Tag Archives: solar power

Maasai women bring (solar powered) light to fend off predators lurking in the night

The Maasai are a semi-nomadic pastoral tribe spread across Kenya and Tanzania. They continue to live by their age-old customs despite the Tanzanian and Kenyan governments’ attempts to promote a more modern lifestyle in the community. Vulnerable to wildlife that steal their livestock and powerless after the sun goes down, many Maasai often have to walk many kilometers just to charge their phones.

Image via: adventuretravelnews.com

But a new project started by Green Energy Africa in September 2014 has brought solar energy to 2,000 homes in Naiputa county alone, and put new power into the hands of women who sell affordable solar installations.

The 7-month Women Entrepreneurship in Renewable Energy Project (WEREP) aims to “promote inclusive participation of women and youth in development through solar energy” while bringing much needed energy to people living in Kenya’s Kajiado and Makueni counties.

Image via: inhabitat.com/

The group reports that shockingly few members have access to electricity: 23 percent of Kenyans have access to the national electricity grid, while only 5 percent of rural communities are connected.

To make up for this energy shortfall, people like Jackline Naiputa, who was featured in a Reuters story about the program, have to rely on expensive kerosene or cut down trees for fuel. She currently heads the Osopuko-Edonyinap group, one of the five women’s groups who purchase solar panels from Green Energy Africa at a discount cost. They carry the installations on pack mules to villages where they sell them for a US$ 3 profit. The proceeds are used to purchase more installations, light bulbs, cables and batteries.

Image via: inhabitat.com/

For us, the impact of solar technology is unparalleled,” Naiputa told Reuters.

She also related how the new solar lights are used to protect her family and herds against predators, who claimed 10 precious goats in 2014. The villagers that had to sleep out with the livestock in the kraal to protect them, such as her son used to do, can now sleep safely inside knowing that the lanterns keep the wildlife at bay.

“Our community customs do not allow women to own any property,” said energy expert Lamarck Oyath, who is the managing director of Lartech Africa Limited.“But now women here own the solar technology, and it is something we are very happy about.”



World’s first solar road works better than expected

Only six months ago, a 230-foot strip of road was covered in solar panels in the Netherlands. Since then, some  3,000 kilowatt-hours of energy were produced or enough to power one Dutch home for a whole year. These news came as a surprise even to the developers of  SolaRoad, as the project has been dubbed.


People unsuspectingly cycling over the SolaRoad.

“We did not expect a yield as high as this so quickly,” said Sten de Wit, spokesman for the public-private partnership project, in a statement that deemed the first half-year of a three-year pilot a success.

“If we translate this to an annual yield, we expect more than the 70kwh per square meter per year,” de Wit said.

The solar panels were installed underneath a bicycle road that linked the two suburbs of  Krommenie and Wormerveer, in Amsterdam.  The SolaRoad is made of concrete paving slabs embedded with ordinary solar panels. The solar panels are protected by a centimetre-thick layer of transparent, skid-resistant tempered safety glass that can support bicycles and vehicles. As such, these aren’t exactly your typical rooftop solar panel, with all the pros and cons that come with them.

The test run aims to see whether SolaRoad is just as resistant as asphalt and doesn’t annoy pedestrians and cyclists with any reflections. The experiment will continue for another two and a half years to see how well the panels fair and how much electricity can be generated during this time frame, considering all the busy bike traffic (it’s Amsterdam, remember!). The ultimate goal is to fit these solar panels inside the roads for automobiles, which should be more challenging considering the traffic. In fact, this is a major concern. Will the glass handle the pressure exerted by tens of thousands of cars racing past it? Safety’s first, and SolaRoad officials are testing these sort of scenarios.

So far, more than 150,000 cyclists have zipped over the solar-generating part of the bike path. SolaRoad says they “hardly notice it is a special path.” With this in mind, it’s time to add another tidbit to the growing list of solar energy facts.

