Five years after the Obama administration's renewable energy initiative touched off a building boom of large-scale solar power plants across the desert Southwest, the pace of development has slowed to a crawl, with a number of companies going out of business and major projects canceled for lack of financing.
Of the 365 federal solar applications since 2009, just 20 plants are on track to be built. Only three large-scale solar facilities have gone online, two in California and one in Nevada. The first auction of public land for solar developers, an event once highly anticipated by federal planners, failed to draw a single bid last fall.
Several factors are responsible, industry analysts say. The tight economy has made financing difficult to obtain, and the federal government has not said whether it will continue to offer tax credits of the size that brought a rush of interest in large-scale solar five years ago.
"I would say we are in an assessment period," said Amit Ronen, director of the George Washington University Solar Institute. "Nobody's going to break ground on any big new solar projects right now — utilities want to see how farms coming online this year fit into the grid, and developers are waiting for more certainty about state policies and federal tax credits."
Harvard University researchers have invented an new kind of “flow battery” that could be used on large-scales, such as within electricity grids, to store intermittent renewable energy from sources such as wind and solar. The research describing the new “metal free organic-inorganic aqueous flow battery”, was published in the journal Nature on 9 January.
To create the battery, the Harvard researchers say they have been working with a previously overlooked group of organic compounds called quinones. These can be used to make inexpensive batteries that can charge and discharge renewable energy more quickly than current batteries are able to.
The researchers maintain that their new battery can work as well as existing batteries with chemistries based on metals, which are far more expensive to make. The new battery does not use a precious metal catalyst, it’s underlying chemistry is metal-free; instead, it uses the naturally abundant quinones.
Quinones are water-soluble compounds that store energy in plants and animals. They are found in all green vegetables, and the molecule the researchers used is almost identical to the one in rhubarb. Because quinones are naturally abundant and water-soluble, large, inexpensive tanks could be set up to store electricity, rather than using the traditional, and more expensive solid-state batteries.
New York governor Andrew Cuomo delivered his State of the State address on Wednesday and announced an even greater commitment to clean energy, including $1 billion in new funding for solar energy projects.
Launched in 2012, Cuomo’s NY-Sun Initiative has already been a tremendous success, with almost 300 megawatts (MW) of solar photovoltaic capacity installed or under development, more than was installed in the entire decade prior to the program.
Now with another major financial boost, Cuomo aims to install 3,000 (MW) of solar across New York. “That’s enough solar to power 465,000 New York homes, cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2.3 million tons annually — the equivalent of taking almost 435,000 cars off the road — and create more than 13,000 new solar jobs,” according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
In addition to the ten-year financial boost for NY-Sun, Cuomo announced a new program entitled K-Solar, which will incentivize the deployment of solar energy by using the state’s 5,000 schools as “demonstration hubs” to increase the number of solar energy projects in their surrounding communities.
Yingli Green Energy Holding Co. (YGE), the world’s biggest solar-panel maker, expects to post its first quarterly profit in three years as early as next quarter as demand climbs and cost controls show results.
The Chinese company “will see a gradual rise each quarter” after reporting a “small loss” or breaking even in the first three months of the year, Chief Financial Officer Wang Yiyu said today by telephone.
The forecast indicates increasing optimism that solar-panel makers are recovering from a plunge in prices caused by surplus manufacturing capacity. Trina Solar Ltd. and JinkoSolar Holding Co. (JKS) already have returned to profit. Canadian Solar Inc. (CSIQ), the best-performing stock among peers in the past year, posted its first quarterly net income in more than two years in November.
Yingli’s American depositary receipts increased 8.4 percent to $7.08 at the close in New York, the highest since Oct. 24.
Yingli has surged more than 40 percent this year after agreeing to form a venture with China’s Datong Coal Mine Group to develop solar plants in Shanxi province.
Remarkable new figures from Spain's grid operator have revealed that greenhouse gas emissions from the country's power sector are likely to have fallen 23.1% last year, as power generation from wind farms and hydroelectric plants soared.
Red Eléctrica de España (REE) released a preliminary report on the country's power system late last month, revealing that for "the first time ever, [wind power] contributed most to the annual electricity demand coverage". According to the figures, wind turbines met 21.1% of electricity demand on the Spanish peninsular, narrowly beating the region's fleet of nuclear reactors, which provided 21% of power.
In total, wind farms are estimated to have generated 53,926 gigawatt hours of electricity, up 12% on 2012, while high levels of rainfall meant hydroelectric power output was 16% higher than the historical average, climbing to 32,205GWh.
