In sunny Arizona, a battle over solar power

An insider fight over how much a utility company must pay for electricity generated by solar panels on private rooftops is boiling over into a full-fledged campaign, complete with shadowy  money, expensive television advertising, calls for grass-roots action and some of the best pollsters and consultants money can buy.

The feud between the utility and solar panel industries revolves around net metering policies, which govern part of the relationship between utilities and their customers. If the customers have solar panels that generate surplus electricity, the customers can feed that power back into the electric grid; utilities are required to pay the consumer a set rate for the electricity they generate.

When those rates were first implemented, the nascent solar industry had few residential customers. But now, as more customers invest in solar panels for economic or environmental reasons, public utilities are starting to feel the pinch — and they want to stop paying rates they say are above market value for power they can’t always use.

When the Arizona Corporation Commission holds its November meeting, commissioners will consider a request from Arizona Public Service Company, the state’s largest electric utility, to change those rates. The utility industry wants permission to pay rates below market value, and to charge customers who feed electricity back to the grid a monthly fee for maintenance costs.

Team Austria Wins Solar Decathlon 2013

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2013 today announced the winners of this global competition among collegiate teams to build the most energy-efficient solar-powered house at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, Calif. Team Austria, made up of students from the Vienna University of Technology, won top honors overall by designing, building, and operating the most cost-effective, energy-efficient and attractive solar-powered house. University of Nevada Las Vegas took second place, followed by Czech Republic, comprised of students from Czech Technical University, in third place.

“The Solar Decathlon is inspiring and training the next generation of clean energy architects, engineers and entrepreneurs, and showing that affordable, clean energy technologies can help homeowners save money and energy today,” said U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. “Congratulations to the Solar Decathlon 2013 competitors – your hard work and creativity is helping to build a cleaner, more sustainable energy future.”

Reflecting the quality of the Solar Decathlon 2013 houses, the winning teams’ final scores were the closest they have ever been since the beginning of the competition. Team Austria earned 951.9 points out of a possible 1,000 to win the competition, followed by University of Nevada Las Vegas with 947.6 points, and Czech Republic with 945.1 points. Contributing to their overall win, Team Austria performed well in several of the individual contests, finishing first in the Communications Contest, second in Market Appeal, and tied for first in the Hot Water Contest. Every house in the 2013 competition produced more energy than it consumed.

Nineteen collegiate teams from across the country and around the world competed in 10 contests over 10 days that gauged each house’s performance, livability and affordability. The teams performed everyday tasks, including cooking, laundry, and washing dishes, that tested the energy efficiency of their houses. The winner of the overall competition best blended affordability, consumer appeal, and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency.  Full competition results and details about the individual contests may be found at www.SolarDecathlon.gov.

Abengoa's Gigantic ‘Salt Battery' Stores Utility-Scale Solar Energy

The global solar company Abengoa Solar has just announced that its massive Solana solar power plant has begun commercial operation in Arizona. The plant represents a transformational breakthrough in utility scale solar power, because it includes an energy storage system based on molten salt. The storage feature enables the plant to keep generating electricity long after the sun goes down.

CSPs use mirrors to concentrate solar energy on a focal point, typically a large tower. According to Abengoa, at 280 megawatts the Solana plant is the world’s largest CSP plant to use parabolic trough mirrors to concentrate solar energy (typical CSP mirrors, called heliostats, are flat and quadrilateral).

It is also the first solar plant in the U.S. with thermal energy storage, in the form of a molten salt system. The storage capacity is about six hours. That enables the plant to keep generating electricity from solar energy well into the early evening hours, when demand in the region typically peaks out.

Solana officially went online yesterday after completing a series of tests that included charging the thermal energy storage system and demonstrating that it could produce electricity for six hours using only stored energy.

Battery-Stored Solar Power Sparks Backlash From Utilities

California’s three biggest utilities are sparring with their own customers about systems that store energy from the sun, opening another front in the battle that’s redefining the mission of electricity generators.

