NASA Seeks Proposals for Extreme Environment Solar Arrays

NASA's space technology program is seeking proposals to develop solar array systems for space power in high radiation and low solar energy environments.  In the near future, NASA will need solar cells and arrays for multiple applications in robotic and human space exploration missions. Because these systems were traditionally developed for operation near Earth, there is a need to develop new solar array concepts as NASA considers missions that require exposure to more intense radiation environments and travel ever farther from the sun.  NASA hopes to solicit proposals for the development of promising technologies to increase solar cells that will work under low intensity, low temperature and high radiation environments. Proposals will be accepted from U.S. organizations, including NASA centers and other government agencies, federally funded research and development centers, educational institutions, industry and nonprofit organizations.

The U.S. Just Approved One of the World's Biggest Solar Power Plants

Todd Woody for TakePart.com:  The federal government on Monday green-lit a 485-megawatt solar plant that would generate enough carbon-free electricity to power 180,000 homes when it comes online in the Southern California desert. During the Great Recession, that was nothing unusual about billions of dollars in federal stimulus money fueling big green dreams of carpeting the Mojave Desert with giant solar power plants on government-owned land, a cornerstone of the Obama administration’s efforts to fight climate change. That land, however, often turned out to be home to desert tortoises, blunt-nosed leopard lizards, and other endangered wildlife. Many of those projects went belly-up in part because of fierce opposition from environmental groups. That prompted an effort by the federal government to be “smart from the start” about where it allowed big renewable energy plants to be built. So the Blythe Mesa Solar Project, which was approved Monday, will deploy tens of thousands of solar panels across 3,587 acres of already disturbed or fallow farmland where wheat, alfalfa, and citrus had been grown. No desert tortoises will be harmed.  Cont'd...

Plug-and-play battery seeks to upstage Tesla

By Morgan Lee for the San Diego Union Tribune:  It looks like a simple floor lamp, or a sleek picture frame on the wall.  Inside lies a tantalizing future for household energy storage -- a 2 kilowatt-hour battery that plugs into a standard wall outlet and can keep an electrical circuit hot for several hours or more if a power outage strikes. The unproven concept for a plug-in-play battery was introduced Thursday by San Diego-based Orison during a forum at the University of California San Diego. Len Hering, executive director of the Center for Sustainable Energy, praised the 2-year-old startup's efforts in a news release. Orison CEO and co-founder Eric Clifton, drawing on seven years of experience in green technology startups, believes the battery tower and wall unit can play a prominent role in the emerging Internet of Things, providing the energy-storage equivalent of the Nest smart thermostat. "The way we look at it, we are the Nest of the energy industry," he said. Clifton believes that other early household battery entries -- most notably the Powerwall from electric car maker Tesla Motors -- miss the mark on bringing energy storage to the masses. Tesla's hefty home battery has to be professionally mounted and hardwired into household circuity, potentially involving inspections and permits. With Orison's batteries, you don't have to own a home, or even live in one, Clifton said. The batteries fit in with an apartment dweller in Manhattan.   Cont'd... ​

Indian airport becomes world's first to run entirely on solar energy

ROSE TOUP BUCHANAN for The Independent: An Indian airport has become the world's first to run entirely onsolar energy . Cochin International Airport, in the south of India, inaugurated a massive 45-acre solar plant on Tuesday. The plant, made up of 46,000 panels, will provide between 50,000 to 60,000 units of electricity every day (totalling 12 megawatts of power alongside pre-existing solar panels ), according to a release from airport authorities. It has been a long-running project: the airport first installed panels on the roof of its terminal in 2013 and has gradually expanded the initiative. Cont'd...

Hydrogen Gas / Smoke Detector with Intrusion Alarm for Battery Room

From Eagle Eye Power Solutions: The Eagle Eye HGD-3000 Hydrogen Gas and Smoke Detector with (optional) Silent Intrusion Alarm is designed for unattended battery installations or remote shelters containing gassing lead acid batteries and charging systems... Lead-acid batteries on charge emit hydrogen gas after reaching the 80% recharge point. When mixed with enough air, hydrogen becomes a highly flammable gas that can ignite easily with just a spark, destroying equipment and harming personnel. The lower explosive level (LEL) for hydrogen is 4.1% by volume. Hydrogen Gas Detection Attach the HGD-3000 to the wall, ceiling, or optional junction box using the mounting holes at the top and bottom of the detector box. The HGD-3000 will turn on an exhaust fan when hydrogen gas levels reach 1% and will alarm at 2%. This alarm consists of a local 80db horn, a flashing red LED, and a dry contact switch closure for remote alarming. Smoke Detection The photoelectric smoke sensor detects minute combustion products from smoldering wire insulation, battery cases, and other material. When smoke is detected, a distinctive alarm is emitted from the 80db horn and a separate dry contact switch is activated. At this time, the exhaust fan is inhibited in order to deny the fire increased oxygen from outside air. Temperature, Loss of Power, & Intrusion During normal operation and in the absence of an alarm condition, an internal thermostat will turn on the exhaust fan at a preset temperature to reduce heat buildup in the room. Loss of power to the unit will also generate a dry contact alarm. Additionally, an optional infrared intrusion alarm will trigger a silent dry contact switch. Product website

