Tag Archives: solar panels

Wide-scale use of solar technology in cities would almost cover their full energy needs

Fully-integrating solar panels into buildings could make cities almost self-sustaining, according to new research.

Image credits Ulrike Leone.

Solar panels get a lot of bad press for having a low energy output; individually, that may be so. A small, single panel will not be able to keep your home lit, warmed, and all the appliances running. But the secret with solar energy is to think at scale, a new paper suggests, and to make the most of every bit of free space. According to the findings, the City of Melbourne could generate 74% of its electricity needs if solar technology was to be integrated into the roofs, walls, and windows of every building.

This study is the first to estimate the viability and impact of integrating several types of solar technology including window-integrated and rooftop-mounted photovoltaics on a city-wide scale. The results are promising, suggesting that the City of Melbourne could greatly reduce its reliance on energy produced through the burning of fossil fuels.

Lighting the way

“By using photovoltaic technology commercially available today and incorporating the expected advances in wall and window-integrated solar technology over the next ten years, we could potentially see our CBD (central business district) on its way to net zero in the coming decades,” said lead author Professor Jacek Jasieniak.

“We began importing coal-fired power from the LaTrobe Valley in the 1920s to stop the practice of burning smog-inducing coal briquettes onsite to power our CBD buildings, and it’s now feasible that over one hundred years later, we could see a full circle moment of Melbourne’s buildings returning to local power generation within the CBD, but using clean, climate-safe technologies that help us meet Australia’s Net Zero 2050 target.”

The authors report that existing rooftop photovoltaic technology alone could dramatically reduce Melbourne’s carbon footprint. If technologies that are still being developed, such as high-efficiency solar windows or facade-integrated panels, are also taken into account, solar energy can become the leading source of energy in the city. These estimates hinge on the assumption that such technologies are integrated on a wide scale across the city.

For the study, the team compared the electrical energy consumption in Melbourne in 2018 to an estimate of the energy that could be produced through wide use of building-integrated solar systems. Consumption figures were obtained from Jemena and CitiPower & Powercor distribution companies through the Centre for New Energy Technologies (C4NET), an independent research body in Victoria, Australia. The production estimates were based on city-wide mathematical modelling.

Out of the total potential energy that solar power could provide, rooftop-mounted solar panels could generate 88%, with wall-integrated and window-integrated solar delivering 8% and 4% respectively. However, wall- and window-mounted solar technologies lost a lot less of their efficiency during the winter months relative to rooftop-mounted panels, the models showed. In other words, although they have a lower total output potential, these two types of technology deliver power more reliably and at more constant levels throughout the year.

Building height had a particular impact only on window-integrated solar technologies; in highrise neighborhoods, its potential rose to around 18% of the total generated energy. In areas with low average building height, the total wall and window areas available are small, reducing their overall potential to generate power. The window-to-wall surface ratio also tends to be greater in commercial buildings compared to residential buildings.

The modeling took into account the impact of shadows cast in the city by elements such as buildings, shading systems, or balconies, and natural factors such as sun incidence angle and total solar potential of different areas across Melbourne. The technologies used as part of the simulations were selected based on their technical characteristics, limitations, and costs of installation and operation.

All in all, the study worked with the 37.4 km2 area of central Melbourne, which consists mainly of residential and commercial buildings. In 2019, a total of 35.1 km2 of the studied perimeter was built floor area. This area was selected because it offered one the greatest potential for window-integrated solar in Melbourne, the team explains.

“Although there’s plenty of policies supporting energy-efficiency standards for new buildings, we’re yet to see a substantial response to ensuring our existing buildings are retrofitted to meet the challenges of climate change,” says co-author Dr. Jenny Zhou. “Our research provides a framework that can help decision-makers move forward with implementing photovoltaic technologies that will reduce our cities’ reliance on damaging fossil fuels.”

“In the near future, market penetration and deployment of high-efficient solar windows can make a substantive contribution towards the carbon footprint mitigation of high-rise developments,” adds first author Dr. Maria Panagiotidou. “As the world transitions towards a net-zero future, these local energy solutions would play a critical role in increasing the propensity of PVs within urban environments.”

The paper “Prospects of photovoltaic rooftops, walls and windows at a city to building scale” has been published in the journal Solar Energy.

Solar panels on half the world’s roofs could meet its entire electricity demand

Credit: Pixabay.

Rooftop solar panels are up to 79% cheaper than they were in 2010. These plummeting costs have made rooftop solar photovoltaics even more attractive to households and businesses who want to reduce their reliance on electricity grids while reducing their carbon footprints.

But are there enough rooftop surfaces for this technology to generate affordable, low-carbon energy for everyone who needs it? After all, it’s not just people who own their own houses and want to cut their bills who are in need of solutions like this. Around 800 million people globally go without proper access to electricity.

Our new paper in Nature Communications presents a global assessment of how many rooftop solar panels we’d need to generate enough renewable energy for the whole world – and where we’d need to put them. Our study is the first to provide such a detailed map of global rooftop solar potential, assessing rooftop area and sunlight cover at scales all the way from cities to continents.

We found that we would only need 50% of the world’s rooftops to be covered with solar panels in order to deliver enough electricity to meet the world’s yearly needs.

Method

We designed a programme that incorporated data from over 300 million buildings and analysed 130 million km² of land – almost the entire land surface area of the planet. This estimated how much energy could be produced from the 0.2 million km² of rooftops present on that land, an area roughly the same size as the UK.

We then calculated electricity generation potentials from these rooftops by looking at their location. Generally, rooftops located in higher latitudes such as in northern Europe or Canada can vary by as much as 40% in their generation potential across the year, due to big differences in sunshine between winter and summer. Rooftops near the equator, however, usually only vary in generation potential by around 1% across the seasons, as sunshine is much more consistent.

This is important because these large variations in monthly potential can have a significant impact on the reliability of solar-powered electricity in that region. That means places where sunlight is more irregular require energy storage solutions – increasing electricity costs.

Hotspots

Our results highlighted three potential hotspots for rooftop solar energy generation: Asia, Europe and North America.

Of these, Asia looks like the cheapest location to install panels, where – in countries like India and China – one kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity, or approximately 48 hours of using your laptop, can be produced for just 0.05p. This is thanks to cheap panel manufacturing costs, as well as sunnier climates.

Meanwhile, the costliest countries for implementing rooftop solar are USA, Japan and the UK. Europe holds the middle ground, with average costs across the continent of around 0.096p per kWh.

Rooftop solar panels look like they’d be equally useful in areas with low population as they would be in urban centres. For those living in remote areas, panels help top up or even replace supply from potentially unreliable local grids. And for those in cities, panels can significantly reduce air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels for energy.

It’s vital to point out that global electricity supply cannot rely on a single source of generation to meet the requirements of billions of people. And, thanks to changeable weather and our planet’s day and night cycle, a mismatch between solar energy demand and supply is unavoidable.

The equipment required to store solar power for when it’s needed is still extremely expensive. Additionally, solar panels won’t be able to deliver enough power for some industries. Heavy manufacturing and metal processing, for example, require very large currents and specialised electricity delivery, which solar power won’t yet be able to provide.

