Buffett investment in California solar farm could boost industry

The agreement by investor Warren Buffett's MidAmerican Energy Holdings to buy a $2-billion photovoltaic farm in San Luis Obispo County could bring a ray of financial sunshine to the battered solar-energy industry. The scale of Buffett's foray into this sector of the renewable energy scene is considerably more modest than his $34-billion purchase of BNSF Railway, but it could provide the same kind of boost to the solar power business that the 2009 acquisition did to the railroad industry, experts said. "In a lot of ways, this is classic Warren Buffett," said Bruce Bullock, executive director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University. "He comes into an industry that is starving for capital investment. At the same time, this is something that also tells people it's time to take solar power seriously."

Nissan Leaf goes wireless - charged by electromagnetic induction from floor pad

THE sight of electric cars umbilically attached to their charging stations hasn't yet become commonplace. But already the technology is about to be superseded. Nissan in Japan has given a glimpse of the very near future in the form of a wireless charging station for its Leaf electric car. Present electric vehicle charging technology requires the connection of a cable to the vehicle to recharge its battery via mains electricity. Now Nissan has developed a wireless charging pad that recharges the battery simply by parking the vehicle on top of a ground transmission unit. Much like the charging system on electric toothbrushes, the Nissan wireless charger works by electromagnetic induction. Electricity is drawn from the recharging coil in a housing mounted on a garage floor and into contacts inside the vehicle. Charging your EV is something you never have to think about. You simply drive into the garage at night, park squarely over the charging pad, and leave the car to charge itself. By morning the car is fully charged and you're on your way. The system is 90 per cent as efficient in power transmission as a cable system, meaning it will charge the car in about eight hours.

A dead-easy way to kill vampire power

Belkin this month released perhaps the simplest way to cut that standby power with its Conserve Power Switch. The small gadget is just a switch in a handy format that cuts the flow of power to anything that plugs into it. There's not much to this device, but that's its appeal. The Power Switch, which costs $6.99, plugs into a regular outlet and you plug a device into that. When you want to use your coffee machine, flick it on and a small green light turns on to indicate the plug is live. Could this simple act actually be worth it? Depending on what power source you intend to cut off, this little gadget or one like it can pay for itself in less than a year. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory calculates that the average coffee maker uses 12 watts when it's off. That means if you only turned it on for the few minutes that it's actually making coffee, you'd save about $12 a year based on the national average electricity price.

Greater Consolidation for the Wind Energy Market with Fewer but Stronger Participants

The European wind energy market is just starting to recover from the economic downturn in 2009. As demand stabilises, steady growth is forecast. At the same time, the market is poised for greater consolidation that will result in the emergence of fewer but stronger participants. New analysis from Frost & Sullivan (http://www.energy.frost.com), European Wind Energy Markets, finds that the market earned revenue of $19.18 billion in 2010 and estimates this to reach $42.48 billion in 2017. The application sectors covered in this research service are offshore and onshore wind energy. "Europe's wind energy market is primarily driven by the European Union's renewable energy agenda to meet 20 per cent of its energy needs through renewable sources by 2020," notes Frost & Sullivan Research Analyst Neelam Patil. "The high growth potential of offshore wind energy, coupled with the emerging markets of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) are attracting investments in the European market."  

25 battery breakthroughs for gadgets, electric cars & the grid

A lack of progress for battery technology is (arguably) the single biggest barrier for gadgets, electric vehicles and the power grid. But there continues to be innovation, like last week researchers at Northwestern University unveiled technology that can boost gadget battery life by ten and charge a battery in minutes instead of hours. And there’s hundreds of researchers, entrepreneurs, universities and large companies working on battery breakthroughs. Here’s 25 you should know about:

Ascent Solar's Flexible Solar Panels Named a TIME Magazine Best Invention

Ascent Solar Technologies, Inc. a developer of lightweight, flexible, thin-film photovoltaic modules, announced today that itsflexible CIGS solar panels were named one of TIME's 50 Best Inventions of 2011. Ascent's technology was one of six ‘green' inventions to be recognized in this year's list, featured in the Nov. 28 TIME issue. For each of the past 10 years, TIME has recognized the top 50 breakthroughs in science, technology and the arts. Previous honorees have included the iPad, Nissan Leaf, 3-D cameras, and the world's first synthetic cells. "We are honored to be recognized by TIME as one of this year's top 50 inventions," said Ascent Solar President and CEO, Ron Eller. "Our flexible solar panels integrate seamlessly with countless applications across a wide variety of markets. TIME's recognition further validates the transformational aspects of Ascent's technology."  

Cleantech Open announces winners

Twenty-one cleantech startups from across the U.S. competed for a grand prize of $250,000 in seed investment and services at this year’s Cleantech Open Business Competition. On Wednesday night, the not-for-profit organization awarded the national grand prize to the winner in the renewable energy category, Atmosphere Recovery, which makes laser-based gas analyzer systems for efficient manufacturing and advanced energy process control.  See the full list of winners here.

The US Solar Confidence survey - The results are in.

A recent report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance demonstrated that, in spite of plunging stock prices, investment in utility scale renewable energy was higher in Q3 than in any other quarter and up by 16% compared to this time last year. The second shock of the report was that it was the US cleantech sector taking the lead in terms of investment, overtaking the usual front runners Europe and China. This seemingly positive news is however tainted with some worries from investors and the cleantech sector. Some believe Solyndra's high profile collapse will affect government support of renewable incentives, whilst others expect the expiry of the Treasury cash grant at the end of the year to dampen the development of utility scale projects. Building upon Bloomberg New Energy Finance's findings, Green Power Conferences and the Solar Power Generation USA congress invited over 35,000 professionals from the solar and finance communities to take part in a 5 minute survey to assess industry confidence for 2012. Despite expected difficulties in the market, over 60% of respondents thought that investment in the utility scale solar sector would increase in 2012, whilst 20% thought it would stay the same as 2011 levels.  

