Posted on March 23rd, 2017 in solar by Spencer R.
The U.S. is the best country in the world if you want to go solar – but only if you’re rich enough. Due to the steep upfront costs of around $32,000 in cash, only those upper-income families can afford to install solar arrays. A novel initiative is, however, looking to change that. This new project hopes to help middle class communities see the sun in a different light.
Using money raised by U.S. government incentives and private investors to help fight global warming, the Alternative Energy Solar Project goal is to get solar panels on the roofs of those who cannot afford them. According to recent news, the plan is to use the rebates set aside for solar and the money raised by companies who want to lower the per ton of carbon dioxide emitted.
The cost for the installation to the families: nothing. The homeowner gets solar panels on their roof and a new reduced electric rate from the power produced by the solar panels. Alternative Energy Solar Project predicts that it could save individual families up to $2,400 a year, which they hope could then be spent on other essential bills.
Alternative Energy Solar Project has been made promotional manager over the Solar Affordable Verified Establishment (S.A.V.E.) project, one of the country’s first dedicated solar repayment system for middle class families. The goal is to install solar arrays to over 32,000 homes by the end of next year. One of the benefits to this reduced electric rate program is the homeowner isn’t responsible for the installation costs, maintenance costs, or upkeep costs as they are not the owners of the panels. Additionally, if you are interested in owning the panels, there are programs where the homeowner can purchase the panels with no money out of pocket and own them outright.
The United States government has talked about how they can contribute through raising money to be able to provide more rebates. In the attempt to curb greenhouse gas emissions, and move toward installing solar arrays. In total, the solar program has totted up to an impressive movement.
By ploughing at least 30% of the money from government incentives and using private investors to back the solar installation, the project aims to kill two birds with one stone – saving Middle-Class families money, while also making big fossil fuel polluting companies help to cut energy emissions in the country even further.
Anyone who is currently living in a neighborhood in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and Utah and is classed as middle-class is qualified to apply to get the arrays installed. More states are being added monthly so apply to see if your state has joined the program. The sun sets on the initiative as the year ends in 2017, so if you’re living in one of these states, you might want to jump on board soon.
Alternative Energy Solar Project invites everyone to find out if they qualify by signing up for a free visit. To increase the ease of finding out if you’re in the middle-class and qualified they specifically created a new website solarvisit.com. They hope that the funding put towards this new site will be well spent, if they can get interested homeowners reaching out to them, they estimate that they’ll be able hit their goal of 320,000 homes by the end of the year 2017.
Posted on March 22nd, 2017 in solar by Spencer R.
Solar power may be useful for making hydrogen to power automobiles. Car companies around the world are working on electric cars that get their electricity from hydrogen fuel cells. The technology is appealing because fuel cells have only two byproducts — water vapor and heat. In fact, Honda plans to capture some of that water vapor and use it to humidify the interior of its upcoming Clarity fuel cell car that is scheduled to go on sale later this year.
The problem is, how to get all that lovely hydrogen in a way that doesn’t damage the environment? Hydrogen is one of the most reactive elements on the periodic table. It binds with anything and everything (water, for instance, is one hydrogen atom combined with two oxygen atoms). Pure hydrogen just does not exist in nature.
Chemically, the bonds hydrogen forms with other elements are extremely strong. It takes a lot of energy to break those bonds. In some cases, it can take more energy to create hydrogen than the purified hydrogen will contain.
In the US, most hydrogen is obtained from reforming natural gas, which sounds OK until you realize that most natural gas is derived from fracking — one of the dirtiest, least environmentally friendly human activities of all.
Hydrogen is contained in abundance in biomass waste — basically whatever is left over after plants stop growing. Corn stalks, switchgrass, lawn clippings, and food waste are all forms of biomass. Scientists know how to use biomass to make hydrogen but the process requires very high temperatures which means a lot of energy has to go in to get energy out.
Scientists at the University of Cambridge in England may have found an answer, however. They have developed a technique that uses solar power to produce clean hydrogen from biomass. The new technique involves the addition of catalytic nanoparticles to alkaline water containing biomass. The solution was put in front of a lab-based light that mimics sunlight. The result was that some of the biomass was turned into hydrogen gas.
