Monday, May 7, 2012

Latest from: CleanTechnica

Latest from: CleanTechnica

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Smart Meter Unit Shipments in North America Peaked in 2011 and will Decline 42 Percent by 2013 as Global Market Continues Growth

Posted: 07 May 2012 09:20 AM PDT

A Google map of all the smart meter/grid projects underway globally right now

Sales of smart meters declined last year in this country compared to 2011, the peak year. According to Boulder, CO-based Pike Research  smart meters and advanced metering infrastructure have helped transform the electricity metering market into a high-tech, high-growth juggernaut. In 2008, less than 4 percent of the global installed base of 1.5 billion electricity meters could be regarded as smart devices. Four years later this penetration has grown to over 18 percent, and should exceed 55 percent by 2020.

Even though this remarkable rollout peaked in North America in 2011, Pike Research now anticipates seeing annual smart meter shipments to decline sharply. Unit shipments of smart meters in North America were 12.4 million in 2011 but will decline to 7.2 million by 2013, a 42 percent drop over two years. After 2014, they will begin a gradual rise through the end of the decade.

"The global smart meter market is in the midst of a steady growth period, with unit shipments growing at a compound annual growth rate of just under 5 percent between 2010 and 2020," said vice president Bob Gohn in a press announcement. "However, this high-level view obscures very dynamic and even volatile regional market characteristics, with dramatic shifts over the forecast period and very different communications technologies and standards. These swings make the market both enticing and challenging for smart meter and communications vendors."

Elsewhere in the world, the smart meter market expansion is anticipated, notes Pike Research. The Asia-Pacific region will continue to outpace all other regions, driven by major deployments in China, utilizing a different breed of smart meter technology. Smart meter penetration in Asia-Pacific today is just over half the penetration rate in North America, while in Europe it is less than half. That will change over the next eight years, as penetration rates reach 64 percent in Europe in 2020 and nearly 70 percent in Asia-Pacific.

Hopefully, one of the next major growth areas in the world will involve countries that provide little or no electricity for citizens.

Source: Business Wire 

Photo/Graphic:  Tom Raftery

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4th Straight Record Year for US Solar Installations as Utilities Play a Bigger Part

Posted: 07 May 2012 07:49 AM PDT

Photo courtesy: SEPA

Solar power was the fastest growing source of electricity for US utilities in 2011 as power providers interconnected more than 62,500 solar photovoltaic (PV) systems last year, setting a record high for the fourth consecutive year. 2011′s results show a 38% increase in the number of solar PV installations utilities participated in and a 120% increase in the total megawatts installed, according to the Solar Electric Power Association’s “2011 SEPA Top 10 Utility Solar Rankings” report.

Thirteen electric utilities interconnected more than 1,000 solar PV systems and 22 interconnected more than 500. Unsurprisingly, California utilities were well represented in SEPA’s 2011 Top 10: PG&E topped SEPA’s rankings in terms of annual solar megawatts installed (MW-ac) with 287.7, SCE ranked fourth at 138.5 MW-ac and Sacramento Municipal Utility District ranked seventh, having installed 52.8 MW of solar PV. Perhaps more surprisingly, New Jersey utilities were very well represented: PSE&G (#2, 181.3 MW-ac), Atlantic City Electric (#5, 61.2 MW-ac) and JCP&L (#6, 53 MW-ac) made SEPA’s 2011 Top 10.

SEPA’s US map of Top 10 Utilities installing grid-connected solar PV systems in 2011 also clearly shows how much more potential there is for solar energy adoption across the US. Utilities in just eight states cracked SEPA’s 2011 Top 10 either in terms of total capacity or Watts/customer: Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Tennessee.

US Solar PV: 4 Straight Record Years

California and New Jersey utilities’ progress and success in installing solar PV systems offers somewhat contrasting perspectives as to how government policies can spur solar PV growth and adoption, particularly in terms of centralized vs. distributed solar PV systems installations.

Moreover, SEPA’s 2011 Top 10 looks very different from the perspective of “Annual Solar Watts per Customer” (Watts-ac). New Jersey’s Vineland Municipal Electric Utility topped the rankings, having installed an average 768.5 Watts-ac per customer, more than triple the amount of #2-ranked Blue Ridge Mt Electric Membership Corp of Georgia, with an average of 192.4 Watts-ac. Tennessee’s Fayetville Public Utilities ranked third with an average 147.6 Watts-ac.

