TetraSun: Solar from Copper

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The majority of silicon solar photovoltaics use  silver to conduct electricity but thanks in part to help from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, TetraSun is using copper as a conductor instead of silver.

The approach, the results and the cost-savings have helped TetraSun and NREL win a 2013 R&D top 100 award from R&D Magazine and stoked enough interest in TetraSun that First Solar bought the company in April, allowing one of the world’s leading thin-film PV manufacturers to get into the silicon PV market.

The company is making the waves primarily because it’s looking at doing silicon PV in a way that significantly reduces the cost of PV solar power by using simplified manufacturing techniques and cheaper materials—namely copper instead of silver—to harvest electrons produced by the cell. While copper is a good conductor of electricity, it’s been hard to apply it in a way that produces the wanted results in a silicon PV cell because the copper doesn’t want to stay in that form. And the copper ribbons on the cells are about 50 microns wide—about one-twenty-fifth the width of a human hair, according to NREL.

“As the margins go down with silicon, the cost of every component becomes significant, especially when you’re talking about square miles of this material,” said NREL Principal Scientist Mowafak Al-Jassim. “We’re trying to make enough of these solar panels to generate gigawatts of power. That’s a lot of silver. We needed to replace silver with an equally good conductor, but one that was much cheaper.”

“It’s a potentially disruptive technology, and that’s why we decided to work with TetraSun,” said NREL’s Martha Symko-Davies. She headed the Energy Department’s SunShot Initiative PV Incubator program, which awarded TetraSun a grant in 2010. The technology already is capable of producing silicon PV cells that are about 21 percent efficient—rivaling the performance of many current silicon PV cells that are about 22 percent efficient, according to NREL.

The team was able to produce the 21 percent efficient cells just 18 months after starting up, which Harin Ullal with NREL said is unusual. “That compares to 17 percent to 19 percent efficiency for screen-printed silicon cells,” he said. Ullal managed the research for NREL. “By 2020, this technology could potentially reach the Energy Department’s SunShot target of one dollar per watt for PV systems and about 6 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity generation,” Ullal said.

Original Article on Solar Reviews

Rooftop Solar Challenge II Launched by DOE

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The costs of rooftop solar continue to come down. Particularly the costs of photovoltaic modules and some of the other hardware associated with them. The other costs of solar, the so called soft-costs—things like permitting, interconnection and maintenance fees, have largely stayed the same. That’s what the Department of Energy’s Rooftop Solar Challenge is tackling and yesterday (Nov. 6) it announced a new round of award winners that will use the awards to reduce the soft costs of solar locally.

“Today, solar modules cost about one percent of what they did 35 years ago, and permitting and interconnection are an increasingly large portion of overall solar system costs,” said Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, in announcing the new round of funding for the program. “Through the Rooftop Solar Challenge, the Energy Department is helping to make the deployment of solar power in communities across the country faster, easier and cheaper—saving money and time for local governments, homeowners and businesses.”

The new, $12 million, round of funding will make it easier for a majority of the U.S. population (147.8 million people) to put solar power on their roofs, the DOE said. The new awards are to eight teams covering a broad range of states from California and Texas to New York. “These awardees will develop and replicate creative solutions that help standardize complicated permitting and interconnection processes that often vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction; facilitate easy, cheaper bulk purchasing; and support user-friendly, fast online applications,” DOE said.

The most far-reaching award for Optony’s American Solar Transformation Initiative will benefit roughly 60 million U.S. residents. The company is developing an online Solar Roadmap platform for more than 400 jurisdictions where. The project aims to improve permitting processes, establish solar-friendly planning and zoning guidelines, streamline the interconnection process, expand financing options, and ultimately develop strong solar markets across the country, DOE said.

In the past the Rooftop Solar Challenge, part of the larger Sunshot Initiative, has funded such projects as Colorado’s Solar Friendly Communities. That voluntary program is helping an increasing number of communities in Colorado reduce the amount of time spent waiting for permits and costs associated with permitting, among other things. The program has also helped launch Solarize campaigns in numerous states like Connecticut and Massachusetts. The campaigns use the power of group purchasing to bring down the costs of solar power in a neighborhood.

“During the competition’s first round, regional teams worked to dramatically reduce the soft costs of solar in 22 communities across the nation,” DOE said. “These efforts helped cut permitting time by 40 percent and reduce fees by over 10 percent—opening the door to make it faster and easier for more than 47 million Americans to install solar.”

Original Article on Solar Reviews

IKEA Delivers Solar Shelters to Refugees

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Ikea made a big stir early this fall when it announced plans to sell flat-packed solar arrays in Great Britain. Earlier this year, however, the company announced a much more ambitious goal—to make inexpensive flat-packed, solar-powered refugee shelters. Already the master of flat-packing has shipped its Refugee Housing Units (RHUs) to Ethiopia and Syria where refugees are now living in more stable shelters than before.

