Monday, May 21, 2012

Latest from: CleanTechnica

Latest from: CleanTechnica

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Energy Use & Top Energy Sources in the US

Posted: 21 May 2012 09:34 AM PDT

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) recently released some new charts and diagrams on energy sources and energy consumption in the US. I’m always a sucker for a chart, and I imagine many of you are as well, so here are a few of those:

As you can see in this first one, electricity takes the cake when it comes to energy use, followed by transportation:

When it comes to the top sources, petroleum is number one, followed by natural gas, coal, renewable energy, and nuclear:

And, for a more nuanced look at what each energy source is used for, there’s this one (the numbers above the lines on the left side show what percentage of each energy source is going to which sector, and the percentage above the lines on the right side show what percentage of each sector is supplied by each energy source — for example, 100% of nuclear power is used to produce electricity, and 21% of electricity comes from nuclear power):

Source: EIA

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Solarize Your Community (Learn How from New Solarize Guidebook)

Posted: 21 May 2012 07:00 AM PDT


Want to solarize your community? Like, really solarize it? The Solarize campaign in Portland, Oregon and its many spin-offs is a great example of how, and now there’s a Solarize Guidebook out to make following suit even easier. Here’s more from NREL’s Karlynn Cory:

Pallets of PV: Communities Purchase Solar and Drive Down Costs Together

Think of it like Costco or Sam’s Club for purchasing solar photovolatics (PV). Some savvy folks in Oregon thought it would be a great idea to buy PV in bulk for their neighborhood to get a big volume discount and share the savings with neighbors. So they created the Solarize campaign, which over the last three years has helped Portland add “[more than] 1.7 MW of distributed PV and [establish] a strong, steady solar installation economy” [1]. In fact, so successful was the Portland model that several other communities started their own Solarize campaigns, including Washington State; Massachusetts; Vermont; San Diego, California; and multi-city campaigns from One Block Off the Grid and GroupEnergy.

Where is the PV? A very long aisle in a big warehouse (Source: NREL PIX #1627)

All of the great details, including how to set up your own program, are laid out in “The Solarize Guidebook: A Community Guide to Collective Purchasing of Residential PV Systems,” released in May 2012. This roadmap is for state and local governments and community leaders wanting to create a program to buy PV in bulk. It describes how Solarize Portland executed its program, explains how other neighborhoods across the United States are building off their efforts, and describes the steps needed to have a successful campaign in six months or less [1]. This report is an update to a previous version published in January 2011 and includes new info on lessons learned not only in Portland, but across the other 1,960 Solarize installations.

The key to Solarize’s success is that it directly tackles three major market barriers: (1) high upfront cost, (2) complex solar purchasing options, and (3) customer inertia (i.e., it is easier to do nothing than do something). Some of the key success elements include: (1) competitive contractor selection led by the community, (2) community-led outreach and education, and (3) making it a limited time offer (so you have to act now!). And how well did the bulk purchasing work?  Solarize Portland drove solar market costs down by 30%-35% as compared to before the program [1].

By offering system financing to participants, Solarize campaigns tap a larger market for PV. Different ways to provide financing include low/no-interest municipal loans, bank or credit union loans, solar leases, third-party power purchase agreements (PPAs), or even utility loans. The right type of financing will depend on your local community, your partners, and how actively they want to be engaged.

And the best part about the guide? After each case study, it includes contact information for the folks on the ground, so communities can get answers to all of their questions.

So for anyone interested in buying PV in bulk—there is a clear way to do so, even if the warehouse or home improvement stores can’t help you out today.


[1] Irvine, Linda, Alexandra Sawyer and Jennifer Grove. (2012). “The Solarize Guidebook: A Community Guide to Collective Purchasing of Residential PV Systems.” Northwest Sustainable Energy for Economic Development (Northwest SEED), May.

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Suntech & Trina Solar Statements on DOC Preliminary Solar Trade Ruling

Posted: 21 May 2012 05:29 AM PDT

Following up on our coverage of the US-China solar trade case, it seems only fair to present the responses of the two most-affected Chinese solar companies — Suntech, currently the world’s largest solar panel producer, and Trina Solar.

Here’s Suntech’s response:

“These duties do not reflect the reality of a highly-competitive global solar industry. Suntech has consistently maintained a positive gross margin as revenues are higher than our cost of production. We will work closely with the Department of Commerce prior to their final decision to demonstrate why these duties are not justified by fact,” said Andrew Beebe, Suntech’s Chief Commercial Officer.