The US solar PV base continues to grow despite financial and economic headwinds and the expiry of the Treasury 1603 grant program. It took a minimum 45 MW of solar PV installations to crack SEPA’s 2011 Top 10 as compared to 2010′s 20 MW. This was also reflected in terms of installed solar capacity per customer. It took 83 W/c to make SEPA’s Top 10 in 2011 as compared to 28 W/c in 2010.

Five utilities made SEPA’s 2011 Top 10 in terms of both total solar PV capacity installed and average Watts installed per customer: Arizona Public Services (144.4 MW-ac; 128.7 W/c); Xcel Energy NM (45.6 MW-ac; 115.5 W/c); Atlantic City Electric Co (NJ) (61.2 MW-ac; 114.5 W/c); Sacramento Municipal Utility District (52.8 MW-ac; 88.5 W/c); and Public Service Electric & Gas Co. (NJ) (181.3 MW-ac; 85.7 W/c).

Grid-Connected US Solar Installations: Utilities Pick Up the Pace

Taking a look at centralized vs. distributed solar PV installations, a tend toward utility-led solar PV initiatives was in evidence in 2011, SEPA noted. Customer-owned, net-metered systems dominated grid-integrated solar PV installations a few years ago. In 2011, there was “a marked shift toward the utility-side of the meter as utilities influence solar markets in new ways,” according to SEPA.

That’s not to say that residential solar PV installations don’t continue to grow. By number, residential solar PV installations accounted for more than 89% of 2011′s total. Commercial rooftop installations made up more than 53% of total solar PV capacity installed.

Utilities procured 39% of new solar PV capacity in 2011 as compared to just 9% in 2008, SEPA pointed out. SEPA defines this sector as made up of direct wholesale purchases and utility-owned projects, which last year made up 26% and 13% of the US solar PV market, respectively. Large-scale utility projects accounted for most of 2011′s added capacity, with an estimated 18 projects totaling 332 MW, up from 226 MW in 2010. SEPA estimates that the utility solar PV market segment could grow to 1500 MW in 2012, adding the equivalent of the entire market as of year-end 2011.

Here’s SEPA’s two 2011 Top 10 lists:

2011 Top 10 Rankings
Annual Solar Megawatts (MW-ac)
'11 '10

1 1 Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (CA) 287.7
2 3 Public Service Electric & Gas Co. (NJ) 181.3
3 7 Arizona Public Service (APS) (AZ) 144.4
4 4 Southern California Edison (CA) 138.5
5 12 Atlantic City Electric (NJ) 61.2
6 9 Jersey Central Power & Light (NJ) 53.0
7 15 Sacramento Municipal Utility District (CA) 52.8
8 5 Xcel Energy – CO (CO) 51.3
9 20 Long Island Power Authority (NY) 46.9
10 56 Xcel Energy (NM) 45.6

Annual Solar Watts-per-Customer (Watts-ac)
'11 '10

1 NR Vineland Municipal Electric Utility (NJ) 768.5
2 162 Blue Ridge Mt Electric Membership Corp (GA) 192.4
3 89 Fayetteville Public Utilities (TN) 147.6
4 11 Arizona Public Service (APS) (AZ) 128.7
5 84 Xcel Energy – NM (NM) 115.5
6 9 Atlantic City Electric Co. (NJ) 114.5
7 15 Maui Electric Company (HI) 100.2
8 22 Sacramento Municipal Utility District (CA) 88.5
9 2 Public Service Electric & Gas Co. (NJ) 85.7
10 3 Hawaiian Electric Co., Inc. (HI) 82.9

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Researchers Helping US Marine Corps Lower Energy Needs

Posted: 07 May 2012 05:48 AM PDT

Put a US Marine out in the field for any length of time and at some point he’s going to need to recharge the batteries on any number of devices essential to his role. Researchers at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory Electronics Science and Technology Division are working to help the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) develop a new photovoltaic technology to meet just such a challenge.

“One of the most significant challenges currently facing the Marine Corps is the need to supply sufficient electricity to individual Marines in forward operating bases,” said Robert Walters, head of NRL Solid State Devices Branch. “Mobile photovoltaics are a technology that can address these needs by leveraging emerging, flexible, high efficiency photovoltaic technology.”