The solar panels on the shelters are small, but they provide both light and a USB port for charging devices. Overall, the shelters represent an evolution over the current refugee tents that the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) usually uses. “The tents have not much evolved over the years,” said Olivier Pierre Delarue with UNHCR. Refugees, he said, spend roughly 12 years in a camp and the tents that UNHCR offers the refugees typically only last a few months because of harsh conditions.

The RHU uses a steel frame and plastic panels that adopt Ikea’s easy assemble philosophy. “It is designed this way to be easy to transport and deploy in the field,” explained Johann Karlsson with the Ikea Foundation’s Refugee Housing Unit. The new shelter also offers more insulation than the tents can as well as more privacy for those living in them. The ability to use the solar panel to power a light at night or electronic devices can help the refugees live a better life, so children can read at night or adults can cook food more easily.

The shelters are still in prototype stages and cost about $7,000, but according to a Spiegel article earlier this month, “once they go into large-scale production, designers are aiming for a price of $1,000.” Thus far, the Ikea Foundation has donated about $4.8 million to the project.

Ikea has been doing far more solar power as well. In the U.S. alone, it has solar installed on nearly 90 percent of its 44 facilities totaling more than 35 megawatts of solar modules, and the company plans to expand it to 38 megawatts of modules. In the U.S. it’s the fifth largest corporate user of solar power and it plans to add more. Most recently, Ikea announced that it was more than doubling the amount of solar power on its Boston area store. By 2015, the company plans to invest $1.8 billion in renewable energy across the world.

Ikea may also help more homeowners go solar. Late last month, the home furnishing company announced that it will sell solar arrays in Great Britain for about $9,200, having partnered with Hanergy in the U.K. to sell and install the 3.3 kilowatt arrays. Depending on how that rollout works, Ikea is considering offering PV arrays in other countries as well. It could help do for solar power what Walmart’s pushing of compact fluorescent lights (CFL) did for lighting in the U.S.—create change.

Original Article on Solar Reviews

Renewable Energy Standard: Coming Soon to the United States?

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Two bills calling on the U.S. to create a renewable energy standard (RES) were introduced in the Senate this week. Both bills were introduced by Senate Democrats, and both call on the U.S. to source 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources such as solar and wind by 2025. The bills could be a boon to the solar industry and homeowners alike. The pieces of legislation gained praise from environmentalists like the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and clean energy advocates like the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

“These are all legislators who are deeply invested in moving the country to a clean energy future. Their legislation really indicates the resurgence of interest in moving the country forward. It’s nice to see this drum beat,” Franz Matzner, NRDC associate director of Government Affairs, tells SolarReviews. “They are really complementary bills that have some different components. They both set the country on the right path to growing our renewables and moving away from polluting fossil-fuel energy.”

The bills were introduced by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.)—his first, and by Sens. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), who serves on the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and Tom Udall (D-N.M.). The bill, introduced by the Udalls, calls for a 25 percent RES by 2025. Such legislation is in place in 36 states and Washington, D.C., although some states have only voluntary mandates (30 are mandatory). But states with strong RESs (also called renewable portfolio standards or RPS) like California and Mark Udall’s home state of Colorado, have been instrumental in the growth of clean energy and the industries that support the growth of clean energy like solar installers.

“Clean energy creates jobs, spurs innovation, reduces global warming and makes us more energy independent. This common-sense proposal would extend Colorado’s successful effort to expand the use of renewable energy alongside natural gas and coal to the entire nation,” Mark Udall said.

The legislation proposed by Markey on Oct. 31 also calls for a 25 percent RES by 2025 but it goes farther, calling for utilities to enact energy efficiency programs that would save the equivalent of 15 percent of sales for electric utilities and 10 percent of sales for natural gas utilities. In introducing the legislation Markey explains, “Clean energy and gains in energy efficiency have been very bright spots for the national and Massachusetts economy. The American Renewable Energy and Efficiency Act would quadruple renewable energy production in the United States. It would create more than 400,000 jobs.”

“Markey has taken a very important step forward on bioenergy, following the latest science and his states adjustment of their RES to ensure that any bioenergy developed out of that legislation is truly carbon beneficial,” Matzner says. That’s really significant because the latest science is really clear that there has to be a decision between bioenergy that is putting more carbon into the atmosphere.” Such bioenergy is that derived by harvesting and burning trees, which releases more carbon than burning coal while reducing natural carbon sequestration.

