Juno spacecraft breaks solar power distance record

Jim Sharkey for SpaceFlight Insider:  NASA’s Juno mission has broken the record for distance traveled by a solar-powered spacecraft. Juno reached this milestone at 11 a.m. PST (2 p.m. EST) on Wednesday, Jan. 13, when the spacecraft was approximately 493 million miles (793 million kilometers) from the Sun.

The record was previously held by the European Space Agency’s (ESA)  Rosetta spacecraft, whose orbit peaked at the 492 million-mile (792-million kilometer) mark in October 2012, during its approach to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

“Juno is all about pushing the edge of technology to help us learn about our origins,” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “We use every known technique to see through Jupiter’s clouds and reveal the secrets Jupiter holds of our solar system’s early history. It just seems right that the sun is helping us learn about the origin of Jupiter and the other planets that orbit it.”

Juno is the first solar-powered spacecraft designed to operate so far from the Sun. Generating sufficient power to operate the spacecraft requires a very large area of solar cells. The four-ton Juno spacecraft carries three 30-foot (9-meter) solar arrays festooned with 18,686 individual solar cells. At Earth’s distance from the Sun, the cells can generate about 14 kilowatts of electric. The further away from the sun the spacecraft is, the lower the power its solar cell will be able to generate.  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...

Solar Surges Past Wind, Hydropower as State's No. 1 Renewable Energy Source

By Pete Danko for KQED News:  In just a few short years, solar power has gotten big in California, and now it’s at the top of the renewable energy heap.

Data compiled from daily reports by the state’s major grid manager indicate that in 2015, solar became the No. 1 source of renewable energy in California. Not only did solar beat wind power for the first time, but it also topped drought-depleted hydropower, the long-standing leader in California electricity generation outside fossil fuels and nuclear.

The California Independent System Operator doesn’t cover the entire state, but it does manage about 80 percent of the California grid, including those portions served by PG&E, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric, the state’s three big investor-owned utilities.

Every day, CAISO reports on the hourly electrical output from a long list of sources for the electricity used by 30 million Californians, ranging from biogas at the low end of generation to thermal — natural gas, essentially — at the high end.  Cont'd...

Is this sunny state trying to kill solar power?

Claudia Assis for MarketWatch:  Nevada has turned into a sunny battleground for the future of solar in the U.S., with regulators there moving to make solar power less attractive to homeowners and businesses and pitching utilities against solar-power companies.

SunRun Inc. on Thursday said it was pulling out of Nevada, which the company said will result in “hundreds” of job losses. A day earlier, SolarCity Corp. announced the same move, saying that about 550 jobs would be lost.

The Solar Energy Industries Association estimates that nearly 6,000 people in Nevada are employed in the solar industry. Besides affecting jobs, the new rules cut down on the savings that many homeowners count on from going solar.  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...

Koch brothers defeat Harry Reid on solar power

By ESTHER WHIELDON for Politico:  Harry Reid’s home state dealt a lethal blow Tuesday to rooftop solar power — the latest skirmish of a nationwide green energy battle that has pitted the Senate Democratic leader against his favorite target, the Koch brothers.

The move by Nevada’s utility regulator, which voted to slash the economic incentives for homeowners to install solar panels, was most immediately a showdown between billionaires Warren Buffett, owner of the state’s largest power company, and Elon Musk, whose SolarCity is the nation’s largest installer of panels that create electricity from the sun. But it also served as a proxy fight in a national struggle about states’ green energy programs, in which free-market groups backed by industrialists Charles and David Koch have fought to roll back incentives that they argue distort the marketplace and force some customers to subsidize other people’s power choices.  Cont'd...

Japanese Towns Bank on Renewable Energy

By MAYUMI NEGISHI for the WallStreet Journal:  Japanese cities are entering the renewable-energy business, the latest phase in a shake-up of the nation’s power sector in the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis.

So far, about 14 cities have formed companies to generate clean energy from local resources and sell it to area businesses and homes. With full deregulation of the nation’s electricity markets set to begin next year, the government aims to have 1,000 such city-operated companies up and running by 2021 in a direct challenge to regional power monopolies.

The move is part of Japan’s strategy for creating energy self-sufficiency, while helping revitalize communities with infrastructure investment.  Cont'd...

Spending and Tax Deal Brings ITC and PTC Extensions

Sahir Surmeli for National Law Review:  Early Wednesday morning Congressional leaders reached agreement on a year-end spending and massive tax deal that would prevent a government shutdown and extend a series of tax breaks that benefit businesses and individuals. The agreement has major implications for the future of the energy industry and is being hailed by many as a dramatic victory for those in the renewable energy community. 

