U.S. wind power enjoys a rebirth as solar's obstacles mount

Nichola Groom for Reuters:  A year after Congress extended generous tax credits for renewable energy projects, the U.S. wind industry is thriving. Solar power companies, meanwhile, are hunkering down for a rough 2017. The tax credit renewal has boosted the long-term outlooks for both industries. But in the short term, the subsidies are far more attractive for wind power, which has spurred utilities to launch wind projects while they scale back or delay solar installations. Advances in wind turbine technology are also opening up new locations for development and driving a wave of spending to upgrade existing projects. In the last few weeks, power companies with large renewable holdings - including Southern Co, NextEra Energy Inc and Xcel Energy Inc - have announced plans to invest billions of dollars in wind. "We're making a pivot now away from solar," Southern Chief Executive Tom Fanning told a meeting with Wall Street analysts in October.   Cont'd...

Science Plant a Wind Tree in your neighborhood to generate energy from low-speed wind

Bruce Brown for Digital Trends:  These trees do more than just add ambiance. Harnessing the wind to generate electrical energy usually brings to mind thoughts of huge land- or ocean-based wind farms consisting of huge towers with two or three blades, each more than 100-feet long, on the top. The size, weight, noise, and vibration of industrial wind turbines restrict their use to large open spaces. Newwind, a French startup, has developed a much smaller, urban-space-friendly “Wind Tree,” reports Electrek. The Wind Tree, which produces sufficient energy to power small buildings or streetlights, is designed to connect to a nearby energy storage system. The trees are each about 30 feet tall and 26 feet in diameter, and weigh approximately 5,500 pounds. Each tree has 54 Aeroleafs mounted vertically on tree branches. The Aeroleafs are 3.2 feet high and, spinning at optimum speed, are capable of generating 65 watts each. So, a tree with 54 leaves has an energy-generation capacity maximum of 3,510 watts (3.5kW), about the same as a small home solar installation.   Cont'd...

The Solar Industry Has Paid Off Its Carbon Debts

Robinson Meyer for The Atlantic:  Think of all the energy that goes into making a single solar panel. Quartz and copper must be mined. The raw materials must be converted into wafers, then encased in protective material. And after panels leave the factory, they must be shipped all over the world. Now imagine these consequences spread over four decades—the environmental cost of the solar industry. Given all the research, development, and production time that goes into making any one panel, a skeptical solar-buyer might wonder: Has the solar industry on the whole really saved any energy at all?  To that concern, a new analysis answers: Yes. The solar industry probably paid off its long-term energy and climate “debts” in 2011, a study published this week in Nature Communications finds.   Cont'd...

Nearly half of residential distributed solar power is owned by private companies

Lucas Mearian for ComputerWorld:  About 44% of all solar power that's installed on residential rooftops, known as distributed solar capacity, is owned by private businesses, such as SolarCity or Vivint Solar, according to new government data. Distributed solar capacity in the U.S., which includes all solar power capacity other than utility-scale installations 1 megawatts (MW) or larger,  increased to 12.3 gigawatts (GW) as of September, according to new figures from the Energy Information Administration (EIA). In comparison, a cumulative 11.6GW had been installed in the U.S. by the end of 2015.   Cont'd...

Offshore wind energy system combines sea water and wind to create electricity

Megan Treacy for TreeHugger:  We've seen our share of interesting wind power designs, but often the technology can't come anywhere close to matching what the traditional horizontal axis wind turbines can do. There's a reason that when we think of wind energy, we think of giant masts with rotating blades and it's because that design is incredibly effective -- just look at Scotland and other areas around the world that now get a majority of their electricity needs from wind power. The design isn't without its flaws; those rotating blades do pose a hazard to birds and bats and the cost of manufacturing and installing all of those giant parts can be expensive. When it comes to offshore wind power in the U.S., that has been a major roadblock. The energy generation potential is huge, but so is the cost. An energy start-up company called Accio Energy -- yes, a Harry Potter reference -- thinks it has a solution to that problem, one that will generate as much if not more energy from offshore wind than a traditional wind turbine, but at half the cost. There are no moving parts, instead Accio's technology consists of large permeable panels on masts that let the ocean winds blow right through.   Cont'd...

The World's Largest Solar Plant Is Now Online in India

Avery Thompson for Popular Mechanics:  The world's largest solar power plant has just been completed in Kamuthi, in Tamil Nadu, India. The new plant adds 648 MW to the country's generating capacity. The Kamuthi Solar Power Project takes the title of world's largest solar plant from the Topaz Solar Farm in California, which was completed two years ago and has a capacity of 550 MW. The Kamuthi Solar Power Project was built in only 8 months, and cost $679 million to complete. It contains 2.5 million individual solar panels, covers an area of almost 4 square miles, and is expected to power 150,000 homes.   Cont'd...

Tesla powers a whole island with solar to show off its energy chops

James Vincent for The Verge:  Tesla completed its $2.6 billion acquisition of SolarCity this week, and, to celebrate, the company has announced a major solar energy project: wiring up the whole island of Ta’u in American Samoa. Previously, the island ran on diesel generators, but over the past year Tesla has installed a microgrid of solar energy panels and batteries that will supply "nearly 100 percent" of power needs for Ta’u’s 600 residents. The project seems intended to show off the potential benefits of the SolarCity acquisition, with Ta’u’s microgrid comprised of 5,328 solar panels from SolarCity and Tesla, along with 60 Tesla Powerpacks batteries for storage. But buying SolarCity remains a risky move for Tesla, with the purchase including billions of dollars of debt for a company that's far from profitable (SolarCity spends $6 for every $1 it makes in sales). Nevertheless, Tesla CEO Elon Musk describes the acquisition as "blindingly obvious" — a necessary step in his so-called "Master Plan" to integrate clean energy generation and storage.  Cont'd...

