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Old Posted Feb 18, 2014, 7:05 PM
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Juan Cole
More Solar Workers in U.S. Than Coal Miners, and Solar Doesn’t Poison Drinking Water
Posted on Feb 18, 2014
By Juan Cole

By the end of 2013, the number of workers in the solar energy industry in the US had grown to 143,000. About a third of them are in California, followed by Arizona, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.

the wind power industry employed another 80,000 or so workers directly, and many more in transportation of components, etc.

Together, wind and solar energy workers far outnumber all the estimated workers in coal mining, coal transportation, and coal plant operation. Solar installation jobs alone outnumber seasonally adjusted full-time jobs in coal mining by a substantial margin.

In contrast to the rapidly growing solar and wind sectors, 151 coal mines were idled in the second half of 2013, with a loss of 2600 mining jobs. Coal is very dirty and cannot compete with wind and natural gas if the industry is made to conform to the Clean Air Act.

There are about 83,000 coal miners in the US, and their numbers are declining. Another 40,000 or so workers toil at coal-fired power plants, but other kinds of power plants also employ workers, so the latter can’t be considered as essentially in the coal industry. Likewise, workers who transport coal would also be needed to transport solar panels and other energy-generating components, and so can’t be considered “coal” workers per se.

Solar jobs are concentrated in panel installation and average $38,000 a year. Obviously, state governments in places like Kentucky and West Virginia should be funding retraining programs for coal workers as solar panel installers and wind turbine installers and operators.

Tiny Solar Thermal Power Plant Solves Gigantic Salt Problem

We’ve been getting all excited about Ivanpah and Crescent Dunes, two new gigantic concentrating solar thermal projects in California and Nevada. Now let’s turn our attention to a third solar thermal plant at the Panoche Water and Drainage District in California.

This one, from a company called WaterFX, is different in terms of scale (miniature compared to the first two), solar energy collection (its concentrators are troughs, not flat panels), and thermal platform (it uses a form of mineral oil, not molten salt).

Solar Power Desalination Solves Part Of the Problem…

The plant is actually a modular, integrated system that WaterFX calls the Aqua4™ Concentrated Solar Still, and it’s designed to solve a problem bedeviling the water desalination field: what to do with all the leftover salty brine after you’ve extracted all the fresh water?

That problem is bound to keep growing as already-stressed global water resources keep shrinking, forcing farmers and other users to tap formerly overlooked sources including seawater, brackish groundwater, and various forms of wastewater.

One key element in the problem is that advanced desalination typically uses a high-pressure process called reverse osmosis, which requires a tremendous amount of energy, adding to the global carbon burden aside from adding to costs.

The energy factor can be partly solved by using solar power for desalination, along with other forms of clean, renewable energy.

Solar power’s new wave
The Globe and Mail
Published Monday, Feb. 17 2014, 7:22 PM EST
Last updated Monday, Feb. 17 2014, 7:28 PM EST

At first glance, the awnings over the sidewalk and entryway at a new Toronto-Dominion Bank branch in Mississauga, just west of Toronto, look pretty normal.

On closer inspection, it’s clear these glass sheets – translucent panels in metal frames, adorned with an attractive grid of dark squares – are designed to do more than protect customers from the elements.

This is one of the few installations in Canada of “building integrated” photovoltaic solar panels, also known as BIPV. It’s an approach to renewable energy that is poised to expand dramatically in the coming years, with global industry revenues set to leap from around $2-billion a year in 2012 to more than $35-billion in 2019, according to an analysis from Virginia-based research firm NanoMarkets.

The idea is simple: Replace conventional building materials with elements that incorporate solar cells. Cells are built into glass, wall panels or roof tiles to become part of the building, instead of add-ons or attachments. Formerly passive structural components now produce power, cutting down on a building’s outside electricity consumption – and, eventually, lowering energy costs.

Les Lyster, chief executive of Toronto-based solar panel maker Eclipsall Energy Corp. is witnessing this solar shift firsthand. His company, which made the solar components for TD’s Mississauga branch, says BIPV products currently comprise about 10 per cent of the business, but Mr. Lyster says he expects that number to rise as high as 50 per cent in the next year or so.

While it takes time for BIPV systems to generate a financial payback – since the solar-integrated building materials are usually more expensive than the materials they are replacing – that balance is shifting as technology improves and energy costs rise.

Currently, though, most companies installing building-integrated systems are still doing so to test the technology, or to demonstrate their green credentials.

That’s clearly part of the motivation at TD, which has installed solar panels in one form or another at 94 branch locations across North America.

“We are committed to be an environmental leader,” so high-profile solar installations that are noticed by customers and employees are important, says Jacquelynn Henke, vice-president of innovation at TD’s enterprise real estate division. “They are easy to see. That gives us the opportunity to start a conversation about the environment …[and] it gives a sense of engagement.”

While the Mississauga branch is the first example of BIPV at one of TD’s Canadian buildings, Ms. Henke said, the technology is already widespread in the bank’s U.S. operations, where several branches have solar panels integrated into canopies over their drive-through lanes.

While the PR value is crucial, energy cost savings are also important, she said.

On average, the solar-panel-equipped drive-through canopies generate 12 to 18 per cent of each branch’s electricity needs. And now that the construction has been standardized, they are actually cheaper to build than the non-solar canopies.

Still, there are barriers to the expansion of building-integrated solar power.

First, antiquated building and electrical codes, which were written long before this technology was even considered, are slowing its spread. “There is a lot of bureaucracy now [getting in the way of] moving a building-integrated project along,” Eclipsall’s Mr. Lyster says. “Once that gets a little bit more streamlined, it’s going to help drive the costs down.”

At the same time, most electrical utilities have complex rules for attaching anything that produces power to the grid – creating another headache.

Despite that, many ambitious projects are now in the works. Mr. Lyster says his company is working with a builder on two planned 50-storey buildings in Toronto where solar panels will be incorporated in the spandrels – the panels between each row of windows.

“If we put building integrated there, we can get up to a 500 or 600 kilowatt system,” he says. “That can make a big difference in the [power] a building is going to need to operate.”

CIGS Solar Update: Avancis Sets Thin-Film PV Module Efficiency Record
The CIGS materials system continues to set new performance records.

Eric Wesoff
February 18, 2014

In September 2013, Saint-Gobain subsidiary Avancis curtailed production at its German CIGS thin-film solar factory. But the company is still working on CIGS technology in the lab and is setting new marks for conversion efficiency in this high potential materials system.

The Torgau, Germany-based firm's CIGS module has hit an NREL-certified efficiency of 16.6 percent. According to the firm, that's a "new efficiency world record for encapsulated thin-film modules." First Solar hit 16.1 percent with its CdTe thin-film module in April 2013. Parent company Saint-Gobain operates a float glass plant in Torgau.

The hero module is 30 x 30 cm². The firm noted that "ZSW´s 20.8% efficiency on a laboratory cell...demonstrates the extraordinary potential of the CIS-based thin film technologies." Avancis uses a sputtering process to deposit the absorber layer.

Dr. Jörg Palm, head of process development at Avancis, said in a release, "The very good homogeneity of the CIS absorber properties based on production dimensions of 158 x 66 cm² were demonstrated by the minor deviation of 0.15% absolute between different 30 x 30 cm² modules from the same full-size absorber." The release continued: "The improvement in efficiency is based on the optimization of the buffer layer with respect to InxSy bandgap, band matching, and in particular transmission in a short wavelength range. In addition, the transmittance and the sheet resistance of the sputtered ZnO:Al front contact was optimized and the dead area between the series-connected cells was reduced by the use of picosecond laser process."

Belectric Goes After Building-Integrated PV With Organic Solar Cells
The ghost of Konarka haunts the BIPV market.

Eric Wesoff
February 18, 2014

Talk of building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV), or coating window glass with PV materials, typically occurs when a solar startup is running on fumes or a charlatan is in the room. (Here's a BIPV effort from Abound Solar and eIQ electronics, now both defunct.)

The BIPV I speak of is not the building-applied photovoltaics from the likes of Lumeta or Global Solar or SoloPower or Hanergy's MiaSolé. Instead, the term "BIPV" refers to solar power sources that are an integral, structural part of the building envelope or facade.

That's the market Germany's Belectric, a solar developer, financier, and construction firm, is targeting with the organic photovoltaic technology it acquired from Konarka and its new partnership with flat-glass processor BGT Bischoff Glastechnik.

Belectric has deployed more than 1 gigawatt of solar. The company's OPV Director of Business Development, Marketing and Sales, Hermann Issa, said in a release, “If solar energy is to be used throughout the entire building shell, then organic photovoltaics are extremely well suited to this purpose."

Organic solar cells (OSCs), sometimes referred to as third-generation solar, hold the promise of low-cost production, but their efficiencies tend to be very low. Hero cells are nudging 12 percent efficiency, but long-term reliability and degradation issues remain common with the technology. These low efficiencies have left OSCs to niche applications such as portable electronics, automotive, and the promised-land market of BIPV, which includes windows and facades, as well as concrete and other building materials. There are also potential military applications.

One of the appeals of third-generation thin-film solar cells is that they can be manufactured using solution-based, low-temperature, roll-to-roll manufacturing methods, using conventional printing techniques on flexible substrates. That is the siren song that has kept a trickle of funding flowing.

Organic and dye-sensitized solar cell developers include Dyesol, Heliatek, Solarmer, Plextronics, EPFL, Mitsubishi, Peccell, and G24i. Dyesol builds equipment to manufacture dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs). Eight19 Limited raised $7 million from the Carbon Trust and Rhodia to develop plastic organic solar cells. Ireland's SolarPrint has replaced the liquid part of the DSSC with printed nanomaterials. Intel has done some research into OSCs, as well.

Slideshow: Update on Ambri’s Liquid Metal Grid-Scale Battery
Commercializing the MIT-Sadoway innovation with funding from Bill Gates and Vinod Khosla

Eric Wesoff
February 17, 2014

David Bradwell, the CTO, co-founder and SVP of liquid-metal battery startup Ambri, spoke on Thursday at Infocast's Energy Storage Week.

We've covered the Ambri story in detail.
  • The inventor of the core technology for the battery is Don Sadoway, MIT professor of materials chemistry, with technology inspired by the economy-of-scale of modern electrometallurgy and the aluminum smelter.
  • Sadoway used seed money from within MIT to invent the liquid metal battery, using a technology called Reversible Ambipolar Electrolysis.
  • Ambri raised a $15 million Round B from Khosla Ventures, Bill Gates and energy company Total in 2012.

Bradwell said a grid-scale battery needs to be resilient, safe and low-cost. The three layers in the Ambri battery are self-segregating, cheap to manufacture and earth-abundant. The materials used in the original design were magnesium and antimony separated by a salt -- but "we needed higher voltage and lower temperature," said the CTO, and so the firm has a new, undisclosed chemistry arrived at with the help of ARPA-E funding.

Advanced Batteries for Utility-Scale Energy Storage Applications Will Surpass $2.5 Billion in Annual Revenue by 2023
February 18, 2014

Batteries have not traditionally been an integral part of the utility grid, primarily due to concerns about cost, safety, durability, and efficiency. Today, however, technological advances in electrochemistry have enabled a new generation of advanced batteries to start playing an important role in grid management. Click to tweet: According to a new report from Navigant Research, worldwide revenue from advanced batteries for utility-scale energy storage applications will grow from $164 million in 2014 to more than $2.5 billion in 2023.

“Unlike most other networked systems, the electricity grid functions mostly without any stored resources,” says Sam Jaffe, principal research analyst with Navigant Research. “Innovative electrochemistries – particularly lithium ion and its subchemistries – have solved many of the challenges inherent in battery energy storage, and there are more than a dozen individual applications that could utilize batteries for energy storage.”

The clear market leader in utility-scale applications of batteries is lithium ion, which offers the best mix of performance specifications (including energy density, volumetric density, cycle life, calendar life, safety, and cost) for most energy storage applications. Other battery technologies, however, remain viable, according to the report. Flow batteries have been shown to excel at long-duration energy storage applications, and advanced lead-acid batteries have proven to be excellent performers in power-intensive applications.

Harvesting light, the single-molecule way: Molecular mechanism of light harvesting may illuminate path forward to future solar cells
Date: February 16, 2014
Source: American Institute of Physics

New insights into one of the molecular mechanisms behind light harvesting, the process that enables photosynthetic organisms to thrive, even as weather conditions change from full sunlight to deep cloud cover, will be presented at the 58th Annual Biophysical Society Meeting, taking place in San Francisco from Feb. 15-19.

At the meeting, Hsiang-Yu Yang, a graduate student, and Gabriela Schlau-Cohen, a postdoc in W.E. Moerner's research group at Stanford University, will describe how probing these natural systems at the single molecule level is helping to understand the basic mechanisms of light harvesting -- work that could help improve the design and efficiency of devices like solar cells in the future.

"Through our approach, we are able to have a better understanding of the natural designs of light harvesting systems, especially how the same molecular machinery can perform efficient light harvesting at low light while safely dissipating excess excitation energy at high light," explained Yang.

The Moerner group has been studying various photosynthetic antenna proteins using the single-molecule Anti-Brownian ELectrokinetic (ABEL) trap and has uncovered new states of the light harvesting complexes with different degrees of quenching. "By analyzing the transition between these states in a bacterial antenna protein," explained Schlau-Cohen, "we found a process that may be one of the molecular mechanisms of photoprotection, or the way in which the organism protects itself from damage by excess light."

The next steps are to use this technique to understand the natural designs of light harvesting systems, and investigate whether the same processes appear in higher plants. Thus, they are extending their studies to look at photosynthetic proteins from green plants. Eventually, understanding these general principles may help in developing or improving the building of artificial light-harvesting devices.

Leading PV markets see pipeline grow to 95 GW
18. February 2014 | Global PV markets, Industry & Suppliers, Markets & Trends | By: Edgar Meza

Commercial and utility-scale projects make up half of the 4,300 projects in the planning in leading PV countries in Asia-Pacific, Europe and North America, according to NPD Solarbuzz.

Solar farms up to 5 MW in size are driving a 95 GW project pipeline in leading PV territories, according to NPD Solarbuzz's latest Global Deal Tracker report.

The study shows that solar PV projects between 250 kW and 5 MW now account for nearly 50 percent of the yet-to-be-completed 4,300 commercial and utility projects in major PV countries.

The leading countries for PV demand now include five major countries in the Asia-Pacific region (China, Japan, India, Thailand and Australia), four European countries (Germany, U.K., Italy and France) and the United States and Canada in North America.

"Collectively, these end-markets are expected to provide more than 80 percent of global solar PV demand during the next five years," the report said.

The total project pipeline for the leading PV markets has reached nearly 95 GW, with the largest projects, in excess of 50 MW, making up 68 percent of the total capacity on offer, although there are currently less than 500 such projects in the pipeline.

"While projects in excess of 50 MW account for most of the solar PV pipeline capacity, smaller projects up to 5 MW can typically be approved and completed within a matter of months, making this segment particularly interesting to suppliers and developers," said NPD Solarbuzz analyst Chris Beadle.

Global consortium collaborates on 8.5 MW Rwanda solar plant
18. February 2014 | Financial & Legal Affairs, Industry & Suppliers, Global PV markets, Markets & Trends, Top News | By: Ian Clover

The consortium is being led by Norway's Scatec Solar and Dutch developer Gigawatt Global Cooperatief, with additional funding from U.K., U.S., Finnish and Austrian governments.

The East African nation of Rwanda is set to lead the way in breaking new solar PV ground in the region with the announcement this week that construction has begun on a new 8.5 MW solar PV plant in the country.

The project is the result of a global consortium of solar companies, funding institutions and national governments, which between them raised €23.7 million in financing for the plant.

Leading the development is Norwegian solar company Scatec Solar and Gigawatt Global Cooperatief, a solar developer from the Netherlands. These two companies have partnered with Norfund – the Norwegian Investment Fund for Developing Countries; FMO – the Dutch Development Bank; and the Emerging Africa Infrastructure Fund (EAIF). All three entities have provided funding for the project, with additional investment coming via government-led initiatives from the U.K., U.S., Finland and Austria.

The PV plant will become East Africa's first utility-scale solar installation and, once complete, will generate 8% of Rwanda's electricity. The Rwandan government is eager to invest more steadily in renewable energy, and has set itself the objective of a five-fold increase in renewable sources of power by 2017.

The project is located 60 km from the Rwandan capital of Kigali, on land that belongs to the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village (ASYV) – an educational and residential community created for Rwandan youths orphaned during the country's 1994 genocide. The ASYV is leasing the land, and some of the fees generated will be used to help fund the charity's ongoing activities. It is estimated that once complete, the plant will generate 16 million kWh of clean solar power a year. The Rwanda Energy, Water and Sanitation Authority (EWSA) has signed a 25-year Power Purchase Agreement for the energy it produces. Completion and commercial operation is expected by this summer.

"We are very happy to be able to realize this first utility scale PV project in Rwanda," said Scatec Solar CEO Raymond Carlsen. "At the end of last year, we grid-connected the first utility scale solar park in Southern Africa. The 75 MW Kalkbult solar park is currently the largest on the continent. Our objective has been to bring the experience gained in South Africa to other African nations, and we are pleased to team up with Norfund, FMO and EAIF to introduce large-scale solar energy to East Africa."

Scatec Solar to build East Africa’s first utility-scale PV plant in Rwanda
By Ben Willis - 18 February 2014, 10:57
In News, Power Generation, Project Focus

Norway-based Scatec Solar is to build the first utility-scale PV plant in Rwanda, also said to be the first of its size in East Africa.

The company has closed on a US$23.7 million deal to finance the 8.5MW project with Norway’s international development fund, Norfund, and developer Gigawatt Global Coöperatief.

Construction is expected to start work immediately, with completion scheduled for this summer.

When complete, the plant is expected to increase Rwanda’s total electricity generation capacity by 8% and contribute towards the country’s stated aim of increasing its renewable energy capacity fivefold.

Located around 60km from Rwanda’s capital, Kigale, the plant will be built on land belonging to Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village (ASYV), a residential and educational community for youth orphaned during and after Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.

Electricity from the plant will be fed into the national grid under a 25-year power purchase agreement with Rwanda Energy, Water and Sanitation Authority (EWSA).

The capital investment for the project will be financed through FMO, the Dutch Development Bank, the Emerging Africa Infrastructure Fund and Norfund. Scatec Solar and Norfund will be majority owners in the solar park with project developer Gigawatt Global maintaining a 20% share in the project.

Scatec Solar is already actively involved in the burgeoning PV market in South Africa.

Chief executive, Raymond Carlsen, said: “At the end of last year, we grid connected the first utility-scale solar park in Southern Africa. The 75MW Kalkbult solar park is currently the largest in Africa. Our objective has been to bring the experience gained in South Africa to other African nations, and we are pleased to team up with Norfund, FMO and EAIF and introduce large-scale solar energy to Eastern Africa.

Tokyo governor announces ¥4 billion renewable energy fund
By Andy Colthorpe - 18 February 2014, 10:53
In News, Power Generation, Finance

Tokyo’s new governor, Yoichi Masuzoe, who was sworn into office last week, has announced the creation of a public-private fund for the region to use for investment in renewable energy.

The proposed fund could reach ¥4 billion (US$39 million), with the prefectural government expected to budget around ¥1 billion (US$9.8 million) this fiscal year toward renewable energy projects.

Masuzoe announced the fund on Friday at his first regular press conference since being sworn in on 11 February. The governor said that it was his goal to expand renewable energy generation, while also stating that if possible he hoped the renewable energy funds could be used to help the disaster-struck Tohoku region.

No further details on what the fund will be spent on have yet been provided.

Jordan government approves PPAs for 200MW
By John Parnell - 18 February 2014, 10:30
In News, Power Generation

The government of Jordan has approved power purchase agreements (PPAs) for 200MW of new solar plants in the country.

The seven individual projects will each be awarded 120 fils/kWh (US$0.17/kWh). The current cost of electricity is around US$0.25/kWh.

The country’s state news agency reported that the Council of Ministers had given the green light to the contracts, which will now be put to the seven firms that were awarded each project.

“This was the official approval of the PPAs, but PPAs were not signed,” explains Iyad Zawaideh, partner, clean energy and sustainability group, Eversheds, Jordan. “Developers are expected to receive communication from MEMR informing them officially of the approval and setting a time limit within which to sign.

“Until developers receive such official communication from MEMR we won't know when signing is expected,” said Zawaideh, pointing out that the tendering process for the first of three planned rounds of PV procurement had now taken three years.

Jordan struggles with electricity shortages and has experienced several major blackouts and brownouts in recent years. It is highly dependent on oil and gas imports.

Pour-In-Place System Helps Landfill Go Solar
February 18, 2014 Andrew Merecicky : 1 Comment

Landfills and brownfields have few options for development. Solar is a big exception. Developers are pursuing these areas for solar arrays instead of forest, farm fields or otherwise usable land.

Landfills and brownfields are also typically located in industrial areas or out-of-the-way places where local opposition to solar is limited. In addition, state governments are starting to embrace the development of these sites for PV projects with higher SRECs and other benefits. Utilities often approve these projects faster as well.

The challenge for landfills and brownfields has been the high cost of installing non-penetrating ballasted PV systems with high ground clearance. Labor costs are high for landfill work because union workers are often required, meaning installation speed is a significant issue. Traditionally, large precast ballast blocks have been used, which can be expensive and slow to install. If the racking system doesn’t accommodate for variations in terrain, the blocks must be perfectly leveled and spaced.

Recently, however, racking solutions have emerged using approaches other than precast blocks or ones that allow for adjustments in the racking. For instance, ballast trays for standard pavers and pour-in-place plastic forms, which have concrete poured into the forms on the site after racking has been installed, can reduce install time and racking costs. In these cases, the need to cast the concrete is removed, leading to lower costs. Also, the racks are assembled first, while they are light. The weight is added after the system is lined up.

The Dupont solar landfill project was a 548-kW, five-acre solar installation in Newport, Del., on the site of a former landfill. The company, which owned the site, wanted to make it productive with solar, according to Terry Gooding, a public affairs manager at DuPont. Gooding said the panels provide a viable renewable energy option for the Newport community and enough electricity to power 60 homes.
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Old Posted Feb 19, 2014, 5:29 PM
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India unveils latest phase in solar master plan, as trade spat escalates
Government announces four new solar mega-projects, as US steps up calls for WTO action

By James Murray
19 Feb 2014

India's ambitious Solar Mission took another major step forward this week as the government followed proposals for a new 4GW solar "ultra-mega" project in Rajasthan with the announcement of plans for four new 500MW solar projects.

Finance Minister P. Chidambaram used his budget address on Monday to announce plans for the new giant projects in Gujarat, Jammu, Kashmir and again in Rajasthan. "It is proposed to take up four ultra-mega solar power projects, each with a capacity of over 500MW, in 2014-15," Chidambaram said.

The statement, coming so soon after the announcement of the 4GW project, which would be the largest solar development in the world, represents a major boost to the country's Solar Mission plans and its goal of bringing 20GW of solar capacity online by 2022.

The first phase of the nationwide programme, announced in 2010, has seen over 1.6GW brought online, but now the government is hopeful that the falling cost of solar energy will allow it to dramatically accelerate the roll out of solar PV capacity.

However, a key component of the government's plans could be under threat after the US last week lodged its second complaint with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) over India's use of domestic content requirements for companies supplying Solar Mission projects.

"These domestic content requirements discriminate against US exports by requiring solar power developers to use India-manufactured equipment instead of US equipment," US trade representative Michael Froman said last week. "These unfair requirements are against WTO rules, and we are standing up for the rights of American workers and businesses."

Earth and Environment
Solar-Induced Hybrid Fuel Cell Produces Electricity Directly from Biomass
Posted February 18, 2014 | Atlanta, GA

Although low temperature fuel cells powered by methanol or hydrogen have been well studied, existing low temperature fuel cell technologies cannot directly use biomass as a fuel because of the lack of an effective catalyst system for polymeric materials.

Now, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a new type of low-temperature fuel cell that directly converts biomass to electricity with assistance from a catalyst activated by solar or thermal energy. The hybrid fuel cell can use a wide variety of biomass sources, including starch, cellulose, lignin – and even switchgrass, powdered wood, algae and waste from poultry processing.

The device could be used in small-scale units to provide electricity for developing nations, as well as for larger facilities to provide power where significant quantities of biomass are available.

“We have developed a new method that can handle the biomass at room temperature, and the type of biomass that can be used is not restricted – the process can handle nearly any type of biomass,” said Yulin Deng, a professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and the Institute of Paper Science and Technology (IPST). “This is a very generic approach to utilizing many kinds of biomass and organic waste to produce electrical power without the need for purification of the starting materials.”

The new solar-induced direct biomass-to-electricity hybrid fuel cell was described February 7, 2014, in the journal Nature Communications.

The challenge for biomass fuel cells is that the carbon-carbon bonds of the biomass – a natural polymer – cannot be easily broken down by conventional catalysts, including expensive precious metals, Deng noted. To overcome that challenge, scientists have developed microbial fuel cells in which microbes or enzymes break down the biomass. But that process has many drawbacks: power output from such cells is limited, microbes or enzymes can only selectively break down certain types of biomass, and the microbial system can be deactivated by many factors.

Deng and his research team got around those challenges by altering the chemistry to allow an outside energy source to activate the fuel cell’s oxidation-reduction reaction.

In the new system, the biomass is ground up and mixed with a polyoxometalate (POM) catalyst in solution and then exposed to light from the sun – or heat. A photochemical and thermochemical catalyst, POM functions as both an oxidation agent and a charge carrier. POM oxidizes the biomass under photo or thermal irradiation, and delivers the charges from the biomass to the fuel cell’s anode. The electrons are then transported to the cathode, where they are finally oxidized by oxygen through an external circuit to produce electricity.

“If you mix the biomass and catalyst at room temperature, they will not react,” said Deng. “But when you expose them to light or heat, the reaction begins. The POM introduces an intermediate step because biomass cannot be directly accessed by oxygen.”

Artificial leaf jumps developmental hurdle
Posted: February 17, 2014

In a recent early online edition of Nature Chemistry, ASU scientists, along with colleagues at Argonne National Laboratory, have reported advances toward perfecting a functional artificial leaf.

Designing an artificial leaf that uses solar energy to convert water cheaply and efficiently into hydrogen and oxygen is one of the goals of BISfuel – the Energy Frontier Research Center, funded by the Department of Energy, in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Arizona State University.

Hydrogen is an important fuel in itself and serves as an indispensible reagent for the production of light hydrocarbon fuels from heavy petroleum feed stocks. Society requires a renewable source of fuel that is widely distributed, abundant, inexpensive and environmentally clean.

Society needs cheap hydrogen.

“Initially, our artificial leaf did not work very well, and our diagnostic studies on why indicated that a step where a fast chemical reaction had to interact with a slow chemical reaction was not efficient,” said ASU chemistry professor Thomas Moore. “The fast one is the step where light energy is converted to chemical energy, and the slow one is the step where the chemical energy is used to convert water into its elements viz. hydrogen and oxygen.”

The researchers took a closer look at how nature had overcome a related problem in the part of the photosynthetic process where water is oxidized to yield oxygen.

“We looked in detail and found that nature had used an intermediate step,” said Moore. “This intermediate step involved a relay for electrons in which one half of the relay interacted with the fast step in an optimal way to satisfy it, and the other half of the relay then had time to do the slow step of water oxidation in an efficient way.”

Solar Farms up to Five Megawatts in Size Drive 95 GW Project Pipeline in Leading PV Countries, According to NPD Solarbuzz
Leading solar PV countries offer suppliers and developers a choice of 4,300 PV projects

Santa Clara, Calif., February 18, 2014—Solar photovoltaic (PV) projects between 250 kilowatts (kW) and five megawatts (MW) now account for almost half of the yet-to-be-completed 4,300 commercial and utility projects within the leading PV countries, according to the new NPD Solarbuzz Global Deal Tracker report.

The leading countries for solar PV demand now include five major countries in the Asia-Pacific region (i.e., China, Japan, India, Thailand, and Australia), four European countries (i.e., Germany, U.K., Italy, and France) and North America (i.e., United States and Canada). Collectively, these end-markets are expected to provide more than 80% of global solar PV demand during the next five years.

The total project pipeline for the leading solar PV countries has reached almost 95 gigawatts (GW), with the largest projects, in excess of 50 MW, making up 68% of the total capacity on offer, although there are currently less than 500 such projects in the pipeline. "While projects in excess of 50 megawatts account for most of the solar PV pipeline capacity, smaller projects up to five megawatts can typically be approved and completed within a matter of months, making this segment particularly interesting to suppliers and developers," according to Chris Beadle, analyst at NPD Solarbuzz.

China, Japan, and the United States are expected to drive new solar PV capacity deployment over the next five years. Currently, these three leading countries offer a pipeline of more than 3,600 PV projects of greater than 250 kW, which is equivalent to a total capacity of 65 GW. NPD Solarbuzz forecasts that 24 GW of new commercial and utility projects will be completed in these three countries during 2014.


Is it time to move away from silicon-based solar?
The cost has come down, efficiency has stagnated, and we may have alternatives.

by John Timmer - Feb 17 2014, 10:00am PST

CHICAGO—Currently, the world has the capacity to manufacture over 40 Gigawatts of solar panels each year, the vast majority of them silicon-based. And it's easy to see why: our expertise with processing the material has led to a staggering drop in costs, making photovoltaics (PVs) much more cost-competitive than just about anyone had predicted.

But that manufacturing innovation hasn't been matched on the basic research side; it's been over a decade since the last time anyone set a new efficiency record for silicon cells. And, even as manufacturing costs have dropped, the cost of support equipment and installation has remained stubbornly high and is an ever-increasing slice of the total price of PV systems.

That's got people thinking that it might be time that we get more power out of each installation. At the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, two researchers spelled out how they were finding ways to take an expensive material and make it cheap enough to be deployed on the same scale as silicon.

The material in question is gallium arsenide, which can be fashioned into solar cells with efficiencies twice those of silicon. The high cost of the material, however, has limited its use to applications like satellites. But two research groups have come up with ways to get much more out of GaAs.

Gallium goes thin

Both teams have figured out how to make extremely thin layers of GaAs. Harry Atwater's group at Caltech has developed a process that allows them to peel hundreds of thin layers off a large aggregate of the material, much like individual graphene sheets can be peeled off a block of graphite. The end result is an extremely thin film of GaAs (he passed some samples around to the audience).

John Rodgers, who works at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, grows thin layers of GaAs separated by a thin sacrificial layer. When the sacrificial layer is etched away, you're left with a collection of thin GaAs chips; the silicon wafer they were grown on can then be recycled, cutting down on the costs significantly. A plastic stamp can then pick up the chips and "print" them onto just about any surface, including one pre-patterned with wiring.

In the rare cases where GaAs chips are used here on Earth, they're typically used in what's called a concentrated solar system, where lenses pump as many photons into the chips as they can manage without melting. But these tracking and focusing systems add significantly to the cost of these systems. Both groups are thinking of doing some focusing, but going about it in different ways.

Rodgers, who can print large arrays of tiny GaAs chips, is managing costs by keeping things simple: his team's process simply involves dropping a plastic sphere that acts as a lens on top of the chip. There are some ideas about how to manufacture more specialized spheres that focus the light more efficiently, but, for now, simplicity is the selling point.

Trapping the photons

Grab all the wavelengths

Google funds $650,000 SolarAid study in Africa
19. February 2014 | Global PV markets, Industry & Suppliers, Markets & Trends, Research & Development | By: Ian Clover

The search engine giants have given financial backing to SolarAid to assess the impact solar power can play in alleviating poverty in Africa.

International development charity SolarAid has announced this week that Google has funded a $650,000, two-year study into the impact of solar lights on poverty alleviation in Africa.

The global search engine giants have taken a keen interest in the solar energy sector in recent years, and this latest commitment is a follow-up to last year’s Google Global Impact Award – which was won by SolarAid for its commitment to using technology to help make the world a better place.

The charity has been installing its pico-solar lights in various parts of rural Africa to deliver a clean and safe alternative to traditional kerosene lamps. The lights have been able to extend many villagers' working day and to improve and lengthen studying conditions for young Africans. The lights also reduce the indoor air pollution caused by burning kerosene and other polluting fuels, and have enabled many families to save a larger proportion of their household income.

The two-year Randomized Control Trial study (RCT) is intended to assess just how powerful this initiative has been in alleviating poverty in some of the poorest parts of Africa. SolarAid’s social enterprise SunnyMoney is the largest distributor of solar lights in Africa, and will be aided in its wor over the next few years by SolarAid’s director of research and impact, Kat Harrison.

"We’ve now got a great deal of quality data that helps showcase the impact of our work but, despite being such an important field, there is not a lot of empirical evidence out there on the links between solar lighting and poverty alleviation," said Kat. "This hinders our, and the sector's, ability to advise on policy, make recommendations to governments and to fully explain just what an impact a pico-solar light can have."

Enphase shatters microinverter milestones on first ever operating profit
By Mark Osborne - 19 February 2014, 14:12
In News, Power Generation, Inverters, Finance

Leading microinverter firm, Enphase Energy, has produced a string of records in reporting fourth quarter 2013 and full-year results.

The company reported a record US$67.1 million in revenue on the back of a record 107MW of microinverter system shipments that resulted in a record 32% gross margin. Cumulative microinverter shipments have passed the 5 million mark and 1.2GW (DC).

The company shipped around 485,000 microinverters in the fourth quarter, of which approximately 20% were its fourth generation system. Overseas revenue represented approximately 15% of total shipments.

Gross margin for the fourth quarter was also a company record coming in at 32.3%, the first time margins had exceeded the 30% threshold.

"We ended 2013 with a breakthrough fourth quarter," said, Paul Nahi, CEO of Enphase. "We posted the highest revenue in our company's history, shipping over 100MW for the first time in any quarter, while our record gross margin marks the first time we have exceeded 30% in any quarter. Combined with our ongoing focus on expense management, we were able to post a non-GAAP operating profit for the first time in Enphase's history.”

S&C Energy Storage System Minimizes Power Outages In British Columbia
February 18, 2014
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S&C Electric Company, a smart grid leader and energy storage integration expert and Solar Power World Top 250 Solar Contractor, announces that its PureWave SMS Storage Management System in Field, British Columbia is helping reduce the length and frequency of power outages in the community. The system, owned by BC Hydro, integrates a 1-MW sodium-sulfur battery bank to the power grid so that it can provide up to seven hours of clean back-up power should the power grid experience a disruption. The system also provides peak shaving on a daily basis.

Field is a remote mountain community that relies on a single 55-km overhead distribution line to deliver power from the substation in Golden, B.C. to the town. In this mountainous terrain, heavy forestation, difficult access, and adverse climate conditions result in frequent faults affecting reliability. The energy storage system alleviates this problem by automatically transferring Field’s electric load to battery power when the grid is disrupted.