Personally, I find it all a bit overkill. The three-year project costs  3.5-million Euros, and while I understand the price tag covers research and developments costs as well, it’s still a stinger! Also, once spring came the temperature fluctuations caused the surface of the protective glass to peel off. This might be fixed so as to not happen in the future – not after every winter at least. But imagine having hundreds of kilometers of these panels under the road, only to close them for maintenance every year. That’s annoying, not to mention costly. Maybe we should first cover every available inch on our rooftops first.

Solar Power Today and Tomorrow

Solar power is one of the most efficient yet clean sources of energy we have access to. There are no increased fuel costs or dependencies, no ties to pollutants, and it’s both reliable and affordable. Of course, in order to harness solar power you need access to specific technology. This tech relies on either small-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, large-scale solar photovoltaic systems, or concentrating solar power (CSP) systems to capture solar energy.

Once harnessed, the system can use this solar energy to power anything you could imagine such as appliances, vehicles, consumer electronics, lighting, heat and A/C systems, and much more. When used in combination with a modern power connection (hardwired), it can even help cut your bill in half—if not down to a third of the cost.

Most people believe that solar power and the related technology to harness it is prohibitively expensive, so it remains out of their reach. However, such beliefs couldn’t be any further from the truth, as each year, all around the world, it becomes more and more affordable to make the switch.

How Affordable is Solar Energy?

One of the most common systems used to harness solar energy is a small-scale rooftop-based solar photovoltaic system. Solar capturing panels are placed on top of the roof of a residence, building, or business, and then feeds collected energy to a conversion system. Even just a small system used to be ridiculously expensive, but prices have declined considerably over the past few years. From 2010 to 2013, prices for rooftop-based PV systems have dropped more than 29%, and this includes installation costs.

When you combine falling installation costs with the promise of tax credits and money saved on energy bills, you have no shortage of reasons to get involved. Most states offer tax credits, rebates, grants, and more that could decrease the total cost of a rooftop-based PV system to below $10,000. In addition, customers are able to finance these costs through leasing agreements and power purchase contracts, the latter of which requires them to continue using the system for an extended period of time at fixed rates.

While this is all great news for consumers who are looking to power their homes, it doesn’t offer much for business owners who generally have larger structures with higher demands. The good news is that large-scale PV systems have also dropped in price, more so than household ones. In fact, large-scale systems are an average of 60 percent lower in price than residential solar systems if you take a look at the per-wattage costs.

Concentrated solar power systems (a method that uses mirrors to direct thermal energy) are much more expensive and have not seen the same reduction in prices, but they have one particular advantage over the other two types. CV systems can be used to store the sun’s energy as they collect heat, which means they are still capable of producing electricity when there’s no sunlight.

Where Can Solar Energy Be Used, and Where is it Most Efficient?

Considering solar energy relies on a good supply of sunlight and UV rays, it’s not exactly efficient everywhere. In the United States, southwestern regions are the most reliable as the sun often shines the strongest there. Even so, in areas where sunlight is not as prominent, the amount available for energy generation only varies by less than 30 percent across the entire country. In laymen’s terms, it can be used pretty much anywhere with a small reduction in total energy generation in areas with less sunlight.

For example: a solar panel array installed in Portland, Maine would generate only about 85% of the energy that a similar system would produce out in California, 95% of the total energy it would generate in Miami, and 6% more than it would in Houston, Texas.

The typical efficiency rating for a single solar panel is about 11-15%, depending on where it’s installed. To break it down, this rating measures the percentage of sunlight that hits the panel, which can be turned into usable energy. While that may seem low at the onset, consider that a system generally uses a multitude of panels working in tandem. In this respect, a rooftop-based panel system can generate enough energy to power an entire home from top to bottom throughout the day. Since most consumer based solar systems are photovoltaic, they do not store or produce energy at night when the sunlight is gone.

As for how the system works in tandem with traditional power, it’s set up like this: If your solar energy system produces more power during the day than you consume, the excess energy is sold back to the grid as “store credit.” On days or nights where you use more energy, this store credit is purchased back from the grid. If you produce much more on average and you have lots of extra energy at the end of the month, it carries over to the next, just like roll-over minutes for a cell phone.

