Some people complain that solar panels and wind turbines are so unattractive, they’d prefer not to see them at all. To them we offer New Wind, alternative energy generators that look like trees. The 36-foot-tall steel structure is perfect for urban environments, where a conventional wind turbine might not fit. Seventy-two artificial leaves that work as micro-turbines adorn the branches and spin silently on a vertical axis. Cables and generators have been integrated into the leaves and branches in a way that puts them out of sight and sound. The beautiful and functional device is the brainchild of French entrepreneur Jérôme Michaud-Larivière, who said the idea for a tree-inspired wind generator came to him one day while sitting in a square, watching the leaves on nearby trees tremble in a breeze. He wondered if energy could be generated in a similar way. Indeed, it can. At the moment, each tree has a power output estimated at 3.1 kW.
South Korean PV module manufacturer SolarPark Korea has supplied modules to the first floating solar PV power plant in the country, the prototype Sunflower Solar Power Plant, which uses a tracking and rotating system. According to SolarPark Korea, the tracking system rotates the PV plant so that the modules face the most sun throughout the day. As the facility floats on water, it does not take much energy to do this, just a small amount of power being used from the plant for the rotation of the entire system. It is a 465 kWp system and around 8,000 square meters in size. SolarPark Korea supplied 1,550 72-cell multicrystalline modules for the test project. The cooling effect of the water on the modules should prove to show an additional 10% increase in energy production — when compared to a ground-mounted system. Such floating PV power plants do other things as well. They reduce algae growth, for example. Additionally, they have the ability to merge as hatcheries for fish inhabiting the area. Due to the easy rotation and the resulting exposure to maximum sunlight, the Sunflower Solar Power Plant’s production efficiency is 22% higher than a comparable ground-mounted PV plant.
Some of the most important innovations happening in energy today are happening far from the national media headlines. But these small changes will go a long way to making power more reliable, competitive, and local, with solar energy playing a central disruptive role that could dominate energy in the next century. One of those moves happened yesterday, when SunPower bought a $20 million stake in Tendril and agreed to license its Energy Services Management Platform software. Here's what the deal means over the next few years. At its core, Tendril is essentially an energy data company. It collects and analyzes data about consumers' energy usage patterns, primarily learned from partnerships with utilities. SunPower can use this data in its installations to optimize a home's renewable energy consumption, provide stored energy when it's needed, adapt to changing policies for solar, and even improve sales by finding its ideal customers. You can think of SunPower's capabilities with Tendril as a piece of the home of the future. SunPower will provide local energy production with solar panels, and with energy storage and connected devices SunPower can intelligently plan energy production and consumption based on consumers' desires. If a consumer wants to consume as little energy as possible the system can be set for that, just as it could be set to consume as much of your own energy production, or optimize for cost if there are rewards for sending energy to the grid at peak times. All of this will work in the background, similar to a car's eco mode, but it'll work to make energy more dynamic and controllable for consumers.
The Commerce Department began closing a chapter in a protracted trade conflict with China over solar equipment Tuesday, approving a collection of steep tariffs on imports from China and Taiwan. The decision, intended to close a loophole that had allowed Chinese manufacturers to avoid tariffs imposed in an earlier ruling by using cells — a major module component — made in Taiwan, found that the companies were selling products below the cost of manufacture and that the Chinese companies were benefiting from unfair subsidies from their government. The department announced anti-dumping duties of 26.71 percent to 78.42 percent on imports of most solar panels made in China, and rates of 11.45 percent to 27.55 percent on imports of solar cells made in Taiwan. In addition, the department announced anti-subsidy duties of 27.64 percent to 49.79 percent for Chinese modules. “These remedies come just in time to enable the domestic industry to return to conditions of fair trade,” said Mukesh Dulani, president of SolarWorld Americas. “The tariffs and scope set the stage for companies to create new jobs and build or expand factories on U.S. soil.” But others in the industry were quick to criticize the ruling.
Today, despite recent progress, solar power accounts for about one percent of the world’s energy mix. Yet the International Energy Agency (IEA) says that solar energy, most of it generated by decentralized “rooftop” photovoltaic systems, could well become the world’s single biggest source of electricity by mid-century. So how do we get from here to there? The answer, according to scientists and engineers, lies in a new generation of super-efficient, low-cost sunlight harvesters that take up where the recent flood of cheap silicon panels leaves off. New designs and novel solar materials have recently been setting new efficiency records seemingly every week. Although research and development of solar power still falls far short of where scientists and engineers say it needs to be, innovators are making steady progress in creating a new generation of materials that can harvest the sun’s energy far more efficiently than traditional silicon photovoltaic cells. Among the most promising technologies are multi-junction cells with layers of light-harvesters that each gather energy from a separate slice of the solar spectrum, super-efficient semiconductor materials like perovskite and gallium-arsenide, and cells made with tiny but powerful solar-absorbing “quantum dots.” Technical hurdles, such as making new materials able to withstand the elements, remain. Nonetheless, researchers say, efforts now underway could begin to dramatically increase solar power generation within a decade or two. Cont'd...
