New Solar Technology to Increase Efficiency


One of the reasons that many consumers decide not to go solar is they feel the technology is still in its infancy, and needs to be further developed before they make a long-term commitment. Like any technology, progress is made steadily but slowly.

Here is a look at what could be some of the recent breakthroughs and potential solar technologies of the future.

Pentacene Solar Cell Coatings Breaking Barriers

Up until now, a fundamental barrier referred to as the Shockley-Queisser limit has held that solar conversion of sunlight into energy cannot exceed an efficiency level of 33.7 percent. But a team of MIT researchers has finally disproven that theory. The team successfully demonstrated “singlet exciton fission,” where a solar cell coated with pentacene (an organic compound with semiconductor properties) was able to make a photon knock two electrons loose instead of one electron that a typical solar cell currently uses. The pentacene-covered solar cells double the number of electrons, and energy that can be harvested. The ability to knock loose two electrons instead of one would reduce the amount of sunlight wasted as heat instead of being converted into electricity—resulting in greater efficiency levels.

According to early research, this technique will allow solar cells to surpass the Shockley-Queisser limit. “We think it’s an exciting direction for solar to improve its efficiency” said Marc Baldo, engineer and co-author of the study.

The process of singlet fission has been around since the 1960s, but it has never before been harnessed in solar cells. The team at MIT confirmed that pentacene was in fact producing two electrons for every photon of light. Next, researchers coated the top of a silicon cell to see if the cell could harness more energy and discovered that the test solar cell did exactly that. It increased the amount of energy harvested from the blue and green light spectrum. The pentacene coating, only works on blue and green wavelengths, not the entire visible spectrum.

Nonetheless, the study is the first to demonstrate that pentacene can be used in a solar cell to make more energy. It represents a step towards creating solar cells that could become significantly more efficient than current silicon solar cells.

Solar PV Cells Achieve New Levels of Efficiency Using Nanoscale Structures

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems have discovered a new nanowire configuration that could lead to greater efficiency in photovoltaic cells. Led by physicist Magnus Borgström, the researchers found that when a solar cell that contained nanowires was exposed to sunlight, the cell was able to convert 14 percent of the incoming light to electricity—which is a new record. These results open up the possibility for cheaper and more effective solar power. Borgström believes the cost of these nanowire solar cells would come down if the process can be industrialized.

The nanowire solar cells use a novel semiconductor that is a combination of indium (a malleable metal) and phosphorous (a non-metallic mineral). The semiconductor is capable of absorbing much of the light from the sun (the common term for this is band gap). Currently, it absorbs 71 percent of the light above the band gap and Borgström believes that can be further increased.

The possibility is strong that these nanowire cells could even be built into mutijunction solar cells, which are compound devices that include several different types of semiconductor material that are arranged in layers so they can absorb as much of the sunlight’s energy as possible. Multijunction cells have converted up to 43 percent of the energy in sunlight into electricity, making them the most efficient photovoltaic devices in the world—and the most expensive. Their price may come down by combining low-cost lenses that concentrate the sunlight into smaller versions of these cells (nanowire cells), Borgström believes. It is an exciting development that holds great promise to increase solar cell efficiency at cheaper prices.

Both of these breakthroughs are proof that innovation will continue within solar efficiency and technology.

Original Article on Solar Reviews

Fracking and Solar


Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” has been widely criticized by environmentalists who cite concerns with water pollution and methane leakage from this high-volume method of extracting natural gas. However, the burning of natural gas is undoubtedly better for the planet than the burning of coal. Some experts are now saying that—toxic chemicals and contaminated water aside—fracking will facilitate our transition to a clean energy future.

It’s an interesting debate that has been gaining momentum in recent months.

A report by Citigroup fueled the fire when analysts indicated that shale gas (a natural gas trapped in shale formations) is not only “complementary” to renewable energy, but is “in many ways essential” the widespread adoption of wind and solar power.

The logic behind this theory, the report explains, is that wind and power are still intermittent energy sources and require a secondary power source that is able to go online and offline quickly (providing “peaking power”). Natural gas fills this role well. As renewables become more prevalent, they steal demand from the baseload power that provides continuous energy—a role traditionally filled by coal-fired power plants. But the baseload plants don’t have the ability to go on and offline quickly, so as demand decreases more coal plants will be shut down. Therefore, natural gas will be called on to provide both baseload and peaking power as renewables gain momentum toward mainstream energy.

Some experts believe that in the long-run, natural gas will become more expensive and unable to compete with solar energy, which is approaching cost-equality with other energy sources. As the grid becomes more robust and energy storage increases, natural gas will be phased out—by the year 2050, predicts Ernest Moniz, President Obama’s choice to lead the Energy Department. Until then, Moniz says natural gas will act as a ‘bridge’ from fossil fuels to clean energy. “In broad terms we find that, given the large amounts of natural gas available in the U.S. at moderate cost … natural gas can indeed play an important role over the next couple of decades in economically advancing a clean energy system,” Moniz said in a testimony on the Future of Natural Gas.

Citi analysts report that it will take a significant amount of natural gas to make wind and power the primary energy sources. This high-volume extraction depends on fracking, which cracks the rock layer deep underground to extract shale deposits filled with natural gas that were inaccessible by conventional drilling.