Power to the people: Solar panel sales to soon surpass leasing

Lucas Mearian for ComputerWorld:  Direct ownership of solar power panels will overtake third-party ownership next year as more consumers are choosing to buy, rather than lease, their panels. According to GTM Research's latest report, U.S. Residential Solar Financing 2016-2021, 55% of all U.S. residential solar capacity installed in 2017 will be purchased by customers paying either in cash, or through a solar loan financing arrangement; that number is expected to grow to 73% of all solar systems installed in 2021.   Cont'd...

Want to boost wind and solar power? Bring them together

Ben Jervey for GreenBiz:  What’s keeping solar and wind power from fully taking over the electric grid? For starters, the sun only shines during the day. Wind blows intermittently, is seasonally variable, and is not always blowing when the energy is needed. But what if solar and wind work together?  "Wind resource tends to complement solar resource," said Sarah Kurtz of the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory. "Here in Colorado, for instance, the windiest time is during the winter and spring months. In winter, we don’t have as much sunshine, but we tend to get more wind and stronger wind." A handful of enterprising renewable energy developers are exploring how solar and wind might better work together, developing hybrid solar-wind projects to take advantage of the power-generating strengths of each — with the two technologies in tandem serving as a better replacement for climate-warming fossil fuels than either could be alone.   Cont'd...

BREAKING: Tesla, SolarCity merger approved with 85% shareholder support

Utility Dive:  More than 85% of Tesla's unaffiliated shareholders voted in favor of the $2.6 billion deal with SolarCity, which will allow the companies to move forward with an integrated solar roof and battery storage offering.   Cont'd...  

Solar Power Turns Water and Carbon Dioxide Into Fuel

Seeker:  Finish researchers are building a demonstration power plant that would use solar-generated electricity, water and carbon dioxide extracted from the atmosphere to create gas and liquid fuels. The Lappeenranta University of Technology and VTT Technical Research Centre are working together on the SOLETAIR project, which is being built on the university campus and is scheduled for completion in 2017. Germany's Karlsruhe Institute of Technology also is a player in the project.  The project involves several different innovations. VTT will design equipment that will capture CO2 from the air and store it, while Lappeenranta researchers will build a device to produce hydrogen from water via electrolysis. Karlsruhe has developed a a microstructured, chemical reactor to convert the hydrogen produced from solar power together with carbon dioxide into liquid fuels, according to a press release. The reactor will be built by INERATEC, a spinoff company created by Karlsruhe.   Cont'd...

Solar Power Meets Electric Vehicle Atop a VW Microbus

Brett Belan, Apparent Energy for MotherEarth News:  The time is here for solar power to make its way to our vehicles. The state-of-the-art panels pose no weight limitation. At 6 pounds per 150 watts, thin flexible solar panels will weigh 600 pounds but give you 15 kilowatts! This is enough to directly drive from the sun. However, the surface area is a limitation, because that much solar would require 10 feet around the vehicle on all sides. The solution, ironically, is a mechanical engineering question of how to accordion-style fold these panels to conveniently open them for charging while the vehicle is at a standstill.  Cont'd...

Solar power proponents hopeful Trump sees benefit of growing industry

Ivan Penn and Rob Nikolewski for The LA Times:  Longtime solar executive Barry Cinnamon got up Wednesday wondering what a Donald Trump administration will mean for his industry. “I woke up this morning and walked to my car and took a picture of the sun coming up, and it did indeed come up,” said Cinnamon, president of Cinnamon Solar, one of the highest-profile solar companies in Silicon Valley. Candidate Trump said a lot of things that heartened conventional oil and natural gas producers and worried the renewable energy business, which is growing fast but is still a tiny part of the energy landscape.   Cont'd...

Batteries That Make Use of Solar Power, Even in the Dark

Stanley Reed for the NY Times:  A new cash crop has sprung up on Nicholas Beatty’s enchanting farm near here. Rows of gray solar panels range over about 25 acres, turning sunlight into electricity, as dog-size muntjac deer hop by. The panels themselves, trouble-free money earners that feed into the electric grid, are no longer unusual on farms in Britain or other countries. What’s new in Mr. Beatty’s field is a hulking 40-foot-long shipping container. Stacked inside, in what look like drawers, are about 200 lithium-ion cells that make up a battery large enough to store a substantial portion of the electricity the solar farm puts out. The battery and its software give Mr. Beatty an advantage over other solar panel farmers. Power prices in Britain and elsewhere rise and fall, sometimes strikingly, during the day and over the year, depending on the supply and demand.   Cont'd...

New York set for offshore wind after environmental review

Daniel J. Graeber fro UPI:  Areas off the New York coast will be open for offshore wind energy bidders, but some area is reserved because of ecological concerns, the U.S. government said. The U.S. Interior Department, in coordination with its Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said it would open 79,350 acres off the coast of New York up for a commercial wind energy lease sale. About 1,780 acres was removed because of environmental concerns associated with a subsea feature known as the Cholera Bank. "In a comment letter, the National Marine Fisheries Service identified the Cholera Bank feature as a sensitive habitat to be avoided for the placement of structures," an Interior Department stated read. "As a result of this removal, the revised lease area will be approximately two percent smaller than the lease area considered in the proposed sale notice."   Cont'd...

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