Edison International (EIX), PG&E Corp. and Sempra Energy (SRE) said they’re putting up hurdles to some battery backups wired to solar panels because they can’t be certain the power flowing back to the grid from the units is actually clean energy.

The dispute threatens the state’s $2 billion rooftop solar industry and indicates the depth of utilities’ concerns about consumers producing their own power. People with rooftop panels are already buying less electricity, and adding batteries takes them closer to the day they won’t need to buy from the local grid at all, said Ben Peters, a government affairs analyst at Mainstream Energy Corp., which installs solar systems.

“The utilities clearly see rooftop solar as the next threat,” Peters said from his office in Sunnyvale, California. “They’re trying to limit the growth.”

Wind Turbine Bird Threat Overstated, Study Suggests

The growth of wind power, if undertaken with reasonable care, should pose no risk to any particular bird species in Canada, according to a new peer-reviewed study. The study also suggests that highly publicized bird mortality figures out of the U.S. and Europe could be on the high side.

“Canadian Estimate of Bird Mortality Due to Collisions and Direct Habitat Loss Associated with Wind Turbine Developments” was one of several studiesundertaken as part of special issue of the journal Avian Conservation & Ecology that focused on the impact of human activities on the mortality of birds in Canada.

The researchers did find that, on average, a wind turbine in Canada results in 8.2 bird deaths per year, and they estimated that a 10-fold increase in installed wind capacity in the next 10-15 years “could lead to direct mortality of approximately 233,000 birds/year, and displacement of 57,000 pairs” resulting from habitat loss.

But the researchers put those numbers in perspective:

[T]hese values are likely much lower than those from collisions with some other anthropogenic sources such as windows, vehicles, or towers, or habitat loss due to many other forms of development. Species composition data suggest that < 0.2% of the population of any species is currently affected by mortality or displacement from wind turbine development. Therefore, population level impacts are unlikely, provided that highly sensitive or rare habitats, as well as concentration areas for species at risk, are avoided.

Why the hot money is chasing energy storage

What do Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have in common? Apart from being very, very rich, it is a growing interest in battery storage and other “smart” technologies that will redefine the way our electricity grid operates – hopefully to the benefit of the consumer.

Gates has built up a collection of energy storage investments – including Aquion Energy, Ambri, and LightSail - and Buffett is a major investor in Chinese electric car and battery developer BYD, soon to unveil a home battery storage solution in Australia.

Last week, Gates and well-known cleantech investor Vinod Khosla last week bought into Varentec, a US company that is developing “smart” technology that will link storage devices and renewables, and lead to what Khosla describes as “cost-effective, intelligent, decentralized power grid solutions.”

Energy storage, as described by investment bank Citi in its new “Energy Darwinism” report, is likely to be the next solar boom. Citi says the main driver of this investment will not be just to make renewables cost competitive, because they already are in many markets – but for the need to balance supply and demand.

This, in turn, will make solar and other renewables even more attractive. It may even mean the end to the domination of centralised utilities, as storage will allow the industry to split into centralised backup (based around the old rate-of-return regulated utilities model) and much smaller “localised” utilities that harness distributed generation such as solar and storage.

U.S. Dept. of Energy Supports New Renewable Energy Storage System

The two bottlenecks inhibiting further use of renewable energy systems are cost and the fact that the sun doesn’t always shine or the wind blow-in one word, storage. While mass production of components such as solar photovoltaic cells means that their price has been dropping, the issue of storing and releasing electricity generated by renewable sources during their down times has led engineers worldwide to tackle the problem.

Large-scale, low-cost energy storage is needed to improve the reliability, resiliency, and efficiency of next-generation power grids. Energy storage can reduce power fluctuations, enhance system flexibility, and enable the storage and dispatch of electricity generated by variable renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, and water power.

Now one technology seems sufficiently promising that it is receiving funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability Energy Storage Program.

What is this promising new technology?

Isothermal compressed air energy storage (ICAES) refers to storage of compressed air at a constant temperature, which is a key element in the improved energy efficiency of the system.

