Posted on November 28th, 2016 in solar by Spencer R.
Sweden is set to ditch taxes on its production of solar energy in 2017 in a bid to run entirely on renewable energy by 2040, the government said on Monday.
Solar energy is currently marginal in the Nordic nation, accounting for less than 0.1 percent of electricity production. Sweden relies mostly on hydropower (39 percent) and nuclear power (36 percent).
The finance ministry said in a statement that the production of solar electricity for own use would be entirely exempt from taxes. Electricity providers would meanwhile only be taxed 500 kronor (51 euros) per megawatt hour, which is a 98-percent reduction from the current level.
"This makes fast investments possible," Social Democratic Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson said.
The proposal is likely to be adopted by parliament, with the centre-right opposition having criticised the minister for her lack of ambition with regards renewable energy investments.
The move must also be approved by the European Commission in Brussels, which aims to boost the EU's share of renewable energy to at least 20 percent of consumption.
In October, the Swedish energy market regulator had estimated that in order to reach the target of 100 percent renewable energy, the share of solar electricity would have to rise to between five and 10 percent.
Posted on November 16th, 2016 in solar by Spencer R.
Feeding the world's growing population requires land, especially if crops are to be grown in an environmentally friendly manner. But space for such crops is becoming increasingly limited.
"Agricultural land areas are not available in unlimited quantities," said Petra Högy, a professor with the Institute of Landscape and Plant Ecology at the University of Hohenheim, in southern Germany. "Therefore, it makes sense to double up and use available land for both the production of food and of energy."
In a pilot project near Lake Constance, on the German-Swiss border, researchers from several institutes are checking out the possibilities and advantages of this approach.
On 2.5 hectares (around six acres) of agricultural land, an organic farming company is growing wheat, potatoes, celery and a mixture of clover and grass - part of it under photovoltaic panels mounted on stands at a height of five meters (16.5 feet). Another section of the field is farmed in the usual way, not shaded by solar panels.
This comparison should show what kinds of vegetables or crops are particularly suited for agrophotovoltaic (APV) production. "Based on previous simulations, we believe potatoes grow slightly better under the solar panels. Wheat, by contrast, grows slightly worse," Högy told DW.
With funding from the German Education and Research Ministry, agronomists will use sensors and soil samples over the next three years to measure the differences in crop growth, biodiversity and crop yields.
Similar sites already exist in France, Italy and Japan. "In principle, the process is working," said Stephan Schindele, project manager with the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems based in Freiburg. "Experience has shown that when it comes to agriculture, there is very little loss." However, systematic research on the optimal combination between crops and solar panel infrastructure has not yet been done.
For the pilot project in Germany, researchers first simulated shadows with computers and developed the best possible system for the combined production of food and energy. Later, sufficient space on the field for large machines and a greater distance between the rows of solar modules "ensures an optimal distribution of solar energy on the agricultural area," said Schindele.
Cheaper than offshore wind energy
The substructure for the modules adds to the cost of the solar panels, making the power generated on the fields more expensive. "The production cost for the electricity produced by the pilot project will be 11.3 euro cents (around 12 US cents) per kilowatt hour," explained Schindele.
But, he added, the more these facilities are built, the cheaper they'll be. According to the expert, with a return of ten cents per kilowatt hour, these investments would be profitable for German farmers.
The price for this power generation remains lower than for wind energy generated at sea. According to Schindele, the potential for agrophotovoltaics in Germany lies at 25 to 50 gigawatts, which would cover up to eight percent of Germany's electricity demand.
According to Schindele APV has potential worldwide, especially in sunny regions. In areas like the Middle East, solar power generation is particularly cheap and could replace diesel generators used to power agricultural water pumps.
He also believes the shadows generated by the solar panel installations, in combination with improved water technology, could offer countries in the Mideast "new possibilities for agricultural production."
As an example Schindele gives Qatar, which has been receiving agricultural advice from the Fraunhofer Institute. Today, the country only produces two percent of its food - the rest is imported at high prices. With this new technology, Qatari farmers are now considering the idea of producing up to 30 percent of their own food on revitalized desert land, said Schindele. And with a combination of shade from the photovoltaic systems and seawater desalination, he believes it would work.
