Solar Energy is Making Useless Land Useful Again

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



Solar panels installed on two closed landfills are powering equipment needed to ensure gases and toxins are not polluting the air and water.

The panels were installed last year at the Washington Co. landfill in Lake Elmo and the Lindenfelser landfill in St. Michael.

The panels produce up to 80-percent of the power needed at the Washington Co. landfill and all of the energy plus some at Lindenfelser.

“The excess energy we sell back to the grid,” Walker Smith with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) said.

The MPCA applied for the solar use through the Minnesota Department of Commerce and used land sales to pay for $320,000 in panels.

Walker says the grids should pay for themselves in 10-15 years while the landfills are unlikely to ever be developed or sold.

“There's really not much else we can do with the land out here just because of the equipment that's on it,” Walker said.

The Washingotn Co. landfill operated in the 1970’s. The state took control of it in the 1990’s as part of the Closed Landfill Program, which allowed the state to pay for environmental protection systems that protect the air and water in the area.

The state currently operates 40 closed landfills, 23 of which require the energy powered pollution collection systems.

The MPCA hopes to expand the solar initiative to at least two more closed landfill sites in the coming years.



The $7 a month plan bringing solar energy to rural Africa

Posted on December 15th, 2016 in solar by Spencer R.



In sub-Saharan Africa, over 600 million people do not have access to electricity -- that's 68 percent of the population, according to the International Energy Agency.

That's because the power distribution infrastructure -- plants and the grid -- is severely underdeveloped, requires large investments to improve and ultimately can't keep up with the growth in demand.
One solution to the problem is to go "off the grid," mimicking the rapid distribution of mobile phones: over 90 percent of Africans have one -- more than have access to clean water -- but only a fraction of them owns a landline. In the energy sector, the cellphone equivalent is the solar panel, which is easily installed and can provide power to a household or small business.
Off Grid Electric, an African startup, is applying this formula to rural areas of Tanzania and Rwanda yielding both commercial success and life-transforming results for the recipients.

125,000 households

The company is backed by Elon Musk's SolarCity, one of the largest solar energy providers in the US, and Helios, Africa's largest private equity firm.
In November, at the UN's climate change conference in Marrakech, it won the 2016 Momentum for Change Award, which focused on projects that are addressing climate change in innovative ways.
It already powers 125,000 households and employs around 1,000 people -- about a third as salesmen who offer the energy packages door to door.
"Most of these families were burning kerosene to make light, with a negative impact on their health and wellbeing," Bill Lenihan, Off Grid Electric's President, told CNN.
Kerosene produces smoke and can't power anything but a lantern: "Now they have access to clean energy that can also power radios and TVs."
The system includes a solar panel, installed on a roof, and lithium-ion battery which provides electricity around the clock: "Kids can study at night, entrepreneurs can increase their income because their phones work all day and farmers can better protect their cattle -- it's like night and day," said Kim Schreiber, the company's chief of staff.

$7 a month

There are three different sizes of photovoltaic panels, the smallest of which can power four lights and charge one mobile phone.
"We also provide all the energy efficient accessories that go with these, from lights to chargers, to radios and TVs," said Lenihan.
Customers pay 10 percent of their package upfront, the rest is financed through monthly installments.
The costs are competitive, according to Off Grid Electric: "Just connecting to the grid can cost $300 to $400, whereas our system is $7 a month and after three years you own it and never have to pay again," said Schreiber.
Larger packages cost more: for eight lights, a radio and a 24-inch TV, the monthly fee is about $20. In comparison, a month's supply of kerosene typically costs $4 to $5.
The payments are collected via mobile phone transactions, a popular method in the continent, and a five-year service plan is included if something breaks. The battery can last seven years, and the panel itself up to 20.
In case a customer can't keep up with the plan, Off Grid Electric says it offers "room for flexibility," and ultimately the system will be removed after several months of missed installments. But most customers stay on board, according to Lenihan: "The uptake has been very strong, people continue to pay, and the growth has been really good."