The MSP photovoltaic prototype, fitted to a standard USMC issue backpack, includes a 10.5-inch x 15.5-inch solar panel able to generate more than 11 Watts under 1-sun air mass (AM) of 1.5 illumination.

The use of renewable technologies on the battlefield could reduce the fuel consumed, per Marine, per day, by 50 percent, and reduce total weight of batteries carried by nearly 200 thousand pounds.

In collaboration with MicroLink Devices, Design Intelligence Incorporated, and the USMC Expeditionary Energy Office (E2O), the NRL have developed and prototyped a new photovoltaic system that is specifically designed to meet the needs of a US Marine.

“The mobile solar power (MSP) prototype, capitalizing on recent advances in solar cell technology that allow the manufacture of high-efficiency, flexible solar cells, consists of an array of single-junction solar cells with a power conditioning circuit that maximizes array power production and charges a standard, military issue, high capacity rechargeable lithium-ion battery (BB-2590).”

Source: U.S. Naval Research Laboratory

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Clean Energy Startups and Small Businesses Now Have Access to Capital Markets via the JOBS Act

Posted: 07 May 2012 05:43 AM PDT

Pebbles raises $8 million on KickStarter crowdfunding site

Pebbles raises $8M on Kickstarter

When was the last time the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of clean energy? Or agreed with the Senate — and the President — on any legislation in recent memory? Well, the new "Jumpstart Our Business Startups" (JOBS) Act, was overwhelmingly and quickly passed by both houses and signed into law by President Obama April 5. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has 90 days to weigh in. But assuming the intent of Congress prevails, here's what's possible….

The new law has the potential to change the rules for raising capital for clean energy startups, entrepreneurs, and other small companies, defined by the law as "Emerging Growth Companies" (EGC's). Once formalized with final SEC language — theoretically, by Jul 5 — small companies will have more relaxed timing and thresholds for advertising, accounting and SEC registration.

Who Can Benefit?

Any EGC with less than $10 million in assets, $1 billion in gross revenue, and fewer than 2000 investors can now seek access to capital markets, according to the new law, notwithstanding the SEC 90-day window for amendments. In addition, individual investors will have access to share in the growth of these emerging companies, previously unavailable and unknown to them. Here's Part 4 of a well-written 4-part discussion of the JOBS Act, with parts 1-3 at the bottom of the post.

Major Benefits of the Law

Access to investors. The biggest advantage for ECGs is that they can now go directly to investors by utilizing the internet, paid advertising, and publicity. This also now permits management public appearances, seminars, and media interviews. Until now, small companies could not solicit investors publicly, and had to follow traditional channels of "friends and family," angel and venture capital investors. Depending upon final SEC language, this can dramatically change the way EGC funding is delivered. More importantly, this has the potential to make more startups successful, with job creation right behind.

  • One Reno-based clean energy management startup, SunScience Corporation (SSC), wasted no time contacting potential investors. A press release was distributed to the personal business network of SSC management as well as regional media. This same press release can also be distributed nationally via paid publicity channels. To further protect and reassure investors, SSC promises to follow many of the SEC rules required of public companies, but which are not required under the JOBS Act. These include disclosure of audited accounting, qualifying accredited investors and form "D" filing with the SEC.  Here's what a Reno business publication had to say about this story.

Crowdfunding. Under the JOBS Act, crowdfunding (CF) sites may now be used to attract investors. However, new rules for screening and financial reporting by companies and disseminating financials to investors will be more rigorous. These added steps to protect investors, some experts predict, may place an excessive burden on CF sites, keeping them out of the investment business, thus remaining in their current role.

  • Currently, companies listing on CF sites (IndieGoGo, MicroVentures, and SeedVo, for example) seek contributions, donations, or some form of barter. Since shares are not sold online, these CF sites are not regulated by the SEC. However, a milestone CF event just happened on Kickstarter, with Pebble watches, a startup that raised over $8 million for a watch that is iPhone compatible. This set all records for CF. What was Pebbles offering in this case? At minimum, for each $99 “donated," the sender would receive said watch,… although none have yet been made.

Elements of the Law — Summarized

Who benefits? Bill H.R. 3606 defines a broad class of start-ups and small businesses as "Emerging Growth Companies" (EGCs). These entities benefit from the more relaxed regulations for a period of up to five years or until they reach $1 billion in gross revenue, whichever happens sooner.

