Making Solar Panels in China Takes Lots of Dirty Energy

Manufacturing solar panels can be a dirty business, from the mining of raw materials to the chemical-laced process of purifying silicon to the assembly of silicon wafers.   Solar energy is a renewable source, of course, but it’s essential to examine the full supply chain to gauge its total environmental impact. One potential concern is the use, containment, and disposal of toxic chemicals. Another is the energy-efficiency of the manufacturing process and the source of the energy used.   Researchers at Northwestern University and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory recently examined the solar panel production process in different locations and published their findings in the July issue of the journal Solar Energy. “We estimated that a solar panel’s carbon footprint is about twice as high when made in China and used in Europe, compared to those locally made and used in Europe,” says Fengqi You, a co-author of the paper and an assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering at Northwestern. “While it might be an economically attractive option to move solar panel manufacturing from Europe to China, it is actually less sustainable from the life cycle energy and environmental perspective.”   The primary differences, the researchers found, are the less stringent enforcement of environmental regulations in China coupled with the country’s more coal-dependent power sector. “It takes a lot of energy to extract and process solar-grade silicon,” says co-author Seth Darling. “And in China, that energy tends to come from dirtier and less efficient energy sources than it does in Europe.”

EPA Sets Draft Rule to Cut Carbon Emissions by 30% by 2030

The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday released a draft rule to regulate carbon emissions from hundreds of fossil-fired power plants across the U.S., the cornerstone of President Barack Obama's climate-change agenda. The proposed rule mandates that power plants cut U.S. carbon-dioxide emissions 30% by 2030 from levels seen in 2005, an aggressive target that marks the first attempt at limiting such pollution. The carbon framework seeks to strike a balance between what environmentalists want—an ambitious overall target—with what the utility industry wants—flexibility, a long compliance timeline and an earlier base-year calculation from which to meet the goal. Carbon emissions have dropped since 2005, making the overall reduction smaller than it would have been if the EPA had used a more-recent year for a baseline.

U.S. Residential Solar PV Installations Exceeded Commercial Installations for the First Time in Q1 2014

Driven by strong year-over-year growth in the utility and residential markets, the United States installed 1,330 megawatts of solar photovoltaics (PV) in the first quarter of 2014. According to GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industry Association’s (SEIA) Q1 2014 U.S. Solar Market Insight Report , the U.S. installed 232 megawatts of residential PV, exceeding the non-residential (commercial) market’s 225 megawatts for the first time in the history of the report. Ongoing strength in the residential sector and volatility in the non-residential market spurred this historic milestone. Despite the dip in non-residential installations, GTM Research and SEIA expect the market to rebound and exceed the residential market in 2014 annual PV installations. In another significant development, Q1 2014 was the largest quarter ever for concentrating solar power (CSP) due to the completion of the 392 megawatt (AC) Ivanpah project and the Genesis Solar project’s second 125 megawatt (AC) phase. With a total of 857 megawatts expected to be completed by year’s end, 2014 is on pace to be the largest year for CSP in history. “Solar accounted for 74% of all new U.S. electric capacity installed in Q1 2014, further signaling the rapidly increasing role that solar is playing in the energy market,” said Shayle Kann, Senior Vice President at GTM Research. “Expect to see a resurgence in the non-residential market, combined with continued incremental residential growth, throughout the rest of this year.” Not to be outshone by the success of the residential sector, the utility PV market continued its dominance, growing 171% between Q1 2013 and Q1 2014. With 873 megawatts installed, it accounted for two-thirds of total installations during the quarter. Large-scale projects that were under contracts and negotiations between 2010 and 2012 are now becoming a reality.

