Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Link to CleanTechnica

China’s Largest Solar Power Farm Approved — To Be Built By GCL-Poly Energy, World’s Largest PV Polysilicon Producer

Posted: 28 Aug 2012 02:07 PM PDT

China’s GCL-Poly Energy Holdings Ltd., the world’s largest producer of the polysilicon used in the manufacture of solar photovoltaic (PV) cells and panels, gained approval from the National Energy Bureau to begin work on a 310-MW ground-mounted and a 30-MW rooftop solar power project in the prefectural city of Datong.

Approval of the projects is the strongest demonstration of government support for the Chinese solar energy industry since the worsening of the European debt crisis and the US imposition of anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties on Chinese imports, GCL-Poly Energy stated in a press release. The approvals also represent a milestone in government support for the construction of large, utility-scale solar power projects in China, GCL-Poly Energy says.


Government Support for Solar Power Projects

As part of China's 12th Five-Year Plan, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology announced the goal of reducing the cost of solar power to 0.8 yuan (12 US cents) per kilowatt-hour (kWh) by 2015 and 0.6 yuan (9 cents) by 2020. The new Five-Year Plan also calls for Chinese manufacturers to significantly increase production of solar PV panels in order to reach 5 gigawatts (5 GW) by 2015, while polysilicon producers will increase their annual production capacity to 50,000 tons.

Direct and indirect government support for China’s solar PV industry participants has been the central element enabling Chinese silicon and solar PV manufacturers to become the world’s leading providers. Rapid expansion of production has also led to oversupply and a precipitous decline in the price of solar cells and modules worldwide. Chinese solar PV producers took on huge amounts of bank debt, as well as raising equity, in order to finance expansion. As recent financial results show, that’s put them in fragile financial condition.

Some 95% of Chinese silicon PV cell and panel production has been bound for overseas markets. That’s prompted competitors in other WTO members, including the US and, more recently, the EU, to file WTO international trade petitions seeking redress from alleged illegal subsidies and dumping of product in their markets. A shift in government policy and support toward redirecting Chinese output of solar PV cells and modules to the domestic market would alleviate global market oversupply, as well as help defuse trade and currency management tensions.

GCL-Poly’s Downstream Expansion

Taken together, the Datong Shanxi solar power projects will be the largest solar farm in China, and one of the largest in the world. "It is a great honor for GCL-Poly to receive the approval on the construction of such large scaled solar farm projects," company chairman Zhu Gongshan stated.

"This shows that the National Energy Bureau has strong confidence and trust in GCL-Poly’s capability to develop solar farm projects. It also demonstrates the Chinese government’s strong determination to support domestic solar industry."

GCL-Poly’s rise to becoming the largest producer of solar-grade polysilicon has been exceptional in speed. Having achieved the capability of producing electronic-grade silicon in 2010, the group rapidly scaled up production capacity, which reached 65,000 metric tons by year-end 2011, according to the company. Concurrently, GCL-Poly scaled up its silicon PV wafer fabrication capacity, which reached 8 GW as of the end of 2011.

Management is now focusing on finding outlets for its products. These efforts entail GCL-Poly becoming a "one-stop shop" capable of providing solar power farm developers and investors with a full range of products and services spanning project development, engineering, procurement, construction, and financing on through to operations and management.

With the Datong Shanxi solar PV farms, GCL-Poly shows that it’s also ready, willing, and able to make direct investments and take ownership of large-scale solar power projects.

GCL-Poly management has been raising capital to finance such efforts. In late May, the company announced it had signed a ¥5 billion ($787 million) credit facility and strategic cooperative agreement with China Everbright Bank’s Suzhou Branch. The credit facility and other sources of working and long-term capital made available per the terms of the cooperative agreement "will be used mainly to support the sustainable and high-efficiency development of GCL-Poly," management stated.

Earlier that same week, GCL-Poly announced it will co-develop and construct solar farms with Winsun New Energy and Shunfeng Photovoltaic in Europe and other targeted regions the parties mutually agree upon. GCL-Poly is to supply the other two companies with a stable supply of silicon materials, wafers and system integration products.

Photo credit: GCL-Poly Energy Holdings Ltd.

Obama Administration Finalizes Historic 54.5 mpg Fuel Efficiency Standards/ Consumer Savings Comparable to Lowering Price of Gasoline by $1 Per Gallon by 2025

Posted: 28 Aug 2012 12:44 PM PDT


WASHINGTON, DC – The Obama Administration today finalized groundbreaking standards that will increase fuel economy to the equivalent of 54.5 mpg for cars and light-duty trucks by Model Year 2025. When combined with previous standards set by this Administration, this move will nearly double the fuel efficiency of those vehicles compared to new vehicles currently on our roads. In total, the Administration's national program to improve fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions will save consumers more than $1.7 trillion at the gas pump and reduce U.S. oil consumption by 12 billion barrels.