How they benefit? H .R. 2940 allows the use of advertising and publicity by EGCs to access capital markets and solicit investors. This also includes public appearances by company executives and media interviews, all of which were previously denied small, non-public companies.

Use of "crowdfunding" (CF). H.R. 2930 enables EGCs to use the myriad of CF sites to solicit investors for amounts up to $1 million, without registration with the SEC. Or $2 million if the EGC supplies audited financial statements. A maximum investment of $10,000 or 10% of the investor’s income is allowed, which is part of a larger set of measures to protect investors in this new, lesser regulated capital market.

Offer ceiling. H.R. 1070 raises the offer threshold "pool" from $5 million to $50 million from all sources, making it easier for EGCs to go public and create jobs.

Maximum investors. H.R. 2167 raises the investor ceiling to 2000. This updates a 1964 rule stating that, once a company exceeds 499 investors and $10 million in assets, it must file with the SEC and go public. Pebbles raises $8 million on KickStarter crowdfunding site Modular Energy Management System from SunScience

So here we have two historic mileposts. New legislation to assist small businesses to gain access to investor markets with fewer, and deferred, SEC restrictions. And, two, a historic (recently, anyway), bipartisan effort to help small businesses – the recognized engines of job

Modular Energy Management System from SunScience

Modular Energy Management System from SunScience

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Operator Error and Lack of Planning Key to 2011 San Diego Blackout

Posted: 07 May 2012 05:24 AM PDT

In 2011, 2.7 million people across Southern California, Arizona, and Baja California were left without power when a single transmission line in Arizona was lost, which led to a cascading series of failures. Now, a report which was initiated in an effort to determine the cause of the blackout and to make recommendations to avoid similar situations in the future has been published.

Lack of Planning Coupled with No Peripheral Vision to Blame

The report was released jointly by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) on May 1. It blamed the massive blackout on both the lack of planning and lack of observability and awareness of system operating conditions on the day of the event.

The nearly eight-month inquiry recommended that transmission operators and balancing authorities improve how they plan for operations to account for the status of facilities outside their individual systems, the effect of external operations on their own systems, and how operation of transmission facilities under 100 kiloVolts can affect the reliability of the bulk power system.

San Diego Power Outage Sky Panorama

3-frame panorama overlooking Miramar (which had power) and Mira Mesa (which didn't have power). The scene is mainly lit by headlights and the moon.

"This report highlights the growing need for more coordination of grid operations in the West," FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff said. "Implementing the recommendations in this report will assist in enhancing the planning and system awareness measures that are necessary to operate an efficiently integrated bulk power system, and reduce costs to consumers from these types of outages that could continue if operational efficiencies are not improved."

The report is the result of a massive amount of work for FERC and NERC staff, who conducted on-site interviews, created sophisticated computer modelling, simulations of the event in question, and system analysis. Their findings showed that “entities responsible for planning, operating and monitoring the bulk power system were not prepared to ensure reliable operation or prevent cascading outages in the event of a single contingency,” that being the loss of Arizona Public Service's Hassayampa-North Gila 500 kiloVolt transmission line.

"This event underscores how complex and interdependent our North American electric systems are and the critical importance of information sharing, communications, system studies and coordinated operations among all interconnected systems," said Gerry Cauley, president and CEO of NERC.  "Transmission operators, Balancing Authorities and Reliability Coordinators must work together to effectively manage this complex system."

"Today’s report provides a series of lessons learned from the September 2011 event that is available to industry for use as a tool to improve their operations and planning of the grid," FERC Commissioner John Norris said. "My hope is that the findings and recommendations in this report will be utilized to the broadest extent possible in order to enhance the reliability and efficiency of the Bulk Power System."

The Report’s Recommendations

The report recommends that bulk power system operators improve their situational awareness through improved communication, data sharing and the use of real-time tools. It also recommends that:

  • System planners and operators recognize, study and incorporate the effects of sub-100 kV systems on bulk power system reliability into their planning and operations;
  • The Western Electricity Coordinating Council (WECC) recognize and study Interconnection reliability operating limits;
  • Transmission Owners and Operators review overload protection relay settings to give them more time to mitigate overloads;
  • Transmission Operators and WECC study the effects of special protection systems, remedial action schemes and safety nets, such as the one that disconnected San Diego from the high voltage lines south of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, to understand how they affect reliability and to ensure that they do not have unintended or undesirable effects; and
  • System operators plan and account for phase angle differences in order to be able to re-energize transmission lines following outages.

