Apr 092014

By Nicholas Brown.

Jaguar Land Rover has switched on the largest rooftop PV solar power plant in the United Kingdom. The 5.8 MW, 21,000-panel system is supplying their £500 million Engine Manufacturing Centre in the West Midlands with 30% of its electricity requirements, reducing emissions by an estimated 2,400 tonnes per year.

Rooftop solar panels in Indooroopilly, Brisbane, Australia. Image obtained with thanks from Micheal Axelsen on Flickr.

Rooftop solar panels in Indooroopilly, Brisbane, Australia.
Image obtained with thanks from Micheal Axelsen on Flickr.

The company plans to expand the PV power plant to 6.3 MW this year, further reducing emissions, and as well as the impact of fluctuating electricity prices on the company.

That’s not all, they did what any wise company would do, and reduced the factory’s HVAC energy usage via insulation, insulated cladding, ventilation, and maximizing heat gain from sunlight, which earned it a Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology (BREEAM) ‘Excellent’ rating.

BREEAM is a long-established, and widely used sustainability certification system for buildings. BREEAM ratings range from ‘Pass’ to ‘Outstanding’. ‘Excellent’ is the second-best rating.

According to businessGreen:

‘Energy monitoring facilities in the plant continually analyse the amount of energy being used and identify opportunities to reduce consumption of both electricity and natural gas, while JLR plans to create an ecological corridor across the bottom of its site for wildlife and install boxes, habitat piles, dead wood stumps and insect houses for small mammals, invertebrates, amphibians, bats and birds.’

Trevor Leeks, the Engine Manufacturing Centre’s operations director, said, “Our world-class facility showcases the latest sustainable technologies and innovations. The completion of the UK’s largest rooftop solar panel installation here at the Engine Manufacturing Centre is just one example of this.”

Rooftop solar systems such as these help to conserve a significant amount of valuable land, while generating electricity cleanly, quietly, and with no electricity cost increases. This is a step in the right direction for Jaguar Land Rover.

Source: businessGreen.

Apr 082014
33MW solar power plant.

Kompulsa | Science And Energy Library: A 33 MW array of solar panels. This is enough to power 2,750 homes (assuming an average capacity factor of 25%, so cloudy weather and night-time have already been factored in).
Image obtained with thanks from Lightsource Renewable Energy.

By Nicholas Brown.

In March alone, Lightsource Renewable Energy connected 26 photovoltaic solar farms amounting to 227 MW in the United Kingdom. This was done just in time, as the U.K.’s renewable subsidies program for large-scale solar systems was going to be terminated on April 1.

The U.K. photovoltaic solar market has been enjoying a ‘boom’ (as PV-Tech put it), and it saw record-breaking growth in the first quarter of 2014.

Below, Nick Boyle, the CEO of Lightsource describes the company’s record-breaking month, and how they used helicopters to squeeze 16 solar system connections into one week.

Source: PV-Tech.

Apr 012014

First Solar has announced that they intend to construct a set of solar power plants amounting to 200 MW in Australia, to provide mines with power.

Rooftop solar panels in Indooroopilly, Brisbane, Australia. Image obtained with thanks from Micheal Axelsen on Flickr.

Rooftop solar panels in Indooroopilly, Brisbane, Australia.
Image obtained with thanks from Micheal Axelsen on Flickr.

These plants, assisted by diesel-fueled generators, are expected to reduce the electricity cost of mining firms in Australia, and shield them from rising electricity prices, which will eat into their profits even further. This came at a time when much-needed, as profitability of the mining operations has decreased.

‘In an environment where profitability isn’t what it used to be, with the mining industry focused on cost control, the electricity that powers the mines is becoming a bigger line item, and the ability to put a dent in that and hedge against fuel price volatility is something that solar offers,’ said Jack Curtis, VP of business development for First Solar in the Asia-Pacific.

Mr. Curtis also noted that project announcements in this sector were close.

Construction of these power plants will take place over the next three years.

Source: PV Magazine.

Mar 142014

The Filipino island of Palawan has been reliant on bunker and diesel fuel, but now they aim to transition to 100% renewable energy.

Image obtained with thanks from USDA NRCS South Dakota on Flickr.

Image obtained with thanks from USDA NRCS South Dakota on Flickr.

But wait…Isn’t that impossible? After all, wind turbines and solar panels don’t generate electricity all the time. That isn’t true, as they can be relied on all the time with the use of energy storage, assisted by renewable biomass-fueled generators, or even a combination of both.

As for the performance of solar panels: That is determined by climate. Puerto Princesa, Palawan enjoys 11 to 13 hours of daylight per day, from January, through December, which is ideal for solar power production.