Fracking supporters praise its economic benefits and its aid in moving the U.S. toward energy independence. Critics highlight the drinking water contamination, air pollution and inherent danger—a house exploded in Ohio after methane gas seeped into its water well.

Aside from being highly flammable, methane gas is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas and 21 times more powerful at warming the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. However, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that the methane levels released by fracking are lower than originally believed due to stringent pollution controls.

After studying the impact of fracking on solar, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) say: foe. They predict that the natural gas boom will limit the expansion of renewable energy, and comprise a third of the electricity market by 2050. That’s a far cry from being phased out completely. Because fracking has led to an abundance of shale gas (which comprises a quarter of all natural gas production in the U.S.), the price of natural gas will remain low for decades, making these plants more attractive than wind and solar, according to the report.

“While treating gas as a ‘bridge’ to a low-carbon future, it is crucial not to allow the greater ease of the near-term task erode efforts to prepare a landing at the other end of the bridge,” states the MIT study.

Original Article on Solar Reviews

Distributed Solar Generation: 220GW by 2018


A recent Navigant Research report anticipates that the world will add 220 new gigawatts of distributed solar photovoltaics by 2018 as solar comes into parity with other energy sources, creating $540.3 billion in revenue in the process. That’s a significant jump in the amount of solar that is currently installed throughout world, which the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) said reached 100 gigawatts at the end of 2012.

In recent years, much of the growth in solar is attributable to the giant PV projects being installed to meet utility demand in certain markets. The Navigant report anticipates that just the distributed generation projects—or projects under 1 megawatt in size—being installed over the next five years will more than double the world’s total solar capacity that is now online.“Used in applications ranging from residential to small commercial to industrial settings, distributed solar generation offers significant benefits to consumers while adding resiliency to an electric grid evolving beyond the traditional centralized model,” says Dexter Gauntlett, research analyst with Navigant Research. “Though this market is still primarily driven by government incentives, distributed solar PV will continue its steady march toward grid parity in major markets over the next few years.”

The report anticipates that the solar market is transitioning from one that relies on a financial and engineering model (based on the wants and needs of utilities to own or source electric generation from large projects) to a more diverse model. Under the emerging model, both the sources of generation and the ownership of the generation assets will be more diverse, include third-party financing from companies like SolarCity and SunRun and other new financing mechanisms. These changes will partly be driven by some of distributed solar’s advantages, which include generating electricity onsite to offset the need to build new transmission capacity while avoiding line losses, according to Navigant.

Navigant also finds that the growth will occur as both PV modules and the balance of systems costs (i.e., soft costs and other costs not related directly to the modules and inverter) continue to fall, driving the installed costs of PV to between $1.76 per watt to $2.74 per watt throughout the world. “At this price, solar PV will largely be at grid parity, without subsidies, in all but the least expensive retail electricity markets,” it says.

The report also notes that feed-in tariffs and commoditization of PV modules are driving growth in PV markets worldwide. “Ultimately, it is a great time for consumers and end users to purchase or lease distributed solar PV systems as prices continue to fall in the middle of fierce competition and continued consolidation,” according to Navigant. “Moreover, the Asia Pacific and the rest of world (Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa) markets are expected to see dramatic growth during the forecast period that will offset slowed growth in European and U.S. markets,” it adds.

Original Article on Solar Reviews

Solar Decathlon Readies for Road Trip


The world’s first Solar Decathlon was held in Washington, D.C. on the National Mall, our nation’s front yard, in 2002. Since 2005 the competition, which invites university teams from around the world to design tomorrow’s solar homes—today, has been held biennially on the mall. It’s also inspired Europe and China to hold their own Solar Decathlons, based on the Department of Energy’s model. Now the U.S. Solar Decathlon is taking its first road trip, landing in Orange County Great Park in Irvine, Calif. The 20 competing teams have about six months until they will cross the country with their homes in tow, ready to be built onsite, for the public’s purview starting Oct. 3.

The move from the National Mall has been controversial. The 2011 Solar Decathlon was almost moved from its prominent spot on the mall—which traditionally was amid the Smithsonian museums and in purview of Capitol and even the White House—to a more obscure part of the mall, closer to the reflecting pool and the Jefferson, Roosevelt and Martin Luther King, Jr., memorials. The National Park Service claimed they had to move the event, which had drawn tens of thousands of visitors to the mall and puts tons of homes and heavy equipment on the already tattered and overused lawn, as part of the recovery plan.

Moving it to a side-lawn made it harder for visitors to access, as well as for members of Congress and other officials to visit it. The Solar Decathlon was one of the most prominent displays of the power of solar that Congress could see from their workspace. Now that its moving across the country, Senators and Republicans won’t have the same lunch break access to it. But maybe that’s not a bad thing; maybe it doesn’t need to be in their faces. Since the event was first launched solar has grown from a nearly niche market to an increasingly mainstream energy supplier, on an ever-increasing number of homes, businesses and warehouses.

In 2002, when the event was first launched, the U.S. installed a total of 23 megawatts of photovoltaics. A decade later, in 2012, it installed 3,313 megawatts of PV. In between then and now, the amount of newly installed solar in America has nearly doubled every year, according to figures from the Solar Energy Industries Association’s (SEIA’s) and GTM Research’s “U.S. Solar Market Insight: Year-in-Review 2012.” So perhaps the U.S. is ready to move the Solar Decathlon across the country, to bring the message of the sun to more people across the nation.

