Sunday, March 29, 2015

Astounding Solar Wind to Power a Turbine

The smallest packages of energy in what we know as light are called photons. When photons strike the surface of an object some or all of the frequencies of energy are absorbed while the rest is reflected. This action can be harnessed to create motion just from the pressure of the reflected light.
In this video, a home experimenter builds a small light powered turbine that illustrates this principle. Could this be scaled up to be useful technology in space or even here on earth?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

China's New Solar Target Could Set the Stage for a Solar Boom

VIA The Motley Fool

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Building solar projects could be a growing part of more Chinese companies' business. Source: JA Solar.
The solar industry is growing around the world, but China is taking growth to another level. It recently set the most aggressive goal of any country by targeting 17.8 GW of solar installations in 2015. That's 19% higher than the proposed 15 GW goal, and 70% higher than the 10.5 GW installed in 2014.  
Considering that around 46 GW of solar energy capacity was installed in 2014, China is leading the market in both market share and absolute growth. What's incredible is how good this could be for investors in solar companies.
Just how big is China's goal?
To put China's goal into some perspective, here is how 17.8 GW stacks up in the solar industry.
  • 17.8 GW of solar energy would power 2.9 million U.S. households, or about 2.5% of the homes in the U.S.  
  • If built as a utility-scale power plant, 17.8 GW of solar energy would cover about 107,000 acres, or 167 square miles.  
  • Next year alone, China could approach the grand total of 18.3 GW of solar ever installed in the U.S.
The sheer numbers are mind-boggling, and given China's history of supporting the solar industry, there's no reason to think it won't hit its goal.
Source: First Solar.
What's driving China's push into solar energy
There are three main drivers of China's push into solar: It is looking for ways to generate more of its own energy rather than relying on imported coal and oil, it needs to reduce the pollution that is literally choking major cities like Beijing, and installing solar projects supports a domestic manufacturing industry that has teetered on the brink of collapse for most of the past three years.
Given the vested interest China has in the solar industry, it's not surprising it will give this much support. For investors, the challenge is figuring out how to play this growth trend.
Who this will help
Clear winners in China's push to install more solar are the country's top-tier solar manufacturers. Trina Solar (NYSE: TSL  ) , Yingli Green Energy (NYSE: YGE  ) , andJinkoSolar (NYSE: JKS  ) should all benefit, not only from panel sales but also from building projects. SunPower (NASDAQ: SPWR  ) could also be a big winner, with its two joint ventures in China that will be building concentrated solar systems assembled within China.
SunPower's concentrated solar systems could be a hit in China. Source: SunPower.
But the benefits will be felt well outside of China. Growing demand could shift the balance of power from installers to solar panel manufacturers, who have been dealing with an oversupplied market since 2012. If demand begins to exceed supply, we could see panel prices inch higher, something we saw gradually in 2014.
At the very least, high-quality manufacturers like SunPower and First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR  ) should see stable pricing and potentially increasing demand for their products. In SunPower's case, demand comes just as it begins a plan to triple manufacturing capacity by 2019, and First Solar rolls out more efficient panels that will compete in more markets. Neither of these companies have a big exposure to China, but as industry leaders, I think that's where investors should put their money, because they'll feel some of the side benefits as Chinese-based manufacturers.
One storyline to keep an eye on in 2015 will be the cost structures of U.S. solar installers.SolarCity (NASDAQ: SCTY  ) and Vivint Solar (NYSE: VSLR  ) both buy most of their panels from Chinese manufacturers, and if prices rise as a result of China's growing demand, it will hit their bottom lines. For years, they've had the upper hand against panel manufacturers in an oversupplied market, but in 2015, the tables may turn.
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Truth: Rooftop Solar Capacity Benefits All Ratepayers

