The largest military contractor in the United States is developing a nuclear fusion reactor that is small enough to fit on the back of a truck but has the ability to produce the energy required to power a warship. Lockheed Martin said in a statement released on Wednesday this week that its secretive Skunk Works division — the unit responsible for the U-2 spy plane and F-117 stealth jet — has already applied for several patents related to the high-tech reactor it has in the works, and expects it to be deployed during the next decade if interested industry and government partners sign on to help starting soon. “Our compact fusion concept combines several alternative magnetic confinement approaches, taking the best parts of each, and offers a 90 percent size reduction over previous concepts,” Tom McGuire, the compact fusion lead for the Skunk Works’ Revolutionary Technology Programs, said in a statement. “The smaller size will allow us to design, build and test the CFR in less than a year.”
With less than one week before the largest North America solar trade show, SPI, kicks off in Las Vegas, visitors are being advised to expect to spend their day on their feet. With the two South Halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center being consumed by the exhibition, organizers say that attendees can expect to take many more than 10,000 steps a day. Unique booth designs and companies going “all out” are to be expected at SPI this year, according to organizers with Hanwha Q CELLS taking out the largest booth space. 25% of the exhibitors are from outside of the U.S., with 23 countries being represented. Chinese, Germany and Spanish country pavilions will also occupy large sections of the trade show floor. Of the U.S. exhibitors, Californian companies represent the largest group, making up 31%. The state is followed by Texas, Colorado and Ohio – with each of these states comprising 5% of the total number of exhibitors.
SolarCity, the nation's largest residential solar installer and financier, is coupling Tesla's battery-based energy storage hardware with its rooftop solar systems. Peter Rive, the co-founder and CTO of SolarCity, spoke at last week's Energy Storage North America conference and said that the standard offering from SolarCity could eventually include storage. Rive added that the combination of solar and storage "won't look that much different for the customer," but that "the benefit to the customer will be that you will have a little backup power." Defecting from the grid? A recent RMI blog post contends that "continued rapid declines in the cost of solar and the start of the same trend for storage mean that grid parity may come much sooner than previously thought -- and well within the 30-year planned economic life of typical utility investments." When asked about this report on the economics of consumers defecting from the grid, Rive had this to say: "I hope it doesn't happen. I don't think it makes sense for someone to remove themselves from the grid. If you think about the load on a circuit as opposed to an individual home, an average home on a circuit is maybe 3 kilowatts peak. But you may find that any given home will go up to 10 kilowatts at any given time. That means the battery would have to be sized to 10 kilowatts."
A proposed “tower power” solar power plant near Joshua Tree National Park that drew heavy opposition from environmental groups has been scrapped. An application to state regulators for the Palen solar power project, a joint venture by Oakland-based BrightSource and the Spanish solar power giant Abengoa Solar, was withdrawn recently. Two 750-foot towers were originally proposed for a nearly 2,000-acre east Riverside County project that would have been near Joshua Tree National Park and the Pacific Flyway, a path migrating birds travel that often includes a rest in the Salton Sea. David Lamfrom, California Desert programs manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, said the project had the potential to be more damaging to wildlife than the 450-foot Ivanpah towers. State regulators recently ordered the project scaled back from two towers to one. “After carefully reviewing the proposed decision recommending approval of one tower, as well as other aspects of the development, we determined it would be in the best interest of all parties to bring forward a project that would better meet the needs of the market and energy consumers,” Joe Desmond, senior vice president of marketing and government affairs at BrightSource, said in a statement.
“Airport interest in solar energy is growing rapidly as a way to reduce airport operating costs and to demonstrate commitment to sustainable airport development,” says the website of Harris Miller Miller & Hanson Inc., a consulting firm that helped write the FAA’s regulatory guidance for solar power at airports. Right now, airport operating costs are high, so high that the majority of airports lose money every year. A substantial portion of those costs come from energy use. In fact, the Airport Cooperative Research Program says airports are one of the largest public users of energy in the country. In terms of expenses, energy is often the second largest operating expense, exceeded only by personnel, according to the ACRP. One way to reduce energy costs is simply to reduce electricity use, which is why many airports have taken to installing solar projects. That’s because when the initial cost of the installing the project is paid off, the airport essentially provides free electricity to itself, disregarding the cost of maintenance. That scenario, however, is only possible if the airport decides that it would like to privately own the solar operation — something that does not happen widely in the United States due to the substantial cost involved. What happens far more often is that airport solar projects are owned by private companies, which unlike airports, are eligible for tax credits. The airport, in most cases, acts solely as the property owner.