EnerVault unveils 'flow battery' for solar energy storage

In an almond orchard outside Turlock in the Central Valley, two large tanks hold water, minerals - and more importantly, energy. The tanks in Stanislaus County are part of a "flow battery" that stores energy from nearby solar panels. It's the largest battery of its kind in the world. And it could play a role in California's push to develop bigger and better ways to store large quantities of energy. This particular flow battery, unveiled to the public Thursday during a ceremony with state and federal officials, was built by EnerVault of Sunnyvale, part of the Bay Area's fast growing energy-storage industry. Like most of its competitors, EnerVault is young, founded in 2008, with about $30 million in venture funding to date. Some companies try to perfect the lithium-ion batteries found in laptops and electric cars. Others, including EnerVault and Primus Power of Hayward, specialize in flow batteries, which store energy in tanks of electrolytes. The fluid is then pumped through the battery's cells when power is needed. In contrast, the batteries found at a grocery store contain the electrolyte, cathode and anode all in one package. "Flow batteries are batteries turned inside out," said Jim Pape, EnerVault's chief executive officer. His company's flow batteries use iron and chromium, blended into the water inside its tanks. Both materials are safe to handle. (For those of you thinking "Erin Brockovich," EnerVault uses the kind of chromium found in multivitamins, not the infamous hexavalent chromium featured in the movie). Iron and chromium also have the benefit of being cheap.

Nearly 5,600 Clean Energy Jobs Announced In First Quarter, Down From Same Period In 2013

Congressional inaction on key clean energy tax policies, coupled with attacks on state renewable energy programs, led to a dramatic decline in clean energy job announcements in the first quarter of this year, according to the latest report from the nonpartisan business group Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2). About 5,600 clean energy and clean transportation jobs were announced in the first three months of this year, down from 12,000 such jobs reported in the comparable period in 2013. A major geothermal project in  Idaho  accounted for the most clean energy jobs announced on the state level in the first quarter. Idaho  was followed by more traditional clean energy leaders. The remaining states in the Top 10 were:  Texas ,  California , Missouri ,  New York ,  Kansas ,  Arizona ,  Hawaii ,  New Mexico  and  Louisiana ..  Despite adding thousands of new jobs to the economy, the dramatic drop in clean energy and clean transportation job announcements in the quarter is a clear reflection of mixed signals American businesses  are getting from Capitol Hill and state capitals when it comes to policies such as the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC) and various state-level renewable energy standards (RES), according to E2.

Solar PV Module Shipments to Grow 30 Percent in 2014, According to NPD Solarbuzz

The top 20 module suppliers to the solar photovoltaic (PV) industry are guiding an increase in annual shipments of more than 30 percent in 2014, according to the latest NPD Solarbuzz Module Tracker Quarterly report. Leading Chinese module suppliers Trina Solar, Canadian Solar, ReneSola and Jinko Solar are forecasting the most aggressive growth in shipments during 2014, with the upper-end of guidance exceeding 40 percent.  "The top-20 module suppliers to the PV industry account for two-thirds of global shipments, and they provide the leading indicators of industry growth and pricing trends," noted Ray Lian, senior analyst at NPD Solarbuzz. "Assuming the leading suppliers achieve the forecasted growth rates, end-market demand in 2014 will approach 50 gigawatts."  Yingli Green Energy is forecasting the highest shipment volume in 2014, with the upper end of shipments at 4.2 gigawatts (GW). This shipment level would result in Yingli Green Energy heading the annual shipment rankings for PV suppliers for the third consecutive year.  Leading Japanese silicon-based PV module suppliers, Sharp Solar and Kyocera, are forecasting a 15 percent increase in shipments in 2014, reflecting continued strength in the Japanese solar PV market. Sharp Solar and Kyocera command strong market shares, within their domestic markets. 

Elon Musk sees nearly unlimited demand for energy storage

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk said Wednesday that the world will need to build several lithium-ion battery factories to meet a "quasi-infinite demand for energy storage." Speaking at the World Energy Innovation Forum, Musk said Tesla Motors alone needs its planned $5 billion lithium battery factory to continue the company's rapid growth. Without the proposed "gigafactory" the electric-car maker would lack the batteries it needs to ramp up car production and introduce new models, he said. "We're building the gigafactory because we can't think of any other way to scale," Musk told the energy forum at the company's factory in Fremont. "We either hit the sides of the Petri dish, or we build a bigger Petri dish." The forum, which focused on market-transforming ideas in energy, took place in a corner of the sprawling auto plant where Tesla makes its second car model, the Model S. The proposed gigafactory would double worldwide production of lithium-ion batteries, which could help lower battery production costs 30 percent just in its first year of full-scale operation. Tesla hopes to use those savings to create its $35,000 Gen 3 car, the company's first car aimed at the middle class.