"Throughout 2013, the all-time highs of wind power production were exceeded," the report stated. "On 6 February, wind power recorded a new maximum of instantaneous power with 17,056MW at 3:49 pm (2.5 per cent up on the previous record registered in April 2012), and that same day the all-time maximum for hourly energy was also exceeded reaching 16,918MWh. Similarly, in January, February, March and November wind power generation was the technology that made the largest contribution towards the total energy production of the system."
An increase in wind power capacity of 173MW coupled with an increase in solar PV capacity of 140MW and solar thermal capacity of 300MW meant that by the end of the year renewables represented 49.1% of total installed power capacity on the Spanish peninsula.
In an unprecedented decision, a Minnesota judge this week held that utility supplier Xcel Energy should invest in the solar energy developer Geronimo Energy rather than in natural gas generators because that choice is the better economical and environmental deal for the state.
Judge Eric Lipman's ruling must be approved by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, which initially ordered the proceeding to force energy companies to compete on price. The commission is expected to issue its final ruling in March.
Lipman said in the 50-page ruling, issued Tuesday, that the Geronimo project "will have numerous socioeconomic benefits, minimal impacts on the environment and best supports Minnesota's efforts to reduce greenhouse gases."
The decision, if approved, would help Xcel fulfill its requirement to attain 1.5 percent of its power from the sun by 2020 under a new state energy law.
Geronimo Vice President Betsy Engelking said the decision marks a turning point for the solar industry because it is the first time that unsubsidized solar energy has gone head-to-head with natural gas resources and been selected as the best option.
"The judge decided that it was the best option for economic and environment reasons," Engelking told Al Jazeera. "Economically, the judge found that it was the lowest cost option offered."
If the decision stands, Geronimo plans to build roughly 20 solar arrays at a cost of $250 million.
While the news about climate change seems to get worse every day, the rapidly improving technology, declining costs, and increasing accessibility of clean energy is the true bright spot in the march toward a zero-carbon future. 2013 had more clean energy milestones than we could fit on one page, but here are 13 of the key breakthroughs that happened this year.
As the rest of the world prepares to toast the new year, the wind industry is hard at work on its own year-end tradition, rushing to make sure projects qualify for an important subsidy before it is set to vanish at the stroke of midnight on Tuesday.
Developers are signing deals, ordering equipment and lurching ahead with construction starts to qualify for a tax credit that is worth 2.3 cents a kilowatt-hour for the first 10 years of production. This month, giant turbine-makers like Vestas and Siemens have announced major new orders, including a deal worth more than $1 billion with MidAmerican Energy, an Iowa-based utility majority-owned by Warren E. Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, and another with the Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound.
In previous years, the projects had to be in commercial operation by New Year’s Eve. This year, they need only have begun.
“What we see right now is a race to the finish line, where we’re trying to get projects signed,” said Mark Albenze, chief executive of the Wind Power Americas unit of Siemens Energy. “It’s a little bit of a different dynamic, whereas in ’12 our projects teams were the ones stressing out in December and now it’s our acquisition team.”
You might think of Google Glass as one of those tech creations that’s more intriguing than practical. You might see computerized eyewear as a Silicon Valley nerd fantasy that’s unlikely to change the way the rest of the world works. You would not be alone.
But that’s not how Michael Chagala sees it. Chagala is the director of IT at Sullivan Solar Power, which is slipping Google Glass onto the heads of the field technicians who install its solar panels atop homes and businesses across Southern California.
Because every building is unique, these field techs need ready access to all sorts of specs and plans describing the job at hand. In the past, they’ve carried three-ring binders onto the roof, but those are so hard to handle — particularly when the wind is blowing pages. They’ve lugged laptops up there too, but that comes with its own problems, including, well, the sun. So Chagala and company are switching to Glass, allowing their techs to browse documents simply by looking through the eyewear. For the most part, they can do this without using their hands — though you do have to tap the side of the glasses to move from doc to doc.
“When you have someone on a roof, safety is your primary concern,” Chagala says. “Having both hands free is significant.”
Lead by Chagala, the company has built a custom Glass app that taps into a database housing its customer records, information about particular job sites, and its inventory of parts and equipment. But its technicians also will use other tools available with the eyewear. A field worker can, say, call headquarters with questions or transmit live video of a roof installation to get some feedback.
“There was a fire on a building in Munich which had solar panels and the Munich Fire Department let it burn to the ground,” rather than risk injury to its fire fighters, said Henson.
Realizing that this could potentially become a recurrent problem in a geographic area that is reliant on solar power, the fire department approached TOPinno and asked for its help finding a way that the solar panels could be disabled in cases of fire.
