France to pave 1000km of roads with solar panels

Derek Markham for TreeHugger :  Over the next five years, France will install some 621 miles (1,000km) of solar roadway using Colas' Wattway solar pavement. Solar freakin' roadways! No, this is not the crowdfunded solar road project that blew up the internet a few years ago, but is a collaboration between Colas, a transport infrastructure company, and INES (France's National Institute for Solar Energy), and sanctioned by France's Agency of Environment and Energy Management, which promises to bring solar power to hundreds of miles of roads in the country over the next five years. One major difference between this solar freakin' roadway and that other solar freakin' roadway is that the new Wattway system doesn't replace the road itself or require removal of road surfaces, but instead is designed to be glued onto the top of existing pavement. The Wattway system is also built in layers of materials "that ensure resistance and tire grip," and is just 7 mm thick, which is radically different from that other design that uses thick glass panels (and which is also claimed to include LED lights and 'smart' technology, which increases the complexity and cost of the moose-friendly solar tiles).   Cont'd...

California narrowly upholds critical solar policy

NICHOLA GROOM for Reuters:  California, which boasts more than half of the households with solar panels in the United States, on Thursday extended a policy that has underpinned the rooftop solar industry's dramatic growth over the last decade. The 3-to-2 decision by California's Public Utilities Commission at a meeting in San Francisco to extend net metering was a major victory for the solar industry, including companies like SolarCity Corp, Sunrun and SunPower Corp. Net metering allows homeowners with solar panels to sell the power they generate but don't use back to their utility at the full retail rate, sometimes giving them a credit on their bill at the end of the month. The 20-year policy has been critical to making solar cost competitive. But the narrow victory underscored palpable frustrations with the policy, which has been criticized for rewarding solar users while leaving other ratepayers to shoulder the cost of maintaining the electricity grid. "I will be the first to say that I think we really have a ways to go before we have a really enduring rooftop strategy," said PUC President Michael Picker, who voted in favor of extending the policy. The PUC will reconsider net metering again in 2019.   Cont'd...

1.2-million sq. ft. solar panel 'Gigafactory' in Buffalo almost ready, will make 1 GW/year

Michael Graham Richard for TreeHugger:  Soon after SolarCity acquired solar panel maker Silevo in the summer of 2014, it announced the construction of a 1.2-million-square-foot 'Solar Gigafactory' in Buffalo, New York. The move had two main goals: 1) For the solar installer to get its own secure supply of high-efficiency solar panels (Silevo panels are currently 21% efficient, but the company claims that they can get to 24%) and 2) drive down the cost of the panels and of installing them. If the panels are higher efficiency, you need fewer of them per roof for a given capacity, lowering installation costs, and if you make them in very large quantities in a 'Gigafactory', you can further reduce costs through economies of scale. The Buffalo solar gigafactory, which can be seen in the photo at the top of this article, aims to start producing solar cells in 2016, with a ramping up to 1 GW of annual capacity by 2017. If all goes well, the facility could eventually be expanded to 5 GW/year at some point. The solar cells produced there have a target price of around $0.50/watt, which would make them very competitive with other power sources.   Cont'd...  

The Two Things To Note In The DOE's Solar + Storage Initiative

Michael Kanellos  for Forbes:   The Department of Energy doled out $18 million in grants this week as part of an effort to drive down the cost of solar plus storage down to less than 14 cents a kilowatt hour. The DOE, under its SunShot program, has long had a goal of driving down the cost of solar alone to 6 cents per kWh by 2020.  So far, the program has hit its milestones. Grants recipients include Austin Energy, Carnegie Mellon University, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and Aquion Energy, among others. The DOE regularly gives out grants, but the latest program is somewhat interesting because: First, that’s a really low price for storage. Utility-scale solar, generally cheaper than residential solar, without storage delivered power for 14 cents a kilowatt hour in 2014. The cost of batteries, however, has been declining rapidly. Ten years ago, batteries progressed slowly compared to other electronic devices: Tesla Motors TSLA +0.50% co-founder and CTO J.B. Straubel was famous for noting that the performance of batteries doubled every decade, versus the roughly two year cycle for semiconductor.   Cont'd...

A solar-powered soccer pitch in Lagos also uses players' footfall to keep the lights on

Yomi Kazeem for Quartz:  Africa is already waking up to the possibilities that renewable energy provides, the African Union has pledged a $20 billion investment over the next decade. In East Africa, pay-as-you-go solar energy services arealready proving a mainstream success. In West Africa, things are still at an early experimental stage. One such experiment is a solar-powered football pitch which also uses kinetic energy generated by footballers playing. Located at a teacher’s college in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial center, the innovative soccer pitch was launched last year in a three-way collaboration between energy giant Shell; music star Akon, who has been championing solar energy on the continent; and Pavegen, a UK-based start-up which has a target of providing low-cost renewable energy solutions to Africa’s electricity problems. Perhaps the most interesting technological feature of the solar-powered pitch—only the second ever launched across the world (the first was launched in Brazil in 2014)—is that it combines both kinetic and solar energy to produce electricity.   Cont'd...