“The energy storage system provides a clean source of back-up power for Field, greatly improving power reliability while reducing the environmental impact of other back-up power supply options like diesel generators,” says Dan Girard, director, Business Development—Renewable Energy and Energy Storage, S&C.

The system is already providing benefits for Field residents since it went into service in July 2013. In the first six months of system operation, six major power disruptions occurred, stemming from incidents including motor vehicle accidents, trees falling on the lines, and broken power line poles. Each time S&C’s system operated flawlessly to avoid an outage, supplying Field with battery power for a total of 40 hours. In fact, during the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the energy storage facility in September, a line fault occurred when a motor vehicle accident caused a power pole to break. S&C’s energy storage solution quickly demonstrated its value by islanding the town for eight hours until repairs could be made and grid power was restored.

This energy storage project is the first of its kind in Canada. It stores clean energy produced by BC Hydro to meet the area’s electricity demands while also reducing system load during periods of peak demand. The $13 million project was made possible with a $6.5 million grant from Natural Resources Canada’s Clean Energy Fund.

ESA Renewables Commissions First Community Solar Farm in Central Florida
February 18, 2014
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Central Florida solar company developed, constructed and will operate solar array.

ESA Renewables (ESA), an industry leader in providing turnkey solar solutions, is pleased to announce the completion of a 400 kilowatt (kW) community solar farm on the Gardenia campus of the Orlando Utilities Commission (OUC) located at 3800 Gardenia Avenue in Orlando, FL. The array was commissioned in October by ESA and has been acquired by Spear Point Energy; OUC has agreed to purchase the generated power from Spear Point Energy under a 25-year power purchase agreement.

The solar farm is the result of many companies coming together, including Sylvester and Cockrum, ReneSola, Advanced Energy, Chint, Schletter, ESA, and Spear Point Energy.

“The technology innovation of using Schletter micro-piles as foundations and precast concrete pads, in addition to the engineering design using a high density module with a modular canopy with long spans, has cut the construction schedule in half and minimized the risk factors in a rainy environment like Florida,” said Javier Latre Gorbe, Vice-President of Technical Operations for ESA Renewables. “The solar array serves dual purposes as a solar farm and a canopy to 151 LED-lit parking spaces for OUC employees and guests.”

“We are pleased to have worked closely with ESA Renewables on the OUC community solar array project, contributing our services and capabilities of the micro-pile technology and carport structure to the farm,” said Ryan Kelly, Vice President of Sales for Schletter Inc. Mr. Kelly went on to add that “The carport structures are comprised of mainly aluminum, making it maintenance free. This saved an incredible amount of time and money during the installation process.”
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Sibanye Gold Seeks 15% Solar Power to Cut Eskom Reliance
By Kevin Crowley
Feb 20, 2014 1:54 AM PT

Sibanye Gold Ltd. (SGL) intends to get as much as 15 percent of its energy from solar power to reduce reliance for electricity supplies to its mines from South Africa’s state-owned Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd.

The company is completing a study on the project and aims to share the outcome with investors in about a month, Chief Executive Officer Neal Froneman said today in a phone interview. Solar energy would provide 10 percent to 15 percent of Sibanye’s power needs.

“The focus on solar was more to reduce our dependence on Eskom because of its unreliability more than getting costs down,” Froneman said. “But, if Eskom continues with the sort of increases it has been implementing, it will be a more economical alternative.”

Eskom, which provides almost all of South Africa’s electricity, is struggling to meet a target of having 15 percent more supply than demand as it contends with aging equipment and delays in the construction of plants. Sibanye was among mining companies asked to reduce energy use in November as Eskom declared an emergency power shortage.

Vitec, ReneSola Set Up Venture to Make Solar Panels in Japan
20 February 2014

Feb. 20 (Bloomberg) — Vitec Co., a Japanese trading company that specializes in semiconductor products, will start making solar panels in Japan with China’s ReneSola Ltd. from April, Vitec said in a statement today.

The partners were prompted to come together to set up a factory as some Japanese municipalities require locally-made panels to be used for projects, Hiromu Fujita, a Vitec official, said by phone today.

Fujita confirmed a report by the Nikkei newspaper that said Vitec holds 51 percent in the venture and ReneSola and Sun-s Co., a Hiroshima-based maker of semiconductors and solar panels, the rest.

The plant will have the capacity to produce 80 megawatts of panels a year, according to Fujita. Tokyo-based Vitec has six solar power stations across Japan at present, with a combined capacity of more than 10 megawatts.

Separately, ReneSola said last month it won a contract to supply 420 megawatts of products to a project in Japan, its biggest order from the country.

U.S. Approves Two First Solar Projects in California and Nevada
19 February 2014

Feb. 19 (Bloomberg) — The U.S. approved two First Solar Inc. projects with 550 megawatts of capacity that will be built on federal land near the Nevada-California border.

The 300-megawatt Stateline solar farm will be built in San Bernardino County, California, and the 250-megawatt Silver State South project will be constructed near Primm, Nevada, the U.S. Interior Department said today in a statement.

Southern California Edison Co. has agreed to buy power from the two projects, enough for about 170,000 homes, for 20 years, according to the statement.

The U.S. has approved 50 utility-scale wind, solar and geothermal energy projects since 2009, with almost 14 gigawatts of capacity, enough to power 4.8 million homes. Thirteen are in operation.

3 States Driving Energy Storage for Utilities and Customers
Whether it’s behind the meter or at grid scale, storage is picking up steam.

Katherine Tweed
February 19, 2014

The business case for energy storage can be made in many different ways, but it helps when storage has a clear place in the local energy market.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission took solid steps with Orders 755 and 784, but there’s even more happening in a few states that could show the way forward for the rest of the country.

Despite the federal directives, “changes at the state level are most likely to help expedite the deployment of energy storage, particularly for behind-the-meter assets,” according to a new GTM Research report, Distributed Energy Storage 2014: Applications and Opportunities for Commercial Energy.

Greentech Media has been keeping an eye on the states highlighted in the graphic below for years when it comes to energy storage, but changes in just the past twelve months have made these markets even more attractive.

Here are the top three states to watch in the short term.


New York


Air Force boasts biggest solar plant among US military installations
20. February 2014 | Global PV markets, Industry & Suppliers, Markets & Trends | By: Edgar Meza

The new plant will provide 35 percent of the Arizona military base's electricity demand. The U.S. Air Force is working to increase its use of renewable electricity to 25 percent by 2025.

California's SunEdison and MIC Solar Energy Holdings have completed a 16.4 MW PV plant located at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base outside Tucson, Arizona.

The plant is the largest solar energy facility at any U.S. Department of Defense installation and is expected to reduce the Air Force's utility costs by $500,000 annually for the next 25 years.

"This project was very rewarding for our team because we are helping save our fellow taxpayers' money," said Bob Powell, SunEdison president of North America. "The Air Force, like other branches of the armed forces, is a perfect candidate for solar power because they have high electricity demands and often have large plots of underutilized land."

Warm weather and solar PV eat Origin’s energy earnings
By Giles Parkinson on 20 February 2014

Origin Energy, Australia’s largest utility, has reported a sharp slump in earnings from its core energy markets business – putting the blame mostly on Australia’s warmest ever winter, and the growing impact of rooftop solar PV.

Origin Energy’s half yearly accounts show that its underlying earnings from the energy division fell by a massive 23 per cent to $505 million. It blames lower sales volumes (electricity demand was down 12 per cent in its core mass market) on the warm winter, high solar PV usage, and the impact of more energy-efficient appliances and prior customer losses.

Origin’s energy results are an interesting insight into the state of the Australian electricity market, because it highlights the major trends – growing impact of solar PV and the “pro-sumer” market, more energy efficient prices, and the rising cost of gas.

The company quantifies the impacts with this graph below. The warm winter is pinged for $30 million of losses, lower volumes to solar PV and energy efficiency is $52 million, the impact of prior discounts is $55 million. Gas margins is the only bright spot for the company, and caused a small rise in earnings.

How the CDC and Zombies Can Teach Us to Guerrilla Market Solar
Tor 'Solar Fred' Valenza, UnThink Solar
February 20, 2014 | 2 Comments

In 2011, the U.S. Government’s Centers for Disease Control and Preparedness (a.k.a. “the CDC”) published a guide to prepare citizens for a potential Zombie Apocalypse. No joke. This wasn’t a waste of taxpayer dollars, but actually a brilliant guerrilla marketing campaign that solar companies can and should learn from.

As always, good guerrilla marketing starts with an educational purpose: Part of the CDC’s mission is to prepare citizens for natural disasters, such as snowmageddons and swine flu, as well as unnatural disasters, such as terrorist attacks and fossil fuel-related oopsies, such as the recent West Virginia chemical spill.

The problem is that few citizens pay attention to the CDC’s well-thought-out advice until disaster has struck. But as the CDC’s director, Dr. Ali Khan, noted, "If you are generally well equipped to deal with a Zombie Apocalypse, you will be prepared for a hurricane, pandemic, earthquake, or terrorist attack."

So, to help the public to pay attention to real disaster preparedness, the CDC launched a Zombie Apocalypse campaign to help the public prepare emergency kits and have a communication plan for both Zombie and non-Zombie disasters.

Using real facts with tongue-in-cheek Zombie situations, the CDC created an educational school program for kids, as well as shareable infographics and a graphic novella for adults who still had possession of their brains to download a PDF and read such things.

Just in case an Undead have already broken down the door and eaten your brains already, here are few more tips:
  • Have a point. Don’t just pull a monster stunt that doesn’t educate your customers about your solar products or service.
  • Don’t copy what’s been done. As I mentioned, this Zombie meme has been done in many industries and at least one blog post in the solar industry. If you’re going to do a Zombie campaign, do it like no one else has done it before. Otherwise, you’ll be seen as a been-there-done-that-rip-off and your message will be dismissed with a roll of the eyes.
  • Don’t be afraid to include humor! Yes, solar can be serious when you’re up on a roof and playing with kW of power, so don’t do anything that might inspire kids to stick their fingers in a socket or go on a roof. That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with Dracula, Gremlins, and other horror figures, especially around Halloween when solar sales may be slowing.
  • As with these other Zombie campaign examples, be visual, be relevant to customers’ needs. Provide lots of content marketing that’s shareable and that people will want to share because it’s useful info wrapped in a fun package.
  • Don't forget to alert the media. Write a press release with an eye-catching headline and explain your point.

February 19, 2014 6:53 pm
Rwanda signs $24m deal for solar power plant near Kigali
By Pilita Clark, Environment Correspondent

Rwanda is set to become the first country in east Africa with a utility-scale solar plant after a $24m deal was signed to build the scheme outside Kigali, the capital.

The 8.5 megawatt solar photovoltaic project is the brainchild of American-Israeli green entrepreneur Yosef Abramowitz, a pioneer of Israel’s solar industry. It is expected to boost Rwanda’s electricity supply by 8 per cent once it starts operating this year.

Mr Abramowitz, chief executive of the Energiya Global Capital group that provided seed capital for the project, said he hoped it would prove that commercially viable solar plants can be built throughout Africa, where 550m people lack access to electricity.

“The human race bears a moral and practical imperative to provide power for all, while also transitioning from burning fossil fuels to harnessing renewables,” he said.

“It will be the first in a series of large fields we are planning in the coming 24 months.”

The Rwandan solar plant is being financed by a consortium of equity investors and debt providers including Dutch development bank FMO and Norwegian development body Norfund. It also received grants from bodies funded by governments including the UK and US.

The plant’s electricity will be fed into the national grid under a 25-year power purchase agreement with the Rwanda Energy, Water and Sanitation Authority.

The Rwandan government is aiming to connect half its population of 11m people to electricity by 2017. It says access to power has increased from 6 per cent of the population in 2008 to 16 per cent in 2012.

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Japan May Cut Solar Tariff by 14% as Operating Costs Decline
21 February 2014

Feb. 21 (Bloomberg) — Japan may cut its tariff on purchases of solar power by 14 percent to reflect the lower costs of operations and maintenance, according to estimates by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

The tariff may fall to 31.1 yen (30 cents) per kilowatt hour plus tax, the London-based researcher said in a report dated yesterday. The current rate is 36 yen per kilowatt hour plus sales tax. The sales tax, currently 5 percent, will be raised to 8 percent in the year beginning April 1.

A committee of experts advising the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is reviewing tariffs for renewable energy including wind and geothermal for fiscal 2014. The reviewed rate would be applied to new applications.

The ministry has reduced its operations and maintenance cost estimates for solar projects to 8 million yen per megawatt a year from 9 million yen per megawatt, BNEF said in the report.

The ministry also raised its capacity factor estimates to 13 percent from 12 percent, according to the report. Capacity factor indicates how often an electric generator runs for a certain period of time.

SunEdison Builds U.S. Defense Department’s Largest Solar Plant
20 February 2014

Feb. 20 (Bloomberg) — SunEdison Inc., the solar developer and polysilicon supplier formerly known as MEMC Electronic Materials Inc., completed the U.S. Defense Department’s largest solar installation.

The 16.4-megawatt project on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, southeast of Tucson, Arizona, will save the base $500,000 annually for the next 25 years, St. Peters, Missouri-based SunEdison said today in a statement.

The solar farm will supply 35 percent of the base’s electricity, the equivalent of powering more than 5,000 homes, according to the statement. The Air Force wants to generate 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025.

SunEdison in April received a $35 million loan to construct the solar farm.

New Japanese Electric Buses Soon To Be Solar Powered
By Nino Marchetti
Electric Vehicles, Transportation
February 20, 2014

Though most of the time when you hear about electric buses these days it is because of Chinese manufacturer BYD, others do have contributions to the developing mass transit space as well. One of these is Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which is supplying two units in “a zero emissions transportation system being planned by the city of Kitakyushu, Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan.”

The buses, which Mitsubishi said are full-size, low-floor models for the city’s regular route network, operate on the company’s lithium-ion rechargeable batteries. They measure 11.065 meters (m) in length, 2.495 m in width and 3.475 m in height, and weigh 11,250 kilograms (kg).

Making use of a specially developed charger that enables full recharging in approximately half the required time, the buses are able to travel up to 80 kilometers (km) on a full charge, at a top speed of 85 km per hour. The load capacity is said to be 72 passengers.

Some interesting random aspects of this project include plans in October for renewable energy generated by solar power that will be stored in an energy storage system for use in recharging, as well as word that the battery being used on board the buses “already achieved a significant track record through its widespread adoption in cargo container-type energy storage systems, hybrid forklifts and other advanced products.”

First Solar’s Quiet Reveal of Its TetraSun High-Efficiency Silicon
Watching First Solar maneuver into the silicon solar fray

Eric Wesoff
February 20, 2014

It's still early days for First Solar and its efforts to move into silicon solar. But First Solar is "still on plan" with its silicon solar product rollout, according to sources close to the company. These plans will enable First Solar to move from the lumpy revenue of utility-scale solar to the higher-volume, higher-ASP world of distributed generation, a longstanding gap in the firm's addressable market.

Those plans have the company making the aspirational claim of starting "commercial-scale manufacturing of the new technology in the second half of 2014." That's just around the corner.

First Solar, a long-time thin film manufacturer, moved into silicon with its acquisition of high-efficiency silicon solar startup TetraSun in April 2013. This is the cadmium-telluride vendor's first foray into silicon, although it has explored CIGS.

In its move to market, First Solar recently released a few details about the new technology it's trying to commercialize:
  • The proprietary cell design potentially allows efficiencies over 21 percent
  • Cells are built using 156 mm n-type wafers, which have higher efficiencies than p-type monocrystalline cells because of their higher minority carrier lifetime
  • The 156 mm wafers provide more active cell area per module and increased power output compared to 125 mm wafers
  • The metallization process utilizes less than 50 μ narrow copper electrodes, which yield better conductivity and less resistive losses than industry-standard, screen-printed silver fingers. Copper-plated metallization induces minimal stress on wafers, improving mechanical yield and reliability, according to the firm. (There are downsides to copper as well, however.)
  • Lower temperature coefficient (-0.3%/ °C) results in better energy production compared to traditional crystalline technologies (typical -0.45%/°C).
  • No light-induced degradation and no potential-induced degradation

Solar renaissance is under way, says IHS
21. February 2014 | Applications & Installations, Global PV markets, Industry & Suppliers, Investor news, Markets & Trends, Top News | By: Max Hall

Production capacity investments by Canadian Solar and SunPower will be the first of many, predicts IHS. The market research company is also predicting microinverters will start to gain traction this year.

Market research company IHS has pointed to manufacturing capacity expansions by Canadian Solar and SunPower as further evidence its prediction of a 2014 solar renaissance was correct.

IHS said today, the recent announcement by Chinese manufacturer Canadian Solar it hopes to raise module production capacity to 3 GW to meet global demand together the news SunPower's capital expenditure expectations have doubled for the year, backs its bold predictions about the global market for solar.

IHS reiterated its prediction manufacturers will boost capital spending 42% this year to US$3.37 billion and a further 25% next year, to $4.22 billion, in an effort to meet demand after a torrid 2013.

The consultancy is also forecasting global solar installations will rise to 40-45 GW this year and, in a separate announcement today, that microinverters will play an increasingly significant role in the global inverter market.

Canadian Solar cited a planned rise in production capacity as one of the reasons behind a recent fundraising round, adding the module production capacity at its Ontario factory rose from 330 MW at the end of December to 530 MW, a month later.

U.S. company SunPower revised its capital investment expectations for this year up 90% to $150-170 million from last year's $70-90 million.

Netherlands reached 665 MW of cumulative PV capacity in 2013
21. February 2014 | Markets & Trends, Global PV markets, Industry & Suppliers | By: Ian Clover

Figures released by the country's Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment reveal that Amsterdam leads the way, with more than 16 MW of solar power installed.

Latest figures from the Netherlands' Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment have revealed that the country ended 2013 with 665.47 MW of solar PV capacity installed.

These figures are the first official update on the country's solar performance since September last year, when the Dutch Association of Energy Network Operators published its findings that 455 MW of PV capacity had been registered with energy portal www.energieleveren.nl.

As expected, Amsterdam leads the way with 16. 1 MW of solar capacity installed. In second spot is the municipality of Haarlemmermeer, a polder on the shoulder of Amsterdam that has a total of 8.5 MW of PV capacity installed.

After which, solar capacity in the Netherlands appears rather evenly spread out, with cities such as Utrecht (5.9 MW), Tilburg (5.7 MW), Eindhoven (4.4 MW) and The Hague (4.3 MW) each boasting modest levels of capacity.

Chile connects more than 100 MW of solar projects to grid
20. February 2014 | Global PV markets, Industry & Suppliers, Markets & Trends | By: Blanca Diaz, Edgar Meza

The country's grid-connected solar capacity soared from 6.7 MW in December to more than 100 MW the following month.

Chile saw an explosion of solar capacity in January, thanks in large part to a large-scale PV installation that was partially connected to the grid in the Atacama region.

At the end of December, Chile had 6.7 MW of grid-connected solar. The following month, that figure had soared to more than 100 MW.

According to Chile's Center for Renewable Energy (CER), solar energy capacity climbed to 102.6 MW in January, an increase of 95.9 MW from December.

CDB provides United Photovoltaics financing for 1GW of planned PV projects
By Mark Osborne - 20 February 2014, 17:57
In News, Power Generation, Finance

United Photovoltaics Group, formerly Goldpoly New Energy Holdings has secured financing for 1GW of planned PV projects in China from the Shenzhen Branch of China Development Bank (CDBSZ).

The financial details of the deal with CDBSZ were not disclosed except that the financing arrangement would be for a term of five-years. The financing arrangement enabled United Photovoltaics to better undertake forward planning requirements.

Crowd-funding agreement

United Photovoltaics also said that it had launched a crowd-funding internet based financial vehicle with Renewable Energy (Hong Kong) Trade Board (EBODHK) and Wangxin Finance Group (NCF Group), for the development and construction of PV power plant projects in China.

United Photovoltaics may be the first company in China to adopt the crowd-funding model.

CDBSZ is also participating in the crowd-funding vehicle by providing an escrow/custodian account for each project.

SunEdison’s US$6.4 billion Saudi manufacturing complex moving forward
By Mark Osborne - 20 February 2014, 16:41
In News, Fab & Facilities, Finance

SunEdison’s recently announced feasibility study to potentially establish a fully integrated PV manufacturing complex, including FBR polysilicon production in partnership with the Saudi Arabian government may be closer to reality than previously thought.

SunEdison recently revealed plans for the US$6.4 billion complex and highlighted that it was working with the Public Investment Fund (PIF) of the Government of Saudi Arabia and the Saudi Arabian Investment Company (Sanabil Investments) on the feasibility of the project.

The company noted that a preliminary study had already been carried out with the National Industrial Clusters Development Program (NICDP) in 2013.

However, Ahmad Chatila, CEO of SunEdison said in a conference call discussing fourth quarter financial results that he was “very exited about the initiative, and we'll talk more about it in the future as it gets finalized and moves forward".

Chatila’s comment strongly suggests that the possibilities of the potential massive deal contained a higher level of certainty than previously believed and also tie in with SunEdison’s plans to require as much as US$15 billion in annual project financing to support its plans to become a leading global downstream PV project developer.

SunEdison targeting US$15 billion annual project finance business
By Mark Osborne - 20 February 2014, 15:12
In News, Power Generation, Finance

Major PV energy provider SunEdison is planning to grow its PV project business to a scale that would require up to US$15 billion a year in project finance capital. The company says this would be fuelled through tapping public capital markets via its yield co vehicles as well as debt and equity deals.

Management noted in a conference call to discuss fourth quarter 2013 financial results that the company had a strategic plan to be a leader in the downstream PV project business on a global basis and cover utility, commercial and residential markets.

“It's a multichannel approach, utility, commercial and residential,” commented Ahmad Chatila, CEO of SunEdison in the conference call. “So that's number one. Number two, if you really want to scale the business, we're talking US$10 billion, potentially US$15 billion a year worth of project finance and debt and equity. You cannot do it through negotiating with large institutions. You have to do it through public markets really. And you have to do it globally.”

High demand for yield co

According to SunEdison management, the recent plan to initiate its first yield co financial vehicle and the first major PVEP to do so, had already generated a lot of interest from the likes of sovereign wealth funds.

“You're definitely seeing people who are looking for yield coming after these [PV] projects,” said Brian Wuebbels, CFO of SunEdison in the conference call. “So whether it's sovereign wealth funds, whether it's insurances, whether it's utilities… there's just a tremendous appetite out there for the projects.”


Distributed generation model

One area that has not received much attention is SunEdison’s plans for its distributed generation model. Currently the company is selectively testing the market by providing installers with its outsourced PV modules and offering installers credit facilities for securing third-party leasing deals with residential and commercial customers.

Competitors such as SunPower and SolarCity have built strong market presence by offering such customers no upfront cost for PV installations. SunEdison is undertaking trials of this business model in the US and UK.

Chatila noted in the call that the company was still attempting to create the right formula for the model so that it becomes another major market for the it. However, Chatila said that more insight and possible announcements in relation to the distributed market would occur in the second half of 2014.

PV project pipeline

SunEdison reported that it completed 333MW of PV projects in the fourth quarter of 2013, a record for the company. The company noted that ASPs were US$3.15/W in the quarter for fully developed projects. The company said that it had 504MW of new projects under construction at year end that would also be completed over the next few quarters.

The company said that its global PV project pipeline stood at 3.4GW, up 800MW from the previous year, while the backlog increased by 200MW in the same period. O&M assets under management reached 1.9GW.

Three Strategies for Low-Income Solar Programs
Kat Friedrich, Clean Energy Finance Center
February 21, 2014 | 0 Comments

The phrase ‘low-income’ rarely appears in solar energy press coverage in the United States. But some enterprising organizations have set their sights on expanding the market for residential solar photovoltaics to include low-to-moderate-income communities.

Three approaches — group discount programs, affordable leases, and community solar installations — are making solar power available to these communities in some states.

While group discount programs and affordable leases are designed for homeowners, community solar installations also include renters and property owners whose homes are not suitable for solar panels.

The barriers that currently prevent solar power from reaching some low-income communities include requirements related to home ownership and credit scores.

Bob Wall, associate director of outreach at Connecticut’s Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority (CEFIA), said he recommends that other solar programs expand their reach within low-income communities by driving down soft costs and streamlining the permitting process.

“This subject has been a challenge historically for CEFIA because we were restricted to working with renewable energy systems at a time when it was very early in the market development and the cost was prohibitive for many residents,” Wall said.

Group Discount Programs

Affordable Leases

Community Solar Installations

SolarCity Hired To Reduce Electricity Bill by 80% For Unical Aviation
February 20, 2014 Frank Andorka : 0 Comments

Unical Aviation, a global aircraft parts supplier, will fuel its growth with savings it expects from making an unusual move for its industry: going solar (with the help of national solar installer SolarCity).

The company, whose clients include the Boeing Co., most major airlines and the military, hired SolarCity to install a sprawling series of solar arrays on its roof that will provide more than one megawatt of generation capacity.

Unical expects the solar systems to cut its mushrooming monthly electricity bill by as much as 80 percent.

“We went solar first and foremost for environmental reasons,” says Leonardus Karsana, Unical executive vice president. “But financially, it was a no-brainer. Our electricity bill rises each year, and we’re consuming much more electricity because we’re growing so rapidly. We hired 70 people over the past year and now have a total of 370 employees.”

Unical expects to save $200,000 on utility costs in the first year alone, and millions more over the solar power system’s lifetime.

“Everyone is going to switch to solar, especially in sun-drenched states,” Karsana said. “It’s just a matter of time.”

REC Group, Fraunhofer ISE Collaborate On High-Efficiency Solar Cells
February 21, 2014 Frank Andorka : 0 Comments

REC Group, a global supplier of solar energy solutions, will collaborate with the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE to develop high-efficiency solar cells based on n-type monocrystalline wafers.

N-type solar cells have a higher efficiency potential than traditional p-type solar cells. Moreover, they do not display the light induced degradation that conventional p-type solar cells suffer from. However, n-type cells are more complex to manufacture and traditionally require expensive silver contacts on both sides of the cell.

Fraunhofer ISE has now developed a high-efficiency cell structure that avoids the use of an expensive silver contact grid on the back of the cell. Instead, this cell structure makes use of a combination of dielectric layers and localized contacts.

REC, which has experience in the development and optimization state-of-the-art manufacturing processes, will work together with Fraunhofer ISE to translate this technology from lab scale to a full production-ready concept.

Studying Photosynthetic Antenna Proteins Could Make for Better Solar Cells
Written by Sandra Henderson 21 February 2014

Researchers at Stanford University in California (US) have garnered new insights into one of the molecular mechanisms behind light harvesting in photosynthetic organisms. Understanding natural designs of photosynthetic antenna proteins at the single-photon level could foster better solar cells in the future. One particular inquiry was how the same molecular machinery can perform efficient light harvesting at low light while safely dissipating excess excitation energy at high light.

The ability of plants and other photosynthetic organisms not only to capture solar energy but also to survive under both full sunshine and deep cloud cover has evolved over billions of years. So what does nature know that is eluding solar scientists? Employing the single-molecule Anti-Brownian ELectrokinetic (ABEL) trap, a solution-phase single-molecule technique, Stanford especially wanted to learn how individual photosynthetic antenna proteins can be robust to varying conditions in nature.

“In our just-published work on the bacterial antenna LH2, Dr Schlau-Cohen discovered new states of the LH2 complex with different degrees of quenching,” reports Hsiang-Yu Yang, a graduate student in Professor W.E. Moerner's research group. Postdoctoral scholar Gabriela Schlau-Cohen, along with Yang et al., is the author of the article "Single-Molecule Exploration of the Photodynamics of LHCII Complexes in Solution,” in Biophysical Journal. “By analysing the transition between these states, she found a photo-activated, reversible quenching process that may be one of the molecular mechanisms of photoprotection, or the way in which the organism protects itself from damage by excess light.” Plants do this by safely dissipating excess excitation energy to prevent the formation of triplet chlorophyll, which can generate deleterious singlet oxygen. This regulation, known as non-photochemical quenching (NPQ), enables plants to balance efficient light harvesting and photosynthesis under fluctuating sunlight conditions without damage to the photosynthetic machinery.

Yang believes that incorporating this concept into future designs of biomimetic light-harvesting materials or photovoltaic devices may help advance their capability to work under fluctuating light intensity and improve their durability.
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Experts develop low-cost solar panels by recycling rare metals
From: ClickGreen Staff, ClickGreen, More from this Affiliate
Published February 21, 2014 09:45 AM

Swedish firm Midsummer, a leading supplier of production lines for cost effective manufacturing of flexible thin film CIGS solar cells, has developed a unique process to recover leftover rare metals such as indium and gallium when manufacturing thin film CIGS solar cells. The unique process will extensively reduce thin film CIGS manufacturing material costs.

In close co-operation with Professor Christian Ekberg and PhD-student Anna Gustafsson at the Swedish Chalmers University of Technology, Midsummer has developed a unique process to recycle the CIGS-material that does not end up on the solar cell. The process recovers the material that is left from the sputtering targets (30 to 40 per cent) and what ends up on the masks in the machine.

"Normally when recycling these kinds of materials you usually melt down the materials unrefined. But this new and unique method is far subtler as the process makes it possible to remove all the selenium before dissolving the material in its components with various acids," said Sven Lindström, CEO, Midsummer. "Gallium and Indium are expensive rare earth materials and this unique process makes it possible for us to drastically reduce the material costs while at the same time conserve the earth’s limited resources".

The unique feature of this process is that it removes selenium by oxygen and thus makes it easier to process the remaining oxidized metals. This is very good as selenium may in some reactions create toxic gases.

"The CIGS material is grinded to a powder and oxygen is allowed to flow over the material", said Anna Gustafsson, PhD-student at the Swedish Chalmers University of Technology. "The method allows SeO2 to be formed and all the selenium is separated from the metals. The separated selenium can then be reformed at very high purity (over 5N purity, 99.999%) so it can easily be reused in the solar cell production process without further purification".

Solar DNA tests detect cancer without electricity
18:00 21 February 2014 by Hal Hodson

The power of the sun could spark a medical revolution. A device can diagnose diseases using nothing more than a smartphone, sunlight and a tiny DNA sample.

The KS-Detect, built by engineers at Cornell University in New York, will be used to diagnose Kaposi's sarcoma, the AIDS-related cancer that killed Tom Hanks's character in the film Philadelphia. Li Jiang and his colleague David Erickson, are now testing the KS-Detect in Uganda, in partnership with Makarere University in Kampala.

Kaposi's sarcoma is one of the most common forms of cancer across sub-Saharan Africa, caused by a herpes virus that takes advantage of weakened immune systems. It kills between a fifth and a third of those it infects within a year – and up to 70 per cent within three years. Late diagnosis of the disease is one of the main factors contributing to the low survival rate. Cornell's KS-Detect aims to change this.

Testing for the disease typically involves using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to amplify traces of the herpes virus DNA in the presence of a primer, a bit of DNA which binds to pre-selected target sequences and serves as the starting point for the strand to be copied. This process is repeated until there are enough copies to show up in a detector. Normally, precision electronics are needed to heat and cool the sample and drive the reaction.

Disc of light

The KS-Detect works without electricity by using a lens to focus the sun's rays into a disc of light where the edges are cooler than the centre. A long microscopic channel is etched onto a chip that is placed under the disc of light. The sample moves along this channel so that its temperature changes in cycles, alternating between the heat at the centre of the light disc, and the cool edges.

This drives the PCR. A dye called SYBR Green glows under blue light if amplified DNA from the herpes virus is detected. A smartphone controlling the chip then reads the results.

"We thought why not go straight to the source and use sunlight directly as heat, skip the electricity?" says Jiang. "That let us skip a lot of the components you need in normal PCR."

US Government Gets it Right on the Future of Solar; Now It’s Time to Commercialize It (at Home)
Brad Mattson, Siva Power
February 21, 2014 | 2 Comments

The U.S government takes a lot of grief, some of it deserved. Criticism might be most pronounced in industrial policy, where the mantra “we can’t pick winners and losers” was proven to many with the demise of solar start-up Solyndra.

But whatever you think about Solyndra, the government actually got it right when it comes to the next generation of solar technology (which will be on display next week at the ARPA-E Innovation Summit)

And amazingly, no one seems to have noticed, except the Chinese.

Before the emergence of the Chinese solar juggernaut, the Department of Energy (DOE)-funded National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) had been studying multiple solar technologies for years. They looked at the world’s current dominant technology, multi-crystalline silicon (mc-Si), but also an alphabet soup of other materials: GaAs, CdTe, CIGS, and CZTS. From that long list the government selected CIGS as the best candidate for transfer from the lab to the manufacturing floor. Working with the state of New York, the DOE formed the PVMC, Photovoltaic Manufacturing Consortium, to facilitate the commercialization of CIGS as the heir apparent to mc-Si. CIGS and only CIGS. They went out on a limb to anoint a winner.

Fast forward two years to September 2013. In an historic, but little publicized event, the world record for CIGS efficiency passed the world record for mc-Si, the world volume leader and the foundation of China’s surge into solar PV (see Chart 1). Two metrics determine the commercial potential of PV: efficiency (the ability of a solar panel to convert the sun’s rays into electricity), and cost. The winning combination is higher efficiency and lower manufacturing cost. The chart shows the comparative efficiencies of both materials over time. While PVMC helped achieve the outcome, the real credit goes to NREL. NREL is the holder of many of the record results on this chart.


New, inexpensive production materials boost promise of hydrogen fuel
Feb. 21, 2014
by Chris Barncard

Generating electricity is not the only way to turn sunlight into energy we can use on demand. The sun can also drive reactions to create chemical fuels, such as hydrogen, that can in turn power cars, trucks and trains.

The trouble with solar fuel production is the cost of producing the sun-capturing semiconductors and the catalysts to generate fuel. The most efficient materials are far too expensive to produce fuel at a price that can compete with gasoline.

"In order to make commercially viable devices for solar fuel production, the material and the processing costs should be reduced significantly while achieving a high solar-to-fuel conversion efficiency," says Kyoung-Shin Choi, a chemistry professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

In a study published last week in the journal Science, Choi and postdoctoral researcher Tae Woo Kim combined cheap, oxide-based materials to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gases using solar energy with a solar-to-hydrogen conversion efficiency of 1.7 percent, the highest reported for any oxide-based photoelectrode system.

Choi created solar cells from bismuth vanadate using electrodeposition — the same process employed to make gold-plated jewelry or surface-coat car bodies — to boost the compound's surface area to a remarkable 32 square meters for each gram.

"Without fancy equipment, high temperature or high pressure, we made a nanoporous semiconductor of very tiny particles that have a high surface area," says Choi, whose work is supported by the National Science Foundation. "More surface area means more contact area with water, and, therefore, more efficient water splitting."

