The South Has Been Slow To Harness Its Wind, But That's Changing

Posted on March 2nd, 2017 in wind by Spencer R.



 Wind power is the largest source of renewable energy in the United States. But a broad swath of the country has had no large, commercial wind farms — until now. A new one with 104 towers is up and running near Elizabeth City, N.C., where it spans 22,000 acres.

Horace Pritchard is one of about 60 landowners who are leasing property to the project known as the Amazon Wind Farm U.S. East. Developers say it will generate enough power for 61,000 homes per year — power that the Internet retailer Amazon has agreed to buy from the electric grid.

Pritchard's farm is about 30 miles from the Atlantic coast — close enough to be windier than areas farther inland. The project is a good deal for Pritchard, who gets an annual payment for each turbine on his land.

"When corn's down, that you're not making any ends meet, this will help us pull through a bad year or a hurricane or a drought," he says.

The wind farm is considered the first of its kind in the Southeastern United States. But why has the region been so slow to harness its wind?

Slow Southern breezes

In the Southeast, the strongest winds tend to be higher up than in places like the Great Plains, with their wide open spaces.

"There are decent and actually quite good wind speeds at very high elevations above the earth's surface in the Southeast," says Michael Goggin, senior director of research at the American Wind Energy Association. "Thus far, we just haven't had turbines that were large enough to get up there to capture those winds."

That's partly a quirk of geography, he says, and partly because the Southeast has a lot of trees and forests.

"That interferes with the flow of wind, you know, just basically friction — the wind is slowing down as it hits those trees," Goggin says.

All of that explains why, aside from a small amount of wind power in Tennessee, the region has lagged far behind the rest of the country in wind energy.

That might sound counterintuitive if you're thinking of the robust winds that blow along the ocean. And you'd be right, but coastal wind development can be logistically complicated because of homes, businesses and other structures, and often faces public resistance.

"On the beach, there is a lot of wind — that's why people go to the beach in the summer to get cool and be near the water," says Craig Poff, director of business development at Avangrid Renewables, which runs the project. "But you have to balance the placement of wind turbines with the geography."

Wind towers weren't tall enough — until now

The wind turbines on Pritchard's farm dot the landscape, along with his tractors and other farm equipment. They're tall: The tip of the highest blade stretches close to 500 feet in the air above the base, longer than a football field. The blades make a faint whooshing sound as they slice through the air.

Poff says it's hard to tell with the naked eye, but these towers are a little different from the ones you might see in other parts of the country.

"They've gotten a little bit taller and the blades have gotten a little bit longer," he says.

About 10 years ago, he says, the tower itself would have been about 250 feet tall. Now the tower alone is about 330 feet. That extra length is possible because of technological advances that make taller towers feasible and more affordable than they would have been a decade ago.

"I think it has changed the energy map of the country," says Goggin, of the American Wind Energy Association. "Traditionally, people didn't think there was wind in the Southeast, and now there are projects being built there."

Competition from traditional fuels

Historically, the Southeast has relied on easy access to coal, and in some areas, nuclear power. As the industry has matured and technology has advanced, Poff says the cost of generating wind power has dropped about 65 percent over about the past five years.

"Wind energy has to compete with what the cost of energy is in the area," he says. "So here, it took a while for turbine technology to catch up to make this project competitive with what energy would otherwise cost. And here we're competing against old infrastructure."

Between cheaper wind, and a recent volatility in coal prices and competition from natural gas, Goggin says renewable fuel is becoming more attractive in the region. Several utilities, from Georgia to Tennessee, have a history of buying renewable energy — from outside the region.

"It makes sense that utilities are looking to diversify their fuel mix and lock in a low price with wind energy," Goggin says.

Transmission and the grid

Another challenge for wind development in the Southeast and elsewhere is the fact that the nation's electrical grid wasn't designed with renewable energy in mind. Goggin describes the grid as a system of regional fiefdoms with a "little dirt road between them" that aren't set up to efficiently exchange energy.

"This is just kind of a historical artifact of how we built the power grid in this country," Goggin says. "We didn't really have a national power system or a national electricity market, until the last decade or so."