The legislation also drew praise from the SEIA. “Removing market barriers and providing a competitive structure that allows the nation to recognize solar energy’s full potential is a top priority for America’s solar industry,” says Christopher Mansour, SEIA vice president of Federal Affairs. “We’ve already seen what well-structured renewable energy standards have meant in states. They’ve opened electricity markets to allow for more competition from renewable sources of energy and ultimately driven down the cost of electricity for consumers. This success can be replicated at the national level.”

“The real bottom line is both pieces of legislation are that what this country needs to do to combat climate change and to move way from fossil fuel,” Matzner says. He adds, “We’re particularly appreciative of Senator Markey making this his inaugural bill. It shows commitment.”

Original Article on Solar Reviews

Google Invests $100 Million Into California Solar Plant

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Google has announced that it will be investing $103 million into the Mount Signal Solar project, located in California. The project is being developed by Silver Ridge Power and boasts of a capacity of 265 megawatts. The investment represents Google’s continued support of solar energy and the company’s endeavor to promote projects that aim to make this energy more accessible. This is the 13th time Google has invested in a utility scale renewable energy project and will not likely be the last.

Company spends over $1 billion in investments for renewable energy

Google has spent more than $1 billion in investments for over 2 gigawatts worth of renewable energy projects. Solar energy has become one of the company’s most favored forms of clean power, but Google has also invested heavily in wind and even hydrogen fuel. The Mount Signal Solar project is taking root in California’s Imperial County and is expected to begin producing electrical power within the coming year. “We are on schedule to complete the project in 2014 and when completed it will be one of the largest single-axis tracker PV plants in the world,” Robert Hemphill, CEO of Silver Ridge Power, said in a statement.

Solar energy promises economic benefits

Solar energy, like other forms of clean power, often garners support because of the economic benefits it is associated with. The Mount Signal Solar project is expected to create more than 900 construction jobs as well as numerous permanent positions that will be devoted to maintaining the solar energy system. The energy system will be supplying electrical power to San Diego Gas & Electric. This energy will help the utility meet its clean power goals and help reduce its focus on fossil-fuels while also cutting emissions.

Google plans to embrace renewable energy

Google has expressed a strong commitment to renewable energy over the years, as have several other prominent technology companies. Google is not only providing financial support for numerous projects, of course, as the company is also working to adopt renewable energy more aggressively. The company is making use of solar energy systems and wind turbines in order to generate power for itself and has plans to increase its use of clean power over the coming years.

The original article was posted on Hydrogen Fuel News.

Original Article on Solar Reviews

It’s Official: U.S Homeowners Want Solar!

Entry-level home with integrated photovoltaic system

Two new reports attest to the popularity of solar among homeowners across the U.S. While the two reports come from very different sources—The Center for American Progress (CAP) is a progressive advocacy organization and Market Strategies advises 20 of the U.S.’s largest utilities—their conclusions are roughly the same: U.S. homeowners are interested in and want solar. The studies suggest that utilities, policymakers and regulators should consider this as they consider current and future net-metering and other solar incentive policies.

Market Strategies’ report (released Oct. 16) is based on 1,001 interviews conducted in June of 2013. The survey and the resulting E2 (Energy & Environment) report found that interest in residential solar energy installations is stronger and broader than expected. That includes when homeowners are informed that the average PV system still costs about $30,000, Market Strategies said. “With few exceptions, this interest is strong across virtually all age and income groups,” the company found. “A majority of respondents across every income group continued to show interest, even low-income households with incomes under $25,000.”

Market Strategies found that overall 61 percent or respondents were somewhat or very interested in purchasing and installing a home solar system. The response was most favorable (75 percent) amongst the youngest age group, 18-34 year olds while 66 percent of those between the ages of 35 and 54 were interested. Consumers over 55 years old were least interested with only 46 percent showing interest.

The CAP report (released Oct. 21), “Solar Power to the People: The Rise of Rooftop Solar Among the Middle Class” based its results on who has installed solar in three of the U.S.’s top markets: Arizona, California and New Jersey and used U.S. Census data to determine median household incomes for each ZIP code. In all, it looked at more than 100,000 solar homes installed from as early as 2002.

As suggested by the title CAP’s report found the highest among middle-class homeowners. “Through our analysis of solar installation data from Arizona, California, and New Jersey, we found that these installations are overwhelmingly occurring in middle-class neighborhoods that have median incomes ranging from $40,000 to $90,000,” Research Associate the report stated. “The areas that experienced the most growth from 2011 to 2012 had median incomes ranging from $40,000 to $50,000 in both Arizona and California and $30,000 to $40,000 in New Jersey.”

“Rooftop solar has become an important energy resource for the middle class,” said report author and CAP Research Associate Mari Hernandez. “Smart solar policies such as net metering have helped to expand access to clean, renewable solar power to middle-class homeowners.”

