petition for solar

In Texas suburbia, solar not always welcome

petition for solar

NORTH RICHLAND HILLS — One by one, solar panels have slowly begun to show up on rooftops here. A flash of black glass over a picket fence. A single set of panels facing west in a carefully manicured housing development.

What might be an increasingly common facet of modern life elsewhere, solar energy is meeting with resistance here and other Texas communities, as residents and politicians argue the panels’ mechanical look give their neighborhoods the appearance of an industrial zone.

In December the North Richland Hills town council passed an ordinance requiring residents to survey their neighbors and go before the planning and zoning committee in order to install solar panels on the portion of their roof facing the street. Up until now, all they needed was a construction permit. Now the process can stretch months and costs close to $600.


Sustainability a Winner at Super Bowl XLIX

super bowlThe 2015 Super Bowl provided a powerful platform that showcased sustainability. The game at the University of Phoenix stadium was lit by LEDs, and powered by both wind and solar energy. Carbon emissions were offset by renewable energy credits and recycling efforts permeated the entire event. This included donating uneaten food and an e-waste recycling program. The NFL also donates tons of materials that would otherwise be discarded and they run an urban forestry tree planting program.

These efforts are meant to reduce the Super Bowl’s hefty environmental impact. The 2012 Super Bowl in Indianapolis used around 15,000 megawatt-hours of electricity. That is enough energy to power about 1,400 US homes for a year. The 2013 Super Bowl in New Orleans generated about 3.8 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, which is equivalent to the annual tailpipe emissions of 400 cars.

There is a massive environmental burden associated with all major sporting events. While critics rightly say that the Super Bowl event is an “energy guzzling, carbon emitting, waste generating machine,” they overlook the positive steps that are being taken to reduce the game’s environmental impact. Even more importantly they ignore the public relations bonanza that the event affords.

“It’s not so much about how much of the problem do you create; it’s about how much of the problem are you willing to take responsibility for,” said Jack Groh, director of the NFL Environmental Program.

Both the Seahawks the Patriots are engaging a range of sustainability initiatives to reduce their carbon load. However, it is important to understand that sustainability in football is not only something that is showcased at the Super Bowl. The stadiums of many teams are becoming more sustainable. What is happening in football is part of a clear trend towards lower carbon sporting events. This emanates from a powerful value proposition where reduced environmental impacts generate cost savings.

The 2014 Superbowl, which up to then was the greenest ever, has been eclipsed by this year’s event. As the nation’s largest sporting event it is fitting that the Super Bowl is striving to be a sustainability leader. With one million people coming to the host city for the event, 120 million American television viewers and an international audience that is growing by 7 percent every year, the Super Bowl is an unparallelled opportunity to communicate the value of sustainability.

It is not only the scope of the Super Bowl’s reach but who it reaches that make this event so powerful. The Super Bowl succeeds in reaching a particular demographic that may be less receptive to science driven assessments.

The co-founder of the Green Sports Alliance, Allen Hershkowitz, who is also a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council explained it this way: “I always say, 13 percent of Americans follow science. Sixty-three percent of Americans follow sports.”

Green Sports Alliance Executive Director Martin Tull added, the Super Bowl is “an amazing opportunity” to reach people you otherwise wouldn’t.

“When you have teams you respect and admire, when sports teams start to talk about why sustainability is cool, it can inspire millions of people in a way that other organizations can’t,” Tull said.

The Super Bowl is an important venue to help the public to buy into a low carbon future. Popular support is essential if we are to succeed in making society wide changes to stave off some of the worst impacts of climate change.

Katy Perry’s half time show may have generated considerable buzz but so have renewables, energy efficiency and recycling. Super Bowl XLIX was not only a win for the New England Patriots, it was a victory for sustainability.


extension of ITC

Obama 2016 budget urges U.S. states to cut emissions faster

extension of ITCPresident Barack Obama’s fiscal 2016 budget proposes $7.4 billion to fund clean energy technologies and a $4 billion fund to encourage U.S. states to make faster and deeper cuts to emissions from power plants, officials told Reuters.

Obama’s budget, which will be published later on Monday, also calls for the permanent extension of the Production Tax Credit, used by the wind industry, and the Investment Tax Credit, used by the solar industry, the officials said.

Obama has made fighting climate change a top priority in his final two years in office. The White House sees it as critical to his legacy.


New family of light-converting materials points to cheaper, more efficient solar power and LEDs

perovskite: cheaper more efficient solar?
A pure perovskite crystal, orange in colour, mounted on a cryostat.

Engineers have shone new light on an emerging family of solar-absorbing materials that could clear the way for cheaper and more efficient solar panels and LEDs.

The materials, called perovskites, are particularly good at absorbing visible light, but had never been thoroughly studied in their purest form: as perfect single crystals.

Using a new technique, researchers grew large, pure perovskite crystals and studied how electrons move through the material as light is converted to electricity.

