13 major clean energy breakthroughs of 2013

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.

1. Using salt to keep producing solar power even when the sun goes down. 
2. Electric vehicle batteries that can also power buildings.
3. The next generation of wind turbines is a gamechanger.
4. Solar electricity hits grid parity with coal.
5. Advancing renewable energy from ocean waves.
6. Harnessing ocean waves to produce fresh water. 
7. Ultra-thin solar cells that break efficiency records.
8. Batteries that are safer, lighter, and store more power. 
9. New age offshore wind turbines that float.
10. Cutting electricity bills with direct current power.
11. Commercial production of clean energy from plant waste is finally here.
12. Innovative financing bringing clean energy to more people.
13. Wind power is now competitive with fossil fuels. 
 

Wind Power Developers Race Clock to Secure Subsidy

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.”

 

Google Glass Does Solar Panel Installs in the California Sun

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.

Read Full Article at Wired.com

New Solar Panel Sensor Addresses Fire Risk

“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.

Full Article:

New geothermal technology could produce 10 times the electricity using CO2 from fossil fuel plants

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 wins world's biggest onshore wind power order

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 Testing Batteries to Store Solar Power

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.

U.S. Solar Industry Records Second Largest Quarter Ever

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." 

Invest in solar power for just $25

In the last few years peer to peer lending and crowdfunding have blossomed. While it's great to crowdfund the latest cool product that lets you cut down on using plastic or turns your regular bike into e-bike, it's infinitely cooler tocrowdfund the shift to renewable energy.

Mosaic calls itself an online marketplace for solar. Basically the company provides debt financing to solar projects and lets individual and institutional investors buy shares in a project until it is funded. When projects are complete, the company sells power to a solar customer via a long-term contract, and shares returns of approximately 4.4 - 6.36% with its investors. Investment capital is paid back along with the interest over a 5 - 10 year period.

Now Mosaic wants to take that concept to larger number of potential investors with a new incentive - the company will give new investors $25 once they make their first investment (minimum investments are $25).

Once a new user sets up a Mosaic account and finds a qualified project to invest in, Mosaic will add $25 to the amount invested.

SolarCity, Using Tesla Batteries, Aims to Bring Solar Power to the Masses

SolarCity—a company that’s grown quickly by installing solar panels for free and charging customers for the solar power—announced a new business that will extend that model to providing batteries for free, too. SolarCity is a rare success story for investors in clean technology, and its business model has sped the adoption of solar panels.

The batteries could help businesses lower their utility bills by reducing the amount of power they draw from the grid. They could also help address solar power’s intermittency, which could prevent it from becoming a significant source of electricity. The batteries are being supplied by Tesla Motors, whose CEO, Elon Musk, is SolarCity’s chairman.

Other solar companies have failed in recent years. But SolarCity’s business model has helped it grow quickly. It had a successful IPO a year ago, and its stock price has risen from its IPO price of $8 to over $50 today.

CEO Lyndon Rive says that eight years from now, the company might not be able to continue selling solar panel systems unless it packages them with batteries, because of the strain on the grid that solar power can cause. “It could be that, without storage, you won’t be able to connect solar systems to the grid,” he says.

Hitachi Develops All-in-One Container-Type Energy Storage System

Hitachi, Ltd. announced that it has developed an all-in one, container-type energy storage system as a core energy product for ensuring the stable use of distributed renewable energy such as wind and solar power, while maintaining the power supply-demand balance. This energy storage system fuses Hitachi's electricity grid control technologies built up in the Hitachi Group and Hitachi Chemical Co., Ltd.'s battery-related expertise and will be offered as a packaged system. 

In the beginning of 2014, Hitachi plans to begin a demonstration test of this energy storage system in North America. Plans call for Hitachi to reflect the results of this testing in a commercial product after verifying the commercial viability and performance of the system in the electricity trading market, or the so-called ancillary market*2 connected with maintaining the electricity supply-demand balance. Furthermore, Hitachi will examine whether to promote the system, to be named "CrystEna" (Crystal+Energy), as one of its solution businesses for expanding the transmission & distribution business in the global market. 

