SolarStratos will use solar for space tourism

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

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(www.inverse.com)

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.

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

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

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(www.cnn.com)

 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."

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SoCalGas And University Test Novel Renewable Energy Storage Process

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

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(www.solarindustrymag.com)

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.”

 
 

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How plants manage excess solar energy

Posted on December 6th, 2016 in solar by Spencer R.

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(www.phys.org)

Life on earth largely depends on the conversion of light energy into chemical energy through photosynthesis by plants. However, absorption of excess sunlight can damage the complex machinery responsible for this process. Researchers from the University of Geneva (UNIGE), Switzerland, have discovered how Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, a mobile single-cell alga, activates the protection of its photosynthetic machinery. Their study, published in the journal PNAS, indicates that the receptors (UVR8) that detect ultraviolet rays induce the activation of a safety valve that allows dissipation of excess energy as heat. A second protective role is thus attributed to these receptors, whose ability to induce the production of an anti-UV 'sunscreen' had already been shown by the Geneva team.

The energy of the sun is converted by plants into  through photosynthesis in order to produce sugars to feed themselves. The first step of this process, which takes place in cell compartments called chloroplasts, is the capture of photons of light by chlorophyll. Although light is essential for plants, sun in excess can damage their photosynthetic machinery, thereby affecting their growth and productivity. To protect themselves, plants activate a protection mechanism when light is too intense, which involves a series of proteins capable of converting the surplus of  into heat to be harmlessly dissipated.

Producing proteins that divert energy

"UV-B ultraviolet light is likely to cause the most damage to the photosynthetic machinery, and we wanted to know whether it is involved in activating protection mechanisms and, if so, how", say Michel Goldschmidt-Clermont and Roman Ulm, professors at the Department of Botany and Plant Biology of the UNIGE Faculty of Science. This work, conducted in collaboration with researchers from the Universities of Grenoble and of California, was carried out in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, a single-cell mobile alga used as a model organism.

The team of Roman Ulm had discovered in 2011 the existence of a UV-B receptor, called UVR8, whose activation allows plants to protect themselves against these UV and to develop their own molecular 'sunscreen". The researchers demonstrate now that this receptor activates a second . "When UVR8 perceives UV-B rays, it triggers a signal that induces, at the level of the cell nucleus, the production of proteins that will then be imported into the chloroplasts. Once integrated into the , they will help to divert , which will be dissipated as heat through molecular vibrations", explains Guillaume Allorent, first author of the article.

In terrestrial plants, the perception of UV-B by the UVR8 receptor is also important for the protection of the , but the underlying mechanism has not yet been elucidated. "It is crucial for agricultural productivity and the biotechnological exploitation of photosynthetic processes to better understand the mechanisms leading to photoprotection under sunlight and its UV-B rays", says Michel Goldschmidt-Clermont. A project the Genevan team intends to pursue.

 

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TOP PLANT: Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project, Tonopah, Nevada

Posted on December 1st, 2016 in solar by Spencer R.

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(www.powermag.com)

Three-and-a-half hours north of Las Vegas, in a rocky, desolate stretch of Nevada desert, an innovative solar-storage plant has nearly completed a year of commercial operations. It also may have delivered proof of round-the-clock dispatchable solar energy.

The Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project, a concentrating solar power (CSP) plant built by Santa Monica, Calif.–based SolarReserve outside Tonopah, Nev., shares a lot of similarities with other solar-tower CSP plants like Ivanpah (POWER’s 2014 Plant of the Year). Just over 10,000 billboard-sized heliostats, each about 1,200 square feet, focus sunlight on a central receiver at the top of a 640-foot tower. The plant uses the heat collected to generate steam and drive a turbine generator.

CSP is a straightforward and fairly well understood technology that’s been around for more than a decade. The first utility-scale CSP plant came online in 2008, and several dozen of them are in operation around the world, mostly in Spain. Crescent Dunes isn’t the largest CSP plant by any means—at 110 MW, it’s less than a third the size of Ivanpah, the current leader.

What sets Crescent Dunes apart from its predecessors is that it incorporates 10 hours of full-power thermal energy storage—a total of 1.1 GWh. In terms of duration, that’s more than earlier CSP-plus-storage plants like the Solana Generating Station in Arizona (a 2014 POWERTop Plant) that store around five to seven hours of generation, and far more than the largest battery projects currently in development, which top out at around 400 MWh. And unlike Solana, which circulates a heat-transfer fluid that is then used to heat molten salt, the receiver at Crescent Dunes heats the salt directly.