In some areas, utilities wanting to buy and sell wind energy are running against limitations of the existing transmission lines.

"So I think that's part of also what's driving interest in wind projects in the Southeast, is that we've hit limits on how much you can bring in from other regions," Goggin says.

Politics and public opposition

Wind farms in new areas often run up against pushback from the public. For the project in North Carolina, there were several obstacles. Republican state lawmakers raised concerns that it might interfere with military radar. The Navy reviewed the project and said interference is unlikely.

Lawmakers then made a last-ditch request to President Trump to block the project. That has apparently failed, but Trump has expressed skepticism about wind power; he famously objected to a wind farm he said would disrupt the view near one of his golf courses in Scotland.

Those concerns, along with worries about noise, land use, and the impact on birds and other wildlife, often pop up around new wind developments.

Officials with Avangrid say they hope the North Carolina project will pave the way for more wind power in the region. Spokesman Art Sasse says he believes growing demand from technology companies like Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook will drive growth in the renewable sector, regardless of politics.

"All of those companies now that are going out and purchasing large-scale, commercial, renewable projects — that's not going to stop," Sasse says. "That is where our industry is headed, so it really is about the marketplace."

For Horace Pritchard, the economics are working out well; he says the $54,000 he's getting each year for the nine towers on his farm more than offsets the land taken out of production beneath them. Some of the neighbors who initially scoffed at the wind farm are now asking if they can get in on the deal, he says.

With a laugh, Pritchard adds, "Over the long-term, nothing I could grow legal[ly] would produce what these are doin'."


Wind Energy Is Now The Largest Source Of Clean Energy In The U.S.

Posted on March 1st, 2017 in wind by Spencer R.



Wind power has now overtaken hydroelectric as the largest single source of clean energy in the United States. With 82 thousand MWs of total installed capacity at the end of 2016, wind turbines exceeded the 80 thousand MWs generated by the nation’s hydroelectric dams. This comes on the heels of the EIA’s short-term energy outlook which predicts wind and solar power will continue to account for the fastest growth in the U.S. energy sector, repeating a trend from last year. The EIA predicts wind power will reach 94 thousand MWs by 2018.

Wind hasn’t surpassed hydroelectric power in all categories, however; in terms of actual power generated, dams still out-perform wind turbines, as they tend to stay on for more of the year. But with few dams planned for construction, it’s likely wind power will exceed hydroelectric in actual power produced in the next few years.

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) has reported that 10 thousand MWs in new power is currently under construction, including the Amazon Wind Farm off the coast of Elizabeth City, NC, the nation’s first large off-shore wind farm. Last year, 8200 MWs was added, most of it in the year’s final quarter.


Much of the growth is being driven by Texas, by far the country’s largest producer of wind power and the industry’s leader in adding new capacity. Texas produces 20 thousand MWs, around a quarter of the national total, and maintains more than 11 thousand turbines, which produce 13 percent of the state’s total power. Texan interest in wind power, which grew under Governor Rick Perry, has wind energy advocates hopeful that Perry’s current role as Secretary of Energy won’t prove an impediment to additional growthFurther interest in wind power may be generated by the sector’s growing role as a job creator. Wind power provides employment for about 100,000 people nationwide, far more than the coal industry. Bloomberg has reported that wind power advocates and developers have been urging the federal government, which has shown considerable interest in rejuvenating the U.S. coal industry, to instead shift their attention to wind power.

Much of the sector’s growing capacity is coming in rural areas, chiefly in the Midwest. North Dakota, to name one example, has seen 3 thousand MWs installed in the past decade, and one-third of that total in just the last 10 months.

Internationally, the U.S. remains way behind China in terms of wind power capacity. Of the 54 GW installed worldwide in 2016, China accounted for 42 percent, or 23.3 GW. According to Chinese projections, by 2030 wind turbines will supply 26 percent of total electricity demand. China cannot produce electricity with the same efficiency as American turbines, according to Bloomberg, chiefly due to inadequate transmission lines.In Europe, another leader in wind power, 12.5 GW was added, a slight decrease from 2015.