Installations by dataset and income range. Courtesy CAP. The CAP report also attempted to debunk utility claims that the wealthy are adopting the most solar. “Concerned by the threat that rooftop solar’s rapid growth poses to traditional utility business models, some utility executives have used this claim to support a rising desire within the industry to alter existing solar programs and policies,” CAP asserted. “The idea is that through solar policies such as net metering, middle- and low-income customers who cannot afford to go solar are subsidizing the wealthy customers who can.”

“It’s pretty clear that most utilities in the US have to figure out an effective strategy for working with their customers who want solar power,” said Jack Lloyd, Market Strategies Energy Division senior vice president. “Companies will take different approaches in adapting to the situation, but rooftop solar appears to be poised to move beyond its early adopter niche and become a more mainstream phenomenon.”

CAP came to a similar conclusion. It called on regulators and policymakers to consider how net metering and other solar rebates and policies can support rooftop growth among middle-class homeowners.

Original Article on Solar Reviews

Solar Bird Created at University of Maryland

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Solar power has already been used to power planes like Solar Impulse or NASA’s solar-powered airfoils, cars like those that recently coursed across Australia, ships like MS Tûranor’s PlanetSolar, but now it’s taking to flight in an entirely new way, as the power for the University of Maryland’s Robo Raven III, a PV-powered robotic bird.

If anyone remembers the little toy birds with flapping wings that were powered by twisting a rubber-band, the Maryland Robotics Center’s new bird is kind of like that, except nothing at all. It’s programmable and capable of doing aerobatics and could pave the way for future micro air vehicles (MAVs) capable of long-term flights.

It was only earlier this year that Professors S.K. Gupta, Hugh Bruck and their students introduced a Robo Raven with independent wing controls. This allowed the mechanical bird to do moves like dives, loops and backflips. It was able to mimic a bird enough that it was attacked by a hawk, explained one student in a video.

Such robots could be used to provide long-term environmental data collection, for instance. There was a problem with that idea however. “Our previous version of Robo Raven needs to be plugged into an electric socket for charging the battery,” said S.K. Gupta, one of the professors at the center who has worked on robotic flying birds since 2007. “Ultimately, we envision Robo Raven flying deep into jungles, far away from civilizations, and hence electric sockets. To do this, Robo Raven needs to figure out a way to ‘feed’ itself to keep going during long missions.”

Flexible PV cells in the wings providing solar power were the answer. They help give the robo-bird a longer possible flight time and allows it to recharge. However, they’re not powerful enough at this point to allow the bird to fly indefinitely during the day. At this point the PV cells on the wings produce about 3.6 watts of the 30 watts the creation needs to fly. But they can charge the Robo Raven when it is stationary.

“These new multi-functional wings will shape the future of robotic birds by enabling them to fly longer, farther and more independently because they will be getting their power from the sun” says Mechanical Engineering Ph.D. student Luke Roberts, a Robo Raven team member.

“We still need to make significant improvements in solar cell efficiency and battery energy density to replicate the endurance of real ravens in Robo Raven III,” Gupta said. “Robo Raven III has already demonstrated we can fly with a solar cell and battery combination. Now that we’ve successfully taken this step, swapping new technologies that are more efficient should be relatively simple.” For instance, if the team was able to incorporate multi-junction PV cells like gallium arsenide cells into the wings, they could be much more efficient and provide more power for future incarnations of the Robo Raven or other small robotic creations.

Check out a video of the bird here: https://youtu.be/t1_mPe8Y0V4

Original Article on Solar Reviews

Colorado: $1.42 Billion in Solar Benefits

Star trails wrap around polaris behind Creation Rock

That’s a pretty big number in Colorado for just one relatively new industry. But that’s according to a new report from The Solar Foundation and the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association (COSEIA). The report looked at growth in the solar industry in the Centennial state since 2007, when the industry started growing after former Gov. Bill Ritter (D) signed the state’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS) into law.

The report, “An Assessment of the Economic, Revenue, and Societal Impacts of Colorado’s Solar Industry”, also found that the economic development created the equivalent of 10,700 full-time jobs and that those employees have earned more than $534 million since 2007. The Solar Foundation on behalf of COSIEA was asked to prepare the report, which looked at the roughly 250 megawatts of solar installed in the state by the first quarter of 2013. PV has also generated between $34.1 million and $59.7 million in state and local tax revenue.

“The hard statistics in this report illustrate the unquestionable contribution solar development makes to state economic development,” said Piper Foster, COSEIA board president. “COSEIA is proud to publicize facts about the jobs engine that is solar energy.”

“Solar energy is ready to play a major role in Colorado’s future,” said COSEIA’s Rebecca Cantwell, director of its Solar Friendly Communities program. “It creates jobs, strengthens local economies, cuts air pollution and conserves our precious water supplies. This report for the first time puts some hard numbers on a lot of those benefits.” The Solar Friendly Communities program, which helps simplify and reduce the costs of permitting rooftop solar, commissioned the report.