Solar panels and wind turbines back each other up to a limited extent, due to the fact that wind speeds tend to be lower when it is sunny, but are higher during stormy weather, which is when solar panels need backup the most, therefore, the use of both wind turbines and solar panels can reduce the amount of energy storage (or biomass generator backup) required.

Isn’t It Easier To Just Use Diesel?

No. Diesel fuel is costly, and its cost has been rising. In the Philippines, whose oil production is equal to only 10% of its consumption, 90% of the oil that diesel comes from has to be imported, and that adds to the economic detriment of high diesel prices. The money required to pay for that exits the local economy. Wind and solar farms help to keep money in the economy because they require no imported fuel.

Petroleum can be extracted only from the regions that have it, whereas solar panels and wind turbines can be assembled anywhere, and The Philippines is no exception to that rule.

Apart from that, diesel generators emit carbon dioxide and soot which cause climate change and lung cancer respectively.

Agriculture And Wind Turbines: A Beautiful Combination

Image obtained with thanks from: where paths meet on Flickr.

Image obtained with thanks from: where paths meet on Flickr.

In Palawan, if they chose to include wind power in their renewable energy mix, some of the wind farms could be installed on leased farm land, or the vast amount of free space on wind farms could be used for farming. Farm land is already being leased to wind farm operators in the United States, financially benefiting farmers without belching out toxic gases and particulate matter (such as soot) onto crops.

Solar Panels Are Incredibly Versatile

Solar panels can be installed on rooftops, walls, tables, walkways, as awnings, and more. This enables people to use their otherwise unused spaces to generate electricity cleanly, and quietly!

Contrary To Popular Belief: Solar Panels And Wind Turbines Open Up Potential Generation Sites

Solar panels and wind turbines are most economically applied in the sunniest and windiest regions respectively, and from that, a controversy about the viability of low-wind and cloudy sites emerged, leading people to believe that solar panels and wind turbines must be installed in sunny and windy regions to be viable. This isn’t true. Germany utilizes solar power relatively heavily, despite its cloudy climate.

Wind turbines and solar panels can be installed and operate economically in dry desert areas, unlike fossil-fueled power plants, which require significant quantities of water.

Main Source: Cleantechnica.

Mar 132014

Originally published on Cleantechnica by James Ayre.

Only 613 MW of solar PV capacity was installed last year in France, according to data recently published by the French General Commission on Sustainable Development. That’s a significant drop from 2012, when 1.15 GW of capacity was installed — a 45% drop to be exact.

Given the reality, though, that there are currently about 35,128 PV projects (2.7 GW) pending approval throughout the country, it appears that the demand is still there, even with the anemic numbers during 2013. With that in mind, the French government has submitted a proposal to the country’s Energy Council to completely scrap France’s domestic content feed-in-tariff (FiT) bonus scheme. That scheme, for those that don’t know, allows PV system owners to receive a 5% or 10% bonus if their system-components were manufactured in the European Economic Area (EEA).

Image Credit: French Flag via Flickr CC.

PV Magazine provides more:

The 5% bonus applies to residential buildings fitted with PV; ground-mounted PV plants, and systems with simplified integration that require crystalline modules. To be eligible for the bonus, these installations must use modules that were produced in the EEA, including the wafer transformation process. If those same crystalline modules were also assembled and laminated in the EEA, the system is then eligible for the 10% bonus. The same rules apply for systems that use thin-film modules.

The domestic content bonus was introduced early in 2013 for residential and simplified installations, and a little earlier for ground-mount plants. The government, having assessed its impact, or lack thereof, has suggested eliminating this incentive having recognized that such stipulations contravene European Union regulations and could no longer be justified as a means of protecting French consumer and public interest.

The proposal to scrap the bonus is set to be discussed by the appropriate authorities on March 12th. Even if the bonus does end up being repealed, those that have already applied will still be eligible.


Mar 102014

Cattle waste will be used to halve the $1.7 million annual energy cost of a beef plant in Darling Downs, Australia. How? The plant, Oakey Abattoir, will convert its cattle waste into biogas.

Cattle grazing. Image obtained with thanks from UNE Photos on Flickr.

Cattle grazing.
Image obtained with thanks from UNE Photos on Flickr.

Biogas consists primarily of methane, and in this case, it would substitute natural gas as a fuel. ’On a single shift, between 1000 and 1300 head of cattle could go through the plant, about 500 of which came off the company’s own feedlot’, according to The Courier-Mail.

As the general manager of Oakey Abattoir, Pat Gleeson, said: ‘This project will produce green energy biogas from our own waste water streams and reduce our natural gas purchases that ultimately lower our manufacturing costs.’

The cattle waste includes excrement, among other things, and the odour emissions caused by it are expected to be reduced as well. The system is projected to pay for itself in five years.

