Sunday, January 29, 2012

Latest from: CleanTechnica

Latest from: CleanTechnica

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Co-Locating Solar and Wind Power Farms: Can Two Renewable Energy Sources Be Better Than One?

Posted: 29 Jan 2012 07:36 AM PST

The intermittent, yet often complementary, nature of wind and solar energy has long been observed and increasingly remarked upon of late. Minnesota’s Ecos Energy is looking to take advantage of that by building the state’s largest solar photovoltaic (PV) array on a 13-acre site in southwestern Minnesota, home to more wind farms than any other region state-wide, the StarTribune reports.

At 2-megawatts (MW), the solar power array can’t be considered large by any stretch, but it’s expected to provide enough electricity for 340 homes, about as much as a single wind turbine. Yet more significantly, Ecos Energy’s Slayton project will provide some trailblazing data as to whether or not intermittent solar energy and wind turbine arrays can be used in tandem to provide a more consistent supply of power to the grid.

More than 70 wind farms are up and running in southwest Minnesota, putting out power equivalent to that of the state’s largest coal-fired power plant. The power output of the region’s wind farms typically peak seasonally in spring and fall, and daily at night.

Director of development for the Ecos project, Chris Little, told the StarTribune’s David Shaffer that the Slayton solar power project aims to answer the question, “Could you fill that gap with another energy resource that might complement the wind?” A unit of Allco Renewable Energy, Ecos Energy is diversifying into solar energy, having focused on wind power project development to this point.

Xcel Energy is purchasing all of the Slayton project’s electricity. It intends to study the project’s output and compare it to that of three nearby wind farms, Shaffer explains. Though the Slayton project’s solar PV array won’t be on the same site as a wind power farm, it will be close enough to find out if both can be make use of the same grid interconnection, which would reduce the cost and enhance the return on investment of co-locating wind turbine and solar power arrays.

Construction is expected to begin in April and be completed by July. Ecos has signed a 20-year Power Purchase Agreement with Xcel for the Slayton solar project's electricity, the terms of which weren’t disclosed. Regulatory filings suggest it will cost around $7 million to build, $2 million of which is to be covered by a grant from Xcel’s Renewable Energy Development Fund, which is funded by the utility’s customers, the StarTribune article points out.

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PACE Coming Back?

Posted: 29 Jan 2012 07:30 AM PST


This is a very important post on a very important clean energy financing option that has been in hibernation, or maimed, for quite awhile now. Check it out and make sure to take action via the links on the bottom of the post! (Note that it was originally published on January 25.) If you’re interested in reading more on PACE than what’s below, check out our page on it (linked above).

by Alisa Valderrama of NRDC

Beginning today, an innovative energy-smart finance program for homeowners – called Property Assessed Clean Energy or PACE – has a chance for revival. Over the next 60 days (until March 26th, 2012), a broad bipartisan coalition of business leaders, environmentalists, property owners and federal, state, and local policymakers will finally have a chance to make their voices heard and explain to federal regulators why PACE makes economic and environmental sense.

The PACE Saga

PACE programs, run by towns or counties, enable property owners to finance the initial cost of energy efficiency improvements or small scale renewable energy projects and pay them off in small increments that are added to property taxes over an extended period of up to 20 years. Participation in PACE programs is entirely voluntary and from the start, homeowners can save more on their energy bills than the cost of the payments thanks to the clean energy projects. Improvements financeable under PACE can include better insulation, more efficient windows, more efficient heating and cooling systems, and solar panels.

Because of the economic and environmental benefits PACE could provide, PACE programs were supported by wide range of stakeholders: from labor unions to Fortune 500 companies and environmental groups. Starting in 2008, over 27 states and the District of Columbia passed PACE enabling legislation and a large number of municipalities in those states started or were preparing to launch PACE programs locally.

However, nearly all existing PACE programs were halted in July 2010, when the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency issued instructions to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the national banks that effectively froze PACE financing programs nationwide. The result was millions of dollars in federal stimulus funds in limbo, thousands of jobs implementing the projects left on the drawing board, and economic development plans and climate change goals across the country on hold. Lawsuits and proposed legislation followed, in addition to widespread frustration that the regulators had failed to consider the full range of implications of their actions. You can read about the status of the lawsuits at my colleague Kit Kennedy's blog.

