China's Solar Panel Glut Undermines Its Agreement with the EU

By Reuters:  “We fear a second wave of bankruptcies,” said the head of an association of EU solar producers.  A sharp increase in solar power production in China and a sharp fall in domestic demand have sparked a sudden surge of cut-price exports, undermining a China-EU agreement to limit damage to European producers.

China produced 27 gigawatts (GW) of solar photovoltaic (PV) modules in the first half of 2016, an increase of 37.8 percent and installed 20 GW of new solar power capacity in the same period, three times as much as the same period a year ago.

However, demand has since tailed off. Solar projects operational since July face a reduced price paid by grid operators for their power.   Cont'd...

New technology puts solar power to work all night long

ScienceDaily:  Energy storage is crucial for taking full advantage of solar power, which otherwise suffers interruptions from cloudy skies and nightfall. In the past few years, concentrating solar power plants have begun producing additional electricity at night and during peak demand periods by using stored heat energy to propel a steam turbine.

Current thermal energy storage systems rely on materials that store less energy per kilogram, requiring more material at a greater cost to meet energy storage requirements.

Now, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Argonne National Laboratory have designed an inexpensive thermal energy storage system that will be significantly smaller and perform more than 20 times better than current thermal systems.  Cont'd...

Is solar power in nuclear disaster exclusion zones advisable?

ARNOLD GUNDERSEN for Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:  My own experience near solar arrays in Fukushima Prefecture indicates that the problems of building and maintaining solar installations in a contaminated nuclear wasteland are over-simplified, and worse, totally ignored. One of the greatest burdens of maintaining operating atomic reactors is the cost of working in a Radiologically Controlled Area. (The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory defines a Radiologically Controlled Area as: “Any area to which access is managed to protect individuals from exposure to radiation or radioactive materials. Individuals who enter Controlled Areas without entering Radiological Areas are not expected to receive a total effective dose equivalent of more than 0.1 rem (0.001 Sievert) in a year.”) Each nuclear power plant operates with specific instructions and constraints, with Radiation Work Permits tailored for each specific maintenance activity. Because special clothing, special respiratory equipment, and special radiation monitoring equipment are routinely required to perform even minimum maintenance activities inside a nuclear power plant, every activity takes longer, costs more, and requires more people inside each reactor than necessary in any other industrial setting.

Consequently, the question becomes: Does building solar panels on land contaminated with nuclear waste resemble work in a normal industrial setting, or is it more similar to work inside a radiologically contaminated atomic reactor—at significantly higher cost?  Full Article:

Is Rent-to-Own Solar Power the Answer?

Jason Overdorf for SMITHSONIAN.COM:  For a little more than a year, the family has been supplementing the sporadic electricity the village gets from the grid with solar energy, thanks to a new pay-as-you-go business model pioneered by Canadian entrepreneur Paul Needham and his company, Simpa Networks. Call it “rent-to-own solar.”

Needham is a serial tech entrepreneur whose online advertising company BidClix made its way into the portfolio of Microsoft. As a doctoral student in economics at Cambridge, he was obsessed with the reasons customers will shell out for certain products and not others. One of the questions that always bugged him was, “Why don’t I own solar panels?” The reason, he determined, was the high up-front costs.

Imagine if mobile phone service was sold like solar energy. From an operator’s perspective, it would have made great sense to try to sell customers 10 years of phone calls in advance, so as to quickly earn back the money invested in building cell towers. But the person who suggested such a strategy would have been fired immediately, Needham says.

“You want to charge people for what they value, not the technology that’s providing it,” he says in a telephone interview.  Cont'd...

Why large-scale wind power is so hard to build

Michael McDonald, via USA Today:  he Bureau of Land Management faces a problem and wants to shake up the rules around wind farm approvals. The problem is straight-forward on its face, but difficult to reconcile logically: Why are so few new large-scale wind projects being built? Despite the fact that nearly everyone – environmentalists, government regulators, and business interests –wants to build more wind farms, precious few are making it over the goal line.

Since 2009, the Obama Administration has approved 46 wind farm projects that would cover a proposed 216,356 acres of public land. Yet only 15 of these 46 projects have made it into operation. The rest are stuck in limbo with years of mandatory environmental analysis ahead or have been cancelled outright.  Cont'd...