“There’s a lot of chemical energy stored in raw biomass, but it’s unrefined, so you can’t expect it to work in complicated machinery, such as a car engine,” David Wakerley, from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Chemistry, said in a statement.
“Our system is able to convert the long, messy structures that make up biomass into hydrogen gas, which is much more useful. We have specifically designed a combination of catalyst and solution that allows this transformation to occur using sunlight as a source of energy. With this in place we can simply add organic matter to the system and then, provided it’s a sunny day, produce hydrogen fuel.”
Different types of biomass, including wood and leaves, were used, and did not need to be processed prior to the experiments, the university said.
“Our sunlight-powered technology is exciting as it enables the production of clean hydrogen from unprocessed biomass under ambient conditions,” Erwin Reisner, head of the Christian Doppler Laboratory for Sustainable SynGas Chemistry, where the technology was developed, said.
“We see it as a new and viable alternative to high temperature gasification and other renewable means of hydrogen production,” Reisner added. He suggested that a range of potential commercial options were being explored.
The key word here is “ambient.” For us non-scientists, that means “room temperature,” which means no massive energy input needed to heat things up to get the hydrogen flowing. Up till now, hydrogen power has been a pleasant dream but hardly a practical one. Perhaps scientists have found a way to use solar power to change that equation.
Posted on March 22nd, 2017 in solar by Spencer R.
Reduce, reuse and recycle. It’s a mantra that doesn’t just apply to energy and natural resources. It’s the perfect principle to apply on carbon dioxide as well. Because if we learn how to reduce, reuse and recycle CO 2, our world will literally be in a much better state.
Burning fuel like carbon monoxide releases a huge amount of energy, at the same time creating harmful carbon dioxide as its by-product. To convert carbon dioxide back into carbon monoxide, it will take the same amount of energy that’s used in burning fuel. The impracticality of this cycle has now resulted in carbon dioxide build-up. And unless we find ways to reduce this carbon dioxide build-up, or at least figure out how to convert carbon dioxide from being harmful back to being neutral without using as much energy, we’ll be in big trouble. Think about it, every year we inject about 30 billion tonnes of CO 2 into the atmosphere.
This is exactly the situation we’re in now. To reduce carbon dioxide emission, we have the Paris Treaty in place. And to decrease the required energy for carbon dioxide conversion, a potential solution lies in the work being done by a team of scientists from the Indiana University led by Liang-shi Li, an associate professor in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Chemistry.
As reported in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, the team has succeeded in engineering a molecule that is capable of using light or electricity to turn carbon dioxide back to carbon monoxide. Supposedly, it’s a method that’s more efficient than any other carbon reduction method being employed today.
The engineered molecule is comprised of nanographene and rhenium. Nanographene — a dark-colored nanometer-sized piece of graphite — serves as the collector of solar energy, absorbing a significant amount of sunlight due to its dark color. Rhenium serves as the engine that drives the production of carbon monoxide. The process is quite direct. As nanographene absorbs light, it drives electrons to the rhenium atom, which continually binds and converts carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide.
What makes this new method more efficient is the use of nanographene. Previous carbon reduction attempts that make use of sunlight were largely inefficient because the materials used — known as bipyridine-metal complexes — were only capable of using the invisible portion of light, in other words, those in the ultraviolet range. In contrast, nanographene is capable of using a big portion of visible light, which makes it absorb considerably more light than previously possible. Accordingly, the more light it absorbs, the more energy there is to power up rhenium into doing more carbon dioxide conversion.
Following this breakthrough, Li plans on figuring out ways to make their ‘molecular leaf’ even more powerful. Specifically, he plans on making the molecule last longer and sustainable in a non-liquid form because solid catalysts are much easier to use than liquid ones. He also intends to use manganese — which is more abundant and less expensive –in place of rhenium, a rare element.
Posted on March 22nd, 2017 in solar by Spencer R.
A recent report from Downstream Strategies suggests the state of West Virginia could benefit from investments in solar energy on thousands of acres of degraded land.
