Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Spain: from going all green to bursting the Solar bubble...

As world leaders converge in Pittsburgh for a major economic summit this week, one of the biggest questions they face is this: How do you begin to replace the millions of jobs destroyed by the Great Recession, now that the worst of the crisis has potentially passed?

Here on the sun-drenched and windy Iberian Peninsula, Spain thinks it has an answer: create new jobs and save the Earth at the same time.

Green jobs have become a mantra for many governments, including that of the United States. But few nations are better positioned -- or motivated -- to fuse the fight against recession and global warming than Spain. The country is already a leader in renewable fuels through $30 billion in public support and has been cited by the Obama administration as a model for the creation of a green economy. Spain generates about 24.5 percent of its electricity through renewable sources, compared with about 7 percent in the United States.

But with unemployment at 18.5 percent, the government here is preparing to take a dramatic next step. Through a combination of new laws and public and private investment, officials estimate that they can generate a million green jobs over the next decade. The plan would increase domestic demand for alternative energy by having the government help pay the bill -- but also by compelling millions of Spaniards to go green, whether they like it or not.

In the long term, the government envisions a new army of engineers and technicians nurturing windmills and solar farms amid the orange orchards and carnation fields of Andalusia and Galicia. In the short term, officials say, the renewable-energy projects and refurbishing of buildings and homes for energy efficiency could redeploy up to 80 percent of the million construction workers here who lost their jobs in 2008.

Spain's ambitious effort is being closely watched by the Obama administration and other governments forming their own green-job plans. The U.S. stimulus bill is dedicating billions in grants and loans to renewable-energy projects, marking a shift away from Washington's more passive approach to green growth, which relied largely on tax incentives.

But the bid for governments to take an ever larger role in creating jobs in the private sector -- which many leaders gathering in Pittsburgh see as their mission -- is also fraught with risks.

Though the Spanish government estimates that the alternative-energy sector generates about 200,000 jobs here, about double the number in 2000, critics contend they have cost taxpayers too much money.

In some instances, the government's good intentions have distorted the energy market.

Take, for example, the recent Spanish solar bubble.

Though wind power remains the dominant alternative energy here, the government introduced even more generous inducements in recent years to help develop photovoltaic solar power -- a technology that uses sun-heated cells to generate energy. Lured by the promise of vast new subsidies, energy companies erected the silvery silicone panels in record numbers. As a result, government subsides to the sector jumped from $321 million in 2007 to $1.6 billion in 2008.

When the government moved to curb excess production and scale back subsidies late last year, the solar bubble burst, sending panel prices dropping and sparking the loss of thousands of jobs, at least temporarily.

"What they're talking about now -- creating a new sustainable economic model through alternative energy -- is going to be exactly the opposite of sustainable," said Gabriel Calzada, a Spanish economist and critic of the government's alternative-energy policy. "You're only going to create more distortion, more bubbles. It isn't going to work."

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Solar-powered LED lamp post is wrapped with a flexible solar panel

Here is a good piece I found on EDN...

In spite of their high lighting efficiency, the cost of high-brightness (HB) LEDs for commodity applications is not low enough yet to compete head-on with older forms of lighting such as incandescent and high-intensity discharge (HID). However, certain applications can justify paying a premium for high-efficiency, long life, ruggedness, and light-color temperature control, and these applications are the sweet spot for HB LEDs.

Here’s a good example (pictured in the brochure): Solar-powered outdoor lighting for off-grid applications. This Solar Vision Pole’s lamp post is especially novel, because rather than use a standard rigid solar panel that requires additional bracing for wind shear (and can attract the attention of scavenging thieves), the pole itself is wrapped with a flexible solar panel that charges 4 gel batteries located in the base of the pole. The size of the panel and the number of batteries limits the lighting to 50W which would be a pretty weak traditional light source, but makes for a strong cool-white LED light. 6 hours of charging is enough to run the light all night.

Each pole/light/battery combination sells for about $5,000, which seems steep, but imagine lighting, say, a parking lot where there’s no access to electrical power. This approach can be a practical, low-maintenance lighting solution.

For more ideas on what the future holds for LEDs, catch Cary Eskow’s keynote speech at EDN’s free “Designing with LEDs” Workshop in Chicago next week on October 6.

Monday, September 28, 2009

2010 PV: demand 6GW - Supply 10.8GW !

Hapoalim Securities analyst Gordon Johnson, who accurately predicted a fall in solar stocks last year, said solar companies face excess supply and other challenges through 2010, according to Barron's on Sunday.

The photovoltaic sector will see a supply of 7.1 gigawatts this year and about 10.8 GW the next, compared with demand of roughly 4.3 GW this year and some 6 GW in 2010, Johnson told the weekly business newspaper.

Manufacturers of crystalline polysilicon, which is used in some solar cells, could also face lower demand, even as plants that take three years to build come online, Johnson told Barron's in an interview.

Johnson told the paper that polysilicon prices, now $50 per kilogram to $60 per kilogram, are likely to fall and might dip below the break-even level -- $25 per kg to $28 per kg -- which is bad news for producers like MEMC Electronic Materials and Wacker Chemie .

Johnson has a price target of $9 on MEMC. It closed at $17.29 on Friday on the New York Stock Exchange.

Johnson told Barron's that solar companies have seen their stocks rise of late on expectations of demand from China this year and the next, but those hopes were overblown.

He downgraded one such company, China-based Suntech Power Holdings Co Ltd, to "sell" this year because of accounting and other risks, according to Barron's.

Suntech faces certain cost disadvantages compared with some rivals as Yingli Green Energy Holding Co Ltd and Trina Solar , Johnson said.

Suntech has committed to buy polysilicon at higher than current market prices and it outsources a part of the manufacturing process, which is more expensive, he told Barron's.

Johnson has a target of $9 on the stock and expects the company to make 7 cents per share this year, and 12 cents per share in 2010, according to Barron's. Suntech closed at $15.75 on Friday on the New York Stock Exchange.

Among other stocks, Johnson told the paper investors had become bullish on First Solar Inc because of a memorandum of understanding for a solar project in China.

But he also told Barron's the project was subject to a key government decision and did not yet have financing.

He sees the company make a profit of $6.56 per share and revenue of $1.8 billion this year, and $3.07 per share and $1.9 billion in revenue in 2010, the paper reported.

San Jose, California-based SunPower Corp's advantage of better quality products is eroding as the quality of Chinese modules has gone up while their costs are lower, Johnson said.

He sees a profit of 98 cents per share and revenue of $1.3 billion this year, and $1.11 per share on $1.8 billion in revenue in 2010, but added SunPower has one of the highest stock-option expenses in the sector.

He has a "sell" rating on the stock with a $15 target, Barron's said. It's stock closed at $30.53 on Friday on Nasdaq.

Johnson said that Trina was the best placed among these firms. He has a price target of $24. Trina closed at $31.44 on the New York Stock Exchange on Friday.