Since the U.S. election last year, the big question facing renewable energy is whether the new Trump Administration, outwardly hostile to non-fossil fuels and critical of climate change advocacy, will prove a hindrance to growth in their sector. Some investors are optimistic, confident that the plummeting cost of wind turbines, the attraction of constructing new wind farms in rural or low-income areas, and the strong demand will continue to propel growth. As one advocate for wind power noted in the Dallas Morning News“88 percent of wind capacity installed…was in states that voted for Trump.”

Wind power has attracted strong interest from major U.S. corporations. Google is backing a plan to build a 225 MW wind farm in Oklahoma, bringing the company’s renewable energy portfolio to 2.6 GW. Amazon is constructing turbines in North Carolina to power a server facility. The GM factory in Arlington, TX receives half its power from wind turbines, and plans are set for that figure to reach 100 percent by 2018. The car manufacturer announced plans last November to power fifteen of its factories with wind power and plans on meeting all of its energy needs with renewables by 2050.

 The announcement of New York’s planned 90 MW off-shore wind farm offers further indications of potential growth in the wind power sector. Despite the potential obstacles, economic and political, wind power will continue to be an attractive option for adding new electricity capacity.


Wind energy supplied all of Denmark’s power needs one day last week

Posted on March 1st, 2017 in wind by Spencer R.



Renewable energy can generate enough power for entire countries–a fact Denmark can confirm. Last week on Wednesday, the nation met all of its power needs via wind energy, according to information from wind power trade organization WindEurope. The group said the energy Denmark produced from onshore and offshore wind was sufficient to power 10 million European Union (EU) households.

Denmark produced 27 GWh via offshore wind and 70 gigawatt-hours (GWh) via onshore wind on February 23, according to WindEurope. This isn’t the first time wind power has achieved renewable energy feats in the country; 2015 saw several big days for wind energy. By the end of that year, 1,271 megawatts (MW) of offshore wind and 3,799 MW of onshore wind was installed in Denmark, amounting to a little over five gigawatts (GW) of wind energy.


Related: Germany generated so much renewable energy last weekend electric prices went negative

The industry did experience a slight slump in 2016, owing mainly to low winds. Before that year, Danish Wind Industry Association CEO Jan Hylleberg said since 2008 they’d “experienced continuous growth in the wind energy production and each year set a new world record.” Although the industry expected the trend wouldn’t continue in 2016, Hylleberg said the fact they didn’t maintain that upward movement was frustrating, but it appears 2017 is off to a soaring start. MHI Vestas Offshore Wind‘s new nine MW wind turbine already smashed the record for energy generation in a 24 hour period during testing at a test field off Denmark’s coast.

Hylleberg described Denmark as world champions at harnessing wind. But the Nordic country wasn’t the only nation to obtain a large amount of power via wind energy last week. WindEurope also reported Germany and Ireland respectively met 52 and 42 percent of their electricity needs with wind. According to the organization, “Wind power in the EU as a whole covered almost 19 percent of the bloc’s electricity needs.”


Electric Cars Married To Solar Energy Is The Key To Curb Fossil Fuel Growth

Posted on March 1st, 2017 in solar by Spencer R.



In 2006, Tesla Motors visionary Elon Musk boldly wrote in his Master Plan: “the overarching purpose of Tesla Motors (and the reason I am funding the company) is to help expedite the move from a mine-and-burn hydrocarbon economy towards a solar electric economy.” In addition to Tesla, Musk was also CEO of America’s largest solar provider, SolarCity. Fast forward a decade later and in Musk’s Master Plan Part Deux, he wrote that, “We can’t do this well if Tesla and SolarCity are different companies, which is why we need to combine… the time has come to bring them together.”

As SolarCity and Tesla came together last fall, Matt Roberts, executive director of the Energy Storage Association, explained Musk’s rationale for the merger:

“There’s a clear business case here: Musk says he can expand the market for solar panels by offering them to people who are already considering buying an electric car, and vice versa… In other words, Tesla wants to offer the whole fossil fuel-free frittata.”

Could this Tesla Lifestyle — the alliance of electric cars and solar — actually have a real impact on the fossil fuel juggernaut?

