Israel to build world's tallest solar tower in symbol of renewable energy ambition

Posted on January 5th, 2017 in solar by Spencer R.



In sunny Israel, solar energy supplies only a small percentage of the nation's power needs, leaving it far behind countries with cloudier and colder climates. 

Now the fledgling solar industry is trying to make a leap forward with a large-scale project boasting the world's tallest solar tower, as a symbol of Israel's renewal energy ambitions. 

With Israel traditionally running its economy on fossil fuels, renewable energy has long been hobbled by bureaucracy and a lack of incentives. But the country is starting to make an effort, setting a goal of generating 10 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, up from the current 2.5 percent. 


The Ashalim project, deep in the Negev desert, is made up of three plots, with a fourth planned for the future, each with a different solar technology. Together, the fields will be Israel's largest renewable energy project when completed by 2018. They are set to generate some 310 megawatts of power, about 1.6 percent of the country's energy needs — enough for about 130,000 households, or roughly 5 percent of Israel's population, according to Israel's Electricity Authority. 

"It's the most significant single building block in Israel's commitment to CO2 reduction and renewable energy," said Eran Gartner, chief executive of Megalim Solar Power Ltd., which is building one part of the project. 

The centerpiece is a solar tower that will be the world's tallest at 250 meters (820 feet). 

Solar towers use a method differing from the more common photovoltaic solar panels, which convert sunlight directly into electricity. Instead, towers use a solar-thermal method: Thousands of mirrors focus the sun's rays onto the tower, heating a boiler that creates steam to spin a turbine and generate electricity. 

Encircling the Ashalim tower are 50,000 mirrors, known as heliostats, in a shimmering blanket of glass over the desert. The tower is so tall because the panels were squeezed together to maximize use of the land — and the closer the panels are the taller the tower must be, Gartner explained. 

Another solar-thermal plot at Ashalim will be able to store energy even when the sun goes down. A third plot will use photovoltaic solar technology to produce energy. 

Yaron Szilas, CEO of Shikun & Binui Renewable Energy, the lead developer of the second solar-thermal plot, said combining the three technologies was a wise move because each has its own advantage. The amount of electricity it produces will be comparable to large-scale solar fields in California and Chile. 

There are around a dozen solar tower fields around the world, the largest being the Ivanpah plant in California with some 170,000 heliostats around three 140-meter-tall (460-foot) towers. 

Israel has developed some of the world's most advanced solar energy equipment and enjoys a nearly endless supply of sunshine. But Israeli solar companies, frustrated by government bureaucracy, have mostly taken their expertise abroad. 

Countries with cooler climates have outpaced Israel. Germany, for example, gets nearly 30 percent of its energy from renewable sources. 

"Israel has a potential to be a sunshine superpower," said Leehee Goldenberg, director of the department of economy and environment at the Israel Union for Environmental Defense, a non-governmental organization. Despite some steps in the right direction, "Israel's government hasn't really been pushing to reach its small goals regarding solar energy." 

Israel has often been reluctant to hand out huge parcels of land, a necessity for large-scale solar power production, Gartner said. Large projects also demand access to state-owned infrastructure like gas, water and electricity, and connecting to those utilities out in remote plants in the Negev desert often takes time. 

Israel's Finance Ministry said the price of generating solar power in Israel has come down, and the ministry has pushed new laws to promote the industry. Recent legislation has also provided incentives and cut down some of the bureaucracy for Israelis wanting to install solar panels on their roofs. 

The ministry said if Ashalim is successful, it will aim for more such facilities. 

After the discovery of major natural gas deposits offshore, Israel now gets 70 percent of its energy from cleaner-burning gas. That discovery was welcome, Szilas said, but it has also delayed the impetus for promoting renewable energy. 

The developers in the Ashalim project say they want Israel to step up its renewable energy goals. 

"With all the sun that we have and how progressed we are in technology, these goals are very, very, very modest," Szilas said. "But these are the goals that were set, and we are working toward it." 


Study Shows solar energy as promising power source for medical implants

Posted on January 5th, 2017 in solar by Spencer R.



Solar cells could be placed under the skin for the process of recharging implanted electronic medical devices. New research published by Swiss scientists shows that as little as 3.6 square centimeters (0.55 square inch) of solar cell would generate enough power throughout winter and summer so as to power a generic pacemaker.

The research is the first of its kind, as no other study has ever published real-life data about the implications and mechanisms of using solar cells for the purpose of powering devices, such as pacemakers.

