, estimated to cost $1 million in initial installations, reported the newspaper.

Big Green Zero started the project by doing an assessment of the property early in 2011, which Bob Roth, founder of the company, said took several days. When the assessment was completed, all the workers gathered in a room to share their findings, and the room was later revealed to be Frank Lloyd Wright’s office.

“It struck me, literally, as I was sitting in his studio, at his desk, that he had this action for innovation and using the technology that was available to make places more comfortable and affordable,” Roth said to the Republic. “Here we have this 1937 laboratory, and we have the ability to demonstrate this.”

Another solar project, which is being touted as the world’s largest solar concentrating plant, is under construction in Arizona and was recently announced to be half finished, according to Sustainable Business.

Original Article on

U.S DOT Promotes Solar Initiatives

The Department of Transportation is doing its best to improve green energy use across the country with several initiatives to save taxpayers millions of dollars.

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials is using Earth Day as a reason to increase environmental awareness in the country in order to reduce the United States’ carbon footprint. States have already begun to identify and undertake comprehensive methods of minimizing their carbon footprints in order to save resources and protect sensitive ecosystems.

“State transportation departments are finding ways to strike a balance between building the highways, bridges and mass transit systems America desperately needs, while being responsible environmental stewards,” said John Horsley, AASHTO executive director. “Earth Day is an excellent time to draw attention to the many state DOT success stories that might otherwise go untold.”

Among the leaders in this effort is the Golden State, which saw California solar installations double from 2010 to 2011. The California Department of Transportation is planning to continue dramatically reducing energy usage while improving safety, recently installing 40,000 LED street lights to replace existing fixtures over a two-year period. The cost of the lights are estimated to be between $25 million and $30 million, with rebate not included. The energy-saving units are expected to require 60 percent less electricity than the lights used previously and reduce lighting demand by 4.5 megawatts.

“LED lights are just one example of how we are using new technology to improve California’s roadways,” said Acting Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty. “These cost-effective and earth-friendly lights are also brighter and long-lasting, which increases safety for motorists who can see better, and workers who now have less exposure to traffic because they don’t have to replace the lights as often.”

Louisiana also recently announced it is doing its part by testing solar-powered airport lighting. In May 2010, the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development launched a pilot program that used new LED solar-powered airport lighting systems at the False River Regional Airport in New Roads. The system is expected to reduce the airport’s taxiway energy consumption by more than 90 percent, allowing the state to spend less on energy and more on other areas needed.

The solar panels also charge a bank of batteries that are able to supply the taxiway lighting system with power for up to 14 days with little or no sunlight.

“In Louisiana, we are always striving to find and implement methods that not only enhance our infrastructure, but also are environmentally sensitive,” said LDOTD Secretary Sherri H. LeBas. “Utilizing these innovative solutions isn’t just smart; it’s the right thing to do.”

Arizona is also playing a major part in reducing dependence on traditional sources of energy. The Grand Canyon State’s Department of Transportation recently repurposed more than 15 million recycled tires as part of a technique called “Quiet Paving,” which improves the environment and quality of life for Arizona residents.

According to Timothy Tait, ADOT assistant commutations director, rubberized asphalt paving allows the public to enjoy quieter and safer rides, also giving the Arizona Department of Transportation more reliable and longer-lasting roadways that keep old tires out of landfills.

Colleges around the country are also celebrating Earth Day, including Sierra College in Nevada County, California, which recently recognized the day with events such as fashion shows featuring recycled clothing, according to local news source The Union.

Original Article on

Six Walmart Stores Go Solar in Colorado

Walmart recently expanded its solar commitment to Colorado by partnering with SolarCity to begin six new solar projects, which will reduce air pollution and help the state get closer to its renewable energy goals.

Walmart marked its 100th solar installation in the United States and moved the company closer to its long-term goal of using 100 percent renewable energy in its stores across the country.

The installations that were recently completed total two megawatts, and are located at three stores in the Westminster area and one each in Lakewood, Highlands Ranch and Lafayette. Colorado is aiming to produce 30 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, and is already home to many projects that display the benefits of using solar energy.