“As a global company with global supply chains and manufacturing facilities in three countries, including the United States, we are providing our U.S. customers with hundreds of megawatts of quality solar products that are not subject to these tariffs,” continued Mr. Beebe.

“Despite these harmful trade barriers, we hope that the U.S., China and all countries will engage in constructive dialogue to avert a deepening solar trade war. Suntech opposes trade barriers at any point in the global solar supply chain. All leading companies in the global solar industry want to see a trade war averted. We need more competition and innovation, not litigation,” continued Mr. Beebe.

And here’s Trina Solar’s statement:

“Trina Solar’s innovation and globalization has helped to create great value for our stakeholders,” said Jifan Gao, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Trina Solar. ”Current market conditions illustrate precisely why we have been conservative in the past, and why we place a priority on building a strong balance sheet. We believe that the quality of our panels and the strength of our team will ensure that we continue to serve the US market for the long term.”

“We remain committed to the very close relationships we have developed in the US solar industry and will continue to deliver industry leading solutions together with these customers,” added Mark Kingsley, Chief Commercial Officer of Trina Solar. “Our primary objective remains to sustainably drive down total installed per watt cost through the use of our proprietary high-efficiency module know-how in combination with industry best practices on balance of system cost optimization. This is simply what is required to unlock the next level of fossil fuel replacement in the United States. Any duties are short-sighted impediments to this worthy goal.”

Kingsley concluded, “We intend to strongly defend with data our position that these duties are unwarranted and serve as an impediment to the broader adoption of solar energy in a time of rising fuel costs. As a forward-thinking global company, we will continue to assess our options to most effectively serve all of our markets, including our growing business in the United States.”

Image: Nevada Solar Power Plant via Suntech

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China Solar Trade War Analysis & Fact Sheet

Posted: 21 May 2012 05:18 AM PDT

GTM Research recently provided a short analysis of the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) preliminary ruling on Chinese solar imports. Here’s the bulk of that post, followed by the DOC fact sheet on the ruling, also via GTM (click on the images and then click them again on the next page to enlarge, or hold down ‘ctrl’ or ‘command’ and click the ‘+’ key):

The following are the anti-dumping tariffs handed down in the ruling:

  • Suntech: 31.22 percent
  • Trina: 31.14 percent
  • Named Chinese firms: 31.18 percent
  • Firms that did not provide info to Dept. of Commerce: 249.96 percent

These anti-dumping tariffs will be compounded by the countervailing duties that the DOC levied on March 20. The countervailing duties are listed below:

  • Suntech: 2.90 percent
  • Trina: 4.73 percent
  • Everyone else: 3.59 percent

The following is a series of comments from GTM Research's Senior Analyst, Shyam Mehta on how the tariffs will affect Chinese suppliers in the U.S.

  • "While the margins are not as high as those seen in many previous U.S.-China antidumping cases (electrical blankets, steel grating), they are certainly much higher than Chinese manufacturers would have hoped for," said Mehta. "Stacked onto the margins for countervailing duties, they amount to levels of 35 percent to 36 percent, which is significant."
  • "Keep in mind that this is a preliminary decision. We expect Chinese manufacturers and CASE representatives to contest the findings in the days ahead."
  • "The margins were obviously driven in part by the Department of Commerce's choice of the 'proxy economy' to estimate costs, as China is considered a 'non-market economy.'"
  • "At these margins, China-based manufacturers would certainly have to raise U.S. prices to turn a profit. It is not feasible for them to maintain prices at tariff-free levels and still be profitable. In the short term, this is likely to lead to module price increases in the U.S. which would serve to dampen demand and installation growth. If the Chinese were to absorb the tariff, it would place their costs close to parity with many U.S.-based suppliers.""However, Chinese firms are hardly likely to stand still. Broadly speaking, they have two strategies: set up cell manufacturing outside China, or use the tolling services of Taiwan-based suppliers to turn wafers into cells there, and then assemble the modules in China. Both strategies would allow the Chinese to bypass import tariffs. We estimate that tolling cells to Taiwanese firms would increase Chinese costs by 6 percent to 12 percent, which is meaningful but manageable."
  • "Given this, we do expect that the decision will result in at least incremental investment in domestic manufacturing by Chinese firms. However, there are other, lower-cost manufacturing locations that these firms could set up manufacturing in, such as Mexico and Taiwan, for example that would still allow them to price their modules below that of U.S.-based suppliers. Therefore, we see the impact of this decision on U.S. manufacturing as positive, but spurring limited investment in the future and likely only temporary relief for existing U.S.-based suppliers."