Bismuth vanadate needs a hand in speeding the reaction that produces fuel, and that's where the paired catalysts come in.

While there are many research groups working on the development of photoelectric semiconductors, and many working on the development of water-splitting catalysts, according to Choi, the semiconductor-catalyst junction gets relatively little attention.

"The problem is, in the end you have to put them together," she says. "Even if you have the best semiconductor in the world and the best catalyst in the world, their overall efficiency can be limited by the semiconductor-catalyst interface."

Nanoscale pillars could radically improve conversion of heat to electricity, say CU-Boulder researchers
February 20, 2014 • Natural Sciences, Engineering, Energy • Discovery & Innovation

University of Colorado Boulder scientists have found a creative way to radically improve thermoelectric materials, a finding that could one day lead to the development of improved solar panels, more energy-efficient cooling equipment, and even the creation of new devices that could turn the vast amounts of heat wasted at power plants into more electricity.

The technique—building an array of tiny pillars on top of a sheet of thermoelectric material—represents an entirely new way of attacking a century-old problem, said Mahmoud Hussein, an assistant professor of aerospace engineering sciences who pioneered the discovery.

The thermoelectric effect, first discovered in the 1800s, refers to the ability to generate an electric current from a temperature difference between one side of a material and the other. Conversely, applying an electric voltage to a thermoelectric material can cause one side of the material to heat up while the other stays cool, or, alternatively, one side to cool down while the other stays hot.

Devices that incorporate thermoelectric materials have been used in both ways: to create electricity from a heat source, such as the sun, for example, or to cool precision instruments by consuming electricity.

However, the widespread use of thermoelectric materials has been hindered by a fundamental problem that has kept scientists busy for decades. Materials that allow electricity to flow through them also allow heat to flow through them. This means that at the same time a temperature difference creates an electric potential, the temperature difference itself begins to dissipate, weakening the current it created.

Until the 1990s, scientists addressed this problem by looking for materials with intrinsic properties that allowed electricity to flow more easily than heat.

“Until 20 years ago, people were looking at the chemistry of the materials,” Hussein said. “And then nanotechnology came into the picture and allowed researchers to engineer the materials for the properties they wanted.”
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India Solar Cost Sets New Lows on SunEdison, Azure Bids
23 February 2014

Feb. 23 (Bloomberg) — India’s solar power cost fell to a new low, edging closer to coal, as declining panel prices and increased competition drew offers to build plants from groups backed by BlackRock Inc. and Electricite de France SA.

India, which uses competitive bidding to select companies offering to generate clean energy at the lowest cost, awarded 750 megawatts of permits on Feb. 21, half of that eligible to use imported equipment. The government also offered grants to offset project costs for the first time, helping attract bids for triple the capacity auctioned.

Winners of the import-eligible capacity, who bid seeking the least from the 18.75 billion rupees ($302 million) of subsidies, priced electricity from solar panels at an average 6,500 rupees a megawatt-hour, down 25 percent from a national tender two years ago, said Jasmeet Khurana, head of market intelligence at solar consultancy Bridge to India Energy Pvt.

India plans a sixfold increase in solar capacity drawing $11.7 billion of investment by 2017 to reduce blackouts as plunging panel prices help photovoltaic projects compete with coal- and gas-fired plants.

The average price of silicon solar modules has fallen more than 7 percent since June, according to data compiled by research company PV Insights.

Solar panel and cell makers are jostling for market share amid rising stakes after the U.S. lodged a complaint at the World Trade Organization this month, accusing India of imposing trade barriers on the auction.
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bio photovoltaic panel produces energy from bacteria in soil

the bio-photovoltaic panel consists of a battery in which energy is harvested from bacteria inside the soil to release electrons. installed at the valldaura campus of the institute for advanced architecture of catalonia, the system has sensors that display its status, as well as make it self sufficient. the bacteria is fed through by-products from the photosynthesis of plants, and by introducing an anode and cathode (battery) into the soil, the free electrons can be extracted and put into the circuit.

bacteria living in the soil takes these plant nutrients and metabolizes them, releasing hydrogen protons and electrons – the introduction of a microbial fuel cell, anode and cathode means a redox process occurs, transferring the free electons in the soil from anode to cathode. by connecting a circuit with a capacitor or step-down converter into the fuel cell, it is possible to use this source of flow to power appliances or any other electrical device.


Ingenious to Funnel Half of IPO Proceeds Into U.K. Solar Assets
24 February 2014

Feb. 24 (Bloomberg) — Ingenious Media Holdings Plc, an investor in films such as “Life of Pi” and “Avatar,” plans to channel more than half of its planned 160 million-pound ($266 million) fundraising into U.K. solar assets.

The financial adviser will put about 99 million pounds into six ground-mounted solar energy projects totaling 80 megawatts, according to Roberto Castiglioni, the U.K. firm’s investment director for clean energy. That should power about 85,000 homes, he said, and four of the six plants are set to be operating next month.

“Capitalizing on the experience of their European counterparts, U.K. income investors have become increasingly attracted to investing in operational solar photovoltaic parks,” Castiglioni said in an e-mailed response to questions. “The sector has matured and offers long-term stable cashflows with a link to inflation.”

Ingenious Media is planning to raise 160 million pounds to 200 million pounds through an initial public offering of a closed-end investment company on the London Stock Exchange to invest in U.K. solar, onshore wind and energy efficiency projects. It’s seeking to close fundraising on March 18.

Ingenious plans to invest 47 million pounds in land-based wind-power assets and 25 million pounds in projects that curb energy waste and boost efficiency in public-sector buildings. Efficiency measures include installing low-energy light bulbs. It’s targeting a dividend of 6 pence for shares selling at 1 pound.

Japan’s Third-Quarter Domestic Solar Shipments Double, JPEA Says
24 February 2014

Feb. 24 (Bloomberg) — Japan, the world’s second-largest solar market, saw domestic shipments of cells and modules double in the fiscal third quarter as developers took advantage of government incentives.

Local shipments totaled 2,043 megawatts in the three months through December, compared with 1,003 megawatts a year earlier, the Japan Photovoltaic Energy Association said in a statement. Exports fell to 15 megawatts from 111 megawatts as growth in the Japanese market outpaced that in Europe.

The country’s solar industry is expanding after the government introduced subsidies for clean-energy developments, which also include wind, geothermal, hydropower and biomass, in July 2012. Japan added the most solar capacity after China last year, according to researcher Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Japanese suppliers accounted for 70 percent of all modules shipped domestically last quarter, including 541 megawatts produced at plants abroad, the statement shows. Forty companies including Sharp Corp. and Panasonic Corp. contributed data.

Renewable Energy: 100% Of New U.S. Generating Capacity In January
By Pete Danko
Renewable Energy, Solar Power
February 24, 2014

Renewable energy comprised virtually 100 percent of the new generating capacity installed in the United States in January, according to a new government report.

The monthly Energy Infrastructure Update from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission shows 325 megawatts of new generation going into service in January. The breakdown: 287 MW of solar; 30 MW of geothermal steam; 4 MW of wind; 3 MW of biomass; and 1 MW of “other” [PDF]. Don’t know what that “other” was, but it wasn’t natural gas, coal or oil, so we’re calling this an all-renewables month.

Most of the new solar power came in the form of a few big projects in the Southwest, but North Carolina was active (again), too. Here’s the full roster of projects highlighted in the FERC update:
  • Exelon Corp’s 130 MW Antelope Valley Solar Phase II expansion project in Los Angeles County, CA is online. The power generated is sold to Pacific Gas and Electric under long-term contract.
  • Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s 61 MW Topaz Solar Farm Phase III expansion project in San Luis Obispo County, CA is online. The power generated is sold to Pacific Gas and Electric under long-term contract.
  • Duke Energy Corp’s 20 MW Dogwood Solar Power project in Halifax County, NC is online. The power generated is sold to Dominion Virginia Power under long-term contract.
  • NextEra Energy Inc.’s 20 MW Mountain View Solar project in Clark County, NV is online. The power generated is sold to NV Energy under long-term contract.
  • Strata Solar LLC has three solar projects that came online in NC: 6 MW Marshville Farm Solar project in Union County, and 6.4 MW Waco Farm Solar project in Cleveland County (The power generated from Marshville and Waco is sold to Duke Energy Carolinas under long-term contracts); and 6.4 MW Nash 58 Farm in Nash County (The power generated from Nash 58 Farm is sold to Progress Energy Carolinas under long-term contract).
  • Wagstaff Farm I LLC’s 5 MW Wagstaff Farm I Solar project in Person County, NC is online. Power generated is sold to Progress Energy Carolinas under long-term contract.
  • KKR Global Infrastructure Investors LP’s 20 MW Recurrent Gillespie 1 Solar project in Maricopa County, AZ is online. The power generated is sold to a local utility under long-term contract.
  • Consolidated Edison Inc.’s 4 MW Russell Point Wind Farm project in Logan County, OH is online. The power generated is sold to Buckeye Power Inc. under long-term contract.
  • Gradient Resources Inc.’s 30 MW Patua Hot Springs Geothermal project in Lyon County, NV is online. The power generated is sold to Sacramento Municipal Utility District under long-term contract.

Solar leads pack in new US generation capacity
24. February 2014 | Applications & Installations, Global PV markets, Investor news, Markets & Trends | By: Max Hall

Solar led the charge of renewables which accounted for over 99% of new electrical generation capacity installed in the US last month. But despite providing 287 MW of the 324 MW added in January, solar still represents only 0.7% of America's total electricity generation mix.

With the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) annnouncing more than 99% of domestic electrical generating capacity installed in the U.S. last month was from renewable sources, solar topped the pile.

FERC announced on Friday, solar dominated the new electric energy capacity mix in January with 13 new units accounting for 287 MW of the 324 MW installed.

That means solar dwarfed the second highest source of new electric generation capacity in the U.S. with three new geothermal steam units boasting 30 MW.

Three biomass facilities added 3 MW to the mix and a wind installation a further 1 MW with FERC's office of energy projects classifying the remaining 1 MW as 'other' in its latest Energy Infrastructure Update report.

If the figures represent encouraging news for the U.S. solar industry, the scale of the mountain to be climbed by renewables is represented by the latest figures for total electric generation capacity in the country.

Despite huge advances, solar still accounts for just 0.7% of the total energy mix, lagging behind wind – with 5.2% of the total figure – and even biomass, with 1.36%.

Greece awaits 'new deal' after adding 1 GW of solar in 2013
24. February 2014 | Markets & Trends, Investor news, Global PV markets, Industry & Suppliers | By: Ilias Tsagas

Greece's Environment Ministry is set to introduce new measures in the hopes of reaching a long-term solution, including FIT cuts and loan extensions. Consumers, however, face still more RES fee hikes.

According to a recent report by Greek electricity market operator LAGIE, Greece added an impressive 1,047 MW of new solar photovoltaic systems in 2013. Of these, 972 MW were ground-mounted systems and 75 MW were roof installations.

However, preliminary LAGIE data published on Wednesday indicates the country added only 3 MW of new solar PV in January 2014. While this data does not include autonomous electricity grids on Greece’s islands and may therefore increase slightly, a stark contrast with January 2013 when Greece had added 300 MW of new solar PV is inevitable.

PV is now the most widespread renewable power technology in Greece, accounting for a staggering 2,586 MW of installed solar capacity at the end of January. Wind power comes in second, reaching 1,828 MW of installed cumulative capacity.

Greece's photovoltaic growth last year came in somewhat irregular installments, with 797 MW of new capacity installed in the first quarter alone. An additional 158 MW, 36 MW and 56 MW were added in the second, third and fourth quarters, respectively. Considering this year’s installations in January, Greece's PV market is apparently slowing down.

Solar manufacturing equipment sales lag the boom
24. February 2014 | Global PV markets, Industry & Suppliers, Investor news, Markets & Trends, Trade cases | By: Max Hall

US semiconductor giant Applied Materials has reported more gloomy news from its solar division. With a manufacturing overcapacity worldwide, PV companies are not investing in plant, says Applied.

The booming demand for solar worldwide that has seen manufacturers start the year wth renewed optimism is yet to feed through into orders for solar manufacturing equipment, according to the latest quarterly update from Applied Materials.

In a familiar tale for the U.S. semiconductor giant, rising sales in ist core business concealed further losses from its Energy and Environmental Services (EES) division, which includes solar.

As the company's US$29 billion merger with Tokyo Electron nears, Applied Materials' future in solar looks less certain than ever, with the EES division blaming the company's sole operating loss on an ongoing global solar manufacturing overcapacity that means solar and wafer makers are reluctant to invest in new plant.

With the U.S. company also citing the uncertainty caused by solar trade wars and the tightening of access to capital for solar developments as negative factors, Applied's priorities were further hinted at in the full analysis of the first quarter figures released to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on Thursday.

"Applied has taken certain actions, including workforce reductions and re-prioritization of existing spending to enable increased funding for investments in technical capabilities and critical RD&E programs that address profitable opportunities in current and new markets with a focus on semiconductor technologies," said the report.

Australian firm to fund 150MW cell and module factory in Sri Lanka
By John Parnell - 24 February 2014, 11:36
In News, Fab & Facilities, PV Modules

An Australian energy consultancy has signed a deal with the Sri Lankan government to develop a US$190 million PV cell and module factory.

The facility in the country’s Board of Investment (BOI) trade zone near the southern city of Hambantota with have a capacity of 150MW.

Sydney-based Energy Puzzle will provide the investment for the project, which was approved in January with the final agreement signed on 21 February.

The majority of the facility’s output will be exported but some could be held back for local use, according to the BOI.

“Sri Lanka offers Australian enterprises many opportunities in the renewable energy sector,” said Patrick Featherston, director, Energy Puzzle. “The country has a well-educated workforce and maintains high standards of manufacturing, which is vital for a renewable energy sector such as the manufacture of solar panels.

“I am therefore, confident that the choice we made to invest in this rapidly developing country, with excellent connections to the South Asian region, East Asia, the Middle East and other parts of the world, is indeed the right one."

Network operator says rooftop solar PV shifts peak by several hours
By Giles Parkinson on 24 February 2014

The operator of South Australia’s electricity distribution network says rooftop solar PV played important role in protecting networks in recent heatwave and has shifted the peak of demand by several hours into the early evening.

Spark Infrastructure, which owns SA Power Networks in South Australia, as well as networks in Victoria, says data from the recent heatwaves in January and February made it clear that the proliferation of rooftop solar PV has shifted the peak in demand by a “couple of hours”, from around 5pm to 7pm.

“(Solar PV) helped reduce stress on the network during the heatwave,” Spark said in an analysts presentation on Monday. This, and greater preparation, meant that the network suffered little more than a “few blown fuses” this year despite two separate weeks of 5 consecutive days of 40C plus temperatures (and warm evenings), compared to a signficant “loss of assets” in the last major heatwave in 2009.

Five years ago, South Australia had little rooftop solar PV, but over the course of 2013 it jumped from 366MW of capacity at the start of the year to 548MW, and installations doubled in the second half. Its solar penetration is now an Australian high of 21.2 per cent of dwellings. (See separate story).

The conclusions by SA Power Networks fits in with the observations of private analysts and the Australian Energy Market Operator, which noted earlier this month that solar PV had shifted the peaks quite considerably.

This graph illustrates what has happened, compared to a similar day in 2009. It is similar to the AEMO graph of the same week. As we noted then, not only has it reduce the size of the peak by more than 5 per cent, and shifted it back by a couple of hours, but the volume and duration of the peak that has been dramatically reduced during the day. It would not take a lot of battery storage to shift and reduce that peak even further.


Uptake of rooftop solar PV surges in South Australia in 2nd half 2013
By Giles Parkinson on 24 February 2014

The uptake of rooftop solar PV in South Australia – already the state with the highest penetration of solar PV in the country – surged in the second half of 2013.

According to data provided by electricity distributor Spark Infrastructure, there was 548MW of rooftop solar PV on 157,000 South Australian rooftops as the end of the year. This represents 21.2 per cent of its about 750,000 residential customers.

According to Spark, the total capacity of rooftop solar PV in the state jumped 50 per cent over the year, from 366MW.

But the rate of installations actually doubled in the second half to 121MW, from 61MW in th first half, as the feed in tariff was reduced in September.

South Australia removed a 16c/kWh payment made through the networks in September, meaning that new households connections would receive only 9.8c/kWh for electricity exported to the grid.

That price has since fallen to 7.6c/kWh, as a result of falling wholesale prices (courtesy of South Australia’s large renewable contribution and falling demand), and will fall further to 6c/kWh when and if the carbon price is removed).

Rob Stobbe, the CEO of SA Power Networks, the South Australian business of Spark, said the average size of the rootop solar PV systems has doubled to 4MWh from 2MWh, and the other interesting trend is the uptake by commercial users.

“If you look at trends overseas, it is starting to happen here, and that is the move from residential to commercial installations,” Stobbe told an analysts briefing on Monday.

Distributed Generation Complicates Resource Planning for Utilities
Utilities might lobby for state regulatory tweaks, Dominion exec says

Wayne Barber, GenerationHub
February 24, 2014 | 0 Comments

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Distributed generation is complicating the previously straightforward task of resource planning, a Dominion (NYSE) official told a Washington, D.C., gathering Feb. 20.

“Even in Virginia, where the sun doesn’t shine like it does in Arizona,” and rates are relatively low, more customers are choosing to produce power during daylight hours via rooftop solar, said David Shuford of Dominion Resource Services.

Shuford, the company’s vice president of policy and business evaluation, said this further complicates utility integrated resource planning. Regulated utilities already use an analytical “crystal ball” to predict population growth and economic trends.

Now, however, utilities also have to estimate how many people in their regulated territory might employ distributed generation through rooftop solar in coming years.

Shuford appeared at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. as part of a presentation sponsored by ICF International, a technology, policy and management consulting firm. ICF dubbed the presentation, “Barbarians at the Gates or Utility 2.0.”

Shuford drew laughter when he said that neither he nor Dominion picked the title for the session and doesn’t consider DG proponents “barbarians.”

“The vast majority of our customers do not choose to self-generate,” Shuford said. Nevertheless, guessing wrong on DG estimates could cause a utility to either over-build or under-build generation.

This situation complicates the traditional utility compact where regulated electric monopolies provided power to captive customers, typically through centralized power plants, Shuford said.

Even customers who install rooftop solar still get most of their electricity from the power company’s generation assets.

If self-generating customers are no longer obligated to buy power from the regulated utility, it affects the utility business, Shuford said.

Shuford believes the current setup allows distributed generation participants to use the utility’s network of wires and infrastructure “as a battery.” The Dominion official also said the current package of legal incentives tends to grant DG customers a break from some of the expenses that go into reliable electric infrastructure.

With more customers looking into self-generation, it has created some talk of a “utility death spiral” where the regulated companies’ cost of maintaining infrastructure remains high while profit potential erodes, Shuford said.

“In the long term as prices come down, you may see to see utilities change their business dramatically,” to avoid stranded assets, Shuford said. “We are nowhere close to that point yet” and it might not happen in certain parts of the country.

New Year Off to Hot Start for US Solar Industry
Rhone Resch
February 24, 2014 | 0 Comments

With the coldest winter in two decades gripping much of the country this year – and wild price swings for natural gas rattling the markets, not to mention American consumers – it’s easy for many people to overlook the “hot start” in 2014 for solar energy.

But so far this year, it’s been good news followed by even more good news for the U.S. solar industry.

News flash: On Thursday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) released its latest “Energy Infrastructure Update” report, showing that early 90 percent of all new electric generation that came online in January was solar.

News flash: On Wednesday, the Department of the Interior (DOI) formally approved two new utility-scale solar power projects in California and Nevada, totaling 550 megawatts (MW) of new generating capacity. Both projects are being developed by First Solar Inc. and mark a regulatory milestone. President Obama’s administration has now approved 50 large-scale renewable energy projects on public lands in the West since 2009 – more than half of them for solar.

News flash: Last week, the huge $2.2 billion Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System – located near the California-Nevada border – was completed, generating enough power for 140,000 homes. This state-of-the-art concentrating solar power (CSP) complex is owned by BrightSource Energy, NRG Energy and Google. San Francisco-based Bechtel, the largest construction company in the United States, provided engineering, procurement, construction and start-up services for the project.

News flash: Three weeks ago, in his nationally-televised State of the Union address, President Obama gave a personal “shout out” for solar, telling an audience of 35 million people: “Every four minutes, another American home or business goes solar; every panel pounded into place by a worker whose job can’t be outsourced.”

News flash: Four days before the President’s address to Congress, more than 3 million people took part in National “Shout Out For Solar” Day – celebrated as part of SEIA’s 40th anniversary as a national trade association – on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms. This first-of-its-type event was also enthusiastically supported by hundreds of business and environmental groups nationwide.

News flash: On the same day, working with its member companies, SEIA launched its new “America Supports Solar” campaign, which highlights solar energy’s explosive growth across the United States, as well as its record-shattering year in 2013. It’s estimated that the U.S. now has 13 GW of installed solar capacity – enough to power more than 2 million American homes. What’s more, when all of the 2013 numbers are in, solar is expected to account for more new electric generating capacity in the U.S. than any other renewable energy source.

While 2013 was a record-breaking year, 2014 may be even better with 30 percent growth being forecast. Part of this unprecedented expansion is due to the fact that the average price of a solar system has dropped by more than 50 percent since 2010, benefitting consumers, businesses, schools and government entities.

And guess what? There’s even more good news on the horizon. The Department of Energy’s (DOE) Sunshot Initiative, which is working on ways to make solar more competitive with entrenched energy sources, estimates that by 2020 soft costs should not exceed 65 cents per watt for residential solar systems and 44 cents per watt for commercial systems.
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Canadian Solar Supplying 48 Megawatts for Japan, U.S. Plants
24 February 2014

Feb. 24 (Bloomberg) — Canadian Solar Inc., the best-performing solar manufacturer last year, agreed to supply 48 megawatts of modules for power plants in Japan and the U.S.

Canadian Solar is providing 18 megawatts of panels for a project that Hitachi Ltd. is building in Northeast Japan for Eurus Energy Holdings Corp., according to a statement today. The power plant is expected to be operational in March 2015 and Tohoku Electric Power Co. has agreed to buy the output under a 20-year contract. Terms weren’t disclosed.

The solar company, based in Guelph, Ontario, is also supplying 30 megawatts of panels to Strata Solar LLC for five projects in North Carolina. Terms weren’t disclosed in a separate statement.

The company gained 5.2 percent to $39.75 at the close in New York. It increased more than eightfold in 2013, the most in the Bloomberg Industries Global Large Solar Energy Index.

Lightsource continues expansion drive with rooftop solar acquisition
Solar developer announces acquisition of Renewable Resources as it seeks to strengthen team offering rooftop installations to corporate customers

By James Murray
25 Feb 2014

Lightsource Renewable Energy has continued its recent expansion drive, confirming it has acquired commercial solar rooftop specialist Renewable Resources for an undisclosed sum.

The deal will see Renewable Resource's 36 full time staff join Lightsource's new commercial rooftop division and the company also hinted that it would now look to expand the team further in the coming months.

Lightsource has made its name developing solar farms and has made a flurry of new project announcements in recent months as it seeks to complete new developments ahead of imminent cuts to solar subsidies. The company also revealed recently that it was planning to boost its headcount from 160 staff currently around 260 employees over the course of this year as it seeks to accelerate its expansion plans.

Part of that expansion now looks set to focus on the market for large scale rooftop solar PV installations for corporate clients, with Lightsource claiming that following the acquisition of Renewable Resources it will be able to offer a "one-stop-shop" service to roof owners that will cut their energy bills by at least 20 per cent.

"Through our new commercial rooftop division, roof owners will be able to choose between self-funding solutions where we are able to make an attractive offer on design, installation and maintenance of solar photovoltaic panels, or a fully-funded, ‘Lightsource pays for everything' solution that would fix their electricity bill for 25 years through a power purchase agreement," said Lightsource chief executive Nick Boyle. "Either way we target to ensure our rooftop clients achieve at least 20 per cent savings on their electricity bills."

The German-American Vanadium Flow Battery Connection
CellCube, one of the few commercial-scale flow batteries, gets NREL testing via a stateside partner and would-be vanadium supplier.

Jeff St. John
February 24, 2014

Over the past few years, flow battery startups such as Prudent Energy, Primus Power, EnerVault, Imergy (formerly Deeya Energy), and others have been vying for media attention for their attempts to bring this potentially disruptive technology for long-term, grid-scale energy storage to the commercial market.

Meanwhile, there’s another flow battery maker with dozens of commercial-scale projects under its belt that has hardly spoken about its technology. That’s Germany’s Gildemeister, a century-old industrial machine tools maker with a majority stake in Cellstrom, the Austrian-based maker of the CellCube vanadium redox flow battery system.

Gildemeister has reportedly sold more than 50 of its CellCube devices in Europe and Asia, including a project with German utility E.ON. It’s also working with partner Younicos to create “battery parks” meant to serve broad grid-balancing functions in Europe’s increasingly renewable-energy-disrupted energy markets. But the company hasn’t made much of a splash here in the United States.

That hasn’t been for want of trying from partner American Vanadium, however. The Canadian mining company has been Gildemeister’s North American distribution partner since May 2013, and CEO Bill Radvak has been promoting the technology heavily at trade shows and conferences since then.

Last week, the Vancouver, British Columbia-based company announced a potential milestone in those efforts, with the delivery of the first Cellcube units for testing by the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado. That testing could be complete by this summer, at which point at least one U.S. utility, as well as various integration partners, are interested in deploying it stateside, Radvak told me in a phone interview last week.

Radvak declined to say which U.S. utility planned to deploy Gildemeister’s Cellcube units. But a November blog post from Crystal Equity Research noted that American Vanadium has proposed a trial with New York State Energy Research and Development Agency (NYSERDA) to demonstrate a Cellcube unit in Manhattan, in partnership with Consolidated Edison and the NY-BEST energy storage industry group.

That jibes with a recent contributed article Radvak wrote for Greentech Media, noting New York state’s newly created grid-scale storage incentives as a development that will open that market to new opportunities. It’s also aligned with ConEd’s work testing new battery technologies as part of its goal of reducing grid congestion and improving reliability in New York City.

As for the NREL tests, “This is a pretty all-encompassing grid trial,” Radvak said, including grid-connected and off-grid applications involving long-term storage and balancing of renewables like solar and wind power. “We don't believe that they’ve been able to test a long-duration, larger battery -- likely because there aren’t any commercially available, long-duration, multi-hour batteries out there.”

Flow Batteries’ Role in Long-Term Grid Energy Storage

He may be right. While lithium-ion batteries developed for consumer electronics and electric vehicles are increasingly finding their way into grid applications, they’re better suited for storing large amounts of energy over shorter durations, rarely for more than an hour or two.

Flow batteries, by contrast, pump liquid electrolytes through stacks of electrochemical cells, instead of containing them in closed systems, allowing for replacement of depleted materials and reduction of the degradation of the anode and cathode materials involved. That could help them store megawatts of grid energy over multiple hours of time at costs that could compete with alternatives like natural-gas-fired power plants.

Gildemeister, which since 2009 has been part of a strategic partnership with Japan’s DMG Mori Seiki and took that company’s name as its own in September, has been very shy about revealing details of its Cellcube deployments. It declined interview requests from Greentech Media in mid-2013.

But piecing together various announcements and company information indicates that the Cellcube devices come in modular units of 200 kilowatts, with a rating of 1.6 megawatt-hours per unit, which indicates they’re capable of delivering power for up to eight hours.

Minnesota judge accused of unfair ‘solar vs gas’ project ruling
By Lucy Woods - 25 February 2014, 13:16
In News, Power Generation

Natural gas firms that lost against a solar project in a competitive bidding process have accused the overseeing judge of handling the process unfairly.

New project proposals for Minnesota utility Xcel, saw an administrative law judge rule a solar project more cost competitive than competing natural gas plant proposals.

The ruling, by administrative law judge, Eric Lipman, took months of review and is the first time in the US that unsubsidised solar energy has been officially ruled to be a better deal for ratepayers than natural gas.

At the end of January, the Minnesota Commerce Department, utility Xcel, and natural gas project proposal contenders, Invenergy and Calpine teamed up to submit comments on the ruling.

The team advised the Commission to snub the first solar ruling.

They question the assumed electrical demand used by the judge, as the forecast may be too low compared to others that account for economic recovery spurring higher demand.

Bill Grant, deputy commissioner of energy and telecommunications at the Minnesota Department of Commerce told the Minnesota Star Tribune the forecast was an “untested and unusually low forecast for future sales growth”, stating the judge “really didn’t consider what would happen if the economy recovers”.

Xcel provided a Spring 2013 forecast which repeated an uncertainty to energy demand, the Commission completed a differing, March 2013 report, the judicial ruling was presented with, and took both forecasts into account.

Gas argument

The complainants have raised the issue of intermittency at peak energy demand as an objection, and Xcel has argued building overcapacity with a gas plant would mitigate the need to buy expensive energy from the wholesale market instead.

Xcel has questioned Geronimo’s prices which are lower than other market quotes of US$125 per MWh for solar. These quotes were based in other jurisdictions however.

The Department of Commerce, Xcel and Invenergy also claimed the Geronimo project is favoured in light of Minnesota’s Solar Energy Standard (SES), which requires 1.5% of energy distributed by state utilities to be solar by 2020.

Despite the bidding allowing for all energy sources to compete, the Department claims Geronimo has unfairly beat other solar developers to the SES allocation. The SES sets a minimum, not maximum solar energy requirement however, so other developers are not excluded once the 1.5% is allocated.

SolarCity: 2013 an ‘amazing year’
By Andy Colthorpe - 25 February 2014, 13:10
In News, Power Generation, Market Watch

SolarCity chief executive officer Lyndon Rive has described 2013 as “an amazing year” for the company in a conference call to discuss fourth quarter operating metrics and preliminary financial results.

Rive and other SolarCity executives also discussed the company’s plans for the coming year. However the company was not able to produce GAAP financial results in time for the call and assured callers that they would be released after the close of the market next Monday, 3 March.

Rive referred to four goals SolarCity had set itself for the year, which he said were all successfully met and exceeded. These were to install 250MW of PV, to reduce the fully loaded cost of installation, to reduce the cost of capital and to demonstrate a positive cash flow for the fourth quarter of 2013.

According to Rive, SolarCity installed a total of 278MW last year and reduced costs by close to 30%. The company reduced capital costs not only through securitisation, but also increased capital resources. Rive announced capital would further increase in the coming months with SolarCity planning to announce the company’s first Common Assets offering.

Rive also referred to the “major achievement” the company had made in freeing itself from operating constraints on residential installations. Rive claimed SolarCity had reduced waiting times significantly and customers could now get systems installed within two to three months.

Rive said SolarCity would be investing back money made from its residential showing into its sales team.

In Q4 2013, SolarCity deployed 103MW, a new quarterly record for the company. SolarCity reached a cumulative total of 567MW deployed by 31 December 2013. Estimated nominal contract payments grew to over US$2 billion, which Peter Rive, the company’s chief technology officer and chief operating officer said outperformed 2012 figures by US$900 million. The company now holds over 80,000 residential contracts. Peter Rive also claimed that from a market share of 12% in the first quarter of 2012, the company had expanded to 32% of market share at the present time. Total revenue for the fourth quarter showed an 87% increase from the equivalent period last year and stood at US$47.3 million.

Graph of the Day: How America is driving down big solar costs
By Sophie Vorrath on 25 February 2014

The US government has announced that the US solar industry is more than 60 per cent of the way to achieving cost-competitive utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) electricity, an achievement it credits partly to support from the Energy Department’s SunShot Initiative.

SunShot was set up in 2011 to re-establish US leadership in the solar marketplace by partnering with industry, universities, local communities and the Department’s National Laboratories to aggressively drive down the cost of generation.

To achieve this goal, says the DoE, SunShot aimed for a price of $0.06 per kilowatt hour (KWh) – a target that would make solar-generated power fully cost-competitive with traditional energy sources by the end of the decade.

As you can see from the chart below, published on the Department of Energy’s website earlier this month, SunShot is making an impact, with he average price per kWh of a US utility-scale PV project dropping from about $0.21 to $0.11 since its inception.


U.S. Army’s $7 Billion Interest in Renewable Energy
By John Daly | Mon, 24 February 2014 22:59 | 0

Slowly but surely, the U.S. armed forces are getting serious about renewable energy.

In April 2012, the White House announced the Defense Department was making one of the largest commitments to clean energy in history, by setting a goal to deploy three gigawatts of renewable energy, including solar, wind, biomass or geothermal on Army, Navy and Air Force installations by 2025, enough energy to power 750,000 homes. The Army’s share of the initiative was the energy goal of generating one gigawatt.

Four months later, on 7 August 2012, the Army announced a $7 billion Multiple Award Task Contract (MATOC) Request for Proposal (RFP), designed to assist the Army in procuring reliable, locally generated, renewable and alternative energy through Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) for up to 30 years.

Since January 2014 the U.S. Army has added 21 companies to its $7 billion large-scale renewable and alternative energy power production MATOC program, covering work to develop and produce renewable energy for the Army and Defense Department. According to the Army Corps of Engineers, 79 contractors are now involved in the three decade program, with those selected competing for task orders to provide renewable energy by owning, operating and maintaining the energy assets.

Army Corps of Engineers Huntsville Center commander Col. Robert Ruch said, “We are adding these additional companies to those already in the technology pools to ensure we have enough pre-qualified companies ready to submit proposals on task orders as they come up. Huntsville Center is doing everything we can to ensure task orders for future projects will be awarded as quickly as possible.”

The program’s renewable energy mandate is very broad; 38 companies are competing for work in the program’s solar technology area, 20 in wind, 15 in biomass and six in geothermal and the new round of selections includes 15 for solar, three for wind and two for biomass. The second round of MATOC awards follows the original August 2012 Request For Proposal (RFP) which allowed for immediate awards to firms within the competitive range and additional awards to firms that after further government evaluation qualified.
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Global solar radiation map
A new service is making high-resolution data of direct sunlight publicly available for users such as planners of large solar power systems

26 February 2014
by Constanze Böttcher

Renewable energy sources play an important role in securing future energy supply and mitigating climate change. Even though the solar energy sector, so far, only contributes little to global energy production, it has grown faster than other energy sectors over the past years, according to a report published in 2011 by the International Energy Agency. In sunny parts of the world, such as Spain or California, concentrating solar power (CSP) plants are increasingly built and planned. These concentrate the sun’s energy by using mirrors or lenses, turn it to heat and, ultimately, to electricity. Knowing when, where and how much the sun shines is essential in order to plan such large solar power systems.

