Renewable energy advocates have long argued that subsidies for wind, solar and other forms of clean power would eventually drive down their costs and allow them to be competitive with conventional, dirty energy (itself often subsidized). It looks like they could be right – to an unexpected degree. An analysis by financial advisory and asset management firm Lazard has found that the levelized cost of energy from wind power has plunged by more than 50 percent in the past four years. “While many had anticipated significant declines in the cost of utility-scale solar PV, few anticipated these sorts of cost declines for wind technology,” the report said. Wind isn’t the only clean energy technology making remarkable progress, according to the Lazard analysis. Solar is on a winning trend as well: The current and anticipated costs of all forms of utility-scale solar PV continue to decline; the study estimates that the LCOE of leading technologies has fallen by more than 50 percent in the last four years. Utility-scale solar PV is a competitive source of peak energy as compared with conventional generation in many parts of the world, without any subsidies (appreciating the important qualitative differences related to dispatch characteristics and other factors).
It’s widely believed that China is the world’s dominant manufacturer of solar panels because of its low labor costs and strong government support. But a new study by researchers at MIT and the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) shows that other factors are actually more significant — suggesting that the United States could once again become cost-competitive in photovoltaic (PV) manufacturing. As of 2011, manufacturers in China accounted for 63 percent of all solar-panel production worldwide. But a detailed analysis of all costs associated with PV production shows that the main contributors to that country’s lower PV prices are economies of scale and well-developed supply chains — not cheap labor. “We developed a bottom-up model,” explains Tonio Buonassisi, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT and a co-author of the new report, just published in the journal Energy and Environmental Science . The researchers estimated costs for virtually all the materials, labor, equipment and overhead involved in the PV manufacturing process. “We added up the costs of each individual step,” he says, providing an analysis that’s “very rigorous, it’s down in the weeds. It doesn’t rely solely on self-reported figures from manufacturers’ quarterly reports. We really took great care to make sure our numbers were representative of actual factory costs.”
Industry leaders will take on the uncertain future of the renewable energy industry when they gather for the 2013 Renewable Energy Technology Conference & Exhibition (RETECH). The conference will feature key leaders and decision makers who will share insights on renewable energy and what the foreseeable future holds for an industry that faces major hurdles over financing, cost and public perception. "RETECH has become a key meeting place for the renewable energy industry with government, utility, technology and finance professionals from 35 countries discussing the ways they're driving the growth of renewable energy in the US and around the world," said Jenn Heinold, Vice President, RETECH. "I am very excited for this diverse group of industry voices who play a central role as we look toward the future of renewables." Speakers and panel discussions at RETECH 2013 will address major issues facing the industry including project financing, how our markets are trending, and what role our government will play in the industry future. Industry experts will join Congressman Paul Tonko (D-NY) in the opening panel (Through the looking glass: The future of renewable energy technology) as they discuss the latest trends and predictions.
California Sets Quarterly Record for Solar PV in Q2'13 as US Adds 976 MW, According to NPD Solarbuzz
The US added 976 megawatts (MW) of new solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity during the second quarter of 2013 (Q2’13), up 24% Q/Q from 788 MW in Q1’13, according to the latest NPD Solarbuzz North America PV Markets Quarterly report. “In Q2’13, new PV installed in California alone reached 521 MW, which is a new record for PV added by any state in the US for a three-month period and 53% of PV added in the US,” according to Finlay Colville, Vice President at NPD Solarbuzz. “California has added 1.6 GW in the past 12 months, with a further 1.1 GW forecast for the second half of the year.” During Q2’13, 72% of solar PV installations were ground mounted, with the remaining 28% from residential and commercial rooftops. Utility-based PV projects accounted for 59% of quarterly demand, with the remaining 41% split between commercial and residential installations. Strong demand continues to come from the ground-mount utility segment. PG&E has recently completed several large-scale projects within California, including the California Valley Solar Ranch, phase three of Topaz Solar, phase two of Antelope Valley Solar Ranch, and Gates Solar Farm. Other large ground-mount projects include the Arizona Public Service Agua Caliente plant and phase one of PG&E’s Copper Mountain Solar 2 in Arizona. Solar PV demand in the US is forecast to grow 14% Q/Q to 1.04 GW in Q3’13. During 2H’13, Arizona and North Carolina together will add 400 MW and an additional 500 MW will come from New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Texas.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Defense announced a total of 22 new defense contracts worth a combined $7.59 billion. Notwithstanding the large headline number, one single contract accounted for 92% of the funds on offer. This contract, a massive $7 billion deal to supply solar energy "from renewable and alternative energy production facilities that are designed, financed, constructed, operated and maintained by private sector entities," involves some 22 separate companies. Taking the form of a multiple-vendor, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity, firm-fixed-price, non-option, non-multiyear contract, vendors will bid against each other to sell solar energy to the U.S. Army in response to individual "task orders" issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Once won, a task order will be funded out of the $7 billion "pot" of funds allocated under this master Power Purchase Agreement. Bidders who won the right to compete for these task orders number 22, out of a total of 114 bids submitted. Most of the winners are either small, privately held concerns or small subsidiaries of foreign energy utilities whose stocks are not listed in the U.S.