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Solar-Panel-Like Cells Could Give Sight to the Blind

Posted: 21 May 2012 04:00 AM PDT

By Jonathan Rabinovitz of the Stanford School of Medicine

This pinpoint-sized photovoltaic chip (upper right corner) is implanted under the retina in a blind rat to restore sight. The center image shows how the chip is comprised of an array of photodiodes, which can be activated by pulsed near-infrared light to stimulate neural signals in the eye that propagate then to the brain. A higher magnification view (lower left corner shows a single pixel of the implant, which has three diodes around the perimeter and an electrode in the center. The diodes turn light into an electric current which flows from the chip into the inner layer of retinal cells.") Courtesy of the Daniel Palanker lab.

Using tiny solar-panel-like cells surgically placed underneath the retina, scientists at the Stanford University School of Medicine have devised a system that may someday restore sight to people who have lost vision because of certain types of degenerative eye diseases.

This device — a new type of retinal prosthesis — involves a specially designed pair of goggles, which are equipped with a miniature camera and a pocket PC that is designed to process the visual data stream. The resulting images would be displayed on a liquid crystal microdisplay embedded in the goggles, similar to what's used in video goggles for gaming. Unlike the regular video goggles, though, the images would be beamed from the LCD using laser pulses of near-infrared light to a photovoltaic silicon chip — one-third as thin as a strand of hair — implanted beneath the retina.

Electric currents from the photodiodes on the chip would then trigger signals in the retina, which then flow to the brain, enabling a patient to regain vision.

A study, published online May 13 in Nature Photonics, shows how scientists used rat retinas to assess the photodiode arrays in vitro, and how the diodes produced electric responses that are widely accepted indicators of visual activity. The scientists are now testing the system in live rats, taking both physiological and behavioral measurements, and are hoping to find a sponsor to support tests in humans.

"It works like the solar panels on your roof, converting light into electric current," said Daniel Palanker, PhD, associate professor of ophthalmology and the paper's senior author. "But instead of the current flowing to your refrigerator, it flows into your retina." Palanker is also a member of the Hansen Experimental Physics Laboratory at Stanford and of the interdisciplinary Stanford research program, Bio-X. The study's co-first authors are Keith Mathieson, PhD, a visiting scholar in Palanker's lab, and James Loudin, PhD, a postdoctoral scholar. Palanker and Loudin jointly conceived and designed the prosthesis system and the photovoltaic arrays.

There are several other retinal prostheses being developed, and at least two of them are in clinical trials. A device made by the Los Angeles-based company Second Sight was approved in April for use in Europe, and another prosthesis-maker, a German company called Retina Implant AG, announced earlier this month results from its clinical testing in Europe.

Unlike these other devices — which require coils, cables or antennas inside the eye to deliver power and information to the retinal implant — the Stanford device uses near-infrared light to transmit images, thereby avoiding any need for wires and cables, and making the device thin and easily implantable.

"The current implants are very bulky, and the surgery to place the intraocular wiring for receiving, processing and power is difficult," Palanker said. The device developed by his team, he noted, has virtually all of the hardware incorporated externally into the goggles. "The surgeon needs only to create a small pocket beneath the retina and then slip the photovoltaic cells inside it." What's more, one can tile these photovoltaic cells in larger numbers inside the eye to provide a wider field of view than the other systems can offer, he added.

Daniel Palanker

Stanford University holds patents on two technologies used in the system, and Palanker and colleagues would receive royalties from the licensing of these patents.

The proposed prosthesis is intended to help people suffering from retinal degenerative diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa. The former is the foremost cause of vision loss in North America, and the latter causes an estimated 1.5 million people worldwide to lose sight, according to the nonprofit group Foundation Fighting Blindness. In these diseases, the retina's photoreceptor cells slowly degenerate, ultimately leading to blindness. But the inner retinal neurons that normally transmit signals from the photoreceptors to the brain are largely unscathed. Retinal prostheses are based on the idea that there are other ways to stimulate those neurons.

The Stanford device uses near-infrared light, which has longer wavelength than normal visible light. It's necessary to use such an approach because people blinded by retinal degenerative diseases still have photoreceptor cells, which continue to be sensitive to visible light. "To make this work, we have to deliver a lot more light than normal vision would require," said Palanker. "And if we used visible light, it would be painfully bright." Near-infrared light isn't visible to the naked eye, though it is "visible" to the diodes that are implanted as part of this prosthetic system, he said.

