Gone with the wind: Surprising potential to improve reliability in wind power

Science Daily:  Despite the rigors of scientific inquiry and the methodical approaches of the world's most talented researchers, sometimes science has a surprise in store.

Such was the case when a group of researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Akron discovered that a particular form of carbon coating not necessarily designed for wind turbines may indeed prove a boon to the wind industry -- a serendipitous finding that was recently highlighted in the journal Tribology International.

Due to the strenuous environment inherent in wind turbine drivetrains, key components such as actuators, bearings and gears are prone to failure, meaning turbines require regular maintenance that helps drive up the price of wind energy. Prolonging the life of these components could greatly reduce the cost of wind power, the fastest growing source of energy in the world, thereby making it an even more attractive energy source.  Cont'd...

To Make Fresh Water without Warming the Planet, Countries Eye Solar Power

Richard Martin for MIT Technology Review:  At the giant Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park under construction near Dubai, a desalination facility goes into operation this month. Run by an array of solar panels and batteries, the system will produce about 13,200 gallons of drinking water a day for use on site. That’s insignificant compared with desalination plants elsewhere, but it’s a start toward answering a pressing question: can countries stop burning fossil fuels to supply fresh water?

Hundreds of desalination plants are planned or under way worldwide because fresh water is increasingly precious. According to a report from the International Food Policy Research Institute, more than half the world’s population will be at risk of water shortages by 2050 if current trends continue.

In drought-ridden California, a $1 billion plant at Carlsbad, north of San Diego, will produce 54 million gallons of fresh water a day. The giant Sorek plant in Israel can crank out more than 160 million gallons a day (see “Megascale Desalination” and “Desalination Out of Desperation”). But these plants are a devil’s bargain; they use power from plants that, in most cases, emit greenhouse gases, ultimately worsening the problem of drought. Saudi Arabia, for instance, uses around 300,000 barrels of oil every day to desalinate seawater, providing some 60 percent of its fresh water supply. That’s not sustainable. Finding a way to produce fresh water without burning fossil fuels is critical not just for the desert countries of the Middle East but for a growing number of places around the world.  Cont'd...

Riding the 'Solarcoaster' as Shares Plunge Even More Than Coal

Joe Ryan & Brian Eckhouse for Bloomberg:  For all the upbeat forecasts about the growth of solar power, this is a punishing year for the industry. And it won’t improve anytime soon.

SunEdison Inc., the world’s biggest clean-energy company, is bankrupt. Yingli Green Energy Holding Co., once the top panel maker, warned it may be inching toward default. And SolarCity Corp., the largest U.S. rooftop installer, plunged as much as 27 percent Tuesday after scaling back its installation forecast for the third time in seven months. 

They’re not alone. A Bloomberg index of 20 major solar companies has slumped more than 30 percent this year. Soaring installations and growing global demand for clean energy is being trumped by investor concerns that the debt-fueled strategies employed by SunEdison, Yingli and SolarCity are endemic to the industry and dangerous for shareholders.

“They call it the solarcoaster for a reason,” said Nancy Pfund, managing partner of DBL Partners and a SolarCity director. With so much happening, both positive and negative, “it’s been hard for investors to follow.”

At a time when falling prices, renewed U.S. tax breaks and the Paris climate deal are fueling solar sales worldwide, solar shares are performing even worse than coal stocks.  Cont'd...

Solar Cell "Wonder Material"-Perovskite-Falls Short of Expectations

Hugh Cowley for Scientific American:  Perovskites have arguably transformed solar energy more in the last few years than other technologies have in decades. But British researchers have called into question optimistic predictions of undiscovered perovskites.

Hybrid perovskites are a mix of organic and inorganic ions with the same crystal structure as calcium titanium oxide (CaTiO3). Halide perovskites are a subset of these structures containing halide ions such as fluoride or chloride. Iodide perovskites such as methylammonium lead iodide (CH3NH3PbI3) can convert sunlight to electricity.

Researchers use a decades-old geometric 'tolerance factor' to propose new combinations of ions that will form stable perovskites. Now, Robert Palgrave and his team at University College London, UK, have reassessed the validity of the tolerance factor in predicting new hybrid perovskite structures.  Cont'd...

Solar power is contagious. These maps show how it spreads.

Brad Plumer for VOX:  Rooftop solar is expanding rapidly in the United States — by some estimates, a new system goes up every four minutes. There are plenty of reasons for that, from falling prices to generous federal subsidies to innovative leasing schemes.

But there's another, little-discussed factor here: Residential solar power is contagious. Yep, contagious. Studies have found that if you install solar photovoltaic panels on your roof, that increases the odds that your neighbors will install their own panels.

