Researchers synthesize inorganic nanocrystals that harvest solar energy

One reason that solar energy has not been widely adopted is because light absorbing materials are not durable. Materials that harvest solar radiation for energy often overheat or degrade over time; this reduces their viability to compete with other renewable energy sources like wind or hydroelectric generators. A new video protocol addresses these issues by presenting a synthesis of two inorganic nanocrystals, each of which is more durable than their organic counterparts.

The article, published in Journal of Visualized Experiments (JoVE), focuses on the liquid phase synthesis of two nanocrystals that produce hydrogen gas or an electric charge when exposed to light. "The main advantage of this technique is that it allows for direct, all inorganic coupling of the light absorber and the catalyst," says the leading author Dr. Mikhail Zamkov of Bowling Green State University.

Opportunities and challenges for a sustainable energy future

Article in the journal Nature written by Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Arun Majumdar, former director of the Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.

Access to clean, affordable and reliable energy has been a cornerstone of the world's increasing prosperity and economic growth since the beginning of the industrial revolution. Our use of energy in the twenty–first century must also be sustainable. Solar and water–based energy generation, and engineering of microbes to produce biofuels are a few examples of the alternatives. This Perspective puts these opportunities into a larger context by relating them to a number of aspects in the transportation and electricity generation sectors. It also provides a snapshot of the current energy landscape and discusses several research and development opportunities and pathways that could lead to a prosperous, sustainable and secure energy future for the world.

Full Article:

China's Wind-Power Capacity Linked to Grid Up 87%, Xinhua Says

China connected 50.26 gigawatts of wind-generated capacity to the nation’s largest electricity grid as of this year, the official Xinhua News Agency said, citing a statement from China State Grid Corp.

Growth in the on-grid wind power capacity was up 87 percent annually over the last six years, Xinhua reported, citing the larger of China’s two transmission operators. Grid-linked capacity will rise to 100 gigawatts by 2015 and 200 gigawatts by 2020, according to the report published yesterday.

China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, plans to have at least 15 percent of its energy mix come from non-fossil fuels by 2020. Wind farms are the second-biggest contributor to renewable-energy capacity in the nation after hydropower dams.

Report: Wind power accounted for 32% of new U.S. capacity in 2011

New U.S. wind power installations are expected to be substantially higher in 2012 than 2011, driven by the threat of expiring federal incentives, a report says.

While facing policy uncertainty beyond 2012, the United States remained one of the fastest-growing wind power markets in the world in 2011, second only to China, a report prepared by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory for the U.S. Department of Energy said.

With around 6.8 gigawatts of new wind power capacity connected to the U.S. grid in 2011, wind power comprised 32 percent of all new U.S. electric capacity additions for the year, the report said.

Projections are for continued strong growth in 2012, followed by dramatically lower additions in 2013 following the expiration of key federal incentives, a Department of Energy release announcing the report said Tuesday.

Low natural gas prices and modest electricity demand growth threaten to dramatically slow new builds in 2013 and beyond, despite recent improvements in the cost and performance of wind power technology, the report's authors said.

Schletter Invests $27 Million In Solar Power Manufacturing Plant, Creating 305 North Carolina Jobs

A manufacturer of solar power mounting systems, Schletter, Inc., will invest $27 million to establish a production and distribution facility in Shelby, North Carolina, with plans to create 305 jobs by the end of 2016.

The new facility in Shelby, which will serve as the production and distribution hub of Schletter’s east coast operations, will house all functions required to produce the company’s eight types of solar mounting systems. In addition to the manufacturing operations, the Shelby location will become Schletter’s U.S. headquarters.

We’re excited to offer our customers improved delivery and service options by opening our second U.S. manufacturing facility and new U.S. corporate headquarters in Shelby, North Carolina,” stated Martin Hausner, President of Schletter Inc.

“The decision to locate a manufacturing facility in North Carolina was primarily based on providing improved services for our East Coast customers; faster delivery of our products, and reduced logistics costs,” Ludwig Schletter, owner of the Schletter Corporation said. “We will never lose sight of our goals which include remaining a competitive force in the market while providing the highest quality product.”

New Solar Power Design Inspired by Telescope Could Produce Twice the Energy

Researchers have designed a new solar power module that uses a curved mirror to focus sunlight onto a 5-inch glass ball that then spreads the light evenly across a solar panel, leading to twice the power output of traditional solar panels when combined with high-efficiency solar cells. The design was inspired by telescope technology and the high-efficiency solar cells used by space agencies.