Data on solar radiation for any given location worldwide is precisely one of the outcomes of the EU-funded research project MACC II. “We provide solar radiation data with 15 minutes temporal resolution and three to five kilometres spatial resolution,” says Marion Schroedter-Homscheidt, sub-project leader and scientist at the Remote Sensing Data Center of the German Aerospace Center in Oberpfaffenhofen. The time series data run from 2004 until now. They will be available on the project’s website later this year as part of a European information infrastructure within the Copernicus programme.

The data stem from a so-called clear sky model of solar radiation. In addition to information on water vapour and ozone, it includes best estimates of aerosols that are based on observations and computer simulations. Combining this information with cloud data derived from satellite measurements allows the scientists to calculate the radiation reaching the surface of the earth at a given location and time. “It is the aerosol data the solar industry is particularly interested in,” Schroedter-Homscheidt tells youris.com.

Indeed, knowledge of these tiny particles in the atmosphere is crucial for determining the direct radiation from the sun. Aerosols scatter or even absorb light, which is subsequently no longer available for concentrating solar power systems. Previous models of direct solar radiation used aerosol data derived from climate models with a rather low resolution. “Now we have a much higher data quality,” Schroedter-Homscheidt says.

Experts welcome the efforts of the project consortium. Providing aerosol and direct solar radiation data is “a good service,” comments Elke Lorenz, expert in solar energy meteorology from the University of Oldenburg, Germany. While clouds have the biggest influence on the total amount of solar radiation reaching the earth’s surface, “aerosol data are important if the sky is clear, like in Spain,” she tells youris.com. In her view, the data provided by the project consortium are of better quality than previous estimates based on climatological data.

Other experts agree. “It is a better approach [for estimating aerosols] than before, in absolute values as well as in the availability of continuous data,” says Lourdes Ramirez Santigosa, head of the solar radiation group at CIEMAT, the Centre for Energy, Environment and Technology, in Madrid, Spain. Her team had previously tested other sources of aerosol data for its own research. “We think that [the project’s aerosol data] is the best available for long term assessments,” Ramirez says. “For planning of CSP plants, we need at least an hourly resolution of solar radiation data covering ten to 20 years,” she adds.

However, “there is always room for improvement,” Ramirez believes. Within the next five to ten years, models should get close to resolutions of ten metres and one minute. This would enable plant operators to simulate more accurately, for example, the temperature within the tubes of the solar panels and the orientation of the CSP plant mirrors.

Chinese Solar Growth to Underpin Record Global Expansion in 2014
25 February 2014

Feb. 26 (Bloomberg) — Solar developers around the world will install record capacity this year as a thriving Chinese market drives growth, a Bloomberg survey showed as manufacturers in the $102 billion industry began to return to profit.

About 44.5 gigawatts will be added globally, a 20.9 percent increase on last year’s new installations, according to the average estimate of nine analysts and companies. That’s equal to the output of about 10 atomic reactors. Last year new capacity rose by 20.3 percent, after a 4.4 percent gain in 2012.

China became the biggest solar market in 2013, helping to end a two-year slump for manufacturers in the industry. State support for photovoltaic projects in the country, the largest energy-consuming nation, has seen installation costs tumble as the government speeds renewables development to curb pollution.

“After two years of a punishing downturn, the global solar industry is on the rebound,” said Ash Sharma, senior research director for solar at Englewood, Colorado-based IHS Inc. “Worldwide PV installations are set to rise by double digits in 2014, solar manufacturing capital spending is recovering, module prices are stabilizing and emerging markets are on the rise.”

Growth in China, Japan and the U.S., where solar-panel prices have dropped and governments have ramped up subsidies, is making up for lower installations in Europe, the industry leader until 2012. U.S. and Asian producers such as SunPower Corp. and Yingli Green Energy Holding Co. are restoring profits following two years of losses caused by a glut of panels.

Chinese Growth

Yingli, based in Baoding, China, expects to report its first profit in three years as soon as the second quarter. Its home market, where solar developers installed as much as 12 gigawatts last year, may build more in 2014, according to BNEF. The government has set a 14-gigawatt cap for installations to prevent runaway growth.

“The 2013 figures show the astonishing scale of the Chinese market,” said Jenny Chase, head of solar analysis at BNEF. “PV is becoming ever cheaper and simpler to install, and China’s government has been as surprised as European governments by how quickly it can be deployed in response to incentives.”

Global investment in solar installations built last year totaled $102 billion, according to BNEF.

Japan may install record capacity of about 10.5 gigawatts this year, while the U.S. will build as much as 5.3 gigawatts, BNEF estimates show. The companies that survived the slowdown have emerged stronger and better prepared, Chase said.

As the industry oversupply shrinks, large manufacturers of polysilicon, a raw material used in solar equipment, and panel makers active in Asia should gain the most, IHS’s Sharma said. “We are not expecting bottlenecks, but the supply-demand gap is closing.”

New Report Highlights Growth In Solar Jobs For Veterans

Fresh off the news that President Obama is making noises about withdrawing all US troops from Afghanistan, the organizations Operation Free and The Solar Foundation have released a first-of-its-kind report that offers returning veterans the prospect of civilian employment in the US solar industry. In a nutshell, the new report demonstrates that veterans are employed in the solar industry at higher than average rates.

That’s a note of optimism for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, who in this generation have faced a challenging employment picture.

The new report, Veterans in Solar: Securing America’s Energy Future, is all the more significant in light of Republican leadership policy pushing for cuts in food stamps and other safety net services on which many veterans and their families depend.

Veterans Solar Jobs On Active Duty…

It’s worth pointing out that more than a few returning veterans already have experience with solar equipment on active duty, as the Department of Defense has been pushing aggressively to transition out of dependency on fossil fuels and into more flexible, logistically sensible forms of power. That includes bases here at home as well as forward operating bases and field maneuvers overseas, too.

Just a few notable examples in the latter category are the portable solar-in-a-suitcase and solar-in-a-backpack kits, a wearable solar powered “talking vest,” and micro-grid systems with solar input.

So in a very real sense, many veterans already have solar jobs.

Rootop Solar Use In South Australia Surges In 2nd Half Of 2013

The uptake of rooftop solar PV in South Australia – already the state with the highest penetration of solar PV in the country – surged in the second half of 2013.

According to data provided by electricity distributor Spark Infrastructure, there was 548MW of rooftop solar PV on 157,000 South Australian rooftops as the end of the year. This represents 21.2 per cent of its about 750,000 residential customers.

According to Spark, the total capacity of rooftop solar PV in the state jumped 50 per cent over the year, from 366MW.

But the rate of installations actually doubled in the second half to 121MW, from 61MW in the first half, as the feed in tariff was reduced in September.

South Australia removed a 16c/kWh payment made through the networks in September, meaning that new households connections would receive only 9.8c/kWh for electricity exported to the grid.

That price has since fallen to 7.6c/kWh, as a result of falling wholesale prices (courtesy of South Australia’s large renewable contribution and falling demand), and will fall further to 6c/kWh when and if the carbon price is removed).

Ideal Power’s Converter Could Be the Key to Solar-Storage Integration
How “Power Packet Switching” could beat existing inverters in grid-integrated storage plus PV.

Jeff St. John
February 26, 2014

For a company just starting to bring its brand-new power conversion technology to market, Ideal Power has some pretty big ambitions: to disrupt the way that solar PV, grid-scale batteries and EV chargers are connected to the grid.

But if its technology works as promised, and as ongoing Department of Energy tests appear to indicate it does, then these ambitions may just be justified.

That’s the promise that this quiet startup turned Nasdaq-traded company is bringing to potential grid storage partners at this week’s ARPA-E Summit conference outside Washington, D.C. Armed with a roster of patents related to its “Power Packet Switching Architecture” technology and just under $26 million in grants, debt and public market financing, the Spicewood, Texas-based company is now developing a set of power converter devices that it says can beat existing inverter technologies for small-scale PV, energy storage and "hybrid" systems on a range of grid-edge performance features.

Those include size and weight. Ideal Power’s 30-kilowatt devices are less than one-fifth the weight of similar scale commercial inverters, based on their reduction of passive elements like electrolytic capacitors and magnetic components. Ideal Power's device also doesn’t require a transformer to electrically isolate batteries from the grid, as is required for other inverters serving that bi-directional storage-grid power flow capability, further reducing weight, complexity and efficiency losses.

But more critically, “It’s all an indirect power transfer process,” Paul Bundschuh, Ideal Power’s president and COO, told me in a Monday interview at the ARPA-E Summit. That’s because, unlike traditional inverters, Ideal Power uses a magnetic storage mechanism, or “high-frequency AC link,” to manage the conversion of direct current to alternating current.

REC Silicon to build 19,000MT polysilicon plant in China under JV partnership
By Mark Osborne - 26 February 2014, 09:38
In News

REC Silicon is licensing its polysilicon FBR technology and forming a joint venture with China-based Shaanxi Non-Ferrous Tian Hong New Energy Co to build and operate a major polysilicon production complex in Yulin, Shaanxi Province.

The polysilicon plant will use REC Silicon’s next generation fluidized bed reactor (FBR) technology and have an initial nameplate capacity of 18,000MT of granular polysilicon.

However, the plant will also house 1,000MT of Siemens-based polysilicon and 500MT of silane gas loading, according to the company, which would enable the JV to offer silane gas, solar and electronic grade polysilicon.

The production joint venture will construct and operate a new plant for the production of silane gas, solar and electronic grade polysilicon, utilizing REC Silicon's next generation fluidized bed reactor (FBR) technology.

The JV plans would almost double REC Silicon’s polysilicon capacity after recently noting production in 2014 would be limited to 19,764MT, down from a peak in 2012 of 21,405MT.

The new plant will be located in Yulin, in the Shaanxi Province, and is expected to have capacity of 18,000 metric tons of granular polysilicon, an additional 1,000 metric tons of Siemens polysilicon, and 500 metric tons of silane gas loading.

Solar with batteries could allow US ‘grid defection’ by 2030: Rocky Mountain Institute
By Andy Colthorpe - 26 February 2014, 11:47
In News, Power Generation, Grid Connection, Market Watch

The Rocky Mountain Institute has published a report which claims it could be possible, using PV coupled with storage, for portions of the USA to "defect" away from using grid networks entirely by 2030.

The report features what RMI claims is the first detailed analysis of when and where it will be possible for users of solar coupled with storage in the USA to go off-grid.

The sustainability research organisation claims that while more and more people and institutions, including the Edison Electric Institute, are more aware of the possibility of customers "defecting" from grid networks by using a combination of solar power and electrical energy storage (EES), the report, 'The Economics of Grid Defection', is the first detailed analysis of the subject.

According to RMI, the concept of bringing together solar and storage to create a “utility in a box”, presents an entirely new set of challenges for public utilities, even compared to previous disruptive technologies such as PV with net metering. The prospect of PV users, in a market partly driven by falling battery prices being able to affordably “cut the cord” from centralised utility generation is, in the view of the report’s authors, well within the expected 30 year economic lifespan of central power plants.

The report’s authors, including RMI senior associate Leia Guccione and editorial director Pete Bronski, examined five representative geographical regions of the USA to assess where and when it would be possible for customers to bypass their utility without incurring decreased reliability of electricity supply or higher costs. According to RMI, the report is not designed to argue for or against defection from grids, but instead models current market trends and forecasts to identify where it could take place in the US.

Graph of the Day: How solar can save households money
By Sam Parkinson on 26 February 2014

The Australia Solar Council says it has passed $150,000 in its “Save Solar” fund-raising campaign after receiving a $100k donation from Greenbank Environmental, a leading renewable energy certificate trader. The Australian Solar Council has been raising money in its fight to try and protect the small-scale element of the renewable energy target.

Meanwhile, the Australian Solar Council has also released this graphic below that shows what is happening in the energy markets as well as the role solar plays in bringing down costs.


Will the grid become optional? Solar and storage already at parity
By Leia Guccione and Peter Bronski on 26 February 2014

For years, low-cost solar-plus-battery systems were seen as a distant possibility at best, a fringe technology not likely to be a threat to mainstream electricity delivery any time soon. By far, the limiting factor has been battery costs. But thanks to a confluence of factors playing out across the energy industry, the reality is that affordable battery storage is coming much sooner than most people realize. That approaching day of cheaper battery storage, when combined with solar PV, has the potential to fundamentally alter the electricity landscape.

While grid-tied solar has seen dramatic recent cost declines, until recently, solar-plus-battery systems have not been considered economically viable. However, concurrent declining costs of batteries, growing maturity of solar-plus-battery systems, and increasing adoption rates for these technologies are changing that. Recent media coverage, market analysis, and industry discussions—including the Edison Electric Institute’s January 2013 Disruptive Challenges—have gone so far as to suggest that low-cost solar-plus-battery systems could one day enable customers to cut the cord with their utility and go from grid connected to grid defected.

But while more and more people are discussing solar-plus-battery systems as a potential option at some point in the distant future, there has been a scarcity of detailed analysis to quantify when and where. Until now.


Today, Rocky Mountain Institute, HOMER Energy, and CohnReznick Think Energy released The Economics of Grid Defection: When and where distributed solar generation plus storage competes with traditional utility service. Seeking to illustrate where grid parity will happen both first and last, the report considers five representative U.S. geographies (NY, KY, TX, CA, and HI). These geographies cover a range of solar resource potential, retail utility electricity prices, and solar PV penetration rates, considered across both commercial and residential regionally-specific load profiles.

The report analyzes four possible scenarios: a more conservative base case plus more aggressive cases that consider technology improvements with accelerated cost declines, investments in energy efficiency coupled with load management, and the combination of technology-driven cost declines, energy efficiency, and load management. Even our base case results are compelling, but the combined improvements scenario is especially so, since efficiency and load management reduce the required size of the system while technology improvements reduce the cost of that system, compounding cost declines and greatly accelerating grid parity.

The results of the report show:
  • Solar-plus-battery grid parity is here already or coming soon for a rapidly growing minority of utility customers. Grid parity exists today in Hawaii for commercial customers, and will rapidly expand to reach residential customers as early as 2022. Grid parity will reach millions of additional residential and commercial customers in places like New York and California within a decade (see Figures 3 and 4 above).
  • Even before total grid defection becomes widely economic, utilities will see solar-plus-battery systems eat into their revenues. Factors such as customer desires for increased power reliability and low-carbon electricity generation are driving early adopters ahead of grid parity, including those installing smaller grid-dependent solar-plus-battery systems to help reduce demand charges, provide backup power, and yield other benefits. These early activities will likely accelerate the infamous utility death spiral—self-reinforcing upward price pressures, which make further self-generation or total defection economic faster.
  • Because grid parity arrives within the 30-year economic life of typical utility power assets, the days are numbered for traditional utility business models. The “old” cost recovery model, based on kWh sales, by which utilities recover costs and an allowed market return on infrastructure investments will become obsolete. Utilities must re-think their current business model in order to retain customers and to capture the additional value that such distributed investments will bring.

Solectria Renewables’ Solar Inverters Power 750kW At Guantanamo Bay
February 25, 2014 Kathleen Zipp : 0 Comments

Solectria Renewables, PV inverter manufacturer, announced that its SMARTGRID Inverters, string combiners and SolrenView web-based monitoring were chosen by World Electric Supply and Miller Electric Company for the 750-kW solar array at the Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Electrical supply distributor World Electric Supply and electrical contractor Miller Electric Company of Jacksonville, Florida, chose Solectria Renewables SGI 225 & SGI 500 inverters for this project.

Solectria Renewables says its the only inverter manufacturer that offers a stainless steel enclosure for its commercial PV inverters and string combiners. Their stainless steel product lines are best for marine environments, such as Guantanamo Bay or anywhere else close to the sea. In addition to their robust enclosure, the SMARTGRID 225-500 inverters are the most efficient, reliable and customizable commercial inverters in the industry today.

“Solectria Renewables is proud to be the inverter manufacturer for this project, especially being the only one that offers a stainless steel option to the PV market,” says Bob Montanaro, Southeast Regional Sales Manager. “We worked hard with World Electric Supply, Miller Electric Company and the naval engineers to provide the best possible solution with our inverters, string combiners and monitoring.”

Tesla Battery Jolts Shares Higher While Disrupting Power
By Mark Chediak
Feb 26, 2014 6:39 AM PT

Tesla Motors (TSLA) Inc.’s plan to boost battery production by building what Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk calls a “gigafactory” may do more to transform the power industry than it does to advance the electric car.

Utility customers throughout the U.S. have already begun turning to battery storage and solar panels as a way of reducing electricity bills and their dependency on local power companies. The trend threatens the more than 100-year-old monopoly utility business model that books about $360 billion in annual power sales.

By lowering the cost of energy-storage with its lithium-ion batteries, Tesla could accelerate the disruption of the electric utility business as it doubles its share of the global car market to about 1 percent, Adam Jonas, a Morgan Stanley analyst, wrote in a note yesterday. Morgan Stanley’s note helped push Tesla’s market value above $30 billion for the first time yesterday, as the company’s Model S sedan also became the first U.S. car to receive Consumer Reports’ “best overall pick” in the magazine’s annual ranking.

“If it can be a leader in commercializing battery packs, investors may never look at Tesla the same way again,” said Jonas, who rates the shares the equivalent of a buy. “If Tesla can become the world’s low-cost producer in energy storage, we see significant optionality for Tesla to disrupt adjacent industries.”

Utility Obsolescence

Tesla gained 5.8 percent to $262.32 at 9:38 a.m. in New York. The shares have climbed more than sevenfold in the past year. The company has said it may partner on the new battery plant with Panasonic Corp., which rose 5.3 percent to close at 1,259 yen in Tokyo trading, the highest in about three weeks.

NRG Energy Inc. Chief Executive Officer David Crane, who says the U.S. utility industry is doomed to obsolescence unless it changes, drives himself to work every day in his Tesla Model S.

Tesla’s Musk told Bloomberg Television last week that the company plans to provide details on a proposed “gigafactory” to produce the batteries needed to make more affordable vehicles. With each Tesla capable of storing enough energy to power the average house for 3.5 days, a growing population of Tesla cars represents a significant increase in how much electricity can be held in a country’s infrastructure.

‘Holy Grail’

Worldwide, the market for energy storage is expected to grow from about $500 million to about $12 billion in 2023, according to Navigant Consulting Inc.

Homeowners might use battery storage, combined with solar power, to further reduce their dependence on utilities and potentially sell electricity back to the grid, a new business model known as distributed generation. Batteries allow customers with solar panels to store energy during the day and then tap the excess overnight when the sun goes down.

“Battery storage is the holy grail of the distributed generation movement,” said Travis Miller, an analyst at Morningstar Inc. “If developers can create a high-capacity battery technology, it opens the door to a significant increase in options for customers to supply their own power.”

While still considered too expensive for wide-scale adoption, a drastic reduction in the cost of home energy storage systems would be a “game changer,” American Electric Power Co. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Nick Akins said during an interview last year.

“If you can get batteries cheap enough and combine them with solar panels, you no longer need the utility,” said Sam Jaffe, an analyst with Navigant. “Then the question is how cheap does it have to be? And it has to be really, really, really cheap.”

Tesla, Panasonic said to plan $1B investment in US battery plant
Tesla and Panasonic may hook up on a US battery plant with a total investment close to $1 billion, according to a Japan-based report.

by Brooke Crothers
February 25, 2014 9:24 PM PST

Tesla Motors, Panasonic, and other Japanese companies are planning to invest close to $1 billion in a US battery plant, according to Nikkei.

With a target date of 2017, the lithium-ion-battery facility will "handle everything from processing raw materials to assembly," Japan's largest business daily said on Wednesday.

Panasonic, which is an investor in Tesla, is inviting a number of Japanese materials makers to join the project, with a total investment estimated to reach more than 100 billion yen ($965 million), Nikkei said.

This is a non-trivial investment for an electric car maker as the battery represents a large part of the vehicle's cost, Nikkei pointed out.

One of the aims of the plant is to bring down the cost of the battery component and make future Tesla models more affordable. The Model S starts at about $70,000.

The plant may also supply Toyota and other automakers with batteries. There are also plans for "home-use" storage batteries in order to boost product numbers, Nikkei said.

February 26, 2014 2:00 am JST
Panasonic, Tesla to set up auto battery plant in US

TOKYO -- Panasonic and California-based electric-vehicle startup Tesla Motors are in talks to build an automotive battery plant in the U.S., aiming to lower manufacturing costs via mass production.

Targeted to go onstream in 2017, the lithium-ion-battery facility will handle everything from processing raw materials to assembly. Panasonic is inviting a number of Japanese materials makers to sign on, with total investment expected to reach more than 100 billion yen ($965 million).

Slashing battery prices is key to making electric cars more affordable to consumers, as the units represent a big chunk of a vehicle's cost. With the new facility, Tesla aims to bring the vehicles down into the same price range as their gasoline-burning cousins.

The plant will produce small, lightweight batteries for Tesla and may also supply Toyota Motor as well as other automakers. Plans to make home-use storage batteries are also on the table to raise production volume.

Rooftop Solar Array in Palo Alto to Save Over $1.5 million over 20 Years
Published on 25 February 2014

Palo Alto’s second largest solar roof system has been installed at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center (OFJCC) campus to reduce energy costs and further its green building credentials.

Developed through a partnership with THiNKnrg, the 397.5 kW system is also the largest installation of Trinasmart solar panels to date. The OFJCC will celebrate its new solar rooftop with a ribbon cutting on 18 March.

The OFJCC solar array encompasses 1,840 solar panels spread across the rooftops of the 12 buildings of the Taube Koret Campus for Jewish Life (TKCJL), which also includes Moldaw Family Residences for senior living.

This solar project was financed by a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), which required no capital cost to the OFJCC and utilized all available incentives. Conergy, a leading global solar photovoltaic downstream company, along with its owner Kawa Capital Management, structured the PPA to supply the OFJCC with renewable energy at less than half the current energy rate. The campus is expected to save $26,000 in the first year and an estimated $1.5 million in energy savings over the 20-year contract. The solar roof system will supply approximately 20 percent of the OFJCC’s energy needs.

The OFJCC solar installation is expected to generate 616,920 kilowatt-hours of electricity and reduce the TKCJL’s carbon footprint by approximately over 9,500 tons of CO2 over the next 20 years, the equivalent of growing over 223,000 tree seedlings or removing 1,814 passenger cars from the road.
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Important to note that Hawaii has residential rates between 35.10 and 46.61 ¢ per kWh — around four times the Alberta or Ontario rate and six times the Quebec rate.
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Renewables Infra Fund Targets More Solar as Raise Near
27 February 2014

Feb. 27 (Bloomberg) — The Renewables Infrastructure Group Ltd., a U.K. fund that listed in July, aims to increase its share of solar assets as it invests as much as 200 million pounds ($333 million) a year, its investment manager said.

Solar plants could represent as much as a third of its portfolio, up from 17 percent now, Richard Crawford, a director at its investment manager InfraRed Capital Partners Ltd., said by phone. TRIG, which has raised 310 million pounds and aims to issue shares in March, may invest 100 million pounds to 200 million pounds in wind and solar projects a year, he said.

“We like the mix of wind and solar in the same portfolio, because this manages weather exposure,” he said in an interview today. “We would like to further increase the portion of solar within the portfolio to a quarter or a third” compared with 10 percent initially.

TRIG was the first of four clean-energy funds that listed last year to tap investors interested in such income-generating assets in the U.K. So far it has invested about 300 million pounds in 14 wind farms and six solar parks.

Bloomberg: Solar installations set to hit record 45GW this year
Industry expects rapid growth as Chinese market thrives and problems posed by panel glut recede

By BusinessGreen staff
27 Feb 2014

Solar developers are expected to install a record 44.5GW of capacity this year, equating to an almost 21 per cent year-on-year increase.

The figures, from a Bloomberg survey of nine analysts and companies, are driven in large part by continuing optimism about the thriving Chinese market, which became the world leader for the first time last year.

State support for solar PV projects in China has helped drive down installation costs and accelerate growth across the industry. Buoyant markets in Japan and the US, which are expected to install 10.5GW and 5.3GW of capacity respectively in 2014, have also helped offset lower installation numbers in Europe.

Chinese solar developers installed as much as 12GW of capacity last year and may well build more in 2014, according to analyst Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), although the chances of a large surge in installations are tempered by the fact the government has set a 14GW cap for the year.

"The 2013 figures show the astonishing scale of the Chinese market," said Jenny Chase, head of solar analysis at BNEF. "PV is becoming ever cheaper and simpler to install, and China's government has been as surprised as European governments by how quickly it can be deployed in response to incentives."

The worldwide industry is also regaining momentum, according to the report. Last year new capacity rose by 20.3 per cent, after a 4.4 per cent gain in 2012. Global investment in solar installations totalled $102bn (£61.3bn) in 2013, according to BNEF, while the second half of the year saw solar manufacturers rebound from earlier losses caused by a glut of panels on the market. The NYSE Bloomberg Global Solar Energy Index has jumped more than 70 per cent in the past year, with several stocks more than tripling in value.

Report: Solar Paired With Storage Is a ‘Real, Near and Present’ Threat to Utilities
Is the solar-storage combination a deadly one for traditional power companies?

Stephen Lacey
February 26, 2014

In October 2012, as Superstorm Sandy rocked the East Coast, 75 residents gathered in the Midtown Community School in Bayonne, New Jersey.

The elementary school was operating as an emergency shelter, giving people who were stuck in the severely flooded town a place to stay dry. But the school was much more than a shelter -- it was an experiment in hybrid solar photovoltaics that may herald a coming structural change in the power sector.

Four years earlier, the local school district approached the New Jersey-based installer Advanced Solar Products, which had already developed a 272-kilowatt system for the Midtown school. The school district wanted to figure out how to allow the solar PV to operate during power outages when other systems were required to shut off. The company worked with SMA to modify a commercial inverter and tie it into the emergency diesel generator, allowing the generator to idle at low levels when the sun was shining.

The result was a steep drop in fuel consumption at a time when it was nearly impossible to make diesel deliveries to flood-stricken areas.

"The solar did what it was supposed to do. It worked exactly as planned," said Lyle Rawlings, president of Advanced Solar Products, in an interview.

Although the system was a custom job, making it fairly expensive, Rawlings says his company took the experience to heart. Advanced Solar Products is now working with other commercial facilities to integrate lithium-ion batteries with solar, and plans to make solar-storage systems a bigger part of the business going forward.

"We see this as a thing that's going to develop more and more, and we want to take the lead in development," said Rawlings.

And it's not just emergency backup that makes storage attractive. Now that fast-responding systems like flywheels and lithium-ion batteries can get paid for frequency regulation services in PJM or help reduce onsite demand charges for commercial facilities, storage is emerging as a viable economic alternative.

In one case, Advanced Solar Products was able to pay for a commercial storage system and inverter through frequency regulation payments -- actually making the cost of a hybrid solar-storage system lower than solar alone.

"That, to us, seemed magical, and it told us we could provide this service for a low cost," said Rawlings.

Now that storage is moving beyond simple emergency applications, that "magical" alternative -- while still very site- and market-specific -- is emerging as a potential threat to utilities.

Driven by market changes that reward storage, improving system economics and third-party financing tools, the nascent distributed storage market is on the upswing in the U.S. Witnessing these changes, the country's leading solar installer, SolarCity, has started offering solar paired with storage to commercial customers. And distributed storage providers such as Solar Grid Storage, Stem, Intelligent Generation and Green Charge Networks are reaching out to solar developers to form partnerships.

A recent GTM Research report projected that the U.S. commercial storage market could grow to more than 720 megawatts by the end of the decade. Some of that growth will come directly from a closer relationship with the solar industry.

So what does this mean for the power sector's future?

China Climbs Past US and Europe in Cleantech Investment
China and developing nations lead renewable energy investment growth.

Katherine Tweed
February 26, 2014

It may come as no surprise that China leads the world in commercial cleantech investment, but it has not just inched past the U.S. or Europe; today, China has a commanding lead.

Commercial cleantech investment had more than quadrupled from $30 billion in 2007 to nearly $160 billion in 2012, according to a recent report from the National Science Foundation on science and engineering indicators.


Storing the Sun
Aquion manufactures cheap, long-lasting batteries for storing renewable energy.

By Kevin Bullis | Photographs by Ken Richardson on February 18, 2014

A new kind of battery invented by Jay Whitacre, a professor of materials science at Carnegie Mellon University and founder of the startup Aquion Energy, could make renewable electricity more practical and economical around the world. Aquion is about to start full-scale production of the batteries at a new factory in Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania.

Whitacre says his batteries’ most promising near-term application lies in storing energy from solar panels or other renewable sources in off-grid homes or rural areas, providing a much cheaper 24-hour power source than a common alternative: diesel power. Lead-acid batteries are used for this purpose today, but they are toxic and require air-­conditioning to avoid deterioration in some climates, raising costs.

Whitacre’s batteries are expected to last twice as long as lead-acid batteries and cost about the same to make. They won’t require air-conditioning and will use nontoxic materials. Electrical current in the battery is generated as sodium ions from a saltwater electrolyte shuttle between manganese oxide–based positive electrodes and carbon-based negative ones.

One place the battery could make a big difference: in poor regions of the world that lack an existing electric grid. By 2030, one billion people are expected to get electricity for the first time. That will mean a lot more use of fossil fuels unless renewable power options are as cheap, safe, and reliable as possible. If “even a fraction of that billion can use solar because of our batteries,” Whitacre says, the company will be able to reduce not only carbon dioxide emissions but also local pollution from diesel generators.

To match the cost of lead-acid batteries, which are among the cheapest types, Whitacre uses inexpensive manufacturing equipment repurposed from the food and pharmaceutical industries. Hydraulic presses originally designed to make aspirin pills stamp out wafers of positive and negative electrode materials, and robot arms built to wrap chocolates are used to package electrode wafers with foils that act as current collectors. At the end of the line, the briefcase-sized batteries are stacked and bolted together. A pallet of 84 batteries, about a meter tall, will store 19.2 kilowatt-hours of electricity. Whitacre says you’d need about 60 such pallets to serve a village of 200 people in a poor country. Two pallets would power a U.S. home for a day.

The technology has its limits. It is best suited for slow and steady operation, not rapidly charging and discharging large amounts of power as some utilities require. And while the batteries are cheaper than other kinds, pairing them with solar panels still can’t beat the economics of conventional power plants in most areas. That is why Whitacre is focusing initially on regions without an existing electricity grid. Aquion has already started shipping batteries to customers for evaluation. The company expects to start full-scale production by this spring, making enough batteries each year to store about 200 megawatt-hours of electricity—enough for roughly 150 solar-powered villages. The factory in Pennsylvania could be replicated in other countries. “If our technology proves out, we won’t be able to make them fast enough,” Whitacre says.
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Trina Solar secure EPC contract for Jordan's largest PV project
27. February 2014 | Markets & Trends, Investor news, Global PV markets, Industry & Suppliers | By: Ian Clover

The Chinese solar company will supply its high efficiency modules to the 2 MW solar rooftop project in Amman, the nation's capital.

China's Trina Solar has announced today that it has secured the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract for a 2 MW solar rooftop installation in Jordan.

Food storage and logistics company Fresh Fruits Company signed a contract today with Trina Solar, permitting the solar giants to install its TSM-PC05A Honey 260 Wp high efficiency modules atop its stores and warehouses in the Jordan capital of Amman.

The modules were chosen due to their durability and performance in dry and near-desert conditions, such as those found in Amman. The project is the first mega-scale rooftop installation in Jordan, and work is expected to commence next month, with a completion date penciled in for the third quarter of the year.

Once complete, the installations will deliver 3,200 MWh of solar power each year, mitigating the effects of 38,400 tons of C02.

"We are delighted to have been awarded this mega-scale project in Jordan," said Trina Solar CEO and Chairman, Jifan Gao. "Our successful selection as the EPC provider for this project demonstrates our ability to develop large-scale projects in the Middle East.

"For oil and natural gas importing countries like Jordan, they are vulnerable to fluctuations in global oil and natural gas prices. Solar energy provides Jordan with a viable alternative and we see huge potential for growth in this market. Following this EPC contract and a previous supply contract for 1 MW of Trina Honey photovoltaic modules also in Jordan, we will continue to actively pursue new opportunities in this emerging market."

Lux Research: Concentrating solar power has the potential to beat solar PV on cost

Lux Research Inc. (Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.) has released a new report which says that despite an expected market decline for concentrating solar power (CSP) over the next five years, the technology has the potential to offer lower levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) than multicrystalline silicon (mc-Si) solar photovoltaics (PV).

In “Turning Up the Heat on Advanced Concentrating Solar Components”, Lux says that this could lead to a rebound in the technology. The company looks at various avenues for cost reduction, concluding that thermal energy storage systems offer the most potential.

“CSP has fallen by the wayside of the solar industry after attracting huge amounts of government and investor money in 2010 and 2011,” said Lux Research Associate Ed Cahill, lead author of the report.

“But the industry can still bring the technology back to the forefront for utility-scale, stand-alone power applications. Advanced components and thermal energy storage that enable higher operating temperatures could allow CSP to beat PV systems on LCOE by 6% to 33% in some of the sunniest areas.”

Superabsorbing Design May Lower Manufacturing Cost of Thin Film Solar Cells
For Immediate Release
Matt Shipman | News Services
Dr. Linyou Cao
Release Date: 02.26.14
Filed under Releases

Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed a “superabsorbing” design that may significantly improve the light absorption efficiency of thin film solar cells and drive down manufacturing costs.

The superabsorbing design could decrease the thickness of the semiconductor materials used in thin film solar cells by more than one order of magnitude without compromising the capability of solar light absorption.

“State-of-the-art thin film solar cells require an amorphous silicon layer that is about 100 nanometers (nm) thick to capture the majority of the available solar energy,” says Dr. Linyou Cao, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at NC State and senior author of a paper describing the work. “The structure we’re proposing can absorb 90 percent of available solar energy using only a 10 nm thick layer of amorphous silicon.

“The same is true for other materials. For example, you need a cadmium telluride layer that is one micrometer thick to absorb solar energy, but our design can achieve the same results with a 50 nm thick layer of cadmium telluride. Our design can also enable a 30 nm thick layer of copper indium gallium selenide to fully absorb solar light. That’s a huge advance.”

Cao notes that the deposition of semiconductor materials stands as a major bottleneck for improving manufacturing productivity and lowering the cost of thin film solar cells. “A decrease in the thickness of semiconductor materials by one order of magnitude would mean a substantial improvement in manufacturing productivity and reduction in cost,” Cao says, because the cells would use less material and the thin films could be deposited more quickly.

In cross-section, the new design looks like a rectangular onion. The light-absorbing semiconductor material coats a rectangular core. The semiconductor, in turn, is coated by three layers of anti-reflective coating that do not absorb light.