Transparent solar panels are 50 times more productive than regular photovoltaics

Luke Dormehl for DigitalTrends:  As the term “regular windows” suggests, users don’t have to replace the existing windows in their home, but need only treat them with a special process developed by the company.

“We apply liquid coatings to glass and plastic surfaces at ambient pressure, and dry these coatings at low temperature to produce transparent films,” Conklin continued. “We repeat these processes, and then collectively these coatings — and thus the glass and plastic surfaces — generate electricity.”

Of these coatings, the most important is the so-called “Active Layer,” through which electricity is generated by the absorption of light, and the transparent conductors, which allow the electricity to be extracted. “[The] coatings are primarily organic, primarily from carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen,” Conklin said. “We are constantly refining each of the layers to improve on the power we’re able to extract from these coatings and enhance their manufacturability.”  Cont'd...

Solar cell is more efficient, costs less than its counterparts

Massachusetts Institute of Technology via Science Daily:  A team of researchers from MIT and the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology may have found a way around this seemingly intractable tradeoff between efficiency and cost. The team has developed a new solar cell that combines two different layers of sunlight-absorbing material to harvest a broader range of the sun's energy. The researchers call the device a "step cell," because the two layers are arranged in a stepwise fashion, with the lower layer jutting out beneath the upper layer, in order to expose both layers to incoming sunlight. Such layered, or "multijunction," solar cells are typically expensive to manufacture, but the researchers also used a novel, low-cost manufacturing process for their step cell.

The team's step-cell concept can reach theoretical efficiencies above 40 percent and estimated practical efficiencies of 35 percent, prompting the team's principal investigators -- Masdar Institute's Ammar Nayfeh, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science, and MIT's Eugene Fitzgerald, the Merton C. Flemings-SMA Professor of Materials Science and Engineering -- to plan a startup company to commercialize the promising solar cell.  Cont'd...

Making waves: Shetland tidal power breakthrough is another world first for Scotland

Martin Hannan for The National:  HOUSEHOLDERS on the Shetland Isles were not aware of it, but when they plugged in their kettles recently, they were sharing in a bit of history.

For the Shetland Tidal Array at Bluemull Sound, installed by Nova Innovation of Edinburgh, has become the world’s first tidal power array to be connected to a grid and deliver power on a commercial basis – to dozens of homes on the islands.

The achievement has been hailed by environmentalists and the renewable industry as a turning point in the development of marine power.

Nova had shown its technology could work with a single turbine which generated electricity in March. But the installation of second turbine that is also working to the grid proves that large tidal power arrays can and do work. Commercially viable tidal power is seen as something of a Holy Grail by the industry, since it is one of the few renewable energy sources that is entirely predictable – as one industry source once put it: “there will be tidal power available as long as the moon is in the sky”.  Cont'd...

Indian Scientists Design Solar Tree to Save Space for Solar Power Generation

Anjana Pasricha for VOA News: Indian scientists have designed a “solar tree” that they hope will help overcome one of the key challenges the country faces in the generation of solar power.

With photovoltaic panels placed at different levels on branches made of steel, “solar trees” could dramatically reduce the amount of land needed to develop solar parks.

“It takes about four-square meters of space to produce energy which otherwise would have required 400 square meters of space. So almost 100 times the space is saved, which as you know is very valuable,” said Daljit Singh Bedi, chief scientist at the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in New Delhi, whose laboratory in Kolkata developed the tree.

A scarce resource in India, acquisition of land to develop roads, factories and other infrastructure is a sensitive issue that has led to frequent and sometimes violent protests from displaced people.  Cont'd...

San Bernardino County rejects a controversial solar power plant proposed for the Mojave Desert

Louis Sahagun for The LA Times:  The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors has rejected a controversial solar plant proposed for the Mojave Desert’s Soda Mountains, citing concerns that the project would destroy habitat and block ancient trails used by bighorn sheep for thousands of years.

In a 3-2 vote, the board on Tuesday declined to certify documents required under state law in order to issue county permits for the project on public land along Interstate 15 near the entrances to Joshua Tree National Park and Death Valley National Park, and less than a mile from the Mojave National Preserve.

“We endorse renewable energy, but this was the wrong project in the wrong location,” said Supervisor Robert A. Lovingood.   Cont'd...