For Yingli, Johnson told Barron's he sees a risk of write-downs on inventory for the third and fourth quarter.

He has a price target of $9 for Yingli, it said. Yingli closed at $12.60 on the New York Stock Exchange on Friday.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

PV Market Share Forecast in 2010

Thanks to our good friends of Solarbuzz...

Twelve months ago, anticipating that the global photovoltaic (PV) industry would return to a demand-constrained market in 2009, Solarbuzz commenced a year-long project to analyze downstream PV markets around the world. Today, they released the results of that research in three reports that set out the activities and opportunities in each of the major photovoltaic markets around the world.

The suite of PV Market 2009 reports addresses the current status and future prospects for the European PV markets, the United States On-Grid PV Market and the Major Asian and Pacific PV markets. These three regions will account for 96% of global PV demand in 2010.

After extremely challenging industry conditions in 2009, characterized by excess manufacturing capacity and accentuated by a 2 GW demand reduction in Spain after a major policy adjustment, the PV industry will return to a growth path in 2010, resulting in a global market of 7.4 GW in that year, based on a mid-range scenario*. This is up from the 5.95 GW market in 2008.

Underpinning that growth will be a more than doubling of the US market size to well over 1 GW in 2010, together with a mid-range German market size of 3.2 GW.

Major global factory-gate module price reductions in the first half of 2009 have established the foundation for rapid demand growth in feed-in tariff driven European markets, in both 2009 and 2010. European country markets are characterized by wide variation in customer and application segments as well as differing barriers to market development. Germany, Italy and Spain will claim a 83-88% market share in Europe by 2010, while emerging European PV markets will contribute 2.9 GW to market demand by 2013.

In the Asian and Pacific region, emerging PV markets in Australia, China and India will soon join Japan and South Korea as major regions contributing to global market demand over the 5 year forecast period. This will transform China and India's primary industry role from just being a manufacturing hub to an engine for PV market demand growth. The project pipeline for Asia Pacific (defined as identified project proposals not necessarily yet possessing confirmed financing and incentive structures) has already surpassed 7 GW. Meanwhile, Japan is also set for a steady return after four years in the wilderness.

In India, there are now 67 distinct projects proposals over one megawatt, while in China, the project pipeline has grown to 45 identified megawatt-scale project proposals. With over 70 distinct funding programs and incentive policies at the national and local level collectively in India and China targeting systems smaller than one megawatt, these countries represent a significant market opportunity over the next five years. This leaves the primary industry challenge to ensure that the existing suite of policies, and those under development, allow these projects to reach fruition.

In the US, 97% of the market size of the mid-range forecast in 2010 is already backed up by identified funding sources, projects under development and Renewable Portfolio Standard driven demand. This means that the pace of growth in that market will primarily be determined by financing, permitting and regulatory issues, rather than by product supply or PV subsidy constraints, factors that impacted market size over the last four years. A listing of over 60 large planned projects contributes to the 2.3 GW order book and together with planned Stimulus Bill-driven PV projects, provide the basis for rapid demand growth in the US. Nonetheless, companies all through the downstream US PV chain will need to reshape their strategies in response to significant changes in both end-market trends and supply mix over the next 5 years, in order to preserve their market shares.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Silicon nanotubes could increase li-ion battery by 10 folds

I'll give it to you, this is not 100% related to solar energy but big enough to change the rules in the battery world...

In news that could greatly extend the range of electric cars, researchers have shown that replacing the conventional graphite electrodes in lithium-ion batteries with silicon nanotubes can produce a battery that can store ten times more charge. The researchers developed a silicon anode that, aside from extending the range of electric cars, could also make gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles more efficient by allowing them to run in electric mode for longer periods.

The researchers say that, if the new silicon anode can be matched to a cathode with similar storage capacity, the resulting battery should be able to power a car for three or four hours without recharging. This is a marked improvement of six to eight times on today’s technology, which sees the battery in a current, typical hybrid car lasting only 30 minutes.

The silicon anode developed by researchers at Stanford University and Hanyang University in Ansan, Korea, in collaboration with LG Chem, a Korean company responsible for producing the lithium-ion battery used in the Chevy Volt, can store much more energy than graphite electrodes because they absorb higher levels of lithium when the battery is charged. In fact, the silicon can take up to ten times more lithium by weight than graphitic carbon.

But the ability of the silicon to absorb more lithium has a downside. Since it takes up so much lithium, it can increase in volume by as much as four times. This places so much mechanical strain on the brittle material that the silicon anodes tend to crack after only a few charge/discharge cycles. To combat this the researchers turned to nanostructured silicon.

Jaephil Cho, professor of energy engineering at the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology in Korea, and Stanford materials scientist Yi Cui, had made silicon nanowire anodes and nanoporous silicon anodes before teaming up to develop the silicon nanotube anodes that boast better storage capacity than either of those previous nanostructured materials.

The performance of the silicon nanotube anode lies in its shape, which looks like a bunch of hollow straws. This provides more surface area exposed inside and therefore, much more area for the lithium to interact with. Also, because the shape provides extra space for the silicon to expand and contract, there is a reduction in the mechanical strain caused when the battery is charged and discharged.

Cho believes that batteries incorporating the silicon electrodes could be on the market in as little as three years because the process to produce them is simple and the template used is already available commercially. It involves repeatedly immersing an aluminum template in a silicon solution, and then heating it and etching the structure in acid to remove the aluminum. Along with LG Chem, Cho is also working with the template manufacturer to make a template compatible with large-scale manufacturing.

There are, however, other challenges that will need to be overcome before silicon anodes find their way into electric vehicles. Although Cui and Cho have demonstrated their anode’s performance after 200 charges, the technology needs to be proven over hundreds of thousands of charges to become viable for use in vehicles. The problem lies in getting back from silicon all the energy that is put into it – a condition that worsens over time.

Additionally, to receive the full benefits of silicon anodes, they need to be paired with cathodes whose storage capacity is also ten times greater. To match the capacity of the silicon anodes in a working battery for testing their technology the researchers have been using large-volume cathodes made of conventional materials. However, Cui and Cho are working on developing new cathode materials in collaboration with LG Chem.

The team’s research is detailed in the study, Silicon Nanotube Battery Anodes, which appears in the journal Nano Letters.

Source: Technology Review via TreeHugger

Colored PV cells doesn't need direct sunlight !

One of the most common ways to turn the sun's energy into electricity is by persuading silicon to give up some of its electrons. But it's also quite expensive, so any innovation that helps reduce the cost of solar cell production is welcome. Researchers in Israel have come up with a cell that uses only 20% of the silicon in a standard cell yet yields similar amounts of electricity. It does this by diffusing any light that falls on its surface and sends it off to photovoltaic collector strips on each of its sides. And it doesn't even need bright sunlight to operate.

In a nutshell, traditional solar collectors are made of thin strips of silicon covered by transparent plates. As the sun hits the plate, electrons are knocked out of the silicon atom producing current. A team of researchers led by internationally-renowned solar guru Prof Renata Reisfeld have taken a glass plate, given it light diffusing properties and attached strips of silicon to its edges.