“We have all of this land available that has been grated out,” Downstream Strategies Project Scientist Joey James said on Monday’s “The Gary Bowden Show” on the AJR News Network. “It’s flat. People for a long time have talked about putting solar panels up there, but no one has really looked into the true viability of these sites for that type of development.”
Citing exponential growth in the solar industry, a job market that already supports 260,000 people nationwide, and more than 200 square miles of degraded land in West Virginia that could be suitable for solar development, the study suggests that West Virginia has enough viable land for solar photovoltaic (PV) projects to create thousands of temporary and permanent jobs in the state through both power plant construction and operation.
“The entire state of West Virginia is better situated for solar resources than the country of Germany, which is often revered as the number one champion of solar and other types of renewable energy in the world,” James said.
The study estimates that one permanent post-construction job is created for every five megawatts of solar power installed in the state.
“In the state of Virginia alone right now, we have nearly 5000 megawatts of large-scale solar understudy, which is really amazing when you compare that to West Virginia,” James said. “We have less than five megawatts under study right now.”
The report outlines, if West Virginia were to strive to offset 10 percent of the state’s power plant emissions with solar, an estimated 70,000 temporary construction jobs and 2,000 permanent jobs could be supported.
“It creates a modest amount of permanent jobs, which can be worked by unemployed in rural communities. All they had was an empty field,” he said. “Now they can make a job out of it.”
The study is also fueled by concerns over man-made climate change–particularly noting that 2016 was the hottest year on record. Additionally, 2014-2016 were considered by NASA to be the three hottest years on record.
While coal mining employment was down 43 percent between 2012-2016 and coal’s share of the national electric power sector declined, the solar industry added 35,000 jobs nationwide last year. James said that should provide lawmakers with some sense of resolution to current economic urgency.
“The strategic development of large-scale solar facilities on degraded lands that have already been disturbed can be one part of that solution,” James said. “We’re not going and mowing down more trees and mountains to coat the state in solar panels. We’re really just taking advantage of what’s already been done.”
According to an earlier study in 2013 from Downstream Strategies, increasing the “carve-out” for solar energy produced by investor-owned utilities with more than 30,000 residential customers would help spur solar growth in the state on a significant level. Designing a pure solar carve-out in West Virginia of 0.75 percent would be less than neighboring Maryland (2 percent) and regional solar leader New Jersey (3.38 percent) but still offer similar benefits in job growth. James said it would take action at the legislative level or private initiative by utilities to accomplish such a carve-out.
“People are definitely looking to West Virginia and just kind of waiting for that kind of signal from the state that it’s a safe place,” he said.
The study concludes that the process would be environmentally friendly in a number of different ways while also helping West Virginia diversify its energy portfolio. Perhaps most notably, the study reads:
“Many skilled laborers once employed by the mining industry have compatible skill sets and experience to compete for these jobs.”
Posted on March 16th, 2017 in solar by Spencer R.
The future of solar energy in Massachusetts is looking bright.
The Commonwealth has the second highest amount of solar industry jobs in the country and is in the top 10 for solar energy-producing states, according to a new report.
Solar energy has been expanding across the country; 2016 saw a 97 percent growth in the U.S. solar market, Solar Energy Industries Association’s (SEIA) year-in-review data showed.
Massachusetts in particular played a big role. In total, Massachusetts has more than 14,500 solar jobs. That’s second only to California, which has long been a leader in clean energy. Despite that, Massachusetts has the highest ratio of solar jobs to the size of its overall workforce.
The solar infrastructure here, from solar farms to panels on the roofs of homes, can generate 1,487 megawatts of energy — enough to power about 244,000 homes by the sun alone.
Over the next five years, according to SEIA, Massachusetts could add more than 2,000 more megawatts of solar energy to that existing infrastructure.
What is it about the Commonwealth that is spurring more solar?
Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of SEIA, said it has to do with state policies — like the bill Gov. Charlie Baker signed last April that lifted the cap on solar energy net metering.
“Net metering is basically a system where, if you put solar on your home and generate electricity from those solar panels, whatever you don’t use, you put back on the grid, and you get reimbursed for that,” Hopper said. “That policy in Massachusetts has really allowed solar to develop.”
