Photovoltaic cell efficiency may soon get a big boost, thanks to next-generation antireflection coatings crafted from nanomaterials capable of cutting down on the amount of light reflected away from a cell's surface. Materials boasting a "tunable" refractive index have been developed within the past few years, and they show tremendous potential for photovoltaic applications. Professor E. Fred Schubert, of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Department of Electrical, Computer, and Systems Engineering, is investigating ways to exploit this newly gained controllability and will present his findings at the upcoming AVS 59th International Symposium and Exhibition, held Oct. 28 - Nov. 2, in Tampa, Fla. The refractive index is the property of a material that changes the speed of light, and is computed as the ratio of the speed of light in a vacuum to the speed of light through the material. Among the most fundamental properties of optical materials, the refractive index determines important optical characteristics such as Fresnel reflection, Bragg reflection, Snell refraction, diffraction, and the phase and group velocity of light. Air and other gases have a refractive index very close to 1.0, but unfortunately aren't viable for thin-film optoelectronic applications. Among transparent dense materials suitable for use in thin-film optoelectronic applications, magnesium fluoride (MgF2) has the lowest refractive index (n=1.39); no dense materials with a lower refractive index are known to exist.
Hanwha Group, a top 10 Korean business group and Fortune Global 500 company with businesses in manufacturing, construction, finance, retail and resorts, today launched Hanwha Q.CELLS. The launch marks the completion of the acquisition of German solar company Q.CELLS, one of the worlds' largest solar cell manufacturers and a leading photovoltaics company. Mr. Charles Kim will lead Hanwha Q.CELLS as CEO, joining the company from Hanwha SolarOne. Mr. Min Su Kim will replace Mr. Charles Kim as the president of Hanwha SolarOne and joins the company from Hanwha Group. The launch of Hanwha Q.CELLS establishes Hanwha as the third largest solar manufacturer in the world. Hanwha's 2.3 GW of manufacturing capacity is distributed across Germany, Malaysia and China, a competitive advantage to supply any region in the world, free of trade sanctions.
According to the latest "Energy Infrastructure Update" report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's Office of Energy Projects, 433 MW of new electrical generating capacity was added in the U.S. in September -- all from solar and wind sources. The total consisted of five wind projects totaling 300 MW and 18 solar projects totaling 133 MW. For the first nine months of 2012, 77 wind projects (4,055 MW), 154 solar projects (936 MW), 76 biomass projects (340 MW), 7 geothermal projects (123 MW), 10 water power projects (9 MW), and 1 waste heat project (3 MW) have come on-line. Collectively, these total 43.8% of all new generating capacity added since the beginning of 2012. By comparison, new natural gas capacity additions since January 1, 2012 totaled 61 projects (4,587 MW) or 36.8% while 3 new coal projects added 2,276 MW (18.3%). Nuclear and oil represented just 1% and 0.1% of new capacity additions respectively. The new renewable energy generating capacity added in 2012 represents a 29% increase over the level recorded for the same period in 2011. Renewable energy sources now account for 14.9% of all installed U.S. electrical generating capacity.
The U.S. wind industry reached a milestone during the third quarter, surpassing 50 GW of total installed generation capacity, according to a new American Wind Energy Association report. The industry installed 1,832.7 MW during the quarter, bringing total wind power capacity installations to 51,630 MW. Wind capacity additions in 2012 have totaled 4,728 MW so far, AWEA said in its third-quarter market report. At least 40 electric utilities own or have contracted wind from projects currently online through the third quarter, the association said. The third quarter saw a 52% increase in installed capacity over the year-ago quarter. Twenty-seven wind projects were installed in 15 states during the quarter. The wind industry installed 40% more capacity during the first three quarters of 2012 than the same period in 2011, primarily due to developers racing against the clock to complete projects before the production tax credit, or PTC, expires. The PTC provides wind plants that are in service by Dec. 31 with a tax credit for the first 10 years of electricity production from utility-scale turbines. "This is what a successful policy looks like when it's working, but whether wind will continue to be a bright spot in the U.S. economy now depends on whether Congress acts to extend the production tax credit by the end of the year," AWEA CEO Denise Bode said in an Oct. 18 statement.