According to the researchers, a mixture of different flourescent dyes concentrates visible and UV light (but not heat) onto the surface of the plate. Rather than simply passing through the plate, the light is persuaded to flow to the sides by metal nanoparticles, where thin strips of photovoltaic silicon wait to surrender their electrons. The interaction of the dyes and the nanoparticles helps ensure that just the right amount of energy hits the silicon to knock out the electrons, leading to improved cell efficiency.

This effectively means that as a cell doesn't need direct sunlight to operate - it can go on producing power long after traditional full silicon cells have stopped, albeit less efficiently under cloud or partial shade conditions. As you can see in this video, no matter where the light source comes from, the colored glass disperses it to the edge where photovoltaic collectors wait to convert it into electricity.

Even if a plate is cracked or chipped, light should still get dispersed to the edges without significant loss of efficiency. It also means that panels need not track the sun as it crosses the sky or be restricted to domestic roof applications - windows and walls could also house solar collecting panels.

The researchers are currently working on a cell capable of achieving 20% conversion efficiency (traditional silicon cells tend to be about 12-17% efficient, although some have recorded much higher rates). So not only could the new colorful innovation be more efficient than existing technology but, as less silicon is needed, it can be manufactured for about a fifth of the cost.

A 200 watt panel, for instance, can currently be manufactured for USD$189 but the researchers believe that even this is too high and are aiming for the solar nirvana of grid parity.

In 2006 Professor Reisfeld formed GreenSun Energy with her team to help bring the product to the marketplace. The company established a research laboratory in Jerusalem in 2007 and has been working to improve its model ever since. Professor Reisfeld told Gizmag that project funding will determine how long it will be before the technology reaches the marketplace, but is hopeful that it will be ready within the next year or two.

Thank you to GizMag for this one

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The best solar-powered house competition...


For three weeks in October, the U.S. Department of Energy will host the biennial Solar Decathlon at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The Solar Decathlon is a competition of 20 teams of college and university students to design, build, and operate the most attractive, effective, and energy-efficient solar-powered house. There are 10 subjective and objective contests in these categories: architecture, market viability, engineering, lighting design, communications, comfort zone, hot water, appliances, home entertainment, and net metering.
The competition furthers several different goals -- to educate students and the public, to help promote solar technologies, to promote whole building design, and to demonstrate the potential for net zero energy homes. Plus, the homes are beautiful and exciting. They're completely solar-powered, and we'll take a more exhaustive look at the fully constructed homes soon. In the meantime, here's a preview of each home. Any thoughts on an early leader?

1. SEED [pod] by The University of Arizona (DOE page).


2. Silo House by Cornell University (DOE page).


3. Gable Home by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (DOE page).


4. Interlock House by Iowa State University (DOE page).


5. blue house by University of Kentucky (DOE page).


6. Icon Solar House by University of Minnesota (DOE page).


7. Ohio-centric Solar House by The Ohio State University (DOE page).


8. Natural Fusion House by Penn State (DOE page).


9. CASH by Universidad de Puerto Rico (DOE page).


10. ZEROW House by Rice University (DOE page).


11. SolAbode by Team Alberta (DOE page).


12. Curio House by Team Boston (DOE page).


13. Refract House by Team California (DOE page).


14. surPLUShome by Team Germany (DOE page).


15. Show-Me House by Team Missouri (DOE page).


16. The North House by Team Ontario/BC (DOE page).


17. The B&W House by Team Spain (DOE page).


18. BeauSoleil House by University of Louisiana at Lafayette (DOE page).


19. Lumenhaus by Virginia Tech (DOE page).


20. Meltwater House by University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (DOE page).


Rendering credits: Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.

Have you heard of "Solar in a Box"?

After the Solar Tree a few weeks is what the guys at ReadySolar have come up with:

Solar in a Box

Solar in a Box is the world’s first completely pre-assembled, all AC solar electric system. High quality and leading edge components are assembled in a factory controlled environment. This significantly reduces the complexity of design and installation of a solar electric system.

In addition to reduced installation costs, the unique Solar in a Box design offers homeowners distinct performance and aesthetic benefits:
  • Microinverters convert DC electricity into AC at each panel. This feature reduces losses due to shading, increases production by up to 25%, makes the systems safer, and eliminates unsightly exterior wall mounted inverters and DC disconnects.
  • The sleek and patented frame makes systems look like dark skylights on a roof.
  • One year of web-based performance monitoring is included at no cost.
Solar in a Box is fully modular. It is easy to start small and add more power later, if desired. Everything needed to build or expand a system comes in 4 different types of boxes:


Make way for spray-on silicon nanoparticles !

A Solar, one of the big players in the solar industry, is working with Innovalight to commercialize the latter's method for making silicon-ink-based, high-efficiency solar cells, the companies said this week.

Innovalight first got noticed in 2007 for perfecting a process in which it could essentially ink-jet-manufacture solar cells using a proprietary silicon ink it had developed. The solar cells are created by pouring an ink solution incorporated with silicon nanoparticles and then decanting the excess liquid to leave behind a crystalline silicon structure.

At the time of the 2007 announcement, Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Innovalight claimed its method not only resulted in solar cells that were cheaper to produce by as much as half, but that the crystalline structure resulting from the process made its cells more efficient at converting electricity.

Those claims now appear to be validated.

On Tuesday, Innovalight announced that an independent study of its method by the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems in Germany confirmed that its silicon ink-based cells "demonstrated a record 18 percent conversion of efficiency."

Shanghai, China-based JA Solar said the process will lower its production cost for this type of solar cell.

"Innovalight's silicon ink in conjunction with JA Solar's leadership in high-volume solar cell manufacturing with demonstrated yield, conversion efficiency, and low production costs, provides a very promising solution to enhance the conversion efficiency of solar cells utilizing our existing solar cell manufacturing lines," Qingtang Jiang, JA Solar's chief technology officer, said in a statement Tuesday.

JA Solar plans to further develop the process at its research and development plant in Yangzhou, a city on China's coast about 630 miles south of Beijing.

Suntech Beats Its Own Solar Record!

Suntech Power said Wednesday it has outdone itself by setting a new world record for multicrystalline silicon solar panels that could convert 16.53 percent of the sunlight that fall on them into electricity.

The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems in Germany measured the efficiency, an independent verification that is crucial for Suntech to stake the claim.

Just last month, the Chinese company said it had broken a 15-year-old record held by the Sandia National Laboratories by achieving 15.6 percent efficiency with its multicrystalline silicon panels. Sandia's measured at 15.5 percent.

The solar panels used for both tests made use of Suntech's Pluto cells, a new product that the company began shipping earlier this year.

The underlying technology for Pluto came from research at the University of New South Wales in Australia, where Suntech's CEO, Zhengrong Shi, earned his Ph.D. in electrical engineering and where he was a researcher for years. The company's chief technology officer, Stuart Wenham, also is a professor and research director at the university.

