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...

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...

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...

Wind power fiercer than expected, study finds  University of Delaware researchers report in a new study that offshore wind may be more powerful, yet more turbulent than expected in the North Eastern United States.

The findings, published in a paper in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, could have important implications for the future development of offshore wind farms in the U.S., including the assessment of how much wind power can be produced, what type of turbines should be used, how many turbines should be installed and the spacing between each.

The study, led by Cristina Archer at UD and Brian Colle at Stony Brook University, analyzed historical data from 2003-2011 at the Cape Wind tower located near the center of Nantucket Sound off the coast of Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, and collected complementary data at the same location in 2013-2014.

Co-authors on the paper, titled "On the predominance of unstable atmospheric conditions in the marine boundary layer offshore of the U.S. northeastern coast," include UD professors Dana Veron and Fabrice Veron, and Matthew Sienkiewicz from Stony Brook.

The paper's main finding is that atmospheric conditions around Cape Wind are predominantly turbulent, or unstable, which is in stark contrast to prevailing data from European offshore wind farms in the Baltic Sea and the North Sea. European studies of offshore wind document that atmospheric conditions there are predominantly neutral— meaning neither too windy nor too still, but somewhere in the middle, with unstable wind conditions occurring only 20 percent of the time.  Cont'd...

Floating solar power sector has "considerable" bank support

Mark Lammey  for EnergyVoice:  A major bank’s decision to throw its weight behind a floating solar power scheme shows the sector is rich with commercial potential, bosses at engineering consultancy OST Energy said.

OST acted as technical adviser for Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) during the early stages of the project to bring Europe’s largest floating photovoltaic solar project to financial close earlier this year.

The 6.3 Megawatt peak (MWp) array, installed by Lightsource Renewable Energy, is the first project of its kind to secure European bank financing.

It now provides a source of clean energy to water utilities company, Thames Water, on the Queen Elizabeth II reservoir west of London.

Thames Water will buy all energy generated by the project as part of a power purchase agreement (PPA) with Lightsource.  Cont'd...

Nevada Court Rejects Solar Power Ballot Initiative As 'Inaccurate' And 'Misleading'

Samantha Page for ThinkProgress:  The Nevada Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a solar industry-backed measure that would have let voters decide how customers are paid for the electricity they put back on the grid.

The November referendum would have allowed voters to overturn a Public Utilities Commission (PUC) decision from late last year that gutted the state’s net metering program — a rate design element that ensures solar owners are paid retail rate for the electricity they put back on the grid.

The court ruled that the description included in the referendum was “inaccurate,” “misleading,” and “argumentative,” the AP reported.

But the industry was not bowed after the ruling, saying it would continue to fight to set fair rates for solar homeowners.  Cont'd...

Chernobyl is to become the world's largest solar power plant

ALEXANDRU MICU for ZME Science:  The Ukranian government plans to turn Chernobyl, the site of the world’s most famous nuclear meltdown, into a sprawling solar power plant — the largest in the world.

Since the meltdown on April 26, 1986, no one’s been able to find any good uses for Chernobyl. A 1,600 square mile area was drenched in radiation and deemed an “exclusion zone,” so everyone was evacuated after the clean-up efforts were concluded and the plant was sealed in its ubiquitous sarcophagus. The buildings, goods, and infrastructure in the area were abandoned so fast that the city looks like time froze there 30 years ago — albeit with a Falloutesque look. Since we left, nature took over, and for the most part, is thriving in our absence (though the microbes that decompose dead organic matter seem to be having a hard time living here.)

In a recent interview, however, Ukraine’s ecology minister Ostap Semerak said that the government is negotiating with two US investment firms and four Canadian energy companies to develop Chernobyl’s solar potential. The area is uniquely suited for the purpose — the land is extremely cheap, much of the required infrastructure, such as roads are already built. Even better, the power lines that served the old 4GW reactor are still useable.  Cont'd...

Tesla Lowers Bid, Agrees to Pay $2.6 Billion for SolarCity

Chris Martin for Bloomberg Technology:  Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors Inc. reached an agreement to buy SolarCity Corp. for $2.6 billion, about $300 million less than an initial proposal criticized as a “bailout” for the solar company in which he’s the largest shareholder.
SolarCity investors will receive $25.37 a share in stock under the agreement, according to a statement Monday. Musk initially offered $26.50 to $28.50 a share in Tesla stock. Analysts have said in the past that the bid was too low and investors have questioned the wisdom of Musk combining his electric-car maker with the clean-energy company.  The deal, which allows SolarCity to solicit competing takeover offers through Sept. 14, will now go to the shareholders of the companies for approval.   Cont'd...  

Molten storage and thermophotovoltaics offer new solar power pathway

Georgia Institute of Technology:  New computer modeling suggests that high temperature TPV conversion -- which captures infrared radiation from very hot surfaces -- could one day rival combined-cycle turbine systems when combined with thermal storage using liquid metal at temperatures around 1,300 degrees Celsius. Advances in high-temperature components and improved system modeling, combined with the potential for conversion costs an order of magnitude lower than those of turbines, suggest that TPV could offer a pathway for efficiently storing and producing electrical power from solar thermal sources, a new study suggests.

The underlying technologies of high temperature storage and thermophotovoltaic conversion could also be used to produce grid-scale batteries able to rapidly supplement other power sources by storing heat for quick conversion to electricity. The research, supported by ARPA-E, was reported July 4 in the journal Energy and Environmental Science by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology.  Cont'd...

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