It's crazy. It'll never work. They cost too much. They'll crack. They're too delicate. You'll slide off them. Oil companies will never let it happen. Scott Brusaw, an electrical engineer from Idaho, has heard it all before. Over the past eight years, skeptics (like this one) have been telling him his concept for solar roadways — replacing America's roads with solar panels, creating a power grid where pavement used to be — won't work. But Brusaw suddenly has a reason why it will — actually, 2.2 million of them. Solar Roadways' crowdfunding campaign, which closed on Monday, raised $2.2 million — more than double what Brusaw was seeking — in just two months. The campaign, the most popular in Indiegogo's history, attracted more than 48,000 backers from all 50 states and 165 countries. "It's been humbling," Brusaw, 56, told Yahoo News. "Really, really humbling." The success can be attributed, in part, to a cheeky seven-minute video ("Solar FREAKIN' Roadways!") that has been viewed more than 16 million times on YouTube.
Many people, even fanatical advocates of solar power, are unaware quite how close we are to reaching a critical milestone in the industry. Within a fairly short space of time, solar generated electricity will be fully cost competitive with coal-powered electricity -- at least if the governments of the world’s two largest energy consuming nations have their way. Both the U.S. and China have a stated goal of reducing the cost of solar generated electricity to that level, and quickly. How they are going about it says a lot about how each economic system works. In the U.S., despite the complaints of some that a drift toward government control is taking place, private initiative and free markets still rule. The Department of Energy launched the SunShot initiative in 2011, with a stated goal of reducing the cost of solar power to be fully competitive with conventional energy sources by the end of this decade. The program funds grants, incentives and competitions to encourage private sector research that will improve the efficiency and lower the cost of solar energy. The Chinese, faced with what is in many ways a more urgent need to achieve the same thing, have taken a different approach. In a manner more in keeping with their history and current economic system, they are beating the problem over the head with piles of cash until the desired outcome is achieved. It looks, if this excellent Michael Sankowski piece at Monetary Realism is to be believed, as if they are getting mighty close.
Massachusetts Deval Patrick and U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced plans for a new proposed offshore wind power area of more than 742,000 acres, or 1,160 square miles, which would make it about the size of Rhode Island (1,214 sq-miles). This new area, where space would be auctioned in 4 different leases, would nearly double the federal offshore acreage available for large wind energy projects. Secretary Jewell said that the government has learned from the Cape Wind offshore wind project in Nantucket Sound, which faced over a decade of opposition and lawsuits, and have picked a spot farther from the shore that should not be as contentious. "We put in zones that we believe have both high potential and lower conflict," Jewell said. "But it's going to actually get down to a specific construction plan on a specific site and (an environmental) analysis to determine what people want to do economically and what that impact is going to be.
SolarCity is already the largest installer of residential solar panels in the United States. Now the company is going a step further, buying up solar manufacturer Silevo and planning to build one of the world's biggest solar-panel factories in upstate New York. The immediate goal here is vertical integration. The company, which was co-founded by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, wants to handle all aspects of the solar supply chain, from design to manufacturing to sales to installation. It's basically the Apple model — only for solar panels. But SolarCity's ultimate aspiration is to drive down prices dramatically. In a call on Tuesday, Musk said that the aim was "to have solar power compete on an unsubsidized basis with fossil-fuel energy from the grid." (The company was also founded by brothers Lyndon and Peter Rive, who currently run it.) Is that doable? SolarCity has had success with its current business model — offering rooftop solar systems at no upfront cost to customers who make monthly payments spread out over many years. The company now handles 25 percent of all US residential solar installations — and is aiming for 1 million customers by 2018. This latest move means SolarCity will be able to produce its own panels for these systems and try to lower its costs even further.