Apparently so. This week, the Guardian* reported that the, “falling costs of electric vehicles and solar panels could halt worldwide growth in demand for oil and coal by 2020, a new report has suggested. A scenario that takes into account the latest cost reduction projections for the green technologies, and countries’ pledges to cut emissions, finds that solar power and electric vehicles are ‘gamechangers’ that could leave fossil fuels stranded. Polluting fuels could lose 10% of market share to solar power and clean cars within a decade, the report by the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London and the Carbon Tracker Initiative found.”

Furthermore, it’s reported that, “The cost of solar has fallen 85% in seven years, and the report finds panels could supply 23% of global power generation by 2040 and 29% by 2050, entirely phasing coal out and leaving natural gas with just a 1% share. By 2035, electric vehicles could make up 35% of the road transport market, and two-thirds by 2050, when it could displace 25m barrels of oil per day.” If companies like Tesla continue to innovate at light speed, it could mean that these, “scenarios [might] look conservative in five years’ time.”

Some in the fossil fuel business have taken notice. Electrek reports that Shell Oil’s business director John Abbott announced, “We have a number of countries where we’re looking at having [electric vehicle] battery charging facilities” starting in Britain and the Netherlands. Russia has actually made it a law that gas stations need to offer electric vehicle charging. Recently, CleanTechnica reported that, “The France-based oil company Total will be adding [a planned 300] electric vehicle charging stations to its extant petrol/gasoline station network in France.” Looks like the energy transformation — at least the beginning — has already begun.


Mumbai start-up uses solar energy to preserve seasonal produce, tackle undernourishment

Posted on March 1st, 2017 in solar by Spencer R.



A Mumbai-based start-up has used solar energy to preserve seasonal produce, helping prevent undernourishment among rural women and women farmers.

All that S4S Technologies (Science for Society) did was provide solar conduction dryers, which dehydrate vegetables and fruits, to 230 rural women in 17 of Maharashtra’s villages. Another group comprising 200 women from villages in Thane and Aurangabad — called the control group — were not provided with the dryers.

Developed by S4S, the electricity-free solar-powered food dehydrator uses controlled radiation technology to trap the infrared rays that dry fruits and vegetables. The dehydrated products regain their original properties when put in water. Every year, 25%-30% of the 250 million tonnes of fruits and vegetables produced in India are lost.

“Undernutrition or malnutrition is intergenerational. It passes from a mother to her children,” said Vaibhav Tidke, chief executive officer, S4S. “Undernourishment is attributed to poverty, which results in poor ability to buy food and maintain dietary variations, food shortage across off-seasons when agri-products are not available on farms, gender inequality as women are not equipped to buy and supply nutritional food, and poor feeding practices that rely on staple food as major component of diet.”

The women were trained to use the dryers to dehydrate onions, fenugreek, spinach, dried ginger, mangoes and papaya. These dehydrated products were integrated in their daily diet, especially during the lean season — January to June — when fresh produce is not available for consumption.

The fact that vegetables were ready to be consumed during the lean season increased the Dietary Diversity Score — amount of nutrients in one’s diet — in the experimental group by 37% more than the control group.

“During the lean season, women end up eating starchy food. They boil potatoes with salt and some spice; all of which has no nutrition,” said Tidke. “Dehydrating locally available seasonal food and cooking it improved the women’s haemoglobin count by an average of one point — from 8g/dL to 9g/dL, for instance,” he added.

With the dryer reducing moisture content in agri-animal produce and maintaining nutritional values, women farmers and rural women can preserve seasonal produce for six months to a year, without using chemicals.

“When vegetables, fruits or any agricultural products are dehydrated, there is a less-than-5% loss in minerals and protein activity owing to the controlled temperature increase during the drying process. The concentration of nutrients, vitamins and protein activity is increased by almost five times owing to the removal of water. Hence, the net gain is enormous,” said Bhaskar Thorat,head, chemical engineering department, ICT, and advisor for S4S. “This concentration increases energy levels and improves haemoglobin levels,” he added.

In addition to consuming the dried product and preventing wastage, the women also sold the surplus. Of the 200 women in the experimental group, 105 sold the surplus dehydrated food — approximately 20,000kg of agricultural products.