Suntech is eager to distinguish its Pluto cells from the host of other competing products in the market today. Most of the solar cells on the market today use silicon, and multicrystalline silicon cells are more common than the more expensive monocrystalline silicon cells.

Boosting Pluto's efficiency is key to making it attractive to buyers and in lowering its production costs. It should be noted that efficiency records touted by solar companies tend to refer to the best that they can produce, rather than what they could roll out of factories consistently.

Whether the costs are low enough for Suntech to put a competitive pricing on its solar panels remains to be seen.

Deploying a new technology requires new equipment and efforts to fix manufacturing glitches that typically crop up early on, and those factors generally make the initial volume of products more expensive.

In August this year, Shi told financial analysts that the company had to overcome an automation problem with assembling Pluto cells into panels, an issue that prompted Suntech to lower its shipment forecast (see Suntech: Chinese Market No So Large This Year).

In March, Suntech said it expected to ship 50 megawatts of panels featuring the new Pluto cells by the end of 2009.

Now it expects to ship 10 megawatts to 15 megawatts instead. The company had installed 100 megawatts of cell production capacity by the end of the second quarter.

The company is set to have both 300 megawatts of cell production capacity and panel assembly capacity by the end of this year, Wenham said earlier this year.

Before launching Pluto, Suntech, which is one of the largest solar panel makers in the world, had already built 1 gigawatt of production capacity with its older technology. The company plans to convert existing lines for producing Pluto cells and panels.

Although Suntech has manufacturing might, it still faces fierce competition from fellow silicon solar cell and panel makers such as SunPower, Sharp and SolarWorld.

Silicon prices have fallen by as much as 50 percent over the past year, making it possible for companies to wage a price war in key markets such as Europe.

The competition has been so intense that some Germany solar companies and lawmakers have rallied for policies to deal with what they believe are artificially low prices set by some of the Chinese companies to flood the German market, which is the largest in the world.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Solar Panel Test Chamber Now Provides Up to 66 Percent Energy Savings

A press release from Cincinnati Sub-Zero highlights an interesting new testing chamber for solar panels.

CSZ's new solar panel testing chambers can provide up to 66% energy saving using CSZ's patented Tundra system. These chambers meet the temperature cycling, damp heat and humidity freeze test specifications for solar panel testing.

Cincinnati, OH September 17, 2009 -- Cincinnati Sub-Zero (CSZ) will be releasing their Solar Panel Test Chamber, model SPH-100 with over 2,800 liters of workspace. The test chamber is designed to accommodate multiple solar panels for testing all three sections of the IEC temperature cycling, humidity freeze and damp heat test specifications. Available with a temperature range of -45°C to 190°C and humidity range from 20% to 95% RH. Chambers are designed to accommodate up to ten 3' x 5' (91cm x 152cm) solar panels with a floor load rating of 600 lbs (272 kgs).

Solar Panel Test Chamber
Solar Panel Test Chamber

These state-of-the-art environmental chambers are designed for increased performance, energy efficiency, ease of service, reduced utility and maintenance costs. Documented energy savings of 47-66% are obtained by using CSZ's proven & patented Tundra system.

System includes CSZ's advanced EZT-560i controller for easy operation & virtual control. Standard features include data logging, data-file access via USB stick, Ethernet control and monitoring, alarm notification via email or phone message, data-file backup, and more. Product is available for sale worldwide. Smaller and large size models are available to accommodate various size solar cells & panels.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Multicrystalline solar panels at 18% efficiency!

1366 Technologies, a startup spun-out of MIT that aims to raise solar panel efficiency without increasing cost, announced this week that it has developed a manufacturing process to produce multicrystalline solar panels with an 18% efficiency--twice the efficiency of ultra-cheap thin film panels and significantly more efficient than other polysilicon panels, which generally top off at a 15% sun to energy conversion rate.

"This 15% increase in efficiency (going from 15 or 16% to 18%) is a big cost lever," says Craig Lund, 1366's director of business development. "It effectively will cut costs by 15% across the entire supply chain," he explained. "This is because you have fewer module racks, workers, etc. to deliver the same amount of power."

1366 Technologies is far from the only company to develop high-efficiency solar cells. Sunpower produces solar cells that are at least 20% efficient, and Kyocera's multicrystalline models are over 18% efficient. But 1366 claims that its cells are cheaper to make, with a production cost of just 80 cents per watt--little more than the price of electricity (read: coal power) during peak hours. And while thin-film panels boast low prices now, 1366 is betting that shortages of materials necessary for thin film production, including indium, telluride, and cadmium, will become a problem in the future. Silicon, in contrast, is in no danger of running into a shortage.

1366 is designing machines to produce its solar cells now, with commercial production expected in less than two years. The company is also in talks with a number of major solar cell companies that hope to license its technology.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Are you Aerovoltaic or Thermovoltaic?

Ideas for conserving energy and tapping into renewable energy sources are all the rage right now as people look for ways to cut their power bills—and help save the planet. With oil reserves dropping, developers and scientists are also in a rush, looking into ways to optimize the use of renewable or alternative forms of energy. From satellites in space down to pedestrians on the street, some green energy ideas are so wacky that—they just might work.

Out of thin air

For over 700 years, people have captured the energy from the wind in only one way: by going around in circles. One of the oldest accounts was from Hammurabi, the Babylonian emperor, who planned to use it in the 17th century BC for his irrigation project, which for the time seemed to be ambitious.

More ambitious are the plans of a Michigan-based startup to develop a new wind energy device that would be able to generate electricity without the moving parts of a wind turbine. The company calls their technology “Aerovoltaic generation” and people are expecting it to be something big.

They claim that their device can harvest electricity at twice the rate per square meter of a photovoltaic solar panel, as stated in the Michigan Business Review. How exactly this works is still under wraps until the release of a prototype next year.

Inspired by nature

Leaves sure are a natural wonder. Plants use it to convert sunlight into energy efficiently to stay alive through photosynthesis. Now scientists are racing to create artificial leaves and trees to power our lives as well.

One of them is London-based Solar Botanic Ltd (SB). Their design uses nano-engineered photovoltaic (PV) leaves that they claim are able to pick up any light, from the visible spectrum to the invisible spectrum, like infrared. The leaf is also made of thermovoltaic materials that enables the leaf to produce electricity even long after the sun has set.

The twigs and branches of the artificial tree are not just for show. Equipped with nano-piezoelectric elements (which produces an electrical charge when stress is applied to them), it produces thousands of picowatts of energy whenever the leaves flap in the wind or rain. A picowatt is one-millionth of a microwatt. The stronger the wind, the more energy the tree can produce.

According to SB, a kilometer can occupy around 70 wind-solar trees which could generate approximately 350,000 kilowatt-hours per year. That is enough electricity to power approximately 60 houses. It also protects the environment by preventing the release of up to 500 tons of CO2 annually.

