Sixty years ago on April 25, 1954, Bell Laboratories demonstrated to the world one of the most significant breakthroughs ever recorded in the history of solar energy and of electricity – the first solar cell capable of converting enough sunlight into electricity to generate useful amounts of power. The press watched in awe as light poured on the first watt of silicon to run a 21 inch Ferris wheel. The next day the New York Times stated on its front page that the Bell invention marked “the beginning of a new era, eventually leading to the realization of one of mankind’s most cherished dreams – the harnessing of the almost limitless energy of the sun for the uses of civilization.” At the time of the Bell announcement, all the solar cells in the world delivered about one watt. Today, more than 100 billion watts of generating capacity of photovoltaics have been installed worldwide. This year not only marks the 60th anniversary of the solar cell, but also the beginning of reaching the Holy Grail that had previously been only a dream of solar scientists – entering the Era of Grid Parity, when solar panels generate power at costs equal to or less than electricity produced by fossil and nuclear fuels. With the phenomenal growth of solar technology in the last several years and its future looking even brighter, the time is ripe to celebrate the founding of a technology that led Science magazine almost forty years ago to declare, “If there is a dream solar technology, it is photovoltaics solar cells … a spaceage electronic marvel at once the most sophisticated solar technology and the simplest, most environmentally benign source of electricity yet conceived."
The $14 billion industry, the world’s second-largest buyer of wind turbines, is reeling from a double blow -- cheap natural gas unleashed by the hydraulic fracturing revolution and the death last year of federal subsidies that made wind the most competitive of all renewable energy sources in the U.S. Without restoration of subsidies, worth $23 per megawatt hour to turbine owners, the industry may not recover, and the U.S. may lose ground in its race to reduce dependence on the fossil fuels driving global warming, say wind-power advocates. They place the subsidy argument in the context of fairness, pointing out that wind’s chief fossil-fuel rival, the gas industry, is aided by the ability to form master limited partnerships that allow pipeline operators to avoid paying income tax. This helps drive down the cost of natural gas. “If gas prices weren’t so cheap, then wind might be able to compete on its own,” said South Dakota’s Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard. Consider that gas averaged $8.90 a million British thermal units in 2008 and plunged to $3.73 last year, making the fuel a cheaper source of electricity for utilities. Congress allowed the wind Production Tax Credit to expire last year, and wind farm construction plunged 92 percent.
New solar photovoltaic (PV) demand added during the first quarter of 2014 exceeded 9 gigawatts (GW), which was 35 percent more than the previous first-quarter record, set last year. In fact, every quarter in 2014 is forecast to reach new highs, with trailing 12-month demand at the end of Q1 2015 forecast to exceed 50 GW for the first time, according to findings in the latest NPD Solarbuzz Quarterly report. The record level of demand achieved in the first quarter was driven by strong growth in Japan and the United Kingdom. These two countries combined accounted for more than one-third of global solar PV demand in Q1 2014 and set new quarterly records for PV deployed.
The world's largest solar plants sure look amazing, but for those with inquisitive minds they raise one big question: how the hell do they keep all those panels clean? Nowadays, using robots like this! This video shows the newly installed robotic cleaning system at Ketura Sun Solar Park. Until now, the panels covering the 20-acre site were only cleaned about nine times a year—a laborious task, performed infrequently due to expense—which in turn led to sub-optimal plant efficiency. Now, though, a robotic army—designed and made by Israel-based Ecoppia—swarm over the panels to keep them clean. The 100 centrally controlled automatons set to work at nighttime, using microfiber pads and controlled air flows to push dirt from the surface of the solar panels. The robots move up and down their own aluminum frames to avoid loading the panels, and during the day they sit at the bottom and charge using electricity generated by the plant. So, now you know.
On Wednesday, March 27th, the largest state in the contiguous United States got almost one-third of its electricity by harnessing the wind. According to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the bulk of the Lone Star State's power grid, a record-breaking 10,296 MW of electricity was whipped up by wind turbines. That's enough to provide 29 percent of the state's power, and to keep the lights on in over 5 million homes. ERCOT notes in a statement issued today that "The new record beats the previous record set earlier this month by more than 600 MW, and the American Wind Energy Association reports it was a record for any US power system."