Despite this, rooftop solar has huge potential to alleviate energy poverty and put clean, pollution-free power back in the hands of consumers worldwide. If the costs of solar power continue to decrease, rooftop panels could be one of the best tools yet to decarbonise our electricity supply.The Conversation

Siddharth Joshi, PhD Student in Global Energy Engineering, University College Cork; James Glynn, Senior Research Scholar in Energy Systems Modelling at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, Columbia University, and Shivika Mittal, Research Associate in Energy System Modelling, Imperial College London

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Cheap perovskite tandem solar cell breaks new world record at 30% efficiency

The schematic structure of the tandem solar cell stack in 3D. Credit: Eike Koehnen/HZB.

A crystal known to science for more than a century has only in recent years become recognized for its use in harvesting solar power. Since the first successful usage of perovskite in solar cells in 2009, the advances in the field have grown exponentially. In just a few years of development, rated efficiency in the lab for perovskite solar cells soared from 3.8% to nearly 20%. Now, scientists at Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) have paired perovskite with silicon in a hybrid solar cell that harvested photons with an impressive 29.15% efficiency — a new world record that may propel the industry to new heights.

Solar cells convert incoming photons into electricity by exploiting the electron-hole pair generation and recombination. When photons come in contact with the semiconducting material, and if their energy falls into the semiconductor bandgap, then an electron is offset, leaving a gap in the atom. The electron travels from atom to atom within the material, each time leaving behind a hole and occupying holes downstream until it eventually reaches an electrode and has its charge transferred to a circuit. This is when electricity is finally generated.

The key is to have electrons moving for as long as possible, and thanks to its diffusing capabilities, perovskite can theoretically generate more electricity.  Perovskite solar cells have many distinct advantages over traditional silicon cells. Firstly, the fabrication of perovskite photovoltaics is much cheaper and simpler than silicon photovoltaic cell production. Additionally, perovskite cells have a higher bandgap than traditional silicon or thin-film cells.

Because perovskite thin films are transparent, they can be placed on top of lower bandgap cells like silicon. The result is a hybrid or “tandem” photovoltaic system.  Stacking two solar cells one on top of the other in this manner allows a larger portion of solar energy to be converted into electricity.

One of the most common solar panel myths is that solar energy is expensive. But according to the International Energy Agency, solar is now ‘the cheapest electricity in history’. Tandem solar cells will dramatically lower both the price of installation and your electrical bill even further.

The tandem solar cell was developed at a laboratory scale of one square centimeter. However, scaling up is possible. Credit: Eike Köhnen/HZB.

More than 50 years ago, William Shockley and Hans-Joachim Queisser discovered the Shockley-Queisser limit, which is the efficiency ceiling of solar cells with only one single layer. For both silicon and perovskite, the theoretical limit is around 30%. For tandem cells the theoretical limit is about 35%.

However, in the real world single-layer silicon or perovskite solar cells usually don’t convert more than 20% of the solar energy they receive. This is why the new tandem cell developed in Germany — which uses a perovskite composition with a 1.68-eV band gap — is so impressive, clocking in nearly 30% efficiency, just 5% shy of the absolute theoretical limit.

The solar cell developed by the researchers led by Steve Albrecht and Bernd Stannowski was tested in the lab on a sample measuring only 0.2 cm by 0.2 cm (1 cm), but it should be quite easy to scale up the size.  Next, the HZB team wants to break the 30% efficiency barrier. Albrecht says that initial ideas for this are already under discussion.

The findings appeared in the journal Science.

Blend solar panels with agriculture, new study recommends

Solar energy is not only compatible with agriculture — it can actually be beneficial.

Image via Wikipedia.

Two of the world’s most pressing challenges are ensuring food security and renewable energy for the globe’s population. At first glance, it would seem that the two don’t play well together. Take solar panels: they produce electricity from solar energy — the same energy which plants need for photosynthesis. So then how could the two work together? According to a new study, it’s possible thanks to an overabundance of solar energy.

Agrivoltaics, which relies on solar sharing, is the idea that solar panels and crops can work well together. The idea has been gaining a lot of traction and interest lately, but few studies have monitored all the aspects of the associated food, energy, and water systems.

“So which land use do you prefer — food or energy production? This challenge strikes right at the intersection of human-environment connections, and that is where geographers shine!” said Greg Barron-Gafford, an associate professor in the School of Geography and Development and lead author on the paper that was published today in Nature Sustainability. “We started to ask, ‘Why not do produce both in the same place?’ And we have been growing crops like tomatoes, peppers, chard, kale, and herbs in the shade of solar panels ever since.”

In order to address this issue, the team lead by Barron-Gafford worked on Biosphere 2 — an American Earth system science research facility located in Oracle, Arizona. Biosphere 2 was originally meant to demonstrate the viability of closed ecological systems to support and maintain human life in outer space, but it has since become a center for research and outreach related to Earth science.

Biosphere 2 is also located in the American Southwest — an area known for its hot and dry weather. Water is a scarce commodity, and things are only going to get worse due to climate heating. No other study has assessed the feasibility of agrivoltaics in such an environment, so it was an excellent place to start. The first problem is location, researchers say.

“Many of us want more renewable energy, but where do you put all of those panels? As solar installations grow, they tend to be out on the edges of cities, and this is historically where we have already been growing our food,” said Barron-Gafford, who is also a researcher with Biosphere 2.

The study focused on chiltepin pepper, jalapeno and cherry tomato plants — regional plants. Three plots were set out for the summer months: one with solar panels, one with crops, and one with both. Throughout the study, researchers continuously monitored incoming light levels, temperature, and humidity using sensors mounted above the surface. They also measured subsurface temperature and moisture at a depth of 5 centimeters. The solar panels were mounted 3 meters high — a bit taller than usual.

The idea wasn’t just that the solar panels and crops could co-exist, but that they could actually help each other. In the torrid Arizona sun, the shade provided by solar panels lowered the surface temperature and reduced evaporation, which helped the crops. Similarly, the plants would help keep the panels just a little cooler, which actually helps produce more electricity (since solar panel efficiency drops with high temperatures).

Air temperatures were on average 1°C cooler during the day on average, but they also stayed about 0.5°C warmer overnight. Meanwhile, the temperature of the solar panels dropped by 9°C due to the plants growing beneath them. This amounts to an increase in efficiency of 3% over the summer months and 1% for the entire year.

As for the plants, the results were simply remarkable.

“We found that many of our food crops do better in the shade of solar panels because they are spared from the direct sun,” Baron-Gafford said. “In fact, total chiltepin fruit production was three times greater under the PV panels in an agrivoltaic system, and tomato production was twice as great!”

Not all plants benefited equally, however, The Jalapeños took up 11% less CO2 under the panels, which suggests that they missed the extra sunlight. However, the jalapeño crops under the solar panels produced just as much as those without solar panels, but they used 65% less water due to reduced transpiration.

The cherry tomatoes saw a 65% increase in CO2 uptake and a 65% increase in water-use efficiency — while producing twice as many tomatoes.