A trillion dollar challenge

Providing electricity to people in sub-Saharan Africa is "a cottage industry and a trillion dollar challenge," said Lenihan.
"We can solve a problem and do it in a way that delivers a return to shareholders, which is the biggest challenge in an industry that, as a whole, has addressed less than 1 percent of this market," he said.
For small businesses, the company offers a package called Zola, which contains everything needed to run a business on solar power, including appliances and entertainment systems.
Off Grid Electric has recently signed a partnership with EDF, the world's largest utility, to expand the program to the Ivory Coast, with a goal of providing clean energy to 2 million people by 2020.


Thousands of remote Indian households to receive solar panels, chargers and batteries

Posted on December 15th, 2016 in solar by Spencer R.



More than 16,000 Indian households across 800 remote villages will be given a solar panel, with an eight-hour battery storage backup, according to the Indian minister for power, coal, new and renewable energy and mines, Piyush Goyal.

In an update on the government’s rural electrification scheme known as DDUGJY, Goyal said that these households would be given 5 LED bulbs, an energy efficient ceiling fan and a solar power-based mobile phone charging socket, free of cost from the Ministry of New and renewable energy (MNRE).

Through CSR schemes, firms under the Ministry of Power will also provide solar powered televisions.

Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) also announced recently that it will be tendering on behalf of the far northeast Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh for rural electrification of 1,058 off-grid villages using 300W solar power packs.


SolarStratos will use solar for space tourism

Posted on December 12th, 2016 in solar by Spencer R.



If you ever wanted to play astronaut but weren’t quite ready to dedicate yourself to NASA training, you might soon be in luck. On Wednesday, the Swiss company SolarStratos revealed its “solar plane,” a 28 foot-long aircraft that will be the first manned aircraft entirely powered by solar energy to break the stratosphere and get passengers to the stars.

The aircraft, which has a wingspan of 81.3 feet and weighs 992 pounds, leaves approximately the same carbon footprint as an electric car, the company claims. The wings of the plane are covered by 72-square feet of solar panels, which provide energy to its 32-KW electric engine and 20 kWh lithium-ion battery.

The first mission, which will take place in 2018, will take two hours to ascend to the stratosphere and will stay there for [15 minutes before descending. The company tells Inverse it expects to launch its first flights for commercial passengers in two to three years, but at a pretty steep price; each mission will cost $10 million.

Typically, commercial planes tend to fly in the lower region of the stratosphere, staying at altitudes between 6 and 12 miles. The SolarStratos plane reaches an altitude of 15 miles above Earth. As a comparison, the International Space Station is 220 miles above Earth.

Traditional aircraft require large, environmentally dangerous amounts of helium or gas in order to traverse the distance to the stratosphere.

“This opens the door to the possibility of electric and solar commercial aviation, close to space,” says project lead Raphael Domjan. Domjan previously created the first solar-powered boat to completely circumnavigate the globe in 2012.

In order to keep the aircraft lightweight, instead of a pressurized cabin, pilots will be required to wear pressurized space suits to deal with the -70 degrees Fahrenheit.

The two-seater to space is on the luxury end of solar flight. But SolarStratos is just one of a number of companies trying to make commercial solar flight the norm in the next decade.

Solar Impulse, a project based in Switzerland, completed the first entirely solar-powered circumnavigation of the globe in July with its Solar Impulse 2 (Si2) aircraft. The company is now pushing for innovations that will drive down the costs of solar technology and make solar flights a commercial reality in the near future.

“In nine years and eight months, you’ll have 50 people traveling short-haul on electric planes,” co-founder Bertrand Piccard recently told members of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) airlines association. “Why nine years and eight months? Because since four months I’ve been saying it will be ten years. It will happen.”

And a huge potential of solar energy in travel isn’t limited to commercial use. NASA is also developing a solar-powered ion engine to aid its mission to explore Mars.


UK Wind Energy Sets New Generation Record, Exceeds 10,000 Megawatts

Posted on December 12th, 2016 in wind by Spencer R.



The UK’s wind energy industry has surpassed another milestone, generating more than 10,000 megawatts (MW) for the first time from its fleet of onshore and offshore wind turbines.