“Like the state of Colorado, Walmart has set ambitious renewable energy goals and these solar installations are another step in that journey,” said Kim Saylors-Laster, Walmart vice president of energy. “Solar power continues to show promise as an alternative to traditional power for its environmental and economic benefits. We are proud to work with SolarCity and the state of Colorado on this project that creates local jobs, and ultimately helps Walmart reduce its energy costs, so that we can continue to pass on savings to our customers.”

The solar installations are predicted to be effective despite the large flat-roof environment where high wind and snow can be challenging for solar projects. When the solar installations are completed, Walmart’s SolarCity projects in Colorado are expected to generate close to 3 million kilowatt-hours of renewable energy every year, the equivalent of powering 224 homes, and the installations will allow the stores to avoid producing more than 5 million pounds of harmful carbon dioxide emissions annually.

“With these six solar power systems in Colorado, we reach an exciting milestone of 100 solar power installations on U.S. Walmart stores, clubs, and distribution centers,” said Marty Gilbert, Walmart director of energy. “While Walmart’s investment in solar technology has significantly grown in recent years, we know there is still much work to be done to reach our environmental goals and look forward to continuing to work with states like Colorado and suppliers like SolarCity to take full advantage of solar power.”

The installations in Colorado continue Walmart’s commitment to new technology on a large scale in the state despite its winter weather, which can cause problems at times if solar arrays aren’t properly maintained. However, these weather related challenges are very surmountable, as Colorado currently ranks fifth among the country’s top 10 states for the total amount of solar capacity installed.

Toby Corey, chief revenue officer for SolarCity, pointed out that his company and Walmart have partnered to boost renewable energy use in two other big solar states: Arizona and California. He added that Walmart is showing other businesses they can be eco-friendly while saving money on electricity.

Walmart is making renewable energy an integral part of the company in hopes of one day using 100 percent solar energy sources at all of its stores throughout the country. In addition to the recent installation in Colorado, Walmart and SolarCity also announced plans to install solar panels on up to 60 additional stores in California, which would expand the company’s solar portfolio and increase California solar installation.

While Walmart is playing a major part in solar installations, IKEA is also playing a major part in carbon emissions reduction, recently installing solar panels at its location in Paramus, New Jersey.

Original Article on

Arizona: #3 in Solar Energy Production

Arizona has solidified its reputation as a world leader in solar energy, with a recent report indicating how robust the solar market is in the state.

According to the 2011 U.S. Solar Market Insight Report from the Solar Energy Industries Association, Arizona ranks third in the nation in terms of solar system installation, which was announced recently by Governor Jan Brewer. The state’s energy production from photovoltaic systems increased from 63 to 273 megawatts between 2010 and 2011, which is a 333 percent rate of growth.

Arizona now only trails California and New Jersey in megawatt production, and the SEIA report projected that Arizona will increase its solar installations to jump into second place nationally this year.

California was recently announced as the top solar energy producer, doubling its solar installations over the past year. The state set a goal to have most of its energy come from green energy resources within several years, and with the recent announcement, most experts feel that the goal is not too far-fetched.

“After a record-breaking 2011, the U.S. has proved itself as a viable market for solar on a global scale,” said the executive summary of the report. “In 2011, the U.S. market’s share of global (photovoltaic) installations rose from 5 percent to 7 percent and should continue to grow. We forecast U.S. market share to increase steadily over the next five years, ultimately reaching nearly 15 percent in 2016.”

Nationally, solar energy production from photovoltaic installations increased 109 percent in 2011, according to the report. The residential, non-residential and utility markets all saw growth, and project finance investments reached an all-time high, totalling $8.4 billion worth of photovoltaic systems installed in 2011 alone.

The growth of the solar market is also creating jobs for the people of Arizona. The Grand Canyon State ranked third nationally in 2011, with 4,800 jobs in the solar energy field, according to the National Solar Jobs Census, which was issued in October by The Solar Foundation.

“This report illustrates why Arizona has earned the title of ‘Solar King,’” said Brewer, speaking of the recent SEIA document. “With our abundant sunshine, renewable-energy tax incentives and trained workforce, it’s no surprise solar energy production is soaring in Arizona.”

The Arizona Public Service recently announced it will be building a 35-megawatt solar system in Yuma County, which will provide enough electricity to power 8,750 homes.