Warren Buffett is ready to double his $15 billion investment in renewable energy, according to reports. Speaking at the Edison Electric Institute’s annual convention in Las Vegas Monday, Buffett described how he had briefly lost track of how much Berkshire Hathaway had invested in the sector and needed a reminder from a deputy. Buffett said he responded “there’s another $15 billion ready to go,” according to Bloomberg News. Buffett’s investments include wind farms in Iowa as well as solar farms in California and Arizona. Buffett also vowed to keep investing in utilities. The sector may not make you rich, but it will keep you rich, the legendary investor was quoted as saying in another report. Berkshire Hathaway’s MidAmerican Energy last year bought two co-located solar-power projects that combined are the largest solar project in the world. Last month, MidAmerican said it will supply Google Inc. facilities in Iowa with electricity from wind power.
A new windmill design loosely based on Archimedes’s screw principle, aims to change this, however. A Dutch startup aptly named The Archimedes has re-worked the concept of the windmill to move away from the traditional concept of using the pressure differential between the front and rear of the device to move the rotors. The Liam F1 Urban Wind Turbine, modeled after a Nautilus shell, measures about 1.5 meters wide and weighs 75 Kg — an ideal size for installation in a residential setting. The turbine is rated to achieve an efficiency “80 percent of the maximum that is theoretically feasible." According to the creators, the device is designed to provide enough electricity to power an apartment or small home. “The Liam F1 generates an average of 1,500 kilowatt-hours of energy [per year] at a wind-speed of 5 m/s [16.4 ft/s], which resembles half of the power consumption of a common household.” The Liam can even adjust to wind direction, which enables it to maximize power generation even with changing conditions. The Liam is priced at Eur 3,999 or about US$ 5,450 and will start retailing by July 1st. The Archimedes says it has sold 7,000 units in 14 countries so far. The company says it has undertaken field tests for efficiency and power generation “over 50 times,” in which it has achieved its rated output and efficiency.
Manufacturing solar panels can be a dirty business, from the mining of raw materials to the chemical-laced process of purifying silicon to the assembly of silicon wafers. Solar energy is a renewable source, of course, but it’s essential to examine the full supply chain to gauge its total environmental impact. One potential concern is the use, containment, and disposal of toxic chemicals. Another is the energy-efficiency of the manufacturing process and the source of the energy used. Researchers at Northwestern University and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory recently examined the solar panel production process in different locations and published their findings in the July issue of the journal Solar Energy. “We estimated that a solar panel’s carbon footprint is about twice as high when made in China and used in Europe, compared to those locally made and used in Europe,” says Fengqi You, a co-author of the paper and an assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering at Northwestern. “While it might be an economically attractive option to move solar panel manufacturing from Europe to China, it is actually less sustainable from the life cycle energy and environmental perspective.” The primary differences, the researchers found, are the less stringent enforcement of environmental regulations in China coupled with the country’s more coal-dependent power sector. “It takes a lot of energy to extract and process solar-grade silicon,” says co-author Seth Darling. “And in China, that energy tends to come from dirtier and less efficient energy sources than it does in Europe.”
U.S. Residential Solar PV Installations Exceeded Commercial Installations for the First Time in Q1 2014
Driven by strong year-over-year growth in the utility and residential markets, the United States installed 1,330 megawatts of solar photovoltaics (PV) in the first quarter of 2014. According to GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industry Association’s (SEIA) Q1 2014 U.S. Solar Market Insight Report , the U.S. installed 232 megawatts of residential PV, exceeding the non-residential (commercial) market’s 225 megawatts for the first time in the history of the report. Ongoing strength in the residential sector and volatility in the non-residential market spurred this historic milestone. Despite the dip in non-residential installations, GTM Research and SEIA expect the market to rebound and exceed the residential market in 2014 annual PV installations. In another significant development, Q1 2014 was the largest quarter ever for concentrating solar power (CSP) due to the completion of the 392 megawatt (AC) Ivanpah project and the Genesis Solar project’s second 125 megawatt (AC) phase. With a total of 857 megawatts expected to be completed by year’s end, 2014 is on pace to be the largest year for CSP in history. “Solar accounted for 74% of all new U.S. electric capacity installed in Q1 2014, further signaling the rapidly increasing role that solar is playing in the energy market,” said Shayle Kann, Senior Vice President at GTM Research. “Expect to see a resurgence in the non-residential market, combined with continued incremental residential growth, throughout the rest of this year.” Not to be outshone by the success of the residential sector, the utility PV market continued its dominance, growing 171% between Q1 2013 and Q1 2014. With 873 megawatts installed, it accounted for two-thirds of total installations during the quarter. Large-scale projects that were under contracts and negotiations between 2010 and 2012 are now becoming a reality.