"These fuel standards represent the single most important step we've ever taken to reduce our dependence on foreign oil," said President Obama. "This historic agreement builds on the progress we've already made to save families money at the pump and cut our oil consumption. By the middle of the next decade our cars will get nearly 55 miles per gallon, almost double what they get today. It'll strengthen our nation's energy security, it's good for middle class families and it will help create an economy built to last."

The historic standards issued today by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) build on the success of the Administration's standards for cars and light trucks for Model Years 2011-2016. Those standards, which raised average fuel efficiency by 2016 to the equivalent of 35.5 mpg, are already saving families money at the pump.

Achieving the new fuel efficiency standards will encourage innovation and investment in advanced technologies that increase our economic competitiveness and support high-quality domestic jobs in the auto industry. The final standards were developed by DOT's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and EPA following extensive engagement with automakers, the United Auto Workers, consumer groups, environmental and energy experts, states, and the public. Last year, 13 major automakers, which together account for more than 90 percent of all vehicles sold in the United States, announced their support for the new standards. By aligning Federal and state requirements and providing manufacturers with long-term regulatory certainty and compliance flexibility, the standards encourage investments in clean, innovative technologies that will benefit families, promote U.S. leadership in the automotive sector, and curb pollution.

"Simply put, this groundbreaking program will result in vehicles that use less gas, travel farther, and provide more efficiency for consumers than ever before—all while protecting the air we breathe and giving automakers the regulatory certainty to build the cars of the future here in America," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "Today, automakers are seeing their more fuel-efficient vehicles climb in sales, while families already saving money under the Administration's first fuel economy efforts will save even more in the future, making this announcement a victory for everyone."

"The fuel efficiency standards the administration finalized today are another example of how we protect the environment and strengthen the economy at the same time," said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. "Innovation and economic growth are already reinvigorating the auto industry and the thousands of businesses that supply automakers as they create and produce the efficient vehicles of tomorrow. Clean, efficient vehicles are also cutting pollution and saving drivers money at the pump."

The Administration's combined efforts represent the first meaningful update to fuel efficiency standards in decades. Together, they will save American families more than $1.7 trillion dollars in fuel costs, resulting in an average fuel savings of more than $8,000 by 2025 over the lifetime of the vehicle. For families purchasing a model Year 2025 vehicle, the net savings will be comparable to lowering the price of gasoline by approximately $1 per gallon. Additionally, these programs will dramatically reduce our reliance on foreign oil, saving a total of 12 billion barrels of oil and reducing oil consumption by more than 2 million barrels a day by 2025 – as much as half of the oil we import from OPEC each day.

The standards also represent historic progress to reduce carbon pollution and address climate change. Combined, the Administration's standards will cut greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks in half by 2025, reducing emissions by 6 billion metric tons over the life of the program – more than the total amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the United States in 2010.

President Obama announced the proposed standard in July 2011, joined by Ford, GM, Chrysler, BMW, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar/Land Rover, Kia, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Toyota, and Volvo, as well as the United Auto Workers. The State of California and other key stakeholders also supported the announcement and were integral in developing this national program.

In achieving these new standards, EPA and NHTSA expect automakers' to use a range of efficient and advanced technologies to transform the vehicle fleet. The standards issued today provide for a mid-term evaluation to allow the agencies to review their effectiveness and make any needed adjustments.

Major auto manufacturers are already developing advanced technologies that can significantly reduce fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions beyond the existing model year 2012-2016 standards. In addition, a wide range of technologies are currently available for automakers to meet the new standards, including advanced gasoline engines and transmissions, vehicle weight reduction, lower tire rolling resistance, improvements in aerodynamics, diesel engines, more efficient accessories, and improvements in air conditioning systems. The program also includes targeted incentives to encourage early adoption and introduction into the marketplace of advanced technologies to dramatically improve vehicle performance, including:

Incentives for electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, and fuel cells vehicles;

Incentives for hybrid technologies for large pickups and for other technologies that achieve high fuel economy levels on large pickups;

Incentives for natural gas vehicles;

Credits for technologies with potential to achieve real-world greenhouse gas reductions and fuel economy improvements that are not captured by the standards test procedures.

Source: EPA 
Image: fuel economy icon via Shutterstock

Brave Little Solar-Powered Robot Tracks Hurricane Isaac

Posted: 28 Aug 2012 06:01 AM PDT

A solar-powered, wave-hopping robot named Alex was launched into the ocean by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) earlier this month to help improve hurricane tracking, and the boogie-board-sized craft has already had its first taste of action. It has been busily collecting ocean data on the fringes of Hurricane Isaac’s path north of Puerto Rico, and sooner or later this season it may find itself smack in the middle of a hurricane. As if that’s not a big enough job, Alex could also find itself in the crosshairs of Rush Limbaugh’s next rant about “weather dolts” at NOAA’s National Hurricane Center.

Wave Glider solar powered robot

Mobile Robots Improve Hurricane Tracking

According to a recent article by Tekla Perry for IEEE, one key goal is to gain a better understanding of the factors that propel a tropical storm into hurricane status, and from one category of intensity to another.