More research is still required on other species, but this study is extremely encouraging. It not only showcases that solar energy and plants can help each other, potentially opening the way for sustainable agrivoltaics facilities. In addition to further research, the team is already working on adding such installations to multiple schools. Getting people more interested in what happens in their community is an important dynamic if we want to implement sustainable shifts in society, he concludes.

“What draws me to this work is what happens to the K-12 learner when their involvement is consequential and the research lives in their community,” said Dr. Moses Thompson, one of the research authors. “That shift in dynamics creates students who feel agency in addressing grand challenges such as climate change.”

Journal Reference: Greg Barron-Gafford et al. Agrivoltaics provide mutual benefits across the food–energy–water nexus in drylandsNature Sustainability, 2019; DOI: 10.1038/s41893-019-0364-5

Credit: Renovagen.

Roll-out solar panels that unfurl like a carpet electrify tiny British island

An island off the coast of Cardiff now gets electricity from an unconventional mat. These flexible solar panels can be unrolled like a carpet from a trailer and can start pumping out electricity in under two minutes.

Credit: Renovagen.

Credit: Renovagen.

This innovative concept is called the Rapid Roll system and this instance was the first long-term deployment of this ‘solar carpet’ anywhere in the UK. The tiny island of Flat Holm — a wildlife haven and important breeding ground — proved to be an excellent test site for such a technology. Renovagen, the company behind Rapid Roll, envisions their product being deployed in situations where portable power is urgently needed such as in the wake of natural disasters. The military might also find it useful to unfurl solar panels wherever power is required.

Thinking outside the box

John Hingley, the managing director of Renovagen, first came up with the idea for a solar mat while he traveling five years ago. The engineer was inspired by the mobile solar devices he came across during his trips and eventually realized that scaling this concept could be made easier by rolling the solar panels. Luckily, flexible solar panels that can bend without power loss or damage have become far more accessible in the meantime.

Credit: Renovagen.

Credit: Renovagen.

Since they’re rollable, you can fit a much larger power capacity into an enclosure than rigid solar panels. A 4×4 trailer can fit enough rolled panels to power a 120-bed mobile clinic or desalinate 25,000 liters of seawater per day. The deployment strikingly takes only two minutes. A much larger version rolls out solar power from a shipping container in less than an hour for 300 kW of power. According to Hingley, the same container can fit 10 times more power output in rolled panels than traditional rigid panels.

Aerial photo of Flat Holm island. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Aerial photo of Flat Holm island. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

While Flat Holm doesn’t really have any permanent residents, Cardiff Council enlisted Renovagen to supply power to the island because it still sees hundreds of visitors yearly who come here for the wildlife. There’s a lighthouse, a few shacks, and a pub of course. Until recently, the island got its electricity from some conventional solar panels and a diesel generator. Seeing how this is a wildlife haven, the Council found it fitting to find a more sustainable source.

“We are delighted to have completed our deployment of Rapid Roll solar power systems to Flat Holm Island and Lamby Way,” said Hingley. “We have been able to demonstrate the outstanding mobility and robustness of the Rapid Roll system on Flat Holm. This was achieved via delivery of the unit to a beach by landing craft, through repositioning hundreds of meters away and full deployment of the solar field – all in only one hour.”

India starts rolling out solar trains that might save millions of gallons of diesel

India’s getting serious about their green revolution, and they’re taking it step by step.

Now, that’s a sun roof. Image credits: Anil Kumar Chhatri/Indian Railways.

India, one of the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitters (also expected to greatly increase its emissions in future years), is also one of the most ambitious countries when it comes to sustainable goals. India is already set to overachieve its Paris target, which is to lower the emissions intensity of GDP by 33%–35% by 2030. But not everything is looking great in India — not at all. Coal still generates over half of the country’s energy and it will take quite a while for renewables to catch up. India also ranks third in oil consumption, trailing behind the US and China. Oil guzzling trains definitely don’t help.

However, India has started experimenting with rooftop solar trains. While these trains will still be powered by diesel, a set of 16 solar panels will take over the lights, fans, and screens inside the train. If that doesn’t sound like much, Indian Railways estimates that a train with six solar-panelled coaches would save 21,000 liters of diesel every year. India runs 12,617 trains to carry over 23 million passengers daily, consuming approximately 2.6 billion liters of diesel a year. So if half of these trains would be fitted with panels, it could save up to 0.12 billion liters of diesel, or almost 5% of the total consumption. It’s not the biggest of step, but it’s definitely one in the right direction.

It makes economic sense too. Fitting will cost Rs9 lakh (13,990 USD) per coach and the fuel savings are Rs2 lakh (3,111 USD) per year per coach — so the payback time is 4.5 years, which is quite decent. That’s some rough maths, but by now, it seems quite clear that the payback time of these train solar panels will be comparable with regular, house-mounted panels. Of course, it will take quite a long time before a significant part of the Indian trains are fitted with panels.

Solar prices in India have plummeted, encouraging the development of such ample projects.

According to QZ, the rooftop solar system was developed by Noida-based Jakson Engineers, under the direction of the Indian Railways Organisation for Alternate Fuels (IROAF). Engineers found the task quite tricky.

“It is not an easy task to fit solar panels on the roof of train coaches that run at a speed of 80 km per hour. Our engineering skills were put to a real test during the execution of this rooftop solar project for Indian Railways,” Sundeep Gupta, vice-chairman and managing director of Jakson Engineers told the Business Standard newspaper.

Indian Railways have announced plans to reduce emissions on par with those of the country. They’ve set a goal of reduction in emissions intensity of 33% by 2030 from 2005 levels. That includes a 1 GW solar target announced in 2015. So far, they’ve achieved an installed capacity of about 37 MW of wind and 16 MW of solar across railway operations until March 2017. The Railways has also tendered close to 255 MW of rooftop solar projects, of which 80 MW has already been awarded. An additional 50 MW of land-based solar projects have already been awarded. All in all, things are slowly coming together. It is also expected that the 1 GW target would serve as a signal for financiers and solar developers to come and invest in the country. So far, it’s working pretty well: solar prices are already plummeting.

Elsewhere in the world, in the Netherlands, trains are already powered by renewable energy. Taking advantage of their own geography, the Dutch have focused more on wind rather than solar energy. As of January 2017, all their electric trains run 100% on wind energy.

tesla panels

Tesla presents a new sleek line of exclusive solar panels built by Panasonic

 

tesla panels

Credit: Tesla

Tesla is expanding its power generation offering with a new series of solar panels designed by Panasonic exclusively for the American company. The new panels can be installed on virtually any roof and come with a nice streamlined design. The panels have “integrated front skirts and no visible mounting hardware,” making them more visually appealing. There is no official word on pricing but you can request a custom quote on Tesla’s website. 

Since Tesla merged with SolarCity, the biggest solar residential contractor in the United States, the company’s strategy has shifted dramatically. Traditionally known for making fast electric roadsters, Tesla is now a more robust company with big ambitions to dominate energy generation and storage (PowerWall series), not just sustainable transportation.

tesla solar panels

Credit: Tesla

Though Tesla, formally Tesla Motors, has a far more diverse product offering now, the company’s core marketing direction and values seem unchanged. When Elon Musk, Tesla’s CEO, took over the company he wanted to address the false belief that “an electric car had to be ugly and slow and boring like a golf cart.” We’re all familiar now with Tesla’s super sleek vehicles, like the P100D which has a 0-60mph time of only 2.5 seconds.