The module also tracks the sun and rotates with it to increase its efficiency. The whole module is mounted on a steel 10-ft by 10-ft rotating frame that moves with the sun.

“The tracker is fully automated,” Blake Coughenour, a graduate student in the UA’s College of Optical Sciences, explained. “The system wakes itself up in the morning and turns to the East. It knows where the sun will rise even while it’s still below the horizon. It tracks the sun’s path during the day all the way to sunset, then parks itself for the night.”

One of the most interesting parts of the system is the mirror. The researchers came up with a dish-shaped mirror design that works very well for concentrating sunlight specifically for photovoltaics, as opposed to a solar thermal system.


China's Wanxiang to take control of battery maker A123

A123 Systems Inc. (NASDAQ: AONE), designer, developer, manufacturer and seller of rechargeable lithium-ion and energy storage systems, today reported a loss in its second quarter. However, shares of the Waltham, Massachusetts-based are gaining after it secured a financing deal.

For the second quarter, AONE reported a loss of $82.9 million, or $0.56 per share, compared to a loss of $55.4 million, or $0.44 per share reported for the same period in the previous year. Revenue for the quarter fell 53% to $17 million. AONE’s results were worse than Street estimates.

Despite posting worse-than-expected results, AONE shares are up sharply today after the company reached an agreement with Chinese auto parts maker Wanxiang Group Corp. for an investment of up to $450 million. The investment will help AONE to stay afloat.

David Vieau, CEO of A123 Systems, said that today’s announcement is the first step toward solidifying a strategic agreement that the company believes would remove the uncertainty regarding its financial situation.


Wind power hits 57% mark in Colorado

During the early morning hours of April 15, with a steady breeze blowing down Colorado's Front Range, the state's biggest utility set a U.S. record -- nearly 57% of the electricity being generated was coming from wind power.

As dawn came and the 1.4 million customers in Xcel Energy's service district began turning on the lights, toasters and other appliances, the utility's coal and natural gas-fired power plants ramped up production and brought wind's contribution back closer to its 2012 average of 17%.

lities have long been wary of placing too much finicky renewable power on the grid.

"A lot of utilities don't want to contract large amounts of wind because it's volatile," said Amy Grace, a wind analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. "Anything over 25%, and utilities get nervous."

Colorado's overnight high-water mark demonstrated that utilities can indeed incorporate cleaner power sources into the mix.

Renewable Energy Groups Applaud Senate Finance Committee Vote to Enhance Production Tax Credits

Leaders of four renewable energy trade associations today commended a last-minute vote by the Senate Finance Committee yesterday afternoon to extend and enhance production tax credits (PTCs) for all renewable energy sources. The tax credits are essential for the development of clean energy-generating facilities by offsetting the high cost of construction. Yesterday's action by the Committee will give renewable baseload technologies equitable access to this important program by allowing eligible facilities to qualify for the tax credits when construction is commenced.

"We are highly encouraged that the Senate Finance Committee passed this tax credit extension, and we urge the full Senate and the House to approve the credit before the end of the 112th Congress," said Bob Cleaves, President and CEO of Biomass Power Association. "The construction of new biomass facilities can be prohibitively expensive, and our industry relies on one-time tax credits to attract private investors to support the building of new plants. An extension of PTCs will help ensure that renewable energy sources continue to produce a growing share of electricity for our nation."

First Solar Boosting Solar-Panel Production to Meet Higher Demand

U.S. solar company First Solar Inc. (FSLR) said Wednesday that it will make more solar panels this year than earlier planned due to rising demand.

The Arizona company said it plans to make 1,800 to 1,900 megawatts of panels this year, up from its plan in May to cut production to 1,400 to 1,700 megawatts. That compares to 2,400 megawatts of production in 2011.

First Solar Chief Executive Jim Hughes said the company will make more products to meet higher-than-expected demand from customers primarily in Europe and India.

First Solar reported a second-quarter profit of $111 million, or $1.27 a share, up 82% from $61.1 million, or 70 cents a share, a year earlier. Net sales jumped 80% to $957.3 million, primarily due to an increase in the number and size of projects under construction for which revenue could be booked in the second quarter.

Share of First Solar were up 13% at $16.70 in after-hours trade.