Revisiting manpower

Vibrations from passing trucks, the rumbling of speeding trains and even the footfall of trudging commuters in a busy city are often seen as an urban nuisance. But a London-based architectural firm says that opportunity lies in the urban jungle.

Facility:Innovate, a sister company of The Facility, says that movement associated with footsteps or transport vibration could be captured and converted into electricity. To capture heel-power from pedestrians, floors are wired with hydraulic compression cushions. Every footstep pushes fluid through a micro-turbine, generating power that is stored in a super-capacitor.

Conversely, vibrations caused by crisscrossing vehicles could be harvested to power light fittings by using a magnetic beam and a coil arrangement. The beam vibrates in tune with the ambient vibration within the generating coil. This electricity is then used to power the LED installed.

The BBC said the Victoria underground station in central London was estimated to have 34,000 travelers passing through every hour which could power 6,500 light bulbs using the technology.

Space: Energy’s next frontier?

Some researchers think the an¬swer to our energy needs rests in the stars. Even if solar power is at our fingertips, scientists see benefits in looking up, literally, for inspiration. Aside from the more obvious reason of avoiding the large land-use footprint of most solar arrays, the sun actually does shine brighter in space. In this case, five times as much powerful.

PowerSat, based in Washington, is one such company that pioneers in space solar power introduced by American scientist Peter Glaser in 1968. It works by sending solar power satellites, called Powersat, clustered into groups of 300 keeping pace with the earth’s orbit. Each Powersat satellite is made up light weight PV solar panels that are as thin as aluminum foil and are printed on one-micron-thin titanium.

Electricity is beamed down to earth via wireless power transmission. Hundreds of smaller satellites could team up to produce a very powerful transmission signal. The receiving station collects the power, which is then fed into a conditioning station and put directly onto the local power grid.

Unlike other sources of renewable energy, space solar power is not limited by geography, climate or even time of day being able to produce clean grid-quality electricity 24/7. The company says that Powersats are comparable to very large ground based energy plants in that they will produce a minimum of 2,500 megawatts (MW).

PowerSat Corporation estimates roughly US $3-4 billion for a 2,500 MW plant. This fares better than expensive large hydro projects or nuclear power plants of the same capacity. PowerSat said it is expecting to transmit power to commercial customers in 10-12 years.

In the end, while the sources of energy might be finite, the human capacity for innovation is not. We can hope that some of these innovations can actually work.

from Ecoseed

Monday, September 14, 2009

Call for Papers: American Society of Mechanical Engineers 2010 4th International Conference on Energy Sustainability

In case, some of you out there have a few good ideas to share... I found this news on The Green Economy Post...

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers will be hosting the 2010 4th International Conference on Energy Sustainability on May 17-22, 2010 in Phoenix Arizona. They invite researchers, engineers, scientists architects, consultants, and policy-makers in universities, industries, research laboratories, and government establishments to participate in this exciting event meant as a forum for exchange of innovative ideas, leading edge concepts, new technologies and devices, ongoing R&D efforts, prototype and demonstration projects, commercialization technologies and projects, and visions of the future related to the general theme of Energy Sustainability. The conference will consist of plenary talks, invited talks, panel discussions, workshops, tutorials, technical sessions, poster presentations, and exhibitions. The conference provides a unique opportunity for communication and collaboration between academia, industry and planners in the areas of Solar Energy, Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy and Advanced Energy Technologies. The Conference will feature a special track for students interested in solar and energy efficiency consisting of technical and poster sessions, networking, and a job fair.

Papers accepted for publication in the ASME Energy Sustainability Conference Proceedings will be assessed for recommendation for publication in the ASME Journal of Solar Energy Engineering or the ASME Journal of Energy Resources Technology. Abstracts are invited in any relevant policy and technology areas including the following:

* Track 1 Policy, Education, and Legal Aspects of Energy
* Track 2 Climate Control and the Environment Biofuels
* Track 3 Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Energy Technologies
* Track 4 Energy Systems: Design, Integration, Implementation
* Track 5 Renewable and Alternative Energy Technologies
* Track 6 Low/Zero Emission Power Plants & Carbon Sequestration
* Track 7 Transportation Energy Systems
* Track 8 Micro and Nano Technologies in Energy Systems
* Track 9 Exergy applications: Sustainability, Renewable Energy
* Track 10 Geothermal Energy, Ocean Energy & Other Emerging Technologies
* Track 11 Thermoeconomic Analysis
* Track 12 Combined Energy Cycles, CHP and CCHP
* Track 13 Solar Thermochemistry
* Track 14 Solar Heating and Cooling
* Track 15 Advances in Solar Buildings and Conservation
* Track 16 Low/Zero Energy Buildings
* Track 17 Photovoltaics
* Track 18 Concentrating Solar Power
* Track 19 Advances in Solar Thermal Storage
* Track 20 Wind Energy Systems and Technologies
* Track 21 Water Desalination & Distillation Systems
* Track 22 Sustainable Cities and Communities

Publication Schedule

Submission of Abstract: September 30, 2009
Author Notification of Abstract Acceptance: November 13, 2009
Submission of Full-Length Draft Paper for Review: January 10, 2010
Author Paper Review Complete and/or Acceptance Notification: March 12, 2010

Submission of Revised Draft Paper: April 2, 2010
Submission of Copyright Form (1903):
March 30, 2010
Copyright transfer forms are requested upon acceptance of the draft and prior to submittal of the final paper. Click here for details.
Submission of Final Paper: April 16, 2010
In accordance with ASME final paper requirements. Publication in the conference proceedings is not guarantted if materials are received after April 16, 2010.

For more information, visit the 2010 4th International Conference on Energy Sustainability Web Site.

Ever planted a Solar Tree?

I just love these gadgets... I found it on WebEcoist.


Solar at 15 cents per kilowatt hour!

Improvements to conventional solar cell manufacturing that could significantly increase the efficiency of multicrystalline silicon cells and bring down the cost of solar power by about 20 percent have been announced by startup 1366 Technologies of Lexington, MA.

Such cost reduction would make solar power more competitive with conventional sources of electricity. In sunny environments, this could bring the cost of solar down to about 15 or 16 cents per kilowatt hour, says Craig Lund, 1366 Technologies's director of business development. That's cheaper than some conventional sources of electricity, especially those used during times of peak electricity demand.

1366 Technologies has developed three processes that can be incorporated into existing solar cell manufacturing lines to improve cell efficiency. It has shown that these technologies can be used to produce multicrystalline solar cells that are 18 percent efficient at converting sunlight into electricity. The current industry standard for such solar cells is 15 percent to 16 percent, according to Joonki Song, a partner with Photon Consulting, based in Boston, MA, although higher efficiencies have been reported. The company has demonstrated the new technologies before, but only with very small, experimental solar cells in a laboratory. Now it's made full-size solar cells using the type of equipment used in large-scale manufacturing.