Congressional inaction on key clean energy tax policies, coupled with attacks on state renewable energy programs, led to a dramatic decline in clean energy job announcements in the first quarter of this year, according to the latest report from the nonpartisan business group Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2). About 5,600 clean energy and clean transportation jobs were announced in the first three months of this year, down from 12,000 such jobs reported in the comparable period in 2013. A major geothermal project in Idaho accounted for the most clean energy jobs announced on the state level in the first quarter. Idaho was followed by more traditional clean energy leaders. The remaining states in the Top 10 were: Texas , California , Missouri , New York , Kansas , Arizona , Hawaii , New Mexico and Louisiana .. Despite adding thousands of new jobs to the economy, the dramatic drop in clean energy and clean transportation job announcements in the quarter is a clear reflection of mixed signals American businesses are getting from Capitol Hill and state capitals when it comes to policies such as the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC) and various state-level renewable energy standards (RES), according to E2.
The top 20 module suppliers to the solar photovoltaic (PV) industry are guiding an increase in annual shipments of more than 30 percent in 2014, according to the latest NPD Solarbuzz Module Tracker Quarterly report. Leading Chinese module suppliers Trina Solar, Canadian Solar, ReneSola and Jinko Solar are forecasting the most aggressive growth in shipments during 2014, with the upper-end of guidance exceeding 40 percent. "The top-20 module suppliers to the PV industry account for two-thirds of global shipments, and they provide the leading indicators of industry growth and pricing trends," noted Ray Lian, senior analyst at NPD Solarbuzz. "Assuming the leading suppliers achieve the forecasted growth rates, end-market demand in 2014 will approach 50 gigawatts." Yingli Green Energy is forecasting the highest shipment volume in 2014, with the upper end of shipments at 4.2 gigawatts (GW). This shipment level would result in Yingli Green Energy heading the annual shipment rankings for PV suppliers for the third consecutive year. Leading Japanese silicon-based PV module suppliers, Sharp Solar and Kyocera, are forecasting a 15 percent increase in shipments in 2014, reflecting continued strength in the Japanese solar PV market. Sharp Solar and Kyocera command strong market shares, within their domestic markets.
Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk said Wednesday that the world will need to build several lithium-ion battery factories to meet a "quasi-infinite demand for energy storage." Speaking at the World Energy Innovation Forum, Musk said Tesla Motors alone needs its planned $5 billion lithium battery factory to continue the company's rapid growth. Without the proposed "gigafactory" the electric-car maker would lack the batteries it needs to ramp up car production and introduce new models, he said. "We're building the gigafactory because we can't think of any other way to scale," Musk told the energy forum at the company's factory in Fremont. "We either hit the sides of the Petri dish, or we build a bigger Petri dish." The forum, which focused on market-transforming ideas in energy, took place in a corner of the sprawling auto plant where Tesla makes its second car model, the Model S. The proposed gigafactory would double worldwide production of lithium-ion batteries, which could help lower battery production costs 30 percent just in its first year of full-scale operation. Tesla hopes to use those savings to create its $35,000 Gen 3 car, the company's first car aimed at the middle class.