Led by Professor Ted Sargent of The Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering at the University of Toronto and Professor Osman Bakr of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), the team used a combination of laser-based techniques to measure selected properties of the perovskite crystals. By tracking down the rapid motion of electrons in the material, they have been able to determine the diffusion length—how far electrons can travel without getting trapped by imperfections in the material—as well as mobility—how fast the electrons can move through the material. Their work was published this week in the journal Science.

“Our work identifies the bar for the ultimate solar energy-harvesting potential of perovskites,” says Riccardo Comin, a post-doctoral fellow with the Sargent Group. “With these materials it’s been a race to try to get record efficiencies, and our results indicate that progress is slated to continue without slowing down..”

In recent years, perovskite efficiency has soared to certified efficiencies of just over 20 per cent, beginning to approach the present-day performance of commercial-grade silicon-based solar panels mounted in Spanish deserts and on Californian roofs.
“In their efficiency, perovskites are closely approaching conventional materials that have already been commercialized,” says Valerio Adinolfi, a PhD candidate in the Sargent Group and co-first author on the paper. “They have the potential to offer further progress on reducing the cost of solar electricity in light of their convenient manufacturability from a liquid chemical precursor.”

The study has obvious implications for green energy, but may also enable innovations in lighting. Think of a solar panel made of perovskite crystals as a fancy slab of glass: light hits the crystal surface and gets absorbed, exciting electrons in the material. Those electrons travel easily through the crystal to electrical contacts on its underside, where they are collected in the form of electric current. Now imagine the sequence in reverse—power the slab with electricity, inject electrons, and release energy as light. A more efficient electricity-to-light conversion means perovskites could open new frontiers for energy-efficient LEDs.

Parallel work in the Sargent Group focuses on improving nano-engineered solar-absorbing particles called colloidal quantum dots. “Perovskites are great visible-light harvesters, and quantum dots are great for infrared,” says Professor Sargent. “The materials are highly complementary in solar energy harvesting in view of the sun’s broad visible and infrared power spectrum.”

“In future, we will explore the opportunities for stacking together complementary absorbent materials,” says Dr. Comin. “There are very promising prospects for combining perovskite work and quantum dot work for further boosting the efficiency.”


solar brewery

MillerCoors, SolarCity install largest solar project at any U.S. brewery

As high clouds slipped in front of the sun, executives from MillerCoors flipped the switch Thursday on the largest solar panel array of any brewery in the country.

When the sun is out — a pretty sure bet in Southern California — the 10-acre, 10,000-unit, fixed solar panels installed in three locations on the grounds of the Irwindale plant will generate enough energy to produce 7 million cases of beer per year.

The black solar panels, which are very similar to those affixed to rooftops and parking lots, will provide between 7 percent and 40 percent of the plant’s electrical energy, said Kim Marotta, MillerCoors director of sustainability.

Marotta, who flew out for the ceremony from Milwaukee, said the Irwindale site was chosen from among eight brewery plants because of its location. It’s the only MillerCoors facility in sunny Southern California.


graphene: a solar breakthrough?

Graphene Could Double Electricity Generated From Solar

graphene: a solar breakthrough?The amount of sunlight that hits the Earth every 40 minutes is enough to meet global energy demands for an entire year. The trick, of course, is harnessing it and converting it into useful electricity. A new study has revealed that tweaking graphene allows it to generate two electrons for every photon of light it receives. This could double the amount of electricity currently converted in photovoltaic devices. Marco Grioni from École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland is one of the senior authors on the paper, which was published in Nano Letters.

Graphene is a monolayer of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb pattern. It is incredibly light, flexible, exponentially stronger than steel, and capable of conducting electricity even better than copper. In order to make it useful in photovoltaic devices, the researchers needed to have a better idea of graphene’s mechanism for converting light into electricity. This process takes only a femto-second (10-15 sec), which is too quick to easily study.

For all the attractions of solar power, it shouldn’t blight

solar shouldn't blightIf one were to draw up a list of the most benign technologies ever invented, it seems obvious that solar power would be near the top.

Electricity produced merely by the action of sunlight falling on a silicon panel seems to be drawback-free – no moving parts to go wrong, no combustible materials and most important of all, no harmful emissions of noxious gases to damage human health, or wreck the Earth’s atmospheric balance. If we are to meet our commitments to deal with climate change through the switch to renewable energy, solar will be more necessary than ever.

Yet the recent runaway expansion of the technology in Britain is now clashing headlong with nature protection in a key case in Dorset, which ultimately involves high stakes, concerning a solar farm – a concept that did not exist in the UK until five years ago.


cost of solar

Maine Legislature Considering Measures to Lower Solar Power Costs

cost of solarAUGUSTA, Maine — Maine could increase the use of solar power for electricity, heating and cooling homes under measures before the state Legislature this year. Among the proposals under consideration, allowing more cooperation between individuals to generate solar energy, and providing rebates to lower costs and improve affordability.

Advocates for solar energy in Maine say that the costs of photo-voltaic panels are going down, and efficiency of the systems is improving. And while at times it seems as though the sun disappears for long periods of time in this part of the U.S., Dylan Voorhees of the Natural Resources Council of Maine says solar power can pay off.