As described in more detail in Kit's post today, a court order has forced FHFA to post an "advanced notice of proposed rulemaking." FHFA now must turn back the clock on their rulemaking and provide public notice in the Federal Register of their intent to propose a rule on PACE and allow the public 60 days to comment and provide their perspectives on PACE.

NRDC, together with PACENow and a broad bi-partisan coalition, are now working hard to ensure that PACE's supporters make their voices heard and that FHFA properly considers them.  The regulators' initial July 2010 attack on PACE was a backdoor surprise attack. Now, the chance to submit comments on the FHFA's position on PACE could breathe new life into an important vehicle for jobs, the economy, and the environment.

Go to PACENow for more information about how to comment and be a part of PACE's revival, and see the FHFA's Federal Register posting for information on how to submit comments. Please make your voice heard to revive PACE!

Map via PACENow

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Green Roofs Pave the Way to Cheap Solar Power

Posted: 29 Jan 2012 07:19 AM PST

green roofs boost solar cell efficiencyThe combination of green roofs with rooftop solar panels can provide a quick and easy way to boost solar cell efficiency right now, making it more cost effective for property owners to invest in a rooftop solar installation without waiting for new technology breakthroughs to hit the market. Though at first glance it may seem that solar panels and vegetation don’t mix, the solar industry has been coming up with new rooftop infrastructures that enables greenery to thrive between the photovoltaic modules.

Solar Panels that Tiptoe Through the Tulips

One main concern when siting solar panels on a green roof is enabling enough water to reach the plants. In conventional solar installations, the modules are mounted on concrete slabs and that prevents water from distributing evenly across the roof. The solution, according to the International Green Roof Association, is to mount the panels on boards that double as drainage layers, a system that is becoming common in the two green roof hotspots of Europe, Germany and Switzerland.

The other concern is excessive shade from the solar panels. So far, though, the research indicates that while some stunting does occur, the addition of shade to a green roof can improve the overall health of the roof by promoting biodiversity. Shade from the solar panels provides a habitat for plants and various kinds of critters that don’t thrive in full sunlight.

Green Roofs Boost Solar Cell Efficiency

The company Green Roof Technology has just introduced a combination solar panel-green roof system it calls “Sun-Root,” and its chief Jörg Breuning sums up the concept nicely: “Heat is the enemy of energy production.” Excess heat prevents photovoltaic cells from operating at peak efficiency. While solar researchers are developing new advanced solar cell technologies to get around that problem, green roofs have a proven ability to cool down surface temperatures. The natural cooling effect of green roofs can boost photovoltaic efficiency significantly, by up to 16 percent according to one study.

Green Roofs for the U.S. Military

Given the alacrity with which the Department of Defense is preparing for the end of oil by adopting alternative energy and energy conservation technologies, it should be no surprise that green roofs are already sprouting up at military facilities around the country, including a new green roof at DoD’s brand new LEED gold billion-dollar office complex in Virginia. It’s only a matter of time before the solar-green roof crossover hits the military market, and from there it’s just a short hop over to the mainstream mass market.

Image (green roof): Daisy. License Attribution Some rights reserved by SnowBunny_01.

Follow Tina Casey on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.


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Home Builder Introduces Solar as a Standard in Florida

Posted: 29 Jan 2012 04:37 AM PST

KB Home, a leading homebuilding company, announced this week that it has started offering solar panels as a standard on its “Built to Order” homes in certain communities in central Florida.

These solar power systems are expected to save the homeowners up to 50% on their energy bills. They did not specifically mention if they were referring to electricity bills only, or energy bills overall. However, in this context, energy usually means electricity.

"We're excited to take a leading role in bringing solar power systems to the mainstream in Central Florida," said George Glance, president of KB Home's Central Florida division. "While many love the year-round warmth and abundant sunshine we are lucky enough to enjoy here in Florida, staying comfortable in this weather can also take a toll on our wallets when we get the monthly electric bill. Consumers who buy a Built to Order™ KB home with a standard solar power system get the value of a custom home-like experience plus the benefit of having the sun help reduce their energy bills."

