Millions of dollars in renewable energy projects intended to provide power to facilities in California's national parks and forests are sitting idle because of a years-long squabble with Southern California Edison. A new $800,000 solar project at Death Valley National Park, photovoltaic panels at the state-of-the art visitors center at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and a solar power system at the U.S. Forest Service's new facility at Mono Lake are among dozens of taxpayer-funded projects in Southern California on hold as the federal agencies try to hash out an agreement with SCE to tie the projects to the state's electrical grid. The apparent stumbling block involves contract restrictions imposed by federal law, but utilities elsewhere in California have signed similar agreements with the agencies with few problems or delays.
Wind energy is notoriously mercurial, with patterns shifting drastically over the course of years, days, even minutes. These changes make scheduling power much more difficult for utilities that rely on wind turbines to serve an increasing percentage of their power demands. Because wind power in some places is now as cheap as or cheaper than coal-fired power, future profits and challenges for the industry will be written on the wind and how well they can use it. So scientists are stepping in with new measurements and models that may help them manage their power more effectively. "Wind energy often has ramp events where energy increases or decreases by a large amount or in a short time. If there is an overload, there is excess energy on the grid," explained Chandrika Kamath, a researcher at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
China could be the largest market for grid energy storage technology, and now, according to battery maker BYD and China's State Grid utility, the country's potentially got the world's largest battery energy storage station in Zhangbei, Hebei Province. See photo above of the building with rows (bigger than a football field) of BYD's Iron-Phosphate batteries that make up the 36 MW-hours of energy storage along with what looks like rooftop solar panels. A lot of companies have been trying to break into China's grid energy storage market including lithium ion battery maker A123 Systems , flow battery marker ZBB Energy, and even U.S. power producer Duke Energy. China is expected to embrace grid energy storage, as a way to more reliably install the 100 GW of variable clean power that the country wants.
Solar Energy Industry: 2011 in Review Solar energy is one of the fastest growing industry in the United States.
Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, today published the following review of the U.S. solar energy market in 2011: "In contrast to some of the recent headlines, the solar energy industry is a strong, thriving industry in the United States that is creating jobs and lowering costs for the consumer. In 2011, a number of myths about the solar energy industry circulated nationally. Let's set the record straight. Here are seven truths about this thriving American industry:
Other than the tremendously needed toxic pollution standards announced yesterday, the Obama administration has made three more big announcements this week that should make anyone who values clean air, clean water, and a livable climate happy. A 300-MW solar PV project in Arizona and a 186-MW wind project in California were approved for construction on public lands. Additionally, the "first step" of a major offshore wind transmission line (or ‘superhighway') in the Atlantic Ocean — the one Google has invested in — went forward. Together, the Sonoran Solar Energy Project and the Tule Wind Project will create enough power for nearly 150,000 homes and will create 700 jobs at peak.
Google announced that it's investing $94 million in solar panel farms in the Sacramento area. The money will go toward four photovoltaic, or PV, panel farms built by San Francisco-based Recurrent Energy, owned by tech-giant Sharp, and will help fuel the project alongside funding from investment firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., said Axel Martinez, Google's assistant treasurer, in a company blog post Tuesday. The investment pushes Google's portfolio of clean energy investments to more than $915 million, $880 million of which has been invested since January, Martinez said. Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, Recurrent and Google did not disclose how much Kohlberg Kravis Roberts was investing in the project.
Scientists report first solar cell producing more electrons in photocurrent than solar photons entering cell
The external quantum efficiency for photocurrent, usually expressed as a percentage, is the number of electrons flowing per second in the external circuit of a solar cell divided by the number of photons per second of a specific energy (or wavelength) that enter the solar cell. None of the solar cells to date exhibit external photocurrent quantum efficiencies above 100 percent at any wavelength in the solar spectrum. The external quantum efficiency reached a peak value of 114 percent. The newly reported work marks a promising step toward developing Next Generation Solar Cells for both solar electricity and solar fuels that will be competitive with, or perhaps less costly than, energy from fossil or nuclear fuels. A paper on the breakthrough appears in the Dec. 16 issue of Science Magazine. Titled "Peak External Photocurrent Quantum Efficiency Exceeding 100 percent via MEG in a Quantum Dot Solar Cell," it is co-authored by NREL scientists Octavi E. Semonin, Joseph M. Luther, Sukgeun Choi, Hsiang-Yu Chen, Jianbo Gao, Arthur J. Nozikand Matthew C. Beard. The research was supported by the Center for Advanced Solar Photophysics, an Energy Frontier Research Center funded by the DOE Office of Science, Office of Basic Energy Sciences. Semonin and Nozik are also affiliated with the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Warren Buffett's MidAmerican Energy Holdings made its second foray into solar energy in as many weeks, saying on Friday it will buy a 49 percent stake in an Arizona power plant from NRG Energy Inc (NRG.N). MidAmerican, the utility affiliate of Buffett's holding company Berkshire Hathaway Inc (BRKa.N), said it will take a stake in the 290-megawatt Agua Caliente project in Yuma County, Arizona. The plant is being built by solar power company First Solar Inc (FSLR.O) and is supported by a $967 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy. The announcement comes a little over a week after MidAmerican said it would buy First Solar's 550 MW Topaz Solar Farm power plant in California.