Arizona also offers a significant number of rebates for residents and businesses interested in solar energy. With more than 300 sunny days a year, Arizona has become one of the premiere destinations in the United States for rooftop solar installations. Among the rebates and programs available for Arizona residents and businesses are the EPS Energy Purchase Credit Purchase, which provides a one-time credit of $2 per rated watt of DC electricity to qualified applicants for the purchase and installation of photovoltaic systems, and the Solar Water Heating Program, which provides a one-time credit of $350 on new solar water heating systems. In addition to the many state programs, federal incentives are also offered to encourage residents to invest in solar array systems.

Original Article on

Clean Power Research Grabs $850K Grant

Research will soon be conducted by Clean Power Research, which develops analytic tools for the renewable energy industry, in order to determine how much cloud cover affects the performance of large solar-power arrays.

Clean Power Research will conduct the research thanks to an $852,260 grant from the California Public Utilities Commission to develop new simulations for the experiment. The grant was won as part of a program that totaled $7.65 million from the California Solar Initiative’s Research, Development, Deployment and Demonstration Program.

Clean Power Research is planning on validating its existing photovoltaic panel fleet simulations that were developed from earlier funding from the California solar installation program. CPR manufactured tools to measure power output and variability without being required to monitor the solar systems, according to the company.

“Accurate solar forecasting is critical for integrating ever-larger PV fleets into the grid, yet the expense and difficulty of obtaining this information can be very high,” said Tom Hoff, president of research and consulting at Clean Power Research. “This grant builds on our previous CSI RD&D research, allowing us to validate our PV simulation models and make them widely available through easy-to-use software tools.”

The intermittent nature of photovoltaic system’s output during different times of the day means accurate solar forecasting is vital for utilities that plan on integrating PV into their planning, scheduling and operating strategies, in order to maintain grid reliability.

The Clean Power Research project is bringing together several renewable energy companies, including the California Independent System Operator Corporation, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, Sacramento Municipal Utility and Electric Power Research Institute.

SolarAnywhere data will also be used in screening distribution feeders during the project as alternatives to the 15 percent rule and for high-fidelity solar forecasting for grid integration undertaken by UC-San Diego.

“Our analysis has shown that SolarAnywhere is one of the most accurate and highly spatially resolved solar resource datasets available,” said Jan Kleissl, UC-San Diego assistant professor of environmental engineering. “Clouds cannot hide from a satellite.”

In June 2011, Kleissl and UC-San Diego Ph.D. student Matthew Lave unveiled an easy-to-use tool that gives developers an estimate of solar variability at any given site. Their research also showed that solar variability can be reduced by placing installing smaller solar panels further apart from each other, which increases the probability that when clouds block sunlight from reaching one panel, another will be receiving rays.

Original Article on

Scottsdale Schools Go Solar

Arizona has become one of the leading states in the country in solar power production and a recent installation is continuing the trend. The Scottsdale Unified School District will soon unveil its newest solar power project, which will provide shade at Chaparral and Desert Mountain high schools, in addition to saving the schools money.

The project includes 11 campuses in the school district, which will receive a total of 5.5 megawatts of power from the parking lot shade structures outfitted with photovoltaic panels that will convert sunlight into energy. The project will cost $26.4 million, paid for by Qualified School Construction Bonds. The Qualified School Construction Bonds are part of a federal program of interest-free bonds that aims to stimulate the construction industry.

The benefits of the clean energy project include adding $22.4 million back into the district’s general fund over the next 25 years, after the bonds are paid back through utility bill savings and rebates. More than $400,000 is expected to be saved thanks to Arizona solar rebates in the first year of use for the solar panels, according to the Arizona Republic.

“Schools want to take advantage of any square footage they have to generate those savings, and many have rooftops cluttered with air-conditioning units, so they’re looking to parking lots,” Rick Whisman, a director at SunPower, the company that installed the solar system, told the Republic.

Chaparral High School is expected to be the first to have the systems installed, within the next month, according to Rick Freeman, the director of construction for the district. Eight of the solar system structures have already been built on the north and east sides of the school, covering two-thirds of the staff parking spots and parts of the student parking areas, the source reported.

