Tuesday, October 4, 2011

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Interview with Tom Kimbis of SEIA — Summary

Posted: 04 Oct 2011 01:59 PM PDT

Our Google+ “hangout” interview with Tom Kimbis, SEIA's Vice President of Strategy and External Affairs, just wrapped up. Here’s a short summary of it:

Update: after Tom’s review, a few things have been corrected. Also, an updated chart will son replace the one at the bottom of the page.

Well, the interview started with some technical problems, unfortunately, but we ended up getting them fixed and got to ask Tom several questions, for which he responded with some good and useful feedback. Several people popped in during the course of the interview — thank you for that and for contributing questions.

Question (reader): “I’d like to know what he feels are the most reliable data sources for installed solar, both utility/commercial and residential. And what the best price sources are. Where should mere mortals look for the best, most reliable data?”

Answer: Tom mentioned SEIA’s collaboration with GTM Research and their quarterly U.S. Solar Market Insight report. As you probably know, we report on this regularly. Here are our 3 posts on the most recent report, which came out last month:

  1. Solar Industry on Solyndra, Tremendous Job Growth (100,000 US Jobs Now), & Doubling of Installed PV
  2. US Solar Industry Adds Jobs at 6.8% Pace
  3. New Jersey Surpasses California for Commercial Solar Power

Question (me): I asked about how we should approach current political uncertainty in this arena, mentioning that while over 90% of Americans support governmental policies promoting solar energy (it’s wildly popular), there is opposition to government support for solar in some portions of Congress.

Answer: Tom mentioned what we have written about many times here on CleanTechnica, that the energy industry has received government support for a long, long time, and for good reason — it’s important for our economy. The solar energy isn’t looking for any more support than the rest of the energy industry gets, just an even playing field. He also talked about the jobs (over 100,000) the solar industry now supports and the rapid growth of the solar industry over the past few years, which is partly due to a few supportive government policies, most importantly the 1603 Treasury Grant program (which costs the government essentially nothing). He also mentioned that solar should be an apolitical issue since it works in all fifity states, creates jobs with little investment, promotes our national security — and therefore should be something anyone on either side of the aisle should support. Lastly, he mentioned the fact that the U.S. solar industry was a net exporter last year, something many industries cannot claim (and the U.S. as a whole hasn’t been able to claim since the late 1960s).

Question (reader): A reader on the call, Ian Thomas, asked Tom what he thought of Connecticut’s new ZREC bill — what Tom knew or thought about it. (I think this was the question, more or less, but feel free to correct this in the comments, Ian.)

Answer: Tom wasn’t sure which bill, in particular, Ian was referencing, but he replied by mentioning the great value of properly structured SREC markets and how they’ve helped states install so much solar power (e.g. Massachusetts and New Jersey). However, he also discussed how important it is to get the specifics of these right, so as to sustainably AND effectively stimulate solar installations.

Question (reader): From a CleanTechnica reader: “Recently I read that someone in the industry stated that they will be ready to give up subsidies in about five years (by 2016 was the statement, I think). His reaction?”

Answer: If the government decided to end support for solar after 2016, it would have to do so for competing sectors of the energy industry (e.g. coal, oil, gas, and nuclear) as well. If other portions of the industry receive steady support, solar should as well. While there are different ideologies about how government should interact with energy industries, the bottom line is that it should do so in a fair way, meaning that if one industry gets support from government, others should receive the same.

[There was another question and answer in here that is missing]:

Question (me): So, what do you think the industry need politically to reach its goals.

Answer: We need an extension of the 1603 Treasury Program that expires at the end of this year. It has created tens of thousands of jobs and stimulated economies in towns across America. The 1603 program, as he emphasized, has been extremely successful and does not pick winners and losers.

From SEIA's page on the matter: "As of June 29, 2011, the 1603 Treasury Program has awarded 2,657 grants totaling $1.18 billion for more than 6,300 individual solar projects in 45 states and has supported over $3.9 billion in private investment. The manufacturing and construction associated with these solar energy projects has supported roughly 45,000 U.S. jobs (direct, indirect and induced) in the solar industry."

Question (me): The U.S. was ranked #1 earlier this year for solar energy investment attractiveness in an annual Ernst & Young index on the matter. I asked if Tom thought this ranking still held true after the blown-out-of-proportion Solyndra situation and despite the massive amounts of money China is investing in the industry (it doubled its 2010 solar power capacity target in June).