U.S. Sets Duties on Chinese, Vietnamese Wind Towers

Proposed U.S. tariffs on wind-energytowers from China and Vietnam were welcomed by a trade group that had complained competitors were dumping products in the American market.

The Commerce Department concluded in preliminary findings yesterday that producers in the nations, which exported $301 million in towers to the U.S. in 2011, sold the utility-scale goods below production costs. The department, which set duties as high as 73 percent for Chinese products and 60 percent for goods from Vietnam, acted on a complaint by U.S. companies such as Broadwind Energy Inc. (BWEN) of Naperville, Illinois. Broadwind rose 13 percent in trading yesterday.

“Commerce has taken an important step to address the significant dumping that is taking place,” Alan Price, an attorney with Wiley Rein LLP in Washington who represents the U.S. group, said in a statement. Duties will help to “force the Chinese and Vietnamese producers to compete fairly.”

Beijing Denies Solar Panel Dumping Amid EU Row

Beijing on Friday denied accusations of solar panel dumping, saying it hoped Chinese and EU manufacturers could negotiate an end to a dispute that threatens a trade war.

EU ProSun, a group of more than 20 European solar panel makers, suspects Beijing of providing their Chinese rivals with loans and other subsidies enabling them to sell their goods below cost.

They have filed a complaint with the European Commission calling for it to impose tariffs, following a U.S. move in May to slap hefty anti-dumping duties on Chinese solar products which Beijing blasted as "protectionist."

Beijing's commerce ministry backed the Chinese firms, saying falling export prices were due to the cost of polysilicon, a key panel ingredient, dropping from $300 a kilogram in 2008 to $30 now, new technology and economies of scale.

"There is therefore no basis to consider that Chinese photovoltaic cells are being dumped," it said in a statement on its website.

It said that Chinese firms themselves imported key components and technology needed for solar panel manufacturing from Europe and the U.S., adding that Chinese products helped create jobs among installers.

U.S. solar plan creates energy zones, excludes sensitive lands

The Obama administration unveiled plans Tuesday to ramp up solar energy production, offering incentives for solar developers to cluster projects on 285,000 acres of federal land in the western U.S and opening an additional 19 million acres of the Mojave Desert for new power plants.

The long-awaited plan also appears to rewind previous land-use decisions by the federal government. The pending policy rules out a long list of environmentally sensitive lands where the government — seeking to fast-track construction — had allowed solar development over the objections of environmentalists.

The plan places 445 square miles of public land in play for utility-scale solar facilities.

The plan establishes 17 solar energy zones in six Western states, including 154,000 acres in California. The zones were chosen because they avoided major environmental, cultural or other conflicts. The policy encourages developers to select sites within zones by promising minimal environmental reviews and expedited permitting.

NRG and GenOn to Merge; Creating Largest Competitive Power Generation Company in the United States

NRG Energy, Inc. NRG and GenOn Energy, Inc. GEN announced they have signed a definitive agreement to combine the two companies in a stock-for-stock tax-free transaction, creating the largest competitive generator in the United States with a diverse fleet of approximately 47,000 megawatts (MW) with asset concentrations in the East, Gulf Coast and West and a combined enterprise value of $18 billion.

"This combination ushers in a new era of scale, scope, and market and fuel diversification in the competitive power industry," said NRG President and CEO David Crane, who will continue his present positions with the combined company. "The greater depth and breadth gained through the combination with GenOn will put NRG in a uniquely strong position to fulfill the needs of American energy consumers in the 21st century."

Researchers create transparent solar cell

Researchers at UCLA and UC Santa Barbara have created the first highly transparent, plastic solar cells. The new solar cell is almost 70% transparent to visible light. 

There are two key breakthroughs here: First, as far as I can tell, this is one of highest efficiency (4%) polymer solar cells (PSC) yet created; and, perhaps more importantly, researchers have historically struggled to get get past 10 or 20% transparency, let alone 70%. You are probably wondering how something can be both transparent and absorb light — well, in this case, the PSC only absorbs infrared light, but lets visible light pass through it.

In both cases, the secret sauce is silver nanowires within the polymer. These nanowire electrodes are conductive and flexible, and after being coated with titanium dioxide nanoparticles they are also photovoltaic. Most importantly, though, these nanowires can be laid down using a solution process — basically, to turn a big roll of polymer into a solar cell, all you have to do is immerse it in a vat of titanium dioxide-coated silver nanowires, cure it, and voila.

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