The Arizona Public Service Company will pay the district a rebate of 8.5 cents per solar kilowatt-hour for the project. With the maintenance-free system installed, shade covers will generate close to 992 kilowatts, which is 20 percent of the total amount of energy consumed by the campus, according to the Republic. Despite excitement about the project being close to completion and the savings the schools will receive from having the systems installed, constructors are still digging and installing the underground electrical cables that connect the panels to the conduits.

Chaparral has been producing solar power since 2010, following the installation of solar panels on the roof, the source stated. Chaparral will have the second-largest project after the combined campuses of Desert Mountain High School and Mountainside Middle School, which will generate more than 1,201 kilowatts of energy. The next campuses to receive solar upgrades are currently going through the design process. Construction at Desert Canyon elementary and middle schools, Copper Ridge School, and Cheyenne and Redfield elementary schools will likely start in the beginning of the summer.

Arizona will continue receiving solar upgrades throughout the year. One of the solar power companies in the area is setting new visions for clean energy. The company recently proposed a community-scale solar tower that could be constructed on a half-acre and generate 100 kilowatts of energy, which is enough to power between 60 and 100 homes, Cronkite News Service recently reported.

“Today, we’ve been approached by quite a number of architects who want to design housing developments with our tower in the center because it’s aesthetically pleasing and it doesn’t dominate the neighborhood and it will create a sort of island of energy independence around it,” said Zev Rosenzweig, the solar company’s CEO.

Harvey Brian, a senior sustainability scientist at Arizona State University’s Global Institute of Sustainabilty, told CNS photovoltaic solar power is increasing drastically in popularity and affordability, becoming the dominant renewable energy technology in the state, which could pose a challenge to widespread adoption of the towers, which would power homes with a mix of solar energy and fossil fuels.

Original Article on

California’s Fastest-Growing Solar Cities

California has become one of the top states in the country in clean energy production, with solar energy growing rapidly throughout the Golden State. SunRun, one of the leading home solar companies in the country, recently announced the fastest-growing solar cities in California, in conjunction with the release of the company’s year-end reports.

The cities that were named by SunRun added more home solar systems in 2011 than other cities throughout the state, showing that solar power is expanding rapidly in diverse locales.

“The cost of solar is coming down, which makes it more affordable for families in a more diverse range of cities,” said Lynn Jurich, SunRun president and co-founder. “At SunRun we’ve also seen solar expand to more median income communities because our service allows homeowners to make the switch for zero or very little money upfront, and they lock in a low rate for clean electricity.”

The list was topped by San Jose, which is a traditional solar city and a leading producer of clean energy in the country. While San Jose remains one of the top producers of solar energy, smaller cities like Hemet and Apple Valley are moving further up on the list, coming in No. 9 and 10, respectively. The majority of the residents in these two cities chose to switch to solar power without installing solar panels, opting to change to solar power service, instead.

“We thought it was important to not just look at which cities have the most solar installations, but also those that are growing the fastest,” said Stephen Torres, founder and managing director of PV Solar Report. “While Apple Valley may not have the most solar in the state, its solar installation numbers grew by almost 70 percent in 2011.”

The list was based on the California Solar Initiative’s database of residential rebate reservations for the calendar year 2011.

Bakersfield, Simi Valley and Lancaster were ranked Nos. 2, 3 and 4, respectively, increasing their solar energy production throughout the year via solar panels installed and solar power services acquired.

SunRun is now installing more than $1.5 million in solar power daily and completing one rooftop installation every 11 minutes of the business day. The families that install the solar power pay a low monthly rate for the clean energy and help improve the environment in the process. According to SunRun, California has the potential to generate $5 billion in solar industry growth, and current expansion is being driven primarily by middle-income homeowners.

While residential solar power is growing at a rapid rate in the Golden State, many businesses and public entities are also embracing this affordable clean energy. One recent California solar installation was undertaken by the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority. The transit company installed solar panels on top of three bus yards. The installation accounts for 2.1 megawatts and will save the city more than $2.7 million in electricity costs over the next 20 years.