SolarCity, the largest solar installer in the United States, just published some fascinating data on this "contagion" effect. The company has installed 230,000 rooftop systems nationwide (often by allowing customers to lease panels rather than buy them upfront). It says fully one-third of customers were referred by a friend or neighbor.

SolarCity has also made some neat animations showing the "contagion" effect in action.  View here:

How much noise is produced by wind turbines?

Phys.org:  Wind energy is to have a major share in the future renewable energy mix. The Germany-wide TremAc project is aimed at improving the planning, development, and acceptance of wind power plants and at developing objective criteria for their emissions. For this purpose, experts will study the interaction of acoustic and seismic vibrations of wind power plants and plan to generate a model to compute both emissions. TremAc is funded with EUR 1.85 million by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy.

"We want to compute the complete chain of effects from the plant to the population," Theodoros Triantafyllidis, coordinator of the TremAc cooperation project and Head of the Institute of Soil Mechanics and Rock Mechanics of KIT, explains. Within the framework of the TremAc cooperation project, a single chain is to be developed for modeling all vibrating plant components and the surroundings, i.e. the rotating rotor blades, drive shaft, gondola suspension and tower structure, foundation, and the ground, various topographic terrains and airflows as well as adjacent residential buildings and workplaces.

High legal barriers in 10 states make it especially difficult to put solar panels on rooftops.

Julian Spector for CityLab:  A lot has been said already about the success of the states that are leading the adoption of solar energy. There’s plenty to celebrate, as solar installationssmash records and as the industry grows 12 times faster than the U.S. economy. At the same time, it’s important to recognize that many people live in places where the government is either not facilitating a solar market or is actively smothering it.

Solar obstructionism takes center stage in a report, aptly titled “Throwing Shade,” out Tuesday from Greer Ryan at the Center for Biological Diversity. The organization advocates for an energy system that’s clean, equitable, and wildlife friendly, so Ryan set out to rank the states based on how well their policies encourage rooftop solar panels. Then she analyzed the 10 worst-scoring states with the highest solar potential in order to better understand how the absence of state-level policies—or the presence of antagonistic ones—hampers the growth of solar markets.  Cont'd...

Giant wave-riding platform design puts solar power out to sea

David Szondy for GizMag:  Sea-based wind farms are becoming a common sight in many parts of the world, but why not floating solar power stations? Engineers at the Vienna University of Technology foresee a future where platforms 100 m (330 ft) long and covered with solar panels float on even heavy seas thanks to a new floatation system called Heliofloat. Still under development, Heliofloat uses flexible, open-bottom floats that are capable of standing up to rough seas that would destroy such a platform sitting on conventional tanks.

Solar energy has a great potential for helping solve the world's energy problems, but among the factors hindering its general application is that suitable land is not always available. Relocating panels offshore could make for installations of incredible size and generating potential, but the seas isn't always a placid place. Even relatively calm areas can suddenly become tempests with waves that can pound a floating platform to kindling in a matter of minutes.  Cont'd...

This Solar Power Plant Can Run All Night

Justin Worland for Time:  Crescent Dunes looks and sounds a bit like an invention lifted from a science fiction novel. Deep in the Nevada desert more than 10,000 mirrors—each the size of a highway billboard—neatly encircle a giant 640-foot tower. It looks like it might be used to communicate with aliens in deep space.

But the engineers and financiers behind the facility, located in the desert about halfway between Las Vegas and Reno, say the power plant’s promise is anything but fiction. The solar power facility built and operated by the company SolarReserve can power 75,000 homes. What sets it apart from other big solar projects is that this plant can store power for use when it is most needed, including cloudy days and after dark—a major advance for renewable energy technology.  Cont'd...

SunEdison Files for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Protection

PEG BRICKLEY and ANNE STEELE for The Wall Street Journal:  Solar-energy Company SunEdison Inc. on Thursday filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, a dramatic move for a company whose market value stood at nearly $10 billion in July.

SunEdison said its publicly traded entities, TerraForm Power Inc. and TerraForm GlobalInc., aren’t part of the filing. The two so-called yieldcos—separate entities that buy operating projects from developer SunEdison and pay out cash flow to their shareholders—said Thursday they believe they have sufficient liquidity to run their businesses and meet financial obligations, although SunEdison’s bankruptcy “will present challenges.”

Bankruptcy has been a near-certainty for SunEdison for some time. The company borrowed heavily to buy up wind and solar developers, accumulating a pile of debt that worried investors. Disappointing earnings didn’t ease their fears about the pace of SunEdison’s growth, and an accounting move last year that reclassified more than $700 million worth of debt heightened anxieties.  Cont'd...