Shares in solar power company First Solar fell over 20% in early trading Wednesday after the firm lowered its sales forecast for 2011. The Arizona-based company, which is a leading maker of thin-film solar panels and also a developer of solar power projects, predicted net sales in 2011 of $2.8 to $2.9 billion. That's down from earlier projections of $3.0 to $3.3 billion. The company said the lower sales were due to delays in its projects caused by weather and "other factors," but predicted a healthy 2012. "Our diverse business model and robust project pipeline will help First Solar generate a significant amount of cash in 2012 while improving operational efficiencies," Mike Ahearn, Chairman and Interim CEO of First Solar, said in a statement Wednesday.
While energy from wind turbines currently accounts for less than one percent of total power generated in Japan, the new breakthrough in design provides ample reason to ramp up production. Called the 'Windlens,' Yuji Ohya, a professor of renewable energy dynamics and applied mechanics, and his team at Kyushu University have created a series of turbines that could make the cost of wind power less than coal and nuclear energy. The two major concerning issues with traditional turbines have been their general inefficiency and intolerable noise. However, Kyushu's researchers found that attaching an inward curving ring around the perimeter of a turbine's blades increases the focus of airflow faster through the blade zones at two to three times the speed as before. An improvement in safety from covering the outer edges of the blades and a reduction of the dreaded noise pollution of older models is just a bonus.
The agreement by investor Warren Buffett's MidAmerican Energy Holdings to buy a $2-billion photovoltaic farm in San Luis Obispo County could bring a ray of financial sunshine to the battered solar-energy industry. The scale of Buffett's foray into this sector of the renewable energy scene is considerably more modest than his $34-billion purchase of BNSF Railway, but it could provide the same kind of boost to the solar power business that the 2009 acquisition did to the railroad industry, experts said. "In a lot of ways, this is classic Warren Buffett," said Bruce Bullock, executive director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University. "He comes into an industry that is starving for capital investment. At the same time, this is something that also tells people it's time to take solar power seriously."
THE sight of electric cars umbilically attached to their charging stations hasn't yet become commonplace. But already the technology is about to be superseded. Nissan in Japan has given a glimpse of the very near future in the form of a wireless charging station for its Leaf electric car. Present electric vehicle charging technology requires the connection of a cable to the vehicle to recharge its battery via mains electricity. Now Nissan has developed a wireless charging pad that recharges the battery simply by parking the vehicle on top of a ground transmission unit. Much like the charging system on electric toothbrushes, the Nissan wireless charger works by electromagnetic induction. Electricity is drawn from the recharging coil in a housing mounted on a garage floor and into contacts inside the vehicle. Charging your EV is something you never have to think about. You simply drive into the garage at night, park squarely over the charging pad, and leave the car to charge itself. By morning the car is fully charged and you're on your way. The system is 90 per cent as efficient in power transmission as a cable system, meaning it will charge the car in about eight hours.
Belkin this month released perhaps the simplest way to cut that standby power with its Conserve Power Switch. The small gadget is just a switch in a handy format that cuts the flow of power to anything that plugs into it. There's not much to this device, but that's its appeal. The Power Switch, which costs $6.99, plugs into a regular outlet and you plug a device into that. When you want to use your coffee machine, flick it on and a small green light turns on to indicate the plug is live. Could this simple act actually be worth it? Depending on what power source you intend to cut off, this little gadget or one like it can pay for itself in less than a year. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory calculates that the average coffee maker uses 12 watts when it's off. That means if you only turned it on for the few minutes that it's actually making coffee, you'd save about $12 a year based on the national average electricity price.
The European wind energy market is just starting to recover from the economic downturn in 2009. As demand stabilises, steady growth is forecast. At the same time, the market is poised for greater consolidation that will result in the emergence of fewer but stronger participants. New analysis from Frost & Sullivan (http://www.energy.frost.com), European Wind Energy Markets, finds that the market earned revenue of $19.18 billion in 2010 and estimates this to reach $42.48 billion in 2017. The application sectors covered in this research service are offshore and onshore wind energy. "Europe's wind energy market is primarily driven by the European Union's renewable energy agenda to meet 20 per cent of its energy needs through renewable sources by 2020," notes Frost & Sullivan Research Analyst Neelam Patil. "The high growth potential of offshore wind energy, coupled with the emerging markets of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) are attracting investments in the European market."
A lack of progress for battery technology is (arguably) the single biggest barrier for gadgets, electric vehicles and the power grid. But there continues to be innovation, like last week researchers at Northwestern University unveiled technology that can boost gadget battery life by ten and charge a battery in minutes instead of hours. And there’s hundreds of researchers, entrepreneurs, universities and large companies working on battery breakthroughs. Here’s 25 you should know about:
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