The report could help make the case to state policymakers for more solar in Colorado. “As a homegrown Colorado solar company, we are excited about the possibility of Colorado policymakers and regulators taking a fresh look at the success of the solar industry in our state,” said Jason Wiener General Counsel with Namaste Solar and a COSEIA board of directors members. “As the real benefits of solar PV become quantified, we hope policymakers, regulators and the utilities will take notice. We need all stakeholders to collaborate to remove barriers to the responsible deployment of solar and to develop appropriate market signals to protect and increase investment in this clean energy technology.”

The report also looks forward to the future of PV in the state including COSEIA’s goal of seeing 3 gigawatts of solar installed in the state by 2030, the equivalent of one million solar roofs in the state producing more than $3.85 billion in economic output. That will represent the equivalent of 32,500 full-time jobs and $1.9 billion in employee earnings.

Original Article on Solar Reviews

U.S Companies Boost Solar Use by 40%

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The new Solar Means Business report out today (Oct. 15) from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and the Vote Solar Initiative found that among the top 25 corporate users of distributed solar energy use increased by 33 percent in just one year, with the top 25 users of local solar having more than 445 megawatts of solar in action, up from 300 megawatts in 2012.

“The top 25 corporate users named in the Solar Means Business report reads like a Who’s Who of the most successful corporations in America,” said SEIA Executive Director Rhone Resch. “These brands are leading the way in reducing our nation’s dependence on foreign energy sources.”

The overall leader in terms of both overall capacity and systems deployed might surprise—it’s Walmart, which has 215 systems installed totaling 89.43 megawatts of solar installed across 215 locations. That’s up from 144 installations and 65 megawatts last year. In terms of capacity Sam’s Club competitor Costco came in second with 47.06 megawatts of solar installed, it was second last year, too. At that point it had 38.9 megawatts of solar installed.

Second in terms of number of systems installed is Walgreens, which now has 156 solar arrays, the report found. However, Walgreens stores are usually much smaller than Walmart or Costco stores are. As such the company is fifteenth in terms of capacity with 8.86 megawatts of solar installed.

Overall the capacity and number of installations lists looked relatively similar to last year’s results with one notable exception, Apple. The company didn’t even place on last year’s list and this year, thanks to the 40.73 megawatts—most of which (if not all) is at its North Carolina datacenter—the company jumped to fourth on the list.

Resch observed that retailers installed the most solar capacity, but added that auto manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies and the food services industries are all looking to lower operating costs through solar power. “As of this past August, the total commercial solar deployment was 3,380 MWs at almost 33,000 facilities. This represents a 40 percent increase over last year alone.”

The businesses are going solar in an effort to reduce their energy costs. For instance Walmart’s Vice President of Energy Kim Saylors-Laster, said that the company’s solar arrays have already saved the company roughly $3 million in utility costs in the U.S.

The effects can also be larger than just at the businesses, however. “We think the consumer facing brands in the report can help to lead more consumers towards solar adoption as well,” said Jim Walker, co-founder of The Climate Group and Director of International Programs & Strategy. “This is part a wider trend we’re seeing, we’re seeing more companies like Ikea and Apple and others now setting pretty big, ambitious renewable energy targets.

“We’re working to build this group. This is a great resource, a great indicator [that] highlights the leadership of companies that are doing the work,” Walker said. His organization also is working with companies and looking at how to harness their work and social media to encourage more people to install residential solar, he said.

Original Article on Solar Reviews

Rural Villages Benefit from Africa’s Solar Revolution

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A solar project aimed at making women in Ghana both entrepreneurs and engineers will get rural parts of the African country on the grid.

Women in the rural villages will be taught how to make small, inexpensive, and low-tech solar-powered devices that can be sold locally. The first devices created will be solar-powered cell phone chargers.

A two-week workshop in January 2014 led by Social Venture Africa, Know Your Planet, and Village Exchange Ghana will provide eight women with the from the Volta Regional area in the eastern part of the country with the necessary skill-set to create the solar-powered items.

Solar power provides those living in rural Ghana with some of the same benefits of their counterparts in the nation’s cities. According to a 2010 study completed by World Bank in 2010, 60 to 65 percent of the population of Ghana had access to electricity, with the bulk of that population living in cities.

Empowering African Women 

Women in Ghana are being used for this solar revolution because they are the ones who play a critical role in the households. They are the ones responsible for running the household, providing fresh water for drinking and bathing, and buying fuel for heating and cooking.

Utilizing the female workforce in Ghana means that these women can not only integrate solar-power into their own households, but they can also help to better support their families financially.

Currently, Solaraid, a London-based charity, is selling low-cost solar lights to women in rural villages.

