Friday, July 22, 2011

Beyond Capacity: Why Italy Changed Its PV Strategy

By Yoav Banin, Solergy
20 juillet 2011

Reducing costs is essential to achieving broad acceptance of solar energy and lessening dependence on fossil fuels. However, the latest episode in Italy's PV incentives drama has proven that grid parity alone is not enough to drive widespread adoption.

In addition to cost, both urban and rural Italians are carefully considering how to integrate PV into their environments in a way that is compatible with their daily lives and broader energy sourcing goals. In the short-term, they are prepared to pay higher incentives and accelerate permitting for certain PV configurations that reflect these goals, such as building integrated (BIPV), rooftop, and CPV.

The previous version of Conto Energia succeeded in driving record PV adoption but at an unforeseen price. The runaway success of Italy’s 3rd Conto Energia resulted in a boom of PV installations that far exceeded anyone’s expectations. Today, Italy has a total installed capacity more than 7.2 GW, enough to be considered a world leader alongside Germany. The nation also boasts some of the largest PV plants in the world.

However, the expected cost of the program raised alarms in the government and led to the suspension of the 3rd Conto Energia law only five months after it was enacted, far short of its intended three-year duration. Further concerns over land use, aesthetics, a loss of critical agricultural lands, and insufficient local content and job creation have led to a ‘pushback’ from regional governments, industry groups and consumers.

Even before the government got involved, individual regions were already fighting PV speculation by placing restrictions on the size and type of plants installed. For example, the Puglia region, the leader in total and per-capita PV installed in Italy, blocked many permits and authorization requests to limit the consumption of precious land, especially due to its rich tradition in olive orchards. Sicily resisted giving up its land to foreign speculators to install PV plants without a clear, long-term return on this investment.

Instead, the regional government focused on programs whereby local jobs and factories are created as part of an overall package to promote both solar energy and local economic development. A successful example of this policy is the recent opening of the 3Sun factory in Catania, Italy’s largest PV panel factory with over €200 million investment and immediate creation of 280 jobs.

Changing priorities

To remedy the unintended problems with the previous statewide policy, the government approved the 4th Conto Energia law in May. While generally reducing incentives across the board, the revised law specifically discourages deployment of PV plants based on flat panels. Incentives for these plants are being reduced every month with cuts as high as 20 to 30 percent by the end of year, depending on plant size.

Additional size restrictions for large plants aim to reduce land consumption. ‘Large’ plants are defined as any ground-mounted plant greater than 200 kW and any rooftop installation greater than 1 MW. These large plants have an installation cap of 2,690 MW and an incentive budget of €580 million ($824 million) between now and the end of 2012. Further, there is a complex system of access restrictions to ensure that the expense budget for large plants is respected.

There are also restrictions on use of agricultural lands for PV. In order to be eligible to receive incentives, an installation must not exceed 1 MW, occupy more than 10 percent of the crop-producing land, and must be at least 2 km from another plant. This design not only avoids destruction of productive land but also prevents the visual destruction of Italy’s beautiful countryside. It is no secret that huge PV plants or wind towers can be quite an eyesore and destroy the panorama for miles.

In contrast to the above restrictions, incentives for CPV and innovative building-integrated PV have remained virtually untouched. The new law precisely promotes PV systems that are innovative and aesthetic in their design, installation and integration. Further, it encourages smaller plants that are harmonious with broader land use strategies.

Grid parity, Italian style

With the announcement of the 4th Conto Energia law, Italy has declared its intention to continue its drive to renewable and clean energy sources. It has re-affirmed its commitment to PV by targeting 23 GW of installations by 2016 and voting against nuclear power development in a recent national referendum. Further, the PV incentives have been maintained despite the passage of the recent austerity budget cuts.

Italy has evolved its tariff policy not only to help usher PV into the age of grid parity (estimated to take place by 2015/2016, the point after which all incentives will be phased out), but also to guide the manner in which PV is deployed. The tariff program encourages self-consumption of the energy at the point-of-use rather than just feeding electrons into the grid indiscriminately. It leverages the fact that the sun's energy is available everywhere and therefore lends itself to distributed generation as opposed to fossil fuels that must be transported to large, central power plants.

Italy’s new alternative energy vision reflects the fact that the country lacks the spare land or open deserts that can be carpeted with utility-scale PV like in the United States or Australia. Instead, it has a rich and varied terrain filled with precious agricultural lands, orchards, dense urban areas, tourist attractions, and archaeological treasures that must be preserved.