The key to the startup's technologies, however, isn't the efficiency that it's achieved, but how little that efficiency costs. Lund says that the new processes add only a few cents per watt to the cost of fabricating solar cells, but this investment leads to much greater cost savings in the final product. Improving the amount of power each solar cell generates lowers materials costs, solar module manufacturing costs (in which cells are assembled into solar panels), and installation costs. In the end, Lund says, the cost of an installed solar panel will be reduced by 50 cents to 80 cents per watt.

The new processes, which were invented by Emanuel Sachs, the company's chief technology officer and a professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, all increase the amount of light that solar cells can absorb.

In a normal silicon solar cell, electrons generated in the silicon must make their way out of the material to produce an electrical current, traveling first to the top layer of the silicon and then along this layer to narrow silver lines called "fingers." The fingers then conduct the electrons to the busbars, two or three prominent silver bands seen on the surface of most silicon solar cells. These bands shade the silicon under them, reducing the amount of light the cells can absorb.

The first new process developed by 1366 Technologies produces grooved busbars that prevent light from being reflected out of a solar panel. Instead, the grooves causes light to be redirected along the glass on top of solar panels. That light can then be absorbed by unshaded areas of the solar cell.

The second process improves the cell's electron-conducting fingers. Although these silver lines are much narrower than the busbars, there are many more of them on a solar cell, and together they shade a significant portion of the silicon. Sachs developed a process for making much narrower lines without sacrificing their conductivity. Instead of using conventional screen-printing technology, his process involves etching troughs into the surface of the silicon and depositing silver particles into the troughs. Metal is then added to these particles via electroplating to build up the fingers. The trough keeps the lines narrow but allows the silver to be stacked relatively high, maintaining conductivity. Typically busbars and fingers shade 9 percent of a cell surface, 1366 Technologies says, but with the company's new processes, this shading can be reduced to 2 percent. Others have developed techniques for reducing shading, but these have been expensive.

The third process decreases the amount of light reflected off the surface of the cell's silicon by texturing its surface. This is an approach that's been taken by others, but the texturing is done in a very regular pattern that creates less surface area than other approaches. Surface area is a problem in solar cells, because electrons are often trapped at the surface of materials, Sachs says.

Because 1366 Technologies's processes can be incorporated into existing manufacturing lines, they could be adopted by solar cell manufacturers quickly and inexpensively, Sachs says. The company is working to further decrease the width of the silver fingers and improve the texturing, with the goal of reaching an efficiency of 19 percent.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

U.S. to become largest market for small solar energy installation

Distributed energy generation, using a variety of renewable power technologies, is one of the most important tools for addressing the
challenge of meeting the world's growing electricity demands. Within the Renewable Distributed Energy Generation (RDEG) market, sub-utility scale solar photovoltaics (PV) systems are by far the largest and most significant segment. According to a recent report from Pike Research, the distributed solar energy market is poised for dramatic growth over the next few years, and the cleantech market intelligence firm forecasts that global installed capacity will approach 2.5 gigawatts by 2012, with annual system revenues surpassing $55 billion.

"Residential and commercial solar energy remains a subsidy-driven market, but we expect the reliance on government and utility incentives to subside over the next several years as cost structures improve with economies of scale," says senior analyst David Link, who authored the report. "The dependence on feed-in tariffs and other incentives will be far lower in Europe within 3-5 years and in the U.S. within 5-10 years."

Distributed solar PV growth has been spearheaded in recent years by markets such as Germany, Japan, Spain, and the United States. Pike Research forecasts that the U.S. will become the largest market for small solar energy installations by 2011, surpassing Germany.
Momentum is also strong in other European countries, and China and India show significant promise in the long term.

Pike Research's study, "Distributed Solar Energy Generation", analyzes the global opportunity for distributed solar PV in the context of the broader RDEG market. The study covers key business issues and drivers of demand, including government-driven legislation and incentives as well as market-based factors. Forecasts include worldwide solar energy generation capacity, system revenues, and installed prices through 2013.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Research on Solar Panels Built Into Roads !

The US Department of Energy just gave $100,000 to upstart company Solar Roadways, to develop 12-by-12-foot solar panels, dubbed "Solar Roads," that can be embedded into roads, pumping power into the grid. The panels may also feature LED road warnings and built-in heating elements that could prevent roads from freezing.

Each Solar Road panel can develop around 7.6 kwh of power each day, and each costs around $7,000. If widely adopted, they could realistically wean the US off fossil fuels: a mile-long stretch of four-lane highway could take 500 homes off the grid. If the entire US Interstate system made use of the panels, energy would no longer be a concern for the country.

In addition, every Solar Road panel has its own microprocessor and energy management system, so if one gives out, the rest are not borked. Materials-wise, the top layer is described as translucent and high-strength. Inhabitat says it's glass, which seems odd, especially since Solar Roadways claims the surface provides excellent traction. The base layer under the solar panel routes the power, as well as data utilities (TV, phone, Internet) to homes and power companies.

Still, this is a ways away from actual implementation, seeing as a prototype has yet to be built. But we can be excited, right?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Google plans new mirror for cheaper solar power

Google is disappointed with the lack of breakthrough investment ideas in the green technology sector but the company is working to develop its own new mirror technology that could reduce the cost of building solar thermal plants by a quarter or more.

"We've been looking at very unusual materials for the mirrors both for the reflective surface as well as the substrate that the mirror is mounted on," the company's green energy czar Bill Weihl told Reuters Global Climate and Alternative Energy Summit in San Francisco on Wednesday.

Google, known for its Internet search engine, in late 2007 said it would invest in companies and do research of its own to produce affordable renewable energy within a few years.

The company's engineers have been focused on solar thermal technology, in which the sun's energy is used to heat up a substance that produces steam to turn a turbine. Mirrors focus the sun's rays on the heated substance.

Weihl said Google is looking to cut the cost of making heliostats, the fields of mirrors that have to track the sun, by at least a factor of two, "ideally a factor of three or four."

"Typically what we're seeing is $2.50 to $4 a watt (for) capital cost," Weihl said. "So a 250 megawatt installation would be $600 million to a $1 billion. It's a lot of money."

That works out to 12 to 18 cents a kilowatt hour.

Google hopes to have a viable technology to show internally in a couple of months, Weihl said. It will need to do accelerated testing to show the impact of decades of wear on the new mirrors in desert conditions.

"We're not there yet," he said. "I'm very hopeful we will have mirrors that are cheaper than what companies in the space are using..."

Another technology that Google is working on is gas turbines that would run on solar power rather than natural gas, an idea that has the potential of further cutting the cost of electricity, Weihl said.

"In two to three years we could be demonstrating a significant scale pilot system that would generate a lot of power and would be clearly mass manufacturable at a cost that would give us a levelized cost of electricity that would be in the 5 cents or sub 5 cents a kilowatt hour range," Weihl said.

Google is invested in two solar thermal companies, eSolar and BrightSolar but is not working with these companies in developing the cheaper mirrors or turbines.

