A class of compounds first uncovered in the Ural Mountains more than a century ago is now a rock star in the world of solar-energy research. Meet perovskite, the building block for materials that, as a group, have posted unprecedented gains in their solar-energy efficiency—the percentage of sunlight converted into electricity. In the lab, scientists experimenting with perovskite-based materials of different compositions have recently achieved a jump in efficiency to 20%, from around 10% just two years ago. That is still lower than the most efficient silicon-based cells on the market— SunPower Corp. makes cells that are 24% efficient. But because of perovskite's rapid increases in efficiency, researchers think it could be used to make cells that are at least as efficient as those fashioned from silicon, but at a much lower cost.
For Southern California Edison (SCE), building a smarter grid started many years ago with smart meters and upgrades in distribution equipment. Today, the company takes another leap forward with the opening of the largest battery energy storage project in North America — the Tehachapi Energy Storage Project — to modernize the grid to integrate more clean energy. The demonstration project is funded by SCE and federal stimulus money awarded by the Department of Energy as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The 32 megawatt-hours battery energy storage system features lithium-ion batteries housed inside a 6,300 square-foot facility at SCE's Monolith substation in Tehachapi, Calif. The project is strategically located in the Tehachapi Wind Resource Area that is projected to generate up to 4,500 MW of wind energy by 2016. "This installation will allow us to take a serious look at the technological capabilities of energy storage on the electric grid," said Dr. Imre Gyuk, energy storage program manager in the energy department's Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability. "It will also help us to gain a better understanding of the value and benefit of battery energy storage." The project costs about $50 million with matching funds from SCE and the energy department. Over a two-year period, the project will demonstrate the performance of the lithium-ion batteries in actual system conditions and the capability to automate the operations of the battery energy storage system and integrate its use into the utility grid.
State and federal officials sought Tuesday to bring order to California's boom for renewable-energy plants in the Mojave and other southern California deserts, releasing a roadmap covering 22.5 million acres that designates some areas for large-scale solar, wind and geothermal plants and others for conservation of desert habitat and animals. "We have amazingly special places here," U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a news conference at a desert wind farm near Palm Springs with U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer and other officials releasing the multi-agency draft plan. By taking a look at the desert as a whole, Jewell said, the plan's designers are ensuring "the areas that should be protected are set aside. The areas that should be developed are streamlined" for building utility-scale renewable energy plants. The release of the plan follows a renewable-energy building boom in southeastern California's deserts during the first term of the Obama administration, when the federal government gave billions of dollars in loans to developers placing sprawling, utility-scale solar projects in virgin desert. The plan released Tuesday recommends designating a total of 2 million acres as appropriate sites for future solar, wind and geothermal projects. Another 4.9 million acres under the U.S. Bureau of Land Management would be among the areas set aside as conservation areas, if the draft plan is adopted.
The Obama administration unveiled a slew of actions Thursday aimed at improving energy efficiency and increasing the use of solar power in homes and businesses, including $68 million in spending. The White House said the actions would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 300 million metric tons by 2030, the equivalent of 60 million cars’ emissions in a year. They will also save $10 billion in energy costs. The actions, together with commitments from states, communities, companies and others, are part of President Obama’s second-term push to reduce carbon emissions in an effort to mitigate climate change. They follow other recent efforts to help the solar power industry, including a series of announcements in April to spur solar deployment, a White House-hosted summit on solar power and a May decision to install solar power panels on the White House. The Department of Agriculture will spend $68 million on 540 renewable energy and energy-efficiency projects in rural areas, 240 of which are for solar power. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will announce the program, the White House said.
A new study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory suggests that wind energy could stabilize the energy grid of the eastern U.S. Grid stabilization is often an issue where renewable energy is concerned. At times, clean energy systems can generate more electrical power than an energy grid can handle. Frequency regulation plays a major role in grid stabilization in the U.S., and wind turbines may be a new solution to the stabilization problem. Frequency regulation is the process through which the operators of an energy grid police the frequency of the infrastructure’s alternating current. Energy grids are strictly controlled throughout the U.S. and are mean to put out electric currents with frequencies of 60 Hertz. In order to maintain this frequency, grid operators regularly change how much electricity is being funneled into the grid. Destabilization occurs when frequency is not properly regulated. Wind turbines could be a new solution to this problem. According to the study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, wind turbines could be controlled to affect grid stabilization. The study shows that wind turbines can be tweaked using simple, commercially available mechanical parts. By changing the way these turbines generate electrical power, grid operators may be able to effectively control how much energy is coming into the grid.
