US, California Release Roadmap for Solar Projects

State and federal officials sought Tuesday to bring order to California's boom for renewable-energy plants in the Mojave and other southern California deserts, releasing a roadmap covering 22.5 million acres that designates some areas for large-scale solar, wind and geothermal plants and others for conservation of desert habitat and animals.
 
"We have amazingly special places here," U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a news conference at a desert wind farm near Palm Springs with U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer and other officials releasing the multi-agency draft plan.
 
By taking a look at the desert as a whole, Jewell said, the plan's designers are ensuring "the areas that should be protected are set aside. The areas that should be developed are streamlined" for building utility-scale renewable energy plants.
 
The release of the plan follows a renewable-energy building boom in southeastern California's deserts during the first term of the Obama administration, when the federal government gave billions of dollars in loans to developers placing sprawling, utility-scale solar projects in virgin desert.
 
The plan released Tuesday recommends designating a total of 2 million acres as appropriate sites for future solar, wind and geothermal projects. Another 4.9 million acres under the U.S. Bureau of Land Management would be among the areas set aside as conservation areas, if the draft plan is adopted.

Obama pushes energy efficiency, rural solar power

The Obama administration unveiled a slew of actions Thursday aimed at improving energy efficiency and increasing the use of solar power in homes and businesses, including $68 million in spending.

The White House said the actions would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 300 million metric tons by 2030, the equivalent of 60 million cars’ emissions in a year. They will also save $10 billion in energy costs.
The actions, together with commitments from states, communities, companies and others, are part of President Obama’s second-term push to reduce carbon emissions in an effort to mitigate climate change.
 
They follow other recent efforts to help the solar power industry, including a series of announcements in April to spur solar deployment, a White House-hosted summit on solar power and a May decision to install solar power panels on the White House.
 
The Department of Agriculture will spend $68 million on 540 renewable energy and energy-efficiency projects in rural areas, 240 of which are for solar power. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will announce the program, the White House said.

 

Wind energy may help with grid stabilization

A new study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory suggests that wind energy could stabilize the energy grid of the eastern U.S. Grid stabilization is often an issue where renewable energy is concerned. At times, clean energy systems can generate more electrical power than an energy grid can handle. Frequency regulation plays a major role in grid stabilization in the U.S., and wind turbines may be a new solution to the stabilization problem.

Frequency regulation is the process through which the operators of an energy grid police the frequency of the infrastructure’s alternating current. Energy grids are strictly controlled throughout the U.S. and  are mean to put out electric currents with frequencies of 60 Hertz. In order to maintain this frequency, grid operators regularly change how much electricity is being funneled into the grid. Destabilization occurs when frequency is not properly regulated.
 
Wind turbines could be a new solution to this problem. According to the study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, wind turbines could be controlled to affect grid stabilization. The study shows that wind turbines can be tweaked using simple, commercially available mechanical parts. By changing the way these turbines generate electrical power, grid operators may be able to effectively control how much energy is coming into the grid.

North American Windpower reports U.S. offshore wind is "embryonic no more"

North American Windpower reports that the U.S. offshore wind industry is embryonic no more. Recent offshore wind news highlights also show that installations worldwide are picking up speed.
 
As of the end of July, the developer behind the 468 MW Cape Wind project had secured close to two-thirds of the roughly $2.5 billion needed for the wind farm, to be located off the coast of Cape Cod, Mass. In addition, the developer sold more than 77 percent of the projected output (363 MW) through stable, 15-year power purchase agreements (PPAs) at $0.187/kWh plus inflation. Construction is planned to commence in 2015.
 
Deepwater Wind (Providence, R.I.) has secured the entire output for the more modest 30 MW Block Island wind farm, located off the Rhode Island coast, with a 15-year PPA at $0.244/kWh. It also has preliminary contracts for turbines from Alstom and an installation vessel from Fred Olsen Windcarrier, and has received the go-ahead from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the last federal agency to grant its approval. Deepwater says the Block Island wind farm has now been completely reviewed and approved by nine state and federal agencies, and expects “steel in the water” by 2015 with service to begin in 2016.  Cont'd...

Strange bedfellows: Solar power meets oil drilling

A company that uses solar energy to recover crude has scored big financing from some major oil players—and highlights a growing niche of global oil exploration.
 
GlassPoint Solar last week landed a $53 million investment from Royal Dutch Shell and the sovereign investment fund of Oman for its enhanced oil recovery (EOR) technology. In a twist of irony, GlassPont's technology runs on solar power, which produces steam to help pump more fossil fuel from conventional crude plays.
 
GlassPoint has been using this technique in Oman since 2012, and it helped the firm score more than double its initial funding. Given the age of its oil fields, Oman relies on EOR—a complex process that extracts more oil than traditional drilling—to boost production.
 
Although EOR is common to the oil industry, using the power of the sun "is expanding very rapidly, and is a very new technology" said Rod MacGregor, GlassPoint's CEO, in an interview. "This application looks like the next step for solar."