The result was a small sensor, or fuse, that is placed between the panels and monitors the heat of the photovoltaic unit while subbing as a manual shut-off switch for emergency situations.
“The moment the fuses are broken due to the heat, the voltage will go down to below 120V, which is the legal requirement to be able to use water to extinguish the flames,” says TOPinno GMBH’s General Manager, Raymond Huwaë. But first responders needing to access the roof because of a fire inside the building (such as in Delanco, New Jersey or Munich, Germany) would also have the option of disengaging the fuse manually.
“Currently we are negotiating with the UL Laboratories in Illinois USA, to have the fuse UL certified,” said Huwaë.
The idea starts with the liquid carbon dioxide which is increasingly envisioned as a solution to global climate change. The CO2 is captured at the source from fossil fuel burning electrical generation facilities. For efficient storage, the CO2 is compressed into a liquid, which can be pumped deep into the earth, to be trapped in the same porous rock beds which once provided oily reservoirs.
But instead of just storing the CO2 underground, the COS would feed what is described as a "cross between a typical geothermal power plant and the Large Hadron Collider." Liquid CO2 would be pumped into horizontal wells set up in concentric rings deep in the earth.
Carbon dioxide flows through the porous rock bed deep in the earth more quickly than water, collecting as much heat more easily. More importantly, the CO2 expands more than water when heated, so the pressure differential between the CO2 pumped into the ground and the heated CO2 is much greater than the pressure differential of the water making the same loop.
The amount of energy that can be generated depends on this pressure differential -- and is therefore substantially greater in CPG than in traditional geothermal plants. The CO2 expands so much that the pressure alone can carry the heated CO2 back to the surface, an effect referred to as a "thermo-siphon". The thermo-siphon makes the use of pumps for recovering the hot CO2 unnecessary, reducing the energy costs required to generate the geothermal electricity for a higher overall efficiency.
Siemens won an order to supply 448 wind turbines with a total capacity of 1,050 megawatts (MW) to U.S.-based MidAmerican Energy, which the German engineering group said was the largest single order for onshore wind power ever awarded.
The wind turbines, with a nominal rating of 2.3 MW each and a rotor diameter of 108 metres, are to be installed in five different projects in Iowa, Siemens said in a statement on Monday.
Siemens said it would also be responsible for service and maintenance of the wind turbines.
Siemens did not provide any financial details of the transaction.
By a rule of thumb, one megawatt of onshore wind capacity sells for 1 million euros ($1.37 million).
SunPower Corp. (SPWR), the second-largest U.S. solar-panel maker, is testing power-storage systems in three countries to complement its residential systems, its chief executive officer said.
The company is evaluating batteries in Germany, Australia and California and expects to have a product to sell to customers within the next couple of years, Chief Executive Officer Tom Wernersaid today in an interview at Bloomberg’s New York headquarters.
Adding batteries to residential solar systems would let people power their homes at night with electricity generated during the day, decreasing demand for energy from the grid and creating a threat to utilities’ revenue, Werner said. California will require utilities to use storage by 2020 and Germany introduced incentives in May to promote wider use of the technology.
“In the near term, we’re driven by policy,” he said. “In the long-term it’s economics.”
The company, based in San Jose, California, gets at least 25 percent of its revenue from photovoltaic panels that end up on consumers’ rooftops.
SolarCity Corp. (SCTY), which provides rooftop solar systems, began offering lithium-ion battery storage units made by Tesla Motors Inc. (TSLA) last week.
GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association® (SEIA®) today released U.S. Solar Market Insight: 3rd Quarter 2013, the definitive analysis of solar power markets in the U.S., with strategic state-specific data for 28 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
The U.S. installed 930 megawatts (MW) of photovoltaics (PV) in Q3 2013, up 20 percent over Q2 2013 and 35 percent over Q3 2012. This represents the second largest quarter in the history of the U.S. solar market and the largest quarter ever for residential PV installations. Even more importantly, 2013 is likely to be the first time in more than 15 years that the U.S. installs more solar capacity than world leader Germany, according to GTM Research forecasts.
"Without a doubt, 2013 will go down as a record-shattering year for the U.S. solar industry," said Rhone Resch, SEIA president and CEO. "We've now joined Germany, China and Japan as worldwide leaders when it comes to the installation of new solar capacity. This unprecedented growth is helping to create thousands of American jobs, save money for U.S. consumers, and reduce pollution nationwide. When it comes to preparing for America's future, clean, dependable and affordable solar energy has become the ‘Little Engine That Could,' defying expectations and powering economic growth – and, frankly, we're just scratching the surface of our industry's enormous potential."
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