Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

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Solar News Link Bonanza (New Solar Panels, Warranty Increases, Bill Clinton to Solar Industry…)

Posted: 25 Sep 2012 04:43 PM PDT

Some more solar news from around the interwebs from the past couple weeks:

Ascent Solar has announced the North American introduction of EnerPlex, a solar-assisted battery case for the iPhone 4 and 4S. “The EnerPlex cases are now available online through the distributor’s website at and soon via The EnerPlex for iPhone 4 & 4S takes advantage of Ascent’s ultra-light, thin and flexible solar panels and enables iPhone 4 & 4S users to provide supplementary charging of their iPhones with sunlight in addition to conventional charging methods to extend the usage time of iPhones.”

SolarWorld has launched a new, 270-watt, 60-cell “Sunmodule” solar panel. “The light-capture and energy-conversion technology platforms underlying SolarWorld's 270-watt solar panel combine numerous advances in materials, process and design to achieve the industry's highest levels of energy output. These advances include using more advanced technology on the front of the cell to convert more light into electricity, modifying the back of the cell to increase electrical conductivity and adding anti-reflective glass coatings that transmit more light while withstanding environmental degradation. Deploying these technology platforms, SolarWorld has boosted its power density from 250-watt-peak to 270-watt-peak in less than 12 months.”

Q.CELLS North America, a subsidiary of Q.CELLS SE, recently unveiled a new, high-efficiency PV solar module of its own. “Q.PRO L features 72 cells that combines both high performance and long-term reliability that optimizes balance of systems cost savings on the system level. As the largest addition to the Q.CELLS module family, Q.PRO L is designed to yield up to 300 Wp power for utility scale use in North American solar markets.”

sunpower warranty new

SunPower warrants more power with a degradation rate of 0.4% a year after the first five years, resulting in an unprecedented 87% power level at the end of 25 years. (PRNewsFoto/SunPower Corp.)

SunPower has introduced the solar industry’s first 25-year combined power & product warranty. The Silicon Valley-based manufacturer of high-efficiency solar cells, solar panels, and solar systems “is also shifting to a linear power warranty that offers the lowest power degradation over the life of the system.” Notably, SunPower’s new warranty is far ahead of the pack.

“SunPower is the only solar company to offer a straightforward 25-year global product warranty, which is 15 to 20 years longer than conventional solar warranties.  Integrated into SunPower high-efficiency solar panels are the company’s patented Maxeon® all-back contact solar cells which are built on a solid copper foundation, making them extremely resistant to cracking, corrosion and stresses from temperature variation.  In the unlikely event a solar panel needs to be repaired or replaced, an identical or functionally equivalent panel will be provided or the cost of the panel will be fully refunded.  The associated labor and transportation costs for customers whose solar panels were installed by SunPower or SunPower dealer/partners are covered.  The new warranty is also written in plain, simple terms that detail the coverage.”

SunPower also recently announced that it “has extended its long-standing partnership with Toshiba for the next several years.” This renewal entails a commitment from Toshiba to purchase over 100 MW of SunPower’s high-efficiency solar panels for the residential solar market in Japan. “Since SunPower first partnered with Toshiba in 2010, it has delivered approximately 70 MW of its high-performance solar panels.”

SunWize & Clean Power Finance have partnered up. As a result of the partnership, “SunWize's national network of solar installation professionals will have access to a number of competitive financing tools, allowing them to serve a much larger group of customers.” Clean Power Finance & Soligent also partnered up this month.

bSolar this month launched its high-power, high-efficiency, bifacial, photovoltaic (PV), crystalline silicon solar cells and modules in the US market. “Bifacial modules collect sunlight on their rear sides to generate 10%-30% additional electricity and much higher project IRR and ROI.” bSolar’s product had already been introduced in Germany and Japan, and it is a German product. “The new modules will be among the few solutions compatible with the ‘cool roof’ initiative promoted by U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Steven Chu, and are eligible for tax rebates for roof coating at both state- and federal-level.”

