Could uphill train tracks solve the problem of energy storage?

James Murray for BusinessGreen:  is commonly regarded as a green form of travel, typically boasting lower levels of carbon emissions and air pollution than road transport, but could it also serve to deliver a cleaner and more resilient power grid?

That is the hope of innovative US start up Advanced Rail Energy Storage, LLC, which yesterday announces it has secured a crucial right-of-way lease from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to develop its planned 50MW gravity-based energy storage project.

The ARES Nevada project uses the same principles as pumped hydroelectric energy storage projects, but instead of relying on water in a water-stressed region it plans to make use of an inclined rail track and generator locomotive cars that will run along it.  Cont'd...

Why Power Markets Tilt Toward Renewables Even With Cheap Oil

Anna Hirtenstein for Bloomberg Business:  If you’re a power plant developer, chances are you’ll be selling renewables in a developing nation in the decades ahead -- even with fossil fuel prices bumping along historic lows.

That’s been the conclusion for some time of the International Energy Agency and independent researchers such as Bloomberg New Energy Finance. A report out Thursday from the United Nations Environment Program using BNEF data gives more statistical backing for the trends.

For the first time in 2015, more investment went into renewables than fossil fuels, and most of the money went to emerging markets. BNEF is hosting a conference in New York starting April 4 to bring together executives and bankers attempting to generate value from the boom.

Here are six charts from the UNEP report showing why cheap oil and natural gas aren’t about to slow the rise of wind and solar.

EPFL Scientists Achieve Record-Level Reproducibility for Perovskite Solar Cells

Perovskite solar cells hold much promise for cost-effective solar energy. However, heat stability is an issue, and can significantly limit the solar cell’s long-term efficiency. A team of scientists led by Michael Grätzel’s lab at EPFL has now developed a cesium-containing perovskite solar cell that has achieved efficiency of 21.1%, as well as record-level reproducibility. The work is published in Energy and Environmental Science.

By adding cesium, the EPFL scientists, led by postdoc Michael Saliba, made the first ever triple-cation perovskite mixture (Cs/MA/FA). The new films are more heat-stable and less affected by fluctuating surrounding variables such as temperature, solvent vapors or the heating protocol used for the device. But more importantly, they also show stabilized power-conversion efficiencies of 21.1% and outputs at 18% under operational conditions, even after 250 hours.

“This is an absolute breakthrough,” says Michael Saliba. “These properties are crucial for commercializing perovskite photovoltaics, especially since reproducibility and stability are the main requirements for cost-effective large-scale manufacturing of perovskite solar cells.”  Source AZOCleantech...

Tesla Discontinues 10-Kilowatt-Hour Powerwall Home Battery

Julia Pyper for GTM:  Tesla has quietly removed all references to its 10-kilowatt-hour residential battery from the Powerwall website, as well as the company’s press kit. The company's smaller battery designed for daily cycling is all that remains.

The change was initially made without explanation, which prompted industry insiders to speculate. Today, a Tesla representative confirmed the 10-kilowatt-hour option has been discontinued.

"We have seen enormous interest in the Daily Powerwall worldwide," according to an emailed statement to GTM. "The Daily Powerwall supports daily use applications like solar self-consumption plus backup power applications, and can offer backup simply by modifying the way it is installed in a home. Due to the interest, we have decided to focus entirely on building and deploying the 7-kilowatt-hour Daily Powerwall at this time."

The 10-kilowatt-hour option was marketed as a backup power supply capable of 500 cycles, at a price to installers of $3,500. Tesla was angling to sell the battery to consumers that want peace of mind in the event the grid goes down, like during another Superstorm Sandy. The problem is that the economics for a lithium-ion backup battery just aren’t that attractive.  Cont'd...

Solar Panels Grown on the Moon could Power Earth

Sarah Fecht for Popular Science:  Currently a high school senior in California, Lewis-Weber has just published a paper in the journal New Space with what he thinks could be the solution to the upcoming energy crisis: putting self-replicating solar panels in space. These solar panels would to build copies of themselves, autonomously, on the surface of the moon. Then they would enter Earth's orbit, collect the sun's energy, and wirelessly beam it to the ground.

That may sound like a crazy idea, but the notion of space-based solar power actually dates back several decades, to the 1970s oil crisis. It was set aside after oil prices went back down, but since then, two things have happened: One, the world has become a lot more desperate to solve climate change; and two, technological innovations have brought this crazy idea out of the realm of science fiction. The idea is gaining attention, and with some big investments, it's possible that space-based solar power could become a reality within a few decades.  Cont'd...

Obama administration opens up Long Island to offshore wind development

SCOTT WALDMAN for Politico:  The federal government has designated an 81,000-acre area off of Long Island for possible commercial offshore wind development.

The move by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on Wednesday to open the federal waters 11 miles off of New York to major wind development projects will be a significant boost to the Cuomo administration’s aggressive climate policies. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will now conduct an environmental assessment, with a possible sale of leases to follow.

“New York has tremendous offshore wind potential, and today's milestone marks another important step in the President's strategy to tap clean, renewable energy from the Nation’s vast wind and solar resources,” U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said in a statement. “We will continue to work with the State and local stakeholders through a collaborative effort as we determine what places have the highest potential and lowest conflict to harness the enormous wind energy potential off the Atlantic seaboard.”  Cont'd...

The world's first solar airport no longer pays for electricity

Jethro Mullen for CNN:  Fed up with their hefty electricity bill, managers at Cochin International Airport in southern India took matters into their own hands.

Three years ago, they began adding solar panels -- first on the roof of the arrivals terminal, then on and around an aircraft hangar. The success of those initial efforts led to a much bigger endeavor.