Which means more energy generated means more money earned.
Hopper also said solar is not a “niche industry,” but something the average consumer can take part in. The more people buy solar technology, the cheaper it becomes. Although the more energy generated could also decrease the value of the energy.
If you aren’t able to add solar to your building — whether it's commercial or residential real estate — there are other ways to get plugged in. Massachusetts has a total of 64.4 megawatts of “community solar” installed, more than 40 of which were added in 2016.
Community solar, Hopper said, works similar to community supported agriculture in that a person buys a share of a solar farm to get the benefits without having to devote land or a rooftop to the project.
Hopper said that this has become a big part of the Massachusetts solar market; Boston’s TD Garden connected to community solar recently.
Though some have expressed concern that clean energy initiatives could falter under the Trump Administration — and under Scott Pruitt, the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, who has ties to the fossil fuel industry — Hopper is confident that the sun will continue to shine on solar, especially in Massachusetts.
“One of the great parts about U.S. energy policy is that it’s really divided between states and the federal level,” she said. “You have great leaders in the Commonwealth who have expressed an interest and desire to continue strong policies to grow solar in Massachusetts.”
Posted on March 16th, 2017 in solar by Spencer R.
If you’ve ever thought about getting solar panels on your house but worried about whether it was worth it, Google may now have just the thing to help you decide.
In a new expansion of its Project Sunroof, the company has built 3-D models of rooftops in all 50 states, looked at the trees around people’s homes, considered the local weather, and figured out how much energy each house or building can generate if its owners plunk down for some panels.
Top among the findings is that nearly 80 percent of all buildings the team modeled are “technically viable” for solar panels, meaning they catch enough rays each year to make generating electricity feasible. That sounds pretty good, and a post on Google’s blog goes on to highlight the rooftop-solar potential for several cities. Houston comes out on top, with as much as 18,940 gigawatt-hours of free energy from the sun just waiting to be generated each year (Google says that a gigawatt-hour translates to about a year’s supply of electricity for 90 homes).
Sunroof lets you search for your house, suggests how large a solar array you might consider putting on your roof, and estimates how much energy it will generate—as well as how much it would cost to lease or buy the panels.
It’s a handy tool, and comes at a good time. Solar has been growing quickly in the U.S., with installations nearly doubling over the course of 2016. But most of that is on the utility scale—residential installations grew just 19 percent last year, mostly because demand is drying up in big state markets like California.
The Los Angeles Times today quoted several officials in the industry as being optimistic that growth will continue nationwide. But the Solar Energy Industries Association suggests that the top five state markets, which accounted for 70 percent of the country’s newly installed residential solar in 2016, all figure to see slowdowns. That probably won’t be made up for by emerging markets in states like Texas, Utah, and South Carolina, according to SEIA’s latest report.
It seems unlikely that Project Sunroof will make a big difference in these trends, especially as policies that made rooftop systems more attractive to consumers, like net metering, are in danger of disappearing. But the SEIA report said one reason things are slowing down is that solar installers have had difficulty “reaching customers outside of the early adopters.” Given the immense reach of the company that developed it, Sunroof’s new tool might be able to help with that, at least.
Posted on March 16th, 2017 in solar by Spencer R.
Solar panels have been around for a while now, but the materials they’re made from make them incapable of converting more than about a quarter of the sun’s energy into usable electricity. According to MIT calculations, an average house in sunny Arizona still needs about 574 square feet of solar panels (assuming about 15 percent efficiency) to meet its daily energy needs. In chilly and gray-wintered Vermont, the same house would need 861 square feet. That’s a lot of paneling.
That’s why MIT researchers have been experimenting with an entirely new process for converting sunlight—one that takes advantage of extremely high temperatures to raise efficiency. If it works on a large scale, we could be seeing wildly more efficient solar panels in coming years, potentially changing the game for solar energy.
“With our research, we are trying to address the fundamental limitations of photovoltaic energy conversion,” says David Bierman, one of the researchers leading the project.