“VTA will be saving taxpayer money on energy costs while investing in a future that will benefit us all,” said Yeager. “VTA is already combating global warming through the promotion of mass transit and congestion management. Now, we are reducing greenhouse gases through our operations, too.”

Original Article on

Santa Clara Bus Station Goes Solar

The rate of California solar installation has increased drastically in the past several years, sparking a clean energy transformation in the state that has proven to save millions of dollars, which are now being allotted for other purposes. Continuing with the trend, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority recently partnered with clean energy companies in the area to install solar power systems at three bus yards.

The VTA’s new solar canopy systems account for a total of 2.1 megawatts being produced at three bus maintenance divisions. The canopy systems will be used to provide shade for buses as they drive into the station and also save more than $2.7 million in electricity costs over the next 20 years.

The VTA recently hosted a dedication of the solar power systems at the Cerone Bus Maintenance Division, which will serve as one of the three bus stations housing the new systems. Speakers at the event included Santa Clara County Supervisor and VTA Chair Ken Yeager, City of San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and other executives who saw the project to completion.

“VTA will be saving taxpayer money on energy costs while investing in a future that will benefit us all,” said Yeager. “VTA is already combating global warming through the promotion of mass transit and congestion management. Now, we are reducing greenhouse gases through our operations, too.”

In addition to saving millions of dollars, the project will have significant environmental benefits, including offsetting more than 2,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year. This is the equivalent of removing more than 9,000 vehicles from California’s roads or planting 10,000 acres of trees over the next 20 years.

“The VTA solar project aligns with the City of San Jose’s bold energy efficiency and renewable energy goals,” said San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed. “This type of project also creates jobs and utilizes technologies from local clean tech companies, like SunPower, that have helped make our region a national leader in green tech innovation.”

VTA financed the solar installation through a power purchase agreement, which is a financial agreement in which developers own, operate and maintain photovoltaic systems. Under the VTA’s terms of agreement, a bank owns the systems, which are operated by the solar power company, SunPower. While being protected from rising energy costs, the VTA purchases the power at competitive retail rates and owns the energy credits associated with the system.

“California’s public sector is expected to save $2.5 billion from solar investments under the state’s California Solar Initiative program,” said SunPower CEO Tom Werner. “SunPower has delivered reliable, high efficiency solar power systems to public agencies across California, and we applaud the VTA’s significant commitment to solar here in the Silicon Valley, which will serve the community by minimizing operational costs and helping to achieve environmental goals.”

SunPower constructed the system using 5,070 high efficiency solar panels that will provide shade and protection for the buses that stop at the station. Two of the solar systems are at the Chaboya and Cerone Divisions in San Jose while the third system is a 637-kilowatt system at the VTA North Division facility in Mountain View.

According to a recent poll conducted by Vote Solar, a non-profit solar advocacy group, four out of five citizens in California believe the California desert is a great resource and should be used to develop solar projects. The majority of respondents reported being concerned about global warming. With the growing concern for the environment, the rapid pace of clean energy projects is providing some relief for citizens across the state.

Original Article on

Solar from Plants at MIT

A combination of biology and electronics has led to progress in the efforts to make low-cost solar cells from plants. A recently published paper in Scientific Reports described an improved method for making biophotovoltaics that produce electricity without complicated laboratory equipment that was previously needed. The researchers announced that custom-designed chemicals can mix with green plants, including grass clippings, to create a photovoltaic material by harnessing photosynthesis.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher and one of the study’s co-authors, Andreas Mershin, said that those interested in lowering the cost of their energy bill and switching to solar water heating might be able to take the bag of chemicals, mix it with plant material and simply paint it on the roof of a residence. Mershin is hopeful that the affordable solar cells can be used by those who are in developing countries and don’t have the benefit of professional solar installers to connect to the power grid to charge lamps or cellphones.

Mershin said that by extracting the light-absorbing proteins in raw agricultural waste, mixing it with a stabilizer and spreading the resulting paste onto a flat substrate, such as glass or metal, people could make their own solar panels.

“After many ears of research, we’ve managed to make the process of extracting this protein and stabilizing it and putting on a surface that is made in a way to allow for the photovoltaic effect to happen to be very easy,” Mershin said in a video provided by MIT.