"We wanted to be independent of the electricity utility grid," Jose Thomas, the airport's general manager, told CNNMoney.

Last year, the airport commissioned the German company Bosch to build a vast 45-acre solar plant on unused land near the international cargo terminal.

The plant came online in August, making Cochin the world's first fully solar-powered airport.

The tens of thousands of panels generate on average slightly more than the roughly 48,000-50,000 kilowatts of power that the airport -- the seventh busiest in India -- uses per day, according to Thomas. Surplus energy is fed into the wider electricity grid.

The big project cost around 620 million rupees ($9.3 million), a sum the airport expects to save in less than six years by not having to pay electricity bills anymore. It also estimates the solar plant will avoid more than 300,000 metric tons of carbon emissions from coal power over the next 25 years.  Cont'd...

United Airlines is flying on biofuels ... here's why that's a really big deal

Chelsea Harvey for The Washington Post:   On Friday, United Airlines will launch a new initiative that uses biofuel to help power flights running between Los Angeles and San Francisco, with eventual plans to expand to all flights operating out of LAX. It's the first time an American airline will begin using renewable fuel for regular commercial operations, and the occasion is part of a bigger movement when it comes to clean transportation in the U.S.

The renewable fuel used to power United's planes will be coming from a Los Angeles refinery operated by AltAir Fuels, which is using the facility to produce both renewable jet fuel and diesel fuel using a technology developed by Honeywell UOP, a major supplier and technology licenser in the petroleum industry. Back in 2013, AltAir and United announced their partnership, in which United will purchase up to 15 million gallons of biofuel over a three-year period.

Friday's launch will be the first application of that agreement. The flights will use a mixture of 30 percent biofuel and 70 percent traditional fuel, and United says that the biofuel will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 60 percent compared with regular fuel.  Cont'd...

GE has figured out how to make solar power batteries using greenhouse gasses

Brad Reed for BGR:  We typically think of carbon dioxide as an unhealthy byproduct of our over reliance on fossil fuels. But what if CO2 could be used to help us move away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy sources? GE Global Research has been working with the U.S. Department of Energy to come up with a way to use excess carbon dioxide produced by power plants to store extra solar power and deliver it back to the grid for later use.

There are two major components to this solar power storage system: The first component captures solar energy and keeps it stored in molten salt, while the second component takes surplus electricity from the grid to cool off carbon dioxide to the point where it becomes dry ice. To keep the solar energy stored, the molten salt will then be released into the CO2, which will act as a battery capable of deploying power when needed.

The CO2-molten salt mixture will then flow through a specially designed CO2 turbine that GE says “can generate as much as 100 megawatts of ‘fast electricity’ per installed unit.” The advantage of this system is that these turbines would be able to operate at night when there’s no solar power being directly absorbed.  Cont'd...

After record year, U.S. energy storage forecasted to break 1 GW capacity mark in 2019

Peter Maloney  for UtilityDive:  The U.S. energy storage market put in a strong showing in 2015 with its “best quarter and best year of all time,” according to the GTM/ESA report. And current market trends point toward continued strong growth.

The recent extension of the federal Investment Tax Credit, and new guidelines under consideration at the Internal Revenue Service are expected to further boost energy storage and the pairing of storage with renewable resources.

In the fourth quarter alone, the U.S. deployed 112 MW of storage capacity, representing more than the total of all storage deployments in 2013 and 2014 combined.

For the full year, 221 MW (161 MWh) of storage was installed. In 2014 65 MW (86 MWh) of storage was installed in the U.S.  Cont'd...

These Lego-Like Batteries Plug In To Store Solar Power At Home

Adele Peters for Co-Exist:  Less than a year after Tesla unveiled its Powerwall battery for storing electricity at home, a startup has designed a much cheaper alternative that you can plug in yourself, without an electrician.

The modular batteries, called Orison, can be hung on the wall or set on the ground to double as an LED lamp. If you want more power, you just add the units together.

"Think of Orison like Legos," says co-founder and CEO Eric Clifton. "The 2.2 kilowatt-hour unit is really just one piece, so you can actually add as many as you need." The 2.2 kilowatt-hour version is as large as the company could make one unit and keep it under 40 pounds, so it could be easily shipped and moved.

With one unit, if your power went out in a storm, you could keep an energy-efficient refrigerator running for about two days. If you want to back up everything in your house, you'd connect a long series of batteries together.

For someone with solar panels on the roof, the batteries can store power to use at night. Right now, most people can sell extra solar power back to the grid when they're not using it, but many state laws are about to change so people will make less money. Batteries can help solar homeowners save money by making use of the power they've generated.  Cont'd...

Offshore wind projects in United States see renewed interest

By PHILIP MARCELO for AP:  The offshore wind industry has high hopes for establishing a permanent beachhead in the U.S. after years of disappointment.

Business leaders and politicians who gathered for an industry conference in Boston this week said wealthy investment firms and seasoned European offshore wind companies are increasingly committing to projects along the East Coast. That, they said, is evidence a domestic industry dreamed about for nearly two decades is finally on its way.

"There's a palpable sense that it's finally happening," said Bryan Martin, a managing director at D.E. Shaw & Co. That New York hedge fund is the principal backer of Deepwater Wind, a Rhode Island-based company looking to launch the country's first offshore wind farm off Block Island by the end of the year. "The U.S. tends to start small and ramp up very fast. I believe that will happen with offshore wind."

Among the significant new players to emerge in the past year is DONG Energy, a Danish firm that operates more than a dozen wind farms, including some of Europe's largest.  Cont'd...

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...

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