Methane can be produced via the anaerobic digestion of organic matter (such as old food, for example), and it is also a byproduct of landfill decay. It is a very powerful, renewable fuel, with a high energy content of 15.4 kWh per kg. This means that one kg of methane could power an average house for 5 hours.

Source: The Courier-Mail.

Mar 072014

Originally published on Cleantechnica.
By Nicholas Brown.

A battle has been brewing between utility companies and the rooftop solar industry in California, and, of course, it’s about money. They compete with each other because rooftop solar systems enable people to purchase less power from utility companies, but the companies still have a leg to stand on — the fact is that the owners of these systems rely on them for backup.

The installation of solar panels.

Solar panel installation.
Image obtained with thanks from CoCreatr on Flickr.

Energy storage systems are expected to increasingly come online due to declining battery costs, as well as energy storage mandates. As a result of this, utilities are losing control of the electricity market. Not too long ago, lithium-ion batteries cost a whopping $1 million per MWh of storage capacity, rendering them infeasible for cost-competitive grid storage, but now their cost has dipped well below $500,000 per MWh. This, combined with California’s energy storage mandate, is undoing the traditional utility business model, as the use of energy storage can eliminate the need for a grid connection altogether.

Unsurprisingly, utilities are fighting this transition to rooftop solar, and lately, energy storage has become a major part of that, as it is one of the biggest threats they face. Lyndon Rive, the CEO of SolarCity, recently commented at a CPUC panel discussion, stating: “It takes about eight months to connect. There is no reason for it. You can’t help but think that it’s slow because there is incentive to keep the game from changing.”

What other reason would they have for taking 8 months to plug in an energy storage system?

Perseverance Is Needed Now More Than Ever

Mankind has been progressing towards that tipping point where people can install their own energy storage systems with peace of mind. As energy storage systems go online, they get us closer to this goal because their performance will be monitored and everyone else can learn from that. Furthermore, scaling up production brings costs down, as we have seen very clearly with solar panels and wind turbines (as well as countless other technologies).

Although expensive, by introducing an energy storage mandate, California has taken an important step that will lead to the progression of a large-scale energy storage industry, and (if fast enough) a habitable planet for future generations. Utility power companies are sticking around, for now. However, they will have to change their business model soon in order to survive in the long term.

For more stories like these, visit our solar channel, or subscribe to our solar energy newsletter or main cleantech newsletter.

Follow me on Twitter: @Kompulsa.

Mar 052014

Originally published on Cleantechnica.
By James Ayre.

Thin-film solar cells may soon possess the ability to absorb a notably larger portion of the light that strikes them, thanks to the recent development of a “superabsorbing” design by researchers at North Carolina State University.

Image obtained with thanks from North Carolina State University.

Image obtained with thanks from North Carolina State University.

As well as improving the light absorption efficiency of thin-film solar cells, the new design could help to bring down manufacturing costs, as the thickness of the semiconductor materials used can be reduced by more than an order of magnitude (compared to conventional designs) without limiting light absorption.

“State-of-the-art thin film solar cells require an amorphous silicon layer that is about 100 nanometers (nm) thick to capture the majority of the available solar energy,” explains Dr Linyou Cao, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at NC State, and senior author of the new paper describing the work. “The structure we’re proposing can absorb 90% of available solar energy using only a 10 nm thick layer of amorphous silicon.

“The same is true for other materials. For example, you need a cadmium telluride layer that is one micrometer thick to absorb solar energy, but our design can achieve the same results with a 50 nm thick layer of cadmium telluride. Our design can also enable a 30 nm thick layer of copper indium gallium selenide to fully absorb solar light. That’s a huge advance.”

This is an especially important advance when you consider the fact that (relatively expensive) semiconductor materials are one of the major limiting factors when it comes to lowering the costs of thin-film solar cells.

“A decrease in the thickness of semiconductor materials by one order of magnitude would mean a substantial improvement in manufacturing productivity and reduction in cost,” Cao states, “because the cells would use less material and the thin films could be deposited more quickly.”

North Carolina State University provides more:

In cross-section, the new design looks like a rectangular onion. The light-absorbing semiconductor material coats a rectangular core. The semiconductor, in turn, is coated by three layers of anti-reflective coating that do not absorb light.

To develop the design, the researchers began by examining the maximum light absorption efficiency of semiconductor materials using light-trapping techniques. They found that maximizing solar absorption requires a design in which the light-trapping efficiency for solar light is equal to the intrinsic absorption efficiency of the semiconductor materials. In other words, in order to maximize solar absorption, you need to match the amount of solar light trapped inside the structure and the amount of solar light that could be absorbed. The researchers then designed the onion-like structures to match their light-trapping efficiency with the absorption efficiency of the semiconductor materials in thin-film solar cells.