Canadian Solar has launched a new solar product — ResidentialAC. “ResidentialAC is a revolutionary AC solar energy solution with advanced technology that delivers a double-digit increase in solar power production over traditional micro inverters. Pre-installed at the factory, ResidentialAC’s advanced inverter technology was designed and built from the ground up, with a core focus on performance and longevity. The technology eliminates life-limiting components, dramatically increasing the inverters’ life expectancy. The Canadian Solar AC solar solution eliminates the danger of high voltage DC power and wiring for safer, easier installation.”

Suntech has introduced a compact, 305-watt solar module in Europe. “The SuperPoly STP305-24/Ve, with 15.7 percent efficiency, is ideally suited for large-scale commercial projects seeking a low levelized cost of energy (LCOE). In addition, the new Ve-Series modules feature a slim frame design lowering storage and shipment costs by up to 16 percent.” The solar module will be available starting in November.

Yingli Solar subsidiary Yingli Green Energy Australia Pty. Ltd. has signed an agreement with Solar 360 Pty Ltd. to appoint Solar 360 as a sales partner in Australia. “According to the Agreement, Solar 360 will sell and promote 30 MW of Yingli Solar modules in Australia in the following 12 months through a unique “Accredited” dealer network of up to 100 accounts across all geographic regions of Australia.”

Yingli Solar also recently introduced a 72-cell solar PV module certified by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) for a maximum system voltage rating of 1,000V. “Specifically designed for the utility-scale market, the YGE-U 72 Cell module lowers balance-of-system costs by decreasing the required number of wire runs and combiner boxes. The module also allows increased maximum system voltage, which improves system performance by reducing resistive losses. The end result is increased PV system energy yield.”

ReneSola unveiled its Micro RePlus™, “available as a standalone microinverter or integrated with a ReneSola panel for a turnkey AC module,” this month, as well as its high-wattage 300-watt and 305-watt 72-cell poly line. “This comes in addition to the Company’s already comprehensive 60 and 72-cell poly and mono portfolio, ranging in size from 255 W to 305 W high-efficiency solar modules…. The latest line of high-wattage modules will be backed by ReneSola’s leading 25-year linear power output warranty, with optional PowerGuard™ insurance.”


Solar Power International 2012

Greentech Media had a couple good pieces from the Solar Power International 2012 conference. Here are some excerpts and links to more:

SPI 2012: The Solar CEOs Weigh In

With 5.7 gigawatts of solar power now in place and growth booming, how many total installed gigawatts of solar will the U.S. have in ten years? What impact will the outcome of the November presidential election have on growth?

These and other predictions were asked of six of the most prominent solar industry players by Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) President Julia Hamm and Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) President Rhone Resch at the kickoff event for Solar Power International 2012, the solar energy industry's annual conclave.

The CEOs' predictions for solar's 2022 installed capacity ranged from 45 to 75 gigawatts.

Noting the "exploding" growth in distributed generation being driven by today's unprecedentedly fast-falling costs, SunPower (NASDAQ: SPWR) CEO Tom Werner made the optimistic 75-gigawatt prediction.

"I see headwinds, and I'm very concerned," NextEra Energy subsidiary Florida Power and Light (NYSE: NEE) President Eric Silagy, the panel's utility sector representative, said of economic uncertainties, conservative political forces, cheap natural gas prices and creative destruction in the manufacturing sector. "Now is the time to be worried."

"These things are true in any innovation cycle — the early cell phone business, for instance," venture capitalist Nancy Pfund, Managing Partner of DBL Investors, said.  "Solar isn't there yet, but signals are everywhere of mass adoption."

–How many regulated utility monopolies will the country have in ten years?

Peter Marte, President of Georgia-based Hannah Solar, did not see utilities giving up their power easily. "Southern Company (NTSE: SO) is a fourth branch of government in the Southeast," he said. "It is not going to go away."