How Fast is Solar Energy Use Expanding?

Thanks to the ever-lower barriers to entry, increased reliability in newer solar energy systems, and the rising costs of traditional power consumption, the industry is growing exponentially. Back in 2009, Al Gore had the right of it when he said that solving climate change with renewable energy constitutes the “single biggest business opportunity in history.”

From 2010 to 2013, the amount of solar photovoltaic systems installed in the US jumped more than 485%. By 2014, the United States had more than 480,000 total solar systems installed, which produced up to 13,400 megawatts (MW). To put that into perspective, it’s enough to power nearly 2.4 million US households.

It’s not just consumers looking into solar power, either. Many businesses and companies have installed solar energy systems to improve their efficiency and lower their total operating costs. The installed capacity of photovoltaic systems in the US commercial sector grew from about 2,000 megawatts in 2010 to well over 6,000 megawatts in 2013.

The commercial world is beginning to see the light. So to speak.

What Must Be Done to Continue This Growth?

All that aside, even with recent growth there’s no guarantee that solar energy will continue this upward trend in usage. There are a handful of things that must be done in order to ensure the industry continues to see this same level of innovation and growth.

States that offer solar support should do their best to maintain and better regulate the use of renewable energy. That is, they must ensure that solar powered systems continue to offer the same cost benefits, if not more so. Perhaps more legislation should be put into place to encourage and support the use of these systems in modern homes and businesses. To add to this, more states should consider jumping on the solar support bandwagon.

At the end of 2016, the current tax credit offered to solar energy system owners will decline from 30 percent to 10, resulting in less federal investment in the solar sector. This is one of the most important reasons why consumers and commercial owners decided to have a system installed. Hopefully, this will be remedied by the necessary parties increasing that tax break once again. If there’s anything we know about human behavior, it’s that much of it is influenced by our wallets.

The rise of energy storage technologies will help ensure that solar energy can become even more reliable, and capable of providing electricity when there’s no sunlight, or during periods of increased demand for power. But beyond that, innovation and R&D in every field of renewable energy (geothermal, anyone?), will help reduce total costs of these systems by introducing new technologies into the marketplace. From where we stand, it’s difficult to imagine where our ability to harness the natural world safely will take us in the future. There are so many endless possibilities that nearly anything could come of innovation in the market.

Dare we speak of the Dyson sphere? This long-prophesied, but still largely hypothetical power system would encase an entire star and harness most, if not all, of the power it gives off.

Who knows where we’ll be by the time something like that is produced. But until then, we’ll have to be content with baby steps.

A typical Australian home powered by rooftop solar panels. Image: AdelaideNow

One in five Australian homes use solar energy

Amazingly, 19 percent of all Australian households have solar panels or solar water heaters installed, according to  the Australian Bureau of Statistic (ABS). The statistic is even more astonishing when you consider only three years ago five percent of the households had rooftop solar panels.

A land of sunshine

A typical Australian home powered by rooftop solar panels. Image: AdelaideNow

A typical Australian home powered by rooftop solar panels. Image: AdelaideNow

Of the 19 per cent, 14 per cent of these households have rooftop PV, according to the ABS’s Karen Connaughton.

“Add in solar hot water heating and we’re up to 19 per cent, so one in five households are now using some form of solar power.”

Broken down by region, South Australia scored highest for rooftop solar installations with an amazing 24 percent of homes using solar, while Queensland comes close with 20 percent. To put things into perspective, in the United States only 0.4 percent of homes use solar to meet their heating or electricity needs. Even so, most Australians haven’t cut off from the grid.