Answer: Tom mentioned that others have also been ranking the U.S. at the top in this respect and that there is still a ton of promise for the U.S. solar energy industry. Basically, that hasn’t changed. While stating that the U.S. could rise to the top globally in a few years, in total installed solar, he acknowledged that China is also putting a lot of money into this industry.

Question: The last question of the interview was a fun one: “I’d like to hear his ‘best guess’ as to the year that solar first provides 1% of all US electricity. The first one is the hardest….”

Answer: Referencing SEIA solar growth projections to 2015 (something the graph above, which I’ve posted many times, covers), Tom’s guess is that we will hit that 1% by 2015.

(Since I’m paraphrasing, I’ll invite Tom to read over these summaries and clarify wherever he wishes.)


Related posts:

  1. SEIA Interview in Less Than 2 Hours
  2. Help CleanTechnica Interview Solar Energy Industry Association (Tomorrow!)
  3. Solar Jobs & Residential Solar Income (Reader Comments)

Department of Energy Will Direct More Research Dollars to Sustainable Energy

Posted: 04 Oct 2011 10:53 AM PDT

The near-term commercial potential of electric transportation and alternative fuels has prompted the US Department of Energy (DoE) to announce it will direct more of its $3 billion in research money to better support items like electric vehicles and smart grid technologies.

This was made known September 27 when the DoE indicated that following a major review of department activities, concluding it may have been too focused on supporting technologies that remain decades away from being commercially viable. The inaugural Quadrennial Technology Review takes a microscope to the department’s current research and development activity, and sets out new guidelines for how it should prioritize investment decisions in the future.

Specifically, the review recommends that the DoE should focus on six key goals:

  1. Increasing vehicle efficiency
  2. Electrifying America’s light duty fleet
  3. Deploying alternative fuels
  4. Increasing building and industrial efficiency
  5. Modernizing the electrical grid
  6. Deploying clean electricity

The report calls for a modifying the level of investment available to these different sectors by shifting priority on technologies that could be commercialized within the next 10 years.

In his introductory letter to the review, DoE Secretary Steven Chu wrote, "Today our nation is at a cross road. While we have the world's greatest innovation machine, countries around the world are moving aggressively to lead in the clean energy economy. We can either lead in the development of the clean energy economy or we can stand back and wait for others to move first toward a sustainable energy future. For the sake of our economic prosperity and our national security, we must lead."

The review concluded that around 20 percent of the department’s research budget should be reserved for ambitious cutting-edge clean technologies in which the private sector has been reluctant to invest, with the remainder of funding being directed to technologies that are close to commercialization.

Electric vehicles, advanced biofuels, building-efficiency measures and grid modernization projects were all cited as areas that are likely to benefit from the DoE's shift in focus. Department officials have indicated that following this review, a first draft of a budget for fiscal 2013 can be expected early next year.

The review also called for the department to build on its ability to co-ordinate co-operation between private sector firms, and disseminate green best practices to a wide range of businesses. This is appropriate, as nearly 90 percent of our energy system is owned and operated by the private sector, said DoE Undersecretary Steven Koonin in a statement.


PHOTO:  Argonne National Laboratory


Related posts:

  1. US, India Pledge $100 million for Clean Energy Research
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  3. 46 Energy Frontier Research Centers Funded by DOE

SEIA Interview in Less Than 2 Hours

Posted: 04 Oct 2011 10:12 AM PDT

solar energy industry association

Just a reminder that I’ll be interviewing the Solar Energy Industries Association’s Director of Strategy & External Affairs, Tom Kimbis, at 3:00pm EST today and I’m making it possible for you to do so too by hosting the open interview “on-air” on Google+.

I’ll post the link here once we’re live. But, if you want to make sure to join the interview, the best thing to do would be to connect with me on Google+.

Related posts:

  1. Help CleanTechnica Interview Solar Energy Industry Association (Tomorrow!)
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  3. Interview Andrew Winston, Author of Green to Gold

Magical Metamaterials

Posted: 04 Oct 2011 08:31 AM PDT

Metamaterials are a new class of materials that have been engineered to have properties not found in nature. It is a multidisciplinary science made possible by the tools of nanotechnology. The name refers to “materials beyond the imagination.”

Materials and energy interact with each other (Obi-Wan tried to tell us). So far, metamaterials are being engineered to resonate in a very narrow wavelength of energy. Scientists are looking for more potential metamaterials, but this often involves the use of structure with not as much emphasis on composition. It is the genetic engineering of materials science. “The key to [some] metamaterial is its ability to manipulate the refractive index of light.”