With more than Rs10 lakh in proceeds, the consumption of dehydrated vegetables and fruits helped the women save Rs40 to Rs60 a week during the lean season.


The team plans to write to the state women and child welfare and tribal departments with the proposal to introduce solar conduction dryers in villages.

“There needs to be a policy intervention in terms of installing solar dryers at the panchayat levels,” said Tidke.

The two-year project was executed by S4S, Institute of Chemical Technology, Mumbai and Hyderabad-based National Institute of Nutrition. It is supported by the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (Department of Biotechnology), Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and USAID

The solar conduction dryer is a patented technology recognised by the UN, USAID, UKAID, FICCI and University of Texas. It costs three to five times less than other solar dryers and processes 1 tonne material annually.


Hydro storage can secure 100 percent renewable electricity

Posted on February 28th, 2017 in hydro by Spencer R.



Pumped hydro storage can be used to help build a secure and cheap Australian electricity grid with 100 per cent renewable energy, a new study from The Australian National University (ANU) has found.

Lead researcher Professor Andrew Blakers from ANU said the zero-emissions grid would mainly rely on wind and solar photovoltaic (PV) technology, with support from pumped hydro storage, and would eliminate Australia's need for coal and gas-fired power.

"With Australia wrestling with how to secure its energy supply, we've found we can make the switch to affordable and reliable clean power," said Professor Blakers from the ANU Research School of Engineering.

Professor Blakers said wind and solar PV  provided nearly all new generation capacity in Australia and half the world's new generation capacity each year. At present, renewable energy accounts for around 15 per cent of Australia's electricity generation while two thirds comes from coal-fired power stations.

"However, most existing coal and gas stations will retire over the next 15 years, and it will be cheaper to replace them with wind and solar PV," he said.

The ANU research considers the potential benefits of using hydro power , where water is pumped uphill and stored to generate electricity on demand.

"Pumped hydro energy storage is 97 per cent of all storage worldwide, and can be used to support high levels of solar PV and wind," Professor Blakers said.

Professor Blakers said the cost of a 100 per cent stabilised renewable electricity system would be around AU$75/MWh, which is cheaper than coal and gas-fuelled power.

ANU is leading a study to map potential short-term off-river pumped hydro energy storage (STORES) sites that could support a much greater share of  in the grid.

STORES sites are pairs of reservoirs, typically 10 hectares each, which are separated by an altitude difference of between 300 and 900 metres, in hilly terrain, and joined by a pipe with a pump and turbine. Water is circulated between the upper and lower reservoirs in a closed loop to store and generate power.

Dr Matthew Stocks from the ANU Research School of Engineering said STORES needed much less water than power generated by fossil fuels and had minimal impact on the environment because water was recycled between the small reservoirs.

"This hydro power doesn't need a river and can go from zero to full  in minutes, providing an effective method to stabilise the grid," he said.

"The water is pumped up from the low reservoir to the high reservoir when the sun shines and wind blows and electricity is abundant, and then the  can run down through the turbine at night and when electricity is expensive."

Co-researcher Mr Bin Lu said Australia had hundreds of potential sites for STORES in the extensive hills and mountains close to population centres from North Queensland down the east coast to South Australia and Tasmania.


EnergyAustralia ponders world’s largest seawater pumped hydro energy storage plant

Posted on February 24th, 2017 in hydro by Spencer R.



 The proposed project would be situated at the northern end of the Spencer Gulf with 300 metres elevation. Credit: EnergyAustralia

Major power firm EnergyAustralia is studying the feasibility of building a huge pumped hydroelectric energy storage project in the Spencer Gulf of South Australia.

Standing at 100MW with six-to-eight hours of storage, this would not only be the second ever seawater-based pumped hydro storage project in the world, it would also be the largest.

EnergyAustralia claimed that the project would account for the equivalent of 60,000 home battery storage systems, but at a third of the price, while helping to stabilise and integrate clean energy to the grid.

Air-conditioning is clearly a major challenge for the country’s grid operators and the project could offer some respite.

“On hot days, when demand spikes, a pumped hydro plant can be brought into action in minutes, keeping the lights on and costs down,” said EnergyAustralia managing director Catherine Tanna. “We're really excited by its potential.”