Former projects have attempted to make solar cells from the set of molecules within plant cells that do the work of photosynthesis, but the equipment was too expensive and the current produced was too low. The

MIT researchers are expanding on a previous project that was started by Shuguang Zhang and Michael Graetzel eight years ago, which found isolating and stabilizing a complex of molecules known as photosystem-I and layering it on a glass plate could produce electricity through exposure to sunlight.

Despite the groundwork that was laid by the other two MIT researchers eight years ago, Mershin said his system is 10,000 times more efficient than previous efforts. He has spent seven years working on the project, which included creating a small collection of zinc oxide nanowires and sponge-like titanium dioxide nanostructures that were covered with light-collecting materials from bacteria to increase the surface area of a small solar cell.

The researchers at MIT noted a number of challenges still to be addressed with regard to the green solar cells, including durability and efficiency, but the initial performance tests for the new technique gives a promising route for the future.

“Commandeering this intricately organized photosynthetic nanocircuitry and re-wiring it to produce electricity carries the promise of inexpensive and environmentally friendly solar power,” according to the paper.

This breakthrough in biophotovoltaics is only one of many recent innovations in solar technology; thanks to others, startup companies are beginning to set new power records. One startup recently set the record for the most efficient solar cell, which is able to convert 23.5 percent of sunlight into electricity.

“Our goal is to optimize the production economics of solar so that it is competitive with fossil fuels without subsidies, leading to broad adoption of solar generated electricity,” solar energy expert Christopher Norris said in a statement about the new super-efficient cell technology.

Original Article on

Can Explosive Chinese Solar Market Support Global Industry?

While solar markets continue to grow around the world, China has emerged as one of the fastest-growing proponents of the critical technology.

Market research firm Solarbuzz released its Asia Pacific Major PV Markets Quarterly for the fourth quarter of 2011, revealing that the continent’s solar market grew by a staggering 165 percent through all of last year. Over the course of 2011, Solarbuzz estimates that Asia added roughly 6 gigawatts of solar installations, with nearly half coming in the fourth quarter alone.

Even more impressively, however, nearly half of all added solar capacity came from China, with an estimated 2.9 gigawatts of solar power added. Nearly 60 percent of that amount – 1.7 gigawatts – came in the last three months of the year.

By comparison, Solarbuzz estimates that China added around 530 megawatts of solar capacity in 2010. That represents an astounding 547 percent increase from year to year. In 2010, China’s fourth quarter alone would have been good enough for the third-most solar installations, and the whole year would begin to push second-place Italy.

“The China [photovoltaic] market was reshaped in 2011 by the release of the national [feed-in tariff],” Ray Lian, analyst at NPD Solarbuzz, said in a statement.

The feed-in tariff was a policy implemented last year to help China take advantage of the glut of solar production capacity in the country. These powerful solar incentives, much like the policy that made Germany the world’s largest solar market, purchase power from solar installations at a premium rate, rewarding actual production as opposed to simply installation.

Feed-in tariffs are particularly powerful because the single policy can serve effectively to encourage residential solar installations as well as commercial solar power plants.

Bloomberg suggests that the rising demand this new policy has spurred in China could actually serve to relieve some of the pressure on solar panel manufacturers around the world. Overcapacity of solar panel production has led to a dramatic decline in equipment costs that has pushed some companies out of business, but some Chinese solar leaders see the growth in China continuing.

Zhengrong Shi and Jifan Gao, the chief executive officers of Suntech Power and Trina Solar, respectively, each predicted growth of more than 100 percent. While Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates a somewhat lower 2.2 gigawatts of added capacity in China last year, Shi suggests the country could add as much as 4 gigawatts and Gao preducts 5 gigawatts. That level of demand could provide crucial support for a struggling solar sector.

Original Article on

Solar Shingles: Making Solar Less Ugly

Different homeowners have given different reasons for not wanting to invest in solar installations. Some worry about the up-front cost or the value of their home, though that argument is quickly fading away. Others question whether the technology is effective, though again those ranks are steadily disappearing.