Posted on November 15th, 2016 in solar by Spencer R.
Total, the major French multinational oil and gas company, announced today a $300 million investment to install about 200 MW of solar capacity at 5,000 gas stations around the world. The investment is being presented as a way for Total’s operations to reduce its carbon footprint, but what if its the first step to convert the gas stations into electric vehicle charging stations?
As the global car fleet transition from being powered by gasoline and diesel to being powered by electricity, the refueling infrastructure is also bound to change. Gas stations have already mostly all become convenience stores, but they still depend on the traffic from drivers refueling their tanks.
Obviously, we will need less charging stations than gas stations when electric vehicles will be more common since the majority of the charging happens at home, but a significant number of stations will still be required for long distance travel and for EV owners without home access to charging, like apartment dwellers.
If you are to offer charging, you might as well produce the electricity from solar energy on location where it is economically viable, which is far from being everywhere yet, but it is quickly expanding in different markets.
Total didn’t specify where its new solar installations will be deployed other than at “5,000 of its service stations worldwide” including “800 in France” and they will be deployed over the next five years.
The panels will be supplied by Sunpower, which is owned by Total.
Philippe Sauquet, President of Gas, Renewables & Power at Total, commented on the announcement:
“The project is fully aligned with Total’s ambition of becoming the responsible energy major and its commitment to developing solar power. It will reduce our carbon emissions by 100,000 tons per year and cut our electricity bill by $40 million per year. The panels will be supplied by our affiliate SunPower, which offers the world’s most efficient solar technology. This project demonstrates Total’s confidence in SunPower, especially its ability to bring our customers competitive, clean energy.”
With charging stations and solar arrays being installed (separately for now) at gas stations around the world, I think we are seeing a glimpse of an important part of our future transport infrastructure starting to emerge. Soon enough, we should see stations with large solar arrays storing the electricity in battery packs and charging electric vehicles.
Posted on November 15th, 2016 in solar by Spencer R.
Marty McFly’s self-lacing Nikes in Back to the Future Part II inspired a UCF scientist to develop filaments that harvest and store the sun’s energy.
The breakthrough would essentially turn jackets and other clothing into wearable, solar-powered batteries that never need to be plugged in. It could one day revolutionize wearable technology, helping everyone from soldiers who now carry heavy loads of batteries to a texting-addicted teen who could charge his smartphone by simply slipping it in a pocket.
“That movie was the motivation,” Associate Professor Jayan Thomas, a nanotechnology scientist at the University of Central Florida’s NanoScience Technology Center, said of the film released in 1989. “If you can develop self-charging clothes or textiles, you can realize those cinematic fantasies — that’s the cool thing.”
The research was published Nov. 11 in the academic journal Nature Communications.
Thomas already has been lauded for earlier ground-breaking research. Last year, he received an R&D 100 Award — given to the top inventions of the year worldwide — for his development of a cable that can not only transmit energy like a normal cable but also store energy like a battery. He’s also working on semi-transparent solar cells that can be applied to windows, allowing some light to pass through while also harvesting solar power.
His new work builds on that research.
“The idea came to me: We make energy-storage devices and we make solar cells in the labs. Why not combine these two devices together?” Thomas said.
Thomas, who holds joint appointments in the College of Optics & Photonics and the Department of Materials Science & Engineering, set out to do just that.
Taking it further, he envisioned technology that could enable wearable tech. His research team developed filaments in the form of copper ribbons that are thin, flexible and lightweight. The ribbons have a solar cell on one side and energy-storing layers on the other.
Though more comfortable with advanced nanotechnology, Thomas and his team then bought a small, tabletop loom. After another UCF scientists taught them to use it, they wove the ribbons into a square of yarn.
The proof-of-concept shows that the filaments could be laced throughout jackets or other outwear to harvest and store energy to power phones, personal health sensors and other tech gadgets. It’s an advancement that overcomes the main shortcoming of solar cells: The energy they produce must flow into the power grid or be stored in a battery that limits their portability.
