Say Goodbye to Solar Power Subsidies

Mark Chediak & Chris Martin for Bloomberg Businessweek:  In 2016 the U.S. will learn if renewable energy can survive without government support. The most significant tax credit for solar power will expire at the end of 2016, and the biggest one for wind already has. These federal subsidies have provided wind and solar developers with as much as $24 billion from 2008 to 2014, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. That’s led to a 12-fold increase in installed capacity over the past decade, helping lower costs at least 10 percent each year.

Combined, wind and solar still generate less than 5 percent of electricity in the U.S. The subsidy cuts come as both industries face stiffer competition from ultracheap coal and natural gas. An NYSE Bloomberg global index of solar stocks, including those of big developers SunEdison and First Solar, has fallen about 35 percent since June. A comparable wind index is down 20 percent.  Cont'd...

Research Report - Better Biofuels Ahead - The Road to Low-Carbon Fuels

By Emily Cassidy, Research Analyst for  Biofuels produced from switchgrass and post-harvest corn waste could significantly reduce the emissions that contribute to climate change, according to an analysis by EWG and University of California biofuels experts.

EWG’s analysis found that the life cycle carbon intensity of cellulosic ethanol from switchgrass was 47 percent lower than that of gasoline. Ethanol made from corn stover – the leaves and stalks that remain in the field after the grain is harvested – has a life-cycle carbon intensity 96 percent lower than gasoline’s.[1]

By contrast, studies have found that the life cycle carbon intensity of corn ethanol is greater than that of gasoline (Mullins et al. 2010, EPA, 2010a). Yet current federal policies strongly favor the production of conventional biofuels such as corn ethanol at the expense of lower-carbon alternatives.   View full article...

UK building the world's largest offshore wind farm

By Kelly Hodgkins for Digital Trends:  Danish state-owned company Dong Energy A/S plans to set a new world record for the world’s largest offshore wind farm, breaking the existing record currently held by the 630-megawatt London Array, another facility built by Dong. The new U.K. wind farm will be located in the Irish Sea, about 12 miles off the west coast of Great Britain.​ When commissioned, it will provide enough energy to power almost a half million homes.

It’s no surprise that Dong is behind this effort, as it is Denmark’s largest energy company and the world’s largest developer of offshore wind power. The company has a longstanding relationship with the UK, constructing and, in some cases, operating multiple offshore wind facilities, including those in Barrow, Burbo Bank, and Walney Island. Between these projects and others in Germany, Dong now has a total of 5.1 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity. It aims to expand this capacity even further with a projected goal of 6.5 gigawatts of offshore wind energy production by 2020.  Cont'd...

Thin film perovskite solar cell passes the efficiency test

Matthew Gunther for Chemistry World:  Perovskite solar cells may one day rival silicon-based technologies, but their performance outside the laboratory has been a constant source of contention in the past year. Now, an international team of scientists has manufactured the first thin film perovskite solar cell with a reported efficiency that has beenofficially recognised by an accredited national test laboratory.1

Since their development in 2012, the performance of light-harvesting metal–organo halide structures has seemingly improved at a staggering rate, with their efficiency increasing by six percentage points in just two years – the same increase took multi-crystalline solar cells over two decades.

But their stability has been brought into question, with some international test centres taking issue with perovskite solar cells that are so unstable that they may degrade spontaneously in air, making it hard for them to assess their performance.

It’s a state of affairs that Michael Grätzel from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland has had trouble dealing with. ‘Conspicuously, you could see that from the very beginning there was very scarce information on the stability of these devices,’ comments Grätzel. ‘I have raised that issue many times – one would think that now everybody does stability work after this alarm was sounded, but not so.'  Cont'd...

Morocco to Build World's Largest Concentrated Solar Power Plant

Cole Mellino for EcoWatch:  Morocco imports 97 percent of its energy, and yet it has one of the highest rates of solarinsolation of any country—about 3,000 hours of sunshine per year, according to the Solar GCC Alliance. To put that in perspective, the Guinness Book of World Records puts Yuma, Arizona as the sunniest place on Earth with an average of 4,055 hours of sunshine per year (the theoretical maximum is 4,456), whereas the sunniest place in Germany, which still has a robust solar industry, gets a mere 1,800 sunshine hours a year. So it’s no surprise that Morocco is tapping into its abundant sunshine for energy.
Morocco is building “a complex of four linked solar mega-plants that, alongside hydro andwind, will help provide nearly half of Morocco’s electricity from renewables by 2020,” reports The Guardian. When the entire project is finished, it will be the world’s largest concentrated solar power plant in the world. The first phase, Noor 1, will go live next month.  Cont'd...