Solar power penetration broken down by region. Image: Australian Bureau of Statistics

Solar power penetration broken down by region. Image: Australian Bureau of Statistics

It’s true, however, that Australia boasts one of the most promising solar markets in the world, thanks to a combination of sunlight, dry climate and stiff grid electricity prices that reached an overage of 30 cents per kilowatt hour. With this in mind, it certainly makes sense for Australian homeowners to switch to solar, and while it may cost a lot of money to start you may be surprised to find that  lower income families and regional communities are the nation’s most likely to put solar systems on their roofs. A study made by the REC Agents Association (RAA) found 40 per cent of solar installs are in rural and regional communities, despite these communities making up only 32 per cent of Australia’s housing stock. More importantly, the report found an  inverse relationship between average incomes and solar penetration levels; that is, as income levels increased, solar uptake declined.

Image: RAA

Table: RAA

But even if Australia is ripe for solar power, that doesn’t lend any excuses for the rest of the world. Germany, a country with average or sub-average at times incoming solar flux, generate copious amounts of solar energy thanks to massive deployment among homeowners themselves. On a given day, this year, Germany met 50.6% of its energy demand  by solar energy alone.

Solar Impulse solar powered plane

Exclusively solar-powered plane will circumnavigate globe in a non-stop flight, even at night

Solar Impulse solar powered plane

Solar Impulse, the now famous 100 percent solar-powered aircraft, made the headlines after it proved it could fly for 26 hours straight, be it day or night. Now the projects’ initiators want to take the plane and solar power to new dazzling heights – they want to circumnavigate the globe in 20 days and 20 night flight all powered by solar energy.

Solar Impulse ins’t the first solar powered plane, however where it shines is that it can fly both during the day and night thanks to its system that powers both the plane’s engine rotors and charges its battery at the same time. The fragile aircraft, which weighs less than a SUV, spans  63-meter-wide wings crafted from carbon fiber and covered with 10,748 solar panel; another 880 cover the horizontal stabilizer, bringing the total number of solar panels to around 12,000. These solar panels generate enough energy to power four 8HP rotors, coincidentally the same amount of horse power the Wright Brothers were working with at Kitty Hawk.

The low horse power shows, as Solar Impulse can’t travel at more than 30 miles per hour, meaning that it needs 20 days and 20 nights to circle the globe. The pilot flying Solar Impulse will be Bertrand Piccard, the same pilot that flew the plane during its record 26 hour non-stop flight and the  first to circumnavigate the globe nonstop in a balloon.

“The sunset is gorgeous, but the sunrise of course brings the next day,” Piccard told 60 Minutes. “It brings the hope again that you can continue.”

Piccard and the sponsors backing his project hope the first attempt can be made as early as 2015, as preparations and much needed modifications need to be made. Remember, his non-stop all solar powered flight with Solar Impulse was made exclusively circling Switzerland, his home country. The fragile plane would have to face storms and thousands of miles worth of traveling over the ocean at an altitude of 12,000 feet. This is not a mission without peril, but the glory is maybe as exciting as Amelia Earhart’s trip.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory: Solar Has The Most Potential Of Any Renewable Energy Source

A recent study of gargantuan proportions estimated that the technical potential of photovoltaic cells and concentrated solar power (CSP) in the United States, at today’s level of research and with today’s possibilities, is enough to generate about 400,000 TWh of energy annually, significantly more than any other renewable energy source.

The study

The National Energy Laboratory (NREL) routinely estimates the technical potential of specific renewable energy technologies in different areas, but this time, they applied a GIS (Geographical Information System) method to estimate how much the typical renewable energy sources can provide per year, based on renewable resource availability and quality, technical system performance, topographic limitations, environmental, and land-use constraints.

The results obtained in the study include state-level maps for different types of energy, describing the resulted estimates. However, the study analyzes the technical potential, and not the economic or market potential, ignoring the availability of transmission infrastructure, costs, reliability or time-of-dispatch, current or future electricity loads, or other relevant policies.

The analysis and results

Here are the results, sorted by the technology type.

Solar power technologies

Total estimated technical potential for urban utility-scale photovoltaics in the United States.

Typically, utility-scale photovoltaics (PV) are split into urban-area and rural-area. All areas with slopes greater than 3% were eliminated for this technology. Also, additional extensions and filters were applied to eliminate areas which were deemed unlikely for development. The levels of solar radiation were obtained from the National Solar Radiation Database Typical Meteorological Year 3 (TMY3) data set (Wilcox, 2007; Wilcox and Marion, 2008).