“A major application could be with our military,” Thomas said. “When you think about our soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan, they’re walking in the sun. Some of them are carrying more than 30 pounds of batteries on their bodies. It is hard for the military to deliver batteries to these soldiers in this hostile environment. A garment like this can harvest and store energy at the same time if sunlight is available.”
There are a host of other potential uses, including electric cars that could generate and store energy whenever they’re in the sun.
“That’s the future. What we’ve done is demonstrate that it can be made,” Thomas said. “It’s going to be very useful for the general public and the military and many other applications.”
Posted on November 14th, 2016 in solar by Spencer R.
Electricity and hot water are a given in many parts of the world, but in the marginalised town of Garin, north of the Argentinian capital Buenos Aires, there used to be neither.
Things have changed thanks to ingenious but very simple solar panels made from recycled plastic bottles.
It’s the result of an initiative by Argentinian NGOSumando Energias, which directly involves local communities.
“This is a poor neighbourhood and sometimes we have no light or water,” says resident Luis Alberto Quinona. “These recycled solar panels help us a lot, we have children and it’s useful having light and hot water even though we have no electricity.”
So how does it work? The homemade system is made of used soda cans, plastic bottles and milk cartons. As the sun heats the tubes of the solar collector, hot water flows into the storage tank. Volunteers paint the pipes black to adsorb heat from the sun. In this way, the solar collector keeps water hot all night long without the need for electricity or gas.
Volunteer Julien Laurençon quit his job in banking in Singapore to work on the project.
“Sustainable development and sustainable energy are important trends that we need to follow and foster,” he says. “There is too much waste today. And I’m not just talking about Third World and developing countries. I believe that developed countries, too, have to follow this trend. Developed nations are the biggest polluters,” he says.
For Pablo Castaño, co-founder of the NGO, the project is innovative because it brings renewable energy to the doorstep of impoverished communities in a South American nation with many natural resources.
“Argentina has a huge potential for solar and wind energy. To give you an idea, if we had the same capacity as Germany – which is at the same latitude as Santa Cruz – in Buenos Aires or in the north, where we have a lot of sun, we could produce enough energy to supply not only Argentina but also neighbouring countries,” he says.
The NGO has assembled 36 solar panels since 2014 and proposes a two-day workshop to those who want to learn how to make the solar-powered heaters.
Getting the families involved in the construction process is key to the NGO’s plans to empower locals and teach them about recycling.
Angel Guelari is among those who will receive a solar-powered bathroom thanks to the initiative. “These are things that we normally throw away and which contaminate the environment. Instead, we can recycle them and get hot water in the house, for example. It’s good to recycle. I never used to. I would throw away everything I used, like bottles. The rubbish would stay in plastic bags because the garbage man would not come and pick it up,” he says.
The plan is to build solar panels for 3.000 families a year.
Posted on November 9th, 2016 in solar by Spencer R.
Sin City may actually be transforming into the City of Sensibility. Well, in part, at least. A new clean-energy project in downtown Las Vegas looks to harness the energy of pedestrian foot traffic to power a series of streetlights.
Las Vegas has partnered with the startup EnGoPlanet on the project. EnGoPlanet aims to address the problem of poor access to electricity worldwide. It recently began crowdfunding a campaign to install lights in portions of Africa. As part of the Las Vegas trial, the company installed four cutting-edge streetlights in the downtown Boulder Plaza. These lights work entirely off the grid, utilizing only kinetic as well as solar energy.
Whenever a person steps onto one of the eight pads built into the sidewalk, three micro generators below the surface convert this energy into electricity. The level of pressure and consequently the amount of kinetic energy produced varies, however, EnGoPlanet estimates each footstep can create between four and eight watts of energy. The solar panels are mounted on top of the light.
The streetlights also double as individual charging stations. Several universal USB ports and wireless charging pads are built into the poles. Each unit also provides Wi-Fi for added functionality. People love a good Wi-Fi hot spot and this feature will surely only attract more pedestrians and therefore more traffic. Brilliant.