What have we done so far?

Metamaterials are finding applications in all fields. Various light and sound cloaking devices have been developed in a narrow range of wave-lengthts (many of which are in any event beyond our visible and audible range. The practice involves inducing such waves to flow around objects rather than bounce off of them to a sensing device or an observer. Research has been carried out using metamaterials designed to work with sonic, electromagnetic and even seismic waves.

Enhanced wireless transmission is an early project for metamaterials. One of the first applications of metamaterials may be to modify MRI machines. But metamaterials have already been used to recreate the “big bang” and in cell phones. If metamaterials are known for warping energy and allowing it to flow around objects in the same way that gravity works on light, what about anti gravity and warp drive? They have been considered as well.

Related posts:

  1. Scientists Create New “Invisible” Material
  2. Blacker than Black
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Blacker than Black

Posted: 04 Oct 2011 08:28 AM PDT

Deep in a cave you turn off your light and it is blacker than any night. You turn on your flashlight and the environment seems to suck the light out of it. That is the kind of black that scientists have recently created: a material that absorbs 99% of the light that strikes it.

Blacker than Black?

We call it this because it is mysterious, it is useful, and it is useful for stealth. Theaters frequently paint the stage area black as this eliminates any distraction from light that remains focused on the action. There is also a class of solar thermal panels that allow the sun to shine on a target area. That target is usually painted black but this only allows absorption of about 85% of the sun’s light. Using these metamaterials that are darker than black, efficiency can be significantly increased. There is also a military term for operations that are “off the books;” where stealth is paramount. Have you noticed what color the military paints stealth planes?

The Science

In a measure of self restraint, the scientific announcements refer to this technology as “darker than black”. Evgenii Narimanov at Purdue University created this hyperbolic metamaterial by growing silver nanowires in a membrane of aluminium oxide. Physorg.com provides us with the scientists explanation:

…the metamaterial's very low reflectivity results from one of its hyperbolic properties: an infinite density of photonic states. This "super singularity" greatly increases the amount of light scattering from surface defects and corrugations in the metamaterial. The defects and corrugations scatter light primarily inside the material, basically "sucking" photons inside the hyperbolic medium.

Source: ‘Darker Than Black’ Metamaterial Promises Better Solar Cells via PhysOrg.com/Cornell University

Photo Credit via ‘Darker Than Black’ Metamaterial Promises Better Solar Cells’

For additional research: elsevier.com

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Small Wind Turbine Growth Projected to Keep Booming

Posted: 04 Oct 2011 05:49 AM PDT

micro wind turbine

I wrote a piece on the considerable growth of the small wind turbine market in recent years just about a week ago. That growth is projected to continue. By 2015, the installed capacity small wind turbine market is projected to go from 50MW to 152MW.

“Small wind power provides cost-effective electricity on a highly localized level, both in remote settings as well as in conjunction with power from the utility grid,” Pike Research, which conducted the new analysis, says. “Growth in the industry is being driven by increased awareness of small wind technologies as an alternative source of electric power, the desire for community ownership of power generation, and the recognition that investment in small wind turbines can be an enduring source of economic development for the locales in which they are deployed.”

Payback time for people in good locations is reportedly 5-10 years at the moment. Of course, some people still don’t have the capital to put into a small wind turbine, or the foresight to, despite the short payback period. Like in solar, therefore, leasing and 3rd-party ownership are making small wind turbines more popular options for individuals and small businesses. Slower to innovate and develop in these ways, reportedly due to the higher efficiency and lower levelized cost of small wind, and facing more difficult siting issues, small wind doesn’t match the popularity of residential solar, but it’s got a lot of potential.

Here’s more from Pike Research on the projected growth of small wind turbines in coming years:

The cleantech market intelligence firm forecasts that the global market for small wind systems will more than double between 2010 and 2015, rising from $255 million to $634 million during that period.  Within the same forecast horizon, small wind system installed capacity additions will nearly triple to 152 megawatts, and average installed prices of small wind systems will decline to just over $4,150 per kilowatt. (note: it’s at about $5,400 per kilowatt today)

As reported in that previous piece, the U.S. has dominated the small wind turbine market. It’s projected to continue dominating the market in the coming years. (and the jobs created are mostly U.S. jobs since the large majority of the turbine production occurs in the U.S.).

We’re big fans of distributed energy generation here on CleanTechnica (if you haven’t noticed), so I’m happy to report more good news from this industry.