SustainX has completed construction of its first utility scale ICAES system. It was hooked up to the grid earlier this month and it’s now in the process of revving up to speed. The DOE’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability’s Energy Storage Program underwrote $5,396,023 of the system’s cost.

China to offer tax breaks to solar power manufacturers

China's Ministry of Finance announced it will offer tax breaks to manufacturers of solar power products on Sunday, as China moves to support an industry still struggling to deal with massive overcapacity and weak demand.

The ministry said in a short statement on its website that producers of solar power products will receive immediate refunds of 50 percent of value-added taxes.

The National Development and Reform Commission provided subsidies for solar power stations in late August.

"China's bloated photovoltaic industry still faces a grim outlook as many companies are deeply mired in debts," said a report on the official Xinhua news service discussing the announcement.

It cited data from the China Renewable Energy Society saying that the country's top 10 solar panel makers are up to 100 billion yuan ($16.34 billion) in debt, with a debt to asset ratio above 70 percent on average.

Beijing has said it wants to consolidate the industry, but the sector continues to enjoy protection at the central and local level; the latter is particularly strong because solar power companies are frequently major employers.

Solar power to overtake wind for the first time

Solar power capacity is set to overtake wind for the first time this year, as a slowdown in the world’s two largest wind markets, China and the U.S., clear the way for a growing solar market, according to a report released Thursday.

Clean energy news and data provider Bloomberg  New Energy Finance forecast new onshore and offshore wind farms to add 33.8 gigawatts and 1.7 gigawatts, respectively, to global power markets.

That compares with an estimated 36.7 gigawatts of new photovoltaic, or PV, capacity, the first year in which solar power will add more megawatts than wind.

“The dramatic cost reductions in PV, combined with new incentive regimes in Japan and China, are making possible further, strong growth in volumes,” said Jenny Chase, head of solar analysis at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “Europe is a declining market, because many countries there are rapidly moving away from incentives, but it will continue to see new PV capacity added.”

Wind may be down but not out. Wind installations will shrink by nearly 25% in 2013 to their lowest level since 2008, due to the slowdowns in the U.S. and China caused by policy uncertainty, BNEF said.

Solar Power From Giant Mirrors Flows Into California's Grid

BrightSource Energy’s massive solar farm in a remote corner of California delivered its first flow of power to the grid, an important step for demonstrating that the project is on the final path to become a fully operating power plant, the company said Tuesday.

BrightSource achieved what is called the “first sync” with the project,Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, where for the first time the steam was sent to one of its three turbines for generating electricity and synching to the grid. Ivanpah is the first commercial power plant project in the United States for BrightSource, which owns a stake in the project along with NRG Energy and Google.

The project also is one of the massive solar power projects being built in California to enable the state to meet its goal of using an increasing amount of renewable electricity. The state’s mandate requires 33% of its utilities power supplies to come from renewable sources such as solar, wind, geothermal and biomass by 2020.

The project has a 392-megawatt capacity but is set to deliver 377 megawatts to the Pacific Gas and Electric and Southern California Edison . It’s sized to deliver enough power to about 140,000 homes per year.

Ivanpah is made up of three power generation stations. The “first sync” milestone took place at Unit 1, and the same step will be done at Unit 2 and Unit 3 soon. Unit 2 and Unit 3 are scheduled to start delivering electricity to the grid by the end of the year.

India To Build World's Largest Solar Power Plant In Rajasthan

The Indian government will set up the world’s largest solar power plant in its northwestern state of Rajasthan, an official statement said on Friday, and the venture is expected to significantly reduce solar power taxes in the country.

The project, known as the "Ultra-Mega Green Solar Power Project," will have a total power generation capacity of 4,000 megawatts, which is more than double the total solar power generation capacity in India.

“This will be the largest solar-based power project in the world. Being the first project of this scale … this project is expected to set a trend for large-scale solar power development in the world," a government statement said.