For those readers interested enough in this story, the joint report is available in it’s entirety here (PDF) as well as a fantastic step-by-step sequence of events (PDF), which is really quite fascinating in lieu of the end result; very “pebble causes a landslide” sort of story.

Image Source: Kevin Baird

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Japan Shuts Down Last Nuclear Power Reactor

Posted: 07 May 2012 05:16 AM PDT

Just over a year since a magnitude 9.0 undersea earthquake and subsequent tsunami created a series of equipment failures, nuclear meltdowns, and release of radioactive materials at the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, technicians closed down the last working nuclear reactor in the country.

At 11:03 pm local time on Saturday night, technicians closed down the No. 3 reactor at Tomari in Hokkaido. Hokkaido Electric Power brought the reactor to “cold shutdown” yesterday, said company spokesman Hisatoshi Kibayashi.

Unsurprisingly, this has reignited the discussion over whether Japan needs nuclear power, with a focus on the potential for power blackouts during the summer.

Tomari Nuclear Power Plant

This is the first time since the 1970s that Japan has been without nuclear power. Following the largest nuclear incident since Chernobyl in 1986, Japan made it through the summer without the Fukushima reactors by imposing restrictions on the use of electricity. To help reduce peak demand, for example, factories operated at night and on weekends in an effort to minimize the stress on the grid.

In a day and age where many countries are looking to renewable energy as a possible means of creating a more sustainable energy supply, this coming summer for Japan will be interesting. Opposition to shutting down the nuclear power plants (or installing new ones) will die down if there are no major blackouts and if renewable energy sources such as solar and wind can start making up the difference left by nuclear.

Source: Reuters and
Image Source: Mugu-shisai

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Plain Jane Zinc Gives Solar Power a Technicolor Spark

Posted: 07 May 2012 05:05 AM PDT

basel researchers use zinc for low cost solar cellsResearchers from the University of Basel in Switzerland are developing low cost solar cells made with zinc, a cheap and abundant material. Zinc is an uninteresting gray in its natural state, but the team has figured out a way to use it for creating colorful dyes, which could lead to the next generation of cheap, dye-sensitized solar cells.

Coloring the way to low cost solar

The use of dyes to boost solar cell efficiency  has been the subject of intense research for the past several years, but until now zinc has been somewhat overlooked. Lead researcher Ed Contable has admitted that “most chemists consider zinc to be a ‘boring’element,” since most of the compounds derived from it are relatively colorless.

A cheaper foundation for dye-sensitized solar cells

According to the University of Basel, ruthenium dyes are used in typical dye-sensitized solar cells. However, ruthenium is a “transition metal” that shares some characteristics with platinum, including a sky-high price tag.

Current prices for ruthenium run about 3,500 Swiss Francs per kilogram, and the research team had begun experimenting with a copper substitute at only 7.5 Francs. Based on the success of those experiments, they searched for an even cheaper substitute and settled on zinc at 1.8 Francs.

Combining two steps into one

In addition to using a new material, zinc, the Basel team also departed from the normal fabrication processes that are typically used to make dye-sensitized solar cells. Rather than creating dyes separately, they developed a method for synthesizing zinc-based dyes while in the process of attaching zinc to microscopic particles of titanium dioxide.

The titanium dioxide acts like a semiconductor, which accepts electrons that have been absorbed by the dye.

At this stage of the research, the conversion efficiency of the new solar cell is pretty low, so the Basel team has its work cut out for it.

Titanium dioxide to the rescue

If titanium dioxide rings a bell, that’s because it is another cheap, abundant material (widely used in paint and toothpaste, among other things) that has been helping to push new clean technology off the lab table and into the real world.

Titanium dioxide is also being used in hydrogen fuel cells, and it can be used to neutralized pollutants, a couple of examples being the “pollution-eating” coatings for buildngs developed by aluminum giant Alcoa, and pollution-fighting road surfaces developed by the company Pureti.

Image: Courtesy of Ed Constable/University of Basel

Follow Tina Casey on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.

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