By Karl Cates
The utility and fossil-fuel industries continue to spread a crude canard against the growing popularity of rooftop solar across America.
The lie goes something like this: Households and business that install photovoltaic panels are doing so at the expense of other electricity ratepayers because they are “subsidized” by those that don’t have solar panels.
The truth is this: Rooftop solar provides substantial benefits for everyone, regardless of who installs it. It helps power the homes and shops that adopt it, to be sure, but it has far-reaching benefits for other customers as well. If Jane Doe in Anywhere, USA, puts a solar panel on her roof, every other electricity ratepayer within the footprint of whatever regional grid Jane Doe is tied into will benefit as well.
Honest purveyors of utility-industry fact know this, of course, and say it quite often. So, more and more, does Wall Street. No less a titan than Sanford Burstein & Co., one of the perennially best-rated firms in Institutional Investor’s annual rankings of investment researchers, has studied the issue deeply over the past couple of years and comes away with an unequivocal take on the issue: Rooftop solar, aka photovoltaic solar, means lower peak-hour energy prices for all.
Bernstein lays out the supporting research in a reported published last month that found that the rapid increase in the amount of solar PV available on the electricity grid in California—a seven-fold expansion in only four years, from 0.7 gigawatts in 2010 to 4.8 GW in 2014— had helped reduce system loads so much that peak prices were put off until later in the day, when demand was lower. Lower demand means lower prices.
That report went on to predict that the effect will be amplified inevitably across the state as growth in solar capacity continues. This will probably reduce the value of incremental additions of solar capacity on the California grid, but that’s not the point. The overarching conclusion is that all power consumers in California benefit from lower afternoon power prices, not just those that have rooftop solar PV panels.
The February report builds on earlier important work by Burstein & Co, notably a report the firm distributed to clients in November 2013. Titled “Tilting at Windmills: How Conventional Generators are Losing the Battle with Renewables,” that research found that the rapid growth of solar and wind resources (rooftop solar included) in four of the nation’s major electricity regions had suppressed the output of conventional coal and natural-gas fired generators. That’s good news because the trend also eroded the price at which the output of those conventional generators could be sold. Solar- and wind- powered electricity, in other words, drove market prices down.
This happened—and continues to happen—because renewable resources, which have zero variable costs, have displaced higher-cost conventional generation, lowering the marginal cost of supplying power competitively in wholesale markets or in states that do not regulate the retail price of electricity.
That particular Bernstein & Co. research also noted that by suppressing the output of conventional power plants, solar and wind generation had reduced demand for coal and natural gas. The firm estimated that some 52 million megawatt-hours of coal-fired generation and 42 million megawatt-hours of gas-fired generation was displaced in 2012 alone by wind and solar resources in the four regions it studied. This translates into a reduction of “coal burn” by approximately 30 million tons and “gas burn” by approximately .07 billion cubic feet/day. Bernstein & Co. also said this trend will continue too.
But back to rooftop solar for a second. In addition to driving energy market prices down, it brings environmental benefits by reducing dependence on fossil fuels, and it acts as a hedge against fossil-fuel price spikes.
It’s in every ratepayers best interest. And that’s the truth.
Image credit: Flickr/Arlington County

Karl Cates is IEEFA’s director of media relations; David Schlissel is IEEFA’s director of resource planning analysis.

Monday, March 23, 2015

WA State Homeowners' Payments at Stake in Olympia Solar Debate


Saturday, March 14, 2015

Washington State regulators adopt new rules for energy conservation, renewables

State regulators approved new rules Friday on how investor-owned utilities conserve energy and purchase renewables, which they said clarifies standards in the state’s Energy Independence Act.
The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission amended its rules for regulated utilities on energy conservation and purchasing renewable energy such as wind, upgraded hydro-power, or solar, consistent with recent legislative changes to the act.
The amended rules address conservation reporting requirements, renewable energy purchases, and facilitating the expansion of weatherization-assistance programs to help low-income customers with energy efficiency upgrade costs.
The act, approved by Washington voters in 2006, directs large electric utilities in the state to look at all cost-effective energy conservation and purchase renewable energy.
In 2014, the commission determined that the state’s three investor-owned electric companies are in compliance with the state conservation and renewable energy requirements.
For more information for boomer consumers, see The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide .

Friday, March 6, 2015

Oil Can’t Compete With Renewables, Says National Bank of Abu Dhabi

                    BY ECOWATCH – MARCH 5, 2015

Returns on fossil fuel investments aren’t keeping up with solar and wind, and are less likely to do so in the future, says bank report

By Anastasia Pantsios
You wouldn't expect a bank in the oil-rich Middle East to be touting the future of renewable energy over that of oil. But that’s just what the National Bank of Abu Dhabi (NBAD) is doing with its new report, “Financing the Future of Energy: The opportunity for the Gulf’s financial services sector.”
Photo by Alejandro FloresDespite the recent plunge in oil prices, the report says that energy demand will be more efficiently filled by renewables, offering more reliable and lucrative investment opportunities than oil.
Aimed primarily at investors and focusing on financial performance and potential, the report found that fossil fuels just weren’t keeping up with solar and wind, and were less likely to do so in the future, even if oil prices dropped much lower than they are now.
“It provides insights into how that community might engage with public and private sector stakeholders to create a more energy efficient economy, turning the aspirations of the region into a reality that will attract the attention of the rest of the world and unlock significant financial opportunities,” says the report’s introduction.
Energy demand is expected to triple in the next 15 years in the rapidly growing Persian Gulf region — already the biggest energy consumer per capita in the world — a demand far outstripping the current supply. Yet, despite the recent plunge in oil prices, the report says that that demand will be more efficiently filled by renewables, offering more reliable and lucrative investment opportunities than oil.
“Some of the report’s findings may surprise you, as they did me,” writes NBAD CEO Alex Thursby in the report’s introduction. “For example, renewable energy technologies are far further advanced than many may believe: solar photovoltaic (PV) and on-shore wind have a track record of successful deployment, and costs have fallen dramatically in the past few years. In many parts of the world, indeed, they are now competitive with hydrocarbon energy sources. Already, more than half of the investment in new electricity generation worldwide is in renewables. Potentially, the gains to be made from focusing on energy efficiency are as great as the benefits of increasing generation. Together, these help us to reframe how we think about the prospects for energy in the region.”
Among the report’s surprising findings are that fossil fuels are already uncompetitive with solar in terms of price, and that would be true even if oil fell as low as $10 a barrel. And with the supply of fossil fuels finite and increasingly difficult to extract, the bank believes that almost all future investments will be in renewables.
“Prices have fallen dramatically in the past few years: solar PV falling by 80 percent in six years, and on-shore wind by 40 percent,” it says. “The speed of this shift towards grid parity with fossil fuels means that, in many instances, perceptions of the role of renewables in the energy mix have not caught up with reality.”
It also points out that some of the objections to renewables—for instance, the intermittency of wind and sunshine—are being overcome as the development of storage technologies picks up steam. It suggests that such technologies present excellent investment opportunities.
“There has been an historic concern that renewables are an unreliable option, because the wind blows only intermittently and the sun does not shine all the time, but that is proving to be less of an issue,” the report says. “Developments in storage technologies are progressing rapidly, and in the next few years utility-scale solutions will be deployed that further minimize concern around what was until recently seen as a major inhibitor to the uptake of renewable generation.”
It also suggested that investment opportunities would exist in developing countries such as Kenya as their middle class grew and they looked to escape the volatility of oil prices and control their energy supply locally.
“When we look to the future, it is very clear that renewables will be an established part of the global energy mix,” writes Thursby. “Governments around the world, including the Gulf region, are setting out their ambitions for decarbonizing their economies, and the global debate about energy has never been more intense.”

Low-Cost Solar In 7 Days, Not 180 Days

March 5th, 2015 by  
Now that rooftop solar installations are becoming commonplace, shouldn't they be as quick and simple to install as, say, a new home furnace? That’s the question that will be put to rest by the US Energy Department, which has just launched the new “Race to 7-Day Solar Prize.” Cash prizes totaling $10 million are at stake, and to ice the cake, the winning team will most likely be the one that comes up with a low-cost solar solution.
low cost solar in 7 days

The Road To Low-Cost Solar

We’re linking low-cost solar energy to the 7-Day Solar  concept because according to the Energy Department, it is not unusual for solar customers to wait 180 days or more between inking a deal and actually seeing it up and running.
That delay can pile on administrative costs and other “soft costs” of solar energy. The last time we checked, soft costs accounted for more than 60 percent of the cost of a typical solar installation, so the road to low-cost solar has to be hacked through that obstacle.
Here’s a nifty infographic from the Energy Department to illustrate what we’re up against:
Sunshot 7 Day Solar Prize
Since the typical solar installation results in lower electricity costs, let’s also add the frustration factor of seeing your money go down the drain in needless utility expenses, with your solar panels collecting dust in some warehouse when they could be churning out clean power on your roof.
Here’s how the Energy Department sees it on a national level:

To put it in perspective, if every solar project deployed in the U.S. this year was forced to wait one extra day before connecting to the grid, it would result in a loss of $4 million worth of electricity.