Chinese solar-panel makers received subsidies, a European Union investigation showed, increasing the likelihood of EU tariffs on imports of the renewable-energy technology from China to counter trade-distorting government aid. The European Commission has concluded in a probe opened last November that Chinese manufacturers of crystalline silicon photovoltaic modules or panels, and cells and wafers used in them, benefited from preferential lending, tax programs and other aid, an EU official said today in Brussels. The inquiry is one of two that the commission is conducting into alleged unfair Chinese trade in solar goods -- the biggest EU commercial fight of its kind. The commission, the 28-nation EU’s regulatory arm, on Aug. 2 approved an agreement with China to curb Chinese shipments of solar panels as part of a parallel probe into below-cost sales, a practice known as dumping. The accord, which took effect Aug. 6, sets a minimum price and a volume limit on EU imports of Chinese solar panels until the end of 2015. Chinese manufacturers that take part are being spared provisional EU anti-dumping duties as high as 67.9 percent.
Solar panel satellite could beam a THIRD of humanity's power to Earth by 2025, claims former Nasa engineer
A cocktail glass-shaped satellite that could provide a third of the world's required energy by 2025 is being developed by Nasa. The design was created by Dr John Mankins who was commissioned by Nasa to explore the possibility of using solar panels in space to send energy to Earth. What Dr Mankins came up with was an incredible floating satellite named the SPS-ALPHA, or Solar Power Satellite via Arbitrarily Large PHased Array. n a recent interview with Becky Ferreria at Motherboard , Dr Mankins claimed that, depending on funding, SPS-ALPHA could be launched by as early as 2025. 'A single solar power satellite would deliver power to on the order of a third of humanity—not all at the same time, but any of that market could, in principle, be addressed,' he said. The technology would mean that energy would beamed down to Earth where power stations would pick it up and farm it out to customers. The system would be made up of thousands of thin, curved mirror-like pieces which could move around to ensure that they picked up as much sun as possible. The inside of the SPS-ALPHA would also be lined with photovaltic panels which convert the sun’s energy into microwaves. These microwaves would then be beamed down to Earth out of the bottom end of the ‘cocktail glass’.
Writing in The Telegraph last week, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard cited theU.S. Department of Energy as the basis for a prediction that the cost of solar power would drop by 75% between 2010 and 2020. Evans-Pritchard writes: The US Energy USEG +2 .12% Department expects the cost of solar power to fall by 75% between 2010 and 2020. By then average costs will have dropped to the $1 per watt for big solar farms, $1.25 for offices and $1.50 for homes, achieving the Holy Grail of grid parity with new coal and gas plants without further need for subsidies. Evans-Pritchard mentions several development projects sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense as representative of the broader research effort that will drive costs down costs and drive efficiencies up. Over the past few years, the cost of solar power systems has plunged as the result of what some folks have characterized as Chinese “dumping.” For better or worse, I am among those “folks” who suspect that anti-competitive trade practices have fueled overly optimistic forecasts of future costs reductions. Excluding these trade-induced (and temporary) cost reductions, is it possible that solar costs could reduce costs 75% by 2020?
Advances in solar cell technology can make drones a more powerful tool not only for the battlefield but also for civilian uses, such as firefighting, crop surveying and oil and gas field monitoring. A Silicon Valley company called Alta Devices has been working with AeroVironment to engineer a drone that can stay airborne longer and carry out missions that are impossible before. The result of the collaboration is a 13-pound prototype drone that can fly for 9 hours and 11 minutes, AeroVironment announced recently. The military contractor credited its new battery and Alta’s solar technology for the feat. A drone similar to the one by AeroVironment typically can fly for one or two hours before it has to land and recharge, said Chris Norris, Alta’s CEO. AeroVironment’s new battery is good for three hours. By embedding Alta’s ultra thin and highly efficient solar cells on the aircraft, the battery is able to recharge twice before daylight fades and keeps the drone in the air three times longer, Norris added. California-based AeroVironment is still tinkering with the design of the drone, which is part of its Puma AE line. It plans to roll out a design that it could produce and sell in early 2014.
A prototype of India’s first floating solar power station could soon be coming up in the pond of Victoria Memorial. If the plan proves to be a success, such floating solar power stations could also be set up in the water reservoirs and dams of hydroelectric power stations thereby increasing their output. “Developing a floating solar power station would prove to be a revolutionary step as it could solve the perennial problem of land. Such pilot projects are also going on in a few countries such as France and Australia,” said SP Gon Choudhury, an international expert in solar energy and the brain behind this project. The idea is simple. A raft like platform fitted with hollow plastic or tin drums would be floating on water. The power generating equipment such as solar panels would be fitted on this raft so that they can float on water. It would not only solve the problem of land but would also help conserve water in the water bodies. The solar panels, which would be floating on water, would cut off the direct sunlight and hence slow down the rate of evaporation. “Studies have also shown that if the rear surface of solar panels are kept cooler, then their ability to generate power goes up by 16%. As these solar panels would be floating on water, they are expected to stay cool and hence we can generate more power than those set up on land,” Choudhury said.
