Disputes over the use of small-scale solar power are flaring across the nation, with utilities squaring off against solar-energy marketers over rules for the growing technology.
Until now, the fights have been mainly before state regulators. In California, Louisiana and Virginia, utilities have sought to cut what they claim are unfairly high payments they are required to make to owners of homes or larger buildings with solar systems.
At issue in an Iowa lawsuit is whether solar-system marketers can sell electricity in territories where local utilities have exclusive rights to customers. Such an arrangement isn't allowed or is under dispute in many states, limiting solar firms to sales of panels to homeowners and businesses.
But if they win in Iowa, it could pave the way for fledgling solar industries to expand in other states. The case is being watched closely elsewhere in the Midwest, where policies granting utilities a monopoly on electricity service are one reason a solar-construction boom hasn't occurred, unlike in states such as California and New Jersey.
Utilities "are proponents of renewable energy," said Barry Shear, president of Iowa's Eagle Point Solar LLC, but only "if they own the energy assets and the electrons flow through their grid and they can bill you."
In March, an Iowa District Court judge said Mr. Shear's 18-employee company could sign power-purchase contracts in the Dubuque territory of Alliant Energy Corp., one of the state's largest utilities. Under the disputed deal, Eagle Point would own solar panels on the roof of a Dubuque municipal building and sell power to the city at a rate similar to Alliant's.
Although the market for small wind power systems has been in existence for 30 years, there are many signs that the industry is reaching a critical juncture. The past 18 months have seen a number of bankruptcies and acquisitions among small wind turbine manufacturers. Nevertheless, the overall opportunity for small wind power remains strong across a variety of applications in both developed and developing countries. According to a recent report from Navigant Research, the worldwide market for small wind systems will reach $723 million by 2018, with $3.3 billion in cumulative sales from 2013 through 2018.
"Small wind is growing primarily as a result of state and national incentives, including a burgeoning market in the United Kingdom," says Dexter Gauntlett, research analyst with Navigant Research. "The question is: Can the small wind turbine industry grow to more than just a niche market, and attract the investment required to drive down costs? Given the precipitous price declines for solar photovoltaic modules, distributed solar PV is increasingly competitive with small wind."
Alternative energy has been a hot button issue for the last 50 year's and investors have always found a way to play this heated market. In the last decade, there has been the launch of a number of ETFs that offer a specialized basket of products for alternative energy exposure, with 12 of these funds still in operation today. Below we outline two green energy ETFs that have been battling for investor attention since inception: Powershares WilderHill Clean Energy Portfolio (PBW, A) and Guggenheim Solar ETF (TAN, C+).
Holding between $172 million and $107 million in total assets under management each, these funds are easily the largest green energy funds currently on the market. PBW holds a mix of companies that are focused on greener and generally renewable sources of energy, as well as technologies that facilitate cleaner energy. TAN, on the other hand, is aimed specifically at the solar power industry, investing in companies that produce equipment, fabricate solar panels, or provide a direct service to this market. Newer to the market, TAN started trading in spring 2008, while PBW was already three years into the market.
Both funds were hammered in the years following the financial crash, with record outflows in PBW while TAN saw its first few years since inception with negative returns. A number of funds closed during this three-year window, but it is a testament to these funds that they were able to remain in operation.
German industrial conglomerate Siemens (SIEGn.DE) is shutting down the last of its solar energy businesses after it failed to find a buyer, the company said on Monday.
Confirming a report in German newspaper Handelsblatt, a spokesman for Siemens said the group would close Solel by early next year. The Israeli business has accumulated losses of around 1 billion euros ($1.33 billion) since Siemens bought it in 2009, including a write-off of the entire purchase price.
Siemens has spent seven months trying to sell Solel, which makes components used in solar-thermal power stations. Some 280 employees will be affected by the closure, most of them in Israel.
The cost will run into the mid-double digit millions of euros, according to Siemens.
Once a promising new field with strong growth rates, the solar energy industry is in sharp decline in Germany as Chinese manufacturers flood the global market with cheaper panels and components.
David Crane, CEO and president, NRG Energy (NRG)
“With the cost of solar panels now just 10 percent of what they were five years ago, how do we streamline the local approval process and reduce the friction costs so that U.S. homeowners can realize the solar value of their property while paying less for their electricity?”
We need to develop in every state a network of cooperation in which contractors, utilities, building and home owners, tenants, and government agencies understand the shared benefits of solar energy and work together to accelerate its deployment. Our outdated energy grid’s outages cost the U.S. economy $25 billion or more every year, according to a recent Morgan Stanley study using Department of Energy data. Recent extreme weather events have had devastating effects on our aging infrastructure and make a stronger case than ever to build a more resilient and reliable energy system. Distributed solar energy will help us to build that resilience and reliability, both for the nation and for individual owners of homes and buildings.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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).
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