The proposed project would be situated at the northern end of the Spencer Gulf with 300 metres elevation, two kilometres from the coastline and in close proximity to high voltage transmission lines.

Pumped hydro storage involves pumping water from a lower reservoir to a higher reservoir, when energy produced is cheaper or in excess. In peak periods, the water can be released downwards to run a turbine, which then generates electricity.

Since 2013, EnergyAustralia’s project partners, Melbourne Energy Institute and engineering consultancy Arup Group, have been investigating how to adapt traditional fresh water pumped hydro for use with seawater instead – a need for innovation driven by Australia’s dry conditions.

The feasibility study for the new project is touted for completion by mid-2017 and if then approved via consultation with stakeholders and government, it will require a two-year construction period.

Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has also written to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) asking them to prioritise pumped hydro and storage. Grid stabilising has become a major poltical issue in Australia over the last few months after several disruptive blackouts in South Australia and other states. This led to a furore surrounding integration of renewables into the grid with various energy bodies and environmentalists arguing over whether renewbales had any role in the power cuts.

Tellingly, even Turnbull noted that a storm had caused the South Australia power issues.

Construction starts on solar-plus-hydro storage project

In related news, construction has started on the first phase of what will be Australia’s largest solar plant, just off the back of reaching financial closure.

While a second phase of 270MW of solar is planned at the 50MW Kidston solar farm at a gold mine in Queensland, energy firm Genex Power is also considering developing an accompanying 250MW Kidston pumped storage hydro project, which it found could be connected to the solar plant in a recent study.

This would be the first Australian example of co-locating a large-scale solar farm with a large-scale pumped hydro storage project.

Genex forecasts that the pumped hydro storage project will support 1,500MWh of continuous power in a single 6-hour generation cycle. Despite many instances of pumped storage deployment worldwide, there are only three pumped hydro storage projects operating in Australia at Tumut and the Shoalhaven in New South Wales and at Wivenhoe in Queensland.

The Kidston solar project received a debt funding arrangement of approximately AU$100 million (US$76.9 million) from Société Générale, with the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) taking care of the EPC requirements and O&M costs.


“Fabulous” Precious Metal Kickstarts Energy-to-Fuel System, Solar Style

Posted on February 24th, 2017 in solar by Spencer R.



 Scientists at Duke University have figured out how to tease just a little more fabulousness out of rhodium, a rare element that the jewelry finishing trade considers to be fabulous enough already. The research team has deployed rhodium in system that uses solar energy to convert carbon dioxide into methane, aka natural gas. The idea, eventually, could be to capture waste gas from industrial operations and convert it to usable fuel.

Both carbon dioxide and methane are greenhouse gases, so at first blush there doesn’t seem much to gain. However, if you look at the hazards and risks of natural gas fracking — including “fugitive” methane emissions — sourcing methane from captured waste gas starts to look pretty good.

Solar Energy + CO2 = Fuel

The new Duke University breakthrough solves one of the problems that has been giving researchers conniptions for years.

Rhodium is an excellent catalyst, but it produces carbon monoxide and other undesirable byproducts when used for CO2 conversion. According to Duke, the ratio is about half methane and half undesirables.

That inefficiency makes the pathway to commercialization all the more difficult. That’s compounded by the price of rhodium, which can cost 10 times more than gold. Rhodium is also susceptible to wide swings in the global commodities market.

The Duke team seems to have solved both problems at once. Leveraging the relatively new (well, new-ish) field of plasmonics, the team was able to work with nanoscale bits of synthetic rhodium that were optimized for light near the ultraviolet range.

When exposed to light in that range, the resulting CO2 conversion leaned toward producing methane without the byproducts.

Here’s an explainer from Henry Everitt, a scientist at a US Army R&D center who is also an adjunct professor at Duke:

“Effectively, plasmonic metal nanoparticles act like little antennas that absorb visible or ultraviolet light very efficiently and can do a number of things like generate strong electric fields…For the last few years there has been a recognition that this property might be applied to catalysis.”

Among the many next steps involved in getting this thing out of the lab and into the streets, the team will be looking at ways to use natural sunlight instead of UV light.