Medical Implants On Solar Energy Now Possible

The research, published in Springer's journal Annals of Biomedical Engineering, comes as a solution for patients who have battery-based implants and who have to go through surgical procedures every time their device's batteries wear off.

At this moment, the vast majority of electronic implants are battery-based, and their size is directly proportional to the battery volume that is necessary for a longer life. However, should the power of these batteries be consumed, they have to be either changed or recharged.

Most of the time, this means that patients have to undergo a surgical intervention through which their implants are changed, which is both expensive and disquieting for the patients. Additionally, depending on the patient's health status, these interventions could lead to complications and alter the quality of life of the patients in the long run as well as on a short-term basis.


Recently, there have been numerous efforts from different researchers when it comes to electronic solar cells. Different teams of scientists have worked on prototypes of tiny electronic solar cells which can be employed in under-the-skin implants to recharge life-saving medical devices for patients.

The process of generating solar energy to power the implants works very similarly with any other solar energy device. Being implanted inside the body, the device will absorb the solar energy that the patient's skin comes in contact with, thus ensuring continual life.

In an attempt to apply the theory of solar cells to patients who need implants, the researchers tested their prototype for feasibility. As part of the testing process, the team designed devices that measure the output power of the solar generator. Additionally, every device subjected to tests was covered by optical filters, thus simulating how the skin's properties would affect the sun's penetration through the skin.

As part of the tests, 32 subjects volunteered to wear the cells on their arms for a week during three seasons: summer, winter and autumn. Regardless of the season, the cells were found to generate significantly more than the power that is generally necessary for powering a pacemaker, thus passing the feasibility test.

A Successful Test

"The overall mean power obtained is enough to completely power for example a pacemaker or at least extend the lifespan of any other active implant," noted Lukas Bereuter of Bern University Hospital and the University of Bern in Switzerland, lead author of the study.

The success of the tests means that this prototype could actually be implemented in patients, saving them the trouble of having to go through surgical operations every time the battery of their devices wears off.

According to Bereuter, wearing power-generating solar cells under the skin will one day save patients the discomfort of having to continuously undergo procedures to change the batteries of their life-saving devices.



There's an unlikely pioneer of renewable energy in the US

Posted on January 5th, 2017 in environment by Spencer R.



Las Vegas may not be the first city you think of when you think of sustainability, but maybe it should be. When SunPower recently turned on the Boulder 1 solar project, the City of Las Vegas' government became the first in the country to be entirely powered by renewable energy. 

This follows Las Vegas' leadership in water conservation, cutting consumption by 23% between 2005 and 2015. As cities across the country look for ways to cut costs and use resources more sustainably, maybe Las Vegas should be where they look to find a success story.

The abundance of renewable energy in Nevada

The same sun that makes the desert in Southern Nevada so punishingly hot is also a resource that makes renewable energy cheap. Solar energy in the state is among the cheapest in the country, and at 4.6 cents per kWh for energy from the Boulder 1 project it's competitive with fossil fuel. When the city threatened to leave Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary NV Energy, the utility agreed to buy more solar for the city's buildings to use, which now accounts for 100% of total energy consumed by the city.

But building renewable energy plants is only part of the story. The city has reduced electricity consumption by 30% through a combination of efficiency programs and on-site solar. Between efficiency and renewables, the City of Las Vegas says it's going to save $5 million annually, no small amount for a mid-size U.S. city. 

It's worth noting that energy isn't the only place Las Vegas has improved its sustainability. The city has put a lot of effort into reducing water consumption, treating much of the water that's dumped down the drain and returning it to Lake Mead. But water conservation is more of a necessity than anything in the middle of the desert. 

Las Vegas and the war with NV Energy

The City of Las Vegas threatening to leave NV Energy for cleaner sources of energy isn't entirely unique in Nevada. MGM Resorts and Wynn Resorts paid a combined $103 million earlier this year to leave NV Energy and begin buying their electricity elsewhere. MGM Resorts has a massive solar array at Mandalay Bay and will consider buying energy from solar developers in the future. Wynn has been quiet about its plans.

On top of the city and casino defections, voters passed a constitutional amendment that stripped NV Energy of its monopoly. The ballot initiative read like this:

Shall Article 1 of the Nevada Constitution be amended to require the Legislature to provide by law for the establishment of an open, competitive retail electric energy market that prohibits the granting of monopolies and exclusive franchises for the generation of electricity?