Recalling how disruptive to the recording industry the MP3 player was, SMA America President Jurgen Krehnke said he foresees a completely new role for the utilities as a manager of the transmission and distribution network. "Completely new business models will emerge. It will happen."

"It took 100 years to build a dumb grid," Pfund said that a utility executive recently noted to her. "Don't hold your breath for a smart grid."  But, she added, renewable energy "is nimble" and can be effective in a new utility model.

–Will storage be commonplace for solar energy within five years?

Pfund pointed out that it is already in place in solar power plants and, because it is an ideal solution to solar's variability, it will be commonplace within two to four years.

"I see the need," Silagy said, "but don't see it [becoming] affordable in the next five years."

–With the manufacturing side of the industry now going through a painful process of maturation and consolidation, how many of the roughly 1,500 module manufacturers will be left in 2016?

"It is going to be 100," said NRG Solar CEO Tom Doyle. The pipeline for low-cost modules of unproven quality is not there, he explained. There is a new, higher level of scrutiny by project funders. It requires a much higher level of demonstrated quality.

"Shoddy product quality," Krehnke agreed, "is a threat to the industry."

Proven quality and a good balance sheet, Doyle said, are the limiting factors to acceptance for a module manufacturer.

Clinton to Solar: 'You Represent the Future' and 'You Will Prevail'

He has only 308 solar panels on the roof of his presidential library, former President Bill Clinton announced at the opening of his Solar Power International 2012 keynote, and he is taking bids to drastically expand. "So if anybody wants in, send me an email."

He then picked up the subject of creative cooperation he talked about at the Democratic National Convention.

To build "energy that is good economics, saves the planet from the worst consequences of climate change and promotes the national security of every country that is committed to clean, self-sustaining energy, you have to have cooperation between government and the private sector," he said. "The constant mud fight, fact-free environment in which American politics often operates is counterproductive."

He told a story about a minister who, during a sermon, excitedly told everybody in the congregation who wanted to go to heaven to stand up. Everybody but one little old lady in the front row did. “Sister Jones, the minister said, you are most devout member of our church. Don't you want to go to heaven when you die?”

“She immediately jumped up,” Clinton said, “and yelled, Yes! But I thought you were trying to get a load to go right now.”

"Folks," Clinton then said to the solar industry audience, "we need to get a load to go right now!"

To make that happen, he said, "Americans need to know more than they know now." Most do not know that 100,000 people work in solar, that more people work in greentech than in coal, that in the depths of the recession, greentech grew at 8 percent, and that venture capital made the U.S. first in the world in greentech investment in 2011.

"To listen to the people on other side of this debate, you would think the President and his allies in Congress totally robbed the Treasury to subsidize bankrupt industries," Clinton said, but "there are still $22 in subsidies for coal, oil and nuclear for every dollar invested in the clean energy future."

Most Americans also don't know, Clinton said, that the European countries that did the best during the recent financial crisis were those that had the most invested in greentech.Germany, he said, recently generated "from the sun alone, the equivalent of twenty nuclear power plants in a country where on average the sun shines as much as it does in London." A Deutsche Bank study found, Clinton said, "the Germans have netted 300,000 jobs out of their commitment to a solar future."

No government makes energy policy without public-private cooperation, he said. That creates "far more entrepreneurs, far more privatization, far more variation and creativity than any other way of energy development and electricity production."

It was in what Clinton called George W. Bush's "proto-socialist stage" as governor of Texas that the first tax credits went to wind developers, an incentive program that resulted inTexas being the leading wind state, with more installed wind capacity than all but a handful of countries.

"These are things people need to know," he said. Greentech "is the direction people are going who are thinking about where the future is." And, he said, "you represent the future. If we sell this as keeping America at the head of the future business, you will prevail."

"You are going to bring America to a tipping point," Clinton said. "You just need to bear down." Sooner or later, he promised, "people will see this is good economics, helps in the climate change struggle and improves national security."

