Researchers develop cool way to improve solar cell efficiency

By Kelly Hodgkins for Digital Trends:   A team of engineers from Stanford University have invented a cool way to improve the performance of solar panel arrays. A new material that the team produced literally will lower the temperature of solar cells even while they are operating in full-strength sunlight. As the solar cells cool, their efficiency will rise, leading to significant gains in the amount of energy harvested from the sun.

Solar panel technology has improved by leaps and bounds, but the technology has a flaw that limits the efficiency of the system. The panels must face the sun to operate, but the heat from this exposure diminishes their ability to convert light into energy. The hotter they get, the less efficient they become. This issue has perplexed the industry for years, but the Stanford team may have discovered a material that can help dissipate this excess heat without affecting the operation of the solar array.

The solution, proposed by Stanford electrical engineering professor Shanhui Fan, research associate Aaswath P. Raman, and doctoral candidate Linxiao Zhu, uses a material that is able to capture and emit thermal radiation (heat) away from the solar call. While deterring heat buildup, the thin, patterned silica material does not block sunlight, allowing the photons to enter the solar panel where they are converted to energy. It’s a win-win situation, allowing the free flow of sunlight and the removal of excess heat from the system.  Cont'd...

El Niño Buffers U.S. Wind Power Dreams

Tim Maverick for Wall Street Daily:  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) made it official last week. The current El Niño is classified as a strong event.

An El Niño falls into the “strong” category if weekly sea surface temperatures depart from the average by more than two degrees Celsius.

In fact, this El Niño has nudged ahead of the 1997 El Niño as the strongest in the modern era!

Meteorologists believe this occurrence is actually the most potent since 1948. And it’s expected to persist through winter and into spring.

Every El Niño’s effects are different. At the moment, this one is having a surprisingly negative effect on the wind power industryin the United States.

You see, this occurrence of El Niño has produced the weakest winds across the United States in 40 years. Forecasters say this situation will continue and may even worsen through the spring of 2016.  Cont'd...

SPI 2015: Tax credit sunset preoccupies a fast-maturing industry

By Herman K. Trabish  for UtilityDIVE:  Solar photovoltaic (PV) installed capacity is expected to reach 7.7 GW in 2015, up 24% from 2014, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and GTM Research.

From July 2015 to December 2016, the report forecasts the U.S. solar PV marketwill add 18 GW, which is more than the cumulative capacity built by the industry up to the middle of 2014.

But there are some headwinds for the sector. In a sign it has reached a level of maturity achieved recently by the wind industry, solar advocates now face an uphill political battle for the industry's most vital federal incentive

The mandated term of solar's vital 30% federal investment tax credit (ITC), in place continuously since 2008, will end on December 31, 2016. Beyond that deadline, the tax credit provided at the end of a project’s first year of operation will fall to 10% for commercial investments in solar and to zero for residential solar investments.

SEIA is mounting a multi-million dollar lobbying campaign to secure a five-year extension that will get the industry to 2020, when it hopes the Clean Power Plan can take over to help boost growth.  Cont'd...

California's First Commercial Solar Desalination Plant Offering Shares Through DPO

Derek Markham for CleanTechnica:  The company behind what will be California’s first commercial-scale solar desalination plant is issuing $10 million in preferred stock in the venture, through a state-registered direct public offering (DPO) in California.

WaterFX Hydro I, Inc., doing business as HydroRevolution℠, a California subsidiary of WaterFX™, is offering the shares to finance the construction of a fully solar-powered desalination plant in the Central Valley, which is expected to be able to produce up to 1.6 billion gallons (5000 acre-feet) of water per year, with virtually zero liquid discharge. The HydroRevolution℠ process is said to allow for a 90% recovery rate, with the remaining brine being treated further to isolate the salt and mineral byproducts for industrial applications.

Instead of desalinating seawater, as many desalination operations do, this plant will pull water from shallow irrigation water (also called subsurface drainage water) which is produced as a consequence of agriculture, and which has a high salinity content that can be detrimental to freshwater ecosystems. This new plant is a scaled up and expanded version of the company’s demonstration desalination plant.  Cont'd...

Full Press Release:

Tesla And Panasonic Fight "Battery War" In Europe

By Vlad Tverdohleb for CruxialCIO:  Panasonic Corp is the producer of lithium-ion batteries for Tesla Motors Inc’s cars. However, Panasonic is now preparing to begin selling batteries that power homes in Europe. Its first market is Germany, where homeowners are even given greater incentives to switch to clean electricity generated by solar-power devices.