Demand for solar energy is heating up across the United States, and the nation's military is becoming one of the sector's major customers. The Department of Defense wants renewable energy to make up at least one quarter of its total energy use by 2025, and solar energy is squarely within its sights. The Military just recently began construction of a solar power plant at Fort Huachuca in Arizona, where solar panels will be installed over 68 acres, constituting the largest solar array of any military base in the U.S. According to the commanding general of the base, Maj. Gen. Robert Ashley, the project reflects the military's commitment to energy security. Whether it be engaged in disaster relief, humanitarian missions or in military operations, the military needs reliable energy that is "off the grid," since public electrical utilities are vulnerable to adverse weather conditions and potential sabotage. The military also needs to be ready for possible disruptions to the oil supply, which could cripple it and the nation's economy. Such risks to national security are turning the armed forces into a vast laboratory for the development of solar technology and the creation of "net-zero" environments, where energy consumption equals the energy created on-site. The military already used solar arrays at fixed-site locations in Afghanistan. By moving to solar power, the military could also avoid the high costs of transporting gasoline to remote areas of the world. In the past, moving gasoline to bases in Afghanistan could cost up to $400 per gallon.
The Obama administration has announced funding for three offshore wind power projects off the New Jersey, Oregon and Virginia coastlines. The administration has pledged up to $47 million for each project to bring a total of 67 megawatts (MW) of green power online. The price tag for all this green power: a staggering $11.75 million per wind turbine. In terms of energy, the twelve offshore wind turbines will cost $2.1 million per MW. But the high price tag has not deterred the Obama administration from funding the costly wind projects. “Offshore wind offers a large, untapped energy resource for the United States that can create thousands of manufacturing, construction and supply chain jobs across the country and drive billions of dollars in local economic investment,” said Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. According to Windustry, a utility scale wind turbine cost from $1.3 million to $2.2 million per MW. Most “commercial-scale turbines installed today are 2 MW in size and cost roughly $3-$4 million installed.” The Energy Information Administration (EIA) says that the costs of offshore wind power are still high at $204 per megwatthour (MWh) — compared with the costs of onshore wind power at $80 per MWh.
The Idaho couple who created an innovative road surface made of solar panels is back with a prototype, and they’re looking to Indiegogo for additional funding. Scott and Julie Brusaw want to replace traditional asphalt and concrete with impact-resistant solar panels that do double duty as a road surface and an energy source. When the solar roadway concept debuted in 2010, it caught the interest of futurists and government officials. Now the Brusaws have a working prototype covering a 12- by 36-foot parking lot outside the couple’s electronics lab in Idaho. The new panels look quite different from the prototype we saw almost four years ago. The latest design is hexagonal, which allows for better coverage on curves and hills. They’re also heated for easier snow and ice removal, and include LEDs that can display road markings or even messages. According to the Brusaws, the new glass-covered panels have been tested for traction and impact resistance, and can sustain a 250,000-pound load. They’ve even got a video of a tractor driving over the parking lot prototype. This is also the first time the panels have been subjected to real-world road conditions, and the parking lot includes a dedicated channel for drainage and utilities. Up until this point, the project has been financed through a $50,000 private grant and two phases of funding from the Federal Highway Administration. Now, the Brusaws have launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise $1 million for commercialization of their prototypes.
US Wind power's role in addressing climate change and renewable portfolio standards were major themes at today's opening session of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA)'s annual conference in Las Vegas. The industry has "huge potential" under the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s new proposed regulations on emissions from existing power plants, said Tom Kiernan, CEO of AWEA, at Windpower 2014. EPA’s proposed regulations will be unveiled next month, and finalised in June of 2015, Shaun McGrath, administrator of the agency’s Region 8, told the conference. EPA is part of the Obama administration, which has vowed to slash carbon emissions. Wind is currently at a "crossroads", added AWEA’s Kiernan. Next week, an extension of the valuable production tax credit may reach the Senate floor, he noted. And he reiterated the lobbying group’s long-time demand - that wind needs policy stability.
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