Nissan Replies to Arizona Leaf Owners, Chevy Volt Outselling Over 50% of Cars, Tesla Launches Solar-Powered Superchargers, Bieber Gives Fisker Karma to Sean Kingston (& More Clean Car News)

Posted: 25 Sep 2012 02:07 PM PDT

chevy volt 2013The Chevy Volt is outselling over 50% of cars on the market. The Volt is one of Fox News’ favorite things to pick on (despite it essentially winning European Car of the Year), but that isn’t stopping people from buying it up, according to a recent study. While the Volt might not be hitting is overly ambitious sales targets, with 13,497 sales through August, it’s still outperforming the majority of auto options. Of course, you won’t hear this from the majority of media outlets.

From Audi: electric superchargers are the future. “Once the province of sports cars only, automakers are now turning to turbochargers as a cost-effective way of providing both performance and efficiency. Audi is going even further, working on a line of electronically-assisted turbochargers that will do away with "turbo lag," curing one of the most common gripes with turbo setups.”

Nissan has replied to the Arizona Leaf owners who think their batteries are dying too fast, and their answers seem to be respectable. Basically, the batteries in these Leafs are where they are expected to be based on usage and climate. One thing to note, however, is that the battery life will degrade quite a bit rather fast, but then do so much more slowly over the following years.

Toyota to double its hybrid output in 2012, bringing it up to 1.2 million hybrids. From Nikkei: ”Batteries and motors for hybrids can be used in electric vehicles or in a coming generation of fuel-cell cars. Toyota thus believes that lowering costs for such key components through mass production will give it an edge in developing environmentally friendly vehicles.”

Tesla has launched a pretty amazing little supercharger network that uses solar power. “Telsa insists that these Superchargers will always generate more power than is needed, resulting in the extra energy going back into the grid.” Pretty sweet. But here’s the big deal: “The 85 kWh battery of the Tesla Model S can be fully charged in about an hour from a Supercharger, while 30 minutes of charging will provide 3 hours of driving.” That’s a lot better than anything else out there.

Toshiba & Honda are teaming up to jointly perform a demonstration project of smart home systems. “Since April 2012, as a part of the E-KIZUNA Project run by the city of Saitama, Honda has been conducting demonstration testing using two smart home system equipped houses built on land adjacent to Saitama University. A third demonstration house, which will be completed before the end of the next fiscal year (ending March 31, 2014), will be equipped with home energy management systems (HEMS) of both Toshiba and Honda.”

mercedes battery electric vanMercedes is bring us (or, someone) a new battery-electric van. “Mercedes-Benz will start selling a passenger version of its Vito E-CELL utility vehicles in Europe after unveiling a battery-electric Sprinter van at the International Motor Show in Hanover, Germany. The Vito E-CELL Crewbus, which the Daimler AG division calls the world’s first seven-seat mass-produced battery-electric vehicle, has a single-charge range of about 80 miles and top speed of about 55 miles per hour. The vehicle will be available for four-year, 50,000-mile leases in more than 15 countries throughout Europe, including Finland, Spain and the UK.”

Honda planning 3 hybrids and more ICEs in the coming 5 years. Not exactly leading the way on clean cars, but at least it’s planning more hybrids. “Honda CEO Takanobu Ito recently gave a speech outlining where the company will be headed over the next five years, with hybrid electric vehicles playing a major role…. Honda will use three different hybrid systems, Ito said.”

Nissan has decided to drop its plans for a big rollout of an electric version of the iQ microcar. “Announced way back in 2010, the Toyota/Scion eQ was to be Toyota's full-fledged effort at selling an electric city car.” But with sales of the Nissan Leaf not exactly going as planned, it has decided to wait a bit on that one. We’ll see if it comes back to it down the road.

Delta Electronics is rolling out some high-efficiency EV charging options for the Ishavsveien Charging Network in Norway. “Delta offers two DC Quick Chargers that provide 50-500V DC / 50kW output power with among the world's highest efficiency. The first stretch of the Ishavsveien charging network will service the E6 road between Oslo and the Swedish border, and will feature universal charging stations with Delta's EV charging solutions for all the EVs available on the market today.”