U.S. launches probe into China solar panels

The U.S. Commerce Department said it would investigate whether Chinese companies sell solar panels in the United States at unfair discounts and receive illegal government subsidies. The trade spat, one of several sensitive economic and trade issues between the United States and China, could lead to steep duties on imports of Chinese panels and help struggling domestic manufacturers. The action is opposed by companies in the U.S. solar industry that count on importing cheap panels to boost solar power generation. It comes as the administration of President Obama faces criticism from Republicans in Congress about domestic aid to solar and other renewable energy companies. The Commerce Department said Wednesday that it had accepted a petition from SolarWorld Industries Americas Inc. Last month, the company asked the U.S. government to slap duties on Chinese solar cells and modules.

PROINSO launches online store to sell PV products in the USA, Germany, Spain, and Italy

According to PROINSO sources , companies or individuals can make a selection of orders that can be modified according to what the customer agrees with the PROINSO sales department, which will send the customer an offer. Each installer can sign in with a username and password, and they will have a sales representative in their country. "The selection of purchase orders made with the online tool does not mean the customer must make the purchase. Availability can be checked and delivery dates and final prices can be negotiated before an order is actually placed," they said. Read the full news release here.  

Solazyme's algae jet fuel powers United flight

Sometime shortly after 7 a.m. PST on Monday, execs at algae oil company Solazyme, members of the media and others will board a plane at Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport and take off on the first commercial U.S. domestic flight to use Solazyme’s algae-based jet fuel. United Airlines will operate the flight, which will land at Chicago O’Hare International Airport a couple of hours later and is set to carry 189 passengers.  The event is significant: While companies have spent years looking to scale next-generation biofuel products, few are producing fuels that can scale large enough to sell to the airline industry, let alone the auto industry. Solazyme’s jet fuel, dubbed Solajet, isn’t a widely commercialized product yet, but it has a few deals, including with the Navy and Australian carrier Quantas.

The Coolest New Solar Manufacturing Technology You've Never Heard Of

The Optical Cavity Furnace is a new piece of equipment for making solar cells that is about to rock the photovoltaic industry by slashing costs and increasing efficiency. The news should not just excite tech nerds—by reducing the cost of producing solar cells by nearly three-quarters, this new technology represents another big step on the path to making clean energy the cheap kind of energy. Here’s how it works. By using optics to more efficiently focus visible and infrared light, the Optical Cavity Furnace can heat silicon wafers used in solar cell production much more precisely and uniformly than previous forms of solar cell manufacture. The resulting solar cells are stronger, more efficient, and have fewer impurities. The National Renewable Energy Lab, or NREL, the DOE office responsible for the research, and a corporate partner AOS Inc. are now working to bring this technology to scale. The partners plan to build an industrial-scale Optical Cavity Furnace capable of producing 1,200 highly efficient solar cells per hour. NREL has cooperative research agreements with many of the country’s biggest solar cell producers.

Another Milestone: Renewable Energy Surpasses Nuclear Power by 18%

According to the most recent issue of the "Monthly Energy Review" by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), with data through June 30, 2011, renewable energy has passed another milestone as domestic production is now significantly greater than that of nuclear power and continues to close in on oil. During the first half of 2011, renewable energy sources (biomass & biofuels, geothermal, solar, water, wind) provided 4.687 quadrillion Btus of energy or 12.25% of U.S. energy production. By comparison, renewables accounted for 11.05% of domestic production during the first half of 2010 and 10.50% during the first half of 2009. (On the consumption side, which includes oil and other energy imports, renewable sources accounted for 9.45% of total U.S. energy use.) More significantly, energy production from renewable energy sources in 2011 was 17.91% more than that from nuclear power, which provided 3.975 quadrillion Btus and has been declining in recent years. Energy from renewable sources is now equal to 79.83% of that from domestic crude oil production, with the gap closing rapidly.  

Beacon Power: Another energy loan gone bad

Another alternative energy company that received a loan guarantee from the U.S. government has filed for bankruptcy. Beacon Power, which makes energy storage devices used to help the power grid become more efficient, filed for bankruptcy protection Sunday, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The company received a $43 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy last August. "This latest failure is a sharp reminder that DOE has fallen well short of delivering the stimulus jobs that were promised," Florida Republican Rep. Cliff Stearns said in a statement Sunday night. "Now taxpayers find themselves millions of more dollars in the hole." Stearns is leading an investigation into the bankruptcy of Solyndra, a solar panel maker that received a $535 million government loan guarantee last year. The Beacon bankruptcy will likely only make that investigation more urgent.

Wind energy driving down consumer electric rates

Wind energy is more affordable than ever, and new installations across the country are saving consumers money on their electric bills, as utilities rush to lock in long-term favorable rates. "This is what a successful business looks like with stable tax policy. Utilities are locking in a great deal for their electric customers while it's available. We're keeping rates down all across the U.S., even in the heart of the South," said Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), pointing to recent wind power purchases by the Southern Company in Alabama, Austin Energy in Texas, and Xcel in Colorado as examples. The U.S. wind industry installed just over 1,200 megawatts (MW) in the third quarter, and about 3,360 MW on the year so far – but has more than 8,400 MW under construction. That is more than in any quarter since 2008, as the federal Production Tax Credit has driven as much as $20 billion a year in private investment.  "This shows what we're capable of: adding new, affordable electric generation," said Bode. "Traditional tax incentives are working. There's a lot of business right now, people are employed, and manufacturers are looking to expand here in the U.S."  

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