Despite the past construction of some of the world’s largest PV plants (often by foreign multinational developers), going forward, the integration of PV must better reflect the nations’ needs and available resources. This requires PV installations that maximize efficiency and energy output in constrained spaces and flexibly respond to the particular integration requirements of each location. Emerging technologies such as CPV and BIPV respond to these requirements and at the same time are quickly working their way down the cost curve toward grid parity.

Italy is still one of the most-lucrative markets in the world for PV developers. Now, they will have to adapt and align their offerings with the more mature and demanding specifications of this unique market.

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Friday, July 15, 2011

Africa - Renewable Energy Rising Rapidly

"Global investment in renewable energy jumped 32% in 2010, to a record $211 billion. It was boosted in particular by wind farm development in China and small-scale solar PV installation on rooftops in Europe. ... Significant investment is also starting to be seen in Africa, which posted the highest percentage increase of all developing regions, if the emerging economies of Brazil, China and India are excluded. ... Total investment on the continent rose from $750 million [in 2009] to $3.6 billion [in 2010]." -- Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2011

As noted in another AfricaFocus Bulletin released today and available on the web at, progress at global climate talks is painfully slow and inconsistent, with serious setbacks likely unless there is new momentum by the end of the year. But, as indicated by this new report on renewable energy, there is significant progress on some fronts away from the global negotiations. The new UNEP report on global trends in renewable energy investment, excerpted below, comments:

"There was a sense, in both the second half of 2010 and early 2011, that progress in renewable energy was taking place at a pace that public opinion and policymakers in many countries were simply failing to spot. This progress was both in investment levels and, even more, in costcompetitiveness with conventional power sources."

Another sign of increased momentum on the renewable energy front was the launch of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), with headquarters in Abu Dhabi. An initial consultation earlier this month resulted in the "Abu Dhabi Communiqué on Renewable Energy for Accelerating Africa's Development," also included in this AfricaFocus Bulletin. While the language of the declaration echoes all too familiar conference boilerplate commitments, it indicates a growing consensus that renewable energy must take higher priority in Africa's development plans. As prices drop, and renewable energy becomes more competitive, private investors as well as policy makers are taking the sector more seriously.

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Japan's Richest Man Challenges Nuclear Future with Nationwide Solar Plans

Solar energy is going to be a driving force in rebuilding of Japan's energy sector after the devastating earthquake that caused much destruction earlier this year.

Billionaire Masayoshi Son has a track record in taking on monopolies after building a business that opened up the nation’s telecommunications industry. Now he aims to shake up Japan’s power utilities after the worst nuclear crisis in 25 years.

Son, the 53-year-old chief executive officer of Softbank Corp. (9984), plans to build solar farms to generate electricity with support from at least 33 of Japan’s 47 prefectures. In return, he’s asking for access to transmission networks owned by the 10 regional utilities and an agreement they buy his electricity.

Radiation has spread across at least 600 square kilometers (230 square miles) in northeastern Japan after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami caused reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear plant. Prime Minister Naoto Kan said in May he will rethink a plan to increase atomic power to 50 percent of the nation’s total from 30 percent. Renewable energy accounts for 10 percent, according to Japan’s Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, and Son wants that ratio to be tripled by 2020.

“The question is how this nation is going to survive after cutting nuclear power,” Son said at a government panel meeting June 12. “A framework should be designed in a way to make the power business open for anyone who has the will to start it.”

Sunny Farms

Solar plants using 20 percent of unused agricultural land in Japan can have the generation capacity of about 50 gigawatts, almost matching that of Tokyo Electric, Son said.

“We can probably invite more companies to invest in our solar projects once a business model is set up,” said Yukiko Kada, governor of Shiga prefecture, who is one of Son’s partners.

The Japanese government may break up utilities’ regional monopolies and separate their power-generation businesses from distribution operations, Kyodo News reported May 31, without saying where it obtained the information. A panel will begin discussing the issue from June as the government seeks to reform the power industry by 2020, Kyodo said.

Any move to separate power distribution from utilities “should have a national discussion after careful analysis on the merits and demerits as well as the impact on the stability of power supply and electricity fees,” Hiromasa Yonekura, chairman of Keidanren, Japan’s biggest business lobby, said on June 6.