Voters passed the amendment with nearly three quarters of the vote. It'll take time to break up the energy monopoly, but energy choice is taking a big step forward in Nevada. 

Sustainability is now in Las Vegas' culture

Maybe it's the desert location that makes Nevada so conscious about the sustainability of its city, and maybe it's the abundant resources that have made a move to renewables so attractive. Whatever it is, Las Vegas has become an example for other cities around the country. And sustainability isn't just good for the environment, it's good for the bottom line as well.


Sunflare unveils sticky and flexible solar panels

Posted on January 4th, 2017 in solar by Spencer R.



Sunflare has unveiled flexible solar panels that can be stuck onto walls and roofs.

The new thin-film solar product is flexible, light, and affordable. The company made the announcement at CES 2017, the big tech trade show in Las Vegas this week.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory declared in a recent report that due to tax credit extensions, the United States is projected to add 53 additional gigawatts of renewable energy capacity by the year 2020. The U.S. Energy Information Administration expects solar to achieve the greatest increases, adding 9.5 gigawatts of utility-scale solar in 2016.


“Sunflare has worked for six years to perfect Capture 4, a cell-by-cell manufacturing process with the highest degree of precision and the cleanest environmental footprint,” said Philip Gao, CEO of Sunflare, in a statement. “This allows us to do what no manufacturer of CIGS thin-film has done before — mass produce efficient, flexible solar panels.”

Compared to crystalline silicon, Sunflare is flexible and light because it does not use a glass substrate and has thinner layers of semiconductors. It is environmentally cleaner because it requires less energy to manufacture and does not use toxic chemicals. Sunflare said it captures 10 percent more energy from dawn to dusk at a comparable cost than crystalline silicon.

Sunflare said its panels are 65 percent lighter than silicon modules, allowing an entire roof to be covered without load-bearing concerns. In addition, it is easier to install because it does not require an aluminum frame, nor does it require building penetration. With Sunflare, nearly any surface — vertical, horizontal, even curved — can be transformed into an energy-gathering and power-generating plant.

The panels cost about $1.07 per watt generated, with total costs at $1.50 per watt. That compares to 54 cents per watt for standard solar panels, with a total cost of $1.51 per watt.


Costa Rica ran almost entirely on renewable energy in 2016

Posted on January 4th, 2017 in environment by Spencer R.



Costa Rica ended 2016 on a particularly green note.

 The Central American nation ran entirely on renewable energy for more than 250 days last year, the country's power operator announced. 

Renewables supplied about 98.1 percent of Costa Rica's electricity for the year, the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) said in mid-December. Fossil fuels provided the remaining 1.9 percent.

 The country of 4.9 million people gets most of its electricity from large hydropower facilities, which are fed by multiple rivers and heavy seasonal rains.

Geothermal plants and wind turbines are also prominent sources of power, while biomass and solar power provide a tiny but growing share of electricity. 

 A few diesel-burning power plants round out the electricity mix, but Costa Rica has barely used them in the last two years.

The country enjoyed a 110-day stretch of carbon-free electricity from June 17 through Oct. 6, when the power company briefly turned on its fossil fuel plants. After that blip, Costa Rica resumed its run of consecutive, fossil fuel-free days, a spokesman for ICE told Mashable on Dec. 13.

In 2015, Costa Rica used 98.9 percent renewable energy, slightly more than 2016's expected total.

 Compared to larger, more industrialized countries, Costa Rica seems like a verdant gem amid a pile of black coal rocks.

But Costa Rica's smaller economy and natural resources give it an advantage over an energy-hungry powerhouse like the United States.

Costa Rica's population, for instance, is roughly 65 times smaller than the U.S.'s. It also generates about 373 times less electricity than the United States does, according to national energy data from both countries.

Given its huge energy appetite, the U.S. faces a bigger challenge in greening the electric grid.

Nearly 15 percent of the U.S. electricity supply for January-October 2016 came from hydropower, wind, solar and other renewable sources, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported on Dec. 23.

 Coal and natural gas together accounted for nearly two-thirds of U.S. electricity generation over that period. Nuclear power provided the remaining 19 percent.

For Costa Rica, the clean energy success story is likely to continue into 2017.

ICE's president Carlos Manuel Obregón said the power company expects renewable power generation to stay "stable" this year, thanks in part to the nation's four new wind farms and favorable hydro-meteorological conditions, which are projected near the nation's hydropower plants.