Either way you look at it, the teams are getting ready—as is the site. Orange County Great Park is a former Marine base and air strip that’s languished somewhat since becoming a park about a decade ago. “The Solar Decathlon is the Great Park’s first-ever international event,” said Jeffrey Lalloway, Chair, Orange County Great Park Corporation. “We are excited to welcome the students representing the 20 competing teams and their creative energy, innovation and talent as they prepare to build solar houses that will allow the public to see the future of energy, today.”

The Solar Decathlon will be accompanied by XPO, which together with the Solar Decathlon, is billing itself as “A World’s Fair of Clean, Renewable Energy.” The XPO will showcase the history of energy generation, and look to the future of energy efficiency and renewable energy, including transportation, farming and more.

In addition to teams from the U.S. and Canada, 2013’s Solar Decathlon will host teams from the Czech Republic and Austria. To learn more about the teams and preview their designs, check out DOE’s Solar Decathlon site.

Original Article on Solar Reviews

IBM’s Next Generation Solar Array


The company sometimes called itty bitty machines, IBM, which revolutionized the personal computer, is bringing its technological knowhow to solar through a new partnership with Airlight Energy, ETH Zurich and Interstate University of Applied Sciences Buchs NTB. The group recently won a three-year, $2.4 million grant from the Swiss Commission for Technology and Innovation to develop low-cost high-concentration photovoltaic thermal (HCPVT) systems.

Most concentrating solar power systems being developed today are either concentrating  photovoltaic (CPV) or concentrating solar thermal systems that concentrate the sun’s heat on a transfer medium like water or molten salt and generate electricity via a steam turbine. But some companies are offering a combined CPV/solar hot water heating system, like Cogenra’s systems, but that’s a low-concentrating solar thermal system. Like a Swiss Army knife, the system that’s being developed is capable of multiple things—concentrating the sun 2,000 times, capturing 80 percent of the sun’s energy, desalinating water and even providing air-conditioning.

The researchers are planning to develop a 25 kilowatt system. “We plan to use triple-junction photovoltaic cells on a micro-channel cooled module which can directly convert more than 30 percent of collected solar radiation into electrical energy and allow for the efficient recovery of an additional 50 percent waste heat,” says Bruno Michel, manager of advanced thermal packaging at IBM Research. “We believe that we can achieve this with a very practical design that is made of lightweight and high strength concrete, which is used in bridges, and primary optics composed of inexpensive pneumatic mirrors—it’s frugal innovation, but builds on decades of experience in microtechnology.”

The system uses a highly-reflective parabolic dish, much like a satellite dish to focus the sun’s light on a series of triple-junction high-efficiency PV cells. To keep them operating at high levels of efficiency and get the most out of the system, the cells are liquid-cooled, which provides more than enough heat to boil water, driving the desalination process.

The group is trying to solve a host of problems at once, particularly looking to Africa and the Middle East, where Europe has plans to develop massive solar projects and the primary source of water is the ocean, requiring desalination.

The system is still in prototype stages though. “The prototype HCPVT system uses a large parabolic dish, made from a multitude of mirror facets, which are attached to a sun tracking system. The tracking system positions the dish at the best angle to capture the sun’s rays, which then reflect off the mirrors onto several microchannel-liquid cooled receivers with triple junction photovoltaic chips—each 1×1 centimeter chip can convert 200-250 watts, on average, over a typical eight hour day in a sunny region,” IBM says.

The liquid-cooled system that absorbs heat and draws it away is 10 times more effective than passive air cooling, according to IBM. “The coolant maintains the chips almost at the same temperature for a solar concentration of 2,000 times and can keep them at safe temperatures up to a solar concentration of 5,000 times.”

“The design of the system is elegantly simple,” says Andrea Pedretti, chief technology officer at Airlight Energy. “We replace expensive steel and glass with low cost concrete and simple pressurized metalized foils. The small high-tech components, in particular the microchannel coolers and the molds, can be manufactured in Switzerland with the remaining construction and assembly done in the region of the installation. This leads to a win-win situation where the system is cost competitive and jobs are created in both regions.”

The ultimate goal, a CPV system with a levelized cost of energy under 10 cents per kilowatt hour, which is significantly less than where solar is at now. And a system that heats salt water to 90 degrees Celsius for a low-temperature desalination process. “Such a system could provide 30-40 liters of drinkable water per square meter of receiver area per day, while still generating electricity with a more than 25 percent yield or two kilowatt hours per day,” IBM explains. The system, it adds, can provide air conditioning through a thermal driven adsorption chiller.

Original Article on Solar Reviews

The Solar Rooftop Boom in NYC


Things move fast in the city that never sleeps and solar’s been keeping pace. By the end of 2012, the amount of rooftop solar photovoltaic installations in New York City had boomed to 14 megawatts from 5.5 megawatts at the end of 2011—an increase of 8.5 megawatts in a year. That’s according to recent data from the City College of New York (CUNY) data, which shows that New York City’s aggressive program to get more solar and renewable energy in the city, as part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s initiative to reduce the city’s carbon by 30 percent by 2030, is working.