Photo Credit: Attribution Some rights reserved by tswind


Related posts:

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Electric Airplane Wins $1.35 Million Google/NASA Green Flight Award

Posted: 04 Oct 2011 04:50 AM PDT

Pipstrel-USA wins NASA/Google Green Flight Challenge with All-Electric AirplaneWhen two tech powerhouses like Google and NASA offer a Google-sized cash prize for the most fuel efficient electric aircraft, you know the results are going to be pretty stunning, and they were. Pipistrel-USA.com won the first place prize of $1.35 million yesterday with a decidedly futuristic all-electric design featuring cockpits on each wing instead of on the nose of the plane. NASA’s CAFE Green Flight Challenge was sponsored by Google and administered by the CAFE Foundation, a nonprofit organizaton dedicated to exploring the science of personal aircraft.

The CAFE Foundation and Electric Aircraft

Before we get to Pipistrel, CAFE has an interesting story to tell. The organization (CAFE stands for Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency) had its genesis back in the 1970′s and pioneered its own high-efficiency flight competition in the 1980′s, helped along by the Experimental Aircraft Association. It takes a village, right? One of CAFE’s originators had already built an electric car, so the foundation’s roots in electric flight go deep. Back then, the competition had a prize of only $2,000 but the response was fantastic and since then CAFE has developed a raft of analytical tools to keep the tech advancing.

Pipistrel-USA’s Prizewinning Green Aircraft

The Green Flight Challenge allowed for a winning aircraft to fly 200 miles in less than two hours while using less than one gallon of fuel per occupant, or its equivalent in electricity. Both Pipistrel and the second place winner were all-electric aircraft, and both of them beat the challenge by a wide margin with a little more than half a gallon fuel equivalency in 200 miles.

An Electric Flight Challenge for Google and NASA

Pipistrel’s team leader, Jack W. Langelaan, stated in a NASA press release that “two years ago the thought of flying 200 miles at 100 mph in an electric aircraft was pure science fiction” but Pipistrel-USA.com is not planning to rest there. Langelaan, who is an assistant professor in aerospace engineering at Penn State University, blogged that Pipistrel would contribute $100,000 to a prize for the first electric airplane that can fly faster than the speed of sound, and he expects someone to take that prize within the next five years.

Why Does NASA Care About Electric Airplanes?

NASA’s interest in electric flight dovetails with President Obama’s recent call for the space agency to let go of some of its more routine operations such as the space shuttle, and focus its resources on transformative technologies that leap beyond the moon. NASA pioneered the use of solar technology, and it’s a good bet that its promotion of electric flight technology will end up with applications here on earth as well as in space.

Google and Clean Tech

Google sucks up a lot of energy with its data centers and its symbiotic relationship with electronic goods has entangled it deeply in e-waste issues, but on the other hand the company has also marked out a leadership position in transforming the way a high tech society produces and uses energy.  Just a couple of examples are Google’s new energy efficient data centers, and its investments in initiatives to help finance home solar power installations. That includes a partnership with SolarCity, which recently made news for a home solar package that includes an EV charging station…which could mean that a solar powered personal electric aircraft charging station for your home is just around the corner. Stay tuned!

Image: Electric Aircraft, winner of NASA Green Flight Challenge, courtesy of NASA on flickr.com.

Twitter: @TinaMCasey


Related posts:

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Toyota Working on Compact Prius Hybrid with 94 MPG?

Posted: 04 Oct 2011 04:05 AM PDT

Solar Decathlon Winners

Posted: 04 Oct 2011 03:53 AM PDT

solar decathlon winners

Solar Decathlon 2011 winners and U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu (on the left)

Solar Decathlon 2011, a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) solar architecture contest, has wrapped up. While there is an overall winner, there are also winning teams for different topics (e.g. affordability, engineering, communications, home entertainment, and more). All of the winners are below, along with notes on why most of them won.

The overall goal of the Solar Decathlon competitors is to ”design, build and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy efficient and attractive,” as my colleague over at Green Building Elements nicely summarizes.

Below are the big winners, followed by the final overall standings.

Overall Winner: University of Maryland (pictured above)

From the DOE:

Consistently appearing in first place in overall standings throughout the competition, the University of Maryland won the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced the competition results today before an excited audience that packed the main tent in the solar village.

"Maryland is a well-experienced team. After taking second place in 2007, they rested and regrouped in 2009 and came to West Potomac Park in 2011 focused and determined to win," said Solar Decathlon Director Richard King. "In addition, Maryland's Watershed is a beautiful house, judged first place in Architecture, which also performed impeccably in measured contests. This team mastered their strategies to ensure they excelled in all 10 contests."