The US Military Could Drive Solar Energy Growth

Demand for solar energy is heating up across the United States, and the nation's military is becoming one of the sector's major customers. The Department of Defense wants renewable energy to make up at least one quarter of its total energy use by 2025, and solar energy is squarely within its sights.    The Military just recently began construction of a solar power plant at Fort Huachuca in Arizona, where solar panels will be installed over 68 acres, constituting the largest solar array of any military base in the U.S. According to the commanding general of the base, Maj. Gen. Robert Ashley, the project reflects the military's commitment to energy security.  Whether it be engaged in disaster relief, humanitarian missions or in military operations, the military needs reliable energy that is "off the grid," since public electrical utilities are vulnerable to adverse weather conditions and potential sabotage. The military also needs to be ready for possible disruptions to the oil supply, which could cripple it and the nation's economy.   Such risks to national security are turning the armed forces into a vast laboratory for the development of solar technology and the creation of "net-zero" environments, where energy consumption equals the energy created on-site. The military already used solar arrays at fixed-site locations in Afghanistan.   By moving to solar power, the military could also avoid the high costs of transporting gasoline to remote areas of the world.  In the past, moving gasoline to bases in Afghanistan could cost up to $400 per gallon. 

Feds Fund 12 Offshore Wind Turbines

The Obama administration has announced funding for three offshore wind power projects off the New Jersey, Oregon and Virginia coastlines. The administration has pledged up to $47 million for each project to bring a total of 67 megawatts (MW) of green power online.   The price tag for all this green power: a staggering $11.75 million per wind turbine. In terms of energy, the twelve offshore wind turbines will cost $2.1 million per MW. But the high price tag has not deterred the Obama administration from funding the costly wind projects.   “Offshore wind offers a large, untapped energy resource for the United States that can create thousands of manufacturing, construction and supply chain jobs across the country and drive billions of dollars in local economic investment,” said Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.   According to Windustry, a utility scale wind turbine cost from $1.3 million to $2.2 million per MW. Most “commercial-scale turbines installed today are 2 MW in size and cost roughly $3-$4 million installed.”   The Energy Information Administration (EIA) says that the costs of offshore wind power are still high at $204 per megwatthour (MWh) — compared with the costs of onshore wind power at $80 per MWh.

This Parking Lot Is Paved With Solar Panels

The Idaho couple who created an innovative road surface made of solar panels is back with a prototype, and they’re looking to Indiegogo for additional funding.   Scott and Julie Brusaw want to replace traditional asphalt and concrete with impact-resistant solar panels that do double duty as a road surface and an energy source. When the solar roadway concept debuted in 2010, it caught the interest of futurists and government officials. Now the Brusaws have a working prototype covering a 12- by 36-foot parking lot outside the couple’s electronics lab in Idaho.   The new panels look quite different from the prototype we saw almost four years ago. The latest design is hexagonal, which allows for better coverage on curves and hills. They’re also heated for easier snow and ice removal, and include LEDs that can display road markings or even messages.   According to the Brusaws, the new glass-covered panels have been tested for traction and impact resistance, and can sustain a 250,000-pound load. They’ve even got a video of a tractor driving over the parking lot prototype. This is also the first time the panels have been subjected to real-world road conditions, and the parking lot includes a dedicated channel for drainage and utilities.   Up until this point, the project has been financed through a $50,000 private grant and two phases of funding from the Federal Highway Administration. Now, the Brusaws have launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise $1 million for commercialization of their prototypes.

WindPower 2014 - AWEA lauds state policies but PTC still high on agenda

US Wind power's role in addressing climate change and renewable portfolio standards were major themes at today's opening session of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA)'s annual conference in Las Vegas. The industry has "huge potential" under the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s new proposed regulations on emissions from existing power plants, said Tom Kiernan, CEO of AWEA, at Windpower 2014.   EPA’s proposed regulations will be unveiled next month, and finalised in June of 2015, Shaun McGrath, administrator of the agency’s Region 8, told the conference. EPA is part of the Obama administration, which has vowed to slash carbon emissions.   Wind is currently at a "crossroads", added AWEA’s Kiernan. Next week, an extension of the valuable production tax credit may reach the Senate floor, he noted.    And he reiterated the lobbying group’s long-time demand - that wind needs policy stability.  