While 14 megawatts is a far cry from today’s large solar farms, which are sometimes in excess of 100 megawatts in size, those are usually singular installations that take up thousands of acres of land in one fell swoop. The 14 megawatts of PV deployed in New York represent hundreds—if not thousands of individual installations.

CUNY’s Sustainable CUNY is helping lead the effort to get more solar and other renewable energy online in the Big Apple. It partnered with the Mayor’s Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability, NYC Economic Development Corporation, New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and Con Edison in 2007, in an effort to make the city more sustainable. At that point, the city only had about 1 megawatt of rooftop solar installations, and a handful of installers. Now the city has more than 90 installers in the city, according to Sustainable CUNY.

The cumulative 14 megawatts of installations, which are viewable via CUNY’s NYC Solar Map, have added roughly $116 million to the city’s economy and the opportunities for lower-cost installations keep coming up, spurred by the development of the industry. “The supply chain of services that provide support to the solar industry includes engineers, architects, and electricians,” said Sustainable CUNY. “The improvements and growth in the NYC market have also attracted companies that offer solar leasing and third party purchasing agreements, providing opportunities for New Yorkers to install solar for relatively small upfront costs.”

Since the original partnership, Sustainable CUNY and its partners have introduced new rebate and incentive programs, and the map (which allows users to check out other installations throughout the city, as well as determine how much electricity a building or address could produce. Since launching the partnership, NYSERDA launched a ‘Standard Offer’ and the NY-Sun Competitive PV Program for large scale installations, New York City has offered the NYC Property Tax Abatement for solar, the state has introduced Solar Empowerment Zones, and the city and states are working to make it easier to go solar by changing technical, permitting improving net-metering requirements.

The collaborative effeorts have thus far been successful. CUNY said in April 2012 that the city surpassed its Solar America City goals three years earlier than anticipated and it anticipates that the amount of solar will continue to grow.

Original Article on Solar Reviews

Kiva: Microfinancing Solar


Imagine this: You’re in a developing nation with little access to electricity. In fact, you don’t have access to a grid, or enough electricity to keep a refrigerator and a light on and water filtered in your home. Or, if you have a generator, you barely afford to pay for the expensive diesel that keeps it running. Now imagine that you’re in the U.S. with enough electricity to serve all your needs at relatively low prices, meaning you’ve got a couple extra bucks left over at the end of the month that you don’t know what to do with. Well, maybe you could help that other ‘you’ out by supporting one of Kiva’s solar entrepreneurs in developing nations.

The nonprofit is increasing support of renewable energy microfinance programs where people can invest as little as $25 to support citizens in some of Kiva’s 67 countries. The microfinancing organization says it has supported 918,735 lenders since it started in 2005 and its loans have had a 99.01 percent repayment rate—something that’s hard to find many investments.

Now, through programs like Solar Sister in Uganda, it’s supporting clean energy projects. The pilot project is four months old and already has 11 entrepreneurs that have attracted $3,325 thus far. According to Kiva, the project is attempting to establish an Avon-style network of women to sell solar lights, mobile phone chargers and more. “In sub-Saharan Africa, women make up 70 percent of the poor living without electricity. They are also the primary decision makers when it comes to choosing solar lighting and heating over the standard kerosene,” Kiva says. By borrowing and getting the “business in a bag” the women can sell the systems to fellow villagers and reinvest the profits into growing the business or supporting things like education.

For that project Solar Sisters is working with Barefoot Power, D.light Design and Greenlight Planet. Depending on villagers’ needs, the systems could be as small as a solar-powered light, allowing villagers’ to replace dangerous kerosene or oil lights for use at night. Or they can include a light and charger system, allowing villagers to power their mobile devices—allowing farmers to check on markets, or villagers to communicate with friends, neighbors, or contact emergency medical care.

The organization is also coordinating loans for EarthSpark International, which is working to eradicate energy poverty in Haiti. That nonprofit is working on both the local and national level in an attempt to bring clean energy to Haiti, using solar lights and solar ovens. “Efficient cookstoves save time and money—about $5 per month. Solar desk lamps offer over five times as much light output as a kerosene lamps, and can pay for themselves out of fuel savings in less than six months,” EarthSpark says.

More and more companies and organizations are popping up to make it easier to access solar in developing nations, too. For instance, LuminAID just won $100,000 in startup capital for its low-cost, inflatable, waterproof solar lights from the Clean Energy Trust’s Clean Energy Challenge. While these products are great opportunities for people to get involved in helping countries and people get out of poverty, there’s always more than can be done. But one of the great things about microfinance programs is the low barrier to entry and the knowledge that investors possess, which can help borrowers learn too.

These are just a few of the opportunities that are out there. Visit Kiva’s Green Loans program to learn more about others.

Original Article on Solar Reviews Helping Consumers Find the Right Solar Installer

Solar Feeds Image-w640-h480

The solar energy market grew by 76% last year, according to GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association. As solar power becomes an increasingly competitive energy source, more Americans are looking for reputable companies that can meet their solar needs. Up until now, however, consumers have not had the ability to easily access ratings and reviews of solar installers, in order to support their buying decision. That is, until, the recent launch of SolarReviews (, a consumer reviews website dedicated to the solar industry. The website boasts over 10,000 independent ratings and reviews of solar installers across the country.