A Collaborative Solution

The 7-Day Solar prize comes under President Obama’s 2011 SunShot initiative, which aims to make solar as least as cheap and ubiquitous as fossil fuels. The initiative is heavy on cutting edge technology to improve solar cell efficiency  while reducing the cost of manufacturingsolar cells, and it is also tackling these pesky soft costs from a wide variety of angles.
The 7-Day Solar prize is geared toward getting all solar players to collaborate, including government agencies, solar companies and other businesses, nonprofits, utilities, and community stakeholders.
That’s going to take a while so don’t hold your breath just yet. The 7-Day Solar schedule  calls for up to 20 teams to be ready for action this September, and then they have 18 months to implement their solutions. The winners will be decided in March 2017 based on a point system.
There are two parts to the contest. The “seven” in the 7-Day Solar name is for the part dealing with small solar systems of up to 100 kilowatts. The winning team will have to show their stuff at scale by building a total of at least 10 megawatts.
The other part is for large systems of up to 1 megawatt, with a time goal of seven weeks and a total goal of 15 megawatts.
If all goes well, in a couple of years we taxpayers can all give ourselves a group hug for bringing low-cost solar to thousands if not millions of properties across the US, because SunShot is putting up seed money to help support the teams.
So, if you have any ideas, get cracking. Letters of intent are expected by March 22 and you can get all the details here  (tell them CleanTechnica sent you).
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Image Credit (cropped and full-sized): Courtesy of US Department of Energy.
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New York Just Showed Every Other State How to Do Solar Right

“This is as exciting as the Public Service Commission gets.”
Jose Campos/ZUMA
Jose Campos/ZUMA
New York wants to get serious about solar power. The state has a goal to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, and it’s already among the nation’s solar leaders. New York ranks ninth overall for total installed solar, and in 2013 alone it added enough to power more than 10,000 homes.
While that’s great news for solar companies and environmentalists, it’s a bit of a problem for electric utilities. Until recently, the business model of electric companies hadn’t changed much since it was created a century ago. (The country’s first electric grid was strung up by Thomas Edison in Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the 1880s, and some parts of it continued to operate into the 2000s.) Utilities have depended on a steady growth in demand to stay ahead of the massive investments required to build power plants and the electric grid. But now, that tradition is crumbling—thanks to the crazy growth of rooftop solar and other alternative energy sources and some big advances in energy efficiency that have caused the overall demand for electricity to stop growing. Meanwhile, utilities in New York are also required to buy the excess power from solar buildings that produce more than they need—a policy called “net metering”.
But here’s the thing: Even the most ardent climate hawks agree that we can’t afford for utilities to go out of business altogether. Someone needs to maintain and manage the grid. Hardly any solar homes are actually “off the grid,” since they still depend on power lines to soak up their excess electricity during sunny afternoons and deliver power at night. In fact, net metering is a key factor in making solar economically viable to homeowners.
The question of how to aggressively slash carbon emissions without completely undermining the power sector (and simultaneously raising the risk of blackouts and skyrocketing electric bills) is one of the big existential questions that climate-savvy lawmakers are now trying to figure out. And last week in New York, they took a huge step forward.
Under a new order from the state’s Public Service Commission, utility companies will soon be barred from owning “distributed” power systems—that means rooftop solar, small wind turbines, and basically anything else that isn’t a big power plant. (There are some rare exceptions built into the order, notably for giant low-income apartment buildings in New York City that small solar companies aren’t well-equipped to serve.)
“By restricting utilities from owning local power generation and other energy resources, customers will benefit from a more competitive market, with utilities working and partnering with other companies and service providers,” the commission said in a statement.
The move is part of a larger package of energy reforms in the state, aimed at setting up the kind of futuristic power system that experts think will be needed to combat global warming. The first step came in 2007, when the state adopted “decoupling,” a market design in which a utility’s revenue is based not on how much power it sells, but on how many customers it serves. (Remember that in most states utilities have their income stream heavily regulated by the state in exchange for having a monopoly.) That change removed the incentive for utilities to actively block rooftop solar and energy-saving technology, because lost sales no longer translate to lost income. But because utilities could still make money by recouping the cost of big infrastructure projects through increases to their customers’ bills, they had an incentive to build expensive stuff like power plants and big transmission hubs even if demand could be better met with efficiency and renewables.
Now, under New York’s most recent reform, a utility’s revenue will instead be based on how efficiently and effectively it distributes power, so-called “performance-based rates.” This, finally, provides the incentive utilities need to make decisions that jibe with the state’s climate goals, because it will be to their advantage to make use of distributed energy systems.
But there’s a catch, one that had clean energy advocates in the state worried. If utilities were allowed to buy their own solar systems, they would be able to leverage their government-granted monopoly to muscle-out smaller companies. This could limit consumer options, drive up prices, and stifle innovation. That, in turn, could put a freeze on consumers’ interest in solar and ultimately slow down the rate at which it is adopted. But if small companies are allowed in, then the energy market starts to look more like markets for normal goods, where customer choice drives technological advances and pushes down prices.
“New York’s approach to limit utility ownership balances the desire for more solar with the desire to have competitive markets that we expect to continue to bring down the costs of solar,” said Anne Reynolds, director of the Alliance for Clean Energy New York.
The upshot is that solar in New York will be allowed to thrive without being squeezed out by incumbent giants like Con Edison and National Grid.
“This is as exciting as the Public Service Commission gets,” said Raya Salter, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council in New York who worked with state regulators on the plan. “These are bold, aggressive changes.”
The policy puts New York on track for a new way of doing business that many energy wonks now see as inevitable. In the past, the role of electric utilities was to generate power at a few central hubs and bring it to your house; in the near future, their role will be to facilitate the flow of power between countless independent systems.
“We need to plan for a primarily renewable system,” said John Farrell, director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which advocates for breaking up the old utility model as a key solution to climate change. “We want to pay [utilities] for doing things we want, rather than paying for their return on investment for the things they build.”
So far, the response from utilities has been receptive; a spokesperson for Con Ed said the company looks forward to developing details for how the order will move forward.
The change in New York could become a model for other states, Reynolds said. Regulators in Hawaii are already considering a similar policy.
“Everyone is watching to see what’s happening here,” she said. “It’s really a model of what a utility could be in the future.”


