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.

   Cont'd...

Renewable Energy Surpasses Coal in the UK

Written by Keith Kohl for Energy & Capital:  For the first time ever, more energy in the UK was supplied by renewable sources than coal. For an entire quarter. Wind, solar, and bioenergy checked in at 25% of the energy supplied.

All of this was possible due to the fact that more wind turbines and solar panels were installed, which must be a good amount if you want to compare it to the same period last year, for which these energy options only accounted for 16.4% of electricity.

Recently, the UK has been working to close aging coal and nuclear power plants.

Of course, this will lead to its own issues...

[Solar Panels] Conservative ministers collectively believe that the subsidies given to renewable energy were too numerous, going so far as to suggest plans for an 87% reduction of solar power, and to cut support for onshore wind farms.

With that kind of spending cut, it's not surprising to hear that industry execs believe these actions would unjustly put an end to renewable energy just as it was gaining traction.  Cont'd...

Can the U.S. Jump-Start Offshore Wind Power?

By Camille von Kaenel and ClimateWire:  The Department of Energy has awarded around a half-million dollars to New York, Maine, Rhode Island and Massachusetts state organizations to cooperate on scaling up the offshore wind industry in the region.  Under the leadership of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), the group will lay out a collaborative road map by the end of the year on how to build up the new industry. The project largely aims to reduce the cost of offshore wind projects, which has been a barrier to development, and establish a regional supply chain.  Industry and state representatives learned about the federal grant at the first-ever offshore wind summit hosted by the White House yesterday.  Offshore wind has struggled to take off in the United States. Europe, meanwhile, has more than 80 offshore wind farms with more than 10,000 megawatts of capacity. The White House summit marks a renewed effort to get the industry going in the United States, said various attendees.  Cont'd...

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...

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