Chemists create molecular 'leaf' that collects and stores solar power without solar panels

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.


Oklahoma City convention center may go with solar energy

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.


Navy Engineers Install Solar Panels for West African Community

Posted on March 8th, 2017 in solar by Spencer R.



In the rural West African city of Mbour, Senegal, more than 200 children go to school every day in a community with no electricity.

Naval Sea Systems Command engineers partnered with The Lamps, a nonprofit organization, as part of their "Let There Be Light" campaign, which aims to bring electrical power to regions of the world with no affordable supply.

Peter C. Cho, an electrical engineer  with Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division's marine and aviation division; Bryant H. Kim, from NSWC, Indian Head Division; and Sungshin Kwak, from the Naval Research Laboratory dedicated their personal leave time Feb. 10-19 to visit the city, located about two hours from the capital of Dakar. They installed six solar panels, bringing a source of light to a community that had no means of electricity prior to their visit.

Mbour is just one of the many communities Cho and his fellow engineers have visited over the years. They install what Cho describes as a simple, solar electric power systems consisting of panels, batteries, an inverter and circuit breakers, which brings the community enough power to run indoor lights and small appliances. However, Cho noted, the communities they visit do not have the luxury of appliances of any kind.

Immense Need

"The need in that community, as well as all of the communities we do work in, is immense," Cho said. "Every trip I make, when I come back and arrive at the Dulles International Airport [in Washington], I marvel at what a blessed country the United States truly is.

“One thing that always amazes me is everywhere we go the children always seem to be very happy, even in their situation,” he continued. “In Mbour, the children go to school but have no shoes, no sandals, and in the summertime it gets so hot -- upwards of 120 degrees -- they cannot wear clothes. Their happiness is not measurable with materials."

Cho, who emigrated from South Korea, said one of the main reasons he makes these trips every year is because he was lucky enough to immigrate to the United States and receive a good education.

"The U.S. government educated me from bachelor's [degree] all the way to Ph.D,” he said. “I began my career at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, Rhode Island. I got together with some of my fellow engineers and figured out how we can pass on this great education and engineering experience to the next generation.

“One way we do this is by providing our skills and experience to the areas where there's no electricity available,” he said. “If we can give students even something as simple as light in their schoolhouse and it can improve their chances of succeeding, improve their chances of a better education, then I am happy. That is our motivation."

Team Has Grown

Cho said he worked with a team of four engineers when he started bringing solar energy to communities without electricity. Today, that team has grown to 13. The engineers not only travel on their personal leave time, but often use their own money to buy the solar panels. In some cases, he added, they have worked to subsidize funds from the U.S. Agency for International Development and SEED International, a Christian ministry out of Virginia.

"The biggest benefit to installing solar panels is they do not require a lot of maintenance," Cho said. "A lot of the communities we visit are close to the equator; sun is abundant. On average, two hours of sun will provide around eight hours of electricity."

Cho and his team also have installed solar panels in communities in Peru and Cambodia. Wherever they go, he said, being able to provide something as simple as indoor lighting, they leave knowing their work has improved the quality of life for the people of that community.


Jailhouse shock: Taiwan prison aims to jump-start island's solar power dream

Posted on March 8th, 2017 in solar by Spencer R.



On Pingtung jail's sunlit roof, prisoner no. 24 has a view of a brighter future. Ex-cop Chen, serving time for bribery, is learning how to install solar panels in a program that's part of Taiwan's shimmering vision of a future without nuclear power.

The 48-year-old is working on a project that has seen the southern Taiwan prison become the first to send solar power into the island's electricity grid. "I should be out in two-three years," said Chen, whose full name can't be disclosed under prison rules, "this should help (in finding a future job)."

Things are looking up for Chen, selected for the solar team on good behavior. But with a capacity of 1.8 megawatts, enough to supply power to 639 average Taiwanese households for a year, the drop-in-the-ocean Pingtung project highlights the towering scale of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen's pledge to make the island nuclear-free by 2025.

Nuclear accounts for around 14 percent of Taiwan's total electricity generation. Renewable sources, including solar, wind and hydro, together account for less than 5 percent, leaving the 2025 goal of having renewables - primarily solar - account for a fifth of electricity generation by 2025 looking like a mirage.