United Utilities installs Europe's largest floating solar power project on reservoir

By Emily Gosden, Energy Editor for Telegraph UK:  Water giant United Utilities is to install Europe’s biggest floating solar power system on a reservoir near Manchester, as it seeks to capitalise on the novel technology to cut its energy costs.

The 12,000 panel, £3.5m development will be only the second of its kind in Britain, dwarfing an 800-panel pilot in Berkshire last year, and will be the second biggest in the world after a scheme in Japan.

Installation of the panels is due to begin on Monday at the Godley reservoir in Greater Manchester, where it will provide a third of the power for a water treatment works.

The system is scheduled to be completed before Christmas, in order to qualify for subsidies before they are due to be drastically cut in the new year.  Cont'd...

Texas hits new wind power milestone on Thursday

By Jordan Blum for Fuel Fix:  The Texas electric grid hit a new record for wind power use early Thursday, as the state continues dominating the rest of the nation in wind farm growth.

At 12:30 am Thursday, the main Texas grid operator reported that nearly 37 percent of demand was met with wind power. The Electricity Reliability Council of Texas, which manages nearly 90 percent of the state’s electric needs, said it used 12,237.6 megawatts of wind power at the time. That bested a previous record set on Sept. 13 of 11,467 megawatts.

A megawatt powers about 500 typical Texas residences during periods of normal demand.

The new record came the same day as the American Wind Energy Association reported Texas accounted for nearly half of the nation’s wind power growth in the third quarter of the year. Texas added 771 megawatts of wind generation in the third quarter and, nationwide, about 1,600 megawatts were put online. Texas now has about 16,400 megawatts of wind power, according to the AWEA, which is about 10,000 megawatts more than the second and third windiest states, California and Iowa.  Cont'd...

Researchers want oil and gas drillers to adopt geothermal technology

By Brooks Hays for UPI:  Researchers at the University of North Dakota believe geothermal energy production should be a significant part of America's future energy portfolio.

But to get the industry off the ground, proponents are looking to an industry not normally associated with renewable energy -- gas and oil drillers.

"Oil- and gas-producing sedimentary basins in Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, and North Dakota contain formation waters of a temperature that is adequate for geothermal power production," researchers wrote in their new study on the subject, published this week in the journal Geosphere.

Geothermal energy requires heat, and natural sources of heat lie deep within the ground. Gas and oil drillers have already built the infrastructure to access deep-lying natural resources. Of course, gas and oil drillers want gas and oil, not heat. But in their quest for gas and oil, they get heat nonetheless.  Cont'd...

UK solar power industry proposes emergency plan to save renewables

Mark Tran for The Guardian:  The solar power industry has proposed an emergency plan to rescue renewables, which it says would add just £1 to consumer bills by 2019, on top of the £9 a year that clean technology subsidies cost bill payers.

The scheme is a response to government plans to cut subsidies for rooftop solar panel installations by 87% from 1 January. The Solar Trade Association (STA) has warned the move could cost up to 27,000 jobs and waste public money already spent on supporting the technology.

Solar companies are already going bust as a result of the changes, with an estimated 1,000 jobs lost so far. On Friday, a company backed by the billionaire inventor Elon Musk pulled out of the UK, blaming the government for not supporting the technology.

Zep Solar UK, which is owned by SolarCity where the Tesla boss is chairman, was the fourth UK solar business to close in a fortnight. SolarCity blamed cuts to solar subsidies announced by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) in the summer.

The STA plan would include higher initial tariffs for subsidies to make investing in the technology viable, with reductions set out to allow the government to control costs and give the industry certainty. The plan would ensure that families, farmers, housing associations and community groups could continue to be involved in the move towards low-carbon power and give them more control over their energy, the STA argues.  Cont'd...

Duke scientists making algae biofuel more viable

By Teresa Meng for The Chronicle:  A Duke University professor has been awarded a $5.2 million U.S. Department of Energy grant to explore ways of making algae a cost efficient fuel source.
The Duke-led Marine Algae Industrialization Consortium, comprised of both universities and energy companies, aims to lower the cost of algae oil, which can be used in place of fossil fuels. The team is working to identify algae proteins that can be used in protein-based nutritional products in order to make the entire algae farming process more cost-efficient. Zackary Johnson, Arthur P. Kaupe assistant professor of molecular biology in marine science, is the principal investigator of MAGIC and has been researching algae biofuels for eight years.

“The goal of the research is to drive down the cost of algae biofuel by increasing the value of proteins within algae,” Johnson explained.

Johnson and his team at MAGIC are trying to use multiple ways so that algae grown for biofuel extraction can also be sold after oil is extracted from the algae. Proteins in algae could be used for nutritional products such as poultry feed, fish feed or even food for humans. Extracting and selling these proteins would lower the overall production cost of extracting oil from the algae. In the future, algae proteins as food sources might even be a sustainable approach to feed the world.