Rhode Island offshore wind farm, first in the U.S., to power thousands of homes

Posted on January 4th, 2017 in wind by Spencer R.



Fifteen miles off the coast of Rhode Island stand 600-foot turbines, anchored in 90 feet of Atlantic waters. They are expected to generate enough energy to power 17,000 homes.

“We see this being a big industry, we see offshore wind producing a lot of energy for the United States, particularly here in the Northeast where the winds are really strong,” said Jeff Grybowski, CEO of Deepwater Wind, which built the wind farm.

The turbines will most benefit Block Island. Because of its location, 45 minutes by boat from the mainland, it currently gets its oil and gas shipped in.

Residents pay a premium; At peak times, nearly 60 cents per kilowatt. The wind farm is expected to cut that cost to about 24 cents.

That is great news for 68-year old Steve Draper. His family runs the 1661 Inn, one of the oldest businesses on the island.

“Our bill last year was somewhere around $200,000,” he said. “You try everything to cut your costs. It’s a major factor in doing business here.”

While countries like Denmark have been using off-shore wind farms since the early 1990s, U.S.-based projects have been stalled due to court fights over environmental fears and protests over the turbines blocking beachfront views.

“It took us eight years to build this project but we are finally here,” Grybowski said.

Other projects are in the works, potentially bringing 200 more wind turbines to the area within the next 10 years. Draper expects people will get used to the new scenery.

“We all got used to telephone poles and telephone wires in our views and they’re not beautiful,” he said.

A view of the future, powering the future.


Renewable energy could generate up to 500,000 jobs in Morocco by 2040

Posted on January 3rd, 2017 in environment by Spencer R.



Investments in renewables are starting to pay off in Morocco. A new report published by the Mediterranean Forum of Institute of Economic Sciences (Femise) claims that the renewable energy sector could create between 270,000 and 500,000 jobs in two decades.

Morocco has been one of the most ardent supporters of renewable energy. The country recently switched on the Noor solar plant. The complex alone carries a 160 megawatt capacity, with plans to expand it to 350 megawatts. After the entire plant is completed and switched on, it will provide electricity for 38% of the country. This initiative is expected to greatly help the country’s developing economy – not only by generating cheaper and more efficient energy but also by creating jobs. First released at the COP22 in Marrakech, Morocco, the Femise report highlights the opportunities brought by renewables: “Despite the difficulties of some countries, the prospects for the Mediterranean region are not unfavorable, particularly for the ER sector. FEMISE researchers estimate that about 270,000 to 500,000 jobs could be created in Morocco by 2040, in the field of renewable energies.”

The report focuses on the challenges Mediterranean countries will face, especially in a changing climate. Water scarcity is expected to become more and more common, and this scarcity will exert great economic pressure. For Morocco, a country of 33 million people, these extra jobs could prove extremely helpful. Through the ambitious Desertec Industrial Initiative, Morocco hopes to establish itself as one of the main energy suppliers in the area. Being the only African country with a power cable link to Europe, Morocco expects to generate massive revenue from exporting energy across the Mediterranean sea.

With the recent announcement that solar energy is cheaper than fossil fuel energy, it’s becoming clearer each year that renewables offer great prospects for the economy. Hopefully, other countries will follow these trends and take advantage of these opportunities, instead of continuing to finance coal and other fossil fuels.


The dawn of architectural solar

Posted on January 3rd, 2017 in solar by Spencer R.



Since the beginning of the modern architectural era, humankind has dreamed of self-sustaining buildings that generate their own power. Futurists of the early 20th century looked ahead to the days when the sun would power our homes and commercial buildings and we would be transported to and from our workplaces in flying cars. Unlike the overly ambitious estimates concerning personal air transportation, today the concept of a solar-powered building is neither remote nor unachievable.

In fact, over the past six years in America, solar power has exploded into the energy sector with the kind of industrial vigor not seen since the 1950s. In 2010 America had less than 1 gigawatt of deployed solar generation. Today that number has ballooned to over 30 gigawatts and continues to increase at an astonishing rate of growth.

This enormous upswing in solar generation is due in large measure to a precipitous decrease in the cost of solar generating materials. In 2006 a solar cell cost between $3.75 and $4.25 per watt. Today that same solar cell is 20 percent more efficient and costs about $0.35 per watt. Significant increases in demand have spurred the growth of production capacity and economies of scale have propelled the solar energy markets at unprecedented rates. A dramatic increase in the cost of electricity in many parts of the country in combination with a generous investment tax credit provided by the federal government have provided further motivation for investment in solar generation.