World's Largest Single Rooftop Solar Power Project Commissioned In India

Indian solar energy companies are fast delivering world-class solar power projects as the market expands based on favorable regulatory and policy outlooks.
 
India’s largest engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) company in the solar power market has just commissioned the world’s largest single rooftop solar photovoltaic power project. The 7.52 MW solar power plant has been commissioned in the northern state of Punjab.
 
Larsen and Toubro has been involved in the construction of several solar power projects that will be seen as major milestones in India’s solar power infrastructure expansion. The company reported that it has already commissioned or is working on solar power projects with total capacity of 400 MW. This includes the largest solar thermal power plant in Asia – Reliance Power’s 125 MW linear Fresnel power project located in Rajasthan. The company has also worked on several other solar power projects under the National Solar Mission.
 
Punjab has some of highest power tariffs in the country. Being an agricultural state, power supply to the farmers is of paramount importance, while industries and commercial users are low on the priority list. In the absence of adequate supply, the utility procures power from short-term markets, which increases the overall costs which, in turn, is passed on the industrial and commercial consumers.

UC makes largest solar-energy purchase by U.S. higher education institution

The University of California announced Monday that it signed two power-purchase agreements that, combined, will provide 206,000 megawatt hours of solar energy per year — the largest solar energy purchase by any higher education institution in the U.S.
 
This energy is equivalent to powering 30,000 homes and will avoid producing more than 88,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. The initiative will provide power for UC Irvine, UC San Diego and UC San Francisco, along with their medical centers, in addition to UC Merced and UC Santa Cruz.
 
Mark Byron, the university’s wholesale electricity program manager, described the purchase as a “nexus” with UC President Janet Napolitano’s sustainability initiative, which was released November. One of the main components of the initiative is to be carbon neutral by 2025.
 
“By injecting solar energy, we’re making sure our portfolio comes from green energy,” Byron explained.
 
The university signed the 25-year agreements with Frontier Renewables, a San Mateo-based company focused on solar energy technology. Two solar fields will be built in Fresno County as part of the project.

Sharp Considering Sale Of U.S. Solar Energy Unit

Sharp Corp is looking to sell its U.S.-based solar energy development unit Recurrent Energy, Bloomberg reported on Monday, as the Japanese firm winds down its involvement in the solar industry to focus on profitable businesses.

Sharp paid $305 million in cash in 2010 to acquire Recurrent Energy. Selling the company now would help Sharp to raise capital as it struggles to raise its equity ratio to a healthy level.

This year, Sharp shut down its UK solar plant and also pulled out of a venture with Italian energy firm Enel SpA to make solar panels and generate solar power.

Flexible solar cell woven into fabric

Wearable electronics are quickly becoming the fashion. And there could soon be a way to power those electronics indefinitely, now that scientists in China have developed a solar cell 'textile' that could be woven into clothes. The textile retains a power-generation efficiency close to 1% even after been bent more than 200 times, and can be illuminated from both sides.  

Scientists have been looking into flexible solar cells for decades, partly for coating irregularly shaped objects but also for integrating into wearable fabrics. One popular line of investigation has been dye-sensitized solar cells, in which a pigment absorbs sunlight to generate electrons and their positive counterparts, holes, before passing on those charges to inexpensive semiconductors. These solar cells are cheap and flexible, but the liquid nature of their pigments means that they must be well sealed. Bend a dye-sensitized solar cell more than a few times and the seals are likely to break, destroying its light-harvesting properties.  

That is why Huisheng Peng at Fudan University in Shanghai and colleagues have been exploring another option: polymer solar cells. Although their maximum efficiencies fall below 10% - about half that of crystalline silicon, the most prevalent solar cell - polymer solar cells are lightweight, flexible and easy to manufacture. Peng and colleagues' solar cell textile consists of microscopic interwoven metal wires coated with an active polymer (to absorb the sunlight), titanium dioxide nanotubes (to conduct the electrons) and another active polymer (to conduct the holes). The researches coated each side of the textile with transparent, conductive sheets of carbon nanotubes, which complete the circuit.

A fully transparent solar cell that could make every window and screen a power source

Researchers at Michigan State University have created a fully transparent solar concentrator, which could turn any window or sheet of glass (like your smartphone’s screen) into a photovoltaic solar cell. Unlike other “transparent” solar cells that we’ve reported on in the past, this one really is transparent, as you can see in the photos throughout this story. According to Richard Lunt, who led the research, the team are confident that the transparent solar panels can be efficiently deployed in a wide range of settings, from “tall buildings with lots of windows or any kind of mobile device that demands high aesthetic quality like a phone or e-reader.”
 
Scientifically, a transparent solar panel is something of an oxymoron. Solar cells, specifically the photovoltaic kind, make energy by absorbing photons (sunlight) and converting them into electrons (electricity). If a material is transparent, however, by definition it means that all of the light passes through the medium to strike the back of your eye. This is why previous transparent solar cells have actually only been partially transparent — and, to add insult to injury, they usually they cast a colorful shadow too. Cont'd..