Juno spacecraft breaks solar power distance record

Jim Sharkey for SpaceFlight Insider:  NASA’s Juno mission has broken the record for distance traveled by a solar-powered spacecraft. Juno reached this milestone at 11 a.m. PST (2 p.m. EST) on Wednesday, Jan. 13, when the spacecraft was approximately 493 million miles (793 million kilometers) from the Sun. The record was previously held by the European Space Agency’s (ESA)  Rosetta spacecraft, whose orbit peaked at the 492 million-mile (792-million kilometer) mark in October 2012, during its approach to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. “Juno is all about pushing the edge of technology to help us learn about our origins,” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “We use every known technique to see through Jupiter’s clouds and reveal the secrets Jupiter holds of our solar system’s early history. It just seems right that the sun is helping us learn about the origin of Jupiter and the other planets that orbit it.” Juno is the first solar-powered spacecraft designed to operate so far from the Sun. Generating sufficient power to operate the spacecraft requires a very large area of solar cells. The four-ton Juno spacecraft carries three 30-foot (9-meter) solar arrays festooned with 18,686 individual solar cells. At Earth’s distance from the Sun, the cells can generate about 14 kilowatts of electric. The further away from the sun the spacecraft is, the lower the power its solar cell will be able to generate.   Cont'd...

These Creative Wind Turbines Will Have You Rethinking What You Know About Wind Power

By Alison Gillespie for SMITHSONIAN.COM: Although a lot of people are excited about wind energy, few are excited about the pinwheel-shaped machines that often produce it. Branded as noisy, blamed for spoiling bucolic views and proven deadly to some bats and migrating birds, the giant, white-bladed horizontal axis wind turbines that now dot the landscape of the American West have earned a fair number of detractors—even among environmentalists who generally favor renewable power. But what if you turned the idea sideways, and created a turbine that could spin like a carousel? And what if you made a turbine small enough to sit on top of a building or inside an urban park? Could the result produce enough power to really matter? The idea isn’t a new one—people have been playing with windmill designs and experimenting with alternatives to the horizontal axis turbine for almost a century now. But in the last two decades, a flurry of interest in expanding renewable energy in cities has attracted the attention of a large number of inventors and artists, many of whom see the vertical axis wind turbine as promising. There is no single design for these upended wind catchers, but all share one key aspect: the blades turn around an axis that points skyward. And unlike their horizontal brethren, the components and associated generators of a vertical turbine are placed at its base, giving it a lower center of gravity. Most are also relatively small, and unlike horizontal units, they can be grouped very closely together to optimize efficiency.   Cont'd...

Solar Surges Past Wind, Hydropower as State's No. 1 Renewable Energy Source

By Pete Danko for KQED News:  In just a few short years, solar power has gotten big in California, and now it’s at the top of the renewable energy heap. Data compiled from daily reports by the state’s major grid manager indicate that in 2015, solar became the No. 1 source of renewable energy in California. Not only did solar beat wind power for the first time, but it also topped drought-depleted hydropower, the long-standing leader in California electricity generation outside fossil fuels and nuclear. The California Independent System Operator doesn’t cover the entire state, but it does manage about 80 percent of the California grid, including those portions served by PG&E, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric, the state’s three big investor-owned utilities. Every day, CAISO reports on the hourly electrical output from a long list of sources for the electricity used by 30 million Californians, ranging from biogas at the low end of generation to thermal — natural gas, essentially — at the high end.   Cont'd...

Is this sunny state trying to kill solar power?

Claudia Assis for MarketWatch:  Nevada has turned into a sunny battleground for the future of solar in the U.S., with regulators there moving to make solar power less attractive to homeowners and businesses and pitching utilities against solar-power companies. SunRun Inc. on Thursday said it was pulling out of Nevada, which the company said will result in “hundreds” of job losses. A day earlier, SolarCity Corp. announced the same move, saying that about 550 jobs would be lost. The Solar Energy Industries Association estimates that nearly 6,000 people in Nevada are employed in the solar industry. Besides affecting jobs, the new rules cut down on the savings that many homeowners count on from going solar.   Cont'd...