To develop the design, the researchers began by examining the maximum light absorption efficiency of semiconductor materials using light-trapping techniques. They found that maximizing solar absorption requires a design in which the light-trapping efficiency for solar light is equal to the intrinsic absorption efficiency of the semiconductor materials. In other words, in order to maximize solar absorption, you need to match the amount of solar light trapped inside the structure and the amount of solar light that could be absorbed. The researchers then designed the onion-like structures to match their light-trapping efficiency with the absorption efficiency of the semiconductor materials in thin film solar cells.

02/26/2014 11:24 AM
More Big Solar Projects Come Online, Trends Are Toward Rooftop Solar
SustainableBusiness.com News

Two more gigantic solar projects have been approved near the Nevada-California border, bringing the number of utility-scale solar projects in the Western US to 14.

The 300 megawatt (MW) Stateline Solar Farm Project in California's San Bernardino County is two miles from the Nevada border, spread out over 1,685 acres of public land.

Next door is the 250 MW Silver State South Solar Project in Primm, Nevada on 2400 acres of public land. 50 MW is finished and sending power to the grid. Its final footprint will be 150 MW smaller than originally conceived because of environmental impacts.

As part of ongoing efforts to protect the threatened Desert Tortoise, the Bureau of Land Management is expanding the nearby Ivanpah Desert Wildlife Management Area by more than 20,000 acres and requiring First Solar to spend over $3.6 million to protect the tortoise. Another $3.5 million will fund research on future efforts that can protect the tortoise in the project area.

Combined, the two solar PV projects will power 170,000 homes and create about 700 construction and operations jobs. First Solar is building both and has 20-year power purchase agreements with Southern California Edison for the energy.

Including these plants, 50 utility-scale renewable energy projects have been approved by the Interior Department since 2009 - 27 solar, 11 wind, and 12 geothermal - for a total of 14 gigawatts. In all, they are supporting 20,000 jobs and, when completed, will power 4.8 million homes. 13 projects are operating so far.

A hallmark of President Obama's climate agenda, his administration can take credit for creating utility-scale renewable energy in the US, taking it from Zero to 14 GW. While some of us would prefer an emphasis on small, distributed solar instead of gigantic plants on public lands, his administration's efforts have made renewable energy - for the first time - an increasingly significant part of the US energy mix.

"When President Obama first took office in 2009, there were no solar projects approved on public lands, and no process in place to move forward the hundreds of applications pending from businesses that wanted to harness renewable energy to help power our nation," says Sally Jewell, Secretary of Interior.

Investors Take a New Shine to Solar
Volatile Sector's Shares Rally From Shadow Cast in 2008 Due to Falling Costs, Industry Shakeout

By Chris Dieterich
Updated Feb. 26, 2014 7:28 p.m. ET

Investors are stepping back into one of the stock market's most volatile sectors, solar-energy companies, after many had pulled the plug on the group several years ago.

Starting in 2008, heavily hyped solar companies stumbled amid oversupply, sputtering demand and a series of bankruptcies.

But now, bullish investors say an industry shakeout of the past few years and falling costs of producing and installing solar-power systems pave the way for a continuation of recent big gains in the stocks.

These stocks aren't for the faint of heart. Price swings in the sector are often dizzying, and Wednesday was a prime example. Shares of Tempe, Ariz.-based First Solar Inc. which makes panels and develops large-scale solar projects, have been the most volatile stock on the S&P 500 over the past two years, according to Bespoke Investment Group. That was shown Wednesday, when the stock fell 9.1% after missing Wall Street's quarterly profit and sales estimates.

Meanwhile, Missouri's SunEdison Inc. shot up 9.3% after gaining financing for new solar parks in the U.K. SolarCity Corp., a favorite of day traders thanks in part to its association with Tesla Motors Inc. founder Elon Musk, jumped 4.6% to a record on Wednesday, trading more than 10 times higher than its December 2012 initial-public-offering price.

Amid such highly volatile trading, shares of companies tied to solar power have broadly rallied over the past year, as some long-term stock pickers dive back into the solar industry.

"The economics are good, the weak players are gone and demand is back," said Rob Lutts, chief investment officer at Cabot Wealth Management, which manages about $550 million. His firm has been buying shares of the $467 million Guggenheim Solar exchange-traded fund and other individual company stocks over the past seven months.

The Guggenheim ETF has gained 31% so far in 2014 to $46, while the S&P 500 is down 0.2%. Last year, the Guggenheim ETF shot up 128% to be the best-performing ETF on the market, excluding leveraged funds, according to research firm XTF.

That contrasts with the period starting in mid-2008, when the ETF, which holds a highly concentrated mix of small and midsize global companies, fell from nearly $300 in 2008 to just under $13 in late 2012.

Solar energy also became a political lightning rod after Solyndra LLC, a producer of solar panels that borrowed more than $500 million from the U.S. government, filed for Chapter 11 protection in 2011.

Mr. Lutts now ranks solar as his firm's No. 1 sector pick in 2014, holding about 7% in solar in his firm's riskiest portfolios, up from zero a few years ago. "We're in the beginning of the first inning for solar," he said.

Others won't touch solar stocks. Kim Forrest, senior equity analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group, which manages about $1.5 billion, said a maze of government subsidies and high-profile corporate flameouts keep her leery about the whole sector, even as an investor who looks for cheap stocks to hold over the long term.

"It will take all my brain power to suss out who are the long-term players, what subsidies are in effect," she said. "It's a big hot, hairy mess that often has nothing to do with business fundamentals."

Tom O'Halloran, a portfolio manager at Lord Abbett & Co. who oversees about $6.5 billion at the firm, bought shares of Calif.-based SunPower Corp. in 2012 and SunEdison in 2013, in large part because costs of installations are coming down.

"Solar's growth potential is virtually unlimited," said Mr. O'Halloran. "As long as the sun keeps coming out, I'm optimistic about the future of these companies."

Investors say some of solar's recent rocket ride higher is due to traders being forced to buy as they reverse bearish bets. Solar stocks have been popular targets for short sellers, who borrow shares from other investors and sell them in the hope of buying the shares back at a lower price later.

"This was a hedge-fund favorite to short—many got trapped," Mr. O'Halloran said.

For some investors, the group's volatile nature shows the importance of treading carefully.

Bruce Jenkyn-Jones, head of listed equities at London-based Impax Asset Management, which oversees $4 billion in investments tied to environmental markets, has been buying solar-related stocks he views as least sensitive to competition, such as GCL-Poly Energy Holdings Ltd., which makes base material polysilicon used in solar panels, and Meyer Burger Technology AG, which builds machines used in solar panel production.

Still, he characterized solar stocks as "undoubtedly the riskiest area in our investment universe."

IEA: System-wide transformation needed for cost-effective integration of high levels of wind and solar
The International Energy Agency (IEA, Paris) has released a report which finds that enough wind and solar to meet 45% of electrical demand can be integrated at a system cost only 15% higher over the long term, provided that measures are taken to transform the entire electrical system.

These measures include sufficient flexible generation and regional interconnection, more robust grids, power market improvements, and a better integrated and more responsive demand side. “The Power of Transformation” also finds that wind and solar work best together.

IEA stresses that the worst error is to concentrate variable renewable energy generation in one location far from load centers. In fact, the report's authors state that it is often better to look not at where the wind and solar resources are best, but where they maximize value to the system.

The report's cost modeling assumes current technology costs and a USD 30 per ton price on carbon. However, the price of emissions was a minor factor and IEA expects the cost of wind and solar generation to continue to decline. The agency also found that low shares of renewable energy can be integrated at little or no cost.

Any country can reach high shares of wind, solar power cost-effectively, study shows
Transformation of power systems is necessary to guarantee flexibility over long term, but this will be more difficult in some markets than in others

26 February 2014

Wind power and solar photovoltaics (PV) are crucial to meeting future energy needs while decarbonising the power sector. Deployment of both technologies has expanded rapidly in recent years – one of the few bright spots in an otherwise-bleak picture of clean energy progress – and IEA scenarios indicate that this trend will continue for decades. However, the inherent variability of wind power and solar PV is raising concerns: Can power systems remain reliable and cost-effective while supporting high shares of variable renewable energy (VRE)? And if so, how?

A landmark study released today by the International Energy Agency addresses these concerns and confirms that integrating high shares – i.e., 30 percent of annual electricity production or more – of wind and solar PV in power systems can come at little additional cost in the long term. However, costs depend on how flexible the system currently is and what strategy is adopted to develop system flexibility over the long term. Managing this transition will be more difficult for some countries or power systems than others, the study says.

“Integrating high shares of variable renewables is really about transforming our power systems,” IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said as she launched The Power of Transformation - Wind, Sun and the Economics of Flexible Power Systems, the latest in a series of IEA reports shedding light on the challenges and opportunities of integrating VRE into power systems globally.

“This new IEA analysis calls for a change of perspective,” she explained. “In the classical approach, variable renewables are added to an existing system without considering all available options for adapting it as a whole. This approach misses the point. Integration is not simply about adding wind and solar on top of ‘business as usual’. We need to transform the system as a whole to do this cost-effectively.”

Currently, wind and solar PV account for just about 3 percent of world electricity generation, but a few countries already feature very high shares: In Italy, Germany, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, and Denmark, wind and solar PV accounted respectively from around 10 to more than 30 percent of electricity generation in 2012 on an annual basis.

The report says that for any country, integrating the first 5-10 percent of VRE generation poses no technical or economic challenges at all, provided that three conditions are met: uncontrolled local “hot spots” of VRE deployment must be avoided, VRE must contribute to stabilising the grid when needed, and VRE forecasts must be used effectively. These lower levels of integration are possible within existing systems because the same flexible resources that power systems already use to cope with variability of demand can be put to work to help integrate variability from wind and solar. Such resources can be found in the form of flexible power plants, grid infrastructure, storage and demand-side response.

Going beyond the first few percent to reach shares of more than 30 percent will require a transformation of the system, however. This transformation has three main requirements: deploying variable renewables in a system-friendly way using state-of-the art technology, improving the day-to-day operation of power systems and markets, and finally investing in additional flexible resources.

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Japan May Impose Land, Equipment Rule for Solar, Yomiuri Says
28 February 2014

Feb. 28 (Bloomberg) — Japan plans to introduce a new rule for solar developers obliging them to secure land and equipment within a year after projects are approved, the Yomiuri newspaper reported today without saying where it got the information.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry intended to present the idea to a task force meeting today, the paper said.

Hearings are planned for as early as March with developers of projects that haven’t secured both sites and equipment, the ministry said earlier this month.

Solar Power’s Relentless Push To Greater Efficiency
By Pete Danko
Featured, Renewable Energy, Solar Power
February 27, 2014

First Solar is apparently inching toward manufacturing some silicon solar products, but that doesn’t mean the company’s bread and butter, cadmium-telluride (CdTe) cells, are taking a back seat. Not if this news is any indication: a new CdTe cell conversion record of 20.4 percent.

This beats the old world record of 19.6 by GE Global Research last year – and what do you know, it was last year that GE sold its own thin-film technology to First Solar and partnered with First Solar on solar R&D.

“We are demonstrating improvement in CdTe PV performance at a rate that dramatically outstrips the trajectory of conventional silicon technologies, which have already plateaued near their ultimate entitlements,” First Solar CTO Raffi Garabedian said in a statement. “The synergy realized in our partnership with GE also demonstrates the value of our consistent and strong investment in R&D. The advanced technologies and processes we developed for this record-setting cell are already being commercialized and will positively impact performance of our future production modules and power plants.”

New Math: Solar Power + Salt Water = Sahara Forest

The folks over at Sahara Forest Project have just alerted the Twitterverse that their new pilot facility in Qatar is good to go, and since we’ve been following that project since 2008 we’ll jump at the chance to update you on its progress from high concept to working hardware.

The idea behind Sahara Forest dovetails with the solutions we saw on a recent technology tour of Israel (sponsored by the organization Kinetis), namely, when you have several problems going on at once, mash them up together and see what happens.

In this case we’re talking about too much salt, too much sun, and not enough soil and water for farming. Israel found the key to the solution in brackish aquifer water, and Sahara Forest has come up with its own twist.

The Sahara Forest Project

When Sahara Forest first came across CleanTechnica’s radar in 2008, we weighed in slightly over to the skeptical side, given the cost of solar power compared to other desert farming practices:
Of course, deserts can also produce lush vegetation using permaculture farming practices that are much cheaper to implement. But if countries are willing to invest in the Sahara Forest Project, more power to them—literally.
When we dropped in again in 2012 the idea of large scale solar powered greenhouses was beginning to gel, and right around this time last year we noticed that things were really starting to take off at the Qatar pilot plant:
Aside from the technology itself, one thing that stands out about the project is the speed with which it happened. Once all the agreements were signed, construction began early last year and was completed within a year.
The basic idea behind Sahara Forest is that solar power could be used to evaporate seawater for a freshwater source, and seawater could also pull double duty as a coolant for the greenhouses.

So far Sahara Forest has reported that its Qatar greenhouses are competitive with European yields, while using half the water of conventional greenhouses in the region.

The Biggest Solar Farm In Latin America Will Replace An Old Coal Plant
Originally published on ThinkProgress.
By Ari Phillips.

Last week President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited Mexico for what’s traditionally called the “Three Amigos” meeting. In the daylong rendezvous, energy issues were slated to play a major role, with Obama and Harper jockeying for room when it comes to the impending decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline that would bring dirty crude oil down from Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

However, Mexico also has some major energy changes in the pipeline, and after decades of state-run oil company PEMEX having sole purview over fossil fuel extraction, international investment and companies will now be let into the mix after recent constitutional reforms. This will increase oil flows from America’s southern neighbor into those same Gulf refineries as Keystone XL might. At the same time renewable energy has started to take off in Mexico, with construction of the biggest solar power plant in Latin America, Aura Solar I — a 30-megawatt solar farm in La Paz, Mexico — the latest signal.

If Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s recent summit with North American leaders is an indication of the significance of the trio’s relationship, then his expected upcoming visit to the Aura I solar farm can be seen as a benchmark on the country’s path to a more renewable future. Mexico is poised to be Latin America’s solar hotbed according to Greentech Media, with the solar market’s installed base expected to quadruple from 60 megawatts to 240 megawatts by the end of this year. Mexico’s energy ministry has set a target for 35 percent of power generation to come from non-fossil fuel sources by 2024.

“The current reform provides a real opportunity, particularly in the electricity reform, to increase investment in renewable energy generation in Mexico by opening up the sector and making other institutional changes,” Christina McCain, Senior Manager for the Latin American Climate Initiative at the Environmental Defense Fund, told ClimateProgress in an email. “Some in Mexico have criticized that the energy reform is missing an opportunity to provide more direct incentives to renewable energy. While the focus of the reform seems to have largely been on the major overhauls we hear most about, there is still opportunity to provide more direct incentives to renewables, as well as leverage existing laws designed to increase renewable sources in Mexico’s energy mix.”

In La Paz, where pollution from a dirty thermoelectric plant creates noxious air impacting resident’s lifestyles and well-being, the solar plant is a welcomed clean development. The $100 million project, which includes 132,000 solar panel-modules, is the first Mexican private enterprise of such a size to get a development bank loan and an agreement to sell its electricity to the grid. According to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank, gave the project a $25 million credit line and also helped set up another $50 million in loans from the Mexican development bank Nacional Financiera (Nafin).

The Expansion of Distributed PV in the Age of the Grid Edge
Join Greentech Media, Solar1 and NYC ACRE for a discussion of what solar PV means for the grid.

Katherine Tweed
February 28, 2014

In President Obama’s State of the Union address in January, he noted that “Every four minutes, another American home or business goes solar; every panel [is] pounded into place by a worker whose job can't be outsourced.”

That figure, which came from GTM Research, is good news for clean energy and green jobs advocates, but it is also an increasing challenge to the existing electric grid and the business model that sustains it.

The challenges are playing out across the nation and the globe as utilities contend with net metering and begin to invest more in distribution automation as certain parts of the distribution network have to manage far more variability from rooftop solar photovoltaics than they ever had before.

To discuss the challenges and promise of distributed PV for the power system, Greentech Media, Solar 1 and NYC ACRE will host the first event of the Clean Energy Connections series for 2014, The Expansion of Distributed PV in the Age of the Grid Edge, on Tuesday, March 4, 2014, from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at the Jerome L. Greene Performance Space in New York City.

The theme of this year’s panels is the grid edge, which GTM sees as the setting for the imminent transformation of the electric grid. As new distributed energy generation collides with existing business and regulatory models in the power sector, a stable transition to a next-generation electricity system depends on harmonizing grid modernization and customer evolution.

GTM Research has found that more distributed solar has been deployed in the past 2.5 years than in the 50 years prior, and there will be another doubling of capacity over the next 2.5 years.

That growth is driven by falling costs for solar PV coupled with new financing models. To discuss the current trends and what they mean for utilities, customers and the solar industry, Ben Kellison, smart grid senior analyst for GTM Research, will be joined onstage by Margarett Jolly, Director of Research & Development at Consolidated Edison; Shaun Chapman, Director of Policy and Electricity at SolarCity; Stacey Hughes, Chief Marketing Officer at Sunlight General Capital; and Naimish Patel, CEO of Gridco Systems.

Solar PV is just one of the technology disruptions that is happening at the edge of the electric grid. Smart digital electric meters are also delivering new streams of data to utilities, which must find a way to store it, secure it and leverage it for operations and consumer benefits.

All types of buildings, from skyscrapers to individual homes, are becoming smarter and more automated, increasing the opportunities for buildings to interact with the grid in demand-side management programs.

Global solar market to grow by 20% in 2014
28. February 2014 | Global PV markets, Industry & Suppliers, Markets & Trends | By: Ian Clover

A survey of the world's leading solar analysts by Bloomberg finds that the global solar sector will add 44.5 GW of PV capacity this year, underpinned by Chinese growth.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) surveyed some of the world's most knowledgeable and respected solar analysts to harvest their expert opinion on how the solar sector is likely to perform in 2014.

The results revealed that most experts anticipate PV capacity to grow by approximately 44.5 GW this year, swelling the industry by 20.9% compared to 2013.

BNEF polled figureheads at IHS Inc., Deustche Bank AG, HSBC Holdings Plc, Citigroup Inc., Yingli, NPD Solarbuzz,. Wacker Chemie AG, and PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, with each representative putting forward their predictions.

Capacity in the global solar PV market grew by 20.3% between 2012 and 2013, so experts agreed that similar levels of growth are to once again be expected in 2014. China will lead the way this year, cementing its position as the world's largest solar PV market ahead of Japan and the U.S., with state support for PV pushing the industry towards an additional 10-14 GW of capacity. These 'Big Three' will help propel PV to greater heights, believe many.

"After two years of a punishing downturn, the global solar industry is on the rebound," said IHS senior research director for solar, Ash Sharma. "Worldwide PV installations are set to rise by double digits in 2014, solar manufacturing capital spending is recovering, module prices are stabilizing and emerging markets are on the rise."

Solano Community College introduces 2.8MW of solar energy systems on campuses
By Conor Ryan - 28 February 2014, 13:14
In News, Power Generation, Project Focus

The Solano Community College District (SCCD) commissioned 2.8MW of PV systems on Thursday, ushering in a new age of renewable-energy implementation for the academic institution.

The systems are based at three separate facilities: Solar parking canopies at the college’s Fairfield campus and installations at both the Vacaville and Vallejo districts.

According to the SCCD, the installs are expected to provide enough energy to meet as much as 50% of the annual electricity needed of the three sites.

Yulian Ligioso, SCCD’s vice president of finance and administration, said: "Solar power is a reliable, affordable means to reduce our operational costs as well as our dependence on fossil fuels…With SunPower as our solar technology provider, we expect the systems will generate significant savings over the next 25 years for the benefit of the district, our students and our communities."

The systems were designed and constructed by SunPower. Kitchell, a construction firm with offices located in California, Arizona, Tennessee and Texas, managed the assembly of the facilities.

Grid operators throw up barriers to try and stall solar market
By Jonathan Gifford on 28 February 2014

The underpinning economics of solar PV continues to attract solar suppliers to Australia, but concerns over regulatory burdens are casting a dark shadow over the solar market.

With solar installations now more than competitive with grid electricity rates for most residential electricity customers and many commercial building owners, Australia’s solar market has all the makings of being a sustainable one, based around grid parity. However, suppliers looking to grow their business in Australia are becoming increasingly worried that regulatory and technical barriers are becoming roadblocks to the industry.

“Opportunity is here in Australia and the conditions are in place for a sustained growth of the PV industry,” said Derek Durham, who has recently assumed responsibilities for the Australian operations of Swiss inverter manufacturer SolarMax.

But he said that a lack of standardisation in terms of requirements placed on solar developers is adding significant cost and complexity to doing business here. “The risk is there that there is too much freedom given to grid operators, to the utilities and to some of the regulating authorities, to allow them to impose blocks on the PV industry which, depending on their vested interests, they may wish to impose.”

Durham has been in PV sales and engineering for 15 years and said that the commercial rooftop market in Australia that has the potential to take off, but it is also where regulatory burdens are causing the most problems.

“It is of concern that there are differences in regulations between the different states and there seems to be a lack of goodwill on behalf of many of those who take the final decisions as to whether this [solar PV development] is to be done, or can it be done,” said Durham. “There are complications which arise from a lack of standardisation of criteria to apply, so it does become very complex to work around these issues.”

Massive losses hit EnergyAustralia as demand falls, solar soars
By Giles Parkinson on 28 February 2014

EnergyAustralia, one of the big three utilities in the country, has slumped to a loss of $350 million for calendar 2013 after slashing the value of its Yallourn brown coal generator, as well as some of its gas-fired generation assets.

The write-down came as the company, owned by Hong Kong based CLP Holdings, returned a profit of just $18 million (down from $236 million in 2012) for the year from its portfolio of coal and gas generation and its large retail customer base – a result it blamed mostly on an “unprecedented” fall in demand, and the popularity of solar PV.

EnergyAustralia also chose to write off about $300 million from the value of its ageing Yallourn brown coal generator in Victoria. This was part of a total write-down of $445 million, which even included an $85 million gain from what it called the “bargain basement” purchase of the Mt Piper and Wallerawang coal fired power stations from the NSW Government.

The results put in context the implacable opposition that EnergyAustralia has to the renewable energy target, which it wants halted in its tracks in the current review commissioned by the Abbott government.

And it also highlights the dilemma that the industry, and for that matter the government, finds itself in over soaring gas prices, which are making the gas-fired generators of EnergyAustralia, Origin Energy, AGL Energy and others, such as Stanwell Corp, uneconomic to run because they are priced out of the market. Their ability to compete is made worse by the Abbott government’s decision to try and dump the carbon price.

It also explains why CLP chose to defer, indefinitely, its intended stock market float of EnergyAustralia.

EnergyAustralia says the fall in wholesale electricity prices has been caused, perversely, by higher electricity prices for customers, mostly due to network costs, which is encouraging those consumers to put on more solar panels, and embrace energy efficiency. Those high prices are also contributing to the decisions of some energy-intensive industries to leave Australia. While network costs are moderating, more price rises can be expected because of the gas boom. Gas still supplies around 10 per cent of local generation, and often sets the marginal cost of generation.

EnergyAustralia did note some of the major pressures on the Australian electricity market:
  • Consumer behaviour and expectations had changed as a result of the sharp spike in retail prices, and the growing uptake of rooftop solar PV and energy efficiency products.
  • The uncertainty around carbon pricing and other policies had meant it was impossible to enter long-term hedging contracts, which reduced the ability to manage risk.
  • The RET had forced “subsidised” renewable capacity into an over-supplied wholesale market, further dampening wholesale prices.
  • Domestic gas prices were pushing gas-fired generators out of the market, and the pursuit of more “unconventional” gas to meet LNG export demand was also adding pressure to gas prices.
  • Coal supply has become more challenging as costs increase and legacy contracts roll-off, particularly in NSW. This would add costs and prices to coal-fired generators.

CEO Richard Lancaster said older and less competitive generators would soon be forced out of the market. It has already closed one of two units at Wallerawang and the second unit will be closed next month. Yallourn this year was hit by damage and outages caused by the flooding of the adjacent mine by the Morwell River.

Largest Solar Power Plants In The World (CSP & Solar PV)
by Zach
on February 28, 2014

Largest Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Power Plants in the World
  1. “Gujarat Solar Park” in India — 600 MW (completed in 2012, includes a few somewhat separate solar parks)
  2. “Topaz Solar Farm” in USA — 550 MW (300 MW completed up through January 2014)
  3. “Agua Caliente” in USA — 251 MW (397 MW when complete)
  4. “California Valley Solar Ranch” in USA — 250 MW (completed in 2013)
  5. “Antelope Valley Solar Ranch” in USA — 230 MW (almost complete)
  6. “Charanka Solar Park” in China — 221 MW (completed in 2012, part of the Gujarat Solar Park)
  7. “Golmud Solar Park” in China — 200 MW (completed in 2011)
  8. “Imperial Solar Energy Center South” in USA — 200 MW (completed in 2013)
  9. “Centinela Solar Energy Project” in USA — 170 MW (almost complete)
  10. “Meuro Solar Park” in Germany — 166 MW (completed in 2012)
  11. “Mesquite Solar I” in USA — 150 MW (completed in 2012)
  12. “Copper Mountain Solar Facility” in USA — 150 MW (completed in 2013)
  13. “Neuhardenberg Airport Solar Park” in Germany — 145 MW (completed in 2013)
  14. “Catalina Solar Project” in USA — 143 MW (completed in 2013)
  15. “Campo Verde Solar Project” in USA — 139 MW (completed in 2012)
  16. “Templin Solar Park” in Germany — 128 MW (completed in 2012)
  17. “Arlington Valley Solar II” in USA — 127 MW (completed in 2013)
  18. “Centrale solaire de Toul-Rosières” in France — 115 MW (completed in 2012)
  19. “Perovo Solar Park” in Ukraine — 106 MW (completed in 2011)
  20. “Xitieshan Solar Park” in China — 100 MW (completed in 2011)
  21. “Gansu Jiayuguan Solar Park” in China — 100 MW (completed in 2013)
  22. “Ningxia Qingyang Solar Park” in China — 100 MW (completed in 2013)
  23. “Sarnia Photovoltaic Power Plant” in Canada — 97 MW (completed in 2010)

Largest Solar Thermal Power Plants in Operation
  1. “Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System” in the Mojave Desert of California, USA — 392 MW
  2. “Solar Energy Generating Systems” in California, USA — 354 MW
  3. “Solana Generating Station” in Arizona, USA — 280 MW
  4. “Solaben Solar Power Station” in Logrosán, Spain — 200 MW
  5. “Solnova Solar Power Station” in Seville, Spain — 150 MW
  6. “Andasol Solar Power Station” in Granada, Spain — 150 MW
  7. “Extresol Solar Power Station” in Torre de Miguel Sesmero, Spain — 150 MW
  8. “Shams 1” in Abu Dhabi, UAE — 100 MW (largest single-unit solar power plant in world)
  9. “Palma del Río Solar Power Station” in Córdoba, Spain — 100 MW
  10. “Manchasol Solar Power Station” in Ciudad Real, Spain — 100 MW
  11. “Valle Solar Power Station” in San José del Valle, Spain — 100 MW
  12. “Helioenergy Solar Power Station” in Écija, Spain — 100 MW
  13. “Aste Solar Power Station” in Alcázar de San Juan, Spain — 100 MW
  14. “Solacor Solar Power Station” in El Carpio, Spain — 100 MW
  15. “Helios Solar Power Station” in Puerto Lápice, Spain — 100 MW
  16. “Termosol Solar Power Station” in Navalvillar de Pela, Spain — 100 MW

Grid Emulation Service Accelerates Solar Plant Start-Up
Published on 28 February 2014

SMA unveiled a utility-scale service: Grid Emulation that is designed to accelerate power plant start-up and significantly pulls forward commercial operation dates before grid connection is accessible, enabling hundreds of megawatts of PV power to be brought online in a matter of days.

Through the use of proprietary technology, SMA can simulate the grid prior to actual grid interconnection and fully test and pre-commission the complete power path from the PV modules to the medium voltage transformer. By doing this, Grid Emulation prevents unnecessary project delays, helps developers and EPCs realize additional project profitability and mitigates the risk of liquidated damages, resulting in greater peace of mind and project success.

SMA offers additional power plant services including commissioning, preventative maintenance, extended warranty, and plant-wide O&M.

New Financing Structures For Clean Energy Can Help Bring Down Solar Soft Costs
By Maud Texier.

Hardware costs for solar have substantially dropped over the past years. Solar module prices have decreased by 70% from 2010 to 2012. The attention is now directed towards soft costs and financing. An NREL study published in September 2013 analyzed the increasing share of soft cost in PV projects. Among those “non-hardware balance-of-system costs,” transaction and financing costs are emerging as one potential leverage to reduce the overall share of soft costs. Beyond existing third-party financing, more complex structures are required to cut down those transaction costs.

Innovative models such as crowdfunding along with tax equity for larger projects have democratized investments in renewables. But the price of financing still remains quite high. New financing structures for clean energy appeared since 2012, such as Yieldco, MLPs, and REITS. All these vessels were actually pre-existing on the finance markets but had never been applied to renewables or energy efficiency.

The first yieldco deal proposing renewables in its portfolio was introduced on the market on July 16th 2013 as NRG Yield. This subsidiary of NRG Energy owns, operates, and acquires renewable energy projects and fossil-fueled power plants. NRG Yield initially raised $430 million through a 19,575,000 share offering.

A yieldco is a company whose shares are publicly traded and dividends are passed to shareholders. The shareholders will typically receive monthly dividend from income generated by the portfolio of projects.

Other vessels such as MLPs and REITs are being discussed as potential financing structures for renewables.

REITs (Real Estate Investment Trust) have been introduced in 1960 to increase capital availability for the real-estate market. REITs are required to distribute at least 90% of their taxable income to investors. This income is then treated as a deductible from corporate-level taxes, hence suppressing a large share of total tax. This structure was made to respond to the shortage of capital in real-estate, therefore 75% of REIT assets must be real-estate or cash and receivables coming from real-estate. The portfolio diversity is then limited as the IRS defines what is considered as real-property.

The first MLPs (Master Limited Partnership) appeared in 1980s to avoid double-taxation on corporate income and individual (investor) income. MLP is a public-traded partnership, which is not subject to corporate tax provided that at least 90% of its income comes from interest, dividend, rental, commodity or natural resources. MLPs have been used for all kinds of businesses and projects. However, electricity is currently not considered a depletable resource or a natural resource, hence renewable energy or energy efficiency projects are not eligible for MLP.

Review and definition of both vessels are in progress at the federal level. The IRS definition of real-estate must be modified to include renewable energy asset in this class and to unlock REIT. MLPs need to be reformed to include electricity as an eligible source of income as well. Additionally, current tax benefits for renewables such as ITC (Investment Tax credit) or MACRS (Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System) are also in conflict with those systems. Due to the low level of tax generated from MLP and REIT, the tax benefits cannot be applied. An alternative would be to integrate projects whose tax incentives have already been consumed. In this case the portfolio will be only composed of existing projects.

As of today, no ruling enables to adapt those mechanisms to renewables and alternative energy. A bi-partisan bill “the Master Limited Partnership Parity Act,” is still in the senate committee. The IRS has not statuted either on the adoption of renewable energy assets as real property for REITs.

Both MLPs and REITs would give access to substantially lower financing cost, down to 5-6% interest rates, compared to tax equity (8-9%) or private funding (12-14%).

Another alternative is securitization achieved by SolarCity on November 2013 with a $54.43 million financing for solar projects at a relatively low interest rate of 4.8%. The bond will mature in 2026. The securitization typically enables the backing of a large portfolio of assets or projects by small investors through a debt process. The loans are backed by a bank through a Special Purpose Vehicle which issues securities to investors against cash-flow from the portfolio (PPA, etc..).

Africa And Asia Set To Usurp European Renewables

New research from consultancy firm EY has proposed the idea that Europe is going to lose a significant share of the global renewables market to Africa and Asia.

After a drop of 11% in global investment in 2013, EY predict that “an abundance of opportunities in new markets, new technologies and new sources of capital all signal brighter times ahead” in their latest quarterly Renewable energy country attractiveness index (RECAI) report, released on Tuesday.

“The 2013 fall in global investment reflects another challenging year for the renewables sector, with policy uncertainty in particular reducing investor appetite across many markets,” said Gil Forer, EY’s Global Cleantech Leader. However, it also reflects a maturing sector, with falling technology costs filtering through to lower investment requirements: increasing the dollar power per megawatt.

“We must now therefore focus on what needs to be done to maximize investment and deployment in light of the fact renewable energy is becoming increasingly cost competitive.”

According to EY, there are (at least) 10 developments they expect to “shake up” the attractiveness index over the next 12 to 18 months. First on that list of 10 is the growth of markets such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Uruguay are expected to “displace European markets” which have limited growth potential.

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Nor’easter Raging Over Solar Power In Massachusetts

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick is not beating around the bush when it comes to making his state the greenest in the nation. The Green Communities Act he pushed in 2008 started Massachusetts down the road of expanded conservation and investment in renewable energy. One of his current goals is to generate 1,600 megawatts of solar energy statewide by 2020.

In order to meet such an ambitious target, the Patrick plan requires utilities and other big energy consumers to get a certain amount of their power from solar producers, which can range from large-scale farms to single-family residences with rooftop installations. This would not only force utilities to diversify their entrenched transmission networks, but also would incentivize more homeowners and small businesses to become players in the solar market, further eroding the profits to which utilities have become accustomed.

As one might expect, the Massachusetts utility industry is none too pleased. And when we say “industry,” we’re really talking about Northeast Utilities System, far and away the state’s largest energy provider and among the largest in New England. With Patrick’s plan on the verge of achieving the critical mass needed to pass the state legislature, NU and others have begun to raise the familiar, unjustified spectre of increased consumer rates in order to halt solar progress.

Like the litany of laments heard from other investor-owned utilities in response to the rooftop solar movement, NU’s argument makes it sound like they care about ratepayers. In reality, they are trying to mask their true motivation: money.

Edison Electric Institute Really Does Not Want You to Go Solar
Adam Browning of Vote Solar dissects an anti-solar filing from the IOUs’ industry group.

Adam Browning
February 28, 2014

The Edison Electric Institute, the trade association representing U.S. investor-owned utilities, is at it again. Over the past year, this monopoly of monopolies has been working overtime -- taking extraordinary, unprecedented actions -- to rid the world of the scourge of people generating their own power with solar.

The latest: on February 18, EEI filed official comments (PDF) with regulators in Arizona on the subject of valuing distributed generation renewables, including rooftop solar.

It’s a remarkable document. EEI wants a fair and balanced evaluation of distributed renewable generation which specifically excludes both the distributed and the renewable values.