In wide-ranging remarks, Weihl also said the United States needs to raise government-backed research significantly, particularly in the very initial stages to encourage breakthrough ideas in the sector.

The company has pushed ahead in addressing climate change issues as a philanthropic effort through its arm.

Weihl said there is a lack of companies that have ideas that would be considered breakthroughs in the green technology sector. After announcing its plans to create renewable energy at a price lower than power from coal, it has invested less than $50 million in other companies.

Weihl said Google had not intended to invest much more in early years, but that there was little to buy.

"I would say it's reasonable to be a little bit discouraged there and from my point of view, it's not right to be seriously discouraged," he said. "There isn't enough investment going into the early stages of investment pipeline before the venture funds come into the play."

The U.S. government needs to provide more funds to develop ideas at the laboratory stage, he said.

"I'd like to see $20 billion or $30 billion for 10 yrs (for the sector)," Weihl said. "That would be fabulous. It's pretty clear what we have seen isn't enough."

a solar panel made from human hair: less that 2$ per Watt

A schoolboy from Nepal has come up with a recession-busting new solar panel which replaces the silicon component with human hair. Milan Karki, an 18-year-old student from the region of Khotang, devised the idea after discovering that hair pigment Melanin acts as an energy converter.

Each panel, which is around 15 inches square, produces 9 Volts (18 Watts) of energy, and costs $38 to make. This, it has to be said, is mainly due to the price of the raw materials: half a kilo of human hair costs around 25¢ in Nepal. Karki is hoping to commercialize his invention, which can charge a cellphone or power batteries to provide an evening's worth of light, and eventually mass produce it.

"First I wanted to provide electricity for my home, then my village," says Karki, who was inspired by British physicist Stephen Hawking. "Now I am thinking for the whole world. We have begun the long walk to save the planet." Catch a shot of the teenager's invention below.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

U.S. First Solar Cracks Chinese Market

Chinese government officials signed an agreement on Tuesday with First Solar, an American solar developer based in Tempe, Ariz., for a 2,000-megawatt photovoltaic farm to be built in the Mongolian desert.

Set for completion in 2019, the project represents the world’s biggest photovoltaic power plant project to date, and is part of an 11,950-megawatt renewable energy park planned for Ordos City in Inner Mongolia.

First Solar

The agreement calls for ground to be broken on the first 30-megawatt phase of the project by June 1, 2010, followed by 100-megawatt and 870-megawatt additions to be completed by the end of 2014. A final 1,000-megawatt phase is scheduled to go online by Dec. 31, 2019.

When completed, the Ordos solar farm would generate enough electricity to power about 3 million Chinese homes, according to First Solar.

The deal could open a potentially vast solar market in China and follows the Chinese government’s recent moves to accelerate development of renewable energy.

First Solar, the globe’s largest photovoltaic cell manufacturer, will also likely build a factory in China to manufacture thin-film solar panels, according to Mike Ahearn, the company’s chief executive. “It is significant that a non-Chinese company can land something like this in China,” said Mr. Ahearn in an interview.

“This is nuclear power-size scale,” said Mr. Ahearn added.

China is home to a burgeoning solar industry thanks to generous government support. But Chinese companies like Suntech, the world’s third-largest solar cell maker after First Solar and Q-Cells of Germany, export most of their products. Suntech last year formed a venture to build solar power plants in the United States and has announced plans to open a factory in the Southwest United States.

‘‘Discussions with First Solar about building a factory in China demonstrate to investors in China that they can confidently invest in the most advanced technologies available,’’ Cao Zhichen, vice mayor of Ordos Municipal Government, said in a statement.

A high-ranking Chinese official, Wu Bangguo, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, attended the signing of the agreement in Arizona. The memorandum of understanding is just the first step in what is likely to be a long and complicated process to build such a gargantuan solar power plant in a country with little experience in constructing such projects.

The 2,000-megawatt power plant would cost between $5 billion and $6 billion if built in the United States, said Alan Bernheimer, a First Solar spokesman, though he said the cost to build such a project in China would likely be lower.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The rise of US co-operative solar farm...

BRIGHTON, Colo.—Every now and then, Dorothy and Dan Oberhausen take a little detour to check in on their solar panels.

The two panels aren't much to look at. They are just standard-issue photovoltaic cells, facing due south and angled skyward, set in a scruffy, weed-choked field.

But the Oberhausens couldn't be prouder.

Not only are they participating in the nation's first co-operative solar farm—a pioneering venture set up by the electric-utility co-op serving their area—they are playing a small role in an emerging and potentially significant trend in the nation's energy landscape: A move by rural co-ops into renewable-energy production.

These nonprofit utilities, which are owned by their members and supply power to 42 million Americans in 47 states, have long lagged behind other utilities in their use of solar, wind and geothermal resources. Part of the reason is that in many large states, including Illinois, Missouri, New York, Ohio and Texas, co-ops are exempt from laws requiring that utilities shift steadily to renewable sources of power.

In the past year, however, some prominent rural co-ops have invested in massive solar and wind projects. Others have experimented with small-scale innovations to educate their rural customers, often conservative and very cost-conscious, about renewable energy's potential.

Environmentalists aren't ready to hand out gold stars yet; they say rural co-ops remain far too reliant on old-style, coal-fired power plants. Still, some see clear signs of progress. "These are all good developments," says Bruce Driver, an energy consultant to the environmental group Western Resource Advocates, which is based in Boulder, Colo. Co-ops, he says, "are starting to think differently than they were even two or three years ago."

An Idea is Born

The solar farm here in Brighton, a fast-growing, working-class town northeast of Denver, was born out of frustration.

United Power, the local utility co-op, has tried to encourage conservation by giving out 50,000 free compact fluorescent light bulbs, but the organization says it doesn't have the resources to help customers install renewable-energy systems.

By contrast, utility giant Xcel Energy Inc. offers hefty rebates to bring down the cost of solar power for homeowners; across Colorado, more than 5,000 have signed up. A state grant let United Power offer similar rebates for the first time last year, but only to 11 customers.

"I got a ton of applications, but once the money was used up, it was, 'Thanks for calling, talk to you next year,' " says Jerry Marizza, the co-op's New Energy Program coordinator. "It wasn't a solar program, it was a solar lottery."

Then Mr. Marizza had an idea. Instead of subsidizing solar panels for a handful of wealthy homeowners, why not invite a broad swath of green-minded families to subsidize a solar farm?

Pictured from left to right: Co-op members Dorothy and Dan Oberhausen, Lynn Richards, New Energy Program coordinator Jerry Marizza and board director Rick Newman at United Power’s Brighton solar farm.

Here's how it works: For $1,050, an investor gets a 25-year lease on a photovoltaic panel set up on United Power's land. The co-op takes care of installation, insurance and maintenance. ("We'll squeegee it once a month," Mr. Marizza promises.) Investors can visit their panels any time and track their energy output online. Each month, they get credit on their bill for that amount.