Total estimated technical potential for rural utility-scale photovoltaics in the United States


Wind power

Total estimated technical potential for onshore wind power in the United States

Wind power technologies are split into onshore and offshore; onshore windpower is defined as the wind resource at 80 meters (m) height above surface that results in an annual average gross capacity factor of 30% (net capacity factor of 25.5%), while a suitable offshore resource should have an annual average wind speed greater than or equal to 6.4 meters per second (m/s) at 90 m height above surface. The offshore resource data extend 50 nautical miles from shore, and in some cases have to be extrapolated to fill the extent.

Geothermal energy technologies

For identified and undiscovered hydrothermal energy sources, the estimates from Williams et al. were used, estimating the electric power generation potential of conventional geothermal resources (hydrothermal), both identified and unidentified in the western United States.

Discussion and final results

These are the final results of the estimated technical generation and capacity potential in the United States.

It’s plain for anyone to see that solar energy in the form of photovoltaics and concentrating solar power offers the most potential for the United States, especially in the rural areas. Offshore and onshore wind power, while an extremely valuable resource which is blooming at the moment, will become limited sometime in the future. Geothermal systems are also extremely valuable, while hydropower and biopower are significantly limited.

However, solar energy is quite problematic at the moment, due to reduced efficiency, the scarcity of needed materials and other technical problems. However, as time will pass, at least in the US, it seems clear that this is the resource we want to tap the most.

Breakthrough could revolutionize solar power

Researchers at the University of Michigan have made a discovery that promises to revolutionize solar technology forever. Stephen Rand, a professor in the departments of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Physics and Applied Physics and William Fisher, a doctoral student at applied physics, discovered that light, when it is traveling at a certain intensity through a material that doesn’t conduct electricity, such as glass, can create magnetic fields more than 100.000.000 times stronger than previously thought possible.

Using this new found property, researchers can develop an “optical battery, which could lead to “a new kind of solar cell without semiconductors and without absorption to produce charge separation”, according to Rand.

Rand published his study in the Journal of Applied Physics. Instead of using the classic semiconductor processing, this new technique would rely on “lenses to focus the light and a fiber to guide it,” according to Fisher. “Glass works for both. It’s already made in bulk, and it doesn’t require as much processing. Transparent ceramics might be even better.”

With the efficiency going up significantly and the prices going down, this could finally be the much needed breakthrough the solar power industry has been waiting for so long.

South Africa electric plan for 2020: nuclear, wind and solar for 70% total power

South Africa's only nuclear power station in Koeberg, close to the Atlantic Ocean. (c) Bjorn Rudner

You might think that this isn’t quite the best time in the world to announce a nation wide nuclear plan, with the Japan double tsunami/earthquake incident which lead to the consequent Fukushima nuclear crisis and all, but South African officials don’t seem to let nature intimate them. As such, South Africa’s cabinet ratified a controversial 20-year Integrated Resource Plan that calls for nuclear power to fuel nearly a quarter of the country’s new electricity production in the future.

“We were quite bold to do that,” Dr. Rob Adam, chief executive of the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa, said of the government’s decision to proceed. “The European countries panicked. I don’t think public opinion has changed.”

Besides, this bold act, what’s maybe even most remarkable in South Africa’s energy plan, dubbed IRP-2, is their intention to raise renewable energy sources like the sun and the wind output to account for 42 percent of new electricity generation. This attempt would practically turn South Africa almost 180 degrees around from its current energy situation, as the nation’s electricity grid is based 84% on coal. To meet the new mandate, half a dozen new plants will probably be built along South Africa’s coastline, the industry say.