The global clean-energy picture for 2013 was a classic good news-bad news story, according to the Clean Energy Trends 2014 report issued today by clean-tech research and advisory firm Clean Edge, Inc. The industry saw dazzling growth, success, and rising stock prices in some sectors – most notably solar photovoltaic (PV) deployment – but downward trends and policy and finance hurdles in others. Last year also marked a significant transition in the history of clean energy: for the first time since Clean Edge began tracking global markets in 2000, the world installed more new solar PV generating capacity, 36.5 gigawatts, than wind power (35.5 GW). Record levels of new solar deployment in China, Japan, and the U.S. combined with a down year in the wind industry to create this unprecedented crossover. The global solar market's continued double-digit growth of 15 percent, plus a modest uptick in biofuels' market size, was not enough to overcome the wind industry's lackluster performance. As a result, combined global revenue for solar PV, wind power, and biofuels held nearly steady at $247.6 billion, down just slightly from $248.7 billion in 2012. The full Clean Energy Trends 2014 report can be downloaded for free at www.cleanedge.com.
Siemens is investing more than EUR190 million (GBP160 million) in new offshore production facilities in Great Britain. Production of rotor blades for offshore wind turbines of the 6-megawatt class is planned, with a new logistics- and service centre slated for Hull. The British Prime Minister David Cameron and Michael Suess, member of the managing board of Siemens AG and CEO of the Energy Sector will reaffirm their common dedication to these projects this afternoon in Hull. "Our decision to construct a production facility for offshore wind turbines in England is part of our global strategy: we invest in markets with reliable conditions that can ensure that factories can work to capacity. The British energy policy creates a favourable framework for the expansion of offshore wind energy. In particular, it recognizes the potential of offshore wind energy within the overall portfolio of energy production", stated Michael Suess, member of the managing board of Siemens AG and CEO of the Energy Sector. The offshore wind market in Great Britain has high growth rates, with an even greater potential for the future. Wind power capacity has doubled here within two years, to roughly 10 gigawatts. By 2020, a capacity of 14 gigawatts is to be installed at sea alone to combine the country's environmental objectives with secure power supply. Projects for just over 40 gigawatts are currently in the long-term planning.
Batteries are far from being the only new energy storage technology out there and one of the more obscure and unlikely initiatives has just received a massive vote of confidence from GE. A tiny UK company called Highview Power stores energy by using cheap, off-peak energy to cool air to -196°C using a conventional industrial refrigeration plant, turning 700 litres of ambient air into a litre of “liquid air” that can be stored in a simple insulated tank. When you need the energy, you simply open the tap, the liquid air turns back into a gas, expands in volume, drives a turbine and creates electricity. If you add heat when you release the gas, you make the process more efficient. Highview says liquid air energy storage (LAES) has advantages over other emerging storage technologies in that it uses well-established technologies and doesn’t require any inputs such as the lithium that batteries need – the most exotic material involved in the process is stainless steel, the company says, while the extra heat can come from the process of cooling the air or from the waste heat of other industrial processes, including power stations. It is not geographically constrained like pumped hydro, it is long-lasting unlike many battery technologies and there is an existing global industrial gases infrastructure it can tap into. And unlike for a gas such as hydrogen, the storage tanks do not have to be specially reinforced or highly pressurised.
Chinese wind-power stocks, once given up for dead in the investor doldrums, have roared back to life in recent weeks on expectations of government support for the renewable energy sector and overseas demand. Investors are betting on future Chinese government policy directives and subsidies that boost profits for manufacturers of wind power turbines, gearboxes, blades, towers and transmission equipment. They're also betting that multinational wind energy companies such as Vestas, Siemens,General Electric and Senvion will step up orders for the Chinese-made equipment and parts that are used to build offshore and onshore wind energy farms worldwide. Contractors building big wind farms, particularly those off the European coast, often buy lower-rung products such as steel towers from China. And tower fabricators such as China's Titan Wind (002531:Shenzhen) are making good money on that demand. Shenzhen-listed Titan, which is only nine years old and listed in 2010, has seen its stock value climb 55% since the beginning of the year. The company has gotten major contracts from Vestas and GE. And it's currently planning to build a factory in India to complement existing plants in China and Denmark.
Airplane pilots reported that they were blinded by the intense sunlight reflecting off some of the 340,000 mirrors at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System on the California-Nevada border. Yet six months elapsed before their reports reached the regulator that oversees the plant, which is located near the Las Vegas airport. The mirrors, called heliostats, focus the sun on 459-foot-high (140 meter) towers that contain water-filled boilers. The concentrated sunlight boils the water to create steam, driving turbines that generate 377 megawatts of carbon-free electricity. The heat is so blistering that it has melted the feathers of b irds in mid-flight . Planes fly far too high to be affected by the heat—but by not the light. “From the pilot’s seat of my aircraft the brightness was like looking into the sun,” reported one pilot as his small plane climbed from 6,000 to 12,000 feet after taking off from the Boulder City, Nevada, airport. In a report he filed with the Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS), the pilot wrote that, “In my opinion the reflection from these mirrors was a hazard to flight because for a brief time I could not scan the sky in that direction to look for other aircraft.”