“We first theoretically predicted the maximum solar light absorption efficiency in given semiconductor materials, and then proposed a design that could be readily fabricated to achieve the predicted maximum. We developed a new model to do this work, because we felt that existing models were not able to find the upper limit for the solar absorption of real semiconductor materials,” Cao states. “And if this works the way we think it will, it would fundamentally solve light-absorption efficiency problems for thin-film solar cells.”

“The superabsorbing structure is designed for the convenience of fabrication, and we are looking for partners to produce and test this design,” Cao continues. “The structure should be very easy to produce with standard thin-film deposition and nanolithography techniques. We are happy to work with industry partners to implement this design in the production of next-generation solar cells”.

Mar 012014

By Beth Bond.

Georgia House Bill 874 (HB874) which is intended to clarify a gray area in current Georgia law has had an interesting trip in the halls of the Georgia Legislature this year. The proposed bill has a broad base of support and is entitled the Solar Financial Freedom Act.

The bill has had one expected and one unexpected hearing and looks like it is on the fast track after a slow start. Georgia’s legislative session is a short 40 days and its amazing what gets accomplished in the last 10 days of each session.

The bill enjoys broad support from the Atlanta Tea Party, Georgia Interfaith Power & Light, the Georgia Property Rights Council, the Georgia Republican Assembly, Georgia Association of Realtors and over a dozen other groups including both of the state solar industry groups: Georgia Solar Energy Industries Association and Georgia Solar Energy Association.

James Marlow of Radiance Solar, representing state solar installers, presented in the first committee hearing this legislation was a simple financial bill that did nothing to threaten the Territorial Act. Marlow using the example of how small business finances equipment to make them more competitive said solar should work the same way. “In our office we lease a copier so we didn’t have to buy a big expensive copier and that makes our office more productive, the same thing can happen for solar.” Marlow added passing the bill would create more jobs across Georgia and was good for free-market business.

Alexis Chase, Executive Director of Georgia Interfaith Power & Light, testified that because third-party financing, which is available in 22 other states, was not available to churches in Georgia that churches were being left out of the solar conversation. A small group of churches did try to participate in Georgia Power’s Advanced Solar Initiative and they were left out of the program primarily because of over-subscription to the program. “It (HB874) would help congregations across Georgia install solar because this bill will help finance solar.”

Other proponents included veterans looking to see solar on Georgia military bases, the Georgia Property Rights Coalition and Debbie Dooley, Tea Party leader and one of the founding members of the Green Tea Coalition.

The most surprising testimony was Georgia Power who stated they supported solar and the bill but would like to see language changes and then six days later said it could not support the bill because of the language exceptions they had. It’s a bit of confusing messaging. On the day the bill got tabled for more study they were for the bill but on the day it looked like it would get out of committee they were against it.

Opponents included the usual suspects: the EMCs and MEAGs. The EMCs say they are for renewable energy and point to their meager Green Power program that has not grown since its inception seven years ago. But they made the strongest argument against the bill stating that they felt it was in direct conflict with the Territorial Act and the MEAGs simply agreed with that position. There were no citizen groups who stood up against the bill.

Unfortunately, many citizens across the state don’t realize that Georgia Power is not their energy provider. Georgia Power customers are the most fortunate electric consumers in Georgia because Georgia Power has been forward thinking about renewables. Most EMCs and MEAGs have very limited buy back programs, if any and have fought all solar legislation for the past five years. This leaves half of the state citizens sitting on the sidelines asking repeatedly why they can’t sell solar back to their local EMC and why can’t they finance solar when citizens in 22 other states can?

Even though a vast majority of Georgians support more solar, state legislators have continued to rely on the electric producers to dictate energy policy for the state. With the advent of renewable energy and overwhelming proof that solar in particular does not put upward pressure on rates proven by the utility’s own programs, state legislators have a compelling case to move Georgia’s energy legislation into the 21st century. Georgians will have to wait and see what the results of the legislative session bring.

Beth Bond is a writer on Southeast Green, a sustainable business and environmental policy website.

Feb 252014

In 2001, Dale Earnhardt died in a devastating accident during a NASCAR race at the Daytona International Speedway in his number 3 car. The number 3 car was retired since then.

Now, it has returned with an ethanol-powered engine. It was raced at the Daytona 500 on February 22, 2014 by Austin Dillon, the grandson of Richard Childress, who is the owner of the Richard Childress Racing team. It came in at ninth place.

It was good to see that the number 3 car’s comeback was a good one, and it was done using renewable, American-grown ethanol fuel.

See the press release below:

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