Siemens AG announced plans to give up its loss-making solar business and concentrate its renewable energy business on wind and hydroelectric power. The German industrial conglomerate, whose products range from trains to turbines, said Monday it's in talks with possible buyers, but offered no details. It said the move is part of a wider effort to increase its productivity and efficiency. The solar power industry has been hit by falling subsidies, weaker sales and increasingly stiff price competition, especially by Chinese manufacturers. Siemens said that "due to the changed framework conditions, lower growth and strong price pressure in the solar markets, the company's expectations for its solar energy activities have not been met." Several German solar manufacturers, including Q-Cells SE and Solar Millennium AG, have filed for insolvency over the past year. Another German company in the solar market, SMA AG, announced last week that it will slash up to 1,000 jobs — about a fifth of its global workforce — amid falling revenues and a possible annual loss in 2013 due to the growing price pressures.
The energetic use of solid biomass such as wood will increase to a larger extent than ever before in the years to come. At present, more than 2,200 biomass power plants are operational throughout the world. They have a total capacity of about 32,000 megawatts (MW). In Europe alone, there are more than 1,100 active biomass power plants. Another 130 coal power plants co-incinerate biomass. Over the past five years, about 150 biomass power plants went operational per year worldwide, each one with an average capacity of 11 MW, which is more than ever before. However, this growth will once more accelerate in the future: by 2016, 165 plants with an average capacity of more than 15 MW will be commissioned per year. Investments in new construction and maintenance of biomass power plants will increase from currently 10 to more than 14 billion euros annually. The trend for developing biomass follows the trend for developing renewable energies. More and more countries introduce feed-in tariffs for electricity from biomass. The increasing prices for fossil energy sources, the fact that many countries aim at increasing the use of domestic raw materials and the introduction of CO2 certificates for fossil fuels in Europe have over the past years improved the competitiveness of electricity generation from biomass.
GTM Research says many PV solar panel makers will go under or be acquired soon. The global marketplace is simply over-saturated, the company’s report states, so dramatic changes are coming. The difference in PV supply and demand could be 35 GW a year. About 88 companies are predicted to shutter PV factories, mainly in the United States, Europe, and Canada. The cost of solar panels and their manufacture has dropped so much it is simply too costly to produce them competitively in certain parts of the world. The number of companies affected by the fast-changing market conditions is huge, and very sad for the demise of their once promising ventures. “Manufacturing costs for firms in Europe, the U.S. and Japan are currently over 80 cents per watt. The cost for their Chinese competitors is between 58 cents and 68 cents per watt. The writing is on the wall: these companies will either take what they can get via acquisition or they will bow out,” said the report’s author, Shyam Mehta, Senior Analyst at GTM.
Battery maker A123 Systems, a one-time darling of the U.S. electric car industry and recipient of millions in government funding, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Tuesday. The filing highlights the controversy over federal subsidies for "green energy" companies that has been a part of the 2012 presidential campaign. A123 has $144 million in debt and missed a $2.7 million interest payment on Oct. 15. In 2009, A123 received $249 million in federal funding for advanced battery technology manufacturing at two sites in Michigan -- Romulus and Brownstown. The funding was part of $2.4 billion in stimulus funds designed to jump start advanced vehicle manufacturing in the United States.
The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) with support from the US Energy Department and National Renewable Energy Laboratory, has developed a set of recommended practices for using existing standards to plan, design, construct and operate offshore wind facilities in compliance with federal and state regulations. The recommended practices drawn up by AWEA’s Standards Development Board cite four levels of existing standards: international, American National Standards, classification society such as DNV, Germanischer Lloyd and The American Bureau of Shipping standards, and commercial standards and guidelines, These standards address five critical areas: structural reliability; manufacturing, qualification testing, installation, and construction; safety of equipment; operation and inspection, and decommissioning. The 63-page Recommended Practices for Design, Deployment, and Operation of Offshore Wind Turbines in the United States was unveiled at AWEA’s offshore windpower conference here.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Tuesday authorized what he described as potentially the largest wind energy project in the United States, if not the world: A Wyoming wind farm with up to 1,000 turbines that would provide electricity to some 1 million homes. Roadwork and groundwork could begin next year for the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project. After that, turbines could go up over a three-year period within an area covering 350 square miles of the hilly sagebrush country south of Rawlins in south-central Wyoming. Most of that area is among the 245 million acres nationwide overseen by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management — hence Salazar's role. Salazar highlighted the project as an example of President Barack Obama's "all of the above" strategy for renewable energy development and fossil fuel extraction on BLM and other public lands.