At Pingtung prison, where temperatures outside can peak around 33 degrees Celsius in summer, the chief of project manager Taichung-based Lixma Tech Co said the arithmetic was simple: It's not possible for renewables, dependent on weather conditions, to be a main supply source.

"Renewable energy can reduce and replace a lot of traditional power generation - coal or nuclear power – only during peak electricity consumption periods," said Lixma's Chief Executive, Thomas Hsu.

With plentiful sunshine at its disposal, Taiwan has certainly made progress in expanding solar energy in recent years. From current capacity of about 1,061 megawatts, Taipei is targeting about double that amount by mid-2018, with other jails among those considering solar projects, Pingtung prison officials said.

But to match official government targets of having solar power account for 73 percent of total renewable energy capacity by 2025, Taiwan would need nearly 20 times' current solar power capacity within nine years - about 20,000 megawatts. That kind of power could mean panels taking up around 25,000 hectares of space on the island - nearly the size of capital Taipei.



While Pingtung sees Taiwan join the ranks of countries from the United States to Brazil and South Africa in developing solar prison projects, the island will have to resolve numerous serious roadblocks if it's to implement the massive rollout of renewables it needs to meet its goals, experts and industry insiders say.

Problems in grid transmission for renewable energy, outdated regulations governing a power industry long dominated by state monopoly Taiwan Power Co - known as Taipower - environmental concerns and rival interests among government agencies and local communities are among issues to be overcome. 

"The biggest uncertainty is how to get consensus among the various stakeholders," said Laurence Li, head of the government's Renewable Energy Project Office in Taipei, who says private sector players are eager to participate.

While a key player in encouraging renewables projects like the Pingtung prison, Taipower is also the principal operator of Taiwan's nuclear energy industry, as well as coal and liquefied natural gas plants.

Financing development is another issue.

At Pingtung prison, Lixma shoulders all costs and says it will receive around T$9 million ($292,000) a year from Taipower for the solar power from the prison. Lixma CEO Hsu said the firm won't break even on the project until the ninth year of its 20-year contract with the prison and Taipower.

Better known in Taiwan for the aged soy sauce its inmates have been making for decades, Pingtung prison is content to offer its 10,000 square meters of roof space for the 6,000 installed panels for the advancement of renewables.


"We are primarily a resource for absorbing solar energy," said vice warden Lin Cheng-rong. "It is the companies with technical capabilities who invest and set up the solar panels and who sell the solar energy to Taipower," said Lin.

Part of the central government's corrections agency, the prison can't keep revenue from the solar energy it is generating, or even directly use the power itself - before lights-out at 9 p.m., its bulbs run on electricity from the Taipower grid.


For inmate Chen, each night brings release and the day he no longer needs his no. 24 prison vest a step closer. Once the solar panel installation is complete, he'll return to tending crops on prison grounds as part of his regular prison life - but with rooftop views still firmly on his mind.


Hawaii Foodbank to save $2.1M in energy costs with new solar energy system

Posted on March 8th, 2017 in solar by Spencer R.



The Hawaii Foodbank expects to save about $2.1 million over the next 25 years on its newly installed rooftop solar energy system, the Honolulu-based nonprofit said Tuesday.

The food bank and California’s REC Solar held a celebration ceremony Tuesday at the food bank’s Oahu warehouse.

In the first year, the nearly 300-kilowatt system is expected to save the food bank about 463,742 kilowatt-hours of energy, which is equivalent to the purchase of more than 102,000 meals, feeding 93 people daily in one year.

The solar energy system is projected to save the food bank about $41,041 in energy costs during the first year of installation.

Last year, the food bank distributed more than 12.8 million pounds of food on Oahu and Kauai, including 4 million pounds of fresh produce.


Pakistan gets access to high-quality solar energy maps

Posted on March 7th, 2017 in solar by Spencer R.



The World Bank, in partnership with the Alternative Energy Development Board (AEDB), on Tuesday launched a series of new solar maps for Pakistan in support of efforts to increase the deployment of renewable energy in the country.


