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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
With its wings stretched wide to catch the sun's energy, a Swiss-made solar-powered aircraft took off from Abu Dhabi just after daybreak Monday in a historic first attempt to fly around the world without a drop of fossil fuel. Solar Impulse founder André Borschberg was at the controls of the single-seat aircraft when it lumbered into the air at the Al Bateen Executive Airport. Borschberg will trade off piloting with Solar Impulse co-founder Bertrand Piccard during layovers on a 35,000-kilometer (21,700-mile) journey. Some legs of the trip, such as over the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, will mean five days and five nights of flying solo. Both pilots have been training hard for this journey, which will span 25 flight days over five months before this Spruce Goose of renewable energy returns to Abu Dhabi in late July or August. "It is also exciting because you know, you simulate, you calculate, you imagine, but there is nothing like testing and doing it in real," Borschberg said just hours before takeoff. "I am sure we are all confident and hopefully we will be able to see each other here in five months." The Solar Impulse 2 aircraft, a larger version of a single-seat prototype that first flew five years ago, has a wingspan of 72 meters (236 feet), larger than that of the Boeing 747. Built into the wings are 17,248 ultra-efficient solar cells that transfer solar energy to four electrical motors that power the plane's propellers. The solar cells also recharge four lithium polymer batteries.
Nexus eWater has developed the world's first practical water and energy recycler for homes. The estimated annual US market for this new product suite is projected at $15 billion per year. The patented product collects a home’s grey water (the drain water from showers and laundry), then cleans it to the highest standard for at-home recycling for lawn watering and other approved uses. Additionally, the system captures and re-uses the heat found in the grey water for further recycling. The system is available for both new homes and for retrofits. The international investor team includes Canberra-based venture fund ANU Connect Ventures (ANUCV), the Sydney Angels and the Sydney SideCar Fund. The round was led by Thomas Reeves Hitchner, the retired general partner of Baltimore-based venture fund, QuestMark Partners. Proceeds from this funding cycle will complete the initial product roll-out of Nexus’ on-site water and energy recycling products for the California and US market. The Nexus system is affordable, robust and efficient. It is a sustainability “triple play.” For a house with a family of four, the system provides these three benefits: Reduces in-home water usage by 40%, (up to 200 gallons per day) by recycling 67% of the water used in a house; Reduces wastewater by 70%, (up to 200 gallons per day); and Reduces home electric energy usage by 10-20%. The energy recycler provides the equivalent power of a 1.5 kW solar array, but at a fraction of the cost. In large, older homes, this amount could be tripled. Energy recycling is accomplished by using a patented heat pump system, which harvests the energy from the warm grey water and then uses that energy to heat fresh, new water for the home. By recycling this energy, the home’s water can be heated using 75% less energy than any conventional tank or tankless water heater.
By JONATHAN SOBLE for NY Times: Rice fields, golf courses and even a disused airport runway. All over the southern Japanese region of Kyushu, unexpected places gleam with electricity-producing solar panels. Solar use in Japan has exploded over the last two years as part of an ambitious national effort to promote renewable energy. But the technology’s future role is now in doubt. Utilities say their infrastructure cannot handle the swelling army of solar entrepreneurs intent on selling their power. And their willingness to invest more money depends heavily on whether the government remains committed to clean energy. “It’s upsetting,” said Junji Akagi, a real estate developer on Ukushima, a tiny island near Nagasaki. Mr. Akagi said he hoped to turn a quarter of the island’s 10-square-mile area into a “mega-solar” generating station, and has already lined up investors and secured the necessary land. Then last September, Kyushu Electric Power Company, the region’s dominant utility, abruptly announced that it would stop contracting to buy electricity from new solar installations. Other power companies elsewhere in Japan soon followed suit.
From GovTech.com: Sonoma County, Calif.'s new public electricity supplier is turning to the sun and water — the airspace over treated sewage ponds, specifically — to generate power for local homes and businesses. Under a deal signed Thursday with a San Francisco-based renewable energy developer, officials with Sonoma Clean Power, now the default electricity provider in Sonoma County, unveiled a plan to install a 12.5-megawatt solar farm on floating docks atop holding ponds operated by the county Water Agency. When completed in 2016, the project, which will provide enough electricity to power 3,000 homes, will be the largest solar installation in the county. It also will help fulfill one of Sonoma Clean Power’s central goals — to develop local sources of renewable energy for its expanding customer base, now taking in more than 160,000 residential and commercial accounts across five cities in the county.
Google Inc. is making its largest bet yet on renewable energy, a $300 million investment to support at least 25,000 SolarCity Corp. rooftop power plants. Google is contributing to a SolarCity fund valued at $750 million, the largest ever created for residential solar, the San Mateo, California-based solar panel installer said Thursday in a statement. Google has now committed more than $1.8 billion to renewable energy projects, including wind and solar farms on three continents. This deal, which may have a return as high as 8 percent, is a sign that technology companies can take advantage of investment formats once reserved only for banks. “Hopefully this will lead other corporations to invest in renewable energy,” SolarCity Chief Executive Officer Lyndon Rive said in a phone interview. The deal reflects the success of renewable energy companies in tapping into a broader pool of investors with financial products that emerged in the past three years, either paying dividends or sheltering cash. Those helped boost investment in clean energy 16 percent to a record $310 billion last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
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