Subpar Solar Irradiance Undermines East Coast Project Performance

The East Coast of the U.S. experienced up to 5% lower than average levels of solar irradiance in 2014, negatively impacting overall performance of solar sites in the region. Concurrently, the West Coast enjoyed irradiance levels up to 10% higher than average, widening the productivity gap between projects in the country's two areas of highest solar development.     This disparity is clearly seen in the 2014 Solar Performance Maps of the United States, released today by Vaisala, a global leader in environmental and industrial measurement.    While it is well-established that the solar resource of the East does not match that of the West, the Atlantic Coast has a large volume of operational capacity and it is therefore of critical importance for project operators in the region to understand the reasons behind below average energy output and whether it is due to malfunctioning equipment or weather variability.    Vaisala's 2014 study illustrates the impact of short-term, month-to-month weather variations on performance at U.S. solar projects and places them into a long-term context. This reveals frequent and significant deviations from long-term average irradiance conditions and highlights the clear requirement to analyze the effect of solar resource variability on both over and underperformance.   From an annual perspective, this year's weather patterns had an adverse effect on a large number of installations along the Atlantic Coast from Florida to Massachusetts, as well as Texas, while the bulk of projects in California and the Southwest saw an uptick in solar irradiance that may have increased overall 2014 production at many sites.    However, these annual variations only offer a high-level view of project performance. Vaisala also conducted a monthly analysis that gives a much more robust understanding of how specific weather conditions affected solar production throughout the year.   

CloudSolar Helps Renewable Energy Fans Who Can't Install Their Own Solar Panels

Catherine Shu for TechCrunch:  Solar panels are becoming increasingly affordable, but many people still face barriers to harnessing the power of the sun for their own homes. For example, they might live in an apartment or in a house where the roof is angled or structured improperly for solar panel installation.   A new Boston-based startup called CloudSolar is offering an intriguing solution. Founded by a team including two electrical engineering Ph.D. candidates and currently raising funds on Indiegogo, CloudSolar lets people buy a solar panel, or a share in one, on a farm that is expected to be completed by 2016 (erecting the solar panels will only take a couple of months, but the company also has to deal with utility and land permits, which will take longer).   Once the farm is up and operating, electricity generated by the solar panels will be sold to local utilities. Solar panel owners are promised 80 percent of the total proceeds created by the panels over the next 25 years, and help with applying for whatever tax credits they are eligible for. They can monitor how much energy their panel is producing, and how much carbon dioxide emissions it is estimated to offset, through an app.

These States Are the Early Leaders in the US Energy Storage Market

Eric Wesoff for GreenTech Media:  Energy storage is a small market experiencing fierce growth. The U.S. installed 61.9 megawatts of energy storage in 2014, and GTM Research is forecasting 220 megawatts to be installed in 2015. But, as with the U.S. solar industry, energy storage projects are clustered in states with incentives or in regions where markets are able to place a value on storage.    So it's no surprise that California, Hawaii, and New York have assumed early leadership in energy storage by virtue of their unique incentives, mandates and markets, according to the inaugural GTM Research and Energy Storage Association U.S. Energy Storage Monitor report.   Cont'd...

See-Through Solar Is Tomorrow's Threat to Oil

The engineers at Ubiquitous Energy are developing solar panels that are completely transparent and as thin as a laminate. They can do this by creating see-through solar cells that absorb only the invisible parts of the solar spectrum—ultraviolet and infrared radiation. The technology still has a way to go because the cells must become more efficient to prove cost-effective, but their promise is big: solar cells that could become a part of any glass or plastic surface. They could sit, invisibly, atop a smartphone’s display, allowing the phone to charge itself under natural or artificial light. And if the process became part of glass and window manufacturing, homes and skyscrapers could draw power from the sun without the spatial and aesthetic limits of current, opaque solar panels.

US Energy Storage Market Could Triple This Year

The energy storage market is poised for substantial growth over the next five years, with installed capacity this year expected to more than triple to 220 MW from last year’s 62 MW.   A recent report from GTM Research and the Energy Storage Association, ‘U.S. Energy Storage Monitor,’ projected that the market will grow from $128 million last year to $1.5 billion by 2019, when more than 800 MW will be installed.   Moreover, non-utility storage – residential and non-residential – will grow from just 10% of installed capacity last year to 45% over the same period.   This is a bullish forecast for downstream residential vendors identified in the report, such as Schneider Electric, Outback Power, Sunverge, and Solar City.

Solar eclipse illuminates importance of energy storage

Friday's solar eclipse highlights the importance of energy storage to the continued growth of solar, experts have claimed.    Energy consultancy Frost & Sullivan estimate that by covering 85% of the sun; the eclipse removed 35GW of solar power from the European grid - equivalent to 80 conventional power plants.    This sort of instability will drive generators to invest in better storage facilities to ensure a constant security of supply, according to the consultants.    "Dealing with events like this one requires investment in various storage tools and monitoring techniques which create a certain amount of flexibility in the energy system," said the report.    The nascent technology of pump storage - pumping water uphill into large reservoirs when power is abundant and then letting it flow down again to generate power when needed - will reportedly be valuable in preparing for the eclipse in Germany. 