The lights cost as little as $10 and last for up to five years. They provide women with the opportunity to use the solar-powered lights in place of kerosene lamps.

The Impact

While a small group of women learns how to make solar-powered devices, Ghana itself will be taking on an even larger role in the solar revolution.

Over the next two years, a 155-megawatt power plant will be constructed. The power plant, Nzema, will be the largest photovoltaic solar power plant in Africa once it is completed. It will create more than 1,000 jobs and boost the nation’s electric capacity by six percent.

The plant will bring energy to more than 100,000 homes by the time it is completed.

It is the hope of sub-Saharan nation’s government that the changes brought about with the solar revolution will help grow the country’s middle class and help the nation become the financial epicenter of all other sub-Saharan nations.

The original article was posted on Hydrogen Fuel News.

Original Article on Solar Reviews

World’s First PV Sidewalk

sidewalk-pvSidewalks aren’t usually thought of as revolutionary but the latest sidewalk at George Washington University’s Virginia Science and Technology Campus is. At 100 square feet it certainly isn’t the longest sidewalk in history, but it’s certainly one of the most exotic. It’s the world’s first sidewalk made of PV panels.

“This project has proven to be an exciting example of the new innovation being designed and integrated into our university,” said GW Construction Project Manager Nancy Balph.

The walkway is part of the campus’ Solar Walk project. The university says it is: “A landscaped pedestrian sidewalk that demonstrates solar technologies.” In addition to the walkable PV panels, which were made by Onyx Solar, the Solar Walk also consists of trellised structure with PV panels and a bench. Both features are designed to show the various applications for solar.

“GW is proud to announce that the Solar Walk which includes the first installation of walkable solar paneled sidewalk in the world,” said GW Senior Land Use Planner Eric Selbst. “We are excited to explore the potential of this newly patented product and participate with Onyx in its goal of furthering unique photovoltaic technologies,” he added.

The sidewalk is a truly unique application of building-integrated PV (BIPV). “The landscaped pedestrian sidewalk boasts a solar-powered trellis and 27 slip-resistant semi-transparent walkable panels with photovoltaic technology that converts sunlight into electricity,” the university said. The panels, which use amorphous silicon-based photovoltaics to produce electricity, are designed to withstand 400 kilograms (about 882 pounds) in point load tests and they are covered with a non-slip glass surface, according to Onyx Solar.

“The solar sidewalk is a great example of GW’s commitment to innovation in design and sustainability and will be a reference for others to follow,” said Onyx Solar Vice President of Business Development Diego Cuevas.

The solar sidewalk can produce 400 watts at peak capacity, enough solar energy to power the 450 LED lights under the panels, which are raised on supports. By raising the modules off the ground, it helps ensure they’re less likely to face issues like standing water after rains.

The PV-powered trellis along the Solar Walk was completed in 2012 and was designed by Studio39 Landscape Architecture. The solar electricity generated by PV array on the trellis if fed to GWU’s Innovation Hall. The architecture firm said it was the first trellis in a new master plan at the campus that would reduce the energy the campus gets from the grid.

While this is the first sidewalk designed with PV modules, it’s not the first time people have contemplated installing solar on surfaces that are used regularly. In fact some have proposed installing PV modules as road tops, however that hasn’t happened yet.

Original Article on Solar Reviews

Solar Without Rebates?

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A recent article in the San Diego Business Journal stated, “Many of the incentive programs that have helped California – and San Diego in particular – lead the nation in solar installation projects are quickly running out. Thanks to the stunning popularity of adding rooftop solar panels to homes and businesses, the incentive programs are being depleted of cash earlier than projected.”

In San Diego alone, 379 businesses have taken advantage of California Solar Initiative (CSI) rebates to go solar, which makes San Diego County second only to LA in the total number of applicants. Yet, with the rebates drying up and the impact of AB 327 still unknown, there is a danger that “the solar rooftop market (could come) to a screeching halt.”

Only the article did not correspond to some of the comments we’ve been hearing recently, so I decided to solicit more opinions from within the industry. Two of the responses that came in were much as I expected. The third, from someone who works with solar thermal, opened my eyes to an often overlooked sector of the solar industry.

Ken Justo, of ASI Heating, Air & Solar, pointed out that, “CSI rebates have not been funding residential homeowners for at least the past six months and demand continues to grow with increased utility rates. These were great programs to get the ball rolling but we are now moving forward without them.”

“I do not believe the loss (of these incentives) will slow down installations over the next three or four years providing AB 327 does not affect net metering or create other obstacles for residential solar customers.”