Sister site Gas2 helped (sort of) the “Electric Cowboy” set a new world record for electric motorcycles under 150 kg. “Last week, Brandon managed to set a new record of 101.652 mph over a one-mile run, and 102.281 kph over the kilometer. The runs were recognized by both the American Motorcycle Association and the International Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme, respectively.” Head on over to Gas2 to find out more, including how it helped Brandon out.

Electric vehicles can save us a ton of money on fuel, yet another study finds. “As California drivers struggle with gasoline prices well over $4 a gallon, and a cumulative $60 billion was spent on gasoline during the past year alone, a new economic research report” has revealed. “The report, commissioned by CalETC, shows that plug-in electric cars can create nearly 100,000 California jobs and provide a powerful local economic stimulus that will benefit people of all incomes whether they drive electric cars or not.”

It seems that Sean Kingston had a bit of good karma, as friend Justin Bieber has gifted the singer his own Fisker Karma. ”When you’re best friends with one of the biggest artists in the world, you know what I’m saying, you get all different types of gifts, and this is one of them,” Jamaican-American Sean Kingston says. Not that Bieber didn’t like the car — Kingston says the young heartthrob is planning to get the new Fisker (the Fisker Atlantic, presumably).

On another Fisker note, the electric car company noted yesterday that ”the company's flagship Karma sedan already surpasses its 2025 fuel economy target under Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards – recently finalized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)…. For a vehicle of the Karma's size, the fuel economy target for 2025 is 45.6 MPG. Current NHTSA methodology – notably different than the EPA label – assumes the Karma will drive half its miles on gasoline and half on electricity and takes into account the energy consumption of both, giving the Karma an equivalent fuel economy of 47.3 MPG.”

American Jobs at Risk (Approximately 40,000 of Them)

Posted: 25 Sep 2012 12:53 PM PDT


wind power jobs usa

Wind turbine photo via Duke Energy

On December 31st of this year, the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind energy is set to expire. If we wake up on January 1st without an extension, we will be throwing away years of hard work setting up important renewable energy industries that help provide clean electricity, energy independence, and most importantly, jobs.

A recent DOE report indicates that over $14 billion was invested in wind power project installations just in 2011. Current wind power capacity in the US is over 50,000 MW (enough to power 13 million homes), and six states now get over 10% of their electricity from wind power.

But the most important fact to take away from the report is that the wind industry is a legitimate player in the US job market. Business has been booming; just ask states like Iowa, California, Texas, and Oregon. They all rely on the wind industry to provide jobs to wind turbine manufacturers, installers and regulators. Even farmers are getting in on the profits by leasing their land to install wind turbines. Combine all of this with the fact that 70% of wind power equipment is being provided by American manufacturers, not foreign competitors, and we have the beginnings of a prosperous, domestic clean energy economy.

But if the PTC expires, this foundation will go to waste. Companies will be forced to shut down and lay off hardworking Americans. The DOE report estimates that around half of the nation's 75,000 wind industry employees will lose their jobs. The companies that have enough money to survive will be outsourced to the highest bidder. Jobs and revenue will be sent overseas to countries that are willing to acknowledge that renewable energy is here to stay, something that our government has been hesitant to do.

While we would rather support proven, reliable, and often toxic sources of energy, countries like China and Germany are investing record amounts of money into wind and solar projects. By letting the PTC expire, opponents incorrectly say that it will “create a level playing field” where the most efficient providers of energy will eventually win out.

However, allowing our home grown companies to compete against the likes of coal, oil, and natural gas is not a fair fight. Those industries are also heavily subsidized by the government, often in the name of creating energy independence through our domestic fuel sources. Government subsidies offered for decades allowed fossil fuels to become the power source of choice, so why not give wind power the same chance? Furthermore, the health and climate costs of dirty energy is a very real, if indirect, subsidy given to fossil fuel energy sources.