Thus, Panasonic’s push into international markets with home batteries is putting the Japanese company into direct competition with Tesla, its flagship customer. In May, the American company unveiled a suite of batteries to store electricity for businesses and homes.

Panasonic plans to move later to France, the U.K. and other European markets. Laurent Abadie, Panasonic Europe chief executive officer, declared on Wednesday, Sept. 2, in an interview at the IFA International Consumer Electronics Show in Berlin, that the company has not decided yet when it would start sales in Europe.  Cont'd...

Solar windows can power buildings

By Lucas Mearian for Computerworld:  Manhattan has approximately 47,000 buildings with around 10.7 million windows, according to a 2013estimate from The New York Times.

Now imagine if just 1% -- or 100,700 -- of those windows could generate electricity through transparent photovoltaics.

That's the idea behind solar power windows, and at least two companies are hoping to sell the technology to window manufacturers, saying once installed in a building the technology will pay for itself in about a year.

"If you look at the glass that's manufactured worldwide today, 2% of it is used for solar panels; 80% of it is used in buildings. That's the opportunity," said Suvi Sharma, CEO of solar panel maker Solaria.  Cont'd...

How floating turbines could harness the awesome power of the tides

Ross Jennings for The Conversation:  The world’s tides contain enough energy to power the entire UK’s electricity consumption. And, since it effectively harnesses the moon’s constant and predictable gravitational pull, tidal power overcomes one of renewable energy’s classic problems – the fact you never know quite how much sun, wind or rain to expect. Now, underwater windmills positioned just below the ocean surface could be a major breakthrough for tidal power.

Costly technology and inaccessible locations have thus far held things back. Large, heavy and expensive turbines mounted on the seabed have been developed, but these are aimed at commercial scale developments. Tidal power needs its equivalent of the rooftop solar panel.

Imagine then a wind turbine, but underwater, and not fixed to the seabed – these so-called “mobile floating turbines” are a cheaper and more adaptable alternative to big, fixed developments. Most floating turbines look something like this:  Cont'd...

Concentrator Photovoltaics: The Next Step Towards Better Solar Power

By Lauren J. Young for IEEE Spectrum:  Today’s concentrator photovoltaic (CPV) technologies have shown promising potential for more efficient solar power. The latest systems are said to be capable of handling the power of a hundred suns. Yet prototypes have failed to compete with cheaper flat panel solar systems that dominate the market. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E) is determined to push CPV to the next level. On 24 August, at the Clean Energy Summit, U.S. President Barack Obama and Energy Secretary Ernest Monizannounced a program called MOSAIC that will invest $24 million into CPV solar technology development.

Why can’t today’s CPV systems compete? The concentrators can only convert direct sunlight into energy, missing out on the large fraction of sunlight diffracted by clouds and the atmosphere. Manufacturing costs of concentrator apparatuses have also prevented CPV from reaching mass production.  Cont'd...

Iran is building the Middle East's first geothermal power plant

Iran is building the Middle East’s first geothermal power plant at the foot of an inactive volcanic peak as the country is racing to meet a runaway demand for electricity by its growing population. 

The pilot station in northwestern Meshguin Shahr in the Ardabil province is projected to come on stream in the next two years, putting Iran in the club of two dozen nations with the geothermal power generation capacity.

The 50-megawatt project is in line with Iran’s bid to expand its clean energy mix which is dominated by fossil fuels. Geothermal power is cheaper and more reliable than other renewable energy sources, such as thermal or hydro power.  Cont'd...

Pink film 'antenna' can double solar cell efficiency

Megan Treacy for TreeHugger:  When we think of antennas we mainly think of the type that transmit and receive radio waves, letting us listen to radio stations in our car or watch TV in our homes, but in this case the researchers are using the term to describe a new thin film material that captures more of the light spectrum, converting it into wavelengths of light that solar cells can convert into electricity.

Many scientists are working on building better solar cells, but researchers at the University of Connecticut wanted to figure out how to boost the efficiency of the technology we already have. Thus, the antenna.

As Phys.org reports, Challa V. Kumar, Ph.D and his team "built an antenna that collects those unused blue photons and converts them to lower energy photons that the silicon can then turn into current."

"Many groups around the world are working hard to make this kind of antenna, and ours is the first of its kind in the whole world," Kumar said.  Cont'd...

Google Maps can now tell you if it's worth installing solar panels on your roof

By Loren Grush for The Verge: Google wants to help you harness the power of the sun. A new service called Project Sunroof aims to provide a "treasure map" of solar energy with the help of Google Maps. Sunroof gives homeowners detailed information about how much solar power their roof can generate and how much money they could save on electricity costs by adding solar panels.