One of the biggest hurdles that consumers face when considering solar is determining which solar installer they should work with. “Consumers trust sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor when choosing a restaurant to dine at or a hotel to book. Going solar is a long-term commitment and consumers now have the ability to read independent ratings and reviews before choosing the solar installer that they would like to do business with,” stated Jesse Truax, VP, Marketing and Business Development at SolarReviews.

SolarReviews is free for consumers and easy to use. Simply search the zip code of your property, read ratings and reviews of installers that serve your area, and request a free, no-obligation quote from the solar installer that best fits your needs. SolarReviews has more than 3,000 solar installer partners nationwide, so it’s highly likely that you’ll find a solar installer in your area.

For government entities and non-profits that promote the use of solar, SolarReviews provides a great resource for your constituents and organization members. Whereas solar lead generation sites sell customer information to the highest bidder, SolarReviews puts the decision making process entirely in the consumers’ hands. As a result, you can be confident that when you refer someone to SolarReviews, they will have a positive customer experience.

Solar installers are excited about SolarReviews. “Our company has partnered with solar lead generation sites and it has almost always resulted in a poor consumer and solar installer experience, because many of the leads we contact have already been contacted by several other installers or they aren’t familiar with our business,” stated Vincent Battaglia, CEO and President of Renova Solar. He added, “With SolarReviews, it’s not about transactional relationships, but rather building your reputation long-term. When our company receives interest through SolarReviews, we know that the customer has read our ratings and reviews, compared them to other solar installers, and has a genuine interest in doing business with us.”

According to a Nielsen survey, 71% of people agree that consumer reviews make them more comfortable that they are buying the right product. “Ultimately, our goal is to improve the solar buying experience for consumers by removing the uncertainty of which solar installer to partner with,” continues Truax. “SolarReviews offers a free, easy- to-use platform for consumers to find the perfect match for their solar installation needs.”

Original Article on Solar Reviews

The Solar Shakeout Continues

solar optical furnace and NREL

The past few years have seen some spectacular flameouts in the solar energy industry, with none so prominent—at least in the U.S.—as Solyndra. Many of these flameouts were startups, but some were bigger players. Now Suntech is in the hot seat. The Chinese manufacturer was one of the world’s biggest PV producers, but it recently declared bankruptcy because it had some problems, like not being able to repay $543 million to investors and being an alleged victim of roughly $720 million (in today’s dollars) in fraud last year. Many of these companies were casualties of market glutted with more modules than demand, forcing them to slash prices, but this may also be a turning point for the industry.

The road to clean energy from the sun is littered with salacious stories like those of Suntech or Solyndra. The latter declared bankruptcy after receiving a $535 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy (Then it became fodder during the last Presidential election in the U.S., but President Obama and the DOE withstood the withering criticism over their support of solar, showing the nation’s increasing support for more solar). There are also a number of companies that have quietly gone bankrupt or stopped their solar efforts. For instance, General Electric shuttered its ambitious new thin-film manufacturing site in Colorado before it ever produced a commercial module there.

The number of solar companies that have failed or that have ended their solar endeavors is long, as Greentech Media recently observed in: “Rest in Peace: The List of Deceased Solar Companies.” GTM Editor in Chief Eric Wesoff notes that “We listed the more than 200 VC-funded solar startups back in 2008. We knew that we’d be writing about most of them on their way up—as well as on their way down.”

More are expected to fail. Late last year IMS Research made its top 10 predictions for the solar market in 2013. The company writes: “As 2012 comes to a close, fewer than 150 companies will remain in the photovoltaic upstream value chain, down from more than 750 companies in 2010.” Looking forward into 2013 it predicts, “Most of the consolidation will involve companies going out of business entirely. Many integrated players, particularly those based in China, will fold up shop in 2013.”

GTM anticipates that fully 21 gigawatts of PV module manufacturing capacity will come offline by 2015. Considering that IMS reported that 32 gigawatts of PV was installed throughout the world in 2012, that’s a loss of lot of the manufacturing capacity. But it may also bring some relief. Excess production and artificially lowering prices to capture market share (as the U.S. found in trade cases with China) is one of the things that has caused the industry so many woes. But even with help from China, those companies may only be able to keep their prices so low for a short period of time, even if they cut corners to put out an inferior product. This fire-tests competitors, making them better able to compete in the future.

As more companies go by the wayside and manufacturing overcapacity is drawn down, the remaining companies may be able to start breathing a little easier. After all, there’s now a worldwide market becoming increasingly eager to use solar. This means the customers are there, particularly as other energy sources like coal and oil are becoming more expensive and less desirable because of their pollution and the cost to deploy them. A 500-kilowatt coal generator takes a lot longer to install and get online than a 500-kilowatt PV array, for instance. To reach less expensive generation rates, the coal-fired power plant would have to be much, much larger, closer to 500 megawatts.  As all these things come together, the price of solar is expected to stabilize somewhat—industry experts still expect the price to continue to come down, but at a much more stable level. So, yes, the industry is somewhat ready for the shakeout and it will be painful, but it’s coming. This year there will be more trade cases, more company failures—but also, more solar than ever before.