Water temperature plays a critical role in this progression, but data from satellites, manned ships, airplanes, and moored buoys are providing an incomplete picture. Alex is able to measure ocean temperatures below the surface, and as a simply designed and unmanned craft, it can brave conditions that would be far too risky for a human or a more complicated device.

Alex can remain at sea for months at a time, and its mobility will also add far greater range and precision to the existing network of moored buoys deployed by NOAA’s National Data Buoy Center.

Cool, But How Does a Solar-Powered Seagoing Robot Work?

Alex is one of about 100 Wave Gliders built so far by the company Liquid Robotics. Solar panels on the top of the Wave Glider provide renewable energy to power its data collection equipment, which includes a standard weather station as well as a thermistor chain for measuring below-surface water temperatures up to seven meters deep (thermistor refers to an electrical device for sensing temperature).

Without the need for refueling or resupply, the Wave Glider can remain in continuous action for months at a time.

Solar power is just one part of the secret to the Wave Glider’s mobility. Its platform basically consists of two parts connected in a type of hinge, which enables it to harvest the energy from ocean waves and convert it into forward thrust.

Many Jobs for a Green Robot

Saving human life through more accurate storm and tsunami prediction is just part of the Wave Glider’s job. Earlier this month, CleanTechnica described the launch of Stanford University’s Wave Glider, which will integrate with a network of stationary buoys to improve ocean health monitoring.

Tracking fish populations, monitoring individual sea creatures and collecting data on unusual events such as algae and phytoplankton blooms are a few of the jobs under way for the Wave Glider.

As for durability, Wave Gliders have already encountered and survived hurricane conditions during a Pacific Ocean crossing this summer, which Liquid Robotics is chronicling on its PacX blog, so weathering a bit of bluster from our friend Rush should be a piece of cake.

Image: Courtesy of Liquid Robotics.

Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.


Australia Joins EU Carbon Pricing Scheme (Scraps Its Own)

Posted: 28 Aug 2012 05:44 AM PDT

The Australian government has announced it will scrap the proposed floor price of its emissions trading scheme as part of a deal to link the scheme with the European Union, and take some of the political heat about the carbon pricing debate.

australia eu combine carbon pricing schemes

Climate Change Minister Greg Combet announced the move in Canberra today, saying that the floor price of $15 a tonne of CO2-e would not come into effect from July 1, 2015, as previously agreed.

Instead, Australia has agreed to link its scheme with that of the EU, and will allow Australian emitters to buy up to 50 per cent of their liabilities from international markets, but only 15 per cent of the liabilities can be met from "Kyoto units" – certificates generated under the UN-sponsored Clean Development Mechanism and other schemes.

The decision follows concern about how Australia would transition from a fixed price of $23 (rising each year to 2015), yet allow its emitters to buy permits in CDM, which are currently trading at a level of around $3.50/t. The EU price is currently trading at less than $10/t.

The linking will inititally be a "one-way" link that will allow Australian businesses to buy permits from the EU scheme. They will be able to buy future permits from today. It is envisaged that European emitters will be able to buy permits from the Australian scheme by July 1, 2018.

"Linking the Australian and European Union systems reaffirms that carbon markets are the prime vehicle for tackling climate change and the most efficient means of achieving emissions reductions," Combet said in a statement.

EU Climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard said the linking would be significant for both Europe and Australia. "It is further evidence of strong international cooperation on climate change and will build further momentum towards establishing a robust international carbon market," she said in a statement.

The move responds to concerns from business and also seeks to defuse the political polemics around the scheme. Combet indicated that the move could frustrate any attempts by a Coalition government led by Tony Abbott to repeal the scheme. "From today, Australian businesses can start purchasing units in the EU scheme," he said.

He acknowledged that Australian business had been vocal about the level of the floor price, and the EU had also raised the floor price as an impediment to a deal on linking.

He rejected suggestions that Australian business would be laying on an "unlevel" playing field in the next three years because of the fixed price. "We have got to start to reduce the emissions intensity of our own economy in our own interest," he said. He said the fixed price was an appropiate level to start cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Combet also indicated that the move could frustrate any attempts by a Coalition government led by Tony Abbott to repeal the scheme. "From today, Australian businesses can start purchasing units in the EU scheme," he said.

Combet said the EU price would effectively become the floor price for the Australian market. Australia would set its price ceiling with reference to the expected 2015-16 price of European units.

However, it seems certain that European politics will now be the dominant factor over Australian carbon prices. Many EU countries have been pushing for tighter emissions reductions targets, or a change of rules to remove the overhang of credits, but have been thwarted by a handful of countries, most notably Poland.

European reform is usually pushed by those countries that hold the presidency of the EU council – and in the next three years that will be those giants of the green economy Cyprus, Ireland, Lithuania, Greece, Italy, and Latvia, with Luxembourg holding the keys to power when Australia's fixed price carbon regime ends in 2015.