The Commerce Department issued its final ruling Wednesday in a long-simmering trade dispute with China, imposing tariffs ranging from about 34 percent to nearly 47 percent on solar panels imported from the country. For most of the Chinese manufacturers, the penalties are somewhat higher than those announced by the Obama administration earlier this year, when the government determined that Chinese companies were benefiting from unfair government subsidies and were selling their products below the cost of production, a practice known as dumping, on the American market. For the biggest panel maker, Suntech, the duties are significantly higher, moving to almost 47 percent from about 33 percent. The trade case stemmed from a legal filing nearly a year ago by a coalition of manufacturers, led by SolarWorld, a German company with considerable manufacturing in the United States. The coalition contended that Chinese companies, which dominate global sales with a two-thirds market share, were competing unfairly in the American market.
Solar panel installer SolarCity Corp filed with U.S. regulators to raise up to $201 million in an initial public offering that could help rekindle investor appetite for cleantech stocks. Shares of solar panel manufacturers have logged terrible performances in the last two years as plunging panel prices erased profits. But those lower prices have spurred demand for solar systems in the United States, helping companies like San Mateo, California-based SolarCity. SolarCity has expanded rapidly thanks to a business model that allows residential customers to lease solar panels for their roofs. Rather than paying the large upfront costs required for a solar installation, customers pay a monthly fee. Companies including Google Inc (GOOG.O) and U.S. Bancorp (USB.N) have provided funds to finance SolarCity’s projects. Those investors are able to collect a 30 percent federal tax credit for solar energy systems. Two of those funds are being audited by the Internal Revenue Service, SolarCity disclosed in its filing on Friday.
Vestas Wind Systems A/S (VWS) and Siemens AG (SIE), the biggest manufacturers of offshore wind turbines, and 42 other companies are participating in an initiative to lower power-generating costs for the technology and promote investments that may reach as much as $630 billion by 2035. The alliance, called Norstec, will meet today for the first time in London, the U.K. Department of Energy and Climate Change said in an e-mailed statement. The number of members has more than doubled since U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron announced the group’s formation in April. The group is seeking to drive development of offshore wind farms, an industry with the potential to employ as many as 185,000 people in the U.K. by 2020 and spur the laying of 8,000 kilometers (5,000 miles) of high voltage transmission cables in Europe’s northern waters by 2022, Norstec said today in a statement e-mailed by DECC.
Earlier this month, Denmark announced that it had already achieved its 2020 goal for solar energy production. The country previously publicized its national goal to produce 200 megawatts of energy from solar power by the end of this decade. Now, it seems that rapidly growing demand for clean energy and a solar-friendly government has allowed this European country to exceed that goal eight years before the target. Danish experts now predict that if this growth continues, 2020 levels of solar energy production will be 100 times what was first expected. Have you ever been to Denmark? Few would call it a sunshine-rich country. In fact, it’s probably better known for its gray, cold winters. So what has allowed Denmark’s solar industry to expand so rapidly?
A stalemate in Washington next year over tax reform could help solar developers by preserving the 30 percent investment tax credit for solar projects until it expires at the end of 2016. Regardless of who wins the Nov. 6 U.S. presidential election, Congress is expected to target tax loopholes and government subsidies as part of an effort to rein in federal spending and cut the deficit. But an agreement between Democrats and Republicans is not expected to come easily, and an impasse could keep the ax away form the tax credit. "It's one of those unusual situations where the gridlock that prevails around Congress could actually work to our benefit," Paul Detering, chief executive of San Francisco-based solar project developer Tioga Energy, told the Renewable Energy Finance Forum conference in San Francisco on Thursday.
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