The project will be spread across 23,000 acres of land belonging to the state-run Sambhar Salts Ltd, near the Sambhar Lake, which is about 47 miles away from Jaipur, Rajasthan’s capital city. The first phase of the project, which will be for 1,000 megawatt capacity, is expected to be completed in three years and will be run by a joint venture of five state-run utilities, including BHEL, Power Grid Corporation of India and Solar Energy Corporation of India.

China to limit construction of new solar panel factories

China, the world's biggest maker of solar panels, will limit construction of new photovoltaic manufacturing plants to curb excess capacity in a move that may encourage consolidation within the industry.

New solar plants that "purely" expand capacity will be strictly banned, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said in a statement on its website yesterday.

Annual spending by companies for research and development and upgrading equipment must total at least 3 per cent of revenue and must exceed 10 million yuan (HK$12.6 million).

Chinese authorities have pledged to cut overcapacity in industries from steel to paper as policy makers seek to reduce the economy's reliance on investments and exports.

A global oversupply of solar panels led to a 20 per cent plunge in prices last year, according to data.

The policy will slow efforts to expand production capacity in favour of mergers and acquisitions as a growth strategy for the biggest companies, said Angelo Zino, an analyst with S&P Capital IQ in New York.

Photoflow is solar power and rainwater harvesting in one

A design company called NOS has developed a solution to two major problems facing developing countries: scarcity of drinking water and electricity. The concept is called the PhotoFlow, a combination solar photovoltaic device and rainwater harvester.

NOS says, "Most of the developing countries are located near the equator, receiving more sunlight and rainfall than most other countries on the planet. Despite this abundance, a large number of people living in these countries suffer from a lack of electricity and potable drinking water.

Building upon the designs of some existing rooftop water containers, we have created a simple device to collect both of these precious natural resources to meet the need for both electricity and drinking water."

The PhotoFlow is made up of eight identical triangular photovoltaic panels that are mounted on a 400-liter recycled polyethylene water tank. The panels form an octagon with a slope of 3 degrees that allows water to funnel into the central filter and be collected into the tank. To keep the water potable once it's collected, the inner layer of the tank is covered with a coating that controls levels of bacteria and fungi.

Solar Power International Leads With Ideas, Education, Industry Luminaries

Solar Power International 2013 (SPI ‘13), North America's premier business-to-business event for professionals in solar energy, brings new formats and focused sessions to educational programming during the annual show, taking place in Chicago from October 21 - 24 at McCormick Place. With six conference tracks, pre- and post-conference workshops and Solar Idea Swaps, SPI offers solar professionals the opportunity to engage with the future of the industry. Event details and attendee registration information is available at solarpowerinternational.com. 

"SPI is the place for the solar industry to gather and learn from experts, industry leaders and each other about the advances, trends and changes that affect our business," said Stephen Miner, CEO of SPI ‘13 organizer - Solar Energy Trade Shows. "We want each and every attendee to go home with a new perspective and greater understanding of the industry, and we've targeted our educational programming to ensure solutions-based learning." 

General Sessions Designed to inspire and challenge attendees, the 2013 General Sessions introduce breakthrough technologies and invite role reversal. 

Why Firefighters Are Scared of Solar Power

A 300,000 square foot refrigerated warehouse in Delanco, New Jersey, burned down last week, and the local fire chief says solar panels are partly to blame. No, the 700 solar panels on top of the Dietz & Watson warehouse didn't cause the fire, but their presence did dissuade Delanco Fire Chief Ron Holt from putting his team on the roof. "With all that power and energy up there, I can't jeopardize a guy’s life for that,” Holt told NBC Philadelphia. The only thing firefighters fear more than fire is solar. 

So long as a solar panel is getting sunlight, it's impossible to turn off. "During daylight, there can be enough voltage and current to injure or even kill a firefighter who comes in contact with the energized conductors," Matthew Paiss, a fire engineer with the San Jose Fire Department, wrote in a handy guide for firefighters. The Dietz & Watson warehouse fire started when the sun was out. By the time the sun went down, the fire was beyond control. The warehouse burned for 29 hours. 

As Paiss explained in his essay on solar panels and firefighting, roof access is crucial for firefighters: Full Article:

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