Mike Teresso, President of Baker Electric Solar, added that, “At Baker Electric Solar we are all for incentives, yet a strong rate of return on investment still exists for home solar adopters without them at this point. The California Solar Initiative (CSI) rebate has diminished for single-family residential projects in San Diego, but it will continue to impact commercial solar and make it more viable. We believe it’s important for government incentives to continue to support new solar customer’s efforts to go green. As the nation’s solar leader, California has major renewable energy goals to reach. The federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) incentive for solar continues to drive a strong ROI for both residential and commercial customers — under the current law, the ITC will remain in effect through December 31, 2016. We expect to see government at every level continue to support our nation’s renewable energy future with policy, as well as investing in incentives to continue to promote solar energy adoption.”

Solar Thermal and the Argument for Incentives

The strongest argument for continued incentives came the solar thermal (hot water) sector. Solar water has been in use since the 1920′s – and a plethora of multi-family buildings, hotels, motels, spas, car washes and those in food service use it – but it is sometimes called the step-child of PV. It does not have the same charisma. People who use it do not see their meters spin backward, as happens when PV modules are generating power through the day. Consequently, solar thermal sector has not received the same rebates/incentives enjoyed by PV. The irony being that – according to Alistair Win MacCabe, Senior Project Developer for SunUp Energy Systems – solar thermal has 65 to 80% efficacy compared to PV’s 20%!

“I have been in this industry on and off for 35 years,” MacCabe said. “The mid 80s crash occurred because there was no warning of the elimination of the tax credits. The recession high jacked the early years of the CSI rebate program. This time round we have at least a window to prepare. This should allow for the volume of sales to force the reduction of price which it has on the PV side.

“Still the biggest impediment to widespread adoption without incentives is the hodgepodge of local regulation, permitting, zoning and lack of code uniformity. The solar PV industry should be commended for its better-than-predicted success.

“Unfortunately, as has been the case historically, solar is not divided into or distinguished by its two radically different parts: PV and solar thermal (hot water). Solar thermal for commercial applications is still in the 1st tier of CSI rebates and those are up to 60% of cost. There are still Millions available statewide under CSI for that purpose. Solar thermal has 65-80% efficacy compared to PV’s 20%. Solar thermal has a ROI without incentives of 5-7 years and with rebates sometimes under 2 years. Compare that to PV of 7-20 years. Solar thermal is not beholden to the grudging generosity of a utility tie in order to gain benefit. Solar thermal should be the First Solar choice not the last, even with low gas prices which will not remain long term. Israel mandates solar thermal (I’m not in favor of mandates) because they know with mass deployment how effective it is on a national scale.

“As we all know in the renewable industry, if we got even a fraction of the hidden financial support the utilities and the oil and gas industry get from government, we as a county could wean ourselves from imported oil and create a healthy economy. CSI, the utilities and local government have failed to support the most effective solar in their rush to get on the solar bandwagon in supporting PV. Solar thermal should be a multi-billion dollar industry in California alone.

“Now that the PV revolution has been unleashed, the utilities are up to their old rear guard tricks in the form of AB 327. We can still get there but solar must be promoted for both PV and thermal. On bill financing through the utilities by 3rd party financing has now been approved by the CPUC. That should give another impetus to allow implementation of solar thermal and PV.”

The original article was posted on San Diego Loves Green.

Original Article on SolarReviews

Solar and the U.S Shutdown

obama-doh

On Oct. 1, 2013 the U.S. government shut down over Congress’s inability to pass a funding bill. The shut down is primarily being blamed on the Republican-controlled House, which has tried to eliminate funding for Obamacare—or at least delay it for a year. Thus far, they’ve tried to de-fund or eliminate the program through various procedures more than 50 times and each one has failed. Now they’re holding the federal government’s employees and its work for the public hostage in an attempt to route the health care program. And while solar isn’t the first concern as this stalemate continues, the solar industry could be affected in a number of ways, ranging from research to incentives to regulating the electric grid.

It’s the first time since Bill Clinton was in office (17 years ago) that the U.S. government has effectively shut down. However, before that the federal government shut down numerous times. For instance during the Reagan Administration the government shut down a total of eight times and since 1976 it has shut down a total of 18 times—almost once every other year.

The shutdown is affecting roughly 800,000 federal employees, who were furloughed without pay as soon as the shutdown started. Government agencies like the Department of Energy are running on skeleton crews, and if Congress fails to act, even more could be furloughed as operational budgets for essential programs dwindle. Of the DOE’s 13,814 employees 8,471 are furloughed, with the remaining employees watching over essential activities like monitoring hydroelectric dams and nuclear materials. A total of 3,106 people employed by the DOE are not affected by the annual appropriations resolutions and will continue to work, according to the DOE. Still, that’s a drastic reduction of employment and means that pretty much any solar work at the federal level will be halted.