EU Nations Approve Pact With China on Solar-Panel Trade

European Union countries approved an agreement with China to curb imports of Chinese solar panels, ending the EU’s biggest commercial dispute of its kind.

EU governments endorsed an accord struck by their trade chief and China in July that sets a minimum price and a volume limit on European imports of Chinese solar panels until the end of 2015. Chinese manufacturers that take part will be spared EU tariffs meant to counter alleged below-cost sales, a practice known as dumping, and subsidies.

The verdict seeks to balance demands by European producers such as Solarworld AG (SWV)for trade protection and opposition by China, some EU governments and Europe’s importers to levies on the renewable-energy technology. The two-year duration of the measures is less than half as long as the normal five-year period for EU anti-dumping and anti-subsidy protection.

European solar-panel manufacturers suffered “material injury” as a result of dumping by Chinese exporters and trade-distorting government aid to them, while trade protection must also take account of “the cost for other economic operators,” the 28-nation bloc said today in Brussels. The decision wraps up two inquiries begun more than a year ago and will take effect after being published in the EU’s Official Journal by Dec. 6.

The US has 43 nuclear power plants' worth of solar energy in the pipeline

The boom in solar energy in the US  in recent years? You haven’t seen anything yet. The pipeline of photovoltaic projects has grown 7% over the past 12 months andnow stands at 2,400 solar installations that would generate 43,000 megawatts(MW), according to a report released today by market research firm NPD Solarbuzz. If all these projects are built, their peak electricity output would be equivalent to that of 43 big nuclear power plants, and enough to keep the lights on in six million American homes.

Only 8.5% of the pipeline is currently being installed, with most of it still in the planning stages. Some projects will inevitably get canceled or fail to raise financing.

But there’s reason to believe that a good chunk of these solar power plants and rooftop installations will get built over the next two years. That’s because a crucial US tax break for renewable energy projects is set to fall from 30% to 10% at the end of 2016. So there will be a rush to get projects online. In 2012, for instance, wind developers installed a record 13,131 MW as a key tax credit was set to expire, accounting for 42% of all new US electricity capacity that year.  (The US Congress subsequently renewed the tax break for another year.)

SolarCity Completes Industry's First Securitization of Distributed Solar Energy

SolarCity Corp. today announced that it has completed what is reported to be the first securitization of distributed solar energy assets.  SolarCity completed a private placement in the amount of $54,425,000 with an interest rate of 4.80% and a scheduled maturity date of December 2026.

"This transaction is a breakthrough and will pave the way for others, but its greater significance is the validation of the quality of SolarCity's assets," said Bob Kelly, SolarCity's chief financial officer. "SolarCity lowers what is typically the highest operating cost for households and gives them long-term control over that cost.  Customers highly value those attributes, and that's why these assets perform so well."

SolarCity's pool of solar contracts received an investment grade rating of BBB+ from Standard & Poor's. The rating reflects the predictability and quality of the cash flows and the minimal operation and production risk of solar assets. Distributed solar is one of the first new asset classes to achieve an investment grade rating in the asset back securities markets in the past several years.

GE Promises More Wind Power Without New Turbines

GE this fall began pushing a new bit of software wizardry that it says will boost wind farm performance. Looks like E.On is biting.

GE said that the Germany-based energy giant would install PowerUp, described as a “customized software-enabled platform that increases a wind farm’s output by up to 5 percent,” at five wind farms. This adds up to 469 GE 1.5-77 wind turbines that E.On uses (through its Climate & Renewables division).

GE is suggesting that this is the equivalent of building as many as 19 new turbines of that size, but it’s going to have to prove that’s the case in order to make money off implementing PowerUp for E.On. That’s because this is an “outcomes-based” deal: The companies will measure the impact of PowerUp, and GE will get only a percentage of the gains the technology brings.

“The outcomes-based approach aligns well with our goals of providing cleaner, better energy at a more affordable price,” Steve Trenholm, chairman, E.ON North America, said in a statement. “Investment in wind energy has led to technological advancements like PowerUp that continue to make renewables more and more competitive with traditional forms of energy.”

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