The technology turns sunlight into heat, then converts the heat back into light. The process uses a light concentrator of sorts called an “absorber-emitter,” with an absorbing layer of solid black carbon nanotubes that turn sunlight into heat. When temperatures reach 1,000 degrees Celsius or so (as hot as lava from many volcanoes, just to give you an idea), an emitting layer, made from photonic crystal, sends the energy back as the kind of light that the solar cell can use.
An optical filter reflects away all the light particles that cannot be used, a process called “photon recycling.” This increases the efficiency dramatically, making the cells as much as twice as efficient as the current standard.
Fittingly, the technology is nicknamed “hot solar cells.” The cells were recently named one of MIT Technology Review's “10 Breakthrough Technologies of 2017.” Editors at the publication have been compiling this list annually since 2002. This year, the technologies, from brain implants to self-driving trucks to cameras capable of taking 360-degree selfies, "will affect the economy and our politics, improve medicine, or influence our culture," according to MIT Technology Review. "Some are unfolding now; others will take a decade or more to develop," the editors say. "But you should know about all of them right now."
The technology is superior to standard solar cells on a very basic level. The semiconductor material of standard cells, which is almost always silicon, generally only captures light from the violet to red spectrum. This means that the rest of the sunlight spectrum is lost. Because of this fundamental problem, solar cells can only convert about a third of sunlight energy into electricity. This upper boundary, the maximum theoretical efficiency of a solar cell, is called the Shockley-Queisser limit. Solar panels made for home use generally convert far less than the Shockley-Queisser limit, as the most efficient materials are still extremely expensive. But with the hot solar cells, this limit, in place for more than 50 years, could be history.
At this point, researchers have only a prototype. It could be a decade or more before we see these hot solar cells on the market. Right now, the materials are so expensive it would be difficult to turn the cells into panels of the size needed for commercial use.
“We will need to solve a whole range of issues related to scaling-up the device to actually generate powers that are useful solutions for people and their problems,” Bierman says.
Bierman, and his colleagues on the project, Andrej Lenert, Ivan Celanovic, Marin Soljacic, Walker Chan and Evelyn N. Wang, are optimistic they can overcome these limits. They also hope to figure out how to store extra heat for later use. That could mean clean energy on the cloudiest of winter days. Even in Vermont.
Posted on March 15th, 2017 in solar by Spencer R.
Even before Elon Musk engineered Tesla's acquisition of SolarCity, the two companies were collaborating.
SolarCity was already controlled by Musk, who believes its solar-energy business can be reinforced and complemented by Tesla's energy-storage business.
Last year, Tesla announced a joint project with SolarCity to install a large battery farm and solar array in Hawaii.
That project is now complete, and ready to provide electricity to a Hawaiian utility.
Tesla, SolarCity, and partner Kauai Island Utility Cooperative unveiled the completed solar and energy-storage facility last week, reports the Silicon Valley Business Journal.
The facility will be able to provide solar power to KIUC on demand, 24 hours a day, Tesla CTO JB Straubel said during the opening ceremony.
The array of solar panels and energy-storage battery packs occupies 50 acres of land owned by Grove Farm Co., near KIUC's Kapaia power station.
It includes nearly 55,000 individual solar panels, and 272 Tesla Powerpack lithium-ion battery packs.
Those packs have 52 megawatt-hours of storage capacity, and can discharge up to 13 megawatts of power to the grid.
The Tesla and SolarCity-developed installation will bring KIUC up to 40 percent renewable-energy use.
KIUC has a 20-year agreement to purchase electricity from the project at 13.9 cents per kilowatt-hour.
It also has a deal with infrastructure company AES for a similar solar-and-energy-storage project on Kauai's southern shore, including a 28-megawatt solar array.
KIUC hopes at least some of that renewable energy will be used to charge electric cars.
It and another Hawaiian utility—Hawaiian Electric Co.—recently launched limited-time rebates of up to $10,000 on the 2017 Nissan Leaf.
KIUC's interest in renewable energy and electric cars is likely at least partly influenced by its island area of operations.
Because they are isolated from the mainland and sources of fossil fuels, renewable energy can be a more attractive option for islands.