EnGoPlanet provided the streetlights to Las Vegas for free. The startup hopes to expand the upon the project in Las Vegas as well as other cities in the near future.
Posted on November 9th, 2016 in solar by Spencer R.
People are looking for the next sustainable energy source. That energy source should not only be practical, but inexpensive as well. Many of today's alternative sustainable energy sources aren't exactly cheap. Scientists are now looking at solar energy chemistry, and wonder is this the future?
The study has been made by a group of European chemists that is led by Professor Joost Reek. He comes from the University of Amsterdam's research priority area of Sustainable Chemistry. The concept being proposed is solar energy chemistry that can possibly be used in the future for fuel, chemicals and material.
Professor Reek is known for his involvement in solar-driven chemistry. For the study, he said that there is a need for breakthroughs in order to move solar-driven chemistry to reality. He envisions a movement that would involve a wide European solar-driven community that could do research as well as be more active in the industry.
Professor Reek cites examples of such recent work involving solar-driven chemistry, according to the University of Amsterdam's site. One such example that he notes is the use of novel molecules for solar-driven hydrogen generation. This has been done by the French company PorphyChem. Another one that he notes is for the development of a photoelectrochemical cell that can convert carbon dioxide to methanol.
Two Dutch research institutes have joined the University of Amsterdam and the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in getting energy from the Sun through the use of photovoltaics, photocatalysis and photosynthesis, as Science Daily reports. These two institutes are ECN and FOM-AMOLF. This is the sort of European community for solar-driven chemistry that Professor Reek envisions.
Solar-driven energy is a long-term initiative for a much more sustainable energy future. The paper made by Professor Reek and his colleagues state that solar-driven chemical energy from the Sun is needed for the future. This will create a competitive European effort in the industry as well as in research. Solar energy chemistry then can answer the question: is this the future? Earlier also cheaper solar cells were reportedly being developed.
Posted on November 6th, 2016 in solar by Spencer R.
The renewable energy services company Arcadia Power has just launched a new product that allows renters across the U.S. to buy renewable energy.
It’s a significant step forward for the renewable energy project developer and operator, which had previously integrated with utilities as an offset provider and load management company. And it’s potentially a game changer for the renewable energy movement.
I’m going to unpack that a bit because it gets a mite confusing. Before this announcement, Arcadia was offering services that would offset customers’ energy use with an equal investment in a renewable energy project (typically a wind farm).
Now, because of the company’s partnerships with utilities and status as a project developer, it has amassed a small group of projects through which it’s offering renewable energy investment to folks across the country who would want to install solar, but can’t.
Arcadia’s logic is simple. There are a number of renters or non-homeowners who would like to be able to invest in sustainable energy, but don’t have the means.
“That’s one of the most important parts of what we’re doing,” said Kiran Bhatraju, the chief executive of Arcadia Power. “The vast majority of Americans can’t do rooftop solar. There’s only about 8% of Americans that can.”
Those people are barred from such direct investments in a solar project because they live in multi-tenant houses, and can’t just throw up a solar panel anywhere they want.
Using Arcadia, these environmentally minded consumers can invest in projects across the United States and reap the benefits of that energy generation as if it were coming from their own home.
“We built technology over the last few years that allows us to push bill credits onto their utility bills,” said Bhatraju. “We can remotely connect you to a distributed generation asset. As that solar produces electricity we take the billed credits locally and that’s distributed onto the bill.”
Arcadia’s current projects aren’t huge, but they do prove that commercial customers and governments are buying into their thesis — if you offer renewable energy generation to renters — they will come.
The company posits that while there’s a will for renewable generation, consumers still don’t have a way that’s convenient enough for them to make the switch to solar power. Arcadia’s offering changes that.
So far, the Arcadia Power has projects in Washington, DC, Massachusetts and California. “We source the project and we work with the customers to get the buy-in into the program.”
For Bhatraju, the new offering is just the next step along the path that the company charted back in May when it raised $3.5 million from BoxGroup and Wonder Ventures.
