Warren Buffett Downplays His Battle With Elon Musk in Nevada Over Solar Power

Joe Carmichael for Inverse:  Buffett, in an interview with CNBC on Monday, responded to viewer questions about this clash (a clash that Bloomberg Business intensified with a cover story): two viewers asked why Buffett’s companies are preventing and deterring net metering in Nevada. Buffett responded:

“We don’t have a problem with net meters, and we’re the leading in renewables in the country among regulated utilities. The [unintelligible] we do not want our million-plus customers that do not have solar to be buying solar at 10 and a half cents when we can turn it out for them at 4 and a half cents or buy it at 4 and a half cents. So, we do not want the non-solar customers, of whom there are over a million, to be subsidizing the 17,000 solar customers. Now, solar customers are subsidized through the Federal Government — as we are, with our wind and solar operations ourselves. …

“In Nevada, [Musk's company, SolarCity] had an arrangement for a very limited number of people — and the public utility commission decides this — they had an arrangement where the utility had to pay way above market for solar produced by these 17,000 homes, and that —“

The interviewer interrupted to clarify: “For instance, if I have solar electricity that I’m producing, that’s more than I need, I can sell it back to you…”  Cont'd...

Is the US undermining India's solar power programme?

Justin Rowlatt for BBC News:  Whatever happened to all the talk of international co-operation to tackle climate change that we heard during the climate conference in Paris just a few months ago?

That is what many environmentalists are asking after the United States delivered a damaging blow to India's ambitious solar power programme this week.

In response to a US complaint, a World Trade Organization (WTO) panel has ruled that India's National Solar Mission breaches trade rules.

It judged that India's policies on buying locally made solar power equipment discriminates against imports.

"The ink is barely dry on the UN Paris Climate Agreement, but clearly trade still trumps real action on climate change," Sam Cossar-Gilbert of Friends of the Earth International said in a statement.

But is the decision really as damaging as many commentators seem to think?

Let's start at the beginning.  Cont'd...

Here's How Electric Cars Will Cause the Next Oil Crisis

Tom Randal for Bloomberg Business:  With all good technologies, there comes a time when buying the alternative no longer makes sense. Think smartphones in the past decade, color TVs in the 1970s, or even gasoline cars in the early 20th century. Predicting the timing of these shifts is difficult, but when it happens, the whole world changes.

It’s looking like the 2020s will be the decade of the electric car.

Battery prices fell 35 percent last year and are on a trajectory to make unsubsidized electric vehicles as affordable as their gasoline counterparts in the next six years, according to a new analysis of the electric-vehicle market by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). That will be the start of a real mass-market liftoff for electric cars.

By 2040, long-range electric cars will cost less than $22,000 (in today’s dollars), according to the projections. Thirty-five percent of new cars worldwide will have a plug.  Cont'd...

Apple leftovers key for future energy storage

By Tereza Pultarova for E&T:  German researchers have developed a new carbon-based active material that can be manufactured from apple leftovers and used to build better energy storage systems.

The apple-based material can be used as the negative electrode in sodium-ion batteries, which are currently being researched as a more environmentally friendly and cheaper alternative to lithium-ion batteries.

Instead of energy-intensive lithium mining, which frequently damages the environment, battery manufacturers in future could be using organic waste to make batteries.

In tests, the new material discovered by researchers from the Helmholtz Institute Ulm of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, has demonstrated ‘excellent electrochemical properties’, allowing the researchers to carry out 1000 charge and discharge cycles during which the apple-based battery demonstrated high stability as well as capacity.  Cont'd...

The oil industry has invented an ironic new use for solar power

Cassie Werber for Quartz:  There’s a huge project taking shape in the deserts of Oman. It will extract crude oil from the ground by pumping vast quantities of steam into it. To produce the steam, water will be brought to a boil using as much as a gigawatt of energy. The source of that energy: the sun.

Using solar power to get fossil fuels out of the ground will strike some as ironic—especially since, if that method weren’t available, the high cost of extracting the oil might lead to more pressure to use cleaner energy sources, such as solar, instead.

But GlassPoint, the American company behind the new technology, says that the project and others like it will help fossil-fuel drillers limit carbon emissions. The process of “enhanced oil recovery,” where steam is used to loosen thick oil and make it easier to pump, usually involves burning natural gas to heat water. GlassPoint says its technology can cut that gas consumption, and the consequent carbon emissions, by   up to 80%.  Cont'd...

The Koch Brothers' Dirty War on Solar Power

Tim Dickinson for Rolling Stone:  The full political might of Florida's IOUs was on display in December, when a deceptive campaign, funded by the state's electric utilities, crushed a citizen-led effort to open Florida to solar competition through the 2016 ballot. "When your opponents have no ethical foundation, have unlimited resources and are willing to say and do anything to defeat you," says Stephen Smith, director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, which led the pro-solar effort, "it's a tough hurdle to overcome."