Original Article on SolarReviews

POLL: Americans Want More Solar

Old Glory at the NREL Visitors Center; elevated view from bucket truck, showing trailer that PV panels fit into

A new poll by Gallup finds that across the U.S. more citizens want a greater emphasis on domestically produced solar, wind and natural-gas fired electricity. Guess which option was the most popular? Solar, by an overwhelming 76 percent. It was the most popular option among more than 1,000 individuals polled across the U.S. by Gallup in March.

Gallup was confident in its results, too. “For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points,” states the polling company’s Chief Economist Dennis Jacobe.

The second most popular choice? Wind, which 71 percent of all US residents want more of, too. The interest in these clean energy sources is showing an evolution in U.S. residents as they continue to shift their interest in oil, coal and gas as their primary energy sources. Natural gas, the third most popular energy source on the list, was supported as an energy source by 65 percent of those surveyed. Gallup US Domestic Energy Poll Results

Previous polls from other organizations like the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) have shown wide support for solar, too. In fact, leading up to last year’s presidential election, a poll by Hart research for the solar advocacy organization found that92 percent of American voters wanted more solar energy to be developed in the U.S. It also found that swing voters favored more solar by 93 percent.

The three biggest names in energy, oil, gas and coal, were far less popular among respondents.  As Jacobe says, “Far fewer want to emphasize the production of oil (46%) and the use of nuclear power (37%). Least favored is coal, with about one in three Americans wanting to prioritize its domestic production.”

While solar was the most popular choice among all regions of the U.S., it received the most support in the east (79 percent), followed by the west (78 percent), and the least in the south, which came in at 74 percent.

“Oil, nuclear, and coal are more popular with Republicans and in the south,” Jacobe writes. In fact, the only place in the U.S. where new domestic oil surpassed 50 percent was in the south, where it stumbled in at 53 percent approval. Coal and nuclear at most received 42 percent approval in any region.

Among Republicans, natural gas was the top choice, receiving support from 78 percent of those who identified themselves as Republicans. But their support for more emphasis on solar was also high—at 68 percent.

Jacobe concluded that this means, “The United States has a great opportunity to accelerate its economic growth over the next several years by emphasizing and fully using its enormous energy riches to produce domestic energy. But there has been no consensus among Americans about how to optimize domestic energy production while preserving the environment.”

“Americans overall and across political and socioeconomic groups generally are most likely to call for more emphasis on solar and wind power—but these potential future sources of energy have a long way to go in terms of technology and affordability before they can significantly affect overall U.S. domestic energy production,” Jacobe says.

On the other hand, he contends that U.S. citizens “are sharply divided politically over achieving greater domestic energy production using more traditional energy sources such as oil, coal, and nuclear power.” That leaves natural gas, which had at least 59 percent of support among Democrats, who supported it the least. Jacobe says its a likely energy strategy to pursue, but recurring questions over fracking safety may hinder its development, too.

Original Article on Solar Reviews

Solar Powered Zoos Gain in Popularity


As more organizations realize the benefits of solar energy, they’re finding creative ways to incorporate solar systems into their infrastructure—even among lions, elephants and giraffes. Throughout the U.S. and even the world, solar powered zoos are gaining popularity. Considering the amount of energy it takes to maintain appropriate habitat temperatures, refrigerate the animals’ food and power automated kiosks, solar power can provide significant savings on electricity bills.

The Knoxville Zoo made the news recently when it installed nearly 200 solar modules on the roof of its African elephant habitat. The $180,000 system is expected to produce more than 55,000 kilowatt hours of power annually, which will help ease the financial burden of the Tennessee zoo’s $825,000 annual utility bill.

Solar powered zoos aren’t new. Two years ago the Cincinnati Zoo installed nearly four acres of solar panels over its parking lot, creating a solar canopy. This allows visitors to park in the shade, while using the energy harnessed from the sun to help power the zoo’s daily operations. TheCincinnati zoo’s $11 million solar canopy has 6,400 PV solar modules covering 800 parking spaces and produces enough electricity to power 200 homes each year. USA Today called the project one of the “largest public urban solar displays in the country.” Following the Ohio zoo’s lead, the San Diego Zoo installed a solar canopy over its parking lot and incorporated electric vehicle (EV) charging stations as well.

In Wisconsin, solar panels were added to theMilwaukee County Zoo’s main entrance in 2010. The energy powers the zoo’s three electric towing engines; each one pulling a series of 15-passenger carts that drive visitors through the exhibits.

The Houston Zoo had a similar idea. It uses solar power to charge 30 electric carts that zoo employees use to move animal food, supplies, and even smaller animals through the Texas park. Aside from savings on fuel costs, these EVs can easily last for 10 to 12 hours each day since they are constantly charging, said Peter Riger, the zoo’s vice president of conservation.

The 28 kW PV array at California’s Oakland Zoo power the park’s education center and many of its talking animal boxes. The system also powers an educational kiosk that teaches visitors about the benefits of renewable energy.

Since many zoos are nonprofits, they can’t monetize or use the tax credits or other incentives directly. Instead, they are left to rely on donations, creative partnerships and third-party solar installers that can purchase the PV system and apply for the tax credits. For example, NRG Energy donated the manpower and the money—$111,000—to convert the Houston Zoo’s carts to run on electricity and solar. The Knoxville Zoo partnered with Wampler’s Farm Sausage and Family Brands International, as part of its effort to support clean energy initiatives. The sausage company paid for the 50 kW system and the zoo agreed to sell Wampler’s food products throughout the park.