The Investment Tax Credit (ITC), which was slated to drop to 10 percent from 30 percent for solar systems on commercial properties after 2016, would now remain at 30 percent for projects that start construction by December 31, 2019. Projects that start construction in 2020 would qualify for a 26 percent credit and that level would drop to 22 percent for facilities started in 2021. From 2022 on it would remain at 10 percent.  Cont'd...

China Finds New Funding Model to Allow Free Solar Panel Installation

Manny Salvacion for Yibada:  Singapore-based real estate investment firm Redwood Group has recently launched a 248-kilowatt (KW) pilot project in China. The company also signed a power purchase agreement with New York-based solar developer UGE International and its financing partner, Hong-Kong's Blue Sky Energy Efficiency Co.

Under the Redwood deal, UGEI and Blue Sky would lease rooftop space from Redwood to operate solar panels and then sell the electricity back to Redwood, the building owner, at prices lower than grid rates.

"The time is right now for solar on rooftop in China because the cost of putting a system on the roof is becoming much more attractive," said Tianyu Sieh, chief executive of Blue Sky.

UGEI and Blue Sky have also partnered with real estate services firm Jones Lang LaSalle in China to offer the same model to its commercial clients.  Full article:

Small-scale solar power growing in the United States

By Daniel J. Graeber for UPI.com:  Small-scale solar installations in the United States account for about a third of the overall capacity on the grid, a report from the federal government said.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates total U.S. solar-power output in September, the last full month for which data are available, at 3.5 million megawatt hours. Of that, just more than 30 percent came from small-scale solar installations.

"Generation from roof-top photovoltaic systems has become an increasingly important part of total solar generation in the United States," EIA AdministratorAdam Sieminski said in an emailed statement.

A September report from the Solar Energy Industries Association, with support from green energy market adviser GTM Research, found second quarter residential solar capacity grew 70 percent year-on-year to 473 megawatts.  Cont'd...

Why Solar Power Could Hit a Ceiling

There could be a limit on how much solar power can grow. That’s because the more solar power we add to the grid, the less valuable it becomes. It’s a simple supply-and-demand story: solar reaches peak generation during sunny afternoons, but there’s a limited demand for such additional power during those times. As a result, solar begins to compete with itself, driving down the price that utilities are willing to pay generators.

Solar power accounts for less than 1 percent of the world’s electricity generation today, but as more is added to the energy mix, the economics become increasingly unfavorable. Shayle Kann, head of GTM Research, and Varun Sivaram, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, cite recent studies of the grids in Texas and Germany that suggest the value of solar will be cut in half by the time it makes up 15 percent of the energy mix. A study of California’s grid concluded that if solar power were to reach 50 percent of the grid, it would be only a quarter as valuable as it was before any solar had been added. Kann and Sivaram combined the data from those studies to make the comparison below.  Cont'd...

German battery maker launches scheme to share solar power

Reporting by Vera Eckert for Reuters:  German battery maker Sonnenbatterie has launched a scheme to connect households with solar panels and other consumers, aiming to better distribute surpluses of the renewable energy and help members to become more independent of conventional suppliers.

The start-up company hopes the scheme, called "sonnenCommunity", will boost demand for its batteries which store solar power, allowing owners to use the clean energy even when weather conditions are not favourable.

SonnenCommunity takes the storage idea a step further, allowing solar power to be shared among its members.

Sonnenbatterie said the scheme would initially target the 1.5 million solar power producers who, if they sign up to the community, will receive a battery storage system with a starting price of 3,599 euros ($3,812). But eventually, the offer will also be open to non-producers, it added.

If the idea of battery-powered buildings takes off, it could pose a challenge to traditional utilities such as RWE and E.ON, which still derive the bulk of their power from big centralised power stations running on fossil fuels.  Full Article:

70% of Mongolian nomads now have solar power

by MIHAI ANDREI for ZME Science:  In many the vast steppes of Mongolia, some things have remained unchanged for centuries. But some things have changed, and big time: according to a new report, almost 3 out of 4 Mongolian nomads are now using solar power.

Even if your lifestyle is pretty much Medieval, you can still benefit from advanced technology – that’s the reasoning behind a new government initiative that encourages nomads to use solar power. Mongolia is a geographically large but sparsely populated country. Covering over 600,000 square miles, it only has a population of 3 million people. About 1.2 million of Mongolia’s citizens live in the urban capital of Ulaanbaatar, while the remaining population is widely dispersed throughout the country with a large number residing in rural areas. In total, about a quarter of the population consists of nomadic herders.

The per capita income in Mongolia at the start of the millennium was about US$470 per year, with income amongst herders even lower.  Cont'd...

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