A White House official confirmed to the Washington Post on Thursday that installation of solar panels began this week on the First Family’s residence. The plan to use solar energy was first revealed in October 2010, but was not put into effect until now. During a GreenGov symposium at George Washington University, then-Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced the plan to install American-made solar panels in the spring of 2011. “This project reflects President Obama’s strong commitment to U.S. leadership in solar energy and the jobs it will create here at home,” Chu said at the time. “Deploying solar energy technologies across the country will help America lead the global economy for years to come.” This is not the first attempt to include solar power in the White House’s energy mix. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter installed panels on the roof, which were taken down by President Ronald Reagan in 1986.
IBM has announced a weather-modeling and power-grid management system with the goal of increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power. "Applying analytics and harnessing big data will allow utilities to tackle the intermittent nature of renewable energy and forecast power production from solar and wind, in a way that has never been done before," IBM's global energy and utilities industry headman Brad Gammons said in a statement. "We have developed an intelligent system that combines weather and power forecasting to increase system availability and optimize power grid performance." The system, called Hybrid Renewable Energy Forecasting, or HyRef, is part of theSmart er Energy component of IBM's Smarter Planet initiative. HyRef uses cloud-imaging tech and cameras that track cloud movement, and combines that data with info from sensors on wind turbines that keep track of wind direction, temperature, and speed. All of this data is fed into weather models and analyzed in such a way as to be able, IBM claims, to "produce accurate local weather forecasts within a wind farm as far as one month in advance, or in 15-minute increments." By doing so, IBM says that HyRef can enable renewable-energy installations to better predict the power they can produce – wind and solar being variable sources – and thus to better anticipate the amount of power they will be able to provide to the grid to which they are connected. Such predictions enable managers to better accommodate the need to supplement renewables with such conventional power sources as coal and gas-fired power plants.
A new type of stained glass just installed in a Saskatoon cathedral is trying to prove green can also be glorious, combatting the stereotype of ugly, bulky solar panels. When the Cathedral of the Holy Family needed a new set of stained glass windows, Toronto artist Sarah Hall jumped in with a project she's been working on since 2005 -- one that combines old art techniques with new technology. Working with engineer Christof Erban, who pioneered the concept of placing a solar cell between layers of glass, Hall's solar-infused masterpiece is a colourful set of three giant windows set atop the Saskatoon church. The work is called "Lux Gloria," or "Light of Glory," and the largest of the three windows measures 37-feet high by 12-feet wide. The windows -- a display of silver solar cells fused with various colours of stained glass -- simultaneously shade the church, harvest solar energy from outside and block out heat. While the Saskatoon project is just one example of Hall's work in the field of building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) - her first installation went up in Washington, D.C., in 2005 - the Lux Gloria is the first of her pieces that feeds back into a city's electrical grid. She has also worked on two projects in Toronto, one in Vancouver and one in Camas, Washington. Hall's studio said the embedded solar panels are capable of generating 2,500 kilowatt hours of power, or about 20 per cent of the electricity used per year in the average Canadian household.
Monash University researchers have brought next generation energy storage closer with an engineering first - a graphene-based device that is compact, yet lasts as long as a conventional battery. Published today in Science, a research team led by Professor Dan Li of the Department of Materials Engineering has developed a completely new strategy to engineer graphene-based supercapacitors (SC), making them viable for widespread use in renewable energy storage, portable electronics and electric vehicles. SCs are generally made of highly porous carbon impregnated with a liquid electrolyte to transport the electrical charge. Known for their almost indefinite lifespan and the ability to re-charge in seconds, the drawback of existing SCs is their low energy-storage-to-volume ratio - known as energy density. Low energy density of five to eight Watt-hours per litre, means SCs are unfeasibly large or must be re-charged frequently. Professor Li's team has created an SC with energy density of 60 Watt-hours per litre - comparable to lead-acid batteries and around 12 times higher than commercially available SCs.
General Electric Co. is permanently scrapping plans to build the largest solar factory in the U.S. near Denver. GE blamed the cancellation on a glut of solar panels on the market and falling prices, The Denver Post reported Tuesday. The factory was to have been bigger than 11 football fields and have an annual capacity of 400 megawatts. State officials said it would create 350 jobs. GE put the project on hold last month. A research center that developed the thin-film solar-cell technology for the plant will be closed, with 50 people losing their jobs, according to Lindsay Thiel, a GE spokeswoman. The research center, formerly a startup named PrimeStar, was in Arvada, another Denver suburb. "We have decided that it is not in the best interest of GE, our customers or the Denver community to move forward with the build-out of this facility," Thiel told the newspaper in an email. At least 10 states were vying for the PrimeStar plant in 2011. GE said it would go to Aurora that fall, and company executives attended the next year's State of the State address by Gov. John Hickenlooper, who personally cited the plant in his speech.
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