North American Windpower reports that the U.S. offshore wind industry is embryonic no more. Recent offshore wind news highlights also show that installations worldwide are picking up speed. As of the end of July, the developer behind the 468 MW Cape Wind project had secured close to two-thirds of the roughly $2.5 billion needed for the wind farm, to be located off the coast of Cape Cod, Mass. In addition, the developer sold more than 77 percent of the projected output (363 MW) through stable, 15-year power purchase agreements (PPAs) at $0.187/kWh plus inflation. Construction is planned to commence in 2015. Deepwater Wind (Providence, R.I.) has secured the entire output for the more modest 30 MW Block Island wind farm, located off the Rhode Island coast, with a 15-year PPA at $0.244/kWh. It also has preliminary contracts for turbines from Alstom and an installation vessel from Fred Olsen Windcarrier, and has received the go-ahead from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the last federal agency to grant its approval. Deepwater says the Block Island wind farm has now been completely reviewed and approved by nine state and federal agencies, and expects “steel in the water” by 2015 with service to begin in 2016. Cont'd...
A company that uses solar energy to recover crude has scored big financing from some major oil players—and highlights a growing niche of global oil exploration. GlassPoint Solar last week landed a $53 million investment from Royal Dutch Shell and the sovereign investment fund of Oman for its enhanced oil recovery (EOR) technology. In a twist of irony, GlassPont's technology runs on solar power, which produces steam to help pump more fossil fuel from conventional crude plays. GlassPoint has been using this technique in Oman since 2012, and it helped the firm score more than double its initial funding. Given the age of its oil fields, Oman relies on EOR—a complex process that extracts more oil than traditional drilling—to boost production. Although EOR is common to the oil industry, using the power of the sun "is expanding very rapidly, and is a very new technology" said Rod MacGregor, GlassPoint's CEO, in an interview. "This application looks like the next step for solar."
Indian solar energy companies are fast delivering world-class solar power projects as the market expands based on favorable regulatory and policy outlooks. India’s largest engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) company in the solar power market has just commissioned the world’s largest single rooftop solar photovoltaic power project. The 7.52 MW solar power plant has been commissioned in the northern state of Punjab. Larsen and Toubro has been involved in the construction of several solar power projects that will be seen as major milestones in India’s solar power infrastructure expansion. The company reported that it has already commissioned or is working on solar power projects with total capacity of 400 MW. This includes the largest solar thermal power plant in Asia – Reliance Power’s 125 MW linear Fresnel power project located in Rajasthan. The company has also worked on several other solar power projects under the National Solar Mission. Punjab has some of highest power tariffs in the country. Being an agricultural state, power supply to the farmers is of paramount importance, while industries and commercial users are low on the priority list. In the absence of adequate supply, the utility procures power from short-term markets, which increases the overall costs which, in turn, is passed on the industrial and commercial consumers.
The University of California announced Monday that it signed two power-purchase agreements that, combined, will provide 206,000 megawatt hours of solar energy per year — the largest solar energy purchase by any higher education institution in the U.S. This energy is equivalent to powering 30,000 homes and will avoid producing more than 88,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. The initiative will provide power for UC Irvine, UC San Diego and UC San Francisco, along with their medical centers, in addition to UC Merced and UC Santa Cruz. Mark Byron, the university’s wholesale electricity program manager, described the purchase as a “nexus” with UC President Janet Napolitano’s sustainability initiative, which was released November. One of the main components of the initiative is to be carbon neutral by 2025. “By injecting solar energy, we’re making sure our portfolio comes from green energy,” Byron explained. The university signed the 25-year agreements with Frontier Renewables, a San Mateo-based company focused on solar energy technology. Two solar fields will be built in Fresno County as part of the project.
Sharp Corp is looking to sell its U.S.-based solar energy development unit Recurrent Energy, Bloomberg reported on Monday, as the Japanese firm winds down its involvement in the solar industry to focus on profitable businesses. Sharp paid $305 million in cash in 2010 to acquire Recurrent Energy. Selling the company now would help Sharp to raise capital as it struggles to raise its equity ratio to a healthy level. This year, Sharp shut down its UK solar plant and also pulled out of a venture with Italian energy firm Enel SpA to make solar panels and generate solar power.