Palanker explained what he's done by comparing the eye to camera, in which the retina is the film or the digital chip, and each photoreceptor is a pixel. "In our model we replace those photoreceptors with photosensitive diodes," he said. "Every pixel is like a little solar cell; you send light, then you get current and that current stimulates neurons in the inner nuclear layer of the retina." That, in turn, should have a cascade effect, activating the ganglion cells on the outer layer of the retina, which send the visual information to the brain that allows us to see.

For this study, Palanker and his team fabricated a chip about the size of a pencil point that contains hundreds of these light-sensitive diodes. To test how these chips responded, the researchers used retinas from both normal rats and blind rats that serve as models of retinal degenerative disease. The scientists placed an array of photodiodes beneath the retinas and placed a multi-electrode array above the layer of ganglion cells to gauge their activity. The scientists then sent pulses of light, both normal and near-infrared, to produce electric current in the photodiodes and measured the response in the outer layer of the retinas.

In the normal rats, the ganglions were stimulated, as expected, by the normal visible light, but they also presented a similar response to the near-infrared light: That's confirmation that the diodes were triggering neural activity.

In the degenerative rat retinas, the normal light elicited little response, but the near-infrared light prompted strong spikes in activity roughly similar to what occurred in the normal rat retinas. "They didn't respond to normal light, but they did to infrared," said Palanker. "This way the sight is restored with our system." He noted that the degenerated rat retinas required greater amounts of near-infrared light to achieve the same level of activity as the normal rat retinas.

While there was concern that exposure to such doses of near-infrared light could cause the tissue to heat up, the study found that the irradiation was still one-hundredth of the established ocular safety limit.

Since completing the study, Palanker and his colleagues have implanted the photodiodes in rats' eyes and been observing and measuring their effect for the last six months. He said preliminary data indicates that the visual signals are reaching the brain in normal and in blind rats, though the study is still under way.

While this and other devices could help people to regain some sight, the current technologies do not allow people to see color, and the resulting vision is far from normal, Palanker said.

Other members of Palanker's lab involved in the research are graduate students Georges Goetz, David Boinagrov and Lele Wang; senior research associate Philip Huie; research associates Ludwig Galambos and Susanne Pangratz-Fuehrer, PhD; and postdoctoral scholars Yossi Mandel, MD, PhD, and Daniel Lavinsky, MD, PhD. In addition, Theodore Kamins, PhD, a consulting professor in electrical engineering, and James Harris, PhD, professor in the School of Engineering, are co-authors. The team also collaborated with scientists at the Santa Cruz Institute for Particle Physics at UC-Santa Cruz.

Funding was provided by the National Institutes of Health, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and Stanford's Bio-X program. Information about Stanford's Department of Ophthalmology, which also supported the research, is available at

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Why Tariffs on Chinese Photovoltaics Could Be Bad for the Planet

Posted: 21 May 2012 03:55 AM PDT

David Biello over at Scientific American has taken the time to explain why he thinks the recent decision to place tariffs on Chinese photovoltaics is a bad idea, and not just for America.

We’ve already covered the decision here at Cleantechnia over the past week, Andrew detailing the Commerce Department’s ruling and Zach taking the time to shine a light on CASE’s response to the decision, as well as imparting some of his own wisdom on the matter.

Now, David Biello of Scientific American explains why he thinks that it is a bad idea for the planet as a whole.

In 2011 alone, we imported more than 93 million photovoltaic modules from China, thanks to prices that fell below $1 per watt.

Raising that price through tariffs might prevent more U.S. solar companies from going bankrupt like Solyndra and Unisolar did. But the tariffs will also mean higher prices for U.S. customers who want solar power—whether homeowners or utilities.

High prices have been the main reason that solar power still accounts for less than 1 percent of U.S. electricity. And high prices mean our nation will continue to convert only slowly from relying on electricity derived from burning fossil fuels to relying more on electricity derived directly from the sun.

Given that the world has a large and growing problem with greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change, that’s not a good outcome for the planet.

My Own Thoughts

I don’t want to belabour the point. From an American point of view, this is obviously good news for manufacturing companies such as SolarWorld. US citizens will be glad that jobs are staying in their country, and there is now more chance that any American solar development will see money funneled back into the country rather than to a foreign country.