Architecture: University of Maryland

"WaterShed achieves an elegant mix of inspiration, function, and simplicity. It takes our current greatest challenges in the built environment—energy and water—and transforms them into opportunities for spatial beauty and poetry while maintaining livability in every square inch," said Architecture Contest Juror Michelle Kaufmann.

Communications: Middlebury College

With exemplary communications materials, public tours, and website, Middlebury College received first place in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon Communications Contest today.

"Middlebury College, this year's winner of the Communications Contest, is a very authentic team that conveyed the best of New England architecture. This team's holistic approach to communications was refreshing; they achieved in all aspects of communications—not just in one area," said Ryan Park, director of business development for REC Solar Inc., who presented the award on behalf of the Communications Contest jurors. "This team made renewable energy technologies familiar to the public, which we believe will help people more easily embrace these technologies. And isn't that what it's all about?"

Affordability: Team Belgium AND Parsons the New School for Design and Stevens University (Tie)

“With its E-Cube now correctly valued at $249,568.09, Team Belgium (Ghent University) moved into the tie for first place with Parsons the New School for Design and Stevens University (which includes Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy at The New School).”

People’s Choice Award: Appalachian State

From the DOE:

Appalachian State University won the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011 People's Choice Award for its Solar Homestead today. This award gives the public the opportunity to vote for its favorite house. This year, 92,538 votes were cast. The award was announced at a Victory Reception in the solar Village in West Potomac Park—the last official event of Solar Decathlon 2011.

"The team's passion and enthusiasm were contagious," said Terri Jones, Solar Decathlon Communications Contest official. "The People's Choice Award is a popular vote, and I believe the Solar Homestead house and team appealed to people on many levels."

The Solar Homestead is a self-sustaining net zero-energy house inspired by the pioneer spirit of the early settlers to the Blue Ridge Mountains. The isolation of early settlers to the Appalachian region fostered a pioneer spirit in those who established self-sustaining living/working compounds on the frontier. The Solar Homestead fuses these values into a highly energy-efficient home, which remains true to these underlying principles by integrating renewable resources and innovative technology into a prototype that is adaptable, self-sufficient, rugged, affordable, and attractive.

Market Appeal: Middlebury College

"Self-Reliance left the jury very impressed, eclipsing our expectations across the board in livability and marketability," said Brad Beeson, Market Appeal juror. "Middlebury College defined its market carefully—a young family of four with a modest income for the region—and demonstrated the fit for that target market with a very compelling video."

Engineering: New Zealand

Wowing jurors with its attention to detail, craftsmanship, and unusual energy visualization system, New Zealand (Victoria University of Wellington) received first place today in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011 Engineering Contest for its First Light house.

"The New Zealand house was beautifully executed, with extreme attention to detail and craftsmanship and an intuitive tree-ring visualization system, which makes it easy to understand energy use throughout the house," said Engineering Contest juror Dr. Hunter Fanney, chief of the building energy and environment division of the engineering laboratory at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Home Entertainment: Middlebury College

"We've been doing practice dinners for team bonding since last fall," says Melissa Segil, team manager for Middlebury College. "It was so fun to use the kitchen, which is one of our favorite parts of the house."

Energy Balance: New Zealand, Purdue, Tennessee, Florida International, Maryland, Illinois, SCI-Arc/Caltech (7-Way Tie)

Appliances: Illinois

Hot Water: New Zealand, Tennessee, Parsons NS Stevens, Appalachian State, Maryland, Ohio State, SCI-Arc/Caltech (7-Way Tie)

Comfort Zone: Ohio State

solar decathlon 2011 winners

And the full final standings were as follows:

  1. Maryland
  2. Purdue
  3. New Zealand
  4. Middlebury College
  5. Ohio State
  6. SCI-Arc/Caltech
  7. Illinois
  8. Tennessee
  9. Team Massachusetts
  10. Canada
  11. Florida Int'l
  12. Appalachian State
  13. Parsons NS Stevens
  14. Tidewater Virginia
  15. Team China
  16. Team Belgium
  17. Team New York
  18. Team New Jersey
  19. Team Florida

Congratulations to all who participated!!

Image Credit: AttributionNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by Dept of Energy Solar Decathlon


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Energy-Efficient Heating & Cooling Using Ductless Heat Pumps

Posted: 04 Oct 2011 03:12 AM PDT

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