Back to South Africa’s nuclear plan, critics are slamming the government for its decision of expanding nuclear power. Of course, the Japanese example is being thrown in at every pace protesters make, as local eco-activists strive to convince the government that non-nuclear waste producing alternatives should be looked for. Curiously enough, South Africa can be considered a fairly natural disaster free area, with little to no earthquakes. Currently, South Africa has only one nuclear power plant, located in Koeberg and functional since it’s inauguration in 1984.

Critics of nuclear power note that fault lines a few miles from the Koeberg nuclear plant gave rise to an earthquake 200 years ago that is estimated to have had roughly the same magnitude as the recent quake in Christchurch, New Zealand: 6.3. Luckily for South Africans, in any event, the Koeberg nuclear plant was built to withstand earthquakes of magnitude 7, at least according to Hilary Joffe, a spokeswoman for Eskom, the national electric company.

Environmentalists express skepticism. “Show me one that’s withstood a 7.0,” said Muna Lakhani, branch coordinator of Earthlife Africa’s Cape Town office. “I don’t think you can engineer for mother nature.”

>>RELATED: Nuclear Energy – 4.000 times safer than coal plants

Reports state that South Africa needs to double its current electrical grid capacity, at pace current consumer demand is increasing. This is due most probably because of  the countries large number of unelectrified homes which just now or soon will finally get plugged to the network. Its estimated at least 20% of the South Africa’s population doesn’t have electricity. Yeah, the real ecoactivists…

Whether or not critics will still be over it after the Japan situation slowly fades down it remains to be seen, but a nuclear power plant takes a bit to build, the first new power plant being slated for around 2020.




‘Artificial leafs’ turn water and sunlight into electricity

The sun is the biggest source of energy on our planet, and it’s all natural. It’s enough to realize that in one hour the sun produces enough energy to power all the electrical needs of the word for an entire YEAR! Naturally, research has been underway for many years now for means of practically and efficiently exploiting this remarkable natural resource, however progress is slow and so far solar energy accounts for a negligible percentage (around 0.05%) of the total electricity generating resources.

Conventional photovoltaic solar panels are getting more popular and used, but rejoicing as it is, they’re highly inefficient and hard to deploy at a necessary mass scale. A very interesting alternative is the so called “artificial leaf” technology, which has been in the works for a decade now, but only recently it has come to a practical, efficient and cheap form out of MIT labs.

What artificial leafs do is harness the power of nature just like nature does it, in this case by artificial photosynthesis. Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Daniel Nocera presented the results of his work and that of colleagues on the artificial leaf at this year’s National Meeting of the American Chemical Society. There, he showed how we can draw cheap and clean energy from water and the sun, by splitting water to get hydrogen fuel and oxygen.

Placed in a single gallon of water in bright sunlight, the device could produce enough electricity to supply a house in a developing country with electricity for a day, Nocera said.

“The artificial leaf shows particular promise as an inexpensive source of electricity for homes of the poor in developing countries. Our goal is to make each home its own power station,” Nocera said in a statement.

The breakthrough was made when the manufacturing of the indispensable catalysts was made possible using cheap materials like nickel and cobalt, instead of platinum.

“A practical artificial leaf has been one of the Holy Grails of science for decades,” said Daniel Nocera, Ph.D., who led the research team, in a press release. “We believe we have done it. The artificial leaf shows particular promise as an inexpensive source of electricity for homes of the poor in developing countries. Our goal is to make each home its own power station. One can envision villages in India and Africa not long from now purchasing an affordable basic power system based on this technology.”

A prototype of the artificial leaf device was reported to have run for more than 45 hours continously without any degradation in performance whatsoever. Also, it’s artificial photosynthesis is 10 times more efficient than that of a plant, and researchers hope to improve it to a much greater extent.

This is the researchers’ second-generation product, an improvement on their earlier release called “electrolyzer that splits water into hydrogen and oxygen” under the Sun Catalytix company, a start-up founded by Nocera which received a $4,000,000 grant from the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). Reports say that Sun Catalytix has signed a deal with the Indian company Tata group that could try to bring the technology to market consumers all over the world.

To get a better idea on how the artificial leaf works, press play on the youtube video below where the concept and how it works is explained in detail.