"Australia will be a price-taker after 2015," Deutsche Bank analyst Tim Jordan said on Tuesday. "That means our carbon price oulook will depend to a large extent on the state of the European economy and how EU policymakers deal with oversupply of allowances in their scheme."

"This removes a lot of that uncertainty. I think it's a really important initiative the Australian scheme to the international carbon market," said Martijn Wilder, the head of climate change practice at Baker McKenzie. He noted that the carbon price in Europe has been as high as 30 Euros. "We think the EU carbon price will go up over time," he said.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance said the deal will fundamentally change the economics of its carbon market. "Businesses in Australia would then see a very different carbon price trajectory than previously thought, with ramifications for long-term planning and more immediate compliance activities and carbon price risk management," Bloomberg New Energy Finance said in a recent statement.

The Greens, which had previously insisted on a floor price, welcomed the move, saying it would embed emissions trading in Australia, although Greens leader Christine Milne conceded that the EU will have to work out its internal politics. "It is the best thing to give Australians a clear view to the future," she told reporters. "We've worked really hard to get a negotiated outcome with the government and the EU."

The Australian Conservation Foundation said although the decision meant a lower carbon price, it could offer the opportunity to strengthen national pollution target.

"It's disappointing the floor price has been dropped, but limiting international permit purchases will encourage Australian companies to make serious moves to pollute less in Australia," ACF's Tony Mohr said. "With this detail now settled, it's time for the government to address the question of the closure of 2000 megawatts of old dirty coal fired power. Electricity generators need to redo their sums and reach agreement on contracts for closure."

The Climate Institute gave a cautious welcome. "While our preference is for a longer term price floor than in current legislation, linking with the world's biggest carbon market is welcomed so long as it is combined with strong policies for clean energy and energy efficiency," said Erwin Jackson, deputy CEO.

The agreement with EU will need to cover the policy issues such as measurement, reporting and verification arrangements; the types, quantities and other relevant aspects of third party units that can be accepted into either scheme; the role of land-based domestic offsets; and implications, if any, for supporting the competitiveness of European and Australian industries in particular sectors exposed to a risk of carbon leakage.

Combet said China, Korea, and California either have or are about to introduce emissions trading schemes, and Australia would pursue links with those schemes. "This is an evolving approach that countries are adopting to achieve the lowest cost emissions reduction to tackle climate change." Combet said talks were also continuing with New Zealand on a link to its scheme.

This article was originally published on REnew Economy.

Image: Eu/Australia flags via Shutterstock

Australia’s 2012 Rooftop Solar PV Forecast Updated

Posted: 28 Aug 2012 05:28 AM PDT

Forecasts for the amount of rooftop solar PV to be installed in Australia in 2012 have been upgraded, although it will fall short of the record year in 2011, when Australia led the world in the installation of small rooftop systems.

Green Energy Markets, which tracks the rate of solar installations through the amount of renewable energy certificates produced, has upgraded its forecasts for rooftop PV in Australia to 787MW. This compares to its previous forecast of 736MW, and the 863MW installed in 2011.

The change was made after a re-assessment of the likely level systems installed in Queensland after the announcement of the reduction in Queensland's 44 cent feed-in tariff. That announcement caused a huge rush of applications. GEM expects around 100,000 systems to be installed in that state of 2012/13 – around 37 per cent of total installations.

The company now expects 322,000 PV systems will be installed in 2012 (up from 306,000 previously), with the average system size also growing to 2.44 kW from 2.41kW (and 1.34kW in 2009). But it also suggested that the Victorian market could be headed for an imminent change in tariff, as the state is poised to break its cap of 75MW on the current 25c/kWh rate.


Interestingly, the number of solar hot water systems continues to fall, with around 80,000 expected in 2012, down 17 per cent from 2011 and just 40 per cent of the rate in 2009.

Meanwhile, the world's three biggest solar PV markets in 2012 are expected to be Germany, the US and Japan, according to latest research by IMS. It said growth in the Chinese, Japanese and the US market would underpin a new six-month record installation of 18GW in the second half of 2012.

This post was originally published on REnew Economy.

Fossil Fuels Fading Away — Moving Towards Becoming Backup Power

Posted: 28 Aug 2012 05:15 AM PDT

Editor’s note: this wonderful Radiohead song came to mind when reading this article, so I thought I’d drop it here:

The two largest electricity utilities in Germany – E.ON and RWE – have declared they will build no more fossil fuel generation plants because they are not needed, challenging a widespread belief that the phasing out of nuclear in Europe's most industrialised economy will require more coal-fired generation to be built.

Both E.ON and RWE say the rapid expansion of renewable energy, particularly solar but also wind, would make up for the loss of capacity from nuclear. "We won't be building any more gas and coal power generation plants in western Europe, because the market does not need them," a spokesman for E.ON told reporters at a briefing at the group's headquarters on Friday. RWE made a similar statement a week earlier. A third major operator, Vattenfall, agreed that the market in Western Europe is oversupplied but said some limited capacity may be needed in the southern part of Germany.

