NY Times: For more than a year now, an enormous solar thermal power plant has been humming along in the Arizona desert, sending out power as needed, even well after sunset. The plant, called Solana, was developed by the Spanish energy and technology company Abengoa and has succeeded in meeting an elusive solar goal — producing electricity when the sun is not shining — and displacing fossil-fuel-based power in the grid. “With the sun going down at 6 or 7 o’clock at night, all the other forms of solar production are essentially going to zero,” said Brad Albert, general manager for resource management at Arizona Public Service, the state’s main utility, “while Solana is still producing at full power capability. It just adds a whole lot of value to us because our customer demand is so high even after the sun goes down.” Indeed, Abengoa opened another mammoth plant on Friday in the Mojave Desert in California that uses the same approach. But despite the technology’s success, Abengoa and other developers say they do not have plans at the moment to build more such plants in the United States. And that is largely because of uncertainty surrounding an important tax credit worth 30 percent of a project’s cost. Although the subsidy, known as the Investment Tax Credit, is to remain in place until the end of 2016, when it will drop to 10 percent, that does not give developers enough time to get through the long process of securing land, permits, financing and power-purchase agreements, executives and analysts say.
America's wind installations grew six-fold in 2014, making the United States the world's second-largest wind market behind China, according to new figures out today from research firm Bloomberg New Energy Finance. US installations reached 4.7GW, thanks to the extension of the Production Tax Credit in January 2013. The extension allowed projects to qualify by starting construction before the deadline. While the US returned to growth, China continued its pattern of record-setting installations up 38% from 2013. In 2014, China installed 20.7GW – over four times more than the US – and more than 40% of all new capacity worldwide. For perspective, China has been the world's largest wind market for six years, since overtaking the US. China now has 96GW of grid-connected wind energy capacity, or more capacity than the entire power fleet of the United Kingdom. Wind energy is the country's third-largest power source behind coal and hydropower, and ahead of nuclear. China's banner year was the result of a policy-driven rush to build, as onshore tariffs are expected to lower this year. The top five Chinese turbine manufacturers Goldwind, Guodian United Power, Envision, Ming Yang, and Sewind led the market with a combined 12.4GW, or 60% of total installed capacity.
From TechCrunch: Amazon today announced that it is working with the Pattern Energy Group to construct and operate a 150 megawatt wind farm in Benton County, Indiana. The new wind farm will go online in about a year and the expectation is that it will supply at least 500,000 megawatt hours of wind power annually. That’s enough to power about 46,000 U.S. homes, but the “Amazon Web Services Wind Farm (Fowler Ridge)” — that’s the full name of what was previously called the “Fowler Ridge IV Wind Project” — will only be used to power Amazon’s AWS data centers. Amazon is not disclosing the financial details of this project, but Pattern Energy notes that this is a 13-year agreement. As Amazon announced last November, its long-term goal is “to achieve 100 percent renewable energy usage for the global AWS infrastructure footprint.” That’s a noble goal, but given that there is no date associated with these plans, it’s a bit hard to hold Amazon accountable for it. For now, Amazon offers its users three carbon-neutral regions: US West (Oregon), EU (Frankfurt) and its AWS GovCloud.
As the wind whipped off the East River Wednesday morning, Sims Municipal Recycling officially launched the city's tallest and only commercial-scale wind turbine, at its recycling center in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. The 160-foot-tall turbine has the capacity to produce 100 kilowatts, or 4 percent of Sims' power needs. Built by Northern Power Systems, the turbine cost roughly $750,000. Tom Outerbridge, Sims' general manager for recycling, said he hoped the turbine would be the first of many for the city. "On a practical level, it's offsetting our electricity costs," he said during an event to christen the turbine. "For the city, I like to think it's important that it's trying to break new ground and start to carve a path for wind projects to take off." The project took roughly four years to complete, mainly because of permitting. New York State Energy and Research Development kicked in about $130,000 as part of a statewide incentive program.
From ThinkProgress: A new study by the NC Clean Energy Technology Center finds that in all but 4 of the 50 largest cities in the U.S., installing a fully-financed 5 kilowatt solar panel system makes more financial sense than investing in a popular stock market index fund. Further, the same system would beat the costs of buying energy from local utilities in 42 of those 50 cities. “(S)olar is now not just an option for the rich, but a real opportunity for anyone looking to take greater control over their monthly utility bills and make a long-term, relatively low-risk investment,” concludes the study which was done under funding by the U.S. Department of Energy. A key qualifier in this good news study is that the benefits of installing residential solar photovoltaic systems are greatest when homeowners finance the systems (at an assumed annual interest rate of 5 percent) rather than buying them upfront. And the study does not investigate the availability of such loans. The study finds that in upfront purchases of solar, residents in just 14 out of the 50 largest U.S. cities would pay less for electricity than if they buy from their local utility. That upfront investment would be a better investment than the broad stock market index fund in 20 of the 50 cities. Cont'd....