It should come as no surprise that the utilities have fought so hard. The rise of cheap, distributed solar power poses a disruptive – and perhaps existential – threat to the traditional electric utility business.

Monopoly electric utilities used to make sense. Dirty power, generated at a distance from population centers, was carried over a set of transmission lines to homes and businesses. Consumers got reliable power from a single provider. IOUs were guaranteed a profit – both for building power plants and transmission lines as well as for the electricity itself.  Full Article:

Boeing delivers fuel cell energy storage system to U.S. Navy

Ryan Maass for UPI:  Boeing has delivered its reversible solid oxide fuel cell, for generating clean electricity, to the U.S. Navy for testing.

The fuel cell system is designed to generate, compress and store hydrogen from renewable sources such as wind and solar to produce zero-emissions electricity.Boeing's delivery to the Navy follows 16 months of development.

The technology is capable of both producing and storing energy. The first unit was commissioned on the Southern California power grid prior to its installation on the Navy's 'microgrid' for further testing.

"This fuel cell solution is an exciting new technology providing our customers with a flexible, affordable and environmentally progressive option for energy storage and power generation," Boeing Advanced Technology Programs director Lance Towers said.

Boeing officials say they were able to develop the fuel cell using their experience with the energy systems used for their unmanned undersea vehicles.  Cont'd...

France to pave 1000km of roads with solar panels

Derek Markham for TreeHugger:  Over the next five years, France will install some 621 miles (1,000km) of solar roadway using Colas' Wattway solar pavement.

Solar freakin' roadways! No, this is not the crowdfunded solar road project that blew up the internet a few years ago, but is a collaboration between Colas, a transport infrastructure company, and INES (France's National Institute for Solar Energy), and sanctioned by France's Agency of Environment and Energy Management, which promises to bring solar power to hundreds of miles of roads in the country over the next five years.

One major difference between this solar freakin' roadway and that other solar freakin' roadway is that the new Wattway system doesn't replace the road itself or require removal of road surfaces, but instead is designed to be glued onto the top of existing pavement. The Wattway system is also built in layers of materials "that ensure resistance and tire grip," and is just 7 mm thick, which is radically different from that other design that uses thick glass panels (and which is also claimed to include LED lights and 'smart' technology, which increases the complexity and cost of the moose-friendly solar tiles).  Cont'd...

California narrowly upholds critical solar policy

NICHOLA GROOM for Reuters:  California, which boasts more than half of the households with solar panels in the United States, on Thursday extended a policy that has underpinned the rooftop solar industry's dramatic growth over the last decade.

The 3-to-2 decision by California's Public Utilities Commission at a meeting in San Francisco to extend net metering was a major victory for the solar industry, including companies like SolarCity Corp, Sunrun and SunPower Corp.

Net metering allows homeowners with solar panels to sell the power they generate but don't use back to their utility at the full retail rate, sometimes giving them a credit on their bill at the end of the month. The 20-year policy has been critical to making solar cost competitive.

But the narrow victory underscored palpable frustrations with the policy, which has been criticized for rewarding solar users while leaving other ratepayers to shoulder the cost of maintaining the electricity grid.

"I will be the first to say that I think we really have a ways to go before we have a really enduring rooftop strategy," said PUC President Michael Picker, who voted in favor of extending the policy.

The PUC will reconsider net metering again in 2019.  Cont'd...

A solar-powered soccer pitch in Lagos also uses players' footfall to keep the lights on

Yomi Kazeem for Quartz:  Africa is already waking up to the possibilities that renewable energy provides, the African Union has pledged a $20 billion investment over the next decade. In East Africa, pay-as-you-go solar energy services arealready proving a mainstream success. In West Africa, things are still at an early experimental stage. One such experiment is a solar-powered football pitch which also uses kinetic energy generated by footballers playing.

Located at a teacher’s college in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial center, the innovative soccer pitch was launched last year in a three-way collaboration between energy giant Shell; music star Akon, who has been championing solar energy on the continent; and Pavegen, a UK-based start-up which has a target of providing low-cost renewable energy solutions to Africa’s electricity problems.

Perhaps the most interesting technological feature of the solar-powered pitch—only the second ever launched across the world (the first was launched in Brazil in 2014)—is that it combines both kinetic and solar energy to produce electricity.  Cont'd...