This will help in expanding access to sustainable and affordable sources of indigenous energy in the country.

With these efforts, Pakistan becomes the first country to benefit from validated solar maps under a global initiative on renewable energy resource mapping, led by the Energy Sector Management Assistance Programme – a multi-donor trust fund administered by the World Bank.

“Pakistan joins a small group of mainly developed countries, having access to duly validated and high-quality solar energy maps available for planning and prospecting purposes,” the World Bank said in a statement. “This initiative will facilitate investors in making more informed project decisions.”

The World Bank project on solar mapping in Pakistan includes field data, which is being generated by nine solar measurement stations installed two years ago throughout the country.

The project supports AEDB’s efforts to harness renewable energy in all the provinces by improving access to bankable data.

The solar maps used the latest solar resource-modelling techniques, based on 18 years of satellite and global atmospheric data from 1999-2016.

“These new solar maps will definitely ensure qualified improvement vis-a-vis previous studies and will underscore the tremendous solar potential that exists across Pakistan,” said Amjad Ali Awan, Chief Executive Officer of AEDB.

The solar maps were unveiled at a workshop hosted by AEDB and the World Bank in Islamabad, which was attended by a cross-section of stakeholders.

In addition to presenting and discussing the new maps, participants learned about the ground-based measurement campaign and discussed various options for continued operation of the nine solar measurement stations installed at diverse locations in Pakistan.

The maps will help large solar power projects in obtaining commercial financing by reducing the resource risk.

The solar maps, and the underlying solar data, can be accessed for free via the Global Solar Atlas, a recently-launched tool provided by the World Bank Group and covering all countries.

In addition, the maps are available in digital format for use in Geographic Information System (GIS) applications and Google Earth.


More San Diego residents are investing in solar energy

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



 More San Diego residents are investing in solar energy. The city issued more than 2,200 solar permits during 2016, up 54%  from the year before. Businesses are also going green, including the San Diego International Airport.

The Airport Authority installed these solar panels in February. According to the company that installed the system, going solar will allow the airport to save about 8-million dollars in energy costs over the course of 20 years.

Solar is expensive up front. Installation for a median-sized home can run $10,000 or more. City officials says more home and business owners are choosing solar because its eventually pays off. Since 2014, San Diego has ranked second in the nation for the number of solar panels installed. Applications jumped 54% in 2016.

City leaders have set a goal for all electricity used in the city to come from renewable sources by 2035. In order to reach that goal, it  streamlined the solar permit process. You can now apply on-line and most permits are approved the same day. If you’re interested in investing in solar do your research. You will need to hire a licensed contractor who can file for a permit for you.

According to the Environment California Research & Policy Center, San Diego has enough installed solar capacity to power nearly 50,000  homes.


Lake Worth unveils its new solar field, says it can power 250 homes

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



Standing on what once was a dusty landfill, long an eyesore off Washington Avenue, west of Lake Worth, City Manager Michael Bornstein finally raised the curtain on a new 5-acre solar energy field the city says can generate enough clean energy to power more than 250 homes and reduce carbon emissions by 4 million pounds — the equivalent of taking 400 cars off the road.

“Not too long ago, most people would’ve scoffed at the very thought that Lake Worth could pull off such a feat,” Bornstein said during the 20-minute ribbon cutting ceremony attended by residents, city and Palm Beach County officials Tuesday. “Lake Worth’s dedication of a 2 megawatt solar array sounds a heck of a lot better than, ‘Welcome to the Lake Worth dump.’”

The field, which took less than a year to build, is the first step in what city officials say will be a long-term investment in solar energy.

“This is a major step toward renewable energy and bolstering the reputation of our electric utility,” Mayor Pam Triolo said.


Lake Worth estimates it could eventually produce 10 megawatts of solar energy from the site, a move the city says would provide as much as 15 percent of the city’s energy needs.

“We’re seeking out ways to cover the rest of the landfill with panels,” Triolo said.

Lake Worth boasts it’s the first state municipality to own and operate a solar farm.

“This is a big deal,” Bornstein said.

The field features three arrays made up of solar panels. There are a total of 6,900 panels that will account for 2 percent of the city’s power generation needs, the city said.


