Japan: The world's new star in solar power

Until recently less than 1% of Japan's electrical power output came from renewables. But following the catastrophe of Fukushima and the power blackouts that followed, Japan has seen an explosion in investment in alternatives. Solar, in particular, in this averagely photon-blessed country, has seen a seismic rise of late and is this year poised to become the world's largest solar market in volume after China.

According to a report by energy analyst IHS on Japan's energy mix, Japan's solar installations jumped by "a stunning 270% (in gigawatts) in the first quarter of 2013." That means by the end of 2013 there will be enough new solar panels equal to the capacity of seven nuclear reactors. Such massive growth will allow Japan to surpass Germany and become the world's largest photovoltaics (PV) market in terms of revenue this year.

"Japan is forecast to install $20 billion worth of PV systems in 2013, up 82% from $11 billion in 2012," IHS said. "In contrast, the global market is set for tepid 4% growth. The strong revenue performance for Japan this year is partly driven by the high solar prices in the country." Germany still leads with the total number of units and capacity, however, with its 32,192 megawatts. Japan is now closer to the U.S.'s 8,069 megawatts at 7,429 megawatts, according to London-based BNEF.

California Solar power generation hits record levels

With Southern California’s largest electric generating station broken and scheduled for removal, solar generation levels have reached a record level in California, state officials said Sunday.

Solar power generation on California’s grid set a new all-time high output of 2,071 megawatts at 12:59 p.m. Friday, said officials at the California ISO, the state agency that balances customer demand on regulated power utilities with power generation from commercial vendors.

That nearly equals the 2,250 megawatts of nuclear-powered generation that was lost in January, 2012, when small amounts of radiation began leaking from Southern California Edison’s San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, at Camp Pendleton.

San Diego Gas & Electric owns 20 percent of San Onofre, and has historically received one fifth of its power from the iconic nuclear plant, 65 miles north of San Diego. SDG&E has reassured its customers it can import sufficient replacement power from natural gas, wind and geothermal plants in the Imperial Valley via its new Sunrise Powerlink transmission line.

The amount of solar energy generated on Friday was enough to power more than 1.5 million homes across California, Cal ISO officials said.

Innovative solar cell structure stores and supplies energy simultaneously

In a quest for a smaller, more self-sustaining solar power source, a UW-Madison electrical engineer has proposed a design for solar panels that can simultaneously generate power from sunlight and store power reserves for later, all within a single device.

Hongrui Jiang and his students developed the idea, published in the journal Advanced Materials June 6. Jiang is the Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor of electrical and computer engineering at UW-Madison and specializes in microscale devices. He and his students developed the technology as an offshoot of a National Institutes of Health grant to design a self-focusing contact lens that adapts to the eyes of adults suffering from presbyopia, a natural aging process that stiffens the lens and reduces the eye's ability to focus, especially at short distances.

To power that contact lens, Jiang and his team have worked out a design that balances energy harvesting, storage and usage. "We needed a multi-functional and small-form-factor device in order to integrate it all into a single contact lens structure," says Jiang.

The top layer of each photovoltaic cell is a conventional photo electrode, converting sunlight into electrons. During that conversion process, the electrons split off into two directions: most electrons flow out of the device to support a power load, while some are directed to a polyvinylidene fluoride polymer (PVDF) coated on zinc oxide nanowires. The PVDF has the high dielectric constant required to serve as an energy storage solution. "When there's no sunlight, the stored power will come back through the nano wires to power the load."

EU slaps levies on Chinese solar panel imports

The European Union announced Tuesday that it is imposing anti-dumping levies on imports of Chinese solar panels, in a move that could trigger a trade war between two of the world's largest economies.

EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said the 27-nation bloc will impose a tariff of about 12% on the import of solar panels, cells and wafers from this week, increasing it to an average of 47% in August unless a settlement is reached with China in the next 60 days.

China, the world's largest producer of solar panels, is accused by the EU of selling them below-cost — a tactic known as dumping — to corner the market. Its exports of solar panels to Europe totaled 21 billion euros in 2011.

The cheap Chinese products are flooding the market and threaten to bring down EU manufacturers, De Gucht told journalists in Brussels.

According to EU calculations, a fair sale price for Chinese solar panels should 88% higher than what they are currently being sold for.