“One great thing that this does is it puts the Knoxville Zoo in a leadership position with other zoos all over the country in sustainability,” Wampler President Ted Wampler Jr. told the Knoxville News Sentinel. “And that is something the zoo really wants to do.”

Original Article on SolarReviews

SolarCity Helps Walgreens Go Solar in Colorado


Walgreens and SolarCity will join forces to install solar systems at 22 drugstores across Colorado, the equivalent of planting more than 25,000 trees over the next two decades. Today marked the completion of the first Colorado drugstore: the Aurora Walgreens on E. Smokey Hill Road and Aurora Parkway. The achievement was celebrated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony in the first of 14 Colorado cities in which the solar installations will take place.

“I’m happy to see Walgreens and SolarCity team up to help Colorado meet its renewable energy standard,” U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman said at the April 1 ceremony. Once completed, the solar systems will generate almost 1 MW of power, and will reduce more than 47.5 million pounds of CO2 emissions over the next 20 years.

The largest drugstore chain in the nation, Walgreens prides itself on innovation and has done so for the last 100-plus years, said Howard Atlas, vice president of health and wellness integration for Walgreens. “This innovation fits perfectly with what we’re doing as an organization,” Atlas said.

In 2007, Walgreens began installing solar panels at its retail stores throughout the nation. The drugstore chain has committed to reducing its energy use by 20% by the year 2020, bringing it closer to achieving the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Better Buildings Challenge. This “challenge” comes from President Obama, who is asking CEOs and local governments to commit to an energy savings pledge, and share their progress with others.

A promoter of health and wellness, Walgreens has a strong commitment to the local community, said the drugstore chain’s sustainability director Menno Enters. “We have the responsibility to lead and thought being a leader in environmental wellness is just as important,” Enters said.

This environmental wellness is becoming more apparent throughout Colorado, as Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan pointed out. Driving to the Aurora Walgreens, he was reminded of the E-470 Solar Project, where panels along a 17-mile stretch generate electricity to power streetlights, message signs, toll plazas and maintenance facilities. “[Solar energy] is really in our ethic now,” Hogan said.

Besides its positive environmental impact, the partnership between SolarCity and Walgreens has had a positive economic outcome as well. The SolarCity offices and Denver and Parker now employ more than 180 workers.

“It’s good for the community, it’s good for individuals and it’s something I’m proud to be a part of,” Hogan said.

Original Article on Solar Reviews

Lakewood Colorado Becomes Solar Friendly


A quickly growing number of cities along Colorado’s Front Range are attaining the status of “Solar Friendly Community.” On March 22, Lakewood became the latest, achieving a silver level certification under the program. The certification means that the city has taken steps on the Solar Friendly Communities roadmap to make it faster and easier for its citizens and businesses to go solar.

“Lakewood has taken important steps to make it more affordable to install rooftop solar systems,” said Rebecca Cantwell, senior program director for Solar Friendly Communities. “We hope these actions will yield economic and environmental benefits for years to come.”

Lakewood – the city in which SolarReviews is located – is the third city to achieve certification under the program. It will receive a commemorative road sign and a plaque at its city council meeting on March 25 in recognition of its achievement. The program was launched in September 2012 and already three cities in the region have achieved certification. Denver was first, achieving a gold certification (the highest is platinum, which thus far no community has reached) just two months after the program launched. It was followed by Aurora.

The program was developed to cut through the myriad of permitting, inspection and other issues that people face when going solar, to help reduce the costs of solar power. Since the U.S. has no single permitting and inspection process for putting solar on homes or businesses, this means that each jurisdiction—over 4,000—has come up with its own process. This process includes setting its own fees and regulations regarding permitting and inspection, which can mean more than three different inspections from the fire department, building department, the local utility, homeowners’ associations, etc. Sometimes people across the street from one other can face entirely different processes for going solar, too.

The Solar Friendly Communities program is trying to reduce those issues by simplifying the process based on 12 best practices developed after consulting with installers, developers, local officials and others on how to best streamline the process of going solar. The resulting program was developed by the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association (COSEIA) in partnership with the City and County of Denver, Boulder County and the cities of Fort Collins and Golden, along with Rocky Mountain Institute and the American Solar Energy Society. The program is supported by a Rooftop Solar Challenge grant from the Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative.

Under the free program, a community can achieve up to 1,600 points for adhering to its best practices, which includes offering a standard, streamlined permitting process for solar. For instance, Denver achieved its gold certification for reducing the time and cost for homeowners to go solar. When Denver was recognized, then COSEIA CEO Neal Lurie said, “We have seen some communities [wait] 20 days to issue a permit and here in Denver they’re able to do it 15 minutes.”

Denver also dramatically reduced the soft costs of permitting and inspection, which average close to $2,500 in some areas across the nation. That’s about 40 percent of a residential system’s costs. “Denver…has been able to reduce permit fees from the state average of about $500 for a solar system on down to $50 for a solar permit.” Lurie said. For that and other efforts Denver achieved a 1,275 points and gold certification under the program.