During the past 2 years, more flexible sourcing strategies across the wind power supply chain have resulted in cost reductions, enabling greater geographic market access while reducing risk and ensuring profitability for wind turbine vendors and their partners in the component value chain. Overcapacity, however, persists in most, though not all areas of the supply chain, providing purchasers with more choice, flexibility, and cost control. According to a new report from Navigant Research, while demand in 2014 is projected to be less than 47,000 megawatts (MW), annual turbine manufacturing capacity, according to vendor estimates, is likely to exceed 71,000 megawatts MW. "Oversupply is allowing wind turbine manufacturers to more easily adjust what components they produce in-house, what is outsourced, and when a blend of both is advantageous for cost, technological, or geographic reasons," says Jesse Broehl, senior research analyst with Navigant Research. "Although many manufacturing facilities are running at less than full capacity, product innovation, lean manufacturing, and outsourcing are resulting in a highly competitive wind industry ready for the challenges of today's and tomorrow's wind markets." Blades are a particularly strong area of strategic product evolution and sourcing shifts, according to the report. Turbine manufacturers are making major, capital-intensive investment changes in how blades are designed, what materials are used, the manufacturing processes behind them, and what companies they source from.
UNITED STATES: The US House of Representatives has approved a one-year extension to the production tax credit (PTC). The extension will allow US projects that began construction activities in 2014 to apply for the credit. It gives producers of wind power a $0.023/kWh incentive. The Senate will now need to approve the bill before it becomes law. The Senate vote is expected to take place in the coming days as both Houses are expected to adjourn for the Christmas break next week. Many in the industry had called for a two-year extension to the credit, which now would expire at the end of 2014. The Senate Finance Committee approved a two-year extension to the PTC in April, as part of a package of tax measures. The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) said the extension creates uncertainty in the US sector. AWEA also warned of a dramatic slowdown to the industry, similar to 2013 when the PTC previously expired, resulting in a 92% drop in installations.
Did you hear about the largest solar power plant in the world and how it is now producing electricity? Did it make the nightly broadcast news? Probably not, but Solyndra was all over the news media for a while. There’s a blatant lack of coverage for solar success stories, so it wouldn’t be surprising if most people aren’t hearing about them. California’s Topaz project is the largest solar power plant in the world with a 550 MW capacity, and it is now in full operation. It is located in San Luis Obispo County and has 9 million solar panels. Construction began just two years ago. The electricity produced by the plant will be purchased by Pacific Gas and Electric. The solar panels were manufactured by First Solar and the project was developed by First Solar. SEIA says about 200 homes in California are powered for each MW of solar power capacity. So, for a 550 MW solar plant, about 110,000 homes could be powered when the sun is shining. First Solar has said this figure could be 160,000 homes in the case of Topaz. The San Luis Obispo county population is about 276,000. It might turn out that the majority of this population could be powered by a single solar power plant.
A British start-up has developed a way for parking lots and structures with roofs that can’t take much weight to harness the power of the sun. The Cambridge, England-based Solar Cloth Company is beginning to run trials of its solar cloth, which uses lightweight photovoltaic fabric that can be stretched across parking lots or on buildings that can’t hold heavy loads, such as sports stadiums with lightweight, retractable roofs. Perry Carroll, Solar Cloth Company’s founder, told BusinessGreen that the company is working to close deals to install solar cloth on 27,000 parking lots. “We have built a growing sales pipeline worth £4.2m [about $US6.57 million] for 2015, including park and ride projects, airport parking operators and retail park owners,” he said. According to Solar Cloth Company, there are about 320 square miles of roof space and 135 square miles of parking space in the UK that could be covered by solar cloth, and if all of these spaces were covered, the solar power produced would be enough to power the UK’s grid three times.
According to the latest "Energy Infrastructure Update" report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's (FERC) Office of Energy Projects, wind power provided over two-thirds (68.41%) of new U.S. electrical generating capacity in October 2014. Specifically, five wind farms in Colorado, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska, and Texas came on line last month, accounting for 574MW of new capacity. In addition, seven "units" of biomass (102MW) and five units of solar (31MW) came into service accounting for 12.16% and 3.69% of new capacity respectively. The balance came from three units of natural gas (132MW - 15.73%). Moreover, for the eighth time in the past ten months, renewable energy sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind) accounted for the majority of new U.S. electrical generation brought into service. Natural gas took the lead in the other two months (April and August). Of the 9,903MW of new generating capacity from all sources installed since January 1, 2014, 34 units of wind accounted for 2,189MW (22.10%), followed by 208 units of solar - 1,801MW (18.19%), 45 units of biomass - 241MW (2.43%), 7 units of hydropower - 141MW (1.42%), and 5 units of geothermal - 32MW (0.32%). In total, renewables have provided 44.47% of new U.S. electrical generating capacity thus far in 2014.