Politics Threatens World's Largest Solar Power Project

An unpopular government’s legacy has become a burden for the new one, which could potentially lead to the scrapping of what has been planned as the world’s largest solar power project.
 
The Rajasthan state government in India has reportedly asked the central government to scrap plans to set up a 4,000 MW solar photovoltaic power project. The state government claims that the proposed project will threaten thousands of migratory birds that flock near the proposed project site every year.
 
Sources close to the government, however, claim that the Rajasthan Chief Minister is not too keen to pursue a project that had been planned during the tenure of the previous government, which was led by the United Progressive Alliance.
 
The proposed project is supposed to come up near Sambhar Lake in eastern Rajasthan. Officials of the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy claim that about a fourth of the planned project area has been listed as environmentally and ecologically sensitive, and that area had already been excluded.
 
According to reports, the state Chief Minister wants to scrap the 4,000 MW solar power project, and pursue an ambitious state-directed solar power policy. Gujarat, under now-Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had earned global limelight after it established one of the largest solar power farms. To date, Gujarat continues to lead all Indian states in terms of installed capacity.

What You Need to Know Before You Invest in Solar Energy

olar energy is one of the greatest investing opportunities of our generation with well over a trillion dollars in annual market potential around the world. But with all that potential comes tremendous risk, particularly as new technologies emerge.

Over the past decade, we've seen solar technologies rise and fall and companies have risen and fallen along with them. Now that this industry is competing with fossil fuels on a cost per kW-hr basis it's important to look at what technologies dominate the industry and what investors should be betting on in the future.
 

Massive solar farms like this one from SunPower are now competitive with other energy sources on the grid, opening up a huge opportunity for the solar industry. Source: SunPower.

Silicon solar, the leader in the clubhouse 
The vast majority of solar panels today are made using silicon semiconductor technology. At its core, this technology has been around for decades, it just hasn't been efficient or cheap enough to be economically viable versus the grid. But that's changed in the last few years as panel prices have plummeted below $1 per watt.

Inside a silicon solar cell the sun's energy excites the semiconductor, knocking an electron loose. If properly built, a cell then captures that electron and turns it into a voltage potential and electric current.  cont'd..

 

Solar Power Poses Lower Risk to Birds Than Cats or Cars

Solar-thermal power plants in the U.S. are less likely to kill birds than automobiles, cats or communication towers, despite reports that say the facilities pose a significant threat to avian life.
 
There were 321 “avian fatalities” in the first half of this year at the 392-megawatt Ivanpah solar project in Southern California, according to a statement Aug. 19 from NRG Energy Inc. (NRG), which co-owns and operates it. Of those, 133 were scorched by heat produced by the plant.
 
That’s far fewer than reported in an Associated Press article on Aug. 18. It cited federal wildlife investigators who estimated that one bird was burned every two minutes by concentrated sunlight at the Mojave Desert power plant.
 
The estimates for birds killed by solar power are “inflated,” NRG spokesman Jeff Holland said in an interview.
 
A greater risk comes from cats, which are estimated to kill hundreds of millions of birds each year. Cars are responsible for about 60 million deaths, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and communication towers add another four million to five million. Wind turbines killed 573,000 birds in 2012.

Solar panel shortage looms even as manufacturers invest in production

The solar industry is bracing for a global drought in photovoltaic panels after a series of high supply years that pushed prices to all-time lows and encouraged installations.

Solar panel adoption is supposed to increase as much as 29% this year, which has top manufacturers and installers anticipating a drop in availability of panels. This would be the first such shortage since 2006 when the nascent solar energy industry was just taking hold, reported Bloomberg News.

Eight years ago, only about 1.5 gigawatts of solar energy capacity was installed. This year as much as 52 gigawatts is expected to be hooked up and another 61 gigawatts in 2015, according to estimates by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

That is compared with about 70 gigawatts of production capacity currently available, though that estimate could be high since some manufacturers’ equipment is out of date or obsolete.

The shrinking supply could hinder the growing rooftop solar panel industry. The scarce supplies often get routed to larger-scale utility projects and leave the residential side with limited availability.

Defective Photovoltaics and Other Flaws Plague China's Push to Build Solar Power

China has bet on solar energy as a cleaner alternative to coal, but whether installed solar panels can meet the country's need for energy is becoming a troubling question.

China had installed nearly 19.5 gigawatts of solar panels as of the end of 2013. However, "many solar installations failed to generate as much electricity as planned," said Ji Zhenshuang, deputy director at the Beijing-based China General Certification Center, which examined 472 Chinese solar projects over the past four years.

Ji would not specify the percentage but said the figure is not small. The solar projects his company examined include those under Golden Sun, a government-led program that was introduced in 2009 to demonstrate the use of solar energy, as well as utility-scale solar farms run by Chinese energy giants.

Although China in recent years has surpassed many countries in adopting solar technology, in a move to help Chinese factories survive tougher export markets and to cut the country's dangerous reliance on coal, there is little public information available on how well the Chinese solar projects function. However, some experts did not seem surprised by Ji's findings.  Cont'd..

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