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.

   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...

Balls of DNA Could Fix Geothermal Energy's Biggest Problem

Shara Tonn for Wired.com:  Geothermal Power has the potential to be cheap, reliable, and abundant—running off the heat of the Earth 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That’s especially true thanks to a new generation of home-grown geothermal plants, which don’t run off the steam of natural hot springs and geysers. No need to find those hydrothermal gems; today, geothermal engineers are making their own reservoirs by drilling down into hot rock and pumping in water.

The catch? Engineers can’t see what’s happening underground. Drilling wells in just the right spot can be like playing golf blindfolded: Even if someone faces you in the right direction, you could still hit the ball way off the green. But tiny fragments of DNA dropped into the wells could soon help engineers follow the path of water underground, helping them sink their putts every time.

In a basic geothermal plant set-up, engineers actually have to drill two types of wells. The first kind, which goes down two or three miles, carries cold water down deep, where it fractures the hot rock and creates new paths for water to move. It’s kind of like fracking, but without the chemicals.  Cont'd...

Balls of DNA Could Fix Geothermal Energy's Biggest Problem

Shara Tonn for Wired.com:  Geothermal Power has the potential to be cheap, reliable, and abundant—running off the heat of the Earth 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That’s especially true thanks to a new generation of home-grown geothermal plants, which don’t run off the steam of natural hot springs and geysers. No need to find those hydrothermal gems; today, geothermal engineers are making their own reservoirs by drilling down into hot rock and pumping in water.

The catch? Engineers can’t see what’s happening underground. Drilling wells in just the right spot can be like playing golf blindfolded: Even if someone faces you in the right direction, you could still hit the ball way off the green. But tiny fragments of DNA dropped into the wells could soon help engineers follow the path of water underground, helping them sink their putts every time.

In a basic geothermal plant set-up, engineers actually have to drill two types of wells. The first kind, which goes down two or three miles, carries cold water down deep, where it fractures the hot rock and creates new paths for water to move. It’s kind of like fracking, but without the chemicals.  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...

Wind turbine technology stores excess wind power for when gusts turn to breezes

Megan Treacy for TreeHugger:  A new technology developed by University of Nebraska-Lincoln electrical engineering doctoral student Jie Cheng solves both of those problems by harnessing the excess wind energy usually wasted as spillage and storing it for use when wind speeds dip, making wind turbines more efficient and consistent.

Cheng's system converts and directs the extra wind energy to an air compression tank, where the energy is stored until wind speeds dip below the maximum capacity. Using a rotary vane machine that is connected between the turbine's gearbox and generator, excess energy is diverted and stored in the air compression tank. When the wind dies down, the tank then kicks in and reverses airflow back to the rotary vane machine to generate electricity.

In a recent study of his prototype, Cheng found that a 250-kW system would produce an additional 3,830 kWh of electricity per week or an additional 16,400 kWh per month based on historical wind data from Springview, Nebraska. That extra electricity is about 18 times the monthly energy use of a typical American household.  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...

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