There’s A Catch…Or Is There?

The Duke study has just been published in the journal Nature Communications under the title, “Product selectivity in plasmonic photocatalysis for carbon dioxide hydrogenation.

If you caught that thing about hydrogenation, that refers to the use of hydrogen in the reaction.

That should send up a red flag or two because right now a primary source for hydrogen gas is methane gas. Hydrogen already has many industrial uses and demand for hydrogen will rise if the whole fuel cell thing catches on (it already has, in some sectors). Methane conversion would add yet another straw to the methane load, solar powered or not.

So, is the Duke breakthrough really all that helpful?

It could be, eventually.

Aside from fossil sources, animal waste and other types of biomass are sources of methane emissions (yes, that includes cow farts). Current research indicates that globally, domestic livestock accounts for a large portion of methane emissions so rise in demand for hydrogen could help accelerate efforts to reclaim those emissions and put them to use.

Research teams all over the globe are also busily applying themselves to the task of “splitting” water to produce hydrogen, and powering that process with solar energy or other renewables.

And, speaking of fuel cells, back in 2013 CleanTechnica covered a rather interesting study indicating that a catalyst based on rhodium and cobalt could enable fuel cells to generate their own hydrogen on the go.


Thai Solar Energy to develop 154.9MW PV project in Miyagi prefecture, Japan

Posted on February 24th, 2017 in solar by Spencer R.



In a letter to the Stock Exchange of Thailand, Thai Solar Energy announced that it has acquired the rights to construct and own a 154.9MW solar project in Onikobe, Miyagi prefecture, Japan.

As part of the deal, Thai Solar will hold a 60% stake in the new project, while Sino-Thai Engineering & Construction will hold on to the remaining portion of the project.

The installation, which will be developed over 332.8 hectares of land, will require an investment of US$539 million on the part of Thai Solar Energy.

The 154MW project will require an investment of US$539 from Thai Solar Energy. Image: Portland General Electric / Flickr

In addition to the current acquisition, both Thai Solar and Sino-Thai will acquire the companies of PurpleSol and SolarOne in order to complete the project.

PurpleSol has obtained certification for power distribution, as granted by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry — along with other required and necessary licenses including a deal regarding grid connection with electricity utility providers.


Solar panels get a face-lift with custom designs

Posted on February 23rd, 2017 in solar by Spencer R.



Residential solar power is on a sharp rise in the United States as photovoltaic systems become cheaper and more powerful for homeowners. A 2012 study by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) predicts that solar could reach 1 million to 3.8 million homes by 2020, a big leap from just 30,000 homes in 2006.

But that adoption rate could still use a boost, according to MIT spinout Sistine Solar. “If you look at the landscape today, less than 1 percent of U.S. households have gone solar, so it’s nowhere near mass adoption,” says co-founder Senthil Balasubramanian MBA ’13.

Founded at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Sistine creates custom solar panels designed to mimic home facades and other environments, with aims of enticing more homeowners to install photovoltaic systems.

Sistine’s novel technology, SolarSkin, is a layer that can be imprinted with any image and embedded into a solar panel without interfering with the panel’s efficacy. Homeowners can match their rooftop or a grassy lawn. Panels can also be fitted with business logos, advertisements, or even a country’s flag. SolarSkin systems cost about 10 percent more than traditional panel installations. But over the life of the system, a homeowner can still expect to save more than $30,000, according to the startup.

A winner of a 2013 MIT Clean Energy Prize, Sistine has recently garnered significant media attention as a rising “aesthetic solar” startup. Last summer, one of its pilot projects was featured on the Lifetime television series “Designing Spaces,” where the panels blended in with the shingle roof of a log cabin in Hubbardston, Massachusetts.

In December, the startup installed its first residential SolarSkin panels, in a 10-kilowatt system that matches a cedar pattern on a house in Norwell, Massachusetts. Now, the Cambridge-based startup says it has 200 homes seeking installations, primarily in Massachusetts and California, where solar is in high demand.

“We think SolarSkin is going to catch on like wildfire,” Balasubramanian says. “There is a tremendous desire by homeowners to cut utility bills, and solar is finding reception with them — and homeowners care a lot about aesthetics.”