Texas City Pulls Plug on Fossil Fuels With Shift to Solar Power

Christopher Martin for Bloomberg:  A Texas city just north of Austin plans to begin weaning its residents from fossil fuels.   The municipal utility in Georgetown, with about 50,000 residents, will get all of its power from renewable resources when SunEdison Inc. completes 150 megawatts of solar farms in West Texas next year. The change was announced Wednesday.   It will be the first city to completely embrace clean power in the state, which is the biggest U.S. producer and user of natural gas. More will follow as municipalities seek to insulate themselves from unpredictable prices for fossil fuels, said Paul Gaynor, SunEdison’s executive vice president of North America. Burlington, Vermont, made a similar move with its purchase of a hydroelectric plant last year.   “This will be the first of many,” Gaynor said in a telephone interview. “The city is making a judgment that they want to enjoy a stable electricity price.”

Harvesting solar power in space one step closer

From  Tereza Pultarova for E&T Magazine:  Japanese engineering giant Mitsubishi has successfully demonstrated wireless power transmission over a larger distance paving the way for harvesting energy in outer space. During the test at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ Kobe Shipyard & Machinery Works facility near Osaka, the engineers managed to beam 10kW of power through a microwave transmitter across a 500m distance.   As the beam of microwaves hit the receiver and got converted back into energy, its LED lights turned on using the received power.   Mitsubishi said the test ‘marks a new milestone’ in terms of both, the distance and power load, and verifies the firm’s space solar power systems (SSPS) concept.   Mitsubishi envisions SSPS will take solar energy generation to an entirely new level. Solar panels would be placed at geostationary satellites, which hang above a fixed spot above the Earth’s surface at the distance of 36,000km, and unhindered by Earth’s atmosphere would generate energy much more efficiently.   The wireless transmission system, freeing energy generation from the reliance on cables and wires, would then beam the energy to Earth using a microwave or laser technology.   Mitsubishi believes space-based solar power will revolutionise renewable energy generation and will in future become the world’s number one source of clean renewable power.

Upcoming solar eclipse to wreak havoc on Germany's solar power output

By Andrew Freedman for Mashable: The partial solar eclipse slated to take place throughout Europe on March 20 may delight skywatchers, but it's presenting a significant headache for the operators of Germany's electricity grid. The country is a world leader in solar energy, boasting a huge edge over the U.S. in installed solar power generation.   When the eclipse occurs between about 9:30 a.m. and 12 p.m., local time, on the 20th, electric utilities in Germany will have to contend with rapid swings in energy production. First, there will be a steep drop-off in generation, followed by a sudden spike.   These fluctuations, and how utilities choose to cope with them, provide a preview of what utilities in the U.S. and other nations face, as renewable energy production soars in coming decades, according to an analysis from Opower, a software company that uses data to help utilities improve the customer experience.   Germany gets about 7% of its electricity each year from solar panels, compared to 0.5% in the U.S., according to Barry Fischer, a writer and analyst at Opower. On the sunniest days, Germany can meet half of its electricity demand through solar power alone, he told Mashable in an interview.  

RESEARCHERS DEVELOP NEW APPROACH THAT COMBINES BIOMASS CONVERSION, SOLAR ENERGY CONVERSION

In a study published March 9 in Nature Chemistry, University of Wisconsin-Madison chemistry Professor Kyoung-Shin Choi presents a new approach to combine solar energy conversion and biomass conversion, two important research areas for renewable energy.   For decades, scientists have been working to harness the energy from sunlight to drive chemical reactions to form fuels such as hydrogen, which provide a way to store solar energy for future use. Toward this end, many researchers have been working to develop functional, efficient and economical methods to split water into hydrogen, a clean fuel, and oxygen using photoelectrochemical solar cells (PECs). Although splitting water using an electrochemical cell requires an electrical energy input, a PEC can harness solar energy to drive the water-splitting reaction. A PEC requires a significantly reduced electrical energy input or no electrical energy at all.   In a typical hydrogen-producing PEC, water reduction at the cathode (producing hydrogen) is accompanied by water oxidation at the anode (producing oxygen). Although the purpose of the cell is not the production of oxygen, the anode reaction is necessary to complete the circuit.   Unfortunately, the rate of the water oxidation reaction is very slow, which limits the rate of the overall reaction and the efficiency of the solar-to-hydrogen conversion. Therefore, researchers are currently working to develop more efficient catalysts to facilitate the anode reaction.   Choi, along with postdoctoral researcher Hyun Gil Cha, chose to take a completely new approach to solve this problem. They developed a novel PEC setup with a new anode reaction. This anode reaction requires less energy and is faster than water oxidation while producing an industrially important chemical product. The anode reaction they employed in their study is the oxidation of 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) to 2,5-furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA). HMF is a key intermediate in biomass conversion that can be derived from cellulose - a type of cheap and abundant plant matter. FDCA is an important molecule for the production of polymers.  

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