These Creative Wind Turbines Will Have You Rethinking What You Know About Wind Power

By Alison Gillespie for SMITHSONIAN.COM: Although a lot of people are excited about wind energy, few are excited about the pinwheel-shaped machines that often produce it. Branded as noisy, blamed for spoiling bucolic views and proven deadly to some bats and migrating birds, the giant, white-bladed horizontal axis wind turbines that now dot the landscape of the American West have earned a fair number of detractors—even among environmentalists who generally favor renewable power.

But what if you turned the idea sideways, and created a turbine that could spin like a carousel? And what if you made a turbine small enough to sit on top of a building or inside an urban park? Could the result produce enough power to really matter?

The idea isn’t a new one—people have been playing with windmill designs and experimenting with alternatives to the horizontal axis turbine for almost a century now. But in the last two decades, a flurry of interest in expanding renewable energy in cities has attracted the attention of a large number of inventors and artists, many of whom see the vertical axis wind turbine as promising.

There is no single design for these upended wind catchers, but all share one key aspect: the blades turn around an axis that points skyward. And unlike their horizontal brethren, the components and associated generators of a vertical turbine are placed at its base, giving it a lower center of gravity. Most are also relatively small, and unlike horizontal units, they can be grouped very closely together to optimize efficiency.  Cont'd...

French Biofuel Maker Is Tested by $35 Oil Despite Tax Breaks

Francois De Beaupuy  for Bloomberg:  Global Bioenergies SA, an unprofitable French maker of sugar-based gasoline, said oil’s recent slump to $35 a barrel is testing the financial viability of its technology even as it plans expansion in the U.S.

“The economic case doesn’t stand with oil at $35, except when there’s a tax incentive” as in various European countries and the U.S., Chief Executive Officer Marc Delcourt said in an interview. Without tax breaks, the company would need Brent crude well above $100 a barrel, he said.

Shares of Global Bioenergies, listed in Paris since 2011, have dropped more than 50 percent from their peak in May as oil’s collapse raised investor concern that biofuel makers couldn’t compete. Delcourt is counting on the end of European sugar production quotas in 2017 and changes in U.S. eating habits to keep the sweetener’s price low as it eyes additional capacity. Raw-sugar futures are trading at half their price five years ago.   Cont'd...

Wind, solar power soaring in spite of bargain prices for fossil fuels

Joby Warrick for The Washington Post:  Wind and solar power appear set for a record-breaking year in 2016 as a clean-energy construction boom gains momentum in spite of a global glut of cheap fossil fuels.

Installations of wind turbines and solar panels soared in 2015 as utility companies went on a worldwide building binge, taking advantage of falling prices for clean technology as well as an improving regulatory and investment climate. Both industries have seen stock prices jump since Congress approved an extension of tax credits for renewables as part of last month’s $1.14 trillion budget deal.

Orders for 2016 solar and wind installations are up sharply, from the United States to China to the developing economies of Africa and Latin America, all in defiance of stubbornly low prices for coal and natural gas, the industry’s chief competitors.  Cont'd...

Sand could be the key to unlocking more efficient solar power, Masdar scientists find

Naser Al Wasmi for The National UAE: Masdar Institute scientists have published a breakthrough research into more efficient solar power – and they will not have to look far for the raw material ­needed.

Using sand, they hope to drive concentrated solar power technology to compete with the traditional photovoltaic method.

Named “Sandstock”, the research published at the Solar Power and Chemical Energy Systems Conference in South Africa yesterday, showed sand can withstand temperatures of up to 1,000°C.

Concentrated solar power, or CSP, uses mirrors to reflect heat from the sun to one point, most typically a tower filled with a material capable of storing heat and then converting it into electricity.

CSP’s benefit is that the energy derived is easy to store, but in recent years it has lost out to the more popular photovoltaics, which is more cost-efficient.

That may now change.

“Sand is really always a drawback in this country but in this project we wanted to use it as an advantage because it can withstand very high temperature, and of course it is very cheap here,” said Dr Nicolas Calvet, assistant professor of mechanical and materials engineering, and guide for the research project.  Cont'd...

China to cut on-grid tariffs for solar, wind power: State planning commission

Reuters - China will cut payments to wind and solar electricity generators for contributing power to the grid, the country's state planning commission said over the weekend, reflecting recent declines in operating costs.

Starting in 2016, on-grid tariffs for solar producers will be 0.02 to 0.10 yuan lower per kilowatt-hour — with the higher cuts applying in the country's less populated, arid western region — while tariffs for wind power generators will fall 0.02 to 0.03 yuan, the National Development and Reform Commission said in a statement.

The cuts, which were expected, are in line with a 0.03 yuan cut on Wednesday to on-grid tariffs for thermal power. Coal still fires more than 70% of China's power generation.  Cont'd...

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