Algae biofuel has the potential to become a major source of sustainable energy because it can be produced quickly, easily and in high quality, Johnson said.  Cont'd...

How a Manmade Tidal Lagoon Could Change the Future of Clean Energy

FEARGUS O'SULLIVAN for CityLab:  Just outside the Welsh city of Swansea, the U.K. is planning one of the most innovative power plants ever constructed. It’s not the plant’s size that is striking, though it could ultimately provide power to 155,000 homes for 120 years. It’s the source of its power that breaks ground: tides channeled into an artificially constructed lagoon.

Granted full planning permission this June, the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon will be the world’s first ever plant to generate electricity using this method. Should it prove successful, the plant’s template could be adopted worldwide as a way of generating green power while simultaneously providing sea wall protection to coastal communities.  Cont'd...

As California Rolls Out More Solar Power, Regulators Could Undercut The Industry

Ken Silverstein for Forbes:  The fall season is kicking off a sizzling solar power debate in California and one that has the potential to undercut the state’s climate mission.

Utility regulators there are in discussions over how to balance the interest of rooftop solar generators with the utilities on which they will still depend. Just how those hearings are resolved with have implications for the rollout of renewable energy not just in California but also around the country.

At issue is something called “net metering,” which is technical term used to measure the amount of money that rooftop solar generators should get paid relative to retail electricity prices. Utilities, generally, want to offer them the wholesale rate for what they send to them over the grid. Those are expensive wires to maintain and ones that all customers will use, even those who power their homes with solar panels. That’s because the sun is not always shining and the utilities would then have to provide them electricity over their networks.

The present net metering rules in California were set a dozen years ago, with the intent that they would expire when solar penetration reached 5 percent at any of three investor-owned utilities: Edison International’s SoCalEd, PG&E Corp. and Sempra Energy, which is nearing the threshold. Generally, those utilities are paying customers the full retail value for their electricity generated and transmitted.  Cont'd...

UK - It could be lights out for solar power under this government

Terry Macalister for The Guardian:  Ministers rightly wring their hands over the 2,200 jobs being lost at the 98-year-old Redcar steelworks hit by low-cost Chinese competition. But they seem deaf to warnings of 27,000 jobs being potentially lost in a brand-new industry now facing crisis due to their own clumsy cuts.

Almost 1,000 redundancies have already been made by the solar panel installersMark Group and Climate Energy. No one in the industry believes this will be the end of the sad story.

The latest flashpoint for “green” developers is the government plan to slash the feed-in tariff – which subsidises people installing solar panels on their home – by almost 90%. Meanwhile, an energy-efficiency regime has been scrapped with only a vague promise of a future replacement.

If these were isolated examples, then companies might be willing to hang on in the hope of better things to come. But they are the latest in a series of cuts not just to solar but also to onshore wind, and come at a time when it seems maximum effort is being expended on removing roadblocks to shale-gas frackingand nuclear power. Cont'd...

Cloaking Principle Could Boost Solar Cell Performance

Invisibility cloaking may be a long way from reality, but the principle could help improve the performance of solar cells in the near term. 
In a series of simulations, researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology have demonstrated how cloaks made of metamaterials or freeform surfaces could eliminate shadows cast by energy-harvesting components onto the active surfaces of solar cells. 
Contact fingers, which extract electric current, cover up to one-tenth of the surface area of a solar cell. By guiding light around these features, more of the sun's energy could be captured by the solar cell. 
"Our model experiments have shown that the cloak layer makes the contact fingers nearly completely invisible," said doctoral student Martin Schumann.  Cont'd...

SolarCity claims highest efficiency solar panel

Tristan Edist for the Business Spectator:  SolarCity, the largest retailer of solar systems in the US (over 30% market share) and partly owned by Tesla’s Elon Musk, has announced it will produce the most efficient solar module available on the market at 22.04% conversion efficiency. SolarCity is claiming it has therefore managed to pip SunPower who have been the longstanding holder of the most efficient conventional silicon solar module on the market.

However in a subsequent discussion with Greentech Media, Peter Rive’s Chief Technology Officer conceded the majority of the panels coming off its pilot 100MW manufacturing line were hitting 21.8%.  In 2017 the company will be then moving production to a new 1 gigawatt per annum capacity plant in Buffalo which can sometimes encounter challenges with achieving stable quality levels during production start-up.

SunPower claims 21.5% efficiency for its X-Series panel although often manufacturers will  have some variance in performance of panels and make claims based on conservative estimates of performance. Greentech Media quotes an anonymous Sunpower source saying that 22% efficient panels are already coming off its production lines.  In addition the company is targeting achieving 23% conversion efficiency from panels it will manufacture from its fifth fabrication line, scheduled for start-up in 2017.


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