A Floating Wind Tower Is Launched in Maine

One reason that offshore wind has not caught on in the United States is the steep cost of erecting a tower in the water, but researchers at the University of Maine tried another approach on Friday by launching a floating wind machine. It is the first offshore wind installation in United States waters, according to the Energy Department, which helped pay for it.

The tower, launched in Brewer, Me., sits on three hollow concrete tubes and will be anchored in the Gulf of Maine. It is a mere 20 kilowatts in capacity, an amount of power that could be soaked up by a handful of big suburban houses on a hot summer day. But it is one-eighth the dimensions of the one the researchers hope to deploy in the next few years, a gigantic 6-megawatt model, with each blade as long as the wingspan of a Boeing 747.

Because of its location, it will have two big advantages over machines on land, according to Habib J. Dagher, a professor of civil engineering at the university. Onshore wind machines produce most of their energy at night, when it is least valuable to utilities buying the power, but this one will catch the predictable, strong breezes that come up every sunny summer afternoon, he said, when the sun heats the land more than the sea, creating an onshore breeze.

Cryogenic Energy Storage

In 2005, Highview Power Storage began researching the possibility of utility scale energy storage using liquid air. Excess energy (during low-demand times) is used to compress air into a liquid, which can then be stored in insulated low-pressure tanks. When demand exceeds production, the liquid air is warmed and the resulting steam is used to drive the turbine of a generator.

According to Highview, cryogenic energy storage offers the following benefits:

It uses proven technology that’s been been around for years.

Regulations for cryogenic storage already exist.

Storage is at low pressure, making tanks less costly. (Tanks are insulated to keep the liquid air cold, but they’re still less expensive than room-temperature compressed air storage tanks.)

Air doesn’t explode and it’s non-toxic.

Liquid air has four times the energy density of compressed air.

During the storage process, ambient air is filtered to remove impurities. Water and CO2 are also removed because they’ll freeze solid. The resulting air is refrigerated. Some of the air condenses into a liquid at -196oC. That liquid air is stored in tanks. The remaining unliquified air is very cold, so it’s recycled and used to assist in the cooling process.

During the recovery process, exhaust gas is added to heat the liquid air. When the liquid is gasified, it drives a steam engine that generates electricity. In the process of heating the liquid air, the exhaust gas is chilled to -160oC. The “cold” is stored in a gravel bed and later recovered to help the chilling process used during energy storage. This reduces the amount of work the compressor has to do, making the process more efficient. Read Tom Lombardo's Full Article.

Energy storage industry gets bipartisan support from Senate

The Electricity Storage Association (ESA) applauded today the reintroduction of energy storage legislation by U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Susan Collins (R-ME), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Angus King (I-ME) that would create an investment tax credit (ITC) for energy storage technologies of all types and help level the playing field for an industry that has enormous potential to increase the reliability, security, and efficiency of the nation’s electric grid. The Storage Technology for Renewable and Green Energy Act (STORAGE) Act was originally introduced in the 112th Congress in both chambers with bipartisan support. It closely mirrors the bill recently introduced in the House, H.R. 1465.

“We are delighted that Sen. Ron Wyden, chairman of Senate Energy and Natural Resources and a longtime supporter of energy storage, and senators Collins, Merkley and King, all staunch supporters of clean energy technologies, understand the value of energy security and have taken such a strong interest in energy storage,” said Brad Roberts, Executive Director of the ESA. “Energy storage technologies help all resources – whether renewable or traditional – run more smoothly. Our applications are now operating on the grid and have proven to be of enormous benefit; this tax credit will help developers secure private sector equity and debt financing to truly scale this industry.”

This Printer Spits Out 10 Meters of Solar Panel Every Minute

The printer system was developed by VICOSC, the Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium—a collaboration between the University of Melbourne, CSIRO Molecular and Health Technologies, and Monash University—and utilizes only existing printer technology to embed polymer solar cells (also known as organic or plastic solar cells) in thin sheets of plastic or steel at a rate of ten meters per minute. "We're using the same techniques that you would use if you were screen printing an image on to a T-Shirt," project coordinator and University of Melbourne researcher Dr David Jones said in a press release.