Climate Desk Associate Producer
Tim McDonnell is Climate Desk's associate producer. For more of his stories, click here. Follow him on Twitter or send him an email at tmcdonnell [at] motherjones [dot] com. RSS | 



Trina Solar’s Honey Plus multi-crystalline silicon PV module reached a new power output record of 324.5Wp, which has been independently certified by TUV Rheinland. This result marks a new world record for a multi-crystalline silicon module composed of 60 high-efficiency Honey Plus multi-crystalline silicon cells (156×156mm2) produced with advanced technologies including back surface passivation and local back surface field, which were developed by Trina Solar and are currently in pilot production.
This further builds on the Company’s recent new world record for its Honey Plus p-type PERC cell which reached an efficiency of 20.76% as independently confirmed by Fraunhofer ISE CalLab in Germany. This result was listed in the “Solar Cell Efficiency Table (Version 45)” in the current issue of Progress in Photovoltaics (source: Prog. Photovolt: Res. Appl. 2015; 23:1–9) and was also recognized as an R&D highlight at the 6th World Conference on Photovoltaic Energy Conversion (WCPEC-6).
Trina Solar has set four new world records in 2014 for p-type PERC cells and modules. These include new records for large-area (156×156 mm2) p-type silicon substrates of 21.40% for mono-crystalline and 20.76% for multi-crystalline silicon solar cells, as well as new peak power output records for commercial PV modules of 335.2Wp for mono-crystalline and 324.5Wp for multi-crystalline silicon solar cells.
“At the Trina Solar State Key Laboratory of PV Science and Technology (SKL PVST), our focus is on delivering meaningful scientific and technological innovations,” said Dr. Zhiqiang Feng, vice president of Trina Solar and director of the SKL PVST.

"We are proud to have set several new world records for PV cells and modules on large-area substrates in 2014 which have delivered improvements to the efficiency, reliability and cost of crystalline silicon photovoltaic devices. Such R&D breakthroughs continue to demonstrate Trina Solar’s position as the leader in technological innovations in the solar industry and sets base for future mass production of high efficiency products."