For instance, the two DOE offices with the most direct impact on solar, the Advanced Energy Research Projects – Energy (ARPA-E) will have no employees during the shutdown. The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) will have one employee during the shutdown. ARPA-E supports new, high-risk technologies that can have huge paybacks. EERE operates the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and supports clean energy throughout 10 programs. Matthew Stepp, a Senior Policy Analyst with the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), observed that the shutdown affects the management of nearly $5 billion in clean energy innovation projects.

“The federal government is a cornerstone of energy innovation and its investments are critical to the global economy running on cheap, clean energy just as much as its critical to the lights turning on in today’s fossil-fuel driven economy,” Stepp wrote. He added, “Political gamesmanship and gridlock is already deeply harming America’s ability to innovate breakthrough clean energy technologies due to budget cuts and sequestration. The government shutdown is just the latest—and harshest—reality of a governing body unable to invest in the future.”

The Treasury Department, which doles out solar incentives and rebates through tax breaks and other means, will retain only 20,000 of its 110,000 employees during the impasse. As such, processing of incentive claims for newly installed solar arrays are more than likely to be delayed.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the U.S.’s energy regulator will also furlough employees after it runs out money, according to Greentech Media’s Stephen Lacey. “After it runs out of money, the nation’s top energy regulator will be forced to furlough around 95 percent of its staff, retaining only five commissioners and a few dozen employees,” he said.

“It will take days—or even weeks—for the full impact to be felt at agencies. Congress could still come to an agreement on funding the government soon,” Lacey said. “But with House Republicans unable to drop a controversial provision to delay Obamacare, it’s possible the shutdown will continue.”

Even if the shutdown lasts for just days it could impact the U.S.‘s energy research efforts, Stepp contended. “If it extends longer, America’s overall standing as an energy innovation leader begins chipping away. The ball is in Congress’s court not only to turn the governments lights-on and let the country’s leading energy innovators get back to work, but also to reverse a staggeringly chilling trend of not aggressively supporting energy innovation,” he said.

Original Article on Solar Reviews

Rhode Island Landfill Goes Solar

rhode-island-landfillRhode Island can now measure its solar projects in acres, as the state’s largest solar installation broke ground Aug. 14. When finished, the Forbes Street Landfill project will cover 14 acres with some 13,000 solar panels. The project is expected to be completed in mid-November. It will have a capacity to generate 3 megawatts of power, or enough electricity for 496 homes.

The project almost didn’t get off the ground because of the city’s financial woes and delays caused by Hurricane Sandy. William Martin, president of Boston-based CME Energy, the co-developer for the $9 million project, said 88 percent of solar projects never get off the drawing board. The Forbes Street project, however, has many attributes, such as a large chunk of land that was too fallow for other uses. The state Department of Transportation (DOT) also donated 250,000 cubic yards of clean dirt to cap the old dump, saving the project about $1 million. The DOT delivered the fill from the I-195 highway redevelopment project.

The city’s Department of Public Works helped cut cost by performing work on the site with a bulldozer that thePolice Department provided at no cost. Funds were also obtained from the state’s Renewable Energy Fund ($200,310) and the Office of Energy Resources ($100,000).   “We were absolutely committed to this project,” Martin said.

The connection agreement with National Grid also went smoothly, Martin said. Other projects, such as the three wind turbines erected at the Narragansett Bay Commission, were delayed by several months because of connection issues.

Nick Bullinger, chief operating officer of Nashville-based Hecate Energy, praised Rhode Island’s fixed-pricing program — also known as the distributed generation (DG) contracts program — for making the project attractive for financing.

“I think it’s an excellent state for development,” he said. The DG program, run by the Office of Energy Resources (OER), National Grid and the state Public Utilities Commission was awarded a 15-year power-purchase agreement to sell at a price of 23.9 cents per kilowatt-hour. The city is expected to earn some $5 million in revenues in 25 years through the lease of the land.

There’s also room for growth at the 227-acre Forbes Street Landfill, which served as a dump from 1970-1980. About a third of the property is now used to compost leaf and yard waste. Some 45 acres remain suitable for solar.

Solar landfills cost about a third more than traditional solar projects. Typically, the foundation can’t dig into the ground for fear of disturbing the landfill cap. Instead a special concrete ballast will sit atop the fill to secure the solar panels.

Drainage, venting, raised access roads and space for lawn mowers to move within the solar arrays are required to be part of the design. The arrays also will be surrounded by a fence. A prospective landfill must also be closed and the land allowed to settle for at least 15 years before construction begins.

While the East Providence solar project will be the state’s biggest, other sizable ones are also moving forward in West Greenwich, Jamestown, Middleton and the Quonset Industrial Park in North Kingstown.

The Forbes Street project is expected to create 40 jobs during construction.

The original article was posted on ecoRI News.

Original Article on Solar Reviews