The Clean Energy Victory Bonds Act of 2012, recently introduced by Rep. Bob Filner of California, would extend the PTC and aim to give American citizens the opportunity to buy bonds that will give wind power and other renewable solutions the chance that they deserve. The bonds would be available for as little as $25 and would have a very competitive rate of return. In order to support the burgeoning domestic renewable energy market, pieces of legislation like this will be essential.

Abandoning American companies that have worked for years to build their businesses would be devastating for thousand of American families and the American economy. In a time when we need stability the most, throwing away competitive American jobs and a blossoming clean energy economy is not the answer. Extending the PTC and supporting renewable energy projects like the Clean Energy Victory Bonds Act will show workers in the wind and solar industries that the American government is serious about creating a clean energy economy and the jobs and revenue that it provides.

Matthew Jennings is Green America’s Clean Energy Victory Bonds Outreach Fellow. He graduated from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill this May with a degree in Geography and a minor in Environmental Studies.

Pete’s Electric Bikes Reveal Three New Products

Posted: 25 Sep 2012 03:10 AM PDT

One of the leading retailers and manufacturers of electric bikes in North America, Pete’s Electric Bikes, launched three new models at the Interbike convention last week (the largest gathering for the bicycle industry in North America).

The three models include an electric bikeshare eBike, an electric mid-drive cargo eBike, and a mid-drive eTrike with two wheels in front.

Pete's eBikes Get Three New Models

The electric bikeshare eBike is intended to provide those with less physical ability and those who would prefer not to arrive dripping in sweat an easier ride, even in terrain with more hills than your average flat suburbia. Including a Panasonic mid-drive motor and battery system, the bikeshare bike will be kept safe using an advanced charging and locking system, and be distributed by Bike In, a manufacturer of electric bikeshare stations.

Pete's eBikes Get Three New Models

The mid-drive cargo bike will allow riders to transport large loads wherever they want, thanks to the mid-drive Panasonic motor system and a cargo system based on the Xtracycle products. The mid-drive takes advantage of the gearing system on the bicycle, offering a seamless pedal-assist.

The third bike revealed was the mid-drive eTricycle, which provides riders with stability and mobility. Designed around the Panasonic mid-drive motor system, the bike has two wheels in front and one at back. Clearly, this bike offers stability not found in traditional two wheels in-back tricycles.

Source: Pete’s Electric Bikes

Recycle and Cash In Old Electronics with USPS and MaxBack

Posted: 25 Sep 2012 03:05 AM PDT


Make some quick cash, get rid of your old electronics, and keep more gadgets from piling up in landfills with the U.S. Postal Service.

Here’s how the electronic recycling program works:

  1. Go to this USPS page to search for the gadget you want to scrap.
  2. Get a quote for how much your gadget is worth (and decide if that’s cool with you).
  3. Send in your gadget in a free USPS priority mail envelope.
  4. Wait for MaxBack (the recycling company) to receive and inspect your gadget.
  5. Collect your payment via Paypal, Amazon gift card, or an old-fashioned check.


Even if your Zack Morris-style cell phone isn’t worth scratch, the USPS will still provide you a free envelope to ship your electronic off for recycling.

Source: PR Newswire
Image: post boxes via David Gilder / Shutterstock 

Offshore Wind Projects Around the World

Posted: 25 Sep 2012 03:01 AM PDT


We publish on a lot of offshore wind farms on CleanTechnica. For new readers (or those of us who need refresher courses), there’s actually an annual report that provides an overview of all the projects around the world. Main(e) International Consulting has released a PDF overview of wind projects from all over, but the report doesn’t include rankings and includes varying degrees of project details.

The report is entirely in English, which comes in handy for those of us not well versed in German or Japanese — languages of countries where offshore wind is actually very popular.

Renewables International points out that “offshore wind power is considerably more expensive than onshore wind (roughly twice as expensive as a rule of thumb), the wind is more constant offshore, so power production is more reliable.” Over time, the goal is to bring down those offshore wind costs enough that the constant, strong winds offshore can compete with exceedingly cheap onshore wind.