The nuclear industry has been trying to ridicule Angela Merkel's decision to exist nuclear, suggesting that without nuclear grid operators will simply turn to more polluting energy sources such as coal or gas. Germany is their Exhibit A, where they insist that 20GW of coal-fired power will be required to be built to substitute for retired nuclear plant.

But that's not happening. The only fossil fuel plants that are being built are those committed to, or commenced, before the nuclear phase out was announced. And not only do Germany's two biggest utilities dismiss the need for additional coal or gas capacity, they say that the current fossil fuel generation will ultimately be relegated to a role of back-up generation for renewables, rather than being called upon to supply "baseload" power. In some cases it is already happening. Indeed, a 2,200MW lignite-fuelled power station opened by RWE this month is designed to act as a sort of peaking plant, with the ability to ramp up (and down) 500MW of capacity within 15 to 30 minutes.

This is a fundamental transformation of the energy industry. In effect, RWE and E.ON are suggesting that the traditional model of electricity generation – that of baseload and peaking capacity – will be replaced by a new concept of flexible and inflexible power sources. The inflexible sources are those such as wind and solar, which produce when the wind blows or the sun shines; the flexible generation is that which can either be stored, or switched on when required, to fill in the gaps.

So far, this concept has only existed in modelling of the type undertaken by David Mills, and a separate team from UNSW, and also the Desertec project. The International Energy Agency also canvassed this energy model in its recent report on the solar industry. Interestingly, the modelling done on these scenarios suggest less spare capacity is needed than in the baseload/peaking model, where extra capacity is built to meet demand peaks that amount to just a few hours a year. RWE and E.ON are effectively recognising that this will be the future – hence the need for RWE's "Fit for the Future" and the "E.ON 2.0" transformation campaigns.

Which is not to say that the transformation will be easy. There is great debate in Germany over how much capacity will be needed to shepherd through the transformation of the grid from the conventional baseload/peaking model to one of renewables/storage – and whether older plants will need to be replaced by newer plants while that transformation continues.

DENA, a government-owned body, suggested that up to two thirds of the current fossil fuel generation capacity may need to remain in place (and some of it replaced by newer plant) by 2050. Others disagree. Those decisions will be influenced by judgments on how quickly Germany can achieve that transformation. It currently aims for 35 per cent renewable energy by 2020, but in the first half of 2012, renewables accounted for 26 per cent of generation. Some suggest Germany will exceed 40 per cent renewable generation by 2020.

And the issue is not just about capacity needed, but in providing the economic incentive for these generators to stay open – because they were built on a model of operating at, or near, full capacity. Even gas generators, some of them designed as peaking plants to be switched on when demand is high, are facing financial challenges because the impact of solar PV (Germany has more than 30GW of rooftop solar) is reducing the length (and depth) of summer peaks.

Financial modeling, and recasting the incentives in the electricity industry, such as the introduction of a capacity market, were some of the key topics in a series of conferences convened between Merkel's government and the energy industry this week – along with the need to fund some $200 billion in new investment, including in new transmission wires. Vattenfall estimates it could cause retail electricity bills to rise by 30 per cent out to 2020. That sounds a lot to Germans, but Australians are facing such rises every two years  – just to support its conventional grid.

Storage will also play a crucial role, because apart from smoothing the output from intermittent sources, it is the only way to ensure that the output from wind and solar is used effectively.

There are currently at least 60 separate energy-storage projects being undertaken around Germany – ranging from various forms of battery storage, to high-speed charging stations that can turn electric vehicles into mobile storage providers, to devices that turn water into methane, which can be stored in underground caverns (Audi is building a 6MW plant using that technology next year).

Both RWE and E.ON are heavily focused on distributed generation, and the creation of "virtual power plants" that optimise the output of rooftop solar by combining it with other distributed generation devices such as batteries and micro combined heat and power plants.

"Electricity storage really is the holy grail for the German energy transformation," Dieter Manz, the chief executive officer of German engineering group Manz told Bloomberg in a recent interview. "There's no way around it if we want to make things work."

Merkel, meanwhile, says that the program to phase out nuclear and ultimately move to renewables will be a "herculean" task. But she says Germany can be an example to other nations by showing them that you can succeed. Not that her plan is going without criticism, and she will be facing a new election in 2013, when consumer energy prices are likely to be a focus. But such is the nature of the political debate in Germany that her opponents accuse her of going too slow.

This article was originally published on REnew Economy.

Stimulus to Power Asia-Pacific Solar PV Demand to New Heights in Q4

Posted: 28 Aug 2012 04:50 AM PDT

Strong fourth-quarter demand for solar photovoltaic (PV) power will drive 80% year-over-year (YoY) growth in the Asia-Pacific region (APAC), according to the NPD Solarbuzz Asia-Pacific Major PV Markets Quarterly. APAC regional demand for solar PV will total 5.3 GW in Q4 2012, the Santa Clara, California–based market research firm forecasts.