Captivating people with solar

SolarSkin is the product of the co-founders’ unique vision, combined with MIT talent that helped make the product a reality.

Balasubramanian came to MIT Sloan in 2011, after several years in the solar-power industry, with hopes of starting his own solar-power startup — a passion shared by classmate and Sistine co-founder Ido Salama MBA ’13.

One day, the two were brainstorming at the Muddy Charles Pub, when a surprisingly overlooked issue popped up: Homeowners, they heard, don’t really like the look of solar panels. That began a nebulous business mission to “captivate people’s imaginations and connect people on an emotional level with solar,” Balasubramanian says.

Recruiting Jonathan Mailoa, then a PhD student in MIT’s Photovoltaic Research Laboratory, and Samantha Holmes, a mosaic artist trained in Italy who is still with the startup, the four designed solar panels that could be embedded on massive sculptures and other 3-D objects. They took the idea to 15.366 (Energy Ventures), where “it was drilled into our heads that you have to do a lot of market testing before you build a product,” Balasubramanian says.

That was a good thing, too, he adds, because they realized their product wasn’t scalable. “We didn’t want to make a few installations that people talk about. … We [wanted to] make solar so prevalent that within our lifetime we can see the entire world convert to 100 percent clean energy,” Balasubramanian says.

The team’s focus then shifted to manufacturing solar panels that could match building facades or street fixtures such as bus shelters and information kiosks. In 2013, the idea earned the team — then officially Sistine Solar — a modest DOE grant and a $20,000 prize from the MIT Clean Energy Prize competition, “which was a game-changer for us,” Balasubramanian says.

But, while trying to construct custom-designed panels, another idea struck: Why not just make a layer to embed into existing solar panels? Recruiting MIT mechanical engineering student Jody Fu, Sistine created the first SolarSkin prototype in 2015, leading to pilot projects for Microsoft, Starwood Hotels, and other companies in the region.

That summer, after earning another DOE grant for $1 million, Sistine recruited Anthony Occidentale, an MIT mechanical engineering student who has since helped further advance SolarSkin. “We benefited from the incredible talent at MIT,” Balasubramanian says. “Anthony is a shining example of someone who resonates with our vision and has all the tools to make this a reality.”

Imagination is the limit

SolarSkin is a layer that employs selective light filtration to display an image while still transmitting light to the underlying solar cells. The ad wraps displayed on bus windows offer a good analogy: The wraps reflect some light to display an image, while allowing the remaining light through so passengers inside the bus can see out. SolarSkin achieves a similar effect — “but the innovation lies in using a minute amount of light to reflect an image [and preserve] a high-efficiency solar module,” Balasubramanian says.

To achieve this, Occidentale and others at Sistine have developed undisclosed innovations in color science and human visual perception. “We’ve come up with a process where we color-correct the minimal information we have of the image on the panels to make that image appear, to the human eye, to be similar to the surrounding backdrop of roof shingles,” Occidentale says.

As for designs, Sistine has amassed a database of common rooftop patterns in the United States, such as asphalt shingles, clay tiles, and slate, in a wide variety of colors. “So if a homeowner says, for instance, ‘We have manufactured shingles in a barkwood pattern,’ we have a matching design for that,” he says. Custom designs aren’t as popular, but test projects include commercial prints for major companies, and even Occidentale’s face on a panel.

Currently, Sistine is testing SolarSkin for efficiency, durability, and longevity at the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory under a DOE grant.

The field of aesthetic solar is still nascent, but it’s growing, with major companies such as Tesla designing entire solar-panel roofs. But, as far as Balasubramanian knows, Sistine is the only company that’s made a layer that can be integrated into any solar panel, and that can display any color as well as intricate patterns and actual images.

Companies could thus use SolarSkin solar panels to double as business signs. Municipalities could install light-powering solar panels on highways that blend in with the surrounding nature. Panels with changeable advertisements could be placed on bus shelters to charge cell phones, information kiosks, and other devices. “You can start putting solar in places you typically didn’t think of before,” Balasubramanian says. “Imagination is really the only limit with this technology.”