Solar News - New cheap, environment-friendly solar cell developed

In a breakthrough, scientists have developed a new low cost, efficient and environment-friendly solar cell that uses tin instead of the hazardous lead.   Researchers from Northwestern University are among the first to create a solar cell that uses a structure called perovskite, with tin as the light-absorbing material instead of lead.   "Exculding the use of lead is a quantum leap in the process of creating a very promising type of solar cell called a perovskite," said Mercouri G Kanatzidis, an inorganic chemist with expertise in dealing with tin.   "Tin is a very viable material, and we have shown that it works as an efficient solar cell," said Kanatzidis.   Lead perovskite has achieved 15 per cent efficiency and tin perovskite should be able to match - and possibly surpass - this level of efficiency, researchers said.   Perovskite solar cells are being touted as the "next big thing in photovoltaics" and have reenergised the field.   

Wind companies ready to brave the capital markets

Finance experts expect more initial public offerings (IPO) in the wind energy sector in 2014 after a year in which half a dozen companies on both sides of the Atlantic successfully raised nearly $2.3 billion by tapping the public equity markets.   "It is hard to really predict how many will come out of the gate and actually get done. But there are 10-20 companies out there working on it, wondering if this is good source of low-cost capital for them and if they have what it takes to make a placement like this," says Michael Eckhart, global head of environmental finance with Citigroup.   British fund Greencoat UK Wind started a wave of IPOs in March 2013, raising £260 million ($433 million). NRG Yield in the US and the Renewables Infrastructure Group (TRIG) in the UK followed in July with offerings of $431 million and £300 million, respectively. Canada's TransAlta Renewables completed a C$221 million (US$200 million) share sale in August, California-based Pattern Energy raised $352 million in October, and the UK's Infinis rounded up the year with a £234 million share sale in November.

Solar Energy - NRG Energy and MidAmerican Solar Complete Agua Caliente, the World's Largest Fully-Operational Solar Photovoltaic Facility

NRG Energy, Inc. (NYSE:NRG), through its wholly-owned subsidiary NRG Solar, along with partner MidAmerican Solar announced they have achieved substantial completion at their Agua Caliente Solar Photovoltaic Facility, a 290 megawatt (MW) photovoltaic facility located on 2,400 acres of land between Yuma and Phoenix, Ariz. The electricity that is generated by the station, which can support 230,000 homes at peak capacity, is being sold to Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) under a 25-year power purchase agreement. “Large-scale utility accomplishments, like our Agua Caliente project, raise the bar in terms of our clean-energy technology and production,” said Tom Doyle, president, NRG Solar. “Proving that we can build both the world’s largest solar thermal and now one of the world’s largest solar photovoltaic facilities advance NRG’s mission to reshape the energy landscape that is incredibly beneficial to both the economy and in how we produce and consume energy. Whether it’s partnering, developing or investing, NRG will lead the way in providing a diverse set of solutions and technologies to get the US to the ultimate goal of providing affordable, reliable clean energy for everyone.”

Japan's 25-year plan to put a gigawatt solar power farm in space

Scientists from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) have planned a series of pilot projects which, if successful, should culminate in a 1-gigawatt space-based solar power generator within just 25 years. Its energy output would be on par with some of the largest modern conventional power plants, thanks to fact that it’s above the atmosphere, which reflects or absorbs most solar energy that falls on Earth. Collecting solar power above the atmosphere means you could have access to almost 150% of surface amounts — and if we can find a way of beaming that power back down to Earth, our reliance on every other form of energy would vanish overnight.   Here at ExtremeTech, we publish a fair number of articles about improvements to solar power. That makes sense since, until fusion power comes of age, solar will remain the only green technology that could even theoretically provide for our global power demands. The sun blasts our planet with so much power that the world’s deserts absorb more energy in a single day than the human race uses in a year. Yes, Earth’s surface is a phenomenal place to collect solar energy — but astronomers know about somewhere even better.   Full Article:

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