Source: Renewables International
Image: offshore wind farm via vvoe / Shutterstock 

Europe Installed Two-Thirds of the World’s New Solar Power in 2011

Posted: 25 Sep 2012 02:50 AM PDT

Two-thirds of newly installed solar power capacity in 2011 was in Europe, or 18.5 GW. Europe’s total solar power capacity now totals 52 GW. That’s enough electricity to power a country with the energy demands of Austria, which is 2% of the European Union’s total electricity needs. The European Commission’s Joint Research Centre just published these figures and others in its 2012 Photovoltaics Status Report released on September 24th.

The report summarizes and analyzes all of the current goings-on in the world-wide solar power market; everything regarding manufacturing, policies, and market implementation.

The solar power industry has grown by an average of over 40% per year in Europe for the past decade, at the same time as production costs have decreased by around 60%. This substantial growth has been enabled by the EU’s belief in the power of photovoltaic systems “as a means to achieve the goal of using 20% of renewable energy by 2020.”

solar power europe

Solar panel in Europe, via Shutterstock

“Germany, Italy, Spain, the Czech Republic, France, Belgium, and the United Kingdom are the leaders in installed PV capacity in Europe…. Since 2000, world-wide, total PV production had growth rates of between 40 and 90%. The most rapid growth in annual production over the last five years was observed in Asia, where China alone accounts for more than 50% of the world’s PV production. In addition, for the second year in a row, solar power was the renewable energy that attracted most investment, with a total of 98.5 billion euros world-wide, of which two thirds were concentrated in Europe.”

Currently, the main challenge for the European solar power industry is the enormous investment that its competitor, China, is making in PV manufacturing, “which has led to an economy of scale in manufacturing in that country. However, the delivery of manufacturing equipment from Europe to Asia is still beneficial as Europe still has the lead in PV research and development, thereby innovating the European PV manufacturing equipment industry.”

The new report also highlights that solar power technology and installations are a global business and that future innovative technologies could likely arise out of international cooperation, in partnerships formed with Asia and with the United States.

Also highlighted is the potentially huge growth possible in the innovation of both energy efficiency and improved design in buildings. Solar power modules could be built and incorporated directly as building materials, “functioning as an insulation material and fostering a new ‘European PV-architecture,’ whilst at the same time providing one of the key technologies required to achieve zero emissions buildings.”

Source: European Commision, Joint Research Center (JRC)

1st Geothermal Plant in Vietnam Gets Approved

Posted: 25 Sep 2012 02:33 AM PDT

A 25-MW geothermal power plant has been approved for Vietnam. It will be the first in Vietnam of its type, and it will be located in Quang Tri Province’s Dakrong District. This area is rural and in the north-central coastal part of Vietnam. About 31,000 people live there.


Hot Dry Rock (HDR/ Enhanced Geothermal Systems/ EGS) apparently will be used to extract heat from hot rock below surface level. The project’s price tag has been stated as US$46.3 million.

It was reported Vietnam has geothermal potential throughout the country but particularly so in Quang Tri, Phu Tho, and Quang Binh. Phu Tho is in the far north of Vietnam, located about midway between the coast and the inner border. Quang Binh is near Quang Tri, in the north-central coastal strip.

One source says Vietnam’s geothermal potential is 400 MW. Solar power potential is higher there and natural gas is abundant, as well. The country’s energy profile is currently conventional, with about 25% coming from oil, 20% from coal, 36% biomass, 10% hydro, and 11% natural gas.

About 70% of the 89 million residents of Vietnam live in rural areas.

Image Credit: Genghiskhanviet, Public Domain

A Risky Climate for Big Dams in Southern Africa

Posted: 25 Sep 2012 02:30 AM PDT

Climate change is bringing many uncertainties, especially to the world of water. No continent will be harder hit by climate change than Africa. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has stated that African river basins will be especially affected by climate change, and are expected to face worse droughts and more extreme floods as a result.