Wearable electronics are quickly becoming the fashion. And there could soon be a way to power those electronics indefinitely, now that scientists in China have developed a solar cell 'textile' that could be woven into clothes. The textile retains a power-generation efficiency close to 1% even after been bent more than 200 times, and can be illuminated from both sides. Scientists have been looking into flexible solar cells for decades, partly for coating irregularly shaped objects but also for integrating into wearable fabrics. One popular line of investigation has been dye-sensitized solar cells, in which a pigment absorbs sunlight to generate electrons and their positive counterparts, holes, before passing on those charges to inexpensive semiconductors. These solar cells are cheap and flexible, but the liquid nature of their pigments means that they must be well sealed. Bend a dye-sensitized solar cell more than a few times and the seals are likely to break, destroying its light-harvesting properties. That is why Huisheng Peng at Fudan University in Shanghai and colleagues have been exploring another option: polymer solar cells. Although their maximum efficiencies fall below 10% - about half that of crystalline silicon, the most prevalent solar cell - polymer solar cells are lightweight, flexible and easy to manufacture. Peng and colleagues' solar cell textile consists of microscopic interwoven metal wires coated with an active polymer (to absorb the sunlight), titanium dioxide nanotubes (to conduct the electrons) and another active polymer (to conduct the holes). The researches coated each side of the textile with transparent, conductive sheets of carbon nanotubes, which complete the circuit.
When it comes to storing energy at the scale of the power grid, lithium-ion batteries have a lot of advantages -- and, critics say, some significant drawbacks. Sure, lithium-ion is the dominant battery chemistry for consumer electronics and electric vehicles, which helps drive down costs and improve bankability for grid projects (see Tesla’s Giga factory for an example of how this future could unfold). And yes, they’ve been proven in many grid-tied projects around the world. But there are two questions that continue to dog the potential for lithium-ion batteries at grid scale. Can they provide hours of energy at a time to serve grid needs, and can they last for the decade or more required for cost-effective grid use when they’re being discharged so deeply, over and over, day after day? Cont'd...
Researchers at Michigan State University have created a fully transparent solar concentrator, which could turn any window or sheet of glass (like your smartphone’s screen) into a photovoltaic solar cell. Unlike other “transparent” solar cells that we’ve reported on in the past, this one really is transparent, as you can see in the photos throughout this story. According to Richard Lunt, who led the research, the team are confident that the transparent solar panels can be efficiently deployed in a wide range of settings, from “tall buildings with lots of windows or any kind of mobile device that demands high aesthetic quality like a phone or e-reader.” Scientifically, a transparent solar panel is something of an oxymoron. Solar cells, specifically the photovoltaic kind, make energy by absorbing photons (sunlight) and converting them into electrons (electricity). If a material is transparent, however, by definition it means that all of the light passes through the medium to strike the back of your eye. This is why previous transparent solar cells have actually only been partially transparent — and, to add insult to injury, they usually they cast a colorful shadow too. Cont'd..
An unpopular government’s legacy has become a burden for the new one, which could potentially lead to the scrapping of what has been planned as the world’s largest solar power project. The Rajasthan state government in India has reportedly asked the central government to scrap plans to set up a 4,000 MW solar photovoltaic power project. The state government claims that the proposed project will threaten thousands of migratory birds that flock near the proposed project site every year. Sources close to the government, however, claim that the Rajasthan Chief Minister is not too keen to pursue a project that had been planned during the tenure of the previous government, which was led by the United Progressive Alliance. The proposed project is supposed to come up near Sambhar Lake in eastern Rajasthan. Officials of the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy claim that about a fourth of the planned project area has been listed as environmentally and ecologically sensitive, and that area had already been excluded. According to reports, the state Chief Minister wants to scrap the 4,000 MW solar power project, and pursue an ambitious state-directed solar power policy. Gujarat, under now-Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had earned global limelight after it established one of the largest solar power farms. To date, Gujarat continues to lead all Indian states in terms of installed capacity.
olar energy is one of the greatest investing opportunities of our generation with well over a trillion dollars in annual market potential around the world. But with all that potential comes tremendous risk, particularly as new technologies emerge. Over the past decade, we've seen solar technologies rise and fall and companies have risen and fallen along with them. Now that this industry is competing with fossil fuels on a cost per kW-hr basis it's important to look at what technologies dominate the industry and what investors should be betting on in the future. Massive solar farms like this one from SunPower are now competitive with other energy sources on the grid, opening up a huge opportunity for the solar industry. Source: SunPower. Silicon solar, the leader in the clubhouse The vast majority of solar panels today are made using silicon semiconductor technology. At its core, this technology has been around for decades, it just hasn't been efficient or cheap enough to be economically viable versus the grid. But that's changed in the last few years as panel prices have plummeted below $1 per watt. Inside a silicon solar cell the sun's energy excites the semiconductor, knocking an electron loose. If properly built, a cell then captures that electron and turns it into a voltage potential and electric current. cont'd..
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