The news comes from the UK’s wind energy trade body, RenewableUK, which reported that the record of 10,104 MW was achieved between 2pm and 2:30pm on Wednesday, providing 23% of Britain’s total electricity demand at the time.

“It’s terrific to see wind power smashing another record,” said RenewableUK’s Executive Director Emma Pinchbeck. “It shows that wind is playing an increasingly central role as a reliable part of our new modern energy system. As we install more wind power, more records will tumble. This is a Christmas clean energy bonus — not just for the renewable energy sector, but for all of us.”

The UK is arguably the world’s leading wind energy nation, given its past commitments to both onshore and offshore wind. According to RenewableUK’s figures, the UK has an onshore wind capacity of just over 9,000 MW, and offshore capacity of nearly 6,000 MW. Not surprisingly, there are also numerous offshore wind projects in development throughout UK waters.

Despite the fact that the UK earlier this year announced it would cease allowing onshore wind farms access to the country’s primary renewable energy subsidy scheme, wind energy is a dominant player across the country, and is likely to continue to be so for years to come.



Start up hopes to get 1.2 billion people out of energy poverty

Posted on December 12th, 2016 in solar by Spencer R.



 Out of ideas for stocking fillers? A Swedish tech start up has a suggestion: why not give those in need the gift of electricity?

TRINE, which connects investors with solar power entrepreneurs in East Africa via its website, has launched a Christmas present campaign.
A voucher from TRINE can be invested in a solar power project in Africa, with an expected return of around 6% for the recipient.
The investments start at $26.5 (€25) and the sky is the limit. So far, the company has raised $354,000 (€333,000) towards seven projects in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.
But it's not just gift vouchers. Launched in February 2016, the platform is open to large and small investors alike.
Co-founder and CEO Sam Manaberi says the idea stems from his own experience of a lack of opportunity for Europeans to invest sustainably.

A demand for funds

The aim is to open up business opportunities by connecting people with disposable income to African entrepreneurs, called "solar partners", who supply solar power kits to people who live in rural, off-grid areas.
"Currently in Africa, there are great entrepreneurs, a huge demand and proven technology to deliver these sorts of projects, but commercial finance is in short supply," Manaberi says.
Investors can expect a return on their investment once the entrepreneurs begin their repayment, which can take between six months and two years, according to the company.
TRINE makes no bones about being a for-profit venture, and the company motto is enshrined the name which meant triple, threefold or trinity, in Middle English.
"It reflects and symbolizes our triple bottom line thinking, where our impact is threefold -- people, planet, profit," Manaberi says.
Different from charitable giving, this approach will benefit all three sides, says Manaberi, formerly Director at Bosch Solar Energy North America. "The model is dependent on this mutual relationship and can be extremely effective when everyone pulls in the right direction."

1.2 billion without electricity

The company wants the investments to help local economies become more self-sustainable and also provide a solution to the 1.2 billion people worldwide who lack access to electricity, 95% of which are in Sub-Saharan Africa and developing countries in Asia.
"It all comes down to sustainable development across all levels and the end goal of achieving universal access to energy," Manaberi says.
The model could mean good business for TRINE too, as they lend the money to the entrepreneurs with interest.
"The solar partners pay a 5% arranger fee for the successful funding of their project, and between 10-16% interest rate on a declining balance of the loan."
The design and price of the solar kits varies according to the solar partners and the project. The end user typically pays a monthly fee for the kit via a smartphone payment.
Powered by either a micro-grid or a small individual solar panel placed on the roof, the system is used for lighting and powering appliances, cell phones and TVs.
The company hopes the kits will replace kerosene lamps, which may cause fires and health risks such as burns and poisoning from fuel ingestion.
TRINE has attracted attention from the likes of the WWF Climate Solver and COP 22, in Marrakech in November, where they were invited to give a talk about the venture.