Likewise, Tesla seeks to make solar panels that aren’t only practical but aesthetically pleasing too. Not long after its merger with Solar City last year, Tesla showed off the ‘Tesla roof’ which are basically roof tiles capable of harvesting solar energy. These will be available sometime later this year.

“Would you like a roof that looks better than a normal roof, last twice as long, cost less and by the way generates electricity? Why would you get anything else?” Musk said at the time of the announcement.

The newly unveiled solar panel line is something different. These are normal solar panels, not solar tiles, but with some pretty nice perks. The first thing that people will notice is the sleek, streamline design which is engineered by Zep Solar, a startup acquired by SolarCity in 2013 and now part of Tesla’s Solar Systems. The technology uses a railless system which not only renders any mounting hardware invisible but also cuts mounting time in half.

Tesla dreams of an integrated, sustainable household where energy comes from Tesla solar panels during the day and Tesla's PowerWall during the night. A Tesla electric car sits nicely in the garage, charged by renewable energy. Credit: Tesla.

Tesla dreams of an integrated, sustainable household where energy comes from Tesla solar panels during the day and Tesla’s PowerWall during the night. A Tesla electric car sits nicely in the garage, charged by renewable energy. Credit: Tesla.

The panels are made by Panasonic at Tesla’s Gigafactory 2 in Buffalo exclusively for Tesla. Before the merger, SolarCity used to work with all sorts of suppliers for its residential solar. Tesla will continue to work with third-party solar panel suppliers but it’s foreseeable it will be gradually cutting down until it only sells its own branded products.

Production of the first modules, which have a 325-watt power rating, should start this summer. You can request a quote from Tesla if you want to learn how much it costs in your area. It’s also a good idea to estimate the solar energy that hits your rooftop with Google’s excellent tool. 

Why India might become the biggest market in the world for solar energy

Solar energy is getting cheaper by the minute and expanding everywhere in the world but a few places stand out more than others for an impending solar boom. One of them is India.

India’s economy is growing very fast. It’s the second most populated country in the world but also a country where hundreds of millions are in shortage of electricity. India’s leadership is also extremely favorable of solar energy seeing it as key to sustaining the country’s economic growth, removing rampant air pollution, and achieving the country’s goal of drawing 40% of all its energy from renewables by 2030 (by that time, India should more than triple its energy demand to a staggering 2,500 TWh).

These are just a couple of the reasons why India may be set to become the largest solar energy market in the world in the not so distant future. It’s not just me saying this but Tom Werner as well, who is the CEO of SunPower, the second biggest solar installer in the US.

“The market that’s going to boom is India,” he told Business Insider. 

There are over 300 million people currently living in India with no access to electricity and the government has a moral obligation to see to it that these people have access to basic infrastructure and health care. India could start building more coal-fired plants but seeing how the country also has the worst air in the world and keeping in mind India’s Paris Agreement pledge to cap greenhouse emissions, that’s not a viable option. Indeed, the government under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi recognized in its National Electricity Plan that coal is no longer a good option, deciding that beyond the half-built plants already under construction, India does not require any new coal-fired power stations.

india-chart

“As coal based capacity of 50,025MW [50GW] is already under construction which is likely to yield benefits during 2017-22, this coal based capacity would fulfil the capacity requirement for the years 2022-27,” the plan said.

To reach 40% of its energy from renewables, India’s same plan aims to add 100GW of solar and wind by 2022. The United States had a fantastic year in 2016 adding 95% more solar power capacity than in the previous year with 14,6 GW. As a whole, in the United States, there aren’t more than 40 GW of installed solar power capacity, just to get an idea of how huge the Indian solar market is set to grow.

Already, India is home to the largest solar energy plant in the world, a 650MW facility at Kamuthi, Tamil Nadu. India’s energy minister also publically said last year that solar is cheaper than coal for them so all the stars seem aligned for a massive solar boom waiting to happen in India. Some big US companies are taking note of this opportunity. SunPower has a signed deal to build a 5-megawatt solar plant in Rajasthan, India that will power 40,000 rural homes. Tesla’s Elon Musk, which recently took over SolarCity, the biggest solar installer in the nation, hinted on Twitter that they will be ready to expand to India this summer. More US manufacturers and contractors will likely join in on the fun especially after the World Trade Organization (WTO) sided with the United States which argued some of India’s energy policies discriminated American companies and disrupted free trade. Specifically, India’s National Solar Mission current plan specifies that at least 10 percent of the new solar power in India comes from domestically produced solar panels and cells.

There are some caveats which investors and solar energy enthusiasts need to consider, though. One important mention is that a lot of India’s renewable energy infrastructure works are based on the promise that billions will be directed from rich countries to developing countries like India per the Paris Agreement, along with technology transfer. But the current US presidential administration will likely want to cancel its involvement in the Paris Agreement let alone send money to India so it can build its own infrastructure.

 

 

 

 

 

There are now twice as many solar jobs as coal jobs in the US

Regardless of what one fossil-fuel-lover president may do, renewable energy is thriving in the US. Even though solar power provides just a drop in the country’s energy consumption bucket, it already provides more than twice the jobs coal provides.

The average price of solar panels has gone down dramatically, and will likely continue to do so.

new survey from the nonprofit Solar Foundation found that the industry employs more than 260,000 people:

“Solar employs slightly more workers than natural gas, over twice as many as coal, over three times that of wind energy, and almost five times the number employed in nuclear energy,” the report notes. “Only oil/petroleum has more employment (by 38%) than solar.”

This is impressive when you consider that gas and coal produce much more energy than solar and still they provide fewer jobs, but the comparison isn’t exactly fair. Most of the jobs in solar come from installation, so they are not permanent. This is especially important because solar is growing from a very tiny base, whereas coal, gas, and oil are already well established. Lots of people are installing solar panels, but no one is making new coal plants — or rather, almost no one.

But looking at it from the point of view of costs, it’s not exactly a good thing that solar is creating all these jobs.

The only reason why solar isn’t dreadfully cheap is directly tied to manpower costs. Solar is much more labor-intensive than you’d think, requiring more manpower per megawatt-hour than any other power source. The natural gas industry employs as many people as solar but provides nearly 50 times as much energy, according to Vox. Technology advancements are bringing the price of solar energy lower and lower, but as more and more panels get installed, the overall cost of solar will dwindle even more, diluting the installation costs. Sure, a dominant solar industry won’t provide nearly as many jobs, but in the meantime, the argument that renewable doesn’t create new jobs is null and void. Justifying a return to fossil fuel based on that would be reckless and in the current climate, immoral.

PV array

Solar energy in the United States had its best quarter ever. Can it keep it up, though?

PV array

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The 3rd quarter of 2016 saw more photovoltaic (PV) systems installed than any other quarter so far. According to the latest market insight report released by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), this year is shaping up as yet another record-breaking one in installed solar capacity after a good 2015. 