The US wind power industry still needs subsidy to compete with fossil fuels, according to Germany’s Siemens, one of the world’s largest wind turbine manufacturers. Lisa Davis, who took over in August as the head of Siemens’ global energy business, told the Financial Times that although wind power in the US was close to “grid parity” – the level at which it becomes competitive with other sources of electricity – “we’re not there yet”. Her comments come as the US industry is urging Congress to reinstate the tax credit for wind generation, which expired at the end of last year. The American Wind Energy Association has warned that the industry could face falling investment and employment if the credit is not restored quickly. Lazard, the investment bank, calculated recently that in parts of the US with strong wind, it could be a cheaper source of power than gas-fired generation, after steep declines in the cost of turbines. However, Ms Davis argued that costs still needed to be cut further before wind could compete on equal terms with gas. “We’ve not yet got to the point where it’s truly self-sustaining,” she said. “We’ve got to focus on cost competitiveness.”
Is it a solar cell? Or a rechargeable battery? Actually, the patent-pending device invented at The Ohio State University is both: the world's first solar battery. In the October 3, 2014 issue of the journal Nature Communications, the researchers report that they've succeeded in combining a battery and a solar cell into one hybrid device. Key to the innovation is a mesh solar panel, which allows air to enter the battery, and a special process for transferring electrons between the solar panel and the battery electrode. Inside the device, light and oxygen enable different parts of the chemical reactions that charge the battery. The university will license the solar battery to industry, where Yiying Wu, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Ohio State, says it will help tame the costs of renewable energy. "The state of the art is to use a solar panel to capture the light, and then use a cheap battery to store the energy," Wu said. "We've integrated both functions into one device. Any time you can do that, you reduce cost." He and his students believe that their device brings down costs by 25 percent.
An 8.6 kWh lithium-ion solar energy storage system for residential and commercial use has been launched by JuiceBox Energy. It is designed to work with grid-tied or off-grid solar systems. It features a system controller so the battery can be used as back-up power to a grid, thus enabling peak shifting and demand charge reduction. Notice these capabilities go beyond mere storage. In other words, battery technology can be smart and interactive in addition to storing electricity. The system has a battery based inverter, and management system for charging and discharging. Diagnostics are part of the design, too, to monitor the system for potential faults. JuiceBox will be available in the fourth quarter of 2014, with greater volume production beginning in 2015. “Energy storage is the critical technology that allows unrestrained solar growth enabling a clean energy future and a more resilient grid,” explained Neil Maguire, CEO of JuiceBox. JuiceBox is taking advance orders, but it isn’t clear yet what the price is.
A class of compounds first uncovered in the Ural Mountains more than a century ago is now a rock star in the world of solar-energy research. Meet perovskite, the building block for materials that, as a group, have posted unprecedented gains in their solar-energy efficiency—the percentage of sunlight converted into electricity. In the lab, scientists experimenting with perovskite-based materials of different compositions have recently achieved a jump in efficiency to 20%, from around 10% just two years ago. That is still lower than the most efficient silicon-based cells on the market— SunPower Corp. makes cells that are 24% efficient. But because of perovskite's rapid increases in efficiency, researchers think it could be used to make cells that are at least as efficient as those fashioned from silicon, but at a much lower cost.
For Southern California Edison (SCE), building a smarter grid started many years ago with smart meters and upgrades in distribution equipment. Today, the company takes another leap forward with the opening of the largest battery energy storage project in North America — the Tehachapi Energy Storage Project — to modernize the grid to integrate more clean energy. The demonstration project is funded by SCE and federal stimulus money awarded by the Department of Energy as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The 32 megawatt-hours battery energy storage system features lithium-ion batteries housed inside a 6,300 square-foot facility at SCE's Monolith substation in Tehachapi, Calif. The project is strategically located in the Tehachapi Wind Resource Area that is projected to generate up to 4,500 MW of wind energy by 2016. "This installation will allow us to take a serious look at the technological capabilities of energy storage on the electric grid," said Dr. Imre Gyuk, energy storage program manager in the energy department's Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability. "It will also help us to gain a better understanding of the value and benefit of battery energy storage." The project costs about $50 million with matching funds from SCE and the energy department. Over a two-year period, the project will demonstrate the performance of the lithium-ion batteries in actual system conditions and the capability to automate the operations of the battery energy storage system and integrate its use into the utility grid.
