The oil industry has invented an ironic new use for solar power

Cassie Werber for Quartz:  There’s a huge project taking shape in the deserts of Oman. It will extract crude oil from the ground by pumping vast quantities of steam into it. To produce the steam, water will be brought to a boil using as much as a gigawatt of energy. The source of that energy: the sun. Using solar power to get fossil fuels out of the ground will strike some as ironic—especially since, if that method weren’t available, the high cost of extracting the oil might lead to more pressure to use cleaner energy sources, such as solar, instead. But GlassPoint, the American company behind the new technology, says that the project and others like it will help fossil-fuel drillers limit carbon emissions. The process of “enhanced oil recovery,” where steam is used to loosen thick oil and make it easier to pump, usually involves burning natural gas to heat water. GlassPoint says its technology can cut that gas consumption, and the consequent carbon emissions, by   up to 80%.   Cont'd...

Coalition of US states pledge to accelerate renewable energy efforts

Oliver Milman for The Guardian:  A bipartisan group of governors from 17 states has pledged to accelerate their efforts to create a green economy in the US by boosting renewables, building better electricity grids and cutting emissions from transport. An accord signed by the governors states that the US must “embrace a bold vision of the nation’s energy future” by reducing emissions, transitioning to clean energy sources and ensuring that infrastructure isn’t risked by extreme weather events such as floods and wildfires. The agreement sets out commitments to expand renewable energy and energy efficiency and integrate solar and wind generation into electricity grids. These grids will be “modernized”, the accord states, to improve energy reliability.   Cont'd...

The Koch Brothers' Dirty War on Solar Power

Tim Dickinson for Rolling Stone:  The full political might of Florida's IOUs was on display in December, when a deceptive campaign, funded by the state's electric utilities, crushed a citizen-led effort to open Florida to solar competition through the 2016 ballot. "When your opponents have no ethical foundation, have unlimited resources and are willing to say and do anything to defeat you," says Stephen Smith, director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, which led the pro-solar effort, "it's a tough hurdle to overcome." It should come as no surprise that the utilities have fought so hard. The rise of cheap, distributed solar power poses a disruptive – and perhaps existential – threat to the traditional electric utility business. Monopoly electric utilities used to make sense. Dirty power, generated at a distance from population centers, was carried over a set of transmission lines to homes and businesses. Consumers got reliable power from a single provider. IOUs were guaranteed a profit – both for building power plants and transmission lines as well as for the electricity itself.   Full Article:

MIT Tool Gives the Cost of Installing Solar Panels on Any Roof in Your City

Daniel Oberhaus for Motherboard:  The world, it seems, is falling in love with solar energy. Recent years have seen the increasing adoption of solar power around the world as an alternative energy source for everything from individual homes to the entire energy grid, with the United States’solar capacity having grown to 24 GW, a more than a 17-fold increase since 2008. Part of this rapid growth for solar infrastructure is the result of markedly more efficient solar energy cells, but in spite of these recent technological advances, transitioning to solar power still doesn’t make sense (at least economically speaking) everywhere. Installing photovoltaic systems can be pretty pricey, and home- and business-owners have to engage in a complex cost-benefit analysis to see if transitioning to solar power is an economically sound idea. The “pain-in-the-ass” factor of such calculations alone might be enough to turn people off of the idea of contemplating installing a photovoltaic system, so the folks at MIT came up with a solution: Mapdwell. Mapdwell maps the solar potential of entire cities by doing a cost-benefit analysis for every rooftop to determine if installing solar panels on that rooftop is worth the investment. All you do is enter your address into the program, and it will tell you the expected installation costs, the number of years it will take to earn back this investment from your photovoltaic system, the amount of carbon offset by the installation, as well as incredibly detailed installment specs such as the optimal panel tilt and the number of panels that could fit on the roof.   Cont'd...

This year will be a solar-powered Super Bowl

By Jeff Clabaugh for WTOP:  Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, will set the stage for Sunday’s Super Bowl, and it will be a solar-powered event. Levi’s Stadium, which opened in July 2014, is the first professional football stadium in the NFL to open with LEED Gold certification, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association in Washington. Princeton, New Jersey-based NGR Solar LLC installed more than 1,150 solar panels at the stadium during its construction — enough to produce 375 kilowatts of peak power. The system can generate enough power in a year to meet electricity demand during every San Francisco 49ers home game. The solar panels cover three bridges that connect the stadium to the main parking lot and the “NRG Solar Terrace” that overlooks the field. There are 544 solar panels on the stadium roof and another 642 on the bridges, which also serve as canopies covering the bridges.   Cont'd...

