The Obama administration unveiled plans Tuesday to ramp up solar energy production, offering incentives for solar developers to cluster projects on 285,000 acres of federal land in the western U.S and opening an additional 19 million acres of the Mojave Desert for new power plants. The long-awaited plan also appears to rewind previous land-use decisions by the federal government. The pending policy rules out a long list of environmentally sensitive lands where the government — seeking to fast-track construction — had allowed solar development over the objections of environmentalists. The plan places 445 square miles of public land in play for utility-scale solar facilities. The plan establishes 17 solar energy zones in six Western states, including 154,000 acres in California. The zones were chosen because they avoided major environmental, cultural or other conflicts. The policy encourages developers to select sites within zones by promising minimal environmental reviews and expedited permitting.
NRG Energy, Inc. NRG and GenOn Energy, Inc. GEN announced they have signed a definitive agreement to combine the two companies in a stock-for-stock tax-free transaction, creating the largest competitive generator in the United States with a diverse fleet of approximately 47,000 megawatts (MW) with asset concentrations in the East, Gulf Coast and West and a combined enterprise value of $18 billion. "This combination ushers in a new era of scale, scope, and market and fuel diversification in the competitive power industry," said NRG President and CEO David Crane, who will continue his present positions with the combined company. "The greater depth and breadth gained through the combination with GenOn will put NRG in a uniquely strong position to fulfill the needs of American energy consumers in the 21st century."
Researchers at UCLA and UC Santa Barbara have created the first highly transparent, plastic solar cells. The new solar cell is almost 70% transparent to visible light. There are two key breakthroughs here: First, as far as I can tell, this is one of highest efficiency (4%) polymer solar cells (PSC) yet created; and, perhaps more importantly, researchers have historically struggled to get get past 10 or 20% transparency, let alone 70%. You are probably wondering how something can be both transparent and absorb light — well, in this case, the PSC only absorbs infrared light, but lets visible light pass through it. In both cases, the secret sauce is silver nanowires within the polymer. These nanowire electrodes are conductive and flexible, and after being coated with titanium dioxide nanoparticles they are also photovoltaic. Most importantly, though, these nanowires can be laid down using a solution process — basically, to turn a big roll of polymer into a solar cell, all you have to do is immerse it in a vat of titanium dioxide-coated silver nanowires, cure it, and voila.
Germany's environment ministry is considering launching anti-dumping proceedings against China over its financial support for solar power firms amid a bitter price war in the industry that has left many German panel producers fighting for survival. Environment Minister Peter Altmaier told German broadcaster ZDF late on Thursday that there had to be fair competition in the global market and anti-dumping proceedings might be one way of ensuring this. Altmaier recently suggested higher import duties as another way to prevent price dumping. "It is also being looked into whether anti-dumping procedures can be launched against China," he said. The ministry was not immediately available for comment on Friday. Germany's once-booming solar panel makers are struggling to digest steep cuts in state support and increasing competition. German firm Solarworld recently brought a suit with American firms in the United States against cheap Chinese imports, with a degree of success.
Amonix Inc., a closely held maker of solar panels that qualified for $21.5 million in federal subsidies, closed its 214,000-square-foot plant in Nevada. The company, based in Seal Beach, California, plans to restructure its operations and will vacate the factory by early August, according to an e-mailed statement today. It also has a research lab in Torrance, California, and an office in Singapore, according to its website. Amonix said the decision to close the plant was based on“challenging” pricing for solar panels and low demand for its concentrated photovoltaic systems, according to the statement. “We looked at several options and were really hoping that we could keep the North Las Vegas manufacturing facility, but it is not economically possible,” the company said.
Unirac, Inc., has been awarded a contract by Bechtel Power Corporation to supply the ground mount system for the 110MW AC Catalina Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Project in Kern County in Southern California. The project is one of the largest photovoltaic ground mount installation in North America, projected to cover 1,100 acres and produce enough energy to power approximately 35,000 homes. Completion is scheduled for 2013. "We are excited to work with Bechtel, a global leader in engineering, procurement and construction, on this important landmark project," said Peter Lorenz, CEO, Unirac. "Unirac has long been a leader in the residential and commercial markets. This award demonstrates that we have become the partner of choice for large, complex utility projects."
The Agua Caliente solar project in Yuma County, Arizona — which is one of the world’s largest solar panel farms — is now two thirds completed, according to the owners and developer of the project, NRG Energy, MidAmerican Solar and First Solar. The solar farm, which is supposed to be completed in 2014, employs 400 to 450 workers per day, and California utility PG&E has a contract to buy the power. Agua Caliente is now generating 200 MW of solar power, and will provide 290 MW when completed. The project is being funded by a $967 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy, as well as equity from owners NRG Energy and MidAmerican Solar, which is the energy-focused fund owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. MidAmerican bought 49 percent of the $1.8 billion farm in January of this year.
The United Kingdom comes in first in a new energy efficiency ranking of the world's major economies, followed closely by Germany, Japan, and Italy, according to the first-ever International Energy Efficiency Scorecard published today by the nonprofit American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). The report finds that in the last decade the U.S. has made "limited or little progress toward greater efficiency at the national level," putting it in 9th place out of 12 economies around the globe. The rankings are modeled on ACEEE's time-tested approach to energy efficiency ranking of U.S. states, and include 12 of the world's largest economies: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union. These 12 economies represent over 78 percent of global gross domestic product; 63 percent of global energy consumption; and 62 percent of the global carbon-dioxide equivalent emissions.