'Ideal' energy storage material for electric vehicles developed

Walt Mills for  The energy-storage goal of a polymer dielectric material with high energy density, high power density and excellent charge-discharge efficiency for electric and hybrid vehicle use has been achieved by a team of Penn State materials scientists. The key is a unique three-dimensional sandwich-like structure that protects the dense electric field in the polymer/ceramic composite from dielectric breakdown. Their results are published today (Aug. 22) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

"Polymers are ideal for energy storage for transportation due to their light weight, scalability and high dielectric strength," says Qing Wang, professor of materials science and engineering and the team leader. "However, the existing commercial polymer used in hybrid and electric vehicles, called BOPP, cannot stand up to the high operating temperatures without considerable additional cooling equipment. This adds to the weight and expense of the vehicles."  Cont'd...

US Energy Dept says "holy grail" of clean energy storage is imminent


Cat Distasio for inhabitat:  Many countries are on the brink of becoming self-sufficient in their clean energy production, thanks to advances in battery technology that allow electricity from renewable sources to be stored and used on demand. Over the years, as renewable energy generation methods have charged forward, utility companies have struggled with how to integrate that clean energy in usable ways. Now, scientists at Harvard, MIT, Stanford, the Lawrence Livermore and Oak Ridge labs, and other agencies are working on energy storage projects funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, with their sights set on what the department calls the ‘holy grail’ of energy policy. The department says the industry could be transformed in as little as five to ten years.

Earlier this year, Advanced Research Projects-Energy (ARPA-E), the division of the U.S. Department of Energy founded in 2009 to oversee these projects, claimed to have achieved that goal. Without pointing to a specific invention or discovery, ARPA-E insists that the solution lies amid the 75 projects the agency is funding. The breakthrough technology—the next generation of renewable energystorage—is expected to be developed for large-scale usage in as little as five to ten years.  Cont'd...

A Danish Wind Turbine Maker Harnesses Data in a Push to Stay Ahead

Stanley Reed for The New York Times:  A project to install hundreds of wind turbines in the Fosen peninsula area of Norway at one point was shelved as unfeasible. The strong breezes that whip off the sea can shift and swing unpredictably, while the soaring cliffs and steep drop-offs create turbulence that wears out expensive equipment.

The venture was rescued with a lot of help from the mathematical calculations of Vestas Wind Systems, a Danish wind power company.  Vestas used data to figure out how to use more powerful turbines for the project, and precisely where to place them. That meant the utility developing the facility could buy fewer turbines, helping cut costs and balancing the economics of the $1.2 billion project.

The company is at the forefront of efforts to make wind a competitive source of energy, rather than just a subsidized experiment. In doing so, it has become a model for the renewables industry, which has struggled at times to remain viable while facing cuts to government subsidies and volatile oil and gas prices.  Vestas understands the fickleness of the renewable energy business.  Cont'd...

SolarCity to develop roofs made of solar cells

Lucas Mearian for ComputerWorld:  Five million roofs are replaced each year in the U.S., so instead of simply swapping out old shingles with new ones, why not turn the whole roof into a solar power generator that's integrated with your home's electrical utility?

That is SolarCity's plan for a new product it expects to begin producing next year, according to statements made during the company's second-quarter earnings calllast week.

During the call, SolarCity Chief Technology Officer Peter Rive alluded to a new product that would be produced at the soon to open Buffalo, N.Y., solar panel manufacturing facility. Then SolarCity co-founder and Chairman Elon Musk interjected and said the product would be a solar roof, "as opposed to a [solar] module on a roof."  Cont'd...

Audi converts potholes to power with new eROT system

JAKE LINGEMAN for AutoWeek:  Aim for those bumps; save the planet.  Audi is working on a new suspension system called eROT (electromechanical rotary damper) that turns the kinetic energy of damper travel into usable, fuel-saving power.

“Every pothole, every bump, every curve induces kinetic energy in the car. Today’s dampers absorb this energy, which is lost in the form of heat,” said Dr. Stefan Knirsch, board member for technical development at Audi AG. “With the new electromechanical damper system in the 48-volt electrical system, we put this energy to use. It also presents us and our customers with entirely new possibilities for adjusting the suspension.”

The electromechanical dampers are arranged horizontally and feed electricity from the motion -- 100 to 150 watts on an average road during testing in Germany -- to a lithium-ion battery. A DC converter connects the 48-volt electrical subsystem to the 12-volt primary.  Cont'd...

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