When the financing was announced in August, Arcadia had 10,000 customers on its premium offer, matching customer usage with renewable energy at 1.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. The company also launched a free 50 percent wind option to people who wanted to split their bill between traditional utility power generation (typically coal and natural gas) and wind power.
The next product in the company’s pipeline is on-bill financing for energy-efficient products like smart thermostats and LED lighting, which Arcadia says can save customers between 10 percent and 30 percent of their annual energy costs.
Today, the company is rolling out its service with about 250 kilowatts worth of projects (enough energy to power roughly 41 homes, according to estimates by the Solar Energy Industries Association). According to Bhatraju, there’s another 2.5 megawatts of power in the pipeline.
Posted on November 6th, 2016 in solar by Spencer R.
If you want your home to stand out, a flashy new photovoltaic module might be just what you’re looking for. The leaf-shaped prototype uses color and shape to redirect light to two silicon solar cells.
Researchers announced last month at the annual Photovoltaic Science and Engineering conference in Singapore that their 0.11-square-meter photovoltaic modules had achieved a record high for efficiency in converting the sun’s rays to electricity: 5.8 percent.
“[This technology could] become more attractive to architects and people involved in the building sector,” says Angèle Reinders, an industrial design engineer at University of Twente in the Netherlands.
With traditional silicon solar cells on roofs, costs can add up quickly. With that in mind, many researchers, with an eye toward commercial viability, have tried using materials that can concentrate light into one or two solar cells.
Typically, engineers place solar cells on the edges of panels and guide the light using novel materials such as quantum dots and organic dyes. For example, in research published in 2008, one group achieved 7.1 percent efficiency with four expensive gallium arsenide solar cells on the edges of a tiny luminescent solar concentrator with colored dyes. Earlier this year, a Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy article described research using silicon solar cells on the back of PMMA (acrylic glass) panels; those modules achieved only 3.8 percent efficiency.
Reinders favors the use of plastic because chemical processes exist to remove the PMMA and recover the electronics, so the photovoltaic modules are recyclable. In glass sheet photovoltaics, the solar cells and wires in between them end up as waste. But in order to improve the performance of medium-size solar concentrators using plastic, Reinders and her colleagues came up with new designs aided by computer simulations of different shape combinations, colors, numbers of silicon solar cells, and solar cell positioning.
Here’s how the designs work. When sunlight strikes a flat PMMA film mixed with a particular colored dye, the light reflects inside the film. Depending on the dye’s color, it adjusts the wavelength of the light so that it’s closer to the infrared range. This is advantageous because the two silicon solar cells at the bottom of the panel absorb more light in the infrared range.
The researchers tried to strike a balance between the photovoltaic module’s size and accessibility of light.
The team built a prototype—which has continued to convert photons to electrons with 5.8 percent efficiency for the past 1.5 years—by cutting each of the two solar cells into three pieces and attaching them to the bottom of films featuring a red dye. In simulations, the geometry of a rhombic shape appeared to harvest more light rays than a rectangular shape.
Sue Carter, a physicist at the University of California Santa Cruz who was not involved in the study but has designed solar concentrators for greenhouses, points out several potential issues with the design.
First, she says the company she consults for, Soliculture, ships solar concentrator systems for greenhouses that can achieve up to 7 percent efficiency with reflective backgrounds. The work, says Carter, is unpublished because she is focusing on commercialization. Referring to the Dutch research, she said it’s misleading to list efficiency in the whole system, because efficiency can always be improved by adding additional silicon photovoltaic cells.
“People can make their own conclusions by going to the website,” Carter says.
She added that although photovoltaic cells function better on acrylic, it can become more expensive than glass and be more difficult to certify. Also, it is challenging to prove 20-plus-year lifetimes on the organic plastic luminescent materials; it took her team “a lot of work” to find a combination of techniques that made it possible, she writes in an email.