The United Kingdom blew past previous wind power records in 2014 while Germany generated a record amount of electricity from wind in December, setting the stage for 2015 to bring more industry growth across Europe. Exactly how quickly it grows, however, is contingent upon several political and regulatory decisions to come. Using statistics from the U.K.’s National Grid, the trade association RenewableUK found that wind generated enough electricity to power just over 25 percent of U.K. homes in 2014 — a 15 percent increase from 2013. Wind turbines provided 9.3 percent of the U.K’s total electricity supply last year, a 1.5 percent boost from 2013. “It’s great to start 2015 with some good news about the massive quantities of clean electricity we’re now generating from wind,” said RenewableUK’s Deputy Chief Executive Maf Smith. In December, Germany generated more wind power, 8.9 terawatt-hours, than in any previous month. According to the IWR renewable energy research institute, this record will be overtaken in 2015 as more offshore wind farms come online.
Some people complain that solar panels and wind turbines are so unattractive, they’d prefer not to see them at all. To them we offer New Wind, alternative energy generators that look like trees. The 36-foot-tall steel structure is perfect for urban environments, where a conventional wind turbine might not fit. Seventy-two artificial leaves that work as micro-turbines adorn the branches and spin silently on a vertical axis. Cables and generators have been integrated into the leaves and branches in a way that puts them out of sight and sound. The beautiful and functional device is the brainchild of French entrepreneur Jérôme Michaud-Larivière, who said the idea for a tree-inspired wind generator came to him one day while sitting in a square, watching the leaves on nearby trees tremble in a breeze. He wondered if energy could be generated in a similar way. Indeed, it can. At the moment, each tree has a power output estimated at 3.1 kW.
South Korean PV module manufacturer SolarPark Korea has supplied modules to the first floating solar PV power plant in the country, the prototype Sunflower Solar Power Plant, which uses a tracking and rotating system. According to SolarPark Korea, the tracking system rotates the PV plant so that the modules face the most sun throughout the day. As the facility floats on water, it does not take much energy to do this, just a small amount of power being used from the plant for the rotation of the entire system. It is a 465 kWp system and around 8,000 square meters in size. SolarPark Korea supplied 1,550 72-cell multicrystalline modules for the test project. The cooling effect of the water on the modules should prove to show an additional 10% increase in energy production — when compared to a ground-mounted system. Such floating PV power plants do other things as well. They reduce algae growth, for example. Additionally, they have the ability to merge as hatcheries for fish inhabiting the area. Due to the easy rotation and the resulting exposure to maximum sunlight, the Sunflower Solar Power Plant’s production efficiency is 22% higher than a comparable ground-mounted PV plant.
Some of the most important innovations happening in energy today are happening far from the national media headlines. But these small changes will go a long way to making power more reliable, competitive, and local, with solar energy playing a central disruptive role that could dominate energy in the next century. One of those moves happened yesterday, when SunPower bought a $20 million stake in Tendril and agreed to license its Energy Services Management Platform software. Here's what the deal means over the next few years. At its core, Tendril is essentially an energy data company. It collects and analyzes data about consumers' energy usage patterns, primarily learned from partnerships with utilities. SunPower can use this data in its installations to optimize a home's renewable energy consumption, provide stored energy when it's needed, adapt to changing policies for solar, and even improve sales by finding its ideal customers. You can think of SunPower's capabilities with Tendril as a piece of the home of the future. SunPower will provide local energy production with solar panels, and with energy storage and connected devices SunPower can intelligently plan energy production and consumption based on consumers' desires. If a consumer wants to consume as little energy as possible the system can be set for that, just as it could be set to consume as much of your own energy production, or optimize for cost if there are rewards for sending energy to the grid at peak times. All of this will work in the background, similar to a car's eco mode, but it'll work to make energy more dynamic and controllable for consumers.
The Commerce Department began closing a chapter in a protracted trade conflict with China over solar equipment Tuesday, approving a collection of steep tariffs on imports from China and Taiwan. The decision, intended to close a loophole that had allowed Chinese manufacturers to avoid tariffs imposed in an earlier ruling by using cells — a major module component — made in Taiwan, found that the companies were selling products below the cost of manufacture and that the Chinese companies were benefiting from unfair subsidies from their government. The department announced anti-dumping duties of 26.71 percent to 78.42 percent on imports of most solar panels made in China, and rates of 11.45 percent to 27.55 percent on imports of solar cells made in Taiwan. In addition, the department announced anti-subsidy duties of 27.64 percent to 49.79 percent for Chinese modules. “These remedies come just in time to enable the domestic industry to return to conditions of fair trade,” said Mukesh Dulani, president of SolarWorld Americas. “The tariffs and scope set the stage for companies to create new jobs and build or expand factories on U.S. soil.” But others in the industry were quick to criticize the ruling.