Some pertinent quotes:
  • “Grid security and reliability values should not be considered in rates.”
  • “Environmental and social externalities should not be included in DG rates.”
  • “DG systems should not be compensated directly for reducing market prices.”
  • “Even if it can be determined that DG systems may make known and measurable net contributions to the security and reliability of the system...they should not receive additional compensation.”
  • “EEI believes that although avoided transmission and distribution may be theoretically relevant to determining adequate compensation for DG, the measurement of such components is too speculative at this time.”

EEI also makes the case that if a value can’t be determined with a level of precision sufficient to its liking, it should be assumed to be zero. You say five, someone else says six, and EEI meets you in the middle at zero. Or to offer another analogy, MIT researchers calculate that fossil-fueled power plants shorten the lives of 52,000 Americans a year. If you and EEI can’t agree on the value of Grandma’s life, they want to call it even at zero. Sorry, Grandma.

The group's arguments are not fooling anyone, including the Arizona regulators who were not impressed by the $500,000 in television ads that EEI ran attacking solar customers. Nor NRG, one of the largest utility companies in the country, which ended up running a full-page ad in the Arizona Republic calling out EEI for its anti-solar and anti-consumer efforts.

FERC Affirms Support for Removing Market Barriers to Energy Storage
March 1, 2014 Frank Andorka : 0 Comments
By Allison Clements, Special to Solar Power World

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has once again demonstrated its commitment to removing unfair market barriers standing in the way of the grid flexibility necessary to incorporate high levels of renewable energy like wind and solar. It did so last week by issuing an order clarifying aspects of Order 784. Order 784, which FERC originally issued last year, tackled the tricky issue of whether and how to allow for competition in the sale of “ancillary services.” More about these services in a moment, but first some background:

The Changing Energy Markets’ Landscape

The 2013 Renewable Futures Study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) predicts that by 2050, 80% of the nation’s energy can come from wind and solar, and other renewable resources. To accommodate reliably so much clean energy, which can be variable due to unexpected weather, the study also predicts a need for significant, but feasible, increases in system flexibility. NREL writes that “system flexibility can be increased using a broad portfolio of supply- and demand-side options and will likely require technology advances, new operating procedures, evolved business models, and new market rules.”

The problem with existing energy market rules, in large part, is that they were designed around a generation portfolio consisting almost exclusively of central station, mostly fossil-fueled resources like coal and oil. Over time, the increasing presence of wind and solar power, demand response, distributed (onsite) generation and even energy efficiency have rendered the rules that govern energy markets outdated and, in some cases, discriminatory. The rules do not contemplate the operational characteristics of these emerging clean resources. As a result, these resources cannot compete to provide grid services even though they can often provide them more effectively and/or cheaper than traditional generators.

Under former FERC Chair Jon Wellinghoff’s tenure (he left his post last November), FERC issued a series of legacy orders (including Orders 719, 745, and 755) that made real progress in addressing these increasingly unjust rules in wholesale energy, capacity and ancillary service markets. Order 784 and last week’s Order on Clarification represent the most recent of those orders. So, now back to ancillary services.

02/28/2014 12:43 PM
Air Force Cuts Ribbon On Biggest Military Solar Array, Boon for Solar Contractors
SustainableBusiness.com News

The US Air Force cut the ribbon this month on the biggest solar array in the US military so far - a 16.4 megawatt (MW) system at Tucson's Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

Covering 170 acres of land, it's providing about 35% of the power for the base, and is expected to supply 100% during more temperate times of the year. A 20 MW project for the Army is under construction.

The military is using the same model for renewable energy installations across the US - they are built on military land by private contractors that own and maintain the systems and sell the electricity to the base under long term power purchase agreements.

In exchange, the base saves on energy bills - about $500,000 a year in the first few years - without having to spend a dime on upfront costs. The same is true for upgrading energy efficiency - they do that through energy saving performance contracts.

By moving to independent, on-site energy, the Department of Defense (DOD) is also getting much more reliable energy. Over the past few years, the military had to deal with 87 day-long power outages across the US, reports Pew.

"This is a win-win-win proposition: The military gets better energy infrastructure, taxpayer dollars are saved, and the clean energy industry is finding new market opportunities," says Phyllis Cuttino at Pew.

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Just Another Solar Deal, Or The Future?
By Guest Post
Featured, Green Building
March 3, 2014

These days, a $40 million dollar equity financing deal might not seem groundbreaking in America’s power markets. But for the keen analyst of distributed solar energy, that same investment may just herald a shift toward the future of project financing.

Count our team at Soltage-Greenwood among the latter, with an outlook brightened by the recent announcement John Hancock Life Insurance would lead a $40 million initial round of equity funding destined to finance multiple project pools across America, starting with 13 megawatts (MW) at six locations across four northeastern state.

Just another solar investment, right? Not really. While the boom in distributed solar energy generation is one of the hottest topics in today’s energy economy, most large institutional investors haven’t traditionally been interested in medium-sized solar installations, and as such, are just now getting into the game.

This trend is especially important considering clean energy investment fell for the second year in a row in 2013, down 11 percent after a similar 10 percent decline in 2012, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. While investor appetites in solar are growing, good investment opportunities can often be hard to find, meaning dollars are scarcer and thus more important for solar developers.

Big investors typically want to invest in big projects and standardized contracts, creating difficulty financing distributed solar. That problem hasn’t played out in the rooftop residential market, where developers like SolarCity have installed record amounts of solar panels because all contracts are standard and investors only need to review a diversified pool of credit scores. The same pattern is true for the large utility-scale market where companies like SunEdison have been able to construct massive solar farms and investors only need to review one set of contracts.

But that problem has vexed mid-sized developers who can often fund project-planning phases on their own but rely on securing long-term investors after projects are fully permitted and construction can begin. Individual arrays aren’t large enough to attract large investors, but project pools can involve many different contracts. Without investment to cover the long period of exposure between when the first rack goes in to when the system switches on, potential projects pile up but result in far too few interconnections to fulfill America’s solar energy promise.

Our approach to this problem may seem simple, but it’s been a success: Package together multiple solar projects in states with favorable renewable polices to create the scale and standardization required for big investors to take notice.

Big Solar Combined With Big Storage at SolarReserve’s 110 MW Crescent Dunes Plant
CEO Kevin Smith says the 110-megawatt solar power tower will be on-line this year.

Herman K. Trabish
March 3, 2014

SolarReserve’s 110-megawatt Crescent Dunes solar power tower is due to come on-line this year. It will be the biggest solar power tower technology project in the world that incorporates molten salt storage.

Last February, the receiver atop the 640-foot tower was yet to be built, there were two pedestals and one heliostat installed, and the ambitious December 31, 2013 on-line date was doubtful. A year later, the project, which commenced construction in August 2011, looks like a good bet to go on-line in Q3 or Q4 2014.

The tower's internal piping is nearing completion, the turbine and generator are installed and ready, and the hot and cold storage tanks, each of which holds approximately 3.6 million gallons, are sealed. The dry cooling system, which uses less than half the water used by a wet-cooled natural gas plant and 20 percent of the water used by a coal or nuclear plant, is in place.

There are 10,300 pedestals in the ground and approximately 8,500 heliostats installed. The crew of more than 900 continues to work double shifts.

In mid-March, the 3,000 bags of sodium nitrate and potassium nitrate waiting in a temporary storage tent will begin being heated in a 50-50 mix and pumped into the system. That is just 10 percent of the 30,000 bags that will eventually be needed.

Molten salt storage is the advanced technology part of the system and the key to the project's market differentiation, explained CEO Kevin Smith.

The alternative is a system like the just-launched BrightSource Energy 392-megawatt Ivanpah facility. It uses the sun’s heat to turn water into steam that drives the turbine. But it does not have storage and has to carefully balance pressure and temperature, Smith said.

“On a bright, sunny day, we can maintain the temperature-pressure balance -- even with transient clouds -- by increasing or decreasing the number of heliostats focused on the receiver at the tower’s top," BSE spokesperson Joe Desmond told GTM at the Ivanpah opening.
many pics

India's Solar Energy Corp identifies site for 1 GW PV plant
03. March 2014 | Markets & Trends, Investor news, Global PV markets, Industry & Suppliers | By: Ian Clover

The corporation will develop its new 1 GW solar park on a 5,000 acre site in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

The Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) has announced plans to develop a 1 GW solar PV plant in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh in a move that bolsters the corporation's ambitious solar goals.

In September last year SECI agreed to partner with Power Grid Corporation of India on the development of a 4 GW utility scale PV power plant in Rajastan province – a project that has since come to be known as the Ultra Mega Green Solar Power Project.

This latest announcement is anchored in an agreement with Andhra Pradesh Industrial Infrastructure Corporation (APIIC) and Japanese lending agency, JICA. APIIC will provide the 5,000 acre site – earmarked for a district of Mahboobnagar, Telangana – with JICA providing funding for the initial infrastructure via a low interest rate loan leveraged through various multilateral agencies such as the Asian Development Bank and the Clean Energy Fund.

UK solar and wind could gain £200 million investment from The Renewables Infrastructure Group
By Lucy Woods - 03 March 2014, 12:26
In News, Power Generation, Finance

The Renewables Infrastructure Group (TRIG) is hoping to increase its solar and wind assets with as much as £200 million of investment a year.

Chris Copperwaite, from investment services firm Dexion Capital, TRIG's administrator, confirmed the figure with PV Tech's sister site Solar Power Portal.

TRIG has raised £312 million for investment UK renewables already, with a further £1-2 million of additional investment capital that could be raised in March, in equity and debt, for wind and solar projects expected next year..

TRIG aims to increase its solar portfolio to around a third, an increase from the current level of 17% and up from the 10% portion of its portfolio that solar held last year.

TRIG’s initial portfolio consisted of 14 wind farms and four solar farms with a generating capacity of around 265MW.

Study Shows Securitization Can Lower the Cost of Capital of Solar PV
Alexander Metz, Clean Energy Finance Forum
March 03, 2014 | 0 Comments

The limited availability of low-cost financing is holding back market adoption of solar photovoltaics (PV). However, securitization can make project financing more affordable than it is today, according to new research from the Open Sustainability Technology Laboratory at Michigan Technological University.

Securitization of residential solar PV power purchase agreements (PPAs) can reduce the cost of capital for solar PV projects by between five and 13 percent, said the researchers, Theresa Alafita and Joshua Pearce.

The journal Energy Policy published the results online on Jan. 21 in an article titled “Securitization of Residential Solar Photovoltaic Assets: Costs, Risks and Uncertainty.”

To minimize the cost of capital, the researchers said, solar PV developers and policymakers should adopt policies that lower the risk of PPA and solar lease defaults, improve the accuracy of risk assessment, and increase the liquidity of solar asset-backed securities.

PPAs are a common means of funding solar power; they are contracts between electricity generators and electricity buyers. To access private sources of funding, solar lease providers can securitize the funds from these PPAs. Securitization is the practice of pooling debt and selling the consolidated debt as securities in financial markets.

The researchers built a mathematical model to measure the cost of the capital raised through securitization of solar PPAs. Their calculations produced some surprising results with important policy implications.
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India to Add Solar Manufacturing at Andhra Pradesh Park
4 March 2014

March 4 (Bloomberg) — India plans to add solar-equipment manufacturing capacity at a new park in Andhra Pradesh state, saying demand from plants under construction will help the industry recover from a glut of panels.

Solar Energy Corp. of India, the state-run company spearheading the industry’s development, signed an agreement with Andhra Pradesh Industrial Infrastructure Corp. for a solar park in the state that will have 1,000 megawatts of power capacity, as well as factories to produce modules and cells, Rajendra Nimje, managing director of SECI, said in an interview.

The plans come as panel prices appear to be bottoming out after falling more than 60 percent in two years amid a global supply glut. Local manufacturers, such as Indosolar Ltd., Moser Baer India Ltd. and Websol Energy System Ltd., who idled about half of their 1,000 megawatts of production capacity, will get fresh orders as new projects are built, Nimje said.

The solar park will be located in Mahboobnagar district of the southern state. It will also have facilities to train workers for the solar industry, Nimje said.

Solar Energy Corp. and Andhra Pradesh Industrial will hold an auction to award the 1,000 megawatts of generation capacity to developers, he said.

Welspun Energy Commissions India’s & Asia’s Largest Solar Power Project

Welspun Energy has bettered its own record for the largest solar power project in India as well as Asia that is owned by a single developer. The project has overtaken the Shams 1 solar thermal power project in UAE as the largest in Asia.

The company, which is in the midst of an aggressive expansion in the clean energy sector, commissioned a 130 MW solar photovoltaic power plant in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh last week. The project, implemented under the state’s solar power policy, required an investment of US $177 million (Rs 1,100 crore). The company is expected to sell the power generated to state-owned power distribution companies at a price of US $0.13 (Rs 8.05) per unit.

The power plant is a significant addition to India’s rapidly expanding solar power generation capacity, which stood at just over 2,200 MW at the end of January 2014. The country added 972 MW of solar power capacity during the 12 months prior to February 2014.

The company had commissioned a 50 MW solar PV project in March last year which was the largest solar power project (PV or thermal) in the country. The project was commissioned under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM).

In terms of multi-developer projects, Gujarat’s Charanka solar park is the largest project in India. The solar park consists of around 220 MW of solar power projects owned by various companies.

Japan adds 4.58 GW of PV in eight months, FIT cuts of 10% mooted
04. March 2014 | Top News, Markets & Trends, Global PV markets, Industry & Suppliers, Financial & Legal Affairs | By: Ilias Tsagas

As METI reveals the country installed record levels of PV capacity last year, speculation grows of an impending cut in Japan's FIT.

Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) has released its latest data on solar PV installations under the country's feed-in tariff (FIT). The data was compiled by the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy (ANRE) and regard facilities installed last year up to November 30, 2013.

According to the report, in the first eight months of the fiscal year (April to November 2013) Japan installed 4.585 GW of new solar PV capacity, of which 3.632 GW were utility and commercial installations and 953 MW were household installations.

Cumulative installed solar PV capacity in Japan has now reached 11.858 GW. Compared to other types of renewable energy technology, solar PV proves to be by far the most widespread technology in the country. Thus, cumulative installed small and medium hydro, wind, biomass and geothermal capacities by the end of November last year were 9.605 GW, 2.672 GW, 2.418 GW and 0.501 GW respectively.

Analyzing the solar PV trend

The most obvious trend stemming from METI's latest report is the dominant growth of the solar PV market. Fiscal year 2013 is expected to be a huge success: between April 1 and November 30, Japan installed 4.585 GW compared to 1.673 GW installed between July 1 2012 and March 31 2013. The introduction of the Japanese FIT in July 2012 doubtless had a positive impact on these installation rates.

The second most important trend derived by the recent METI report is the confirmation of the Japanese solar PV market's shift from household installations dominating the market in the fiscal year 2012 and before the introduction of the FIT scheme, to utility and commercial installations clearly taking control of the market from April 2013 onwards.

Specifically, according to METI's report, in the first nine months after the introduction of the FIT scheme, solar PV grew by 969 MW in home installations. Similarly, before the introduction of the FIT, Japan boasted about 4.7 GW of installed household photovoltaic systems. The corresponding figures for non-household installations during the same periods is 0.7 GW and 0.9 GW respectively.

Solar PV Industry to Transition to Supply-Driven Market in 2014, According to NPD Solarbuzz
Solar PV costs and prices have fallen dramatically, leading to a more balanced supply-demand picture

Santa Clara, Calif., March 4, 2014—Over the past three years, solar photovoltaic (PV) installed system prices, module prices, and module production costs have all fallen by more than 50%, while a shakeout of uncompetitive PV cell manufacturers has caused the number of suppliers to decline from 250 in 2010 to 150 in 2013. According to the latest edition of the NPD Solarbuzz Marketbuzz report, as a result of these falling prices, manufacturing consolidation, and a more balanced supply-demand picture, PV demand will continue to grow and the solar industry will shift from a demand-constrained market into a classic supply-driven market in 2014.

“Until recently the size of the PV industry each year was constrained by deployment levels across individual end-markets, with global forecasting performed by adding demand from each country,” said Michael Barker, senior analyst at NPD Solarbuzz. “Ultimately 2014 year-end demand will be determined by how much product can be produced and shipped, analogous to a classic supply-driven market environment.”

The demand-constrained environment of the past few years was a catalyst behind the industry’s over-capacity and over-supply problems that hindered capacity utilization rates, and resulted in capital expenditure declining to an eight-year low in 2013. Demand during 2013 was driven primarily by the booming Asian market, led by China and Japan, which are the top two markets globally. Adding in the United States, the third largest market, the top three countries accounted for almost 60% of total annual demand in 2013.


Ghana finalizes plans for 155 MW solar park
04. March 2014 | Markets & Trends, Global PV markets, Industry & Suppliers, Applications & Installations | By: Ian Clover

Local company will team with U.K. consortium to develop the PV plant, with work due to commence in September.

Ghana is on course to develop the largest single utility-scale solar PV park in Africa after finalizing plans for a 155 MW PV plant at Asiamah in the Western Region of the country.

Mere Power Nzema Limited (MPNL), formed as a subsidiary of U.K.-based renewable energy consortium Mere Power UK and Blue Energy, will oversee the $350 million project, the company having first been set up in late 2012.

Plans for the 155 MW Nzema installation were triggered as a result of a 2011 ruling by the Ghanaian government to ramp up the country's renewable energy sector. Ghana's aim is to meet 10% of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2020, with a FIT arrangement introduced to help encourage developers to take a chance on the emerging nation.

Initial plans for the plant were first revealed in December 2012, and construction work is scheduled to begin in September this year, with a power-generation date set for mid-2015.

"MPNL is an independent power producer, and the Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG) has reached an agreement with the organization to purchase the power to be generated for distribution and consumers," said MPNL director, Paul Fordjoe.

Land at the plant's proposed location in Asiamah has already been acquired, added Fordjoe, while MPNL's project director Douglas Coleman revealed further details about the Nzema plant.

According to Coleman, the installation will comprise 630,000 PV panels chosen to best handle the demands of Ghana's hot and dry climate. Once complete, the PV plant will be among the six largest single installations in the world, with construction and maintenance of the plant providing 200 permanent jobs.

Massive Growth Forecast in Solar Installed Capacity in North and South America
Published on 4 March 2014

The North and South American solar photovoltaic (PV) installed capacity will increase more than tenfold over the coming years, climbing from 13.1 Gigawatts (GW) in 2013 to 138.8 GW by 2030, at a massive Compound Annual Growth Rate of 15%, says a new report from research and consulting firm GlobalData.

According to the company’s report*, the Americas’ power generation from solar PV installations will also increase at an impressive rate, jumping from 21 Terawatt-hours (TWh) in 2013 to 234 TWh by 2030.

In 2013, the US held the majority share of the region’s solar PV installed capacity, with 89.1%, followed by Canada and Brazil, with smaller shares of 8.5% and 0.2%, respectively.

Prasad Tanikella, GlobalData’s Senior Analyst covering Power, says: “The US and Canada are among the global leaders in terms of renewable power generation. Their growth has been facilitated primarily by support mechanisms, provided by federal and state governments.”

In Brazil, the government conducts auctions to encourage the development of renewable energy projects. The country’s Ministry of Mines and Energy approved 122 Megawatts of solar PV capacity in its first solar-only auction in 2013, with solar projects receiving $98 per Megawatt-hour for power generation.

Tanikella concludes: “Mexico’s government is also supporting renewable power development with its recently introduced National Energy Strategy, which established a roadmap for energy policies to be implemented over the next 15 years. This strategy sets a specific goal to increase the country’s electricity generation from non-fossil sources by 35%, in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions during that period.”

UPDATE 1-Trina Solar sees higher shipments on China, Japan demand
Tue Mar 4, 2014 8:55am EST
  • Expects 2014 panel shipments of 3.6-3.8 GW vs 2.58 GW in 2013
  • 4th-qtr shipments up 85 pct at 770.1 MW
  • Revenue up 74 pct at $525.6 mln
  • Shares up 2 pct

March 4 (Reuters) - Chinese solar company Trina Solar Ltd forecast an up to 47 percent jump in full-year panel shipments due to growing demand from both Japan and its home market, sending its shares up about 2 percent before the bell.

The company, which reported its second quarterly profit in a row after eight quarters of losses, said it expects to ship 3.6-3.8 gigawatts (GW) of solar panels in 2014 from 2.58 GW a year earlier.

"In 2014, we are optimistic that solar PV demand will continue to be strong and expect China, Japan, as well as the broader Asia Pacific region and the Middle East to be key drivers of this increased demand," Chief Executive Jifan Gao said in a statement.

The solar industry is coming out of a slump, helped by subsidies for solar power in Japan and China's ambitious target to install 14.5 GW of solar generating capacity this year.

The Asian countries' push has helped solar companies offset the European Union's volume limit on imports of Chinese solar panels until the end of 2015.

Rivals Yingli Green Energy Holding Co Ltd and JinkoSolar Holding Co Ltd have also said they expect a rise in solar panel shipments.

Yingli estimated an 11-12 percent rise in panel shipments in the fourth quarter from the third, while JinkoSolar expects a rise in shipments in 2014.

Trina, like its rivals, is also ramping up its more lucrative business of building solar power plants.

The company said on Tuesday that 400-500 megawatts (MW) of its targeted shipments would be used in the construction of its solar projects.

Trina said it expects to ship between 670-700 MW of solar panels in the first quarter.

Net revenue rose nearly 74 percent to $525.6 million in the fourth quarter ended Dec.31.

Five Reasons Solar’s Win Over Gas in Minnesota is Just the Beginning
John Farrell
March 04, 2014 | 2 Comments

Solar advocates were popping corks when a New Year’s Eve ruling by an administrative law judge in Minnesota said that distributed solar arrays were a more cost-effective resource than natural gas to meet Xcel Energy’s peak power needs. The energy media were aflutter for weeks, but many missed the bigger significance.

If solar trumps gas for peaking power in Minnesota, there’s little reason to be building new natural gas peaking capacity anywhere in the country. Ever again.

Let’s look at the five reasons why solar’s triumph over natural gas is likely to stick:

Solar Wins on Cost

It’s not the first time solar has beaten electricity generated with natural gas on cost. In 2013, the city utility in Palo Alto, CA, signed long-term contracts for solar energy with prices significantly lower than natural gas. But in 2014, the cost of electricity from solar (for meeting peak needs) is winning in Minnesota.

In the long run, the cost of solar keeps falling, whereas the cost of natural gas electricity is likely at its historical minimum, especially as demand keeps rising for use of natural gas in other sectors without ready alternatives, like building heat.

Solar Wins on Price Predictability

The low recent price of natural gas has made it easy for short-sighted regulators to argue natural gas power will be cheap in the long run, but history suggests that volatile, not inexpensive, is the proper adjective. The following chart from the Rocky Mountain Institute shows the price history and widely varying price forecasts for natural gas over the past two decades.


Solar Wins on Reliability

Solar Wins on Infrastructure

Solar Wins on Economic Benefits

Infrared: A new renewable energy source?
Harvard physicists propose a device to capture energy from Earth’s infrared emissions to outer space

March 3, 2014
By Caroline Perry

Cambridge, Mass. – March 3, 2014 – When the sun sets on a remote desert outpost and solar panels shut down, what energy source will provide power through the night? A battery, perhaps, or an old diesel generator? Perhaps something strange and new.

Physicists at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) envision a device that would harvest energy from Earth’s infrared emissions into outer space.

Heated by the sun, our planet is warm compared to the frigid vacuum beyond. Thanks to recent technological advances, the researchers say, that heat imbalance could soon be transformed into direct-current (DC) power, taking advantage of a vast and untapped energy source.

Their analysis of the thermodynamics, practical concerns, and technological requirements will be published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“It’s not at all obvious, at first, how you would generate DC power by emitting infrared light in free space toward the cold,” says principal investigator Federico Capasso, the Robert L. Wallace Professor of Applied Physics and Vinton Hayes Senior Research Fellow in Electrical Engineering at Harvard SEAS. “To generate power by emitting, not by absorbing light, that’s weird. It makes sense physically once you think about it, but it’s highly counterintuitive. We’re talking about the use of physics at the nanoscale for a completely new application.”

Challenging convention

Capasso is a world-renowned expert in semiconductor physics, photonics, and solid-state electronics. He co-invented the infrared quantum-cascade laser in 1994, pioneered the field of bandgap engineering, and demonstrated an elusive quantum electrodynamical phenomenon called the repulsive Casimir force—work for which he has received the SPIE Gold Medal, the European Physical Society Prize for Quantum Electronics and Optics, and the Jan Czochralski Award for lifetime achievement. His research team seems to specialize in rigorously questioning dated assumptions about optics and electronics.

“The mid-IR has been, by and large, a neglected part of the spectrum,” says Capasso. “Even for spectroscopy, until the quantum cascade laser came about, the mid-IR was considered a very difficult area to work with. People simply had blinders on.”

Now, Capasso and his research team are proposing something akin to a photovoltaic solar panel, but instead of capturing incoming visible light, the device would generate electric power by releasing infrared light.

“Sunlight has energy, so photovoltaics make sense; you’re just collecting the energy. But it’s not really that simple, and capturing energy from emitting infrared light is even less intuitive,” says lead author Steven J. Byrnes (AB ’07), a postdoctoral fellow at SEAS. “It’s not obvious how much power you could generate this way, or whether it’s worthwhile to pursue, until you sit down and do the calculation.”

As it turns out, the power is modest but real.

As Byrnes points out, “The device could be coupled with a solar cell, for example, to get extra power at night, without extra installation cost.”

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China Promoting Recovery in Solar Industry, Local Official Says
By Bloomberg News
Mar 5, 2014 3:39 AM PT

Chinese authorities are working to promote a rebound in the photovoltaic manufacturing industry and to change the shareholder structure of LDK Solar (LDK) Co., a local government official said.

“We plan to promote full recovery of production of the solar industry and to change their share holding structure,” said Liu Jie, party secretary of Xinyu, the city where LDK is based, said in Beijing as the National People’s Congress gathered.

LDK, which makes solar wafers and panels, this month named liquidators to wind up its business after missing bond repayments. The company is incorporated in the Cayman Islands and has most of its operations in China and around Xinyu.

Liu said he thought solar demand is picking up and that LDK’s moves in the Caymans are “a normal legal procedure after insolvency.” He echoed the company’s assertion that the manufacturing operations in China won’t be affected and said the factories are “currently fully operating.”

Peng Shaomin, the media director at LDK, said the company is in “full operation” despite the restructuring.

U.S. Solar Jumps 41% in 2013 Driven by Residential Demand
5 March 2014

March 5 (Bloomberg) — Demand for U.S. solar power increased 41 percent last year driven by record growth in residential projects, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Developers installed 4.75 gigawatts of photovoltaic panels in 2013, making solar the biggest source of new generating capacity after natural gas, the Washington-based trade group said today in a statement. Demand next year will increase 26 percent as rooftop power plants become more common.

Residential projects surged 60 percent over 2012 to 792 megawatts as homeowners embraced financing models such as leasing that let consumers install panels at little to no upfront cost, according to Shayle Kann, vice president of research at Boston-based GTM Research, which publishes the quarterly market reports with SEIA.

“Residential solar in the U.S. is becoming the bedrock of demand for solar and is really a market segment that benefits from extremely attractive economics,” Kann said on a call with reporters yesterday.

Residential installations swelled a record 33 percent in the fourth quarter over the third quarter, and the segment will continue to lead U.S. demand this year.

Utility-scale projects increased 58 percent with 2.85 gigawatts installed last year. That is expected to slow this year as fewer contracts for big solar farms are signed, Arno Harris, SEIA chairman and chief executive officer of solar project developer Recurrent Energy LCC, said on the call.

“The demand landscape has shifted toward projects in the 1 megawatt to 20 megawatt range,” according to the report.

$200 Million Coal Tax Revenue To Fund 1,000 MW Solar Park In India

Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) has announced yet another plan to boost India’s rapidly growing solar power capacity. SECI plans to set up a 1,000 MW solar photovoltaic (PV) park in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh. The project will get financial support from the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

The solar park will be built on 5,000 acres of land in Mehboobnagar district of Andhra Pradesh and may require an investment of up to US $1 billion. About 20 per cent of this investment would come from the National Clean Energy Fund which derives revenue from tax on coal produced and imported into the country. Multilateral banks like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank may also be approached to provide financial support at nominal interest rates.

“The entire capacity will come up over the next 18 to 24 months. The site identified by the Mahboobnagar collector will be made ready with necessary infrastructure with an initial outlay of Rs 600 crore (US $97 million),” said Rajendra Nimje, Managing Director of SECI, the nodal agency for implementation of solar power projects in the country.

SECI has joined hands with Andhra Pradesh Industrial Infrastructure Corporation for the land allocation for the solar park. The basic infrastructure for the solar park is expected to be ready within 5-6 months, and after that bidders will be selected based on competitive bidding process. The developers can set up projects in a minimum modular unit size of 10 MW and above.

The development of this solar park will be followed with the development of four other solar parks in states of Odisha, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh as per the current agenda of SECI. According to Managing Director of SECI, they have already signed deal for the development of biggest solar park in the country in the state of Rajasthan with an aggregate capacity of 4,000 MW.

Once commissioned, the solar park in Andhra Pradesh will overtake the one operational in the state of Gujarat, which has an installed capacity of around 220 MW.

US Solar Market Grew 41%, Had Record Year in 2013
The U.S. installed 4,751 megawatts of PV, according to the Solar Market Insight Year in Review report.

Mike Munsell
March 4, 2014

Continuing its explosive growth, the U.S. solar industry had a record-shattering year in 2013.

According to GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association’s Solar Market Insight Year in Review 2013, photovoltaic installations continued to proliferate, increasing 41 percent over 2012 to reach 4,751 megawatts. In addition, 410 megawatts of concentrating solar power came on-line.

Solar was the second-largest source of new electricity generating capacity in the U.S., exceeded only by natural gas. Additionally, the cost to install solar fell throughout the year, ending the year 15 percent below the mark set at the end of 2012.

At the end of 2013 there were more than 440,000 operating solar electric systems in the U.S. totaling over 12,000 megawatts of photovoltaics (PV) and 918 megawatts of concentrating solar power (CSP).

The U.S. installed 2,106 megawatts in the fourth quarter alone, 44 percent of the annual total. This makes Q4 2013 by far the largest quarter in the history of the U.S. market, surpassing the second-largest quarter by 60 percent.

“Perhaps more important than the numbers,” writes Shayle Kann, Senior Vice President at GTM Research, “2013 offered the U.S. solar market the first real glimpse of its path toward mainstream status. The combination of rapid customer adoption, grassroots support for solar, improved financing terms and public market successes displayed clear gains for solar in the eyes of both the general population and the investment community.”


Key Findings of the Report:
  • The U.S. installed 4,751 megawatts of solar PV in 2013, up 41 percent over 2012 and nearly fifteen times the amount installed in 2008.
  • There is now a total of 12.1 gigawatts of PV and 918 megawatts of CSP operating in the U.S.
  • There were 140,000 individual solar installations in the U.S. in 2013, and more than 440,000 systems operating in total today.
  • Q4 2013 was by far the largest quarter ever for PV installations in the U.S., with 2,106 megawatts energized, up 60 percent over the second-largest quarter (Q4 2012).
  • More solar has been installed in the U.S. in the last eighteen months than in the 30 years prior.
  • The market value of all PV installations completed in 2013 was $13.7 billion.
  • Solar accounted for 29 percent of all new electricity generation capacity in 2013, up from 10 percent in 2012. This made solar the second-largest source of new generating capacity behind natural gas.
  • Weighted average PV system prices fell 15 percent in 2013, reaching a new low of $2.59 per watt in the fourth quarter.
  • We forecast 26 percent PV installation growth in 2014, with installations reaching nearly 6 gigawatts. Growth will occur in all segments but will be most rapid in the residential market.
  • The U.S. installed 410 megawatts of concentrating solar (CSP) in 2013, increasing total CSP capacity in the U.S. more than 80 percent.
  • The wave of concentrating solar power installations slated for completion at the end of 2013 into 2014 kicked off with the 280-megawatt-AC Solana project and the Genesis Solar project’s initial 125 megawatt-AC phase. In early 2014, BrightSource’s notable Ivanpah project also began operating and SolarReserve’s Crescent Dunes project began commissioning.


Kenya’s FiT-approved solar pipeline reaches 750MW
By Ben Willis - 05 March 2014, 09:38
In News, Power Generation

Kenya’s pipeline of PV projects given initial government approval to receive the country’s new feed-in tariff has risen to 750MW.

Despite some uncertainties last year over the status of large-scale PV in Kenya, the country’s director of renewable energy, Isaac Kiva, has revealed that 25 projects totalling 750MW are now being advanced.

Speaking at the Solar & Off-Grid Renewables Africa conference in Nairobi on Tuesday, Kiva said most of the projects were at the feasibility study stage. They must complete this before being able to proceed to the power purchase agreement (PPA) stage.

However, two have completed feasibility studies and, if approved by Kenya’s feed-in tariff policy committee, will be referred to national utility Kenya Power to finalise a PPA.

These projects include a 20MW plant and a 0.6MW rooftop plant being installed by Strathmore University in Nairobi. The project is intended to act as a pilot for large-scale, grid-tied solar in Kenya.

Until Kenya’s FiT was revised in 2012 to US$0.12/kWh, it had attracted little interest, but Kiva said last year the Kenyan government had received applications for 112 projects across all renewable energy types.

Kiva also revealed that Kenya was pressing ahead with plans to introduce a new net metering policy for smaller PV systems; the FiT is only available for projects of 0.5-40MW.

He said last week the government had heard presentations from a consultancy hired to advise on net metering, and that it looked as though the policy was a “viable option” for Kenya, potentially opening up the market to more small PV installations.

NRG Solar and Boeing begin construction on 25MW PV plant in Guam
By Conor Ryan - 04 March 2014, 17:50
In News, Fab & Facilities, Project Focus

Guam is finally beginning its first foray into the renewable energy sector, as NRG Solar and Boeing announced that construction had begun on Dandan, a 25MW solar power plant.

Once completed, Dandan will serve as the first solar power project ever constructed on the small Pacific island. The facility is expected to provide enough clean energy to power 10,000 homes and offset the consumption of over 2 million barrels of fuel and diesel.

Isolated in the middle of the Pacific with little access to major ports, Guam has historically had to rely on imported fuel in order to power its energy output. However, once Dandan has been completed, the amount of clean energy created by the plant will be enough to help the island retain around US$300 million in total fuel cost savings.

Dandan will also cut annual carbon dioxide emissions by more than 40,000 metric tonnes, equivalent to removing around 7,300 cars from the roads.

Energy produced from the plant will be sold to the Guam Power Authority, the island’s only electric utility company, under two 25-year power-purchase agreements.

Morgan Stanley says US could have 129GW commercial solar by 2018
By Sophie Vorrath on 5 March 2014

The installed capacity of solar PV in North and South America will increase more than tenfold over the coming years, jumping from 13.1 Gigawatts (GW) in 2013 to 138.8GW by 2030 – according to a new report from consulting firm GlobalData.