State and federal officials sought Tuesday to bring order to California's boom for renewable-energy plants in the Mojave and other southern California deserts, releasing a roadmap covering 22.5 million acres that designates some areas for large-scale solar, wind and geothermal plants and others for conservation of desert habitat and animals. "We have amazingly special places here," U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a news conference at a desert wind farm near Palm Springs with U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer and other officials releasing the multi-agency draft plan. By taking a look at the desert as a whole, Jewell said, the plan's designers are ensuring "the areas that should be protected are set aside. The areas that should be developed are streamlined" for building utility-scale renewable energy plants. The release of the plan follows a renewable-energy building boom in southeastern California's deserts during the first term of the Obama administration, when the federal government gave billions of dollars in loans to developers placing sprawling, utility-scale solar projects in virgin desert. The plan released Tuesday recommends designating a total of 2 million acres as appropriate sites for future solar, wind and geothermal projects. Another 4.9 million acres under the U.S. Bureau of Land Management would be among the areas set aside as conservation areas, if the draft plan is adopted.
The Obama administration unveiled a slew of actions Thursday aimed at improving energy efficiency and increasing the use of solar power in homes and businesses, including $68 million in spending. The White House said the actions would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 300 million metric tons by 2030, the equivalent of 60 million cars’ emissions in a year. They will also save $10 billion in energy costs. The actions, together with commitments from states, communities, companies and others, are part of President Obama’s second-term push to reduce carbon emissions in an effort to mitigate climate change. They follow other recent efforts to help the solar power industry, including a series of announcements in April to spur solar deployment, a White House-hosted summit on solar power and a May decision to install solar power panels on the White House. The Department of Agriculture will spend $68 million on 540 renewable energy and energy-efficiency projects in rural areas, 240 of which are for solar power. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will announce the program, the White House said.
A new study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory suggests that wind energy could stabilize the energy grid of the eastern U.S. Grid stabilization is often an issue where renewable energy is concerned. At times, clean energy systems can generate more electrical power than an energy grid can handle. Frequency regulation plays a major role in grid stabilization in the U.S., and wind turbines may be a new solution to the stabilization problem. Frequency regulation is the process through which the operators of an energy grid police the frequency of the infrastructure’s alternating current. Energy grids are strictly controlled throughout the U.S. and are mean to put out electric currents with frequencies of 60 Hertz. In order to maintain this frequency, grid operators regularly change how much electricity is being funneled into the grid. Destabilization occurs when frequency is not properly regulated. Wind turbines could be a new solution to this problem. According to the study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, wind turbines could be controlled to affect grid stabilization. The study shows that wind turbines can be tweaked using simple, commercially available mechanical parts. By changing the way these turbines generate electrical power, grid operators may be able to effectively control how much energy is coming into the grid.
North American Windpower reports that the U.S. offshore wind industry is embryonic no more. Recent offshore wind news highlights also show that installations worldwide are picking up speed. As of the end of July, the developer behind the 468 MW Cape Wind project had secured close to two-thirds of the roughly $2.5 billion needed for the wind farm, to be located off the coast of Cape Cod, Mass. In addition, the developer sold more than 77 percent of the projected output (363 MW) through stable, 15-year power purchase agreements (PPAs) at $0.187/kWh plus inflation. Construction is planned to commence in 2015. Deepwater Wind (Providence, R.I.) has secured the entire output for the more modest 30 MW Block Island wind farm, located off the Rhode Island coast, with a 15-year PPA at $0.244/kWh. It also has preliminary contracts for turbines from Alstom and an installation vessel from Fred Olsen Windcarrier, and has received the go-ahead from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the last federal agency to grant its approval. Deepwater says the Block Island wind farm has now been completely reviewed and approved by nine state and federal agencies, and expects “steel in the water” by 2015 with service to begin in 2016. Cont'd...
A company that uses solar energy to recover crude has scored big financing from some major oil players—and highlights a growing niche of global oil exploration. GlassPoint Solar last week landed a $53 million investment from Royal Dutch Shell and the sovereign investment fund of Oman for its enhanced oil recovery (EOR) technology. In a twist of irony, GlassPont's technology runs on solar power, which produces steam to help pump more fossil fuel from conventional crude plays. GlassPoint has been using this technique in Oman since 2012, and it helped the firm score more than double its initial funding. Given the age of its oil fields, Oman relies on EOR—a complex process that extracts more oil than traditional drilling—to boost production. Although EOR is common to the oil industry, using the power of the sun "is expanding very rapidly, and is a very new technology" said Rod MacGregor, GlassPoint's CEO, in an interview. "This application looks like the next step for solar."
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