Carter says the size of a photovoltaic system wouldn’t have a noticeable effect on its overall efficiency, but Reinders says the main difference between her lab’s work and Carter’s work is that, because the new prototype uses smaller modules, it’s easier for photons to become concentrated because they aren’t as widely distributed across the surface. Also, there are differences in dye concentrations and in where the cells are positioned on the back of the PMMA film.
Reinders agrees that plastics are not as durable as glass—she says pieces of glass from Roman times are still found at archaeological sites—but she’s confident that they will stand the test of time. She says it’s not reasonable to expect that a plastic sheet would last 25 years. But it’s possible to make plastic headlights that can resist degradation for a period of 15 years, so a five to 10 year lifetime would certainly be reasonable as research progresses.
Reinders says she’s found that the plastics are about half the cost of glass—mainly because they are thinner. But the cost will ultimately depend on how the materials are processed, which requires further investigation. Usually plastics manufacturing is a lot faster than the glass production process.
As far as certification goes, Reinders points out that requirements in the United States could be different than those in the Netherlands. And as such, it might be difficult to meet all certification requirements with plastic. She doesn’t see any problems with electrical performance, but it is easier to scratch plastic than it is to scratch glass. This, however, could possibly be remedied by using some sort of coating.
Sayantani Ghosh, a physicist at the University of California, Merced, who was also not involved in the research, writes in an email that “once certain issues are addressed, this could potentially prove a novel way of capturing solar power in houses, with significantly lower costs” than covering a roof with silicon photovoltaic cells.
According to Ghosh, the questions that still have to be answered include whether the materials would be stable under weather conditions such as snow and rain, and how their thinness could affect their robustness. There’s also the issue of putting the cells underneath the solar concentrator tile instead of on its edge, which allows a “significant portion” of the reemitted light to escape because there isn’t a solar cell to capture it. Also at issue is whether other light harvesting materials could have a broader light absorption spectrum. Finally, she isn’t sure whether a proposed idea of mixing dyes would work in practice because the emission range of one would overlap with the absorption of another.
Reinders writes in an email that she has not tested the prototype in harsh weather conditions yet, but it “may be more suitable for climates with a diffuse irradiance than the glass sheet-based photovoltaic modules.” She writes that diffuse irradiance usually “goes hand in hand” with climates with lots of clouds and rain.
Reinders also admitted more work needs to be done on ensuring that it can handle the heat on rooftops. “We still can do a lot of research in this field,” she says.
Posted on November 6th, 2016 in solar by Spencer R.
Integrating solar panels into windows and walls seems to be the obvious next step for the technology, but what about all of the light indoors? What if there could be a way to harness, or recycle, that light energy along with the light from the sun?
Researchers at Virginia Tech have proven that it's possible. Mechanical engineer Shashank Priya along with a team of engineers and chemists have developed a new type of flexible solar panel that can absorb both the direct light of sunlight as well as the diffuse light of LED, fluorescent and incandescent lighting.
The super-thin solar module can be produced through a low-temperature, low-cost screen printing technique that churns out the panels in rolls.
The solar tiles, which resemble flexible versions of bathroom tiles, can be combined together to make window shades or wallpaper. Just a single tile, about the size of your hand, can produce 75 milliwatts of power. If you put a few together to equal the size of a sheet of paper, you have enough power to recharge a smartphone.
“There are several elements that make the technology very appealing,” said Priya. “First, it can be manufactured easily at low temperature, so the equipment to fabricate the panels is relatively inexpensive and easy to operate. Second, the scalability of being able to create the panels in sheet rolls means you could wallpaper your home in these panels to run everything from your alarm system, to recharging your devices, to powering your LED lights.”
The flexible panels at 10 percent efficiency are right behind conventional rigid silicon ones that usually come in around 15 percent efficiency and the researchers believe they'll not only catch up, but surpass their rigid counterparts soon. Of course, the list of potential applications already does.
The flexible panels can be made into any shape or design meaning that they could be used in a variety of ways both indoors and outdoors, like curtains, awnings, mobile charging stations, clothing and military gear. The flexible, lightweight design means that solar power doesn't have to be a fixed technology, but can be a fully mobile one, working outdoors and in.