Solar company SunEdison and unit TerraForm Power said they would buy First Wind for $2.4 billion to enter the U.S. wind power market. SunEdison's shares rose 6.6 percent to $17.70, while TerraForm shares rose 1.2 percent to $26.15 in after-market trading. The deal comprises $1.9 billion in upfront payment and $510 million in earn-outs, the companies said. Boston-based First Wind is operating or building renewable energy projects in the Northeast, the West and Hawaii, with a combined capacity of nearly 1,300 megawatts (MW) - enough to power more than 425,000 homes each year. SunEdison raised its 2015 installation forecast to 2.1-2.3 gigawatts (GW) from 1.6-1.8 GW. TerraForm increased its 2015 dividend forecast to $1.30 per share from 90 cents. TerraForm was created by SunEdison to own and operate its solar power plants. TerraForm went public in July. The deal is expected to close during the first quarter of 2015, the companies said.
Climate-conscious Americans have long glanced enviously across the Pacific to China and its ever-growing number of often-gargantuan wind farms. It turns out that they have less to be jealous about than previously thought: The United States has more wind energy powering its grid than any other country in the world, says a report by EDF Renewable Energy, the largest third-party provider of operations and maintenance for wind renewable-energy projects in the country. Though China has more megawatts of wind turbines installed than the U.S—about 90,000 to America's 60,000—the U.S. actually produces more electricity that is delivered to the grid, which in turn reaches more businesses and homes. And while China's wind industry delivered less than 138 billion kilowatt-hours in 2013, the U.S.'s delivered more than 167 billion. That's 20 percent more than China. And the U.S.'s generation has been growing steadily since 2008, when it first overtook Germany to become the world's No. 1 producer.
Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are part of a growing number of tech and other major companies that are entering into long-term “power purchase” agreements (PPAs) with wind farms to ensure a steady stream of power, at a fixed cost, over a period as long as several decades. Most recently, last month Yahoo signed such a deal for wind power in the Great Plains with OwnEnergy, a wind energy developer. Google -- which is already carbon neutral and now trying to power itself with “100 percent renewable energy” -- has the longest history here. It has three PPA deals in the U.S. wind sector (in Iowa, Oklahoma, and Texas), and two more in Sweden. Microsoft, meanwhile, currently has two PPA deals with wind installments located near its data centers in Texas and Illinois. The agreements provide 285 megawatts of power to help drive both Bing searches and also its other online platforms, according to Brian Janous, the company’s director of energy strategy. What these deals have in common is that they involve purchasing clean energy in close proximity to the power hungry data centers that these companies operate -- data centers that in turn drive searches, apps like Gmail and much more. “These are very energy intensive operations that these companies are planning on running for years, and they know they need electricity,” says Emily Williams of the American Wind Energy Association.
Brazil finally entered the solar power sector on Friday, granting contracts for the construction of 31 solar parks as it tries to diversify its sources of generation amid an energy crisis caused by the worst drought in eight decades. Brazil's energy regulator, Aneel, concluded its first exclusive solar power auction on Friday, clinching 20-year energy supply contracts with companies that will invest 4.14 billion reais ($1.67 billion) and start to feed the national grid in 2017. The 31 solar parks, the first large-scale solar projects to be constructed in Brazil, will have a combined installed capacity of 1,048 megawatts (MW). Market expectations were for projected total awards of 500 MW. "This auction is a mark, not only because it signals the entrance of solar power in the Brazilian energy mix, but because it was one of the most competitive to date," said Mauricio Tolmasquim, head of the government's energy research company, EPE. The auction lasted more than eight hours. The final price for solar power came at around 220 reais ($89) per megawatt-hour, against an initial price of 262 reais ($106), an 18 percent discount. "This is one of the lowest prices for solar energy in the world," Tolmasquim said.
Could a long-vacant cigarette factory in North Carolina build the rechargeable battery that will unlock the future of the clean energy economy? The Swiss-based Alevo Group launched the new battery technology on Tuesday. After spending $68.5m (£42.5m) for the factory, the group said it would spend up to $1bn to develop a system that would get rid of waste on the grid and expand the use of wind and solar power. The project, a joint venture with state-owned China-ZK International Energy Investment Co, aims to ship its first GridBank, its patented battery array, to Guangdong Province this year, going into production on a commercial scale in mid-2015. The container-sized arrays store 2MW and would be installed on-site at power plants. Jostein Eikeland, Alevo’s chief executive, said in an interview that the company had an agreement with the Turkish state power authority, and was in discussions with US power companies. “It’s a gamechanger,” he said. “If we can take some of the massive energy that is wasted today by mismanagement of the grid and inject it where it is needed, everybody wins,” said Eikeland. Eikeland said the company would create 2,500 jobs at the factory in Concord over the next three years.
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