The risk with investing

However, investing is rarely free of risk, and TRINE is no exception.
With all projects still being implemented, the solar partners are yet to begin making repayments, though they are due to start trickling in within the the next few months, according to the company.
Some projects are supported by investment protection from UK Aid, such as one in Tanzania, run by Solaris Tanzania, formerly Eternum Energy, which raised $53,000 (€50,000).
With 27 employees with 650 customers currently using their solar kits, and current investment is estimated to add another 2,000 customers. "As a small company, we found it difficult to get commercial credit from banks," says Eternum CEO and co-founder Siten Mandalia.
"So what TRINE has done is create this platform which connects investors who want to get into this industry and provide that capital gap that is missing for start ups like us."
Through Mandalia's company, Tanzanians can buy a 20 watt system for $1.80 per week over three years.
TRINE's solar partners are not the only ones selling solar power kits for monthly repayments in countries like Kenya and Tanzania. Among larger players are M-KOPA Solar, who launched a solar-powered TV earlier this year.

The rise of crowdfunding

TRINE has global ambitions, but for now, the platform is open to people in countries in the European Economic Area (EEA), with more projects across Africa in the pipeline.
Globally, interest in crowd-investment is growing fast. The market generated an estimated $2.1 billion globally for start ups in 2015, with the World Bank predicting it will skyrocket in developing countries over the next 10 years.
Manaberi thinks crowdfunding ventures like TRINE are particularly well-suited for Africa. "Our model enables people to make a real impact, no matter who they are or what they do."


SoCalGas And University Test Novel Renewable Energy Storage Process

Posted on December 8th, 2016 in solar by Spencer R.



Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) has announced the power-to-gas (P2G) hydrogen pipeline injection program it funds at the University of California Irvine has successfully demonstrated the use of excess renewable electricity that would otherwise go to waste.

According to the utility, P2G is a technique for converting surplus clean energy from solar panels or wind farms into hydrogen, which can be blended with natural gas and utilized in everything from home appliances to power plants. The renewable fuel can also be converted to methane for use in a natural gas pipeline and storage system or used in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. The features of hydrogen can especially enable long-term storage of large amounts of carbon-free power – which is a significant advantage over lithium ion batteries, the utility claims.

“This research lays the groundwork for leveraging the natural gas infrastructure already in place for the storage and transmission of renewable energy,” says Jeff Reed, director of business strategy and advanced technology at the SoCalGas. “As more wind and solar production is deployed, energy storage will be a critical component for grid reliability.”

“One of the big challenges we’ve faced in adding wind and solar to the grid is what to do with the excess electricity,” says Jack Brouwer, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and civil and environmental engineering at UCI and associate director of its Advanced Power & Energy Program (APEP). “We’ve shown you need not halt renewable power generation when demand is low. Instead, the excess electricity can be used to make hydrogen that can be easily integrated into existing natural gas pipeline infrastructure.”

The pilot project began last summer with funding from SoCalGas and the participation of Proton OnSite, provider of an electrolyzer that produces hydrogen from electricity and water. APEP engineers worked with UCI facilities management technicians to install the new equipment adjacent to the campus’s power plant. Since then, the process has been closely monitored by researchers trying to determine whether P2G is feasible on statewide or regional power grids. Such systems are currently in place in Germany and Canada.

The central component of the process is the electrolyzer, which takes in water and uses excess renewable electricity to power an electrochemical reaction that splits it into hydrogen and oxygen. The oxygen is released into the atmosphere, and the hydrogen is compressed and sent about 60 feet through a pencil-thin, stainless steel tube to an injection point in UCI’s natural gas pipeline. There the hydrogen is mixed with natural gas and, shortly thereafter, burned in the gas turbine power plant to generate electricity and heat for the campus.

Hydrogen produced from electricity and water can also be converted into methane and injected into a natural gas pipeline system. The natural gas system includes transmission and distribution pipeline networks and existing underground storage facilities that can store enormous amounts of renewable methane or hydrogen energy for use at a later time. In the SoCalGas service territory alone, more than 12 TWh of electric equivalent storage can be accommodated.

“Our initial testing indicates smooth operation for this first successful U.S. proof of concept,” says Brouwer. “Storage of the hydrogen in existing natural gas infrastructure could become the most important technology for enabling a 100 percent renewable future.”