The research – which encompasses key solar players like the US, Canada and Brazil – also predicts that power generated by solar PV installations in the Americas will also experience a growth spurt, jumping from 21 Terawatt-hours (TWh) in 2013 to 234 TWh by 2030.

Big numbers, indeed. But will it really take until 2030 for this growth to happen? According to one Morgan Stanley analyst, the US market alone could have around 130GW installed within the next four years.

“We estimate that the commercial-scale solar market could be as large as 129GW in 2018, assuming that the investment tax credit (ITC) goes to 0% and utilities nationwide implement fixed charges on solar customers,” Morgan Stanley analyst Timothy Radcliff wrote on Tuesday, in connection with his decision to upgrade Sunedison stock to ‘overweight’.

“We believe the market currently expects an ITC-driven rush through 2016, followed by a significant decline in volumes and margins.”

As GlobalData’s Tanikella notes, the US (along with Canada) is among the global leaders in terms of renewable power generation, due mainly to the policy support mechanisms of federal and state governments.

In 2013, he says, the US held the majority share of the region’s solar PV installed capacity, with 89.1 per cent, followed by Canada and Brazil, with smaller shares of 8.5 per cent and 0.2 per cent, respectively.

In Brazil, says Tanikella, the government uses auctions to encourage renewables development – it approved 122MW of solar PV capacity in its first solar-only auction in 2013, with solar projects receiving $98 per Megawatt-hour for power generation.

Mexico, meanwhile, is also supporting renewable power development, its government establishing a National Energy Strategy for policies to be implemented over the next 15 years, to increase the country’s electricity generation from non-fossil sources by 35 per cent.

Virginia Makes Progress Toward More Favorable Solar Market
Sara Rafalson, Sol Systems
March 05, 2014 | 1 Comments

t is no secret that Virginia lags far behind in its track record on solar energy, especially compared to neighboring states such as D.C., North Carolina, and Maryland. Thanks largely to the development of robust solar renewable energy credit (SREC) markets, Maryland ranks fourteenth in the country in installed solar capacity, and the latest Solar Jobs Census puts D.C. third in solar jobs per capita. Even North Carolina, which has caught headlines recently for its extremely conservative state legislature, is #3 in solar capacity with approximately 388 MW of solar capacity, thanks largely to a generous state tax credit that has fueled the development of a robust solar economy.

Unlike these other markets, an unfavorable regulatory and political climate is the clear missing link for Virginia. As of November 2013, Virginia had installed a mere 15 MW of solar capacity, ranking #34 in solar jobs per capita in the United States. Since there is no solar carve-out in the state renewable portfolio standard (RPS), Virginia customers must sell their SRECs into Pennsylvania, an already over-saturated market. As for commercial solar, through our solar investment business, we have noted little investor interest in the state of Virginia due to its unfavorable regulatory environment for solar project development, which includes a “C” rating for its underwhelming net metering policies.

Let’s not get too down from this dreary news; it is not too late to create a robust solar economy in the Old Dominion. In fact, after a string of solar bills was introduced this legislative session, solar supporters are optimistic that Virginia is making strides to support the growth of the solar in the state.

One such piece of good news was an update to solar’s qualification as pertaining to the machinery and tools tax. Previously, solar has been discouraged in the Old Dominion through a machinery and tools tax which taxes solar companies for the solar equipment used in installation, making it costly and unprofitable to install solar in Virginia. At the end of February, however, the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation to exempt “business owned or operated solar energy equipment, facilities, or devices that collect, generate, transfer, or store thermal or electric energy” from this prohibitive tax for all projects under 20 MW. This amendment to exempt solar from the machinery and tools tax will now categorize solar equipment as “pollution prevention control” and will go into effect beginning January 2015.

Transparent, color solar cells fuse energy, beauty
Mar 03, 2014
Contact Nicole Casal Moore

ANN ARBOR—Colorful, see-through solar cells invented at the University of Michigan could one day be used to make stained-glass windows, decorations and even shades that turn the sun's energy into electricity.

The cells, believed to be the first semi-transparent, colored photovoltaics, have the potential to vastly broaden the use of the energy source, says Jay Guo, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science, mechanical engineering, and macromolecular science and engineering at U-M. Guo is lead author of a paper about the work newly published online in Scientific Reports.

"I think this offers a very different way of utilizing solar technology rather than concentrating it in a small area," he said. "Today, solar panels are black and the only place you can put them on a building is the rooftop. And the rooftop of a typical high-rise is so tiny.

"We think we can make solar panels more beautiful—any color a designer wants. And we can vastly deploy these panels, even indoors."

Guo envisions them on the sides of buildings, as energy-harvesting billboards and as window shades—a thin layer on homes and cities. Such an approach, he says, could be especially attractive in densely populated cities.

In a palm-sized American flag slide, the team demonstrated the technology.

"All the red stripes, the blue background and so on—they are all working solar cells," Guo said.

The ultrathin, hybrid design helps the cells hold their color and leads to a nearly 100 percent quantum efficiency. Quantum efficiency is different from overall efficiency. It refers to the percentage of light particles the device catches that lead to electrical current in that charge transport layer. Solar cells can leak current after this point, but researchers strive for a high number.

The cells' hues don't change based on viewing angle, which is important for several reasons. It means manufacturers could lock in color for precise pictures or patterns. It's also a sign that the devices are soaking up the same amount of light regardless of where the sun is in the sky. Conventional solar panels pivot across the day to track rays.

"Solar energy is essentially inexhaustible, and it's the only energy source that can sustain us long-term," Guo said. "We have to figure out how to use as much of it as we can."

Video Link

UC Researchers Report on Discovery to Make Solar Power Less Expensive and More Efficient
Early findings will be presented at the annual meeting of the American Physical Society in Denver.

Date: 3/3/2014 1:00:00 PM
By: Dawn Fuller

University of Cincinnati researchers are reporting early results on a way to make solar-powered panels in lights, calculators and roofs lighter, less expensive, more flexible (therefore less breakable) and more efficient.

Fei Yu, a University of Cincinnati doctoral student in materials engineering, will present new findings on boosting the power conversion efficiency of polymer solar cells on March 3, at the American Physical Society Meeting in Denver.

Yu is experimenting with adding a small fraction of graphene nanoflakes to polymer-blend bulk-heterojunction (BHJ) solar cells to improve performance and lower costs of solar energy.

“There has been a lot of study on how to make plastic solar cells more efficient, so they can take the place of silicon solar cells in the future,” says Yu. “They can be made into thinner, lighter and more flexible panels. However, they’re currently not as efficient as silicon solar cells, so we’re examining how to increase that efficiency.”

Imagine accidentally kicking over a silicon solar-powered garden light, only to see the solar-powered cell crack. Polymers are carbon-based materials that are more flexible than the traditional, fragile silicon solar cells. Charge transport, though, has been a limiting factor for polymer solar cell performance.

Graphene, a natural form of carbon, is a relatively newly discovered material that’s less than a nanometer thin. “Because graphene is pure carbon, its charge conductivity is very high,” explains Yu. “We want to maximize the energy being absorbed by the solar cell, so we are increasing the ratio of the donor to acceptor and we’re using a very low fraction of graphene to achieve that.”

Yu’s research found that efficiency increased threefold by adding graphene, because the material was helping to rapidly transport charges to achieve higher photocurrent. “The increased performance, although well below the highest efficiency achieved in organic photovoltaic (OPV) devices, is nevertheless significant in indicating that pristine graphene can be used as a charge transporter,” says Yu.

Every Step You Take: Berkeley Lab Researchers Identify Key Intermediate Steps in Artificial Photosynthesis Reaction
March 03, 2014
Lynn Yarris

Artificial photosynthesis, in which we emulate the process used by nature to capture energy from the sun and convert it into electrochemical energy, is expected to be a major asset in any sustainable energy portfolio for the future. Artificial photosynthesis offers the promise of producing liquid fuels that are renewable and can be used without exacerbating global climate change. A key to realizing commercial-scale artificial photosynthesis technology is the development of electrocatalysts that can efficiently and economically carry out water oxidation reaction that is critical to the process. Heinz Frei, a chemist with Berkeley Lab’s Physical Biosciences Division, has been at the forefront of this research effort. His latest results represent an important step forward.

“The oxidation of water to molecular oxygen is a four-electron process involving multiple steps,” Frei says. “We’ve obtained the first direct, temporally resolved observation of two intermediate steps in water oxidation using an Earth-abundant solid catalyst, cobalt oxide, that allowed us to identify the kinetic bottlenecks. With this knowledge, we can devise and design improvements on the cobalt oxide catalyst and its support environment to partially or completely remove these bottlenecks and improve the efficiency of water oxidation.”

In an artificial photosynthetic system, the oxidation of water molecules into oxygen, electrons and protons (hydrogen ions) provides the electrons needed to produce liquid fuels from carbon dioxide and water. This requires a catalyst that is both efficient in its use of solar photons and fast enough to keep up with solar flux in order to avoid wasting those photons. It should also be robust and affordable on a large-scale. Five years ago, a study led by Frei identified cobalt oxide in the form of single crystal nanoparticles as an excellent candidate for meeting the challenge. However, realizing the full catalytic potential of cobalt oxide nanocrystals requires a better understanding of the individual events in the four-electron cycle of water oxidation.

To provide this understanding, Frei, working with Miao Zhang and Moreno de Respinis, used a spectroscopic technique known as rapid-scan Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy.

“Prior to our study, it was not known whether the catalysis, which takes place on the surface of the cobalt oxide crystallites, happens at every cobalt center on the surface at the same speed, or whether a subset of cobalt sites does most of the work while other subsets are slow or merely spectators, Frei says. “Our results show that there is a subset of fast sites where a considerable fraction of the catalysis takes place, and a subset of sites where the catalysis proceeds considerably more slowly. This discovery of these fast and slow sites and the proposed structural difference between two provides the basis for designing cobalt oxide surfaces with higher concentrations of fast sites.”

Can Wind and Solar Power Meet Our Energy Needs?
Mike Jacobs
March 5, 2014

News out that utility Austin Energy will meet its goal of 35 percent electricity coming from renewable energy four years ahead of schedule should help settle the question. Austin’s newest commitments bring its wind portfolio to 1.3 gigawatts. (A gigawatt is the size of a nuclear plant.)

To use wind and solar energy to cut CO2 emissions from existing power plants, we need a strong grid and a good attitude.

The Texas experience with wind power is a model to follow. Texas showered the nation with oil in 1901, and then in 2005 raised its renewable energy goals and planned for transmission to continue its energy economy. Now, wind power prices in Texas are coming in the $26-to-$36/MWh price range (crazy cheap) and grid operators across the world are managing the transition to significant levels of renewable energy.

PJM, grid operator for 61 million people, released a report describing how operations with 30 percent wind and solar will require adding reserves of less than 2 percent and reduce CO2 as much as 40 percent. Solar is now adding 5 gigawatts per year.

Our energy needs must be met now with additions that are carbon-free. Wind and solar are available today, pay for themselves in both dollars saved and emissions, and actually do work just fine. We will have to change our energy supply if we want to live in our coastal cities, grow our food on our farms, and have a climate we can all tolerate.

Bring us more clean energy, and make investments in efficiency. These are our energy needs.

Variable renewable power can reach 40 percent capacity very cheaply
But doing so requires careful planning, says the International Energy Agency.

by John Timmer - Mar 4 2014, 1:50pm PST

Most forms of renewable power differ from traditional electricity sources in a key way: they're intermittent. The sun doesn't always shine on photovoltaics, and when it does, it may vary in intensity. Wind speeds also vary across a wide range at many locations. All of which means that the electricity generated by wind and solar will also vary, with large implications for the stability of the grid.

It's clear that putting renewable energy onto the grid isn't without costs, but the exact nature of those costs is still the subject of some contention. Now, the International Energy Agency has weighed in with a report on integrating renewables. It finds that, as long as intermittent power sources are under 10 percent of the total energy use, they can essentially be added for free. The report also argues that renewable levels can go up to 40 percent at little or no cost, but that would require substantial reshaping of the rest of the grid—something that's much easier to do outside of mature economies.

The report lumps wind and solar into a category it terms "variable renewable energy," or VRE (as opposed to hydro and geothermal, which are typically baseline power sources). Used well, VRE can perform valuable functions for the electricity grid, like covering the peak of mid-day demand, which keeps utilities from activating their reserve plants, which are often old and inefficient. Used poorly, and you can end up with situations where the wholesale price for electricity becomes negative: the utilities have to pay someone to take power off their hands.

What makes the difference between using VRE well and poorly? The IEA report suggests that the answer depends on how much VRE there is on the grid. As a country initially starts deploying renewables, a set of best practices is all that's needed. One big problem is having all the renewable energy located in a single area, where a change in local conditions can cause huge spikes or drops in the amount of power being produced. These "hotspots" can be avoided with things like distributed solar, but may be harder to arrange with wind, where the temptation will obviously be to put the capacity where the wind resources are highest.

Other factors that contribute to the effective use of low quantities of renewables include the use of forecasting, so that changes in output can be anticipated, and rapid response of prices to supply and demand. In this latter category, Texas' ERCOT grid is recognized in the report as being a world leader, with energy prices changing every five minutes, allowing generators to quickly shape their output to demand.

With all of that in place, the cost of adding renewables ends up being equal to the cost of the renewable power itself. Things start to change as the fraction of power generated by VREs approaches 20 percent, and there are definitely new challenges as it reaches 30 to 40 percent.

From a technical perspective, going to 20 to 40 percent VRE does not pose any problems. The report also suggests that 50 percent is possible if the operators of the grid are willing to actively curtail renewable generation at times when the supply is copious. From an economic standpoint, however, there can be challenges.

The IEA modeled what would happen if a grid was switched to 45 percent renewable overnight. "The rapid introduction of VRE into a stable power system... tends to create a surplus of generation capacity," the report notes. "Such an oversupply (pre-existing capacity plus VRE additions) will tend to depress wholesale market prices." That causes economic hardships for the companies that operate the legacy equipment, which may have been built to run constantly (meaning as baseline power) under the assumption that its power would always get sold.


Overall, the report is very optimistic about the integration of renewable power, suggesting that price increases and volatility don't necessarily need to be part of the transition to situations where wind and solar make a large contribution to the grid. But it does stop short at 50 percent renewable, well below what might be required to rapidly stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations; for that, other challenges will need to be met.

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India Approves 3 Billion Rupees in Solar Pump Subsidies
6 March 2014

March 6 (Bloomberg) — India approved 3 billion rupees ($49 million) in subsidies to help farmers install solar-powered water pumps to boost agricultural yields and reduce expensive diesel fuel use.

The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy will provide grants to install 17,500 irrigation pumping systems to 2016 funded by a carbon tax on coal, according to a notice posted today on its website.

“Solar photovoltaic pumping systems can easily meet the irrigation requirements for small and marginal farmers,” the notice said. “It will increase the cropping intensity.”

India has 26 million groundwater pumps on farms that suffer from blackouts and volatile fuel costs. Switching those to run on solar would save about $6 billion a year in power and diesel subsidies and has drawn companies including BlackRock Inc.- backed SunEdison Inc. and Jain Irrigation Systems Ltd., Asia’s top irrigation-equipment maker.

Farmers travel long distances to procure diesel for their pumps, the notice said. The project will allow them to boost output and reduce diesel consumption, it said.

The grants will cover as much as 30 percent of project costs. State governments including Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, and Maharashtra that participate in the program will be required to match with a subsidy covering at least 15 percent of the cost. Farmers will cover the remainder. The program’s total cost is estimated at about 10 billion rupees.

India began taxing coal producers and importers 50 rupees a metric ton in 2010, raising 25 billion rupees in its first year.

New Player Emerges In Battle Of Solar Vs Utilities: Storage

A battle has been brewing between utility companies and the rooftop solar industry in California, and, of course, it’s about money. They compete with each other because rooftop solar systems enable people to purchase less power from utility companies, but the companies still have a leg to stand on — the fact is that the owners of these systems rely on them for backup.

Energy storage systems are expected to increasingly come online due to declining battery costs, as well as energy storage mandates. As a result of this, utilities are losing control of the electricity market. Not too long ago, lithium-ion batteries cost a whopping $1 million per MWh of storage capacity, rendering them infeasible for cost-competitive grid storage, but now their cost has dipped well below $500,000 per MWh. This, combined with California’s energy storage mandate, is undoing the traditional utility business model, as the use of energy storage can eliminate the need for a grid connection altogether.

Unsurprisingly, utilities are fighting this transition to rooftop solar, and lately, energy storage has become a major part of that, as it is one of the biggest threats they face. Lyndon Rive, the CEO of SolarCity, recently commented at a CPUC panel discussion, stating: “It takes about eight months to connect. There is no reason for it. You can’t help but think that it’s slow because there is incentive to keep the game from changing.”

Infographic: US Solar’s Best Year Ever
GTM Research looks back at 2013, a record-breaking year.

Mike Munsell, Jacob Rosenburg
March 6, 2014

This week, GTM Research and SEIA released the Q4 2013 U.S. Solar Market Insight report. The infographic below highlights some key findings from the year-in-review report.


Facing Solar Waves, Utilities Should Learn to Surf
Richelle Elberg — March 5, 2014

In my last blog, I described the relatively rapid fall that many incumbent telephone companies have suffered as wireless technology has replaced landlines as the dominant service providers for not only our voices, but also our data communications needs.

Why, as a participant in the electric utility industry, should you care?

Because the very same thing could happen to incumbent electric utilities, and maybe sooner than you think. Solar panels and plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) are spreading rapidly, allowing consumers to generate and even store their own power. Prices are falling, and with or without government incentives, the penetration of renewable, distributed generation will continue to accelerate. Storage will get better, and commercial customers like Wal-Mart will put panels across thousands of acres of rooftops.

All of this creates challenges for grid operations and (especially) electric utility business models. (See my blogs on net metering and feed-in tariffs). As the fight over net metering has made abundantly clear, the century-old utility business model wasn’t designed for distributed generation – and this transformation is still in its early days.

Ride the Wave

But, couldn’t it also provide an opportunity? In the first 10 years of wireless telecom service (according to surveys by CTIA), subscribership grew to just under 34 million. In the second 10, it added 174 million, and since 2005, that figure has nearly doubled again. That hockey stick phenomenon will happen in the solar and PEV industries, too.

NRG Energy, a retail energy marketer based in Princeton, New Jersey, has taken a proactive stance to solar. Its NRG Solar division creates large-scale solar facilities and performs installations on commercial rooftops. The NRG Residential Solar Solutions (RSS) division leases solar systems to homeowners, providing the panels, system design, monitoring and performance guarantees, as well as several termination options (system removal, lease extension, or purchase). RSS operates in 10 states, plus the District of Columbia, and has expansion plans in more states. What’s more, NRG’s eVgo network is a privately funded electric vehicle infrastructure network of home charging stations and public fast charging stations.

NRG’s Alternative Energy division (which encompasses its solar activities) grew revenue to $83 million in 3Q 2013, up from $49 million the year before. And while it still bleeds red ink, I can assure you that telcos lost money on their wireless divisions for many years before those units became the cash machines they are today.

Ecobuild: Power One’s energy storage vision for ‘next step of PV market’
By Andy Colthorpe | 06 March 2014, 12:22 Updated: 06 March 2014, 14:35

PV inverter manufacturer Power One has said that energy storage is part of "its vision for the next step of the PV market".

The company showcased a selection of its products at the Ecobuild show in London this week, including a battery-based energy storage system for use in combination with PV.

The company’s new battery storage system REACT (Renewable Energy Accumulator and Conversion Technology), has been launched so far in Germany and Italy and consists of a 4.6kW single-phase grid-connected inverter coupled with a lithium-ion battery.

Solar Power Portal spoke to Cesare Lancini, Power One’s product marketing manager for renewable energies at the show.

Lancini explained that the storage unit is not intended to enable total self-consumption or off-grid use. Instead REACT is designed to match the electricity production curve to the consumption curve as much as possible. According to Lancini, in a post-tariff world, products such as REACT will be more and more important in adding value and benefits to PV system use.

“It’s part of Power One’s vision for the next step of the PV market. At the moment in the UK for example, you still have the feed-in tariff, you are still earning money for generating electricity. In a mature market like Germany or Italy, [the removal of the tariff] has effected a change in the paradigm in the minds of people looking to own PV – they are not earning money, they are saving money.”

Parliament considers solar powered Big Ben clock face
By Lucy Woods | 05 March 2014, 13:28 Updated: 06 March 2014, 16:48

As part of parliament’s energy commitment, suggestions on how to save energy have been submitted, including the idea for the iconic landmark, Big Ben to upgrade to solar power.

The idea, which has been advocated by Sir Robert Rogers, clerk of the house of commons and chief executive, will now be discussed by the environment team in parliament. A decision on what changes it should implement will be taken in a couple of months, a spokesman for parliament, told Solar Power Portal. Built in 1859, Big Ben’s clock face could be solar powered, the idea was displayed on a placard with Rogers’ approval in Port Cullis House, to gain feedback on energy saving ideas in parliament from members.

A solar powered Big Ben clock face is one of many ideas to be discussed for a programme of initiatives within the next few months. Other ideas also include plans to install solar panels to some flat roofs on the Palace of Westminster in 2015.

A spokesman said: “Parliament has committed to improving its energy efficiency by 34% by 2020/21. Throughout February, parliamentary pass-holders were encouraged to support parliament’s energy commitment by submitting ideas on how parliament could save energy.”

Home | ORNL | News | Features | 2014
Solar surprise
Multidisciplinary ORNL team discovers unexpected effect of heavy hydrogen in organic solar cells

Photovoltaic spray paint could coat the windows and walls of the future if scientists are successful in developing low-cost, flexible solar cells based on organic polymers. Scientists at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory recently discovered an unanticipated factor in the performance of polymer-based solar devices that gives new insight on how these materials form and function.

“One of the dreams is to bring home some polymer paint from the hardware store, spray it on a window and make your own solar cell because it self-orders into a structure that can generate electricity,” ORNL’s David Geohegan said. “But right now there are many unknown things that happen when you spray it down and it dries. Changing the electrical property of a polymer also changes its structure when it dries, so understanding this process is one of our big science mysteries.”

When ORNL scientists Kai Xiao and Kunlun Hong analyzed neutron scattering data obtained at the lab’s Spallation Neutron Source to measure the structure of seemingly identical polymer-based solar devices, they stumbled upon a new piece to the scientific solar puzzle.

The key to their finding was deuterium, also known as “heavy hydrogen,” which is commonly used in neutron scattering analysis. Scientists use the isotope as a labeling tool, replacing hydrogen with deuterium in organic samples because deuterium’s extra neutron helps reveal soft materials’ structure.

“Normally scientists assume that the deuteration doesn’t change the electronic structure at all,” said Xiao, a materials scientist at ORNL’s Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences. “But when we used it to study conducting polymers in solar cells, the devices’ electronic performance changed significantly.”

To understand the mechanisms behind deuterium’s effects, the team turned to ORNL’s Bobby Sumpter and another lab strength -- supercomputer simulation. Modeling the system through quantum calculations helped the researchers determine that heavy hydrogen changes the molecules’ vibrations, which indirectly but significantly affects the material’s electronic properties.

In the case of the team’s organic solar cells, deuteration turns out to have a negative impact, decreasing the devices’ electrical efficiency. But the ORNL researchers note that other organic electronics such as organic spintronics or light emitting diodes (OLEDs) could benefit from deuterium’s effects.

“Overall, deuterating polymers helps us understand how energy flows in organic electronics so we can improve and optimize them in the future,” Xiao said. “It’s opening our eyes to the fact there is an impact.”

The researchers’ unexpected results could also inform future neutron studies in the organic electronics field. Xiao notes, for instance, that the precise position of deuterium in the polymer chain determines whether the overall electrical properties will be altered.

Mosaic Offering Peer-to-Peer Loans for Residential Solar
By Justin Doom Mar 5, 2014 5:31 AM PT

Mosaic Inc., the operator of an online financing system that lets individuals invest in commercial solar plants, is introducing a peer-to-peer network for people to directly fund residential projects.

The company will introduce the system in California in the first half of the year for clients of developer Real Goods Solar Inc. (RGSE), Oakland, California-based Mosaic said today in a statement. People who want rooftop panels may solicit loans through Mosaic’s site and will own the power systems with little to no upfront costs required.

That compares to popular leasing models from companies including SolarCity Corp., which also provide solar energy at no initial cost and then own the systems on clients’ rooftops. Ownership provides more financial benefits for homeowners, according to Billy Parish, Mosaic’s president.

“For zero dollars upfront, the homeowner keeps much of the value of the solar system,” he said in in an e-mail yesterday. The peer-to-peer lending network is expected to be available nationwide by year-end.

NY-Sun Helps Reduce Solar Prices By Supporting Collective Purchasing In New York
Kit Kennedy
Posted March 6, 2014 in Curbing Pollution, Green Enterprise, Living Sustainably, Solving Global Warming

This week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced $28.6 million in solar grants to be awarded under New York’s innovative NY-Sun Initiative, the governor’s landmark effort designed to build the state’s solar industry and drive down costs—to make solar more affordable for all of us. (A pivotally important attempt to extend NY-Sun through 2023 is now before the New York State Public Service Commission. More on that further down in this post.)

True to NY-Sun’s mission to drive down the so-called soft (non-hardware) costs of solar—costs that are a fraction in Germany of what they are here in the U.S.—on Tuesday, the Initiative announced several exciting projects that involve collective purchasing in New York City, Westchester, the Capital area and the Finger Lakes.

Collective purchasing is the aggregating of interested customers to build community support for installing solar, to provide technical expertise, cut costs and ensure quality. Around the country, programs like these, many of them based on the Solarize model, have reduced the cost of solar for participating customers by an important 10-20 percent, making clean energy surprisingly affordable for homeowners and others who thought it far out of reach.

Sharing one of these NY-Sun grants are two New York City solar powerhouses—Solar One, whose mission is to help create more sustainable and resilient urban environments, and Sustainable CUNY, which harnesses the City University of New York’s brainpower to help make New York a healthier, better place to live. (You can see that brainpower in action by checking out its mind-blowing NYC Solar Map. The map allows anyone in the five boroughs to type in their address, and, with the click of a mouse, calculate their home or business’ solar potential, along with annual energy cost savings, return on investment, local, state and federal incentives, and carbon reductions. It’s stunning.)

Batteries May Vie With U.S. Oil Boom as Energy Changer
By Bradley Olson and Mark Chediak Mar 5, 2014 11:21 PM PT

The rapid development of rooftop solar and battery storage technology could be as transformative to the economy and modern life as the U.S. oil and gas boom, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said.

“It’s pretty dramatic,” Moniz said yesterday in an interview with Bloomberg News at the IHS CERAWeek conference in Houston. “They are growing very, very fast.”

Batteries allow customers with solar panels to store energy during the day and then tap the excess overnight when the sun goes down. The widespread use of electric vehicles could reshape the development of cities, and applying the same battery storage technology to transform the U.S. energy system has “huge potential,” Moniz said.

Battery storage advances could threaten the 100-year-old monopoly utility business model that books about $360 billion in annual power sales. An increasing number of customers are reducing their dependence on the grid, turning to solar panels and battery storage as a way to reduce their bills.

“Storage is a huge deal,” Moniz said.


Disrupt Oil

Exxon Mobil Corp. researchers involved in studies of the impact of new technology in 2008 identified batteries that could store energy such as those used in electric vehicles as the most disruptive potential energy breakthrough, according to “Private Empire,” a 2012 book by journalist Steve Coll.

“If there was one emerging energy technology that seemed to have the practical potential to disrupt the oil industry’s assumptions about the transportation economy, this was it,” Coll wrote.

Exxon ultimately concluded battery use in electric vehicles hadn’t advanced to the point of being transformative, he wrote.

Homeowners might use battery storage, combined with solar power, to further reduce their dependence on utilities and sell electricity back to the grid, a new business model known as distributed generation.

Liebreich: Historic shift to cheap clean energy is being held back by over-regulation
5 March 2014

Clean energy technologies are reaching a tipping point where they are competitive with incumbent fossil fuel solutions. However, statist regulatory approaches which mandate their use and stifle competition are keeping their prices unnecessarily high and holding back adoption.

In most sunny parts of the world it is cheaper to generate power from photovoltaic modules on your roof than to buy it from your utility. The best newly-built wind farms are selling power at the equivalent of 0.03/kWh ($0.05) before subsidies, which neither gas, nor coal, nor nuclear power can match. Light-emitting diodes, or LED bulbs can be bought for a few pounds, providing home-owners a quick and cheap way of cutting their utility bills.

The fact is that wind and solar have joined a long list of clean energy technologies – geothermal power, waste-to-energy, solar hot water, hydro power, sugarcane-based ethanol, combined heat and power, all sorts of energy efficiency – which can be fully competitive with fossil fuels in the right circumstances. What is even more important is that the cost reductions that have led to this point are set to continue inexorably, far out into the future.

For the past 10 years, my team at Bloomberg New Energy Finance has been documenting “experience curves” for clean energy technologies: the rate at which their costs drop for each doubling of cumulative installations. We have had privileged access to data from clients, many of whom are manufacturers and project developers. What the data tell us is that clean energy technologies benefit from strong experience curves. Where Moore’s Law has given us dirt-cheap electronics and phones, Liebreich’s law is going to give us abundant, cheap clean energy.


Meanwhile, over the past decade, the world has been waking up to the true cost of fossil fuels. It is not just the half-a-trillion dollars a year or more of direct subsidies to fossil fuel consumers. What is becoming increasingly clear is that further hundreds of billions of dollars in energy costs are borne not by the fossil fuel industry or directly by energy consumers, but by the general public. These so-called externality costs include medical costs of air pollution, the negative economic impact of commodity price spikes and the cost of defending our energy supply chains. They pop up in our medical bills, our unemployment figures, and our defence budgets. And that is before bringing the environment or climate change into the equation, or the heightened geopolitical risk caused by dependence on some of the world’s most volatile countries, or the corrosive effect on our political life caused by fossil fuel stakeholders fighting to preserve the status quo.



We will, of course, have to learn how to manage the intermittency of renewable energy. That means improving resource forecasting and interconnecting the power grid over larger areas to smooth out the variability of individual renewable energy assets. It means power storage, currently mainly in the form of pumped hydroelectric power but in future most likely in the form of batteries for electric vehicles. But the killer app is a digitally-controlled smart grid, which will provide the ability to shift demand to match supply in ways either imperceptible to the consumer or else remunerated by the energy provider.

This energy system of the future is not a pipe dream. Worldwide over a quarter of a trillion dollars a year is being invested annually in renewable energy, energy efficiency and supporting technologies. Germany derives over 25% of its electricity from renewable energy. Texas, synonymous with the oil and gas industry, generated nearly 10% of its electricity from wind last year. China is the world’s largest player, with around half of its new power capacity over the next 20 years expected to be renewable, rather than coal, gas or nuclear.


The problem for the political right is that this epochal shift to clean energy has completely wrong-footed it. For too long it has allowed the left to claim ownership of the environment, despite its own achievements in the area. For the left, being pro-environment and anti-business are one and the same: its approach to environmental protection is based mainly on controlling or blocking enterprise. The mistake of the right has been to implicitly accept that protecting our environment is in opposition to achieving a prosperous and free society.

In particular, the right has allowed the left to make all the running on clean energy. Feed-in tariffs are nothing less than state price controls. Renewable energy targets are indistinguishable from Soviet five-year plans. Over-regulation and complex planning requirements add costs, slow down projects, reduce transparency and increase risk. Green investment banks are the very embodiment of state capital allocation. Capacity payments and carbon price floors are evidence of failure in the design of markets. Do not get me started on price caps.

We have seen the results of these approaches. Germany may have reached over 25% renewable electricity, but at what excessive cost to its household energy users? Spain reached 42%, but its retroactive policy U-turns have left its entire economy all but uninvestable. Around the world the energy industry – fossil fuels as well as clean energy – is in the grip of a pandemic of rent-seeking, subsidy-farming, inefficiency, misallocation of resources, and the inevitable picking of losers.

The big mistake of the right has been to leave unchallenged the assumption that leftist tools are the only ones available to manage the transition to clean energy, instead of coming up with good conservative solutions – ones which have improved services, lower costs, competition, wealth creation, pricing in of externalities, personal responsibility and freedom at their heart.

How the IEA exaggerates the costs and underestimates the growth of solar power
March 4, 2014 - Author: Terje Osmundsen

The International Energy Agency (IEA) consistently entertains much too pessimistic assumptions about the growth potential and cost development of solar power, writes Terje Osmundsen, Senior Vice President of the Norwegian-based international solar power company Scatec Solar. According to Osmundsen, the cost assumptions used by the IEA are 100% higher than even current market prices. He notes that as a result of the IEA’s misleading information, policymakers are under the false impression that the spread of solar power will require huge subsidies. He calls on the IEA to get together with the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) to conduct a joint study on the real economics of solar power.

The International Energy Agency (IEA), probably the most influential energy think tank in the world, is not an overt enemy of renewable energy. The IEA often has nice words to say about the importance of renewables. Yet its flagship publication, the World Energy Outlook (WEO), foresees only rather moderate progress of renewables – and of solar power in particular. But how reliable is the WEO’s assessment?

In various parts of the world – US, Chile, South Africa, India among others – utilities are these days signing Power Purchase Agreements with solar power producers at tariffs competitive to the cost of electricity from new-built gas and coal power plants. But according to the IEA this can hardly be true, because their analysis claims that the cost of large-scale solar PV is more than the double that of the alternatives. Therefore, the substitution of fossil fuels with solar PV will be slow to materialise and it will be very costly, states the World Energy Outlook (WEO).
With cost assumptions 100% above current market prices, it’s perhaps not surprising IEA’s model projects such a modest market development of PV compared to benchmark studies
It is high time that this fundamental shortcoming of the WEO is corrected, as it spreads the deceptive message that for every MWh of solar PV being generated, taxpayers or consumers will pay on average 130 US dollars in subsidy per year over the next 20 years.

In reality, we are already at the point in some markets where solar PV has started to compete against fossil fuel alternatives without subsidies, a situation that will spread to ever more markets as the cost of solar continues to fall and the cost of fossil fuels continues to rise. In this article I will focus on solar PV, but I am aware similar criticism has been raised regarding the WEO’s market forecasts for other kinds of renewables.


IEA and IRENA should join forces

I think there’s a good chance IEA will review its model before next year’s Outlook. The main reason for my optimism is that now also government-related agencies and energy experts are beginning to paint a quite different picture than the mainstream view we are used to from the IEA. In January this year, the government-sponsored International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) published its first comprehensive REmap 2030, based on an in-depth review of 26 countries which account for 74% of projected global total final energy consumption in 2030 (IRENA 2014).