Organic solar cells rely on organic electronics, hydrocarbon molecules specifically, to generate a photovoltaic effect and convert the Sun's rays into usable DC current. The primary benefit to using organic cells is that these sheets can be printed in bulk for very little and the optical absorption coefficient of of the hydrocarbon molecules is so high that even small amounts of material can suck up a lot of light. On the other hand, organic cells are less efficient than their inorganic alternatives and tend to break down faster due to the chemical changes occurring within.

Currently, these organic sheets are able to produce up to 80W in the lab and between 10 and 50W under real world conditions. These cells aren't meant to replace conventional, inorganic panels, quite the opposite in fact. "The different types of cells capture light from different parts of the solar spectrum. So rather than being competing technologies, they are actually very complementary," said CSIRO materials scientist Dr Scott Watkins.

This printing technique could soon lead to buildings with PV laminated windows and exteriors and homes covered in solar shingles.

U.S. and Europe Prepare to Settle Chinese Solar Panel Cases

The Obama administration and the European Union have each decided to negotiate settlements with China in the world’s largest antidumping and antisubsidy trade cases involving China’s roughly $30 billion a year in solar panel shipments to the West, officials and trade advisers in Beijing, Brussels and Washington said.

The plan that is starting to take shape would essentially carve up the global solar panel market into a series of regional markets. It would sharply raise the price of solar panels exported from China, the world’s dominant producer, by requiring Chinese companies to charge more while limiting the total number of solar panels they could ship.

In exchange, Chinese companies would no longer be charged steep taxes on their exports of solar panels. The United States is already collecting tariffs totaling about 30 percent while the European Union is expected to impose similar tariffs of about 50 percent on June 5, and may backdate them to March 5.

A Down-To-Earth Wind Turbine

The wind is faster at higher altitudes and wind power is directly proportional to wind velocity cubed. But mounting a turbine up high makes it more expensive to install and maintain, and requires a stronger tower to support such a top-heavy structure. Engineers at SheerWind have a solution: “scoop” the air from up high and bring it down low to drive a ground-level turbine. Oh, and while they’re at it, how about amplifying the wind speed too?

SheerWind coined the term INVELOX - INcreasing the VELOcity of wind - to describe its innovative design. Using a giant omni-directional funnel whose mouths are mounted at the top of a tower, INVELOX brings the wind down to ground level and sends it out through a narrow neck, which increases the wind speed, much like putting your thumb over the end of a garden hose and leaving a tiny opening will increase the water velocity. This makes the turbine smaller, decreasing its cost. And because the turbine is on the ground, routine maintenance doesn’t require climbing a tall tower. Funnel mouths facing all directions eliminates the need for the turbine to rotate towards the wind, resulting in fewer moving parts, less complexity, and increased reliability.


Since traditional turbines have relatively high start-up speeds (8 MPH or 3.6 m/s is typical), they can’t  generate electricity at lower speeds. Because the INVELOX design increases the speed of the wind before it reaches the turbine, it allows the system to generate power at wind speeds as low as 2 MPH (0.9 m/s).

Solar Power Windows Fast Approaching Commercial Production

Commercial production of solar windows, using the patented SolarWindow spray-on solar power coating system, may be just around the corner. A recent announcement from US building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) developer New Energy Technologies Ltd. (which we’ve been following for years) has us feeling that the time may soon come.

As per New Energy Technologies’ recent announcement, the big news is that the fabrication time of the technology has been greatly reduced. The fabrication process, which involves methodically spraying layers of extremely small solar cells onto glass, has been reduced from a couple of days to only a couple of hours. According to the company, the process has been cut to 1/6 of the previous fabrication time.

And perhaps as significantly, New Energy has also reported that it has achieved “a two-fold increase in power conversion efficiency” and improved the transparency in the glass.

SolarCity Thrives in Solar Power Sector

Sun Concept, Ampulse, Evergreen, Solyndra: the long list of defunct solar companies is enough to give pause to anyone trying to enter the business. But at least one company, SolarCity, has been succeeding where so many others have failed. Its secret? Staying away from manufacturing and focusing on installation.

SolarCity was founded in 2006 by Lyndon and Peter Rive, on the advice of their cousin, Elon Musk, the Paypal founder who went on to start Tesla Motors and SpaceX, and is enjoying something of a moment. Tesla Motors just posted its first quarterly profit. And SolarCity, which went public last January, has seen its stock more than triple.