To increase customer confidence in KB Home’s setups, it also provides its “Energy Performance Guide” service, which shows monthly energy costs and how much money homeowners are saving over a typical resale house of their type.

These houses are to sell at prices starting in the low-$200,000 range. The homes can be customized to suit customers’ budgets, style, and needs. Customers can opt to have multi-purpose rooms transformed into bedrooms, home offices, and media rooms.

KB Home is one of the largest and most established home building organizations in the U.S and, by introducing this initiative, it may encourage more people to go solar. The cost of a solar setup is really just a small fraction of the cost of a home.

h/t Business Wire | Photo Credit: mikecogh (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license)

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Long Island Town Pioneers Closed-Loop, Pollution-Free Wind Power-Hydrogen Fuel System

Posted: 29 Jan 2012 04:02 AM PST

Photo courtesy Town of Hempstead

Outside of New York City on Long Island, the town of Hempstead is the site for a small, though novel, experiment in closed-loop clean energy production, storage and use. There, a 100-kilowatt (kW) “state-of-the-art” wind turbine is being used to generate electricity sufficient to produce hydrogen gas that’s being used to fuel the town’s fuel cell vehicles, the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) reports.

The entire closed-loop system is 100% pollution-free and could serve as a model for public-private partnerships in general, as well as for similar 100% clean energy installations to come. Working with Hempstead Town, the project is a joint effort by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, the Sustainability Institute at Molloy College, the New York Institute of Technology, Wilke Engineering, the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA), Northern Power Systems, National Grid, Proton Energy Systems, the Point Lookout and Lido Beach Civic Associations, and the Point Lookout-Lido Fire Dept.

Located near the coast, steady winds off the Atlantic provide the energy for a 121-foot Northern Power Systems’ wind turbine capable of operating almost continuously and generating up to 180-megawatts (MW) of electrical power a year. The electricity is used to split hydrogen from water as a gas, which is stored and then dispensed from Long Island’s only hydrogen refueling station at Hempstead’s Conservation and Waterways Dept. in Pt. Lookout.

DOE Grant Powers Public-Private Sector Initiatives

Air Products is providing the hydrogen production and storage technology. The hydrogen fuel will be used by the town’s Toyota fuel cell vehicles and a fuel cell bus, a fleet that the town’s leaders are now looking to expand.

The clean, renewable hydrogen fuel and electrical power the system produces is expected to save LIPA customers an estimated $40,000. Actual savings will vary based on the town utility’s variable rate structure. The electrical energy surplus to hydrogen production needs will be fed into LIPA’s grid, which is operated under contract by National Grid.

"By utilizing the great wind resource in Long Island, the Northern Power 100 wind turbine will help provide real cost savings, emissions reductions and energy security to the Town of Hempstead," Brett Pingree, sales and marketing VP for Northern Power Systems, commented. "It makes perfect sense that a forward-thinking municipality would be the one to lead by example as we all plan for our evolving energy future."

Hempstead applied for and received a $4.6 million grant from the Dept. of Energy (DOE) to fund the project. Installing the wind turbine cost $615,000, while Town personnel performed some $150,000 worth of electrical and marine bulkheading. according to IREC’s report.

Applauding the efforts of the local government leaders who spearheaded the project, LIPA COO Michael D. Hervey was quoted as saying, "Kate Murray and the Town of Hempstead are true Long Island leaders in advancing the use of solar and wind into Long Island's energy portfolio.

“LIPA was happy to provide technical assistance with this project, and remains committed to working with our residents, local governments, businesses, and community leaders to promote and invest in energy efficiency and renewable technologies through our nationally recognized solar, wind and Efficiency Long Island programs, which help to improve our environment and accelerate the clean energy economy."

Building a Clean Energy Community

Hempstead’s moving forward across multiple clean energy and energy conservation fronts, IREC notes. In addition to the wind-electricity-hydrogen system, the town’s investing the DOE grant money to construct a 60-kW solar field, two solar trackers, a solar PV carport and a geothermal energy project, all of which are located at its Conservation and Waterways facility. EmPower Solar’s the private sector provider for the solar PV system.