France to pave 1000km of roads with solar panels

Derek Markham for TreeHugger :  Over the next five years, France will install some 621 miles (1,000km) of solar roadway using Colas' Wattway solar pavement. Solar freakin' roadways! No, this is not the crowdfunded solar road project that blew up the internet a few years ago, but is a collaboration between Colas, a transport infrastructure company, and INES (France's National Institute for Solar Energy), and sanctioned by France's Agency of Environment and Energy Management, which promises to bring solar power to hundreds of miles of roads in the country over the next five years. One major difference between this solar freakin' roadway and that other solar freakin' roadway is that the new Wattway system doesn't replace the road itself or require removal of road surfaces, but instead is designed to be glued onto the top of existing pavement. The Wattway system is also built in layers of materials "that ensure resistance and tire grip," and is just 7 mm thick, which is radically different from that other design that uses thick glass panels (and which is also claimed to include LED lights and 'smart' technology, which increases the complexity and cost of the moose-friendly solar tiles).   Cont'd...

California narrowly upholds critical solar policy

NICHOLA GROOM for Reuters:  California, which boasts more than half of the households with solar panels in the United States, on Thursday extended a policy that has underpinned the rooftop solar industry's dramatic growth over the last decade. The 3-to-2 decision by California's Public Utilities Commission at a meeting in San Francisco to extend net metering was a major victory for the solar industry, including companies like SolarCity Corp, Sunrun and SunPower Corp. Net metering allows homeowners with solar panels to sell the power they generate but don't use back to their utility at the full retail rate, sometimes giving them a credit on their bill at the end of the month. The 20-year policy has been critical to making solar cost competitive. But the narrow victory underscored palpable frustrations with the policy, which has been criticized for rewarding solar users while leaving other ratepayers to shoulder the cost of maintaining the electricity grid. "I will be the first to say that I think we really have a ways to go before we have a really enduring rooftop strategy," said PUC President Michael Picker, who voted in favor of extending the policy. The PUC will reconsider net metering again in 2019.   Cont'd...

1.2-million sq. ft. solar panel 'Gigafactory' in Buffalo almost ready, will make 1 GW/year

Michael Graham Richard for TreeHugger:  Soon after SolarCity acquired solar panel maker Silevo in the summer of 2014, it announced the construction of a 1.2-million-square-foot 'Solar Gigafactory' in Buffalo, New York. The move had two main goals: 1) For the solar installer to get its own secure supply of high-efficiency solar panels (Silevo panels are currently 21% efficient, but the company claims that they can get to 24%) and 2) drive down the cost of the panels and of installing them. If the panels are higher efficiency, you need fewer of them per roof for a given capacity, lowering installation costs, and if you make them in very large quantities in a 'Gigafactory', you can further reduce costs through economies of scale. The Buffalo solar gigafactory, which can be seen in the photo at the top of this article, aims to start producing solar cells in 2016, with a ramping up to 1 GW of annual capacity by 2017. If all goes well, the facility could eventually be expanded to 5 GW/year at some point. The solar cells produced there have a target price of around $0.50/watt, which would make them very competitive with other power sources.   Cont'd...  

The Two Things To Note In The DOE's Solar + Storage Initiative

Michael Kanellos  for Forbes:   The Department of Energy doled out $18 million in grants this week as part of an effort to drive down the cost of solar plus storage down to less than 14 cents a kilowatt hour. The DOE, under its SunShot program, has long had a goal of driving down the cost of solar alone to 6 cents per kWh by 2020.  So far, the program has hit its milestones. Grants recipients include Austin Energy, Carnegie Mellon University, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and Aquion Energy, among others. The DOE regularly gives out grants, but the latest program is somewhat interesting because: First, that’s a really low price for storage. Utility-scale solar, generally cheaper than residential solar, without storage delivered power for 14 cents a kilowatt hour in 2014. The cost of batteries, however, has been declining rapidly. Ten years ago, batteries progressed slowly compared to other electronic devices: Tesla Motors TSLA +0.50% co-founder and CTO J.B. Straubel was famous for noting that the performance of batteries doubled every decade, versus the roughly two year cycle for semiconductor.   Cont'd...

A solar-powered soccer pitch in Lagos also uses players' footfall to keep the lights on

Yomi Kazeem for Quartz:  Africa is already waking up to the possibilities that renewable energy provides, the African Union has pledged a $20 billion investment over the next decade. In East Africa, pay-as-you-go solar energy services arealready proving a mainstream success. In West Africa, things are still at an early experimental stage. One such experiment is a solar-powered football pitch which also uses kinetic energy generated by footballers playing. Located at a teacher’s college in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial center, the innovative soccer pitch was launched last year in a three-way collaboration between energy giant Shell; music star Akon, who has been championing solar energy on the continent; and Pavegen, a UK-based start-up which has a target of providing low-cost renewable energy solutions to Africa’s electricity problems. Perhaps the most interesting technological feature of the solar-powered pitch—only the second ever launched across the world (the first was launched in Brazil in 2014)—is that it combines both kinetic and solar energy to produce electricity.   Cont'd...

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...

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