According to the latest figures, some 4,143 MW of solar PV were installed in the U.S. during Q3’16, marking a 99% increase over Q2’16 and a 191% rise over Q3’15. One megawatt of photovoltaic power came online every 34 minutes in Q3’2016, which is enough to power 164 American homes on average.

There’s great optimism for the current quarter as well. Despite no official figures have been released, the report’s authors claim Q4’16 is expected to greatly surpass Q3’2016. Over a million solar systems are operational in the country as of May 2016.

“Coming off our largest quarter ever and with an extremely impressive pipeline ahead, it’s safe to say the state of the solar industry here in America is strong,” said Tom Kimbis, SEIA’s interim president, in a statement to the press. “The solar market now enjoys an economically winning hand that pays off both financially and environmentally, and American taxpayers have noticed. With a 90 percent favorability rating and 209,000-plus jobs, the U.S. solar industry has proven that when you combine smart policies with smart 21st-century technology, consumers and businesses both benefit.”

SEIA-solar energy quarter 3 2016

The unprecedented growth of the U.S. solar industry was primarily sustained by utility-scale installation, which represented 77% of all the solar power installed in the third quarter. Just so you can get a sense of what’s to come in Q4, 4.8 GW worth of utility-scale projects will come online by the end of this year. That’s more than all the utility PV installed in 2015.

[panel style=”panel-success” title=”Q2 2016 Solar Market Update: Key Takeaways” footer=”GTM Research / SEIA”]

  • Over 4 GW installed in 1H 2016
    • 45% growth in Photovoltaic (PV) market over 1H 2015
    • Q2 2016 was largest non Q4 ever
  • Nearly 32 GW of total solar capacity now installed
    • CAGR of 58% since 2010
    • Generates enough electricity to power 6.2 million homes
  • Solar prices dropped 18% from Q2 2015 to Q2 2016
    • Price drop is seen across all market segments
    • Prices have dropped 63% since 2011
    • Utility-Scale PPAs now signed for $0.03 – $0.05/kWh
  • Through Q2 2016, Solar represents 26% of all newly installed electric capacity
    • With big 2H 2016 expected, could end year ahead of Wind, NG
  • In Q1 2016, hit 1 million solar installations
    • Will hit 2 million installs in just 2 years

[/panel]

Residential solar installations or rooftop solar actually experienced a slowdown in growth compared to previous quarters. Residential solar is down 10 percent compared to Q2’2016 and, overall, this sector experienced only 2% year-to-year growth. Nevertheless, more than half-a-gigawatt of residential PV was installed in Q3.

The massive deployment of utility-scale solar can be pinned to anxiety and uncertainty over the expiration of tax credits. Congress, however, extended these until 2019. Maybe 2017 might not be so good as 2016 but the next two years will see a lot of growth for solar.

The cost to install solar has dropped by more than 60% over the last 10 years.

The bad news is that post-2019 things look murky. It doesn’t seem probable that tax credits that incentives solar use will be extended by the new administration. On the other hand, solar energy might become so cheap by then that it doesn’t really matter what the government has to say. Market forces will sustain the momentum. In places in the U.S., solar energy is cheaper than fossil fuels even without subsidies.

solar panels

Why renewable energy is getting cheaper all the time

solar panels

Credit: Pixabay

The stars are aligning for Australia to transition to 100% renewable electricity. Our fossil fuel infrastructure is ageing, which means we will soon need to invest in new power generators. New technologies such as battery storage could revolutionise long-standing business models. With care, the transitions away from fossil fuels could offer greater job opportunities.

Our latest research, which corroborates previous work, shows the technology already exists to solve many of the remaining questions around technological capability. For instance, the fact that wind and solar don’t generate electricity when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining can be dealt with by installing a network of diverse generators across a wide area, or by increasing our use of energy storage.

One of the biggest remaining barriers to transition is cost. But this is also rapidly changing. Much work is going into reducing the cost of renewable energy, including the latest funding announcement from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) of A$92 million for 12 solar projects.

The cost of building renewable energy

The cost of renewable energy is highly variable across the world and even within Australia. The picture is not simple, but it does help to start by looking at the big picture.

Average capital costs of constructing new wind, solar PV and ocean/tidal generators are already lower than equivalent coal generation infrastructure.

Research suggests that, overall, the cost of moving to 100% renewable energy is not significantly higher than the cost of hitting a lower target.

The capital cost of investment in renewable energy generation technologies is also falling rapidly. In its 2014 report on global renewable power generation costs, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) showed that the total cost of installation and operation over a lifetime of small-scale residential PV systems in Australia has fallen from US$0.35 to US$0.17 per kilowatt-hour between 2010 and 2014.

In part this has been because of reduced installation costs, together with our exceptional abundance of sunshine.

As a result, Australian new residential solar installation has soared to the fifth highest in the world. Installed capacity accounts for 9% of national electricity generation capacity and 2.8% of electrical energy generation.

The historical reductions in installation costs for wind energy are similar globally and in Australia. Recent 2016 reverse auctions in the Australian Capital Territory have received Australia’s lowest known contract price for renewables with bids at A$77 per megawatt-hour.

Beyond building

But the capital cost of building generation infrastructure is not the whole story. Once the generator is built, operations and maintenance costs also become important. For most renewables (biomass excluded) the fuel costs are zero because nature itself provides the fuel for free.

Other costs that we must consider are variable and fixed costs. Fixed costs, such as annual preventative maintenance or insurance, don’t change with the amount of electricity produced. Variable costs, such as casual labour or generator repairs, may increase when more electricity is produced.

The variable costs for some renewables (biomass, hydropower and large-scale solar PV) are lower than coal. For other renewable technologies they are only slightly higher. Fixed costs for almost all renewable technologies are lower than for coal.

We also need to think about costs beyond individual generators. The vastness of our Australian continent is a bonus and a challenge for building 100% renewable energy.

It can be used strategically to give a 100% renewables supply reliability by using an interconnected network of generators. For instance, it may be very sunny or windy in one region. Excess electricity produced in this region can fill a gap in electricity demand in less sunny or windy places elsewhere.

But this also poses challenges. To take advantage of the reliability that a highly distributed renewable electricity system can provide, we must also consider the costs associated with expanding the transmission network.

For example, in our research we investigated one possible 100% renewables electricity scenario. This was conservatively based on current technology and demand (conservative because technology is likely to change, and electricity demand has been unexpectedly falling). The scenario required a transmission grid two-and-a-half times larger than our current grid, including new cross-continental linkages between Western Australia and the Northern Territory, which currently stand alone from the well-integrated eastern Australian networks.

The challenges of transitioning to a renewable electricity sector are no doubt great, but our ageing generator infrastructure means that an overhaul will soon be due. Even though the price of electricity from old coal power plants is currently cheaper than that from many new renewable plants (because the former are already paid off), cost reductions mean a strong business case now exists for renewable technologies investment.

In a recent article on The Conversation, John Hewson wrote that “renewable energy is one of our most ‘shovel ready’ business opportunities”.

Now is the time to pre-empt the looming deadline for infrastructure overhaul to ensure future economic resilience for Australia.