The DOE grant flows through its Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program. Recipients of block grants, such as Hempstead, “are deploying innovative clean energy products and services and helping families, businesses and governments reduce energy waste," Program Lead for the U.S. DOE program, was quoted as saying. “This project can serve as a model for other local governments that want to use renewable energy sources to reduce the need to buy gas and diesel fuel and save money in the process."

The awarding of the grant has enabled Hempstead to fund clean energy and energy conservation projects while keeping a lid on local taxes. The town has put a freeze on tax increases for 2012, the IREC report notes.

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MIT EV Concept to Be Produced in 2013?

Posted: 29 Jan 2012 04:00 AM PST

Here’s yet another fun little car that could be on the roads within a few years. As one commenter here on CleanTechnica aptly noted recently, we could make huge strides in fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions simply by reducing the size and weight of our vehicles. Hope to see cars like this one below becoming more and more common soon.

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5 Fresh Innovations in Solar Technology

Posted: 28 Jan 2012 10:13 AM PST

It’s true—amazing solar tech innovations just keep coming. Some advances come in the form of new handheld devices and applications. Others promise to elevate solar into a mainstream energy source that may one day replace greenhouse-gas-emitting fossil fuels. Here are five recent innovations that have left both solar experts and newbies in a daze.


1. The SolarKindle

One of the products that garnered a lot of interest at this year's Consumer Electronics Show was a solar cover for Amazon's Kindle e-reader, presented by Solar Focus. With just one full hour of sunlight, the SolarKindle collects enough energy to power your device for three days. What’s more, the cover is advertised as being able to provide power to the tablet for three continuous months under "normal" sunlight conditions. Take your Kindle outside with you, and it’ll stay charged for free (with zero fossil-derived energy). Winner.


2. Artificial Leaf

Now, this is where things get really trippy. MIT researcher Daniel Nocera has developed what he calls an Artificial Leaf, a potentially groundbreaking energy storage technology that successfully mimics nature. In a photosynthesis-like process, the ‘leaf’ uses solar energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. The emitted gases could then be stored in a fuel cell, making off-grid living beyond feasible. Not only that, but Nocera says that his leaf’s efficiency outperforms nature by a factor of 10. He founded the company Sun Catalytix to work on products that may some day provide electricity to impoverished households in developing countries. Solutions are expected to be ready for commercial use in the next few years. (Note: while it’s called an ‘artificial leaf’, it’s not actually a leaf.)


3. The Lotus Position

Partly an electric-vehicle charging station, partly an LED street lamp, the “Lotus” is a solar kiosk-like structure in the shape of a giant lotus leaf. Italian architect Giancarlo Zema, known for his innovative designs for semi-submerged architecture, teamed up with architectural design house Luminexence to create the multi-faceted design. A modular product, a single small Lotus generates 500 watts of electricity. Larger "leaves" generate 2.8 kilowatts, and can be used as covered parking structures for multiple vehicles. The Lotus may find its way into parks as self-operating information kiosks. The architects ultimately envision a solar-powered “urban design shelter” that transforms public space as we know it.


4. Dow Powerhouse Shingle

It's hard not to include Dow's new solar shingles in any list of up-and-coming solar innovation. If you haven’t heard of building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV), remember the term, because it promises to make solar blend seamlessly with its surroundings. What makes the thin-film solar shingles remarkable is that they double as your rooftop, providing a roofing replacement and solar installation at the same time (for far less cost). The shingles are applied like conventional asphalt shingles, and can be installed by roofing contractors without specialized knowledge in solar power. The Powerhouse shingles finally came to market in Colorado at the end of last year. They are expected to expand into California and other states this year.


5. Belgium’s Solar Tunnel

Along a high-speed rail line in Belgium, sit 16,000 solar panels atop two miles of man-made tunnel. The Solar Tunnel marks the first time in European history that a railway infrastructure has been used to generate clean power. That solar energy now operates the signaling, lighting, and heating systems for stations and junctions along the train's route from Antwerp to Amsterdam, making the train, an already greener form of transportation, that much more self-sustainable. The panels, installed through a collaboration of municipalities, solar developer Enfinity, and installer Solar Power Systems, are expected to produce over 3,000 megawatt-hours of electricity each year. That's enough to power 950 homes. Civic development at its finest.

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