Historically, European markets have driven year-end demand for solar PV. Europe’s debt problems, which have led to fiscal austerity and recession in several European Union (EU) member nations; oversupply; precipitous drops in the price of solar PV panels; reductions in government solar energy incentives; and rising international trade litigation are all putting pressure on solar PV industry participants, however. But, that’s being offset by market growth and diversification in other countries and world regions.

"Strong growth in APAC and other emerging PV markets is providing new impetus for companies active within downstream PV segments," NPD Solarbuzz research director Wolfgang Schlichting commented. "However, in established PV markets, the short-term business environment will remain challenging for the remainder of 2012, with continued reductions in incentive policies and uncertainties due to the ongoing trade disputes."



Confluence of Stimulus to Boost Q4 APAC Solar PV Demand

Asia-Pacific demand for solar PV has been surging throughout 2012 thus far, according to NPD Solarbuzz’s reckoning, increasing more than 60% YoY to reach 1.4 GW. Demand for solar PV in China has been particularly notable, increasing more than 300% in Q2 to reach 0.6 GW. Meeting a deadline for the government’s Golden Sun solar energy incentive program spurred demand, the market research firm notes. Japan’s July introduction of a generous, new renewable energy feed-in tariff (FiT) for solar PV similarly stimulated growth in the APAC region.

The confluence of solar PV stimulus from China, India, and Japan is "setting up Q4 2012 as a quarter of potentially massive PV demand pull across the APAC region," according to NPD Solarbuzz. "Over 50% (or 5.3 GW) of calendar-year 2012 APAC demand is forecast to occur in Q4 ’12."

Cutthroat competition among industry participants, as well as governments, to forge leading positions in the global solar and renewable energy sectors, however, poses challenges and risks as well as opportunities for market and industry participants across the value chain.

"This boom at year-end in APAC provides both challenges and risks for module suppliers, balance-of-systems providers, and project developers," according to NPD Solarbuzz’s analysis. "PV demand within many APAC regions continues to be characterized by highly-competitive pricing with low-margin returns. In addition, any delays in project financing could lead to oversupply at year-end ahead of a seasonally-driven downturn in Q1'13, when APAC demand is forecast to decline to just 2.1 GW."

Turning to North American demand for solar PV, NPD Solarbuzz points out that the NA market for solar PV surged 50% higher YoY to 1.4 GW in 2012′s first half despite expiration of the Treasury 1603 cash grant program.

Utilities need to meet state Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), and continue to drive solar PV demand in North America. That’s resulting in ongoing investments in utility-scale solar PV projects. NPD Solarbuzz forecasts 1.2 GW of ground-mounted solar PV capacity will be added in North America in H2 2012, accounting for some 60% of total demand through the second six months of the year.

Despite ongoing debt troubles and fiscal austerity, demand for solar PV in Europe grew at a rapid 32% YoY to 8.5 GW in H1 2012. Incentive reductions in Italy, Germany, and other key European solar PV markets is taking its toll, however. NPD Solarbuzz predicts that solar PV demand will increasingly shift to emerging solar PV markets during the next couple of years. Those include developed economies, such as those of Austria, Denmark, and Israel, as well as various countries in eastern and southeastern Europe.

Microwave Heating Lowering Solar Cell Production Costs

Posted: 28 Aug 2012 04:40 AM PDT

You might use a microwave oven to warm up that cup of tea you left stewing just a little too long, or tonight’s dinner (because work ran late again), but engineers at Oregon State University have discovered that the same technology you used to bring that lasagna back to life is also great for reducing the cost of producing solar cells.

This microwave oven technology is being used to produce solar cells with less energy, expense and environmental concerns.

Engineers at Oregon State University have developed a method that uses microwave heating in the synthesis of copper zinc tin sulfide, a promising solar cell compound that is less costly and less toxic than some other alternatives.

"All of the elements used in this new compound are benign and inexpensive, and should have good solar cell performance," said Greg Herman, an associate professor in the School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering at OSU.

"Several companies are already moving in this direction as prices continue to rise for some alternative compounds that contain more expensive elements like indium," he said. "With some improvements in its solar efficiency this new compound should become very commercially attractive."

This cross-section image shows nanoparticles of copper zinc tin sulfide laid down to create a solar cell.

A new approach to thin-film photovoltaic technologies is to create them as an ink composed of nanoparticles, then roll or spray them to create solar cells.

Enter the microwave oven — or something similar — to help streamline the process by reducing reaction times to minutes or seconds, and allowing far greater control over the production process. This "one-pot" synthesis is fast, cheap, and uses less energy, researchers say, and has been utilized to successfully create nanoparticle inks that were used to fabricate a photovoltaic device.

"This approach should save money, work well and be easier to scale up at commercial levels, compared to traditional synthetic methods," Herman said. "Microwave technology offers more precise control over heat and energy to achieve the desired reactions."