Wind, solar power soaring in spite of bargain prices for fossil fuels

Joby Warrick for The Washington Post:  Wind and solar power appear set for a record-breaking year in 2016 as a clean-energy construction boom gains momentum in spite of a global glut of cheap fossil fuels. Installations of wind turbines and solar panels soared in 2015 as utility companies went on a worldwide building binge, taking advantage of falling prices for clean technology as well as an improving regulatory and investment climate. Both industries have seen stock prices jump since Congress approved an extension of tax credits for renewables as part of last month's $1.14 trillion budget deal. Orders for 2016 solar and wind installations are up sharply, from the United States to China to the developing economies of Africa and Latin America, all in defiance of stubbornly low prices for coal and natural gas, the industry's chief competitors.   Cont'd...

Sand could be the key to unlocking more efficient solar power, Masdar scientists find

Naser Al Wasmi for The National UAE:  Masdar Institute scientists have published a breakthrough research into more efficient solar power – and they will not have to look far for the raw material ­needed. Using sand, they hope to drive concentrated solar power technology to compete with the traditional photovoltaic method. Named “Sandstock”, the research published at the Solar Power and Chemical Energy Systems Conference in South Africa yesterday, showed sand can withstand temperatures of up to 1,000°C. Concentrated solar power, or CSP, uses mirrors to reflect heat from the sun to one point, most typically a tower filled with a material capable of storing heat and then converting it into electricity. CSP’s benefit is that the energy derived is easy to store, but in recent years it has lost out to the more popular photovoltaics, which is more cost-efficient. That may now change. “Sand is really always a drawback in this country but in this project we wanted to use it as an advantage because it can withstand very high temperature, and of course it is very cheap here,” said Dr Nicolas Calvet, assistant professor of mechanical and materials engineering, and guide for the research project.   Cont'd...

China to cut on-grid tariffs for solar, wind power: State planning commission

Reuters - China will cut payments to wind and solar electricity generators for contributing power to the grid, the country's state planning commission said over the weekend, reflecting recent declines in operating costs. Starting in 2016, on-grid tariffs for solar producers will be 0.02 to 0.10 yuan lower per kilowatt-hour — with the higher cuts applying in the country's less populated, arid western region — while tariffs for wind power generators will fall 0.02 to 0.03 yuan, the National Development and Reform Commission said in a statement. The cuts, which were expected, are in line with a 0.03 yuan cut on Wednesday to on-grid tariffs for thermal power. Coal still fires more than 70% of China's power generation.   Cont'd...

Koch brothers defeat Harry Reid on solar power

By ESTHER WHIELDON for Politico:  Harry Reid’s home state dealt a lethal blow Tuesday to rooftop solar power — the latest skirmish of a nationwide green energy battle that has pitted the Senate Democratic leader against his favorite target, the Koch brothers. The move by Nevada’s utility regulator, which voted to slash the economic incentives for homeowners to install solar panels, was most immediately a showdown between billionaires Warren Buffett, owner of the state’s largest power company, and Elon Musk, whose SolarCity is the nation’s largest installer of panels that create electricity from the sun. But it also served as a proxy fight in a national struggle about states’ green energy programs, in which free-market groups backed by industrialists Charles and David Koch have fought to roll back incentives that they argue distort the marketplace and force some customers to subsidize other people’s power choices.   Cont'd...

Japanese Towns Bank on Renewable Energy

By MAYUMI NEGISHI for the WallStreet Journal:  Japanese cities are entering the renewable-energy business, the latest phase in a shake-up of the nation’s power sector in the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis. So far, about 14 cities have formed companies to generate clean energy from local resources and sell it to area businesses and homes. With full deregulation of the nation’s electricity markets set to begin next year, the government aims to have 1,000 such city-operated companies up and running by 2021 in a direct challenge to regional power monopolies. The move is part of Japan’s strategy for creating energy self-sufficiency, while helping revitalize communities with infrastructure investment.   Cont'd...

Spending and Tax Deal Brings ITC and PTC Extensions

Sahir Surmeli for National Law Review:  Early Wednesday morning Congressional leaders reached agreement on a year-end spending and massive tax deal that would prevent a government shutdown and extend a series of tax breaks that benefit businesses and individuals. The agreement has major implications for the future of the energy industry and is being hailed by many as a dramatic victory for those in the renewable energy community.  The Investment Tax Credit (ITC), which was slated to drop to 10 percent from 30 percent for solar systems on commercial properties after 2016, would now remain at 30 percent for projects that start construction by December 31, 2019. Projects that start construction in 2020 would qualify for a 26 percent credit and that level would drop to 22 percent for facilities started in 2021. From 2022 on it would remain at 10 percent.   Cont'd...

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