As for how the city will pay for the project, Hector Samario, city infrastructure executive for Siemens, the German-based company Lake Worth partnered with on the project, said that answer is nothing.

“The savings that are generated year after year are what’s used to pay for the project,” Samario told The Palm Beach Post after the ceremony. “If the city saves $2 million a year, and if they only save $1.5 million, that half million has to be made up by Siemens so there is never any out of pocket to the city.”

Lake Worth is not alone to jump on the solar energy bandwagon.

The U.S. solar market added 14,626 megawatts of new solar photo-voltaics last year , according to the Energy Industries Association. Florida Power & Light announced Monday that it plans to add 600 megawatts at eight new solar energy centers, with more than 2.5 million solar panels by 2018, enough to power about 120,000 homes.

Talk of turning to solar energy in Lake Worth goes back about five years when the state put into legislation a process that allowed companies to work with local governments, giving them the opportunity to buy new equipment through energy savings.

“Renewable energy has come a long way from the days of being discussion points.,” Triolo said. “It has evolved to become a practical and cost effective option on the list of power generating methods. This project makes every (Lake Worth) citizen part of the solar energy movement.”


Amazon Launches Solar Energy Initiative on Fulfillment Center Rooftops

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



Amazon today announced a new initiative to generate clean energy by installing solar panels on its fulfillment facilities around the world. The company plans to deploy large-scale solar systems on rooftops of more than 15 fulfillment and sortation centers in the U.S. this year and is planning to deploy solar systems on 50 fulfillment and sortation centers globally by 2020. For high-resolution imagery of the project, visit

“As our fulfillment network continues to expand, we want to help generate more renewable energy at both existing and new facilities around the world in partnership with community and business leaders,” said Dave Clark, Senior Vice President of Worldwide Operations. “We are putting our scale and inventive culture to work on sustainability—this is good for the environment, our business and our customers. By diversifying our energy portfolio, we can keep business costs low and pass along further savings to customers. It’s a win-win.”

The initial solar projects planned for completion by the end of 2017 will generate up to 41 megawatts (MW) of power at Amazon facilities in California, New Jersey, Maryland, Nevada and Delaware. Depending on the specific project, time of year and other factors, a solar installation could generate as much as 80 percent of a single fulfillment facility’s annual energy needs. For example, solar panels installed on the rooftop of the Patterson, California, fulfillment center cover more than three-quarters of the 1.1 million square foot building’s rooftop and will capture California’s most generous resource to power the hundreds of Amazon Robotics utilized by associates at ground-level.

Amazon’s recent renewable energy projects include the company’s largest wind farm to date, located in Texas. In addition, a network of wind and solar farms in Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia are delivering energy onto the electric grid that powers AWS data centers. To date, Amazon has announced or commenced construction on projects which will generate a total of 3.6 million MW of renewable energy. Amazon was the leading corporate purchaser of renewable energy in the US in 2016, according to according to the 2017 State of Green Business report. Other examples of Amazon’s sustainability-focused projects include green corporate rooftops and the District Energy Project, which uses recycled energy for heating the company’s corporate headquarters in Seattle.

Additionally, Amazon has expanded its innovative Career Choice program to include funding for associates to earn North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) certification. According to the annual National Solar Jobs Census, one in 50 new jobs created in 2016 was in the solar industry across the country, which is a 25 percent increase from the previous year. To qualify for the exam and become a certified photovoltaic (PV) installer for commercial and residential projects, associates in this program will participate in 40 to 80 hours of PV design principles and practices learning, OSHA training, and hands-on installations, all of which can be provided by local community colleges and other participating accredited educational organizations. Because the industry is growing so quickly, many PV installers may quickly find themselves in leadership roles as managers, designers, and developers of renewable energy projects across the globe.

“The NABCEP professional accreditation is a spring board for fulfillment center associates to enter a rapidly growing and in-demand workforce outside of Amazon as PV installers,” said Kara Hurst, Director of Amazon’s Worldwide Sustainability. “It would be great one day soon to see former associates developing solar systems on the rooftops of our fulfillment centers.”


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.