In addition to these market propellants, a vast network of solar technicians and solar suppliers also has sprung up in the new American energy market. Thousands of installers and electrical contractors are fully invested with solar skills and technology and every major electrical supply house in the nation provides a comprehensive line of electrical management systems to support solar energy integration. Solar energy is fully embedded in the National Electrical Code and utility-grid connection of solar generators is widely permitted.

In short, solar technology is now settled science and has become an accepted part of our mix of energy resources in America. There is still nearly unlimited room for growth but it is safe to say that solar energy is here to stay.

Resting on the foundation of this extraordinary American solar success story sits the framework of the next generation of solar technology, architectural solar or as it is known in the industry, building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV). This market segment is the logical progression of solar energy generation and is ripe for exponential growth.

Architectural solar is defined as a BIPV component, which forms part of the structure of a building. It is not a solar panel attached to a structure but rather a typical building component such as a window, spandrel panel or other cladding component adapted to produce electricity. If a building integrated photovoltaic component were to be removed from a structure, the resulting gap in the façade would be filled with a substitute building material.

Unlike traditional solar energy generation however, architectural solar generation is quite a bit more complex and depends on the cooperation and collaboration of numerous stakeholders. The success of architectural solar relies heavily on buy-in from building-owners, architects, construction companies, glaziers, building envelope suppliers and civil electrical contractors. Furthermore, until very recently, there has been no supply chain to support architectural solar in America. There have been boutique BIPV suppliers; however, none significant enough to be embraced by the mainstream construction market sufficiently to create a real market.

Most significant, the construction industry has been reluctant to fully embrace architectural solar because it was uncertain of the reliability of the warranties provided by the nascent industry. Over the past few years, the birth of the solar energy market often has been turbulent and uncertain, with many players failing to rise due to rapidly changing market conditions. To sum it up in a phrase coined by a construction company executive: "How can I accept a 20-year warranty from a company that has only been in business for six months?" This sentiment has been echoed by many construction industry professionals and exposes the fact that they are looking for integrated solutions from legacy players, not start-up companies without measurable track histories.

For this reason, companies such as California-based Walters & Wolf Glass Company have embraced this nascent architectural solar market and are bringing their considerable resources, reputation and expertise to it. Major construction companies and building developers will be able to incorporate architectural solar into new projects with the confidence provided by a venerable 40-year building envelope provider. Walters & Wolf can offer one-stop shopping for their clients and provide the confidence of supply chain reliability, technical excellence and warranty security.

Furthermore, the opening of this market has created tremendous opportunity for the new development of creative and unique architectural solar concepts. One such developer of this new architectural solar technology is Solaria Corporation of Fremont, California. Solaria has developed groundbreaking photovoltaic technologies that are ideal for use in building integrated photovoltaic components. Solaria’s unique solar cell singulation technology has allowed it to develop an architecturally beautiful vision glass that can be used in typical window openings providing a see-through window that generates electricity. Solaria’s other architectural solar products such as spandrel and solar cladding are equally aesthetically appealing and are creating a great deal of buzz in the architectural community.   

Going forward, as more players enter this market segment, it is expected that dramatic new breakthroughs will be made in architectural solar technology. As the new technology takes root, architects will be encouraged to evolve their building designs to incorporate more building integrated photovoltaic components. As a result, it is expected that buildings will generate incrementally greater amounts of electricity.

Many industry watchers have wondered why architectural solar has not flourished sooner, but to be completely frank, the market has not been mature enough to support it until now. In the past, architectural solar was considered very expensive with a poor return on investment based on energy generation. Today, with low raw material cost and tax incentives, architectural solar looks very attractive indeed. Furthermore, much of the cost of installation and maintenance is shared with the building. This allows more money to be allotted to high quality architectural solar components using money that otherwise would be spent on PV infrastructure. The result is that architectural solar can legitimately compete with traditional solar energy for return on investment in addition to being aesthetically beautiful.


Over the next decade, it is expected that architectural solar will become a standard practice on all new construction and soon the idea of erecting a new structure without it will be architectural heresy. Once the full power of the shared imagination and technical capabilities of this robust new market are brought to bear, we finally will realize the dream of those visionaries of yesteryear. Soon we will look out over the cityscape through the windows of our cars as we fly to work and wonder how we ever lived in a world that did not draw its energy from the sun.