“It’s an extremely important issue that can impact the international competitiveness of Japanese industries,” he said

Article Source: posted on The Asia-Pacific Journal

A scientific advance promises a revolution in the ease and cost of using solar cells

A scientific advance in renewable energy which promises a revolution in the ease and cost of using solar cells, has been announced on July 4, 2011. A new study shows that even when using very simple and inexpensive manufacturing methods -- where flexible layers of material are deposited over large areas like cling-film -- efficient solar cell structures can be made

The study, published in the journalAdvanced Energy Materials, paves the way for new solar cell manufacturing techniques and the promise of developments in renewable solar energy. Scientists from the Universities of Sheffield and Cambridge used the ISIS Neutron Source and Diamond Light Source at STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire to carry out the research.

Plastic (polymer) solar cells are much cheaper to produce than conventional silicon solar cells and have the potential to be produced in large quantities. The study showed that when complex mixtures of molecules in solution are spread onto a surface, like varnishing a table-top, the different molecules separate to the top and bottom of the layer in a way that maximises the efficiency of the resulting solar cell.

Dr Andrew Parnell of the University of Sheffield said, "Our results give important insights into how ultra-cheap solar energy panels for domestic and industrial use can be manufactured on a large scale. Rather than using complex and expensive fabrication methods to create a specific semiconductor nanostructure, high volume printing could be used to produce nano-scale (60 nano-meters) films of solar cells that are over a thousand times thinner than the width of a human hair. These films could then be used to make cost-effective, light and easily transportable plastic solar cell devices such as solar panels."

Dr. Robert Dalgliesh, one of the ISIS scientists involved in the work, said, "This work clearly illustrates the importance of the combined use of neutron and X-ray scattering sources such as ISIS and Diamond in solving modern challenges for society. Using neutron beams at ISIS and Diamond's bright X-rays, we were able to probe the internal structure and properties of the solar cell materials non-destructively. By studying the layers in the materials which convert sunlight into electricity, we are learning how different processing steps change the overall efficiency and affect the overall polymer solar cell performance. "

"Over the next fifty years society is going to need to supply the growing energy demands of the world's population without using fossil fuels, and the only renewable energy source that can do this is the Sun," said Professor Richard Jones of the University of Sheffield. " In a couple of hours enough energy from sunlight falls on the Earth to satisfy the energy needs of the Earth for a whole year, but we need to be able to harness this on a much bigger scale than we can do now. Cheap and efficient polymer solar cells that can cover huge areas could help move us into a new age of renewable energy."

Source : ScienceDaily (July 4, 2011)

Friday, July 1, 2011

Find out how much green energy you could generate and install your solar panels in the right place

Power predictor from Better Generation

Before spending a lot of money installing a PV solar (1) or wind turbine (2) generating system, it is vital to survey the planned site to ensure that the prevailing weather conditions are suitable.

The Power Predictor not only logs wind speed and direction data, but also counts the number of hours of sunshine. The Power Predictor (6) from Better Generation Ltd (7) includes a solar radiation sensor, wind direction vane, and wind speed measuring anemometer. This is connected via a rugged 5 metre cable to a self-contained waterproof recorder unit with LCD (display) which when powered by a 9 Volt battery will provide up to one year of continuous monitoring. It retails (price last checked on 11th March 2010) at £152.75 (including a twelve month software license for the analysis software on the Power Predictor website).

Power Predictor from Better Generation

Power Predictor was invented by Toby Hammond, a managing director of Better Generation, and is the result of 2 years of research and development. He said,
"For most people, micro power generation is a step into the unknown. No one should spend thousands of pounds on renewable energy equipment without knowing the payback time based on the amount of energy they could generate at their premises. Our intention has been take the guesswork out of micro generation by creating a device that is not based on modelled data, which is often inaccurate, but on site specific data that shows anyone at home or at work, how much they could save by generating solar or wind energy."

Collected data are written to a removable 512MB memory card which can be read by a PC or Mac via USB (using included USB adapter), and uploaded to the Power Predictor website once you have collected more than 30 days of data. With a constantly updated database of the many solar panels and wind turbines on the market, different generation options can be compared to see which will offer the biggest financial and carbon (8) savings, and the fastest payback periods at the tested site.

The Power Predictor is powered with a 9V (PP3) battery (included) and should last 6 months in normal conditions.

Web Link References


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