But one has to wonder at the wisdom of hampering the ability of the average citizen the chance to install solar by effectively pushing up the price.

Image Source: Official U.S. Navy Imagery

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Scotland’s One & Only Tidal Power Generator Now Providing Electricity to Eday Island

Posted: 21 May 2012 03:51 AM PDT

Scotland’s first and only currently consented tidal power project has successfully completed an initial testing period in Orkney, and is now providing electricity to homes and business on the nearby island of Eday.

The 1-MW underwater turbine was installed last December and has been undergoing a battery of tests in the waters around Orkney. According to ScottishPower Renewables, “the initial testing period has been very positive with the device achieving full export power.”

"The concept of generating electricity from the natural movement of the tide is still relatively new – and test projects like this are vital to help us understand how we can fully realise the potential of this substantial energy source,” said Keith Anderson, CEO of ScottishPower Renewables.

"The performance of the first HS1000 device has given us great confidence so far. Engineers were able install the device during atrocious weather conditions, and it has been operating to a very high standard ever since. We have already greatly developed our understanding of tidal power generation, and this gives us confidence ahead of implementing larger scale projects in Islay and the Pentland Firth.”

"Scotland has the best tidal power resources in Europe, and that's why we are seeing world leading technologies tested here. This device is already providing renewable electricity for Orkney, but the potential is there in our waters to make a significant contribution towards our overall energy needs and our carbon reduction targets."

The Orkney test device aims to prove just how useful and feasible tidal power can be, specifically in Scotland’s perfect conditions.

Scottish PowerRenewables eventually hope to use this technology as part of the world’s first tidal turbine array planned for the Sound of Islay, where they hope to develop a 10-MW tidal array. They have already received planning consent from the Scottish Government in March of 2011.

Capable of powering the energy needs of 500 homes, the HS1000 tidal turbine has been developed by ANDRITZ HYDRO Hammerfest. The company has had a HS1000 prototype device generating electricity in Norway for over 6 years.

Stein Atle Andersen, Managing Director of ANDRITZ HYDRO Hammerfest, said: "The 1MW pre-commercial device is an important step in our staged strategy for developing reliable and cost efficient tidal energy converting devices and power plants. The tests being carried out so far have confirmed the design basis for the technology and given comfort concerning the device's capacity."

"We are still early in the testing programme with endurance, availability and reliability being the most imminent factors for asserting a proper basis for developing commercial tidal energy power plants. However, we are already well into design engineering for the first power plant."

"In total we believe this is an important step forward for the industry in general by demonstrating that commercial size developments are feasible."

Source: ScottishPower Renewables

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100,000 California Homes to be Powered by New Geothermal

Posted: 21 May 2012 03:46 AM PDT

One of two new 49.9-MW geothermal plants is already operating at full capacity in Imperial Valley, California near the Salton Sea. It was originally called Hudson Ranch I, but renamed later to John L. Featherstone Plant, to honor a geothermal expert. This new plant is the first of its kind built in the area for twenty years. The second 49.9-MW geothermal project is called Hudson Ranch II and construction is slated to begin in 2013, with a 2015 finish date. Each new plant has been said to be able to generate enough power for 50,000 homes.

“It’s very badly needed. This is the perfect substitute for retiring coal plants. It’s great for desert loads,” said Dave Watson, who is with EnergySource, the company that operates the new plant. He addressed a crowd of about 300 at its’ dedication, saying the El Centro-based company has big plans for the area, due to the robust geothermal activity at the Salton Sea.

Under the surface layers, there are 600-degree waters in the area. The extremely hot brine can be harnessed when using its steam, or by allowing it to heat another liquid which moves turbines. Currently, geothermal plants at the Salton Sea have a generating capacity of about 380 MW.

The first Hudson Ranch geothermal plant cost $400 million and created over 200 construction jobs. Fifty-five full-time workers are employed there currently. The Salt River Project in Arizona is purchasing the power under a 30-year power purchase agreement. Private investors, and eight international banks financed the project.

Even with geothermal plants in the area at 380 MW, it is still underdeveloped and can sustain more new plants being constructed to generate clean energy. The full geothermal potential of the area could be two gigawatts. Additionally, electricity generated by geothermal plants is not subject to the periodic dips of solar and wind power. An assemblyman from Coachella remarked they could have 100-MW and 200-MW geothermal plants there, if there is enough political will and creativity.

Image Credit: Rman 348, Public Domain, Wiki Commons

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