Source: Oregon State University

Lithium-ion Battery Research Receives DOE Support

Posted: 28 Aug 2012 04:35 AM PDT

The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) $712,500 to investigate the behaviour of lithium-ion batteries during charge and discharge.

The contract is one of 19 projects being awarded funding by the DoE from the $43 million set aside for the Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) to develop breakthrough energy storage technologies.

“This contract will give us the opportunity to analyze the capacity and health of lithium-ion batteries over time,” said Jeff Xu, a principal scientist in SwRI’s Engine, Emissions and Vehicle Research Division and a co-principal investigator of the project. “This early-stage development research is a new method for analyzing battery capacity and health that will help us improve lithium-ion battery life and recharge rates.”

“The research will utilize SwRI’s combined expertise in cell chemistry, cell testing and control system development to provide a positive contribution in the area of EV/HEV/PHEV safety,” added Joe Steiber, co-principal investigator and a principal engineer, also in the Engine, Emissions and Vehicle Research Division.

The SwRI project, entitled ”Strain Estimation Technology for Lithium-Ion Batteries,” will take two years to complete and will explore the potential of tracking physical expansion and contraction of lithium-ion batteries during charge and discharge cycles.

Source: Southwest Research Institute

First Hydrogen-Powered Locomotive Prototype

Posted: 28 Aug 2012 04:32 AM PDT

Engineering students alongside staff at the University of Birmingham in the UK have designed and built the first prototype hydrogen-powered locomotive to operate in the country, which was recently tested at the Stapleford Miniature Railway in Leicestershire as part of a competition led by the Institute of Mechanical Engineering.

The “narrow gauge locomotive” combines a hydrogen fuel cell and lead acid batteries similar to those used in cars, as well as regenerative breaking.

The fuel cell is used to power the permanent magnet electric motors as well as charge the batteries, which help meet the peak power demands when accelerating under load. Running from a solid state metal hydrite tank that stores over 5,000 litres of hydrogen, the locomotive is able to pull a 400-kilogram load up over 2 ,700 metres. Two additional tanks can also be added to extend the range.

Regenerative breaking allows for the capture, storage, and re-use of breaking energy, and the train also comes fitted with adjustable air suspension and a highly advanced touchscreen remote control.

“We are really pleased with the locomotive, particularly as it managed to haul 4000kg, well over 6 times the specified load,” said Stephen Kent the Team Leader.

Dr Stuart Hillmansen, from the University of Birmingham's School of Electronic, Electrical and Computer Engineering, faculty advisor to the team, added: “Our hydrogen powered locomotive is a clean and efficient example of how hydrogen power could work for future trains on non-electrified routes. We hope that our efforts will encourage the rail industry to take a closer look at this exciting technology.”

Source: University of Birmingham

China Putting $372 Billion Towards Reducing Pollution and Energy Usage

Posted: 28 Aug 2012 04:28 AM PDT


Over the next three-and-a-half years, China is planning to spend $372 billion on decreasing air pollution and reining in energy consumption. The plan does not specify exactly where the money will be spent, however.

A report from China’s State Council said its goal is to reduce energy consumption by 300 million tons of standard coal, in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Last year, China’s carbon output ballooned up to 9.7 billion tons — about 29 percent of the world’s CO2 emissions.

Source: Reuters
Image: B Calkins via Shutterstock

Czech Republic to Spend €100 Million to Modernize Trains

Posted: 28 Aug 2012 04:26 AM PDT


Czech State Railways is investing €100 million into updating trains on national and international lines.

The plan is to buy seven trains and have them ready for delivery in 2014.

The new trains will be Siemens Rail Systems Intercity trains. These iron horses can reach a top speed of 230 km/h; have 446 seats in three classes; and measure 185 meters per seven-car train.

A cool feature of these trains is a small movie theater for the kiddos. That settles it — I’m ready for my very own cross-Czech journey.

Source: Siemens
Image: (Richard Semik) via Shutterstock

Formula E Competition Set to Hit the Race Track in 2014

Posted: 28 Aug 2012 04:24 AM PDT

The Federation Internationale de l’ Automobile (FIA) announced on Monday the start of an electric car racing  championship competition, similar to the Formula 1 series, which will start in 2014.

According to the press release, the deal will allow a consortium of investors known as Formula E Holdings to spearhead the venture. The new racing competition is expected to have ten teams with twenty drivers, the statement said. Demonstrations of Formula E races will commence in 2013, with the full-fledged championship in 2014.

Among those a part of the consortium are: Entrepreneur Enrique Banuelos, Lord Drayson of Drayson Racing Technologies, Alejandro Agag, a former European Member of Parliament (MEP) and now Chief Executive Officer of Formula E Holdings, and Eric Barbaroux of Electric Formula in France.

“I would like to thank all the parties involved. This new competition at the heart of major cities is certain to attract a new audience, "said Jean Todt, FIA President in the statement about the new venture.