The IRENA Roadmap shows that the world can double the share of renewables as part of total energy consumption by 2030 at limited substitution cost – on average 2.5$ per gigajoule (GJ) – for the countries concerned. Taking externalities like health and cost of emitting CO2 into account, the net savings for societies in doubling the share of renewables are estimated between 3-15$ per GJ. In addition, the REmap scenario will lead to an annual average of 900,000 additional direct jobs. In IRENA’s analysis, renewables are at least as important as energy efficiency in CO2 reduction in potential terms, and their importance will only grow after 2030.

In the power sector, the IRENA roadmap projects a trajectory of renewables increasing from 18 to 44% of total generation by 2030. Not surprisingly, wind and solar PV will play the key role, increasing at least five- and twelve-fold, adding about 70 and 60 GW, respectively, of new wind and PV capacity on average each year between today and 2030. But perhaps more important: IRENA calculates that the average substitution costs for this twelve-fold increase of solar PV will be in the range of 2.5$ per GJ. This equals around 8.5$ per MWh – ca 7% of the “PV subsidy” calculated by the IEA. Taking health and the costs of CO2 emissions into account, IRENA estimates the savings related to replacing fossil fuels with renewables to be in the range 1.7-20$ per GJ, or 6-70$ per MWh.

IEA and IRENA are both international organizations with a mandate from governments to provide policy-relevant advice on how to speed up the required transformation to a low-carbon energy system. However, as shown in this report, IEA’s World Energy Outlook and IRENA’s REmap are two worlds apart. Governments and stakeholders would be better served if the two organizations put their heads together, and published a joint study on the economics of and potential for renewables in the power sector.

22 MW Philippines solar park spurring local PV market
06. March 2014 | Markets & Trends, Global PV markets, Applications & Installations | By: Hans-Christoph Neidlein

Construction work at the largest solar park in the Philippines is making good progress, with a nationwide ripple effect expected.

Construction work on the largest solar park building site in San Carlos City on the island of Negros Occidental in the Philippines is progressing well, as pv magazine learned during an exclusive tour of the site.

The first 13 MW phase of the San Carlos Solar Energy 22 MW solar park is to be completed by early April. SACASOL is a joint venture of the Thomas Lloyd Group and the Philippine project developer Bronzeoak, with Germany's Conergy as the prime contractor. Early indications suggest that the project will have a ripple effect on the development of the Philippine solar market.

Tens of thousands of modules, mounted on module tables with concrete foundations, are already lining the street and the sugar cane fields of San Carlos City's economic zone. It is here that, on an area of 350,000 square meters, construction on the biggest solar park in the Philippines (22 MW) to date, began in October last year.

Up to 1,200 mainly local workers are currently employed on the site, busy constructing more bipedal aluminum module tables from Mounting Systems, assembling modules from Conergy, digging trenches for cables and installing concrete formwork for the central inverter distribution stations from SMA, and assembling yet more modules.

The first phase of 13 MW is 70% completed and should be finished by early April, according to Mike G. Airey, Director of Project Finance Asia Pacific at Thomas Lloyd. Construction work is now progressing well after heavy rains in January left the site partly underwater. On the other side of the street a former sugar cane field has been cleared and leveled and concrete foundations for the framework have already been partially laid. A security camera on a tower specifically erected for the purpose documented the progress of the second 9 MW phase of construction. According to Airey, this second phase should be completed as soon as May. The Philippine President, Benigno Aquino III, has already been invited to the official opening ceremony.

Canadian Solar’s shipments near 2GW on return to profitability in 2013
By Mark Osborne - 06 March 2014, 12:35
In News, Fab & Facilities, PV Modules, Power Generation, Finance

A strong spike in PV module shipments in the fourth quarter of 2013 supported Canadian Solar closing in on 2GW of shipments for the year and secured a return to profitability in 2013.

Canadian Solar reported full-year net revenue of US$1,654.4 million, compared to US$1,294.8 million in 2012. The company reported a gross profit of US$275.6 million and a net income of US$45.5 million in 2013.

Benefiting from the rush to complete PV power plant projects in China, Canadian Solar’s shipments to the Chinese market amounted to 42.9% of total shipments in the quarter, an undisputed transformation from the prior quarter when shipments failed to account for 1% of the total and just below 10% when compared to the same quarter of 2012.

Canadian Solar reported PV module shipments in the fourth quarter of 2013 of 621MW, significantly higher than any quarter in the year. Third quarter module shipments had been 478MW, compared to 455MW in the second quarter of 2013.

PV project business therefore took a back seat in the last quarter, with net revenue from the total solutions business accounting for 23.4% of total net revenue, compared to 41.1% in the previous quarter.

Strong module shipments in the fourth quarter resulted in net revenue of US$519.5 million, compared to US$490.9 million in the prior quarter. Gross margin was 19.5%, compared to 20.4% in the third quarter of 2013, a reflection of lower module ASPs in China compared to other regions.

Canadian Solar reported a gross profit in the fourth quarter of US$101.3 million, compared to US$100.2 million in the prior quarter due to higher module shipments and a US$14 million reduction in warranty cost to reflect the general decline in module prices according to the company.
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Solar subsidies are a catalyst, not a crutch, says Enphase chief
Microinverter company believes technology can compete on its own merits and says falling costs will continue to drive growth in traditional markets

By Will Nichols
07 Mar 2014

Solar can't survive without subsidies, critics say. Take away government funding and the industry is no more. But according to Paul Nahi, chief executive of Enphase Energy, which supplies microinverters to solar systems, nothing could be further from the truth and, in fact, it is traditional energy supplies that benefit the most from government support.

"It's a little bit challenging when people tell me solar is subsidised. It is, but we're not subsidised to anywhere near the degree traditional fossil fuels are," he says, citing the $544bn of subsidies the International Energy Agency calculates traditional fuels received in 2012 - more than five times the $101bn given to green energy. "Subsidies should be a catalyst not a crutch. I would very much be in favour of an environment that had no subsidies - not for solar, not for wind, and not for fossil fuels," Nahi adds. "Let us compete in the marketplace."

Nahi argues that in many parts of the world declining costs of solar modules and rising price of fossil energy ensure solar is already competing with conventional fuels and subsidies simply distort the market. The fact that subsidies vary across territories - and are constantly at risk of change - make basing a business model on support highly uncertain.

However, Nahi is in favour of charging polluters who currently dump emissions into the atmosphere for free as a means of leveling the playing field between mature and emerging energy technologies.

"If we were to do nothing but get rid of the subsidies solar would be competitive - in fact solar would be more competitive than fossil fuels today," he says. "But what would end up happening is that the cost of fossil fuels would rise. The 'net' is a more productive environment for solar - and it would allow us to compete by receiving the appropriate market signals."

SunEdison Expects 90% Growth in 2014, To Complete Over 1150 MW Worth Of Solar PV Projects

Solar PV heavyweight SunEdison is expecting a huge surge in the number of large PV power plant projects completed this year, according to recent reports.

The company is predicting a 90% (CAGR) increase in project completions in 2014, as compared to 2013 — with an estimate that they will complete the installation of up to 1.15 GW worth of project capacity this year.

The new figures — which were presented at SunEdison’s Capital Markets Day event — are an increase over the previous predictions for 2014, which were for 800-1,050 MW worth of capacity to be completed.

SunEdison also announced its aim to hit over 1,500 MW of installations in 2015 and over 2,000 MW in 2016.

PV Tech provides more:
With increased focus on retained value of PV projects, SunEdison guided that it expected projects totalling between 50-60 MW to remain on its balance sheet in the first quarter of 2014 and between 400 and 500 MW for 2014.

Management highlighted that countries with large electricity markets and growing demand would drive PV adoption as well as countries with high solar irradiation levels in the coming two to five years. Many of which would find PV at grid parity in that timeframe.

The company also noted that it expected the transition towards ‘distributed generation’ including residential and small commercial to continue at a steady pace through 2020.

How Solar Breaks Traditional Planning on the Distribution Grid
And how utilities are acting to fix it

Ben Kellison
March 7, 2014

The deployment of distributed solar has the potential to force drastic changes to the electric utility industry. Changes in rate structures, government and utility incentives, customer loyalty, consumerization of supply, and consumption of power are being discussed in a variety of states with growing rates of solar penetration, such as Arizona and Hawaii.

These large, business-defining discussions steal the spotlight in the news and at industry conferences, often pushing the more technical questions and obstacles to utility engineers to figure out. GTM recently launched the Grid Edge Executive Council to tackle these issues and more.

Distributed Solar Power Is Forcing Change at the Grid Edge
ConEd, SolarCity, Gridco and Sunlight Capital discuss what distributed solar power means for the grid.

Eric Wesoff
March 6, 2014

Last night, Greentech Media, Solar One and NYC ACRE hosted this year's first Clean Energy Connections event in the 2014 series, The Expansion of Distributed PV in the Age of the Grid Edge, live from the Jerome L. Greene Performance Space in New York City.

The theme of this year’s series is the grid edge, which GTM views as the setting for the potential transformation of the electric grid. Last night's discussion was about solar, distributed generation, and its impact on the grid.

Rick Thompson, Greentech Media founder and President, set the stage with some background on the concept of the "grid edge," a term coined by the GTM Research team. The grid edge is the zone of the grid most impacted by increased rooftop solar and distributed generation -- and the "two-way flows" of power mentioned by ConEd's Margarett Jolly. Thompson spoke of the increased dynamism on the grid edge caused by distributed generation, the inherent intermittency and unpredictability of PV, the need for resiliency in the face of emergencies, and an available energy-centric IT set, as well as the changing nature of the electric utility. (True grid modernization is happening at the edge of the grid, and we're the first to cover it in depth. Join us at Grid Edge Live to be a part of the transformation.)

The grid edge cube presented by Thompson (with a nod to the seven-layer OSI stack) is a detailed model of the system that divides into a utility-facing side, a customer-facing side, and a set of applications and new business models riding on top.

Video Link

High-Concentration Solar Photovoltaic Systems to Reach Greater Efficiencies, Boosting Appeal Against Conventional Solutions
Category: Design & Supply Chain, Design & Supply Chain Media, EHS & Sustainability, Energy & Power, Technology
Friday, March 7, 2014 5:00 am EST

Munich, Germany (March 7, 2014)—Consistent improvements in technology and gradually lower costs will drive high-concentration photovoltaic (HCPV) systems to superior efficiencies, making HCPV an increasingly viable rival to conventional solar-generating solutions, according to the latest analysis from IHS Technology (NYSE: IHS).

The cell efficiency of HCPV systems, currently at 40 to 42 percent, will exceed 45 percent by 2017. Such cells, used with concentrating optics, will then lead to commercial-system efficiencies approaching 40 percent, compared to the less than 35 percent conversion rates typical at present, as shown in the attached figure.

“Efficiency is the most important requirement in CPV technology in order to generate competitive energy costs,” said Karl Melkonyan, photovoltaic analyst at IHS. “And with the solar industry continuing to be firmly engaged in a quest for ongoing improvements through the development of new technologies, the efficiency of HCPV cells will advance over the years.”

The anticipated improvements in HCPV systems are based on cell efficiencies having reached 44.7 percent in laboratory conditions, indicating that further advances are possible.

Even so, the gains in efficiency will have to be balanced against the additional manufacturing costs expected to be incurred when implementing the improvements, Melkonyan noted.

These findings can be found in the report, “CPV on the Edge of Breakthrough,” from the solar research service at IHS.

Top HCPV regions in the world

Driven by falling system prices, HCPV is gradually becoming attractive in several regions of the world. IHS forecasts that the United States and Central America will install the largest number of HCPV systems between 2012 and 2017, serving as the world’s biggest regional market. Installations for the region reached 54.1 megawatts in 2012.

Most HCPV suppliers are, in fact, based in the United States, and their forays into the domestic U.S. market will provide notice to rival conventional PV suppliers. Mexico is also forecast to become a large part of this regional market, with plans in place for a 450-megawatt installation.

Meanwhile, enormous growth will occur in South America, where the HCPV market is projected to surge by 560 percent from the time installations start in 2013 until the end of the forecast period in 2017. The primary driver of South American expansion is Chile, which has the world’s highest solar irradiation levels important for solar-power generation.

But the greatest increase in the HPCV market will take place in the Middle East and Africa region. HCPV installations for the region—excluding South Africa, which is tracked separately because of its more advanced PV market—will grow to 155 megawatts in 2017, up from just 1.8 megawatts in 2012. Morocco and Saudi Arabia will be the main drivers.

China could also emerge as an important player soon as suppliers from the country grow in number, with parts of southwest China shaping up to become prime HCPV locations.

Singyes Solar starts initial 300MW phase of 1.1GW PV power plant project
By Mark Osborne - 07 March 2014, 13:36
In News, Power Generation, Project Focus

China-based PV project developer and manufacturer, China Singyes Solar Technologies Holdings, said it had started developing the first phase of a 1.1GW PV power plant project at the Hongshagang Industrial Park in Minqin County, Gansu Province, China.

The company said that the 300MW ‘first phase’ was expected to be completed by the end of 2014 and have an average annual power generating output of 480 million kWh.

The 1.1GW PV power plant project is being developed with the government of Minqin County, which also includes R&D facilities that are intended to develop PV and related products for agricultural applications in the region.

Can Solar Power Help Marijuana Growers?
Chris Meehan
March 07, 2014 | 0 Comments

The sun has been around for a long time. So has marijuana, but legal pot in the U.S. hasn’t been around quite as long. In fact, earlier this year Colorado became the first state to sell legal marijuana in the U.S. With the country’s — if not the world’s — eyes on Colorado’s new policy, growers are looking for opportunities to better use their profits while still dealing with federal roadblocks. One potential is investing in solar to offset soaring utility costs for growers in Colorado that use warehouses. The issue was at the heart of one of the sessions at Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association’s Solar Power Colorado conference last week.

While marijuana could grow outdoors without much additional care even in Colorado’s climate, it’s illegal under the state’s marijuana laws. As such growers must work in enclosed spaces like warehouses and, in some cases, greenhouses. Growing in warehouses particularly becomes expensive.

Sean Coleman, president of 36 Solutions, a lobbying organization focused on marijuana and other issues, said his clients in the marijuana industry have electric utility bills that start at $30,000 a month and go up to $100,000. This is largely spent to mimic the light of the sun to grow the plants. “It’s not just about having lights, it’s about having lights with the right spectrum,” he said. “There’s only a certain amount of compromise when you’re doing agriculture which wants to be outdoors, indoors.”

Colman’s largest client pays more than $1 million annually in utilities. “If they have the opportunity to invest $500,000 in solar instead, they would do it now,” he added.

But the equation isn’t so simple. Session moderator Ricardo Baca, The Denver Post’s marijuana editor said that under warehouse conditions, producing a pound of marijuana requires roughly 2,000 kilowatt hours of electricity. Meanwhile producing a pound of aluminum takes 7 kilowatt hours of electricity. Already, Baca said it’s estimated that 1 percent of the electricity produced in the U.S. powers marijuana growth operations, and in California that number reaches up to 3 percent.

Veterans Medical Center Goes Solar in Florida
Published on 7 March 2014

South Coast Solar LLC, Gulf Building & Hernandez Consulting Joint Venture, along with solar mounting manufacturer Renusol America announced the installation of a grid-connected 217.62 kW photovoltaic (PV) system at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in West Palm Beach, Florida (US).

The system is comprised of 806 Suniva OPT270-60-4-1B0 monocrystalline modules installed on the rooftops of Building 10 and Building 13 at the Medical Center. The panels were attached to the metal roofs with S5 Clamps and the Renusol VS mounting system for pitched roofs. The system also included two Solectria PVI 100kW inverters to convert the generated energy from DC to AC power.

The system will generate an estimated 281,925kWh in the first year, which will offset 84% of the combined buildings electricity usage. Over the 25-year warranty lifetime of the solar modules, the system will produce an estimated 6,641,011kWh while offsetting 5,285 tons of CO2 generated into the atmosphere. South Coast Solar provided full design, procurement, installation, utility coordination and commissioning services for the system. Gulf/Hernandez served as the prime contractor for the project. All of the materials used on the project are Buy American Act compliant (BAA) compliant.

Greenwood Biosar completes Panama's first utility-scale solar PV plant at 2.4 MW

Joint venture Greenwood Biosar has built a 2.4 MW solar photovoltaic (PV) plant in Panama for Enel Green Power's (Rome) Panama subsidiary. This is the first utility-scale PV plant in the nation.

The plant is located 14 kilometers from the town of Chitré in Herrera Province, and is connected to the EGESA grid network. A commissioning ceremony for the Chitré plant was attended by Panamania President Ricardo Martinellli.

“Latin America is one of the world's most dynamic solar power markets, and we are excited to demonstrate our skill building utility-scale distributed clean energy generation projects on budget in this key geographical region,” said Camilo Patrignani, CEO of JV partner Greenwood Energy.

France's solar PV market falls 45% to 613 MW in 2013

France's Ministry of Ecology, Energy and Sustainable Development has released preliminary figures for solar photovoltaic (PV) plants commissioned in the fourth quarter and full year 2013, finding that the nation's PV market fell 45% to only 613 MW over the year.

This is substantially lower than a previous estimate of 743 MW for 2013 published by French grid operator RTE (Paris), and may reflect different criteria. Despite this overall downward trend, in the fourth quarter of 2013 161 MW of PV plants were connected to the grid, a capacity 69% higher than the fourth quarter of 2012.

Another trend was larger plants. Nearly half the capacity was made up from plants larger than 250 kW, at 294 MW of new capacity. Nearly ¾ of new capacity was from PV plants larger than 36 kW.

Again in 2013 the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region led with 133 MW installed. However, Languedoc-Roussillion was not far behind with 105 MW. Both are located in the South of France on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

France lagging behind other Western European nations

According to the Ministry's numbers, at the end of 2013 France had installed 4.67 GW of PV. The agency also states that the nation's PV plants produced 4.3 TWh over the full year 2013, an increase of 16% over 2012 levels.

This means that France met around 0.9% of its electric demand with PV. This is a lower portion of demand met with PV than in Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Italy or Spain, and about equal to the UK. It is also more than double the portion of demand met with solar in the United States.

Germany installs only 193 MW of solar PV in January 2014

Germany installed 193 MW of solar photovoltaics (PV) in January 2014, according to figures released by the nation's Federal Network Agency. This is a 16% increase over December 2013 but below any other month in the last four years.

January 2014 installations bring the nation to 35.9 GW of installed PV. Due to the low rate of installations, feed-in tariff degressions have been at the minimum level of 1.0% since the beginning of 2014.

Feed-in tariff levels currently range from EUR 0.0938 (USD 0.13) per kWh for PV plants 1–10 MW in size to 0.1355 (USD 0.19) per kWh for PV plants smaller than 10 kW.

During the month only four PV plants larger than 4 MW were installed. The four were two PV plants totaling 16.2 MW in Bavaria, a 10 MW PV plant in Rhineland-Palatinate, and a 9.9 MW PV plant in Mecklenburg-Pomerania.

Another 23 plants 1–4 MW were installed, across a range of states.

NY State announces 33.6 MW of solar PV projects, support for cost reduction, energy storage

The U.S. state of New York has selected 29 large-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) projects totaling 33.6 MW for support under the NY-Sun Initiative, as well as eight initiatives for reduction of PV system “soft” costs.

Awards for these projects total USD 28.6 million. Additionally, the state will award USD 1.4 million to six companies to develop working prototypes of new technologies for energy storage through the New York Battery and Energy Storage Technology (NY-BEST) program.

“With these awards, we aren’t just investing in clean, renewable energy: we are investing in New York’s future,” said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

“New York State is continuing to expand its clean-energy economy by partnering with the private sector to support innovative solar projects. The NY-Sun initiative has played an essential role in our efforts to grow the solar industry in New York and create cleaner communities across the State.”

Average incentives fall to USD 0.77 per watt

Under NY-Sun, a total of 299 MW of PV plants have been installed or placed under development in the last two years. New York Governor Cuomo's office notes that the average incentive for these projects has dropped from USD 1.30 per watt in 2011 to USD 0.77 per watt under the latest round of awards.

The 29 PV projects were chosen under NY-Sun's competitive PV solicitation, which provides incentives for PV systems larger than 200 kW. These projects will also receive USD 58.6 million in private investment, resulting in roughly USD 84.4 million in total investment.

New York City to host 10 large PV projects

New York City alone will host ten new PV projects, including four in Staten Island, three in the Bronx, two in Brooklyn and one in Queens. The city will also benefit from programs for solar installations on low-income housing a community PV purchasing program, as well as a program to analyze technical risk factors for grid interconnection in New York City.

Solar Energy Soars, Now Generates Enough Power for More than Two Million Homes
John Rogers, senior energy analyst, Clean Energy
March 6, 2014

The latest solar numbers have just come in, and the celebration continues. The latest industry report shows another 4,751 megawatts (MW) went in during 2013, with great progress for both photovoltaics (PV) and concentrating solar power (CSP). Solar in the U.S. now generates enough to power over 2 million average households.

The figures are from the just-released SEIA/GTM Solar Market Insight 2013 report, a treasure trove of data and, well, insights (including a factsheet and an infographic). The tip of the 2013 solar info iceberg:

AES, SolarCity advance energy storage options
By Ethan Howland
March 7, 2014

Dive Brief:
  • AES Energy Storage Thursday released a new modular energy storage package that the company believes can replace natural gas-fired peaking plants. The company is targeting a capital cost for the battery systems of $1,000/kW compared with $1,350/kW.
  • AES' new storage package, which for the first time can be bought by third parties, can range from 10s to 100s of megawatts and can provide power from 30 minutes to more than four hours.
  • Meanwhile, SolarCity's plans for widespread solar with energy storage will be able to provide a range of services to utilities, according to the company. The batteries could be used to provide peaking resources to the grid.

Dive Insight:

As more energy storage gets deployed, its costs will fall, it will gain commercial and regulatory acceptance, and it will begin encroaching on alternative technologies like conventional power plants. Sounds like disruption 101.

Record-year for photovoltaic markets in 2013, Asia taking over the leading role

With at least 37GW of newly-addedcapacity globally, 2013 was another record-year for photovoltaic (PV) installations. The internationalisation trend of PV markets already observed in 2012 accentuated in 2013, with Asia taking the lead over Europe as the n°1 region for new PV installations.

Brussels, 06 March 2014 – According to preliminary figures gathered by the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) and presented today during its 9th Market Workshop in Brussels, the world added at least 37 GW of new PV capacity in 2013. The global PV cumulative installed capacity reached an impressive 136.7GW at the end of last year, which represents a 35% increase compared to the year before.

Space-Based Solar Power
March 6, 2014 - 12:10pm

You can’t collect solar power at night. Well, at least not on Earth. Since it’s Space Week, we thought it'd be appropriate to look at one promising, but futuristic, idea that could change the face of solar power generation: Space-Based Solar Power (SBSP). While the Energy Department is not actively researching SBSP, we hope you’ll take a moment to learn about this far out concept.

The idea of capturing solar power in space for use as energy on Earth has been around since the beginning of the space age. In the last few years, however, scientists around the globe -- and several researchers at the Energy Department’s own Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) -- have shown how recent technological developments could make this concept a reality.

On earth, solar power is greatly reduced by night, cloud cover, atmosphere and seasonality. Some 30 percent of all incoming solar radiation never makes it to ground level. In space the sun is always shining, the tilt of the Earth doesn't prevent the collection of power and there’s no atmosphere to reduce the intensity of the sun’s rays. This makes putting solar panels into space a tempting possibility. Additionally, SBSP can be used to get reliable and clean energy to people in remote communities around the world, without relying on the traditional grid to a large local power plant.


Microwave Transmitting Satellites

Microwave transmitting satellites orbit Earth in geostationary orbit (GEO), about 35,000 km above Earth’s surface. Designs for microwave transmitting satellites are massive, with solar reflectors spanning up to 3 km and weighing over 80,000 metric tons. They would be capable of generating multiple gigawatts of power, enough to power a major U.S. city.

The long wavelength of the microwave requires a long antenna, and allows power to be beamed through the Earth’s atmosphere, rain or shine, at safe, low intensity levels hardly stronger than the midday sun. Birds and planes wouldn’t notice much of anything flying across their paths.

The estimated cost of launching, assembling and operating a microwave-equipped GEO satellite is in the tens of billions of dollars. It would likely require as many as 40 launches for all necessary materials to reach space. On Earth, the rectenna used for collecting the microwave beam would be anywhere between 3 and 10 km in diameter, a huge area of land, and a challenge to purchase and develop.

Laser Transmitting Satellites

Laser transmitting satellites, as described by our friends at LLNL, orbit in low Earth orbit (LEO) at about 400 km above the Earth’s surface. Weighing in in at less than 10 metric tons, this satellite is a fraction of the weight of its microwave counterpart. This design is cheaper too; some predict that a laser-equipped SBSP satellite would cost nearly $500 million to launch and operate. It would be possible to launch the entire self-assembling satellite in a single rocket, drastically reducing the cost and time to production. Also, by using a laser transmitter, the beam will only be about 2 meters in diameter, instead of several km, a drastic and important reduction.

To make this possible, the satellite’s solar power beaming system employs a diode-pumped alkali laser. First demonstrated at LLNL in 2002 -- and currently still under development there -- this laser would be about the size of a kitchen table, and powerful enough to beam power to Earth at an extremely high efficiency, over 50 percent.

While this satellite is far lighter, cheaper and easier to deploy than its microwave counterpart, serious challenges remain. The idea of high-powered lasers in space could draw on fears of the militarization of space. This challenge could be remedied by limiting the direction that which the laser system could transmit its power.

At its smaller size, there is a correspondingly lower capacity of about 1 to 10 megawatts per satellite. Therefore, this satellite would be best as part of a fleet of similar satellites, used together.

Heard on the Street
Lights Flicker for Utilities
By Liam Denning
Dec. 22, 2013 6:18 p.m. ET

What if the stock market's safest sector was doomed?

Utilities seem indispensable. Yet suddenly there is talk on Wall Street of a looming "death spiral" for the business, with solar power being the culprit.

Hyperbole? Yes, but only up to a point. Back in May, the Dow Jones Utility Average came within a whisker of its precrisis all-time high set early in 2008. High dividends sell well with investors when interest rates are so low, especially when such payments are backed by something as solid as the electricity grid.

But danger can come out of a clear blue sky or even a cloudy one. Take a look at Germany. Generous subsidies there caused solar panels to sprout all over what is hardly a tropical paradise. As traditional utilities E.ON and RWE have struggled to adapt, their combined market value has slumped 56% over the past four years in a rising German stock market.

The death-spiral thesis runs thusly. Subsidies and falling technology costs are making distributed solar power—panels on roofs, essentially—cost-competitive with retail electricity prices in places like the southwestern U.S. As more people switch to solar, utilities sell less electricity to those customers, especially as they often have the right to sell surplus power from their panels back to the utility.

The result: Utilities must spread their high fixed costs for things like repairing the grid over fewer kilowatt-hours, making solar power even more competitive and pushing more people to adopt it in a vicious circle.

But distributed solar power is still in its infancy. In sunny California, costs shifted onto customers without panels from those with them amounted to just 0.73% of that state's utilities' revenue last year, according to Moody's. So why worry?

The utilities sector divides into two broad camps. Regulated utilities operate integrated networks of power plants, transmission and distribution grids. They agree to spending plans and an allowed rate of return with state regulators, determining customers' monthly bills. Meanwhile, merchant generators operate power plants selling electricity to the highest bidder.

Despite the perceived threat to regulated utilities, it is actually the merchant generators who look more exposed to distributed solar power for now.

As a rival power source, solar takes market share from traditional generators. And once panels are installed, the sun's energy is free, so it will displace more expensive sources such as gas-fired plants. This serves to reduce prices overall, so solar power cuts both volume and price for traditional generators. Not the sort of outlook that garners a high earnings multiple.

David Crane, chief executive of merchant generator NRG Energy, calls the spread of distributed energy the biggest change to hit the industry since the grid was built many decades ago. To adapt, NRG is investing in solar and other distributed sources, essentially taking cash generated today by its traditional business and redeploying it into growth opportunities.

For regulated utilities, the idea that solar panels will enable everyone to leave the grid, making such networks redundant, is overstated. Solar power is intermittent. Batteries can help, but ISI Group estimates their price needs to drop by a factor of 10 to be competitive with grid power.

Moreover, distributed energy's small penetration means the existing grid is needed for a while to come. So regulators have to balance encouraging renewable power with the continuing need to prevent blackouts. Last month, regulators curbed Arizona Public Service's planned charge to solar-panel owners to mitigate the costs of grid maintenance being pushed onto nonowners—but didn't reject the idea of that fee altogether.

Distributed power will keep eating away at the traditional utilities' share of an electricity market that is barely expanding anyway. U.S. electricity consumption this year is forecast by the Energy Department to be 2% below the peak in 2007. Efficiency efforts keep eroding electricity requirements.

"Essentially, we do not see the recent slowdown in electric load growth as cyclical anymore; it is a new and permanent feature of modern life," says Julien Dumoulin-Smith of UBS.

That structural element is why, even if the sound of bells tolling is faint, the impact on utility stocks will be felt much sooner. Greg Gordon and Jon Cohen of ISI Group point out that absent expected growth in demand, regulators may be reluctant to approve regulated utilities' investment plans. Why saddle bill payers with the cost of an asset built to last 40 years if it might only be needed for 15 or 20? And in this business, less investment means less allowed return—and, therefore, earnings.

The gyres may look exceedingly wide, but that spiral is taking shape.

Last edited by amor de cosmos; Mar 7, 2014 at 7:11 PM.
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Renewable Energy in MENA Area to Double Next Year, Desertec Says
Anthony DiPaola, Bloomberg
March 07, 2014 | 0 Comments

DUBAI -- Clean energy assets in the Middle East and North Africa will more than double in capacity by the end of next year, the Dii GmbH industry association said.

Solar and wind generation capacity will rise to 3.9 gigawatts in 2015 from more than 1.5 gigawatts now, Paul van Son, chief executive officer of the Munich-based trade association known as Desertec, said in an interview in Dubai March 4.

Governments are looking to clean energy to meet rising demand for power and to conserve fossil fuels for export. Oil-producing countries in the Persian Gulf plan to boost solar output, which will distributerenewable energy more evenly across the region, Van Son said. Most of the region’s green energy assets are wind plants in North Africa, he said.

“The demand is here,” Van Son said. “Production costs for power are lower than in Europe, where the supply-side trend is to higher cost.” Once supply is developed and power grids are connected, Europe and the MENA region will constitute a single, linked power market, he said.

The Middle East and North Africa will need more than $50 billion in investments by the end of the decade to add as much as 15,000 megawatts of solar-generating capacity, the Middle East Solar Industry Association and MEED Insight said in a report Jan. 20.

Promising News for Solar Fuels from Berkeley Lab Researchers at JCAP
March 07, 2014
Lynn Yarris

There’s promising news from the front on efforts to produce fuels through artificial photosynthesis. A new study by Berkeley Lab researchers at the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP) shows that nearly 90-percent of the electrons generated by a hybrid material designed to store solar energy in hydrogen are being stored in the target hydrogen molecules.

Gary Moore, a chemist and principal investigator with Berkeley Lab’s Physical Biosciences Division, led an efficiency analysis study of a unique photocathode material he and his research group have developed for catalyzing the production of hydrogen fuel from sunlight. This material, a hybrid formed from interfacing the semiconductor gallium phosphide with a molecular hydrogen-producing cobaloxime catalyst, has the potential to address one of the major challenges in the use of artificial photosynthesis to make renewable solar fuels.

“Ultimately the renewable energy problem is really a storage problem,” Moore says. “Given the intermittent availability of sunlight, we need a way of using the sun all night long. Storing solar energy in the chemical bonds of a fuel also provides the large power densities that are essential to modern transport systems. We’ve shown that our approach of coupling the absorption of visible light with the production of hydrogen in a single material puts photoexcited electrons where we need them to be, stored in chemical bonds.”
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New Bionic Leaf Could Solve Solar Energy Storage Problem

Researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory are developing a new bionic leaf that can convert energy from sunlight into an energy-dense fuel, imitating the photosynthetic process of plants. We’ve covered the artificial leaf concept before but aside from using a cool new name (bionic leaf sounds much cooler than artificial leaf, right?) the Berkeley project represents a new twist on the technology that could lead to far greater efficiencies.

The Artificial Leaf Concept

Whether you call it an artificial leaf or a bionic leaf, the basic concept is relatively simple. Instead of using a photovoltaic cell to generate electricity directly from sunlight, you deploy a chemical reaction that stores solar energy in the form of hydrogen, which you can then use in a hydrogen fuel cell to generate electricity.

That sunlight-to-hydrogen chain means you can store solar energy indefinitely, potentially in huge quantities, so think of it as a kind of battery and you’re on the right track. The fuel cell connection means that the intermittent nature of solar energy is not an issue, and neither is its resistance to mobility.

As for how you get there, you drop a photoelectrochemical cell in a bucket of water and let it go to work stripping out the hydrogen.

That’s a much more sustainable way to produce hydrogen than the current standard, which involves a good deal of fossil energy. With Toyota, GM and other auto manufacturers poised to deliver hydrogen fuel cell vehicles to the mass market, the race is on to develop solar powered hydrogen production at scale.

The Berkeley Lab Bionic Leaf

The trick behind the photoelectrochemical cell is to find the right combination of materials that give you a cost-effective reaction, otherwise your bionic leaf is going to sit in the lab and amuse visitors forever.

We’ve been following one solution, an actual leaf-sized artificial leaf that is being developed with a focus on low cost materials to serve households in underserved communities. The absolute efficiency of the cell is not as important as the overall cost, since in this market electricity consumption is almost negligible (in the latest development, the artificial leaf has been tweaked to function effectively in impure water).

The Berkeley team is also taking cost into consideration while moving along a tack that is focused on revving up the performance of the photocathode at the molecular level (the cathode is the part of the cell that generates an electrical current).

The team has been focusing on a hybrid photocathode of gallium phosphide (a semiconductor that absorbs visible light), and cobaloxime, a hydrogen-producing catalyst.

Both materials are relatively abundant and inexpensive compared to conventional precious metal catalysts like platinum.

So far, so good. The team just published its latest analysis of the photocathode in the journal Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics under the title “Energetics and efficiency analysis of a cobaloxime-modified semiconductor under simulated air mass 1.5 illumination,” which demonstrated that almost 90 percent of the electrons generated by the hybrid material were stored in the target hydrogen molecules.

The team has also found that the ability of the gallium phosphide to absorb solar energy is far outstripping the ability of the cobaloxime to catalyse a reaction. The result is that only 1.5 percent of the photons that hit the surface get converted into a photocurrent.

So, the search is on for a faster and more efficient catalyst.
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