Lakewood earned 935 points achieving silver certification by providing checklists of requirements, offering over-the-counter permitting and giving a short time window for inspections. “We work hard in Lakewood to ensure that homeowners and businesses can accomplish improvements to their buildings in a timely manner, and this award just shows how responsive we are during the construction process,” said Lakewood Mayor Bob Murphy. “I’m also proud that our responsiveness contributes significantly to supporting solar installations, which further the city’s sustainability goals.”

Lakewood and the other cities in the Denver region are helping to lead the way to reducing the costs of solar’s soft costs. As such, COSEIA received a $490,897 Rooftop Solar Challenge grant in December 2011. The grant was aimed at reducing permitting and interconnection costs by 25 percent and has resulted in creation of the Solar Friendly Communities program

By Chris Meehan, writer for SolarReviews

Original Article on SolarReviews

Will Fossil Fueled Legislation Stunt Solar Growth?


Last week GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) released the U.S. Solar Market Insight: Year-in-Review 2012an annual report that tracks growth in the solar industry. The report was largely positive, with the U.S. experiencing 76% growth over 2011 and fully 3.3 gigawatts of solar installed throughout the country. It also projected that more, 4.2 gigawatts of solar, will be installed in 2013. Both photovoltaics and concentrating solar power experienced record growth across the U.S. last year. But during a conference call discussing the report, SEIA CEO Rhone Resch highlighted some clouds that could slow the powerful movement towards more solar. As it’s become an increasingly popular energy source, its fossil fuel foes are fighting back by promoting legislation at the state level that would make solar more expensive and shrink markets for solar. Already such legislation was introduced in Ohio, North Carolina and Vermont.

“There are a lot of challenges that are occurring to RPS’s [i.e., renewable portfolio standards] and we’re finding that most of those are occurring from frankly conservative think-tanks, like Goldwater in Arizona and the Heartland Institute. Obviously these are funded by fossil fuel interests; some in part by the Koch brothers. And this very conservative approach is focused on these states and introducing legislation that frankly goes completely against what the voters want,” Resch said.

An overwhelming majority of the public—over 90% of voters of all stripes want more solar, according to Resch. They also want more wind and geothermal energy. And in more states, solar energy is becoming a more significant part of states‘ economies. This includes states like Arizona, California, Colorado, New Jersey, North Carolina and Ohio, for instance. “We are now starting to become a significant part of the new energy generation in these states and they’re recognizing us as a threat,” he said. “So you have a huge funding source coming from the fossil fuel industry trying to roll these back because we are now starting to gain hold … So their technique that they’re going to use is to dump millions of dollars into trying to roll back RPS’s across a large number of states.”

Resch cited actions in Ohio and North Carolina. “Those states have made huge economic strides in the solar industry. In Ohio both with manufacturing as well as in development. And in North Carolina there’s a pipeline of over 400 megawatts of projects to be developed this next year,” he said.

Legislation introduced in North Carolina last week, House Bill 298, “The Affordable and Reliable Energy Act,” would eliminate the state’s RPS, which has been responsible for much of the renewable energy growth in the state, including biomass, solar and wind energy generation. The legislation was proposed by a group of Republican Representative: Representatives: Mike Hager, Jeff Collins, Marilyn Avila, George Cleveland and Justin Burr and would give monopolistic utilities in the more control, according the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association (NCSEA). “This monopoly control of our utilities limits innovation and market competition; however, the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard, the portion of Senate Bill 3 that House Bill 298 attempts to eliminate, was the first real opportunity for clean energy companies to compete with the utilities and offer consumers a choice,” said NCSEA’s Director of Government Affairs Betsy McCorkle. Since introduction the legislation was sent for discussion in four committees, which should slow it down—if not kill it entirely.

In Ohio legislation at least two anti-solar bills were introduced in February by Republicans. State Senator Kris Jordan sponsored Senate Bill 216, which would repeal Ohio’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (AEPS). The bill would repeal Senate Bill 221 of the 127th General Assembly, which established the RPS—oddly enough it was passed by a Republican-led legislature. “It is my strong conviction that the choice of energy supply should come from the demands of the free market, and not from policy makers and environmental lobbyists,” Jordan said. “Competition is the fuel for efficiency and cost savings and I believe that Senate Bill 221 needs to be revisited to ensure competitive energy pricing for our constituents.” And State Sen. Bill Seitz introduced a placeholder bill (SB 58) to re-evaluate the RPS in February.

Vermont, which in 2011 eliminated permitting requirements and associated fees for residential and small solar, legislation S.30 was introduced that would add in more permitting and fees for solar and put a moratorium on new wind energy in the state. Over 150 businesses in the state signed a letter to legislators opposing the proposed legislation. In the letter they observed that the bill “began as a three-year ban on wind power development and was amended to significantly impact all new Vermont energy generation above 500kW.” However, “This current legislation exempts transmission projects and oil and gas pipelines, while serving as a temporary de facto ban on clean distributed renewables, which produce local energy, local jobs, local economic benefits and keep our dollars in our state.”

SEIA and its partners and chapters aren’t taking the issue lying down however. During the webcast Resch said: “We are very actively involved in a number of [states] including Colorado, Arizona and a few others.” He added, “We’re focused on trying to make sure we are working with some of the other states we’re not as active with to make sure our industry has a voice both from a communications perspective and a legislative perspective.”

Original Article on SolarReviews