The leasing fee works out to about $5 per watt, or roughly as much as an individual homeowner would pay to install a residential solar system after taking advantage of the federal tax credit. Utility rebates, where available, can reduce the cost of home-based solar systems even further, to about $3.50 per watt. While the solar farm can't match that, Mr. Marizza says the farm concept allows investors to buy a single panel at a time, adding more as their budget permits. And investors keep their panels, and credits, even if they move. (If they move out of United Power's service area, they can donate the credits to a local charity and earn a tax deduction.)

A single panel generates a credit of about $3 to $4 a month; depending on rate increases, it might take 17 to 25 years to recoup the investment.

That long time horizon didn't bother Rick Newman, who manages a manufacturing plant and sits on the co-op board.

Mr. Newman called his wife and three children into a family meeting and they all agreed to sacrifice summer travel plans to purchase a solar panel. "Times are tough, but we took it out of our budget to make a statement," Mr. Newman says.

While some other utilities also offer lease arrangements, the deals are generally reserved for homeowners in sunny locales. Typically, these utilities will install solar panels on homes at no charge, pocketing the federal tax credit for themselves, and then allow the homeowner to use the power the panels generate for a fixed monthly fee. Such programs were developed for commercial properties and began migrating to the residential market about a year ago.

Mr. Marizza boasts that his solar farm is far more flexible. It is open to renters, office-park tenants, homeowners with heavily shaded roofs—even customers outside the United Power service area who might want to invest in green energy and donate the power their panels generate to a local charity.

Culture Shift

The solar farm—which United Power expects to break even on within a year—is just one example of a shifting co-op culture.

Tri-State Generation & Transmission Association Inc., which supplies electricity to electric co-operatives throughout a 250,000 square-mile service territory across Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico and Wyoming, has announced plans to develop a 30-megawatt solar plant in New Mexico, among the largest in the nation. Tri-State also is investing in a vast wind farm in eastern Colorado. The Minnkota Power Cooperative Inc., which serves parts of North Dakota and Minnesota, has pledged that fully a third of its power will come from wind by the end of the year.

Smaller co-ops are getting in the act, too. The Highline Electric Association, which serves parts of Colorado and Nebraska, has launched a project to recover hot exhaust from a natural-gas compressor. The heat is then converted into as much as four megawatts of electricity The Delta-Montrose Electric Association in western Colorado subsidizes geothermal exchange pumps for residential customers.

Rural co-ops traditionally have shied away from clean-energy projects for both financial and cultural reasons. As nonprofits, they can't take advantage of federal tax credits for generating energy from renewable sources, while federal loans for traditional coal-fired plants have been plentiful. Co-ops also tend to be run by conservative members who aren't eager to take on the burden of innovation in the name of fighting global warming. Their attitude is, "this is a global problem, not something that's solved on a local level," says Ken Anderson, general manager for Tri-State.

But new incentives and requirements are prodding change. The stimulus bill set aside $2.4 billion to help co-ops and publicly owned utilities issue bonds for clean-energy projects—up from $800 million last year. And many states, including Colorado, have stopped exempting co-ops from renewable-energy mandates. In Colorado, the co-ops must generate 10% of their power from renewable sources by 2010. Other states require co-ops to move toward generating 20% or even 30% of their power from renewables. The result is that co-ops nationwide boosted renewable capacity (apart from hydropower) by 65% last year, according to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, a trade group representing the industry.

The Oberhausens welcome the shift.

Trains crammed with coal pass by their backyard in Brighton several times a day, keeping them aware of what is being burned to keep their fridge humming and their lights on.

Though they have the space for solar panels on their property, the Oberhausens, both retired, say they don't want the hassle; they worry about vandalism, insurance costs and maintenance.

They plan to soon draw down their retirement funds to purchase another 30 panels in United Power's solar farm, which would fully offset their home energy use. For now, they drive by regularly to watch, with pride, as their photovoltaic crop soaks up the Colorado sunshine.

With the WSJ.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Average Retail Price Still Dropping in September...

Here is the latest edition of the Solar Module Retail Price Environment from our good friend at Solarbuzz.

Since this survey started back in mid 2001, there have been only 13 times that the number of price declines has been 100 or greater in a single month. 5 of those have now occurred in 2009 alone including the result this month. The only year to exceed that number was in 2002, when 6 of the 12 monthly results showed 100 or more price declines.

The September result, therefore, maintains the pattern of recent months. The rate of decline was not as great as last month and the overall price activity was also down. Nonetheless, the US index dropped by a further 6 cents per watt, while the European retail index dropped 6 euro cents per watt.

While the overall 125 watt and above index average, based on the purchase of a single module, still shows an overall level above four dollars per watt and four euros per watt, there are much lower retail prices evident within those numbers.

The index includes solar module powers down to 125 watts. As a general rule the higher the module wattage, the lower the price per watt level. Much of the grid tied market is now made up of module powers above 175 watts, a trend which has helped bring down the cost of a solar installation. Indeed the fastest growing power segment for individual models is now above 200 watts.

Out of the 1,437 prices surveyed this month, there were 115 price moves, 102 of which were down. So while the index calculation also takes account of the remainder (1,322) that did not move, it is still noteworthy to look at the price moves themselves.

Where a downward adjustment was made, the average change in dollar terms was 47 cents per watt. The changes range from as small as 1 cent per watt all the way up to $1.95 per watt. Individual price moves at the retail price end of the PV chain vary considerably more than at the factory gate.

Another noteworthy element to the price database is that, as of September, there are now 59 price points below $3 per watt. A small number of these are thin film, but the dominant technology is crystalline silicon.

The bottom line is that the new price levels are more good news for solar consumers as this type of energy supply continues on its pathway toward becoming the distributed electricity source of choice.

Lowest Prices ($/Wp)

The tracking of the lowest price band in the survey is measured against the number of prices below $4.75 per watt. Prices much higher than this are typically most associated with module powers below 125 watt.

As of September 2009, there are currently 536 solar module prices below $4.75 per watt (€3.32 per watt) or 37.3% of the total survey. This compares with 475 prices below $4.75 per watt in August. The lowest retail price for a multi-crystalline silicon solar module is $2.38 per watt (€1.67 per watt) from a US retailer. The lowest retail price for a monocrystalline silicon module is $2.50 per watt (€1.75 per watt), from an Asian retailer.

Note, however, that "not all models are equal." In other words, brand, technical attributes and certifications do matter.

The lowest thin film module price is at $1.76 per watt (€1.23 per watt) from an Asian-based retailer. As a general rule, it is typical to expect thin film modules to be at a price discount to crystalline silicon (for like module powers). This thin film price is represented by a 130 watt module.

Price Index Context

The module cost represents around 50 - 60% of the total installed cost of a Solar Energy System. Therefore the solar module pric
e is the key element in the total price of an installed solar system. All prices are exclusive of sales taxes, which depending on the country or region can add 8-20% to the prices, with generally highest sales tax rates in Europe.