Author: Bonnie McBain, Tutor in Sustainability Science, University of Newcastle

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

cheapest solar plant

Chile just signed the cheapest unsubsidized power in the world at ¢2.91/kWh.

cheapest solar plant

Credit: evwind.es

Solarpack Corp. Tecnologica, a firm from Spain, won an auction for a 120 megawatts solar power plant at a cost of $29.10 per megawatt-hour. There are absolutely no subsidies which means this is the cheapest power plant in the world.

Previously, Dubai’s Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) accepted a 2.99$c/kWh bid for an 800-megawatt plant. At the time this was the lowest asking bid for energy ever but the auction in Chile just beat it by 0.08 cents per kilowatt-hour.

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Just so you get an idea of these figures, residential electricity in the United States sales for roughly 12 cents per kilowatt-hour, at the end consumer. As part of this current deal, families and business owners in Chile will see their electricity bill fall by 20 and 25 percent, respectively, from 2021.

Already, Chile is a global leader in solar energy and, by far, the most important solar energy producer in South America. Over 1,000 megawatts of solar panels have been installed so far, another 2,000 are in construction and projects totaling 11,000 megawatts have RCA (environmental) permits, meaning they’re good to go. In fact, Chile’s solar energy boomed so fast that it’s transmission lines haven’t kept up and consequently solar energy traded for zero for 113 days through April this year. To government plans to add 3,000 kilometers of new transmission lines to solve this issue by 2017.

“With this auction, we can confirm that we are on the right path” said Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet during a press conference. “This is good news for Chileans’ pockets, for the environment and also for the economy.”

The auction in Chile completed last Wednesday is the biggest electricity supply contract in the nation’s history. Of course, it certainly helped that the plant will be located in the Atacama desert, also known as the driest place on Earth but also the most solar abundant. As such, not everyone will be able to catch this sort of deal, but it’s a testimony of how far solar has come. Just imagine at the same auction, a participant bid a price twice as high for a coal plant, Think Progress reported.

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Solar energy: unstoppable because it’s progress

In 2015, 30 million Americans enjoyed solar power cheaper than the grid. Also in the US, solar power is cheaper than fossil fuels even without subsidies in many states while coal, gas or oil receive subsidies worth $452 billion each year across G20 states. This accelerated trend is pushed by both residential and businesses. The residential solar market grew 66 percent year-over-year and, for the first time in history, eclipsed the 2-gigawatt mark in 2015. In the same year, the US passed the 20 GW milestone after 1,393 megawatts of PV were installed in its last quarter.

“The unsubsidized electricity cost from industrial-scale solar PV in the most favorable locations is now well below $40 per megawatt-hour and could very easily be below $20 per megawatt-hour by 2020. Compared to other new sources of supply, this would be the cheapest electricity on the planet,” said Harvard’s David Keith, a researcher who works the interface between climate science, energy technology, and public policy.

solar energy panels

Solar energy now cheaper than fossil fuels even without subsidies

solar energy panels

Credit: Pixabay

Speaking to CNBC’s Bob Pisani, energy analyst Ramez Naam gave a brief overview of where the solar energy market stands today. Essentially, Naam reiterated what ZME Science has been reporting closely over the last few years: solar energy is getting cheaper by the minute to the point that it’s now cheaper than fossil fuels even without subsidies in those sunny places like Nevada in the United States or Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

The tech is moving fast to other places which traditionally aren’t shined by so much sun, simply because businesses and residents would be foolish not to adopt it.

Electricity enabled by fossil fuels trades at roughly 7-7.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, but just outside L.A. a new plant currently in the works is set to 3.6 cents per kilowatt-hour. Elsewhere, in Dubai, a bid worth a record-breaking US 2.99 cents per kilowatt hour was accepted. Solar energy is already cheaper than coal in the world’s second most populated country, India.

All of these prices were made subsidies not included, unlike coal, gas or oil which amount to $452 billion each year across G20 states.

Last December, Congress extended the federal investment tax credit which gives a tax credit of 30 percent of the value of solar projects. Under the new scheme, the 30 percent solar tax credit will extend through 2019 and then decline gradually to 10 percent in 2022. After 2022 the credit will be eliminated for residential solar installations and will continue at 10 percent for commercial ones.

Meanwhile, fossil fuels will still be subsidized even though the tech is centuries old. Apparently, solar and wind deserve subsidies only for a couple of years until they’ve matured, which if fair in this context, but not in the larger one where fossil fuels still retain enormous subsidies. This is essentially a form of disloyal competition.

Despite this setback, solar energy contractors are already working hard to push the solar energy kilowatt-hour price tag down to the point where it’s least just as cheap as fossil fuels post-2020 — tax credits or not.

That’s a nationwide plan, in the United States, because solar energy is already cheaper without subsidies than subsidized fossil fuels in many sunny places. So far, 30 million Americans enjoy clean solar energy that’s cheaper than their fossil run utility electricity.

“The unsubsidized electricity cost from industrial-scale solar PV in the most favorable locations is now well below $40 per megawatt-hour and could very easily be below $20 per megawatt-hour by 2020. Compared to other new sources of supply, this would be the cheapest electricity on the planet,” said Harvard’s David Keith, a researcher who works the interface between climate science, energy technology, and public policy.

Right now, solar energy accounts for only 1% of all the electricity generated in the United States. This is a big problem, but one that can be turned into an advantage.

It means there’s a lot of headroom, and despite competition is fierce once a market leader positions itself, the growth will be explosive. The solar market should grow by 119 percent in 2016 compared to the previous year, and at least just as much capacity (16 gigawatts of solar) should come online year in year out until 2020.

In the last five years, the price of solar energy has dropped five-fold. How much will solar energy cost five years from now? What about twenty? You can only postpone the inevitable.

“Think about the cost of energy—it fluctuates. But the cost of technology, like the cellphone in your pocket? Those costs only go down. So now we have a technology that produces energy. It just gets cheaper and cheaper and will disrupt everything in its path,” Naam told CNBC.

solar panels

The one-millionth solar system was installed in the United States

In April, the United States hit an important milestone in the quest for full renewable energy transition after the one-millionth solar system was installed.

solar panels

For a bright future. Image: Pixabay

One million solar system might sound like a lot, but they’re barely making a dent in the country’s energy generation mix. Right now, solar energy accounts for  27 gigawatts (GW) of electric generation capacity across all 50 states and one percent of total U.S. power supply.

It’s still fantastic news, though, once you factor in the rate of progress over the last couple of years and the projected growth. It took 40 years to install one million solar capacities, but the next one million will be added in only two years, and by 2020 the country expects to generate three percent of its power supply from solar.

U.S. PV Installation Forecast, 2010-2021E. Credit: GTM Research/SEIA U.S. Solar Market Insight report

U.S. PV Installation Forecast, 2010-2021E. Credit: GTM Research/SEIA U.S. Solar Market Insight report

“This is a time to mark when the solar industry started to accelerate at warp speed,” said Dan Whitten, vice president of communications at the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

To celebrate the occasion, SEIA has launched an awareness campaign called #millionsolarstrong. You’re all invited to spread the word and join one of the events hosted by SEIA and partners near you.

“We want to open this conversation and let people know that we are now a part of the energy mainstream,” said Whitten. “We’re central to any discussion about America’s energy future.”