"We are pleased with this agreement with Formula E Holdings as they bring a very strong experience in motor sport. This spectacular series will offer both entertainment and a new opportunity to share the FIA values and objectives of clean energy, mobility and sustainability with a wider and younger audience as well."

Alejandro Agag is very optimistic as well, as indicated below:

“We are very pleased with the agreement reached with FIA. We see this as a great opportunity to create a new and exciting spectacle mixing racing, clean energy and sustainability, looking to the future. We expect this Championship to become the framework for research and development around the electric car, a key element for the future of our cities.”

Agag also mentioned in a question and answer brief the three goals to come out of the new Formula E series, which include 1) strong racing fun for fans, 2) a backbone for research and development in electric vehicles (EV's), and 3) helping the public to see that EV's can work!

Already, Formula E is not sitting back. The consortium already has its first host city in 2014. Rio De Janeiro, will be a host to one of the races.

Hopefully, this announcement will be remembered as a game changer in making motor sports more environmentally sustainable.

Sources: FIA, Formula E Holdings
Image Source: Marussia F1 Team Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Zipcar and the City of Houston Launch First of Its Kind Electric Vehicle Car Sharing Program

Posted: 28 Aug 2012 04:01 AM PDT

Zipcar is the leading car sharing network worldwide. It just recently launched the Houston Fleet Share, a municipal electric vehicle sharing program.

50 city-owned fleet vehicles will be equipped with Zipcar’s FastFleet® proprietary fleet sharing technology for use by employees of the city from all departments. Half of these vehicles will be Nissan Leaf hatchbacks.

Zipcar Vehicle on Tempe Campus

This program is the first of its kind and will be funded by the State Energy Conservation Office American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (SECO-ARRA) Transportation Program (SEP). It is designed to help the city of Houston to improve energy efficiency, save money, and promote sustainability without sacrificing mobility.

Houston actually has the third-largest municipal hybrid fleet in the country. Approximately 50 percent of the city’s non-specialty, light-duty fleet was replaced with hybrid vehicles.

“Houston is setting the pace for sustainability efforts, and we are very proud to be working with Zipcar to launch the nation’s first-ever municipal EV green fleet sharing program,” said Mayor Annise Parker. “Although we’ve always been known as the oil capital of the world, we’re gaining momentum on being the energy capital through programs like Houston Fleet Share and the Houston Drives Electric initiative.”

“By utilizing Zipcar’s technology to make our fleet usage more efficient, we will be able to further reduce emissions and cut back on fleet fuel consumption, helping save money while also having a positive impact on our environment,” continued Mayor Parker.

“I would like to applaud Mayor Parker and the City of Houston for all the work they have done to make the city’s municipal fleet one of the most sustainable in the country through their dedication to EVs and hybrid vehicles. We’re excited to help make this program even more efficient with the addition of Zipcar technology into these vehicles,” said Scott Griffith, Zipcar chairman and CEO. “By utilizing Zipcar’s FastFleet technology through the new Fleet Share program, the City of Houston joins smart city governments focused on developing solutions to complex transportation challenges.”

Houston selected Zipcar as its fleet vehicle provider through a competitive bidding process.

Source: PR Newswire
Photo Credit: ASU Enrollment Marketing & Communications

The Power of the Sun: Clean Energy Education at Winona High School

Posted: 28 Aug 2012 04:00 AM PDT

Students help install solar at Winona Senior High SchoolStudents and staff at Winona Senior High School took environmental education to a new level with their determination to implement solar panels that would provide hands-on educational opportunities.

With the help of a local contractor, they were able to not only plan the construction of the panels, but supplemental computer programs as well!

The environmental club at Winona Senior High School resolved to take action after growing tired of simply talking about clean energy technologies. They enlisted the help of a social studies teacher, Dwayne Voegeli, and proposed their idea to the school board: to install a solar photovoltaic (PV) system with a data logging website as an educational component.

Jim Jarvis, an employee of APRS World, a small locally-owned company that specializes in data logging and control equipment primarily for the renewable energy industry, helped plan and implement the system. This system facilitates learning both in and outside of the classroom, Jarvis explains: "In addition to an outside structure, the project includes a computer monitor, a web page, and display boards inside the school that explain the mechanics and physics of the solar panel. It displays how much power is being created, and how much carbon and other greenhouse gases are being offset. It could be viewed as a very advanced textbook or computer-learning program for students."

While the Winona High environmental club eventually achieved success with the project, it wasn't easy to see how it would come together initially. Voegeli explains, "This process has been very rewarding and very frustrating. The paperwork and other requirements are tough on everyone… but it got done."

Indeed, it got done… and then some! Voegeli says that the school has installed a second solar panel that will also act as a bike shelter, and he hopes the renewable energy trend continues: "One day I hope to hit a critical mass where a very large and real investment can be made in these renewable energy sources that will make our small project-by-project approach obsolete."

Click here to read a full CERTs case study on the project >>

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