Why companies like: Google and Walmart are buying so much wind power

Brady Dennis for The Washington Post:  The U.S. wind energy industry had a memorable 2015, from installing thousands of new turbines across the country to supporting a growing number of jobs.

But perhaps one of the most noteworthy brights spots of the past year, according to an annual report released Tuesday by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), was the growing demand for wind energy from major corporations. High-tech firms such as Google Energy, Facebook and Amazon Web Services, as well as more traditional companies such as Procter & Gamble, General Motors, Walmart and Dow Chemical, have signed contracts to purchase increasing amounts of wind energy in coming years.

Corporations and other non-utility customers — including some municipalities and universities  — accounted for more than half of the wind power capacity sold through so-called power purchase agreements in 2015, according to the AWEA. The group said that corporate and other non-utility buyers have signed contracts for more than 4,500 megawatts of wind power capacity, or enough to power the equivalent of about 1.2 million American homes.  Cont'd...

Two-thirds of US solar installers do not offer storage, study finds

Ian Clover for PV Magazine:  A study by EuPD Research shows just 34% of PV installers in the U.S. offer storage solutions to customers, with those reluctant to do so citing cost concerns. However, 26% that currently do not offer storage hope to include it in their portfolios this year.

For all the glitzy product launches by the likes of Tesla and Sonnen, the solar+storage landscape of the U.S. is still largely shaped by what leading installers are – or aren’t – prepared to offer to customers, and a recent survey has found that around two-thirds do not currently include storage technology in their product portfolio.

EuPD Research’s latest PV Installer Survey USA 2015/16 revealed that only one-third of installers already offer energy storage to homeowners or businesses in the U.S. looking to adopt solar power. Of the two-thirds that do not, 38% said that current pricing of batteries impedes demand, meaning margins are too low for installers and the "technological maturity" of the systems on the market is not currently convincing.

However, the mood does appear to be shifting in favor of storage, with 26% of survey participants saying they hope to add storage products to their portfolio at some stage in 2016.  Cont'd...

UK solar power installations plummet after government cuts

Adam Vaughan for The Guardian:  The amount of household solar power capacity installed in the past two months has plummeted by three quarters following the government’s cuts to subsidies, according to new figures.

A fall in solar power was expected following a 65% reduction in government incentives paid to householders, but the size of the drop-off will dismay green campaigners who want take up on clean energy sources to accelerate.

Data published by the energy regulator this week shows there was 21 megawatts (MW) of small solar installed in February and March this year, after a new, lower incentive rate came into effect. By contrast, energy department figures show that for the same period in 2015, 81MW was installed.  Cont'd...

Report: North America Could Add 75 GW Of Wind Power By 2025

From North American WindPower:  According to MAKE’s latest wind power outlook for North America, unprecedented long-term policy certainty in the U.S., along with a new climate-conscious government in Canada, will enable nearly 75 GW of total wind power growth in the region from 2016 to 2025.

The production tax credit (PTC) in the U.S. was extended in December 2015 as a multiyear phaseout and will support a total of 44.4 GW of wind power additions from 2016 to 2021. However, as the value of the PTC phases down after 2018, several drivers must align to sustain wind power growth in the U.S. At the sub-regional level, Texas will lead wind power growth from 2016 to 2018, followed by the Plains and the Midwest.

Turbine technology advancement and balance-of-plant cost reductions will continue to drive down the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) of wind power and offset a portion of the lost PTC value from 2019. This will allow wind power to maintain a substantial share of new power generation demand, despite attractive costs for natural gas power and rising competition from solar photovoltaics. Last year, the U.S. alone added nearly 8.6 GW of new wind energy generation.  Cont'd...

Solar Power's Promise Infuses a New Film

Emily J. Gertz for TakePart:  Filmmaker Shalini Kantayya set out to show that climate change isn’t all gloom and doom. The result, Catching the Sun, ably makes that case but may still leave you inspired and infuriated in equal parts.

This fast-paced and compelling new documentary, which premieres Friday in New York City and in cities nationwide during April, follows a diverse group of job seekers, activists, politicians, and entrepreneurs as they tap into the world’s growing solar powereconomy.

Kantayya jumps between nations that have unequivocally adopted policies to speed up adoption of renewables and more fitful efforts here in the United States to expand solar energy—from a program in Richmond, Virginia, training unemployed men and women to become solar panel installers to a “Green Tea Party” member and energy independence advocate working both sides of the halls of power in Georgia.  Cont'd...

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