Sunroof uses data from Google Maps that previously had no practical application. For instance, Sunroof uses Maps’ 3D-modeling to calculate the amount of space a building’s roof has for solar panels. The service also analyzes the positioning of the sun over the course of a year, as well as the type of cloud cover and temperature the neighborhood usually experiences. It even considers the amount of shade cast by nearby objects.  Cont'd...

The Most Innovative Companies In Renewable Energy

By Michael McDonald for OilPrice.com:  As the oil price bust continues, renewable energy and sustainability innovation is continuing unabated. For instance, an architecture company recently unveiled a set of plans for a smart floating farm project that helps preserve land space and improve food production efficiency. The plans are just hypothetical at this point and it is unclear if they will ever be built, but that’s not really the point. The project shows that, around the world, companies and individuals continue to devote time and resources to innovation in sustainable living.

In a similar vein for instance, in the solar field, small companies are creating a host of new innovative products like new inverters and module level electronics. Many of these innovations may seem trivial and iterative. And many are, but a series of trivial and iterative innovations can still lead to big change and that has solar proponents excited. 

Big changes are also occurring on more visible systems. A company called Ripasso Energy is pushing its new, more efficient solar generators. In a highly visible effort, Tesla is pressing ahead with its home and business battery storage systems. Desalinization with solar and even solar planes are also on the horizon.

The vast majority of these innovations are too early stage for investors to make serious bets on, and even if an investor could be in on an individual technology, that approach is risky. Instead, investors are better off putting their dollars into firms that consistently show an innovative spirit and are pressing forward with a broad portfolio of product innovations. These kinds of broad sets of innovations are important to the future of the planet and they can generate serious returns for sage investors as well.  Cont'd...

Renewable energy developers get their own watchdog

Barbara Grady for GreenBiz:  In another sign that renewable energy is becoming big business, developers of wind and solar power projects are about to find themselves subject to a new layer of scrutiny.

The social impact startup trying to goad oil and gas exploration companies to meet certain levels of socially and environmentally responsible behavior is extending its efforts into renewable energy.

Equitable Origin, founded as a self-proclaimed standards setter for how oil exploration and extraction companies should go about their work without trampling on human rights, harming local communities and destroying the environment, announced this week that it wants to branch out with new standards for wind and solar energy site development.

It’s not that the organization is against renewable energy development, its officers insist.

“What we are trying to do is assist the growing renewable energy industries by helping them not repeat the same mistakes as oil and gas,” Josh Garrett, communications manager of Equitable Origin, told GreenBiz.  Cont'd...

Tesla already has reservations for $1bn worth of energy storage

Tesla has taken 100,000 reservations for its Powerpack and Powerwall battery products, worth approximately $1bn, according to founder Elon Musk.

Speaking on the company’s quarterly earnings call, Musk said Tesla had taken reservations (non-binding agreements) which led him to believe the company would sell $50m of storage in the fourth quarter of 2015, and up to $500m in both 2016 and 2017.

Musk said: "If you just take the reservations that have been made thus far, it's well over $1 billion worth of Powerpacks and Powerwalls. And that's with no marketing, no advertising, no sales force to speak of, really, we're not trying to sell it".

Tesla chief technology officer Jeffrey Straubel, who was also on the call, said that around 70% of the reservations were for the larger 1MW Powerpack system, which is focused at commercial users and large-scale energy generators.  Cont'd...

Norway Could Provide 20,000MW of Energy Storage to Europe

Mike Stone  for GTM:  Norway has a lot of hydroelectric plants: a total of 937 of them, which provide a population of 5 million with around 98 percent of its electricity. In fact, the Scandinavian country is home to roughly half of all the hydroelectric water storage reservoirs in Europe.

This vast system could also offer a Europe a substantial amount of energy storage -- up to 20 gigawatts of it -- if an ambitious scheme currently being proposed can overcome political and social hurdles and get the necessary funding. That’s according to Kaspar Vereide, an engineer at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim. And his models suggest it could all be achieved in seven years.

Vereide is not alone in thinking Norway could become a vast green battery for Europe. The Centre for Environmental Design of Renewable Energy has concluded that there are four realistic scenarios for pumped hydro energy storage in the country, ranging from a Nordics-only scenario, where Norway only looks after its own needs, plus some of those of its Scandinavian neighbors; to a so-called ‘big storage’ scenario, which, it says, would see “Norwegian hydropower play an important role in integrating variable renewable sources into the European power system by providing large volumes of balancing over various time horizons to the North Sea countries through highly integrated grids and power markets.”

It’s this "big storage" scenario -- with Norway becoming "the green battery of Europe" -- that Vereide has in mind.  Cont'd...

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