The molten salt system circulates the salt from a cold tank, through the solar tower, where it’s heated from 550F to 1,050F, and then to a hot tank (Figure 1). Molten salt from the hot tank is then sent through a Nooter/Eriksen steam generator. The steam is sent through a turbine-generator, then to an air-cooled condenser, and back to the steam generator.

Round the Clock

The plant sells its power to Nevada utility NV Energy under a 25-year power purchase agreement (PPA). Since reaching commercial operations in November 2015, Crescent Dunes has—unlike Ivanpah—quietly exceeded its obligations, delivering 105% of contracted output. The molten salt receiver has achieved 100% availability through 2016, and performance data show that it’s operating 2% above its expected efficiency.

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An ancient cathedral in England is getting solar panels

Posted on November 29th, 2016 in solar by Spencer R.

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(www.cnbc.com)


 

For more than 1,300 years the site of Gloucester Cathedral, in the south west of England, has been a place of continuous worship. Rich in history, it is home to the tomb of King Edward II, who died in 1327. Now, it has become one of the oldest cathedrals in the world to have solar panels.

"The Church of England… has a campaign which is called Shrinking the Footprint, and it's a very ambitious campaign to reduce carbon emissions throughout the Church by 80 percent by 2050," Anne Cranston, Project Pilgrim manager at Gloucester Cathedral, told CNBC in a phone interview.

Commenting on the Shrinking the Footprint project, the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, has previously said that the Church is "committed to mitigate the effects of climate change which will fall disproportionately on the poor and vulnerable in the world."

 

Solar power is becoming an increasingly important part of the planet's energy mix. In the U.S., for example, data from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association has shown that the solar industry there installed 7,286 megawatts of solar power in 2015, an increase of over 1,000 megawatts of solar photovoltaic installations compared to 2014.

Back in Gloucester, Cranston explained why solar was seen as a viable way of making the Cathedral a beacon for clean energy.

For more than 1,300 years the site of Gloucester Cathedral, in the south west of England, has been a place of continuous worship. Rich in history, it is home to the tomb of King Edward II, who died in 1327. Now, it has become one of the oldest cathedrals in the world to have solar panels.

"The Church of England… has a campaign which is called Shrinking the Footprint, and it's a very ambitious campaign to reduce carbon emissions throughout the Church by 80 percent by 2050," Anne Cranston, Project Pilgrim manager at Gloucester Cathedral, told CNBC in a phone interview.

Commenting on the Shrinking the Footprint project, the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, has previously said that the Church is "committed to mitigate the effects of climate change which will fall disproportionately on the poor and vulnerable in the world."

 

Solar power is becoming an increasingly important part of the planet's energy mix. In the U.S., for example, data from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association has shown that the solar industry there installed 7,286 megawatts of solar power in 2015, an increase of over 1,000 megawatts of solar photovoltaic installations compared to 2014.

Back in Gloucester, Cranston explained why solar was seen as a viable way of making the Cathedral a beacon for clean energy.


"We have bought clean energy for the past few years, but churches and cathedrals have the benefit of being west-east aligned and therefore a lot of us have these south facing roofs," she said. "It seemed somewhat of a gift if we could take advantage of it." Cranston went on to state that the Cathedral "will continue to go green, there is lots more that we need to do."

The installation is now complete and Monday saw the solar panels switched on, with the 38 kilowatt solar array set to help cut energy costs by 25 percent.

"From a green perspective, it'll save them about 16 tonnes of carbon dioxide … per annum," Ben Harrison, from Mypower, told CNBC in a phone interview.

Mypower oversaw the installation of the panels on the Cathedral's roof, and Harrison went on to explain that the carbon dioxide savings would be equivalent to planting several acres of woodland per year.

Harrison added that working on the project had proved to be "the opportunity of a lifetime. Very few people get the opportunity to go on the roof of Gloucester Cathedral, let alone be part of creating its future."

"In terms of the sustainability, the energy production, it's been extremely satisfying."

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One village solved Bangladesh’s unreliable energy grid problem with “swarm electrification”

Posted on November 29th, 2016 in solar by Spencer R.

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(www.qz.com)

In Bangladesh, daily power outages are simply expected.

 

 

Cities like Dhaka and Chittagong experience around two to three hours of “load shedding” every day when residents are deliberately cut off from electricity in a bid to conserve power. And load shedding happens even more often in rural areas.

 

 

Bangladesh’s power is unreliable in part because of its vulnerability to changes in weather: When temperatures rise in hot summers, power consumption goes up as people use more fans and air conditioners—demand often outstrips the limited supply of electricity. Dry seasons make rivers run dry, which hinders electricity generation, fuel extraction, transportation, and emissions control; flooding in the rainy season can put chunks of the population entirely off the grid.