But one still common complaint from some people is that they do not like the look of rooftop solar installations. Over the past 30 to 40 years, solar panels have grown steadily slimmer and sleeker looking as solar companies improve their manufacturing processes and put a great deal more effort into appearance. Numerous companies now offer low-profile, all-black solar installations that will detract little from the appearance of a home and, more likely, add to the appearance.

For some, however, these improvements are still not enough. That is where Dow Chemical and its new solar shingles come in. CNET reports that this new application of solar technology was developed with the express intent of making residential solar installations simple and easy, with less concern about appearance. The small solar panels mimic the pattern created by traditional shingles while also boasting impressive durability, supposedly able to survive a fall from a two-story roof.

The key to the technology, GigaOm reports, is the use of copper indium gallium selenide – CIGS – solar cells printed onto a steel foil backing. Many CIGS companies jumped into market quickly and suffered as falling silicon prices kept traditional solar systems at the top of the heap. But, with the help of Dow, CIGS manufacturers NuvoSun and GlobalSolar have gotten into a potentially major new market at the ground floor.

The market is just now beginning to emerge as well. The Denver Business Journal reports that Dow has announced agreements with its first new Colorado solar installers, actually three roofing companies. Colorado was chosen as the testing ground for the new technology, presumably because of its strong market for residential solar installations. The Solar Energy Industries Association reports that the state was the fifth largest solar market in 2010, with one-third coming from the residential sector.

Crain News Service reports that after the roll-out in Colorado in January, Dow intends to quickly bring the new solar shingles to 12 other states in the next 18 months. The next group is scheduled to include California and Texas.

Original Article on

Cape Cod Embraces Solar

Few places seem a more appropriate setting for solar installations than the beach. The open ocean provides clear sight of the the sun without the shadows that can prove so frustrating for homeowners elsewhere. And that only supports the natural, if perhaps less rational, feeling that solar power makes sense in a place where people themselves go to soak up the sun.

So perhaps places like Cape Cod might be able to overcome the common conception of New England as a cloudy, stormy place. With its flat terrain and open skies, Cape Cod certainly seems like an ideal place for residential solar installations. Added on top of that, many of the peninsula’s residents cannot help but be aware of how ecologically sensitive the area in which they live truly is.

These were the exact reasons that Rich and Jane of Chatham, Massachusetts, gave SolarFlair when they decided to add a rooftop solar installation. Chatham itself is located on the far southeast corner of the peninsula, shielded from the ocean only by a thin strip of land. Rich and Jane, meanwhile are on the southern end of the town, only a minutes-long walk from the edge of the water. In such a beautiful natural environment, the couple decided they should be able to get most of their power from renewable sources.

As it turns out, the state of Massachusetts agreed with them. While the federal tax rebate program has proven an important support for the solar industry around the country, Massachusetts offers a variety of solar incentives that made the decision easy for the couple.

The Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency reports that the state has had a tax credit program worth 15 percent of the cost of a photovoltaic solar installation, up to $1,000, since 1979. A more recent program offers 85 cents per watt of capacity up to $4,250 for residential solar installations, and others offer exemptions on sales and property taxes for renewable power systems.

With that much support, Rich and Jane decided they could afford the up-front costs for a system of as many as 30 solar panels. The system would be able to produce 6.75 kilowatts at peak capacity, potentially accounting for around 60 percent of their electricity needs. Ironically, though the couple has open sight-lines to the water, they had to limit the number of solar panels somewhat because of shadowing from another part of the house.

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s PVWATTS Calculator, a solar installation that size in Massachusetts would produce around 8,395 kilowatt-hours of electricity. With the state’s residents paying an average of 14.78 cents per kilowatt-hour through October of last year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, that amounts to savings of more than $1,200 each year.

On top of all the various solar incentives the couple was able to find to help them deal with the up-front costs of solar installations, however, Massachusetts has also created a marketplace for solar renewable energy certificates. These SRECs represent the production of 1 megawatt-hour of electricity and are used by utility companies to help meet renewable portfolio standards set by the state. At present, SRECTrade reports that Massachusetts SRECs for 2011 and 2012 are selling for $550 each. With Rich and Jane producing more than 8 megawatt-hours of electricity, that should represent a further return of more than $4,400 per year. All told, the system will provide plentiful free electricity for decades, even after quickly paying off its own costs.

Original Article on