“A solar panel that is installed in Portland Maine is going to generate as much power on an annual basis as that identical panel installed in Houston Texas,” he says.

solar Abengoa

Worry for Solar Projects After End of Tax Credits

solar AbengoaFor more than a year now, an enormous solar thermal power plant has been humming along in the Arizona desert, sending out power as needed, even well after sunset. The plant, called Solana, was developed by the Spanish energy and technology company Abengoa and has succeeded in meeting an elusive solar goal — producing electricity when the sun is not shining — and displacing fossil-fuel-based power in the grid.

“With the sun going down at 6 or 7 o’clock at night, all the other forms of solar production are essentially going to zero,” said Brad Albert, general manager for resource management at Arizona Public Service, the state’s main utility, “while Solana is still producing at full power capability. It just adds a whole lot of value to us because our customer demand is so high even after the sun goes down.”

Indeed, Abengoa opened another mammoth plant on Friday in the Mojave Desert in California that uses the same approach. But despite the technology’s success, Abengoa and other developers say they do not have plans at the moment to build more such plants in the United States.

creation care

Why you need to pay attention to solar energy legislation

creation care
Joe Bowling, supervisor for the Englewood Solar Project, looks over solar panels on the roof of the Englewood Christian Church on Friday.

The 36 solar panels point south from their perch on the roof of Cumberland First Baptist Church. At first blush, they seem like an unlikely nod to one of the most basic Christian tenets.

“There is a holy mandate to care for the earth, which God created and called good,” The Rev. Thomas Wyatt Watkins tells me, quoting from the Old Testament creation story.

As the pastor showed me the 9-kilowatt, photovoltaic array installed in October, Watkins said the church’s plunge into the world of alternative energy is tied to a faith concept called “Creation Care,” which focuses on being good stewards of all God’s gifts.


Steven Chu future of energy

Will Falling Oil Prices Kill Wind and Solar Power?

Steven Chu future of energy
Steven Chu, professor of physics and molecular and cellular physiology at Stanford University, and former Energy Secretary in the Obama administration.

SA Forum is an invited essay from experts on topical issues in science and technology.

SA Editor’s Note: As leaders from business, politics and science convene this week at the World Economic Forum conference in Davos, Switzerland, to discuss pressing matters of the day, Scientific American is publishing a series of interviews with leading scientists, produced in conjunction with the forum. This is the second of four interviews for the WEF by Katia Moskvitch.

The price of oil has plummeted from more than $100 a barrel in July to less than $50. Meanwhile the U.S. has become the world’s leading producer of natural gas, helping the country become more self-sufficient on energy. Will this abundance of fossil fuels derail the world’s shift to renewable sources of energy, such as wind and solar power? And what does this shifting energy landscape mean for the role of fossil fuels in the U.S. energy mix? And what about nuclear power—should concern of the safety of nuclear waste trump the benefits of exploiting this noncarbon-polluting source of energy?


Andrew Cuomo pushes for community solar

NY Gov. Cuomo’s budget pushes community solar, wind, efficiency programs

Andrew Cuomo pushes for community solarDive Brief:

  • New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has proposed a budget that supports renewable power, provides for community projects to back larger initiatives, and gives tax breaks on solar panels.
  • Cuomo wants to reduce energy consumption by 20% in the state’s biggest cities and proposed holding a $20 million competition among them to do so.
  • The governor also seeks to expand access to solar through “shared solar,” or community net metering programs, which utilities across the country are embracing.


OpenIDEO solar challenge

Give us your ideas to switch to renewables fast — because Congress sure won’t

OpenIDEO solar challenge

Yesteryear, I wrote a little piece about a cool challenge. OpenIDEO, the online collaboration platform, posed a question to its audience of big thinkers: How might communities lead the rapid transition to renewable energy? During the five-week research phase, people posted insights about things like printable solar cells, successful green electricity cooperatives, and refugee camps as renewable energy laboratories.

Now, the collaboration has entered phase two: ideas. Participants have already cooked up peer-to-peer markets for distributed electricity, a collection program for used cooking oil, and a training on how to turn waste materials into biodiesel. The ideas part of the challenge ends Sunday, after which the internet community crowdsources feedback, refines a short list of proposals, and eventually settles on just a few “top ideas,” which will be connected to a wealth of knowledge — and potentially a wealth of wealth, if funders dig the concepts.


solarworld wins final case in US/China solar battle

SolarWorld Wins Final Victory in China, Taiwan Trade Cases

solarworld wins final case in US/China solar battleThe second big round of SolarWorld’s controversial trade cases ended in the usual fashion on Wednesday, with the U.S. International Trade Commission handing the Oregon-based unit of the German company a final victory that expands duties on Chinese solar manufacturers and penalizes Taiwanese companies that underpriced their solar products in the United States.

The ITC ratified SolarWorld’s preliminary wins by a 5-0 vote on the China claims, and 4-1 on the Taiwan claims.

These latest cases came after SolarWorld won victories in 2012 that imposed anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties on Chinese solar products but left an opening for companies to circumvent them by using Taiwanese cells in their modules. In this latest round, SolarWorld also accused Taiwanese companies of dumping products in the U.S. market.