“The first 1 million solar installations came from a lot of state markets benefiting from steep cost reductions as well as incentive programs, like renewable portfolio standards and rooftop solar programs,” said Cory Honeyman, associate director of solar for GTM Research. “When we look at what defines the next 1 million installs, it will be a much more geographically diverse landscape and a growing number of states seeing solar come on-line purely based on how cost-competitive it is.”

solar-strong

Here are some more interesting facts about solar:

  • This year alone, the U.S. solar market is projected to grow 119 percent. That’s an additional 16 GW of new solar capacity, more than double of the record-breaking 7.3 GW added in 2015.
  • Utility installations will make up the bulk of this year’s solar growth, but smaller installations like rooftop solar are also making an important contribution.
  • Much of this growth is owed to favorable policies like the  Investment Tax Credit (ITC), which is still available for the next five years. Doubled with technological advancements and economies of scale which have increased solar efficiency and dropped prices, the solar boom is imminent.
  • The average cost of solar panels fell 75 percent between 2009–2014 alone, and solar photovoltaic (PV) modules will drop another 25 percent by 2018.
  • Solar jobs are growing 20 percent annually, and 209,000 Americans are now employed in the solar industry nationwide. In 2015 alone, 35,000 were added.

Update: headline corrected from “one-millionth solar panel” to “[…] solar system”. There are far more than a million solar panels in the United States.

solar energy storage

Energy storage hardware cost to drop 41% by 2020, further accelerating clean tech

A GreenTechMedia analysis forecasts that energy storage systems, like large density batteries, will become a lot cheaper in the coming years. According to the report, the cost of installing an energy storage system will drop by some 41% by 2020. Energy storage is tightly linked with renewable energy generation, driving a lower cost overall for clean energy.

solar energy storage

To be more precise,  the balance-of-system cost (hardware, labor and customer acquisition, etc.) suggests installing energy storage will drop to $400 a kilowatt by 2020, down from the current average of $670. According to Luis Ortiz writing for GreenTechMedia, storage systems have experienced diminishing costs because they’ve “piggybacked on solar’s progress.”

The biggest price cut will be seen in inverters — the most complicated piece of machinery in the storage system, besides the battery. A solar inverter, or PV inverter, or Solar converter, converts the variable direct current (DC) output of a photovoltaic (PV) solar panel into a utility frequency alternating current (AC) that can be fed into a commercial electrical grid or used by a local, off-grid electrical network.

Market research firm IHS also estimates that grid-connected PV energy storage paired with energy storage will reach 775MW of global installations during 2015.

“Newer technologies are just getting traction and finding their sweet spot. Some will leap forward we’ll see the most dramatic decreases in cost as they gain economies of scale,” said Trojan Battery senior sales director Dean Middleton.

 

70% of Mongolian nomads now have solar power

In many the vast steppes of Mongolia, some things have remained unchanged for centuries. But some things have changed, and big time: according to a new report, almost 3 out of 4 Mongolian nomads are now using solar power.

Image via Wiki Commons.

Even if your lifestyle is pretty much Medieval, you can still benefit from advanced technology – that’s the reasoning behind a new government initiative that encourages nomads to use solar power. Mongolia is a geographically large but sparsely populated country. Covering over 600,000 square miles, it only has a population of 3 million people. About 1.2 million of Mongolia’s citizens live in the urban capital of Ulaanbaatar, while the remaining population is widely dispersed throughout the country with a large number residing in rural areas. In total, about a quarter of the population consists of nomadic herders.

The per capita income in Mongolia at the start of the millennium was about US$470 per year, with income amongst herders even lower. Sure, it has somewhat grown by now, but it is still extremely low, so the government was faced with a challenging situation: how do you provide access to electricity in to low-income herders that move from one place to the other? This nomadic lifestyle is a legacy of thousands of years of culture, and won’t change in the near future. The Renewable Energy and Rural Electricity Access Project (REAP) helped the Government of Mongolia (GoM) successfully complete its ambitious program.

In 2000, the Government of Mongolia (GOM) began the National 100,000 Solar Ger Electrification Program, an ambitious initiative to improve the lives of about half a million herders by providing modern electricity services. The program provided photovoltaic solar home systems (SHS) that were portable in design making the systems adaptable to the nomadic lifestyle of herders and complementing their traditional way of life. I have to say, if you would have asked me a few years ago, I wouldn’t have believed in this project, but it worked, and it worked big time.

Portable (also eco-friendly) energy is a game changer for these community, for 3 reasons: refrigeration, mobile phones and radio/TV. Communication is extremely difficult when you are trying to talk to someone two valleys across, and that’s where mobile phones come in. Also, children are often sent to a far away or boarding school, and this allows parents to keep in touch. Refrigeration is useful for obvious reasons, and radio or TV is especially useful for short term weather prediction, and also provides a way for people to entertain themselves.

According to Bor, a herder in the Arkhangai province interviewed by Al Jazeera “most countryside children stay in dorms, because their parents are nomads and it is the only way they can get an education. We can call our children who are in the dorms and speak to them. I also have children working in Ulaanbaatar [Mongolia’s capital] and I can speak to them as well. The solar panels are a very useful thing in our lives.”

Copper Mountain 48 MW PV plant in Nevada. Image: PV Magazine

US solar power is growing fast and set for new record in 2015

On an explosive growth trajectory, the total operational solar photovoltaic capacity in the US just passed the 20 GW milestone after 1,393 megawatts of PV were installed last quarter.

Copper Mountain 48 MW PV plant in Nevada. Image: PV Magazine

Copper Mountain 48 MW PV plant in Nevada. Image: PV Magazine

 

The news was broken by the GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association’s Q2 2015 U.S. Solar Market Insight report. Among other important insights, the report highlights how the residential solar market, also known as rooftop solar, experienced the most growth. This past quarter, rooftop solar panels that delivered 473 megawatts were installed marking a 70% year-to-year increase since 2010. In fact, in 2010 only 850 MW worth of solar panels were installed, compared to 6,227 MW in 2014 or 2,722 MW only these past two quarters. According to the report, 2015 might be a new record in installed solar PV capacity.

State-Rankings-2014-InstalledPV

The non-residential market finished the quarter down 33 percent from the same period last year. However, improved market dynamics in several states could make for a recovery in the remaining two quarters. According to the report, 729 megawatts of utility-scale solar PV came on-line in the second quarter of the year, representing more than half (52 percent) of the nation’s quarterly total.