InterSolar North America 2012 is being held this week in San Francisco. Intersolar North America focuses on photovoltaics and solar thermal technologies. Exhibitors include PV cell, module and inverter manufacturers, components and mounting systems suppliers, manufacturing system suppliers, service companies as well as manufacturers of solar thermal applications including heating and cooling, among others. With 900 exhibitors and over 22,000 attendees expected this years show will be one of the biggest Solar Industry tradeshows in North America. AltEnergyMag.com has put together a special newspage devoted specifically to news and announcements coming out of this years show . We invite those exhibitors to post PR directly to this newspage here.
Add another solar factory to the list of closures and delays that have been plaguing the industry. Solar startups, including Solyndra and Abound Solar, a recipient of government funds that declared bankruptcy last week, have been failing left and right in the face of low solar panel prices. Now GE has reportedly stopped work on its planned 400-megawatt solar panel factory in Colorado. It says it needs to improve the power output of its technology if it’s to compete. It was thought that a company like GE, with its deep pockets, might be able to scale up production to the point that its thin-film solar panels could compete with silicon. The reports throw this into doubt. It might be that both low cost and at least comparable efficiency levels are needed to compete.
In the U.S., more than 19 MW of small wind energy systems were installed, with revenues totaling $115 million. More than 7,300 small wind turbines were installed in the U.S. in 2011. While the U.S. small wind turbine market decreased 26 percent in 2011, exports drove a 13.4 percent increase in U.S. manufacturer sales, according to AWEA’s 2011 Small Wind Turbine Market Report, which was released in full this week. A fact sheet on the report’s results was released in the spring, and now the full report is available online. In the U.S., more than 19 MW of small wind systems were installed, with revenues totaling $115 million. More than 7,300 small wind turbines were installed in the U.S. in 2011 for the sixth consecutive year (for comparison purposes, almost twice the number of utility-scale turbines installed). More than 150,000 total small wind turbines have been installed cumulatively in the last decade, and in 2011, cumulative installed U.S. capacity increased to 198 MW. Four U.S. manufacturers reported annual sales greater than 1 MW, and 27 manufacturers with a U.S. presence reported sales of 60 turbine models. While domestic sales by U.S. manufacturers accounted for an 80 percent share of the U.S. market by capacity and 90 percent of turbines sold, 54 percent of U.S. manufacturers’ output went to foreign markets—a major increase from 2010.
The country has agreed to cap solar power installations at 52 GW. German Chancellor Angela Merkel's government won agreement on cuts to solar-power subsidies and plans to store greenhouse gases underground, breaking a deadlock that threatened to hold up the country's energy transition. Under the deal reached with Germany’s 16 states in a panel of arbitration, the government will maintain a solar “growth corridor” of 2,500-3,500 megawatts a year, Environment Minister Peter Altmaier told reporters in Berlin late yesterday. There will be a cap on subsidies at 52 gigawatts (GW), at which point a new formula will be found, he said. A new category will subsidize mid-size roof systems of 10- 40 kilowatts at 18.5 euro cents ($0.23) per kilowatt/hour, higher than planned, the upper house of parliament, where the states are represented, said in a separate statement after the panel met. Otherwise, new installations will be subject to subsidy cuts from April 1 as envisaged, it said.
First Solar, Inc. (Nasdaq: FSLR) announced its EPC team has installed its 10 millionth solar photovoltaic (PV) module in a utility-scale solar power project. The installation took place at the 550 megawattAC (MW) Desert Sunlight Solar Farm solar project that the company is constructing for NextEra Energy Resources and GE Energy Financial Services. First Solar is the largest PV solar power plant construction firm, and was recently recognized by Engineering News-Record as the fifth largest construction firm in the power sector. “Today’s milestone underscores First Solar’s leadership in delivering integrated PV solar power plants, and it’s only just the beginning” The Desert Sunlight project is part of First Solar’s 2.7 gigawattAC (GW) utility-scale solar project pipeline in North America, which will support 7,000 supply chain and construction jobs over the next several years.
New type of photovoltaic device harnesses heat radiation that most solar cells ignore. About 40 percent of the solar energy reaching Earth’s surface lies in the near-infrared region of the spectrum — energy that conventional silicon-based solar cells are unable to harness. But a new kind of all-carbon solar cell developed by MIT researchers could tap into that unused energy, opening up the possibility of combination solar cells — incorporating both traditional silicon-based cells and the new all-carbon cells — that could make use of almost the entire range of sunlight’s energy. The new cell is made of two exotic forms of carbon: carbon nanotubes and C60, otherwise known as buckyballs. “This is the first all-carbon photovoltaic cell,” Strano says — a feat made possible by new developments in the large-scale production of purified carbon nanotubes. “It has only been within the last few years or so that it has been possible to hand someone a vial of just one type of carbon nanotube,” he says. In order for the new solar cells to work, the nanotubes have to be very pure, and of a uniform type: single-walled, and all of just one of nanotubes’ two possible symmetrical configurations.
The past few years have ushered in an unprecedented, unforeseen, and largely unheralded solar energy revolution. As recently as 2005, global installed solar power capacity stood at 4.5 gigawatts (GW). Today, the figure exceeds 65 GW, which is equivalent to the capacity of about 130 average-sized coal-fired power plants. To put recent growth of solar power in perspective it helps to look at how it has played out in particular places. Take the U.S., for example. Solar is America's fastest growing industry, and already employs more than 100,000 men and women -- more than U.S. steel production and more than U.S. coal mining. In California, which leads the nation on solar power, the number of installed solar energy systems has increased from about 500 in 1999 to more than 50,000 in 2011. These days, when you fly into a place like Oakland, you can see your plane reflected in the rooftops below.
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