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:

Solar Power Grows 400 Percent in Only 4 Years

Driven by an explosion in photovoltaics, the U.S. solar sector has emerged "from a relatively small contributor to the nation's total electric capacity into a one of comparative significance," the Energy Information Administration reported this week in its latest Electricity Monthly Update.   Since 2010, EIA said, U.S. solar capacity increased 418 percent from 2,326 megawatts, accounting for 0.2 percent of total U.S. electric generation, to today's 12,057 MW, or 1.13 percent of U.S. generation.   More than half of that additional capacity — 5,251 MW -- has been installed by home and business owners participating in utility net metering programs that allow owners of solar systems to sell excess capacity back to their local utility at retail rates, according to EIA.   California has the largest net metered solar capacity, with 38 percent of the U.S. total, but Eastern states such as Massachusetts and New Jersey also have significant amounts of net metered solar energy, the agency said.   Utility-scale PV applications, defined as systems with 1 MW or more of capacity, have also expanded significantly and currently account for 5,564 MW, according to EIA. Such systems generally are designed to generate power for wholesale markets.  

11 innovative companies giving energy storage a jolt

Technological and market forces have converged to make energy storage one of the most exciting — and potentially game-changing — opportunities for commercial and industrial facility managers, grid operators, homeowners and investors. Forward-thinking utilities, battery suppliers, power inverter producers, system integrators and public-sector supporters are driving a massive expansion of energy storage solutions aimed at enabling the grid of the future — or even a grid-less future. Although the energy storage value chain includes hundreds — if not thousands — of players, the following are leading the charge.  Full Article: Here are 11 innovative companies giving energy storage a jolt: 1. Aquion Energy: A cleaner chemistry 2. General Electric: A storage giant awakens 3. Green Charge Networks: Power efficiency 4. LG Chem: Leading lithium-ion battery maker 5. NEC Corporation: Global grid-scale storage 6. NRG Energy: From V2G to 'post-grid future' 7. Princeton Power: Grid-tied storage 8. Solar Grid Storage: A match made in the heavens 9 and 10. SolarCity and Tesla: A dynamic duo 11. Sonnenbatterie: From Europe with love  

A blow to corn-based biofuels

Biofuels made from the leftovers of harvested corn plants are worse than gasoline for global warming in the short term, a study shows, challenging the Obama administration's conclusions that they are a much cleaner oil alternative and will help combat climate change. A $500,000 study paid for by the federal government and published Sunday in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Climate Change concludes that biofuels made with corn residue release 7% more greenhouse gases in the early years compared with conventional gasoline. Biofuels are better in the long run, but the study says they won't meet a standard set in a 2007 energy law to qualify as renewable fuel. The conclusions deal a blow to what are known as cellulosic biofuels, which have received more than a billion dollars in federal support but have struggled to meet volume targets mandated by law. About half of the initial market in cellulosics is expected to be derived from corn residue. The biofuel industry and administration officials called the research flawed. They said that it was too simplistic in its analysis of carbon loss from soil, which can vary over a single field, and that it vastly overestimated how much residue farmers would remove once the market gets underway.

Obama to challenge private companies to boost solar power use

President Obama will challenge companies Thursday to expand their use of solar power, part of his ongoing effort to leverage the power of his office to achieve goals that have been stymied by Congress. The new initiative comes as the White House is hosting a Solar Summit aimed at highlighting successful efforts on the local level to speed the deployment of solar energy.   Although some large solar plants are coming online and it is the fastest-growing source of renewable energy in the United States, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, it accounts for roughly 1 percent of the nation’s electricity generation.   “Now is the time for solar,” said Anya Schoolman, executive director of the Community Power Network, a Washington-based nonprofit group that helps communities build renewable energy projects. She will be honored at the summit Thursday.   “The costs are affordable, in reach of middle America and above. We know how to do it now, we know how to scale it, and we kind of just need people to let it go and encourage it,” she said.   In an effort to make it easier for state, local and tribal governments to expand their solar portfolios, the Energy Department is launching a $15 million-dollar “Solar Market Pathways” program.  

Global Wind Power Capacity Projected To Nearly Double In 5 Years

Asia is now leagues ahead of other regions within the global wind market. Furthermore, this market is expected to grow at an annual cumulative capacity rate of more than 10 percent over the coming five years. A recent Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) report shows other significant wind energy markets of the past few years have slowed in comparison. However, overall global growth of wind energy will remain firm with a hopeful measure of expanding growth again. The wind market for 2013 was an “off” year. Less wind energy capacity was installed in 2013 than in 2012. This disappointment saw the biggest drop in the market’s relatively short life. From 1996 through 2013, annual installed capacity for wind grew at an average rate of more than 20 percent.

MIT, Harvard scientists study how to produce solar power without sunlight

A team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University are working on a technology that wouldn't require sunlight to produce solar power. The team is developing a material that can absorb the sun's heat and store the energy in a chemical form, ready to be released "on-demand," according to a release. The technology could be used for heating buildings, cooking or other uses where heat, rather than electricity, is the desired output. In a release, researchers describe the technology behind the system: "Some molecules, known as photoswitches, can assume either of two different shapes, as if they had a hinge in the middle. Exposing them to sunlight causes them to absorb energy and jump from one configuration to the other, which is then stable for long periods of time.

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