But the same environment that has wreaked havoc on Bangladesh’s electricity supply is now powering a working class neighborhood in the country.

 

 

The energy from the glaring sun in the hot summers can be captured by solar panels. This source of electricity can be used immediately or saved for later use when natural disruptions occur. Currently, however, each household bears the burden of sustaining itself. A local company is trying to share that across communities and villages.

 

 

In September 2015, Bangladesh-based ME SOLshare set up a “swarm electrification,” pilot project that let residents in Shakimali Matborkandi, a village in the Shariatpur district, trade solar energy among themselves. All they need is a 2,370 taka ($30) device called SOLbox and a mobile phone with bKash, the largest mobile banking network in the country.

Swarm electrification is built on the idea that a unified community working together like a swarm of fish can survive the worst. “If a shark attacks a swarm, it may take out one or two fish, but the rest keep on swimming,” ME SOLshare’s managing director Sebastian Groh told Motherboard.

To purchase electricity, people add credit to their mobile wallet and switch their SOLbox to “buy” mode—power that is captured by existing solar home systems can be transferred from one household’s black box to another in exchange for credit via a direct current. Some households may use less power than others because they have fewer family members and appliances—or perhaps are just more conservative about their electricity usage. Those who want to give away excess power can switch their black box to “sell mode.”

 

 

Nearly 4 million homes in Bangladesh have installed solar panels. In the last decade, solar energy has contributed to a nearly 10% of the uptick in access to electricity in Bangladesh. “This is the fastest-growing solar home system in the world,” Nazmul Haque Faisal from IDCOL, a government-owned financing institution, told the World Bank last year. In 2015 alone, nearly 1.7 billion solar home systems were installed in houses, shops, fishing boats and more across Bangladesh, according to local non-profit Grameen Shakti that works on connecting rural villagers to renewable energy.

Solar is a much more “reliable, clean, and cheaper” source of energy than using kerosene or diesel generators, the previous standard for powering homes whenever the main grid went down, according to the New York Times. SOLbox will allow all appliances to keep working. provides an additional environmental benefit: “People are encouraged to use energy efficient appliances and the latest LED lights to reduce consumption,” Groh told Motherboard. There’s a financial incentive to save energy: For some households, the ability to conserve and sell surplus power to their neighbors could provide a new income stream.

Bangladesh isn’t the only country experimenting with these sorts of nanogrids. There are online marketplaces for electricity in the Netherlands. In New Zealand, schools, households and more have started dabbling with peer-to-peer electricity transfer platforms.

 

 

However, in Bangladesh, where 60% of the households do not have access to grid electricity, a localized system for trading electricity could finally bring power to dozens of millions living in impoverished communities that have known nothing besides kerosene, lamps, candles and batteries.



 

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Remote tropical island now completely powered by solar energy in the South Pacific

Posted on November 28th, 2016 in solar by Spencer R.

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(www.independent.co.uk)

A remote tropical island in the South Pacific has managed to rid itself of its reliance on diesel and is now completely powered by solar energy.

Ta’u Island, part of American Samoa, is using more than 5,000 solar panels and 60 Tesla power packs to run the entire island.

Before the move to renewable energy, the island, which is home to 600 people and located 4,000 miles off the west coast of the US, was dependent on 100,000 gallons of diesel to survive.

Utu Abe Malae, executive director of the American Samoa Power Authority, said although it was not easy to implement, it is “the future” for all islands in the area. 

Previously Ta’u Island would grind to stand-still when bad weather prevented ferries transporting diesel from docking, but now, due to the new technology, the island is completely self-sufficient. 

“Shipping diesel has been a long-standing environmental risk, and an inefficient use of taxpayers’ money,” the Guardian reported Mr Malae as saying.

“We want all of American Samoa to be solar-powered by 2040 – but Ta’u has been the priority and test-run.”

Construction of the grid began two years ago and had been delayed due to technical issues and poor weather. Solar engineers from contractors Tesla and SolarCity flew out from California to help oversee construction. 

“The ferries to the island would often break down, so then we’d have to flag down nearby fishing boats to transport the solar panels, and then they’d have to pass the panels to row-boats to reach the island. Nothing about this project went smoothly at all,” Mr Malae added. 

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Sweden to scrap taxes on solar energy in 2017

Posted on November 28th, 2016 in solar by Spencer R.

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(www.phys.org)

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 . Sweden relies mostly on hydropower (39 percent) and nuclear power (36 percent).

The finance ministry said in a statement that the production of  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  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.

 

 

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Solar energy from the farm

Posted on November 16th, 2016 in solar by Spencer R.

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(www.dw.com)

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.

 

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