Solar-Industry-Prices-2014

 

“The demand for solar energy is now higher than ever, and this report spells out how crucial it is for America to maintain smart, effective, forward-looking public policies, like the ITC, beyond 2016,” said Rhone Resch, SEIA president and CEO. “At over 20 gigawatts of installed solar electric capacity, we now have enough solar in the U.S. to power 4.6 million homes, reducing harmful carbon emissions by more than 25 million metric tons a year. Since the ITC was passed in 2006, U.S. solar growth has exploded and more than 150,000 American solar jobs have been created. By any measurement, that’s a success for both our economy and environment.”

smi-q2-new

Source: GTM Research/SEIA U.S. Solar Market Insight

Some other key findings from the report:

  • The U.S. installed 1,393 megawatts of solar PV in Q2 2015, marking the seventh consecutive quarter in which the U.S. added more than 1 gigawatt of PV installations.
  • Q2 2015 was a milestone quarter for the U.S. solar PV market, with cumulative installations eclipsing the 20-gigawatt mark.
  • Throughout the first half of 2015, 40 percent of all new electric generating capacity brought on-line in the U.S. came from solar.
  • 21 states have now added more than 100 megawatts of solar PV, but the top five states still account for nearly three-fourths of cumulative U.S. PV installations.
  • 40 percent of the 16.6-gigawatt utility PV pipeline in development has been procured primarily due to solar’s economic competitiveness with fossil-fuel alternatives.
  • GTM forecasts that PV installations will reach 7.7 gigawatts in 2015, up 24 percent over 2014. Growth will occur in all segments, but will be strongest in the residential market.

 

 

World’s Largest Solar Thermal Energy Plant Opens in California

Two years ago, we were telling you about plans for developing the world’s largest solar thermal energy plant in California – a project in which Google invested $168 million. Now, the much anticipated Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System has finally kicked off! The 14 square km facility (3500 acres) which is backed not only by Google, but also by NRG Energy, Bechtel and Brightsource Energy will produce 392 megawatts — enough to power 140,000 homes while reducing carbon emissions by 400,000 tons per year.

ivanpah

The project’s total costs were $2.2 bln, with $1.375 billion being borrowed from the US Department of Energy. Ivanpah consists of of 300,000 sun-tracking mirrors (heliostats), which surround three, 140 meter towers. Here’s how it works: the mirrors move to make the most of the sunlight, and they reflect the rays onto the water contained by the towers, creating super hot steam which then drives turbines on the site to produce power.

This idea of courses raises some questions and controversies – why would you build a solar plant that uses water in the desert, instead of photovoltaics? I don’t really have all the data, and this does seem like a valid critic, but perhaps it is better this way. Also, environmentalists were concerned about the relocation of wildlife, most notably 100 endangered desert tortoises.

ivanpah2

Still, Ivanpah represents a noteworthy milestone both locally, for the inhabitants of California, and globally – it’s the world’s largest solar thermal energy plant after all.

Via Ivanpah Solar

Princeton nanomesh greatly increases the efficiency of organic solar cells

While we all have to recognize the huge potential that solar energy brings us, we also have to say that sadly, so far, we’re not very effective at harnessing this energy. The best modern silicon and indium-tin-oxide-based solar cells are approaching the theoretical limit of 33.7% efficiency.

A big breakthrough

The team led by Stephen Chou made two dramatic improvements: it reduced reflectivity and more effectively captured the energy which isn’t reflected. They created a much thinner and less reflective device by sandwiching plastic and metal with the nanomesh – obtaining something they call “Plasmonic Cavity with Subwavelength Hole array” or “PlaCSH”; it now reflects only 4% of direct sunlight, leading to a 52% higher efficiency than conventional, organic solar cells.

PlaCSH is also able to absorb a great deal of sunlight even when on a cloudy day, making it 81% more effective in indirect light conditions than conventional organic solar cell technology. All told, PlaCSH is up to 175% more efficient than conventional solar cells.

The team believe the device can become cost effective using a nanofabrication method that Chou himself invented over a decade ago. Most importantly, it replaces the costly ITO (indium titanium oxide) element from solar cells – which will make it affordable and much more flexible than the ITO of conventional solar cells.

Don’t go for the sensationalism

I’ve read this post on several other articles, and I was quite disappointed by the sensationalism floating around on the internet. Yes, this is a big breakthrough and holds great promise for the future, but…

The improvements are for organic solar cells, which are typically way less effective than traditional silicon solar cells. Organic solar cells use organic electronics, a branch of electronics that deals with conductive organic polymers or small organic molecules, for light absorption and charge transport to produce electricity.

The main argument for organic solar cells is that they are much, much more cheaper than the top silicon cells available today. However, they are also much less effective. The mesh they obtained in the study had an efficiency of 4.4%, which is among the best number for that materials system even though their device is much thinner.

You can find the full paper here.

The solar steam device developed at Rice University has an overall energy efficiency of 24 percent, far surpassing that of photovoltaic solar panels. It may first be used in sanitation and water-purification applications in the developing world. (c) Jeff Fitlow

Nanoparticle-tech converts solar energy into steam with extreme efficiency

The solar steam device developed at Rice University has an overall energy efficiency of 24 percent, far surpassing that of photovoltaic solar panels. It may first be used in sanitation and water-purification applications in the developing world. (c) Jeff Fitlow

The solar steam device developed at Rice University has an overall energy efficiency of 24 percent, far surpassing that of photovoltaic solar panels. It may first be used in sanitation and water-purification applications in the developing world. (c) Jeff Fitlow

While current solar energy conversion technology is preoccupied with generating electricity with as much efficiency as possible, researchers at Rice University have invented a new technological set-up consisting of nanoparticles smaller than the the wavelength of light that can transform solar energy into steam almost instantly. Their findings show a registered efficiency of 24%, while current solar panel standards range at only 15%.

Since the heydays of the industrial revolution steam has been at the center of energy generation. Even today, 90% of the world’s electricity relies on steam power. Most of this steam is either generated by nuclear power plants or humongous industrial boilers, the Rice invention however is a lot more delicate in nature and has been developed for low-cost sanitation, water purification and human waste treatment for the developing world.

“This is about a lot more than electricity,” said LANP Director Naomi Halas, the lead scientist on the project. “With this technology, we are beginning to think about solar thermal power in a completely different way.”

The technology works by employing light absorbing nanoparticles submerged into water that convert solar energy into heat. Moreover  even when submerged into water stacked with ice, Neumann showed she could create steam from nearly frozen water, albeit a lens to concentrate sunlight was used. You can watch the experiment and more details about the project in the video below.

“We’re going from heating water on the macro scale to heating it at the nanoscale,” Halas said. “Our particles are very small — even smaller than a wavelength of light — which means they have an extremely small surface area to dissipate heat. This intense heating allows us to generate steam locally, right at the surface of the particle, and the idea of generating steam locally is really counterintuitive.”



Generating steam directly from solar energy

This is made possible since the nanoparticles after absorbing light instantly reach temperatures well above the boiling point of water, generating steam in the process at temperatures of 150°C (300°F) on the their surface. This is were the catch lies, as well, since the steam can only be generated over a very small surface, locally.

The technology converts about 80 percent of the energy coming from the sun into steam, which means it could generate electricity with an overall efficiency of 24 percent. The Rice researchers believe people in the developing world would be the first to benefit from this kind of technology, as there countless communities around the globe where access to grid electricity is non-existant. The scientists have already demonstrated that their technology can be used for sterilizing medical and dental instruments at clinics that lack electricity.

“Solar steam is remarkable because of its efficiency,” said Neumann, the lead co-author on the paper. “It does not require acres of mirrors or solar panels. In fact, the footprint can be very small. For example, the light window in our demonstration autoclave was just a few square centimeters.”

The findings were detailed in the journal ACS Nano.

source: Rice University