“What if you could scoop the air? Scoop it and move it downward, amplifying its kinetic energy along the way, concentrate it to a single point of intensity, the way a magnifying glass concentrates sunlight to a single incendiary point?” Dr. Daryoush Allaei, an engineer and founder of Sheerwind, an innovative wind power company, is concentrating his unique thought process on harnessing wind energy in new ways. “And assuming you could do this technically, could you do it on a large enough scale to make it economically feasible?” Allaei writes in his company description. “More to the point, could you generate energy so inexpensively that it stages a renaissance?” Sheerwind is pushing the boundaries of wind power innovation with its bladeless wind turbine, called INVELOX. The turbines funnel wind into ground-level generators through a tapering passageway that squeezes and accelerates the air. The units are about half as tall as traditional wind towers, which rise up to 260 feet into the air, and the ground-based turbine blades are more than 80 percent smaller than conventional wind turbine blades, which are about 115-feet long. The device resembles a giant gramophone that sucks in wind instead of blurting out sound. Cont'd..
Less than 24 hours after Oakland-based Mosaic allowed crowdfunding campaigns in January 2013 in which investors could pitch as little as $25, they raised enough money to fund four clean energy projects in California for affordable housing projects. More than 400 investors raised $313,000. The investors, on average, paid about $670 each. Last week, Mosaic launched a new platform on their site, allowing people to finance solar arrays on homes, in addition to the commercial projects already being funded. Since its initial launch in 2010, company has raised more than $7 million in investments through crowdfunding with a 100 percent payback rate. In its seed rounds, Mosaic raised $3.4 million from venture capitalists. In 2012, Mosaic received a $2 million grant from the Department of Energy. The biggest project to date is installing solar panels on 1,500 military homes in Fort Dix, New Jersey. Another successful project included installing a solar roof on Pinnacle Charter School in Denver, Colorado, which doubled as clean energy education for the students. Full Article.
Solar power production hit a new record of 4,093 megawatts on Saturday, March 8, 2014. The previous record was 3,926 megawatts (MW) set the previous day on March 7. Electricity generated from solar has more than doubled from June 7, 2013 when the ISO recorded 2,071 MW of peak production — and output has more than quadrupled from the summer of 2012. The new record generation can instantaneously power about 3 million homes. Meanwhile, when combining ISO wind resources of 5,890 MW* and solar resources of 5,231 MW, the two resources now account for 11,121 MW interconnected to the ISO grid. In total, all renewables (including geothermal) make up about 15,000 MW of the ISO generation mix. The current wind production record stands at 4,302 MW set June 23, 2013. "This shows that California is making remarkable progress in not only getting new resources approved and connected to the grid, but making meaningful contributions in keeping the lights on as well," says Steve Berberich, ISO President and Chief Executive Officer. "The milestones illustrate that we are well into a new era when clean, renewable energy is shouldering its share of our electricity needs — and that is exciting."
At the European Wind Energy Association's annual conference, GE) announced its 2.75-120 wind turbine, a smarter, more powerful turbine. Part of GE's brilliant wind platform, the 2.75-120 provides 5 percent more annual energy production than GE's 2.5-120 model and is available with various tower technologies, ranging between 85-139 meters, and optional energy storage. "As we accelerate our platform's growth in Europe, we will continue to invest in technology such as the 2.75-120's flexible tower and other energy storage options, making GE's wind turbines more customizable for developers and operators," said Cliff Harris, general manager of GE's renewable energy business in Europe. The 2.75-120 is available on a steel, hybrid or space frame tower, helping to tailor the turbine for unique site conditions and bring wind power to new places across the continent. The range of tower height spans 85-139 meters tall. Short-term or long-term energy storage is available with the 2.75-120, making wind power more predictable, flexible and fast responding through battery software applications. Short-term storage is integrated at the turbine level and long-term storage is centralized for the wind farm. These options further customize GE's offering based on-site or operator needs.
Continuing its explosive growth, the U.S. solar industry had a record-shattering year in 2013. According to GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association's (SEIA) Solar Market Insight Year in Review 2013, photovoltaic (PV) installations continued to proliferate, increasing 41percent over 2012 to reach 4,751 megawatts (MW). In addition, 410 MW of concentrating solar power (CSP) came online. Solar was the second-largest source of new electricity generating capacity in the U.S., exceeded only by natural gas. Additionally, the cost to install solar fell throughout the year, ending the year 15 percent below the mark set at the end of 2012. At the end of 2013 there were more than 440,000 operating solar electric systems in the U.S. totaling over 12,000 MW of PV and 918 MW of CSP. The U.S. installed 2,106 megawatts in the fourth quarter alone, 44 percent of the annual total. This makes Q4 2013 by far the largest quarter in the history of the U.S. market, exceeding the next largest quarter by 60 percent. Cont'd
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