That's because the cost of importing coal or oil to fuel power plants or vehicles can make fossil fuels vastly more expensive for populations who are cut off from the mainland.
Posted on March 10th, 2017 in solar by Spencer R.
An international team of scientists led by Liang-shi Li at Indiana University has achieved a new milestone in the quest to recycle carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere into carbon-neutral fuels and others materials.
The chemists have engineered a molecule that uses light or electricity to convert the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide -- a carbon-neutral fuel source -- more efficiently than any other method of "carbon reduction."
The process is reported in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
"If you can create an efficient enough molecule for this reaction, it will produce energy that is free and storable in the form of fuels," said Li, associate professor in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Chemistry. "This study is a major leap in that direction."
Burning fuel -- such as carbon monoxide -- produces carbon dioxide and releases energy. Turning carbon dioxide back into fuel requires at least the same amount of energy. A major goal among scientists has been decreasing the excess energy needed.
This is exactly what Li's molecule achieves: requiring the least amount of energy reported thus far to drive the formation of carbon monoxide. The molecule -- a nanographene-rhenium complex connected via an organic compound known as bipyridine -- triggers a highly efficient reaction that converts carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide.
The ability to efficiently and exclusively create carbon monoxide is significant due to the molecule's versatility.
"Carbon monoxide is an important raw material in a lot of industrial processes," Li said. "It's also a way to store energy as a carbon-neutral fuel since you're not putting any more carbon back into the atmosphere than you already removed. You're simply re-releasing the solar power you used to make it."
The secret to the molecule's efficiency is nanographene -- a nanometer-scale piece of graphite, a common form of carbon (i.e. the black "lead" in pencils) -- because the material's dark color absorbs a large amount of sunlight.
Li said that bipyridine-metal complexes have long been studied to reduce carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide with sunlight. But these molecules can use only a tiny sliver of the light in sunlight, primarily in the ultraviolet range, which is invisible to the naked eye. In contrast, the molecule developed at IU takes advantage of the light-absorbing power of nanographene to create a reaction that uses sunlight in the wavelength up to 600 nanometers -- a large portion of the visible light spectrum.
Essentially, Li said, the molecule acts as a two-part system: a nanographene "energy collector" that absorbs energy from sunlight and an atomic rhenium "engine" that produces carbon monoxide. The energy collector drives a flow of electrons to the rhenium atom, which repeatedly binds and converts the normally stable carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide.
The idea to link nanographene to the metal arose from Li's earlier efforts to create a more efficient solar cell with the carbon-based material. "We asked ourselves: Could we cut out the middle man -- solar cells -- and use the light-absorbing quality of nanographene alone to drive the reaction?" he said.
Next, Li plans to make the molecule more powerful, including making it last longer and survive in a non-liquid form, since solid catalysts are easier to use in the real world. He is also working to replace the rhenium atom in the molecule -- a rare element -- with manganese, a more common and less expensive metal.
Posted on March 10th, 2017 in solar by Spencer R.
Mayor Mick Cornett asked the MAPS 3 convention center architect to determine what it would cost to study the feasibility of installing rooftop solar above the 200,000-square-foot exhibit hall.
The exhibit hall roof provides a vast area that could be utilized for producing solar energy.
Convention centers in cities including Anaheim, Portland, Las Vegas and Houston defray energy costs with solar installations.
"Clearly this is the trend," said Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid.
Energy efficiency and sustainability are selling points for convention centers around the country.
LEED, an acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is administered by the U.S. Green Building Council.
The council says LEED-certified buildings are "resource efficient," conserving water and energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions while saving money.
The George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston promotes its LEED Silver certification and sustainability initiatives.
Here's a quote from Luther Villagomez, the chief operating officer of convention facilities and services in Houston:
“Meeting planners and trade show executives that plan green meetings increasingly want to do business with convention centers that are environmentally responsible."
Searching Google for "convention center LEED" turns up links promoting energy efficiency of convention centers in Los Angeles; Austin; Denver; Portland, Ore.; Raleigh, N.C.; Irving, Texas, and other cities.