Instead of designing solar panels, the Rive brothers decided to find ways to get solar panels onto people’s roofs. They settled on a sort of lease arrangement: SolarCity installs the panels for free on customers’ roofs and then sells them the energy the panels produce for the next 20 years, at a rate lower than charged by the local utility. As the owner of the panels, SolarCity also reaps the valuable tax credits associated with clean-energy production.

This business model, with high upfront costs for gradual returns spread out over decades, doesn’t lend itself to immediate profits. On Monday, the company posted a $31 million loss. So far investors seem patient.  “The stock is outperforming the results,” an analyst for Raymond James & Associates told Bloomberg. Lyndon Rive, in an interview with CNN, pointed out the irony that as soon as SolarCity show a profit, it’ll be a warning sign that recurring revenue has outpaced installations and the company has stopped growing.

EU to Hit China Solar Panel Makers With Anti-Dumping Tariffs

The European Union (EU) is moving ahead with tariffs on imported Chinese solar panels in an effort to protect its own module makers.

European Commission (EC) Trade Head Karel De Gucht will recommend the EC impose anti-dumping (AD) charges similar to those imposed last year by the U.S., according to Reuters.

The tariffs will average 47.6 percent for most of the 100-plus Chinese manufacturers found by the EC to have been involved in the dumping but will vary by the extent of the manufacturer’s dumping and the extent of their cooperation with the EC’s investigation, according to the Wall Street Journal, which reviewed the preliminary document.

Suntech Power Holdings (NYSE:STP) and its subsidiaries will be charged tariffs of 48.6 percent, LDK Solar (NYSE: LDK) will pay 55.9 percent, Trina Solar (NYSE:TSL) will pay 51.5 percent, and JinkoSolar (NYSE:JKS) will pay tariffs of 58.7 percent, WSJ reported. Companies that did not cooperate with the EC investigation will pay a tariff of 67.9%.

The investigation covered EU imports of crystalline silicon photovoltaic (PV) panels, cells, and wafers valued at $27.6 billion in 2011, which amounted to more than half the global PV market, according to Bloomberg. The Chinese companies, Bloomberg added, owned almost no global PV market share in 2004 but controlled 80 percent of the global market by 2011.

Patent filing claims solar energy ‘breakthrough'

 In a U.S. patent application, a little-known Maryland inventor claims a stunning solar energy breakthrough that promises to end the planet’s reliance on fossil fuels at a fraction of the current cost – a transformation that also could blunt global warming.

Inventor Ronald Ace said that his flat-panel “Solar Traps,” which can be mounted on rooftops or used in electric power plants, will shatter decades-old scientific and technological barriers that have stymied efforts to make solar energy a cheap, clean and reliable alternative.

“This is a fundamental scientific and environmental discovery,” Ace said. “This invention can meet about 92 percent of the world’s energy needs.”

His claimed discoveries, which exist only on paper so far, would represent such a leap forward that they are sure to draw deep skepticism from solar energy experts. But a recently retired congressional energy adviser, who has reviewed the invention’s still-secret design, said it’s “a no brainer” that the device would vastly outperform all other known solar technology.

Ace said he is arranging for a national energy laboratory to review his calculations and that his own crude prototypes already have demonstrated that the basic physics for the invention work.

AWEA's New CEO Greets WINDPOWER Attendees

Tom Kiernan, the American Wind Energy Association's (AWEA) incoming CEO, took to the stage Monday morning to briefly greet attendees during the opening general session at WINDPOWER 2013, being held in Chicago through May 8.

AWEA recently named Kiernan to replace former CEO Denise Bode, who resigned in December 2012. Displaying a warm and enthusiastic smile during the opening session, Kiernan laid out in broad strokes some of his early priorities for when he takes over the post on May 28.

He told attendees that among his first tasks will be to develop a long-term strategy to further galvanize both the wind industry and AWEA. He also spelled out to attendees how they can be their own best advocates.

“With fewer legislative vehicles moving [in Congress], we need a better, more integrated advocacy plan, and that needs to be inclusive to all of you,” he said.

Citing well-organized and -funded opponents, Kiernan called for the industry to develop a more diverse and broader coalition. He also said that AWEA would begin to devote more resources to its nine regional partners, which often perform key legislative advocacy at both the state and regional levels.

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