Today, despite recent progress, solar power accounts for about one percent of the world’s energy mix. Yet the International Energy Agency (IEA) says that solar energy, most of it generated by decentralized “rooftop” photovoltaic systems, could well become the world’s single biggest source of electricity by mid-century. So how do we get from here to there? The answer, according to scientists and engineers, lies in a new generation of super-efficient, low-cost sunlight harvesters that take up where the recent flood of cheap silicon panels leaves off. New designs and novel solar materials have recently been setting new efficiency records seemingly every week. Although research and development of solar power still falls far short of where scientists and engineers say it needs to be, innovators are making steady progress in creating a new generation of materials that can harvest the sun’s energy far more efficiently than traditional silicon photovoltaic cells. Among the most promising technologies are multi-junction cells with layers of light-harvesters that each gather energy from a separate slice of the solar spectrum, super-efficient semiconductor materials like perovskite and gallium-arsenide, and cells made with tiny but powerful solar-absorbing “quantum dots.” Technical hurdles, such as making new materials able to withstand the elements, remain. Nonetheless, researchers say, efforts now underway could begin to dramatically increase solar power generation within a decade or two. Cont'd...
During the past 2 years, more flexible sourcing strategies across the wind power supply chain have resulted in cost reductions, enabling greater geographic market access while reducing risk and ensuring profitability for wind turbine vendors and their partners in the component value chain. Overcapacity, however, persists in most, though not all areas of the supply chain, providing purchasers with more choice, flexibility, and cost control. According to a new report from Navigant Research, while demand in 2014 is projected to be less than 47,000 megawatts (MW), annual turbine manufacturing capacity, according to vendor estimates, is likely to exceed 71,000 megawatts MW. "Oversupply is allowing wind turbine manufacturers to more easily adjust what components they produce in-house, what is outsourced, and when a blend of both is advantageous for cost, technological, or geographic reasons," says Jesse Broehl, senior research analyst with Navigant Research. "Although many manufacturing facilities are running at less than full capacity, product innovation, lean manufacturing, and outsourcing are resulting in a highly competitive wind industry ready for the challenges of today's and tomorrow's wind markets." Blades are a particularly strong area of strategic product evolution and sourcing shifts, according to the report. Turbine manufacturers are making major, capital-intensive investment changes in how blades are designed, what materials are used, the manufacturing processes behind them, and what companies they source from.
UNITED STATES: The US House of Representatives has approved a one-year extension to the production tax credit (PTC). The extension will allow US projects that began construction activities in 2014 to apply for the credit. It gives producers of wind power a $0.023/kWh incentive. The Senate will now need to approve the bill before it becomes law. The Senate vote is expected to take place in the coming days as both Houses are expected to adjourn for the Christmas break next week. Many in the industry had called for a two-year extension to the credit, which now would expire at the end of 2014. The Senate Finance Committee approved a two-year extension to the PTC in April, as part of a package of tax measures. The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) said the extension creates uncertainty in the US sector. AWEA also warned of a dramatic slowdown to the industry, similar to 2013 when the PTC previously expired, resulting in a 92% drop in installations.
Did you hear about the largest solar power plant in the world and how it is now producing electricity? Did it make the nightly broadcast news? Probably not, but Solyndra was all over the news media for a while. There’s a blatant lack of coverage for solar success stories, so it wouldn’t be surprising if most people aren’t hearing about them. California’s Topaz project is the largest solar power plant in the world with a 550 MW capacity, and it is now in full operation. It is located in San Luis Obispo County and has 9 million solar panels. Construction began just two years ago. The electricity produced by the plant will be purchased by Pacific Gas and Electric. The solar panels were manufactured by First Solar and the project was developed by First Solar. SEIA says about 200 homes in California are powered for each MW of solar power capacity. So, for a 550 MW solar plant, about 110,000 homes could be powered when the sun is shining. First Solar has said this figure could be 160,000 homes in the case of Topaz. The San Luis Obispo county population is about 276,000. It might turn out that the majority of this population could be powered by a single solar power plant.
A British start-up has developed a way for parking lots and structures with roofs that can’t take much weight to harness the power of the sun. The Cambridge, England-based Solar Cloth Company is beginning to run trials of its solar cloth, which uses lightweight photovoltaic fabric that can be stretched across parking lots or on buildings that can’t hold heavy loads, such as sports stadiums with lightweight, retractable roofs. Perry Carroll, Solar Cloth Company’s founder, told BusinessGreen that the company is working to close deals to install solar cloth on 27,000 parking lots. “We have built a growing sales pipeline worth £4.2m [about $US6.57 million] for 2015, including park and ride projects, airport parking operators and retail park owners,” he said. According to Solar Cloth Company, there are about 320 square miles of roof space and 135 square miles of parking space in the UK that could be covered by solar cloth, and if all of these spaces were covered, the solar power produced would be enough to power the UK’s grid three times.
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