Yet across the continent, large dams are being planned with no understanding of how a changing climate will affect them — and little attention to the related problem of how dams will hurt river-based communities’ ability to adapt to climatic changes. Governments and dam-lenders aren’t taking the lead on these critically important issues.

To fill this gap, International Rivers commissioned an eminent hydrologist to examine the risks to dams in Africa’s fourth-largest river basin, which is slated for dozens of new large hydropower dams. His study warns that new and proposed dams on the Zambezi River are ill-prepared to withstand the shocks of a changing climate. The result could be uneconomic dams that under-perform in the face of more extreme drought, and more dangerous dams that have not been designed to handle increasingly damaging floods.

Dr. Richard Beilfuss, a hydrologist with 20 years’ experience on the Zambezi River, evaluated the hydrological risks to hydropower dams in the basin. Overall, he says, the river will experience worse droughts and more extreme floods. Dams being proposed and built now will be negatively affected, yet energy planning in the basin is not addressing these huge hydrological uncertainties.

The report’s key findings describe a region moving toward the edge of a hydrological precipice:

  • The basin is likely to experience significant reductions in rainfall, and higher evaporation rates in the next century. Because large reservoirs evaporate more water than natural rivers, big dams could worsen local water shortages (and reduce water available for hydropower).
  • The designs for two of the most advanced dam projects have not incorporated climate change predictions and only rely on historical hydrological records. Under future climate scenarios, they are unlikely to deliver the expected services over their lifetimes, resulting in wasted investments.
  • The occurrence of more frequent extreme floods threatens the stability and safe operation of large dams. If dams are “under-designed” for larger floods, the result could be serious safety risks to millions of people living in the basin.
  • The Zambezi is already heavily dammed, and these projects have caused profound harm to livelihoods and biodiversity. The ecological goods and services provided by the river, which are key to helping societies adapt to climate change, are not being properly valued in planning for large dams in the basin.

“Ensuring energy and water security for the future will require new ways of thinking about river basin development,” notes Dr. Beilfuss. “We must avoid investing billions of dollars into projects that could become white elephants.”

Dr Beilfuss makes a number of recommendations to help African nations weather the coming storm. First and foremost, he calls for incorporating climate change scenarios into dam design, to avoid the hazards of over- or under-designed infrastructure.

Africa faces numerous risks from climate change, including serious water stress. Successful adaptation will require radical new ways of thinking about water resources. The report notes: “While more water storage will be needed, decentralized solutions that preserve river-based ecosystem services are better suited to the needs of the rural majority, who face the greatest adaptation challenges.”

Dr. Beilfuss also recommends big-picture for energy planning. “Planners need to carefully consider dams in the context of how climate change will shape water supply, and how future river flows must meet competing demands for power, conservation, and water for domestic use, agriculture, industry, and other services. A strategy aimed at empowering people to adapt to climate change must be central to these planning efforts.”

He also calls for a full accounting of the values of ecosystem services supported by river flows, and changing dam design and operation to allow more natural flows to help restore ecosystem services on dammed rivers. The report also recommends more diversified investments in energy supply projects to “avoid putting all eggs into one basket” in a time of increasing hydrological uncertainty — an especially critical step for Africa’s most hydropower-dependent nations. Many African countries have a huge untapped potential for solar, wind, geothermal, and other renewable energy technologies that are well-suited for both urban and rural energy development.

The situation on the Zambezi is hardly unique. On nearly every continent, in many of the world’s major watersheds, large dams are at risk of becoming white elephants due to drought, and weapons of mass destruction during extreme floods. It’s akin to building dozens of nuclear reactors in seismically active tsunami zones around the globe.

We cannot afford to take a head-in-the-sand approach to the climate risks of large dams. The time is now to prioritize climate-smart investments that explicitly factor in economic risk and the values of river systems.

View this short video on the climate risks to dams in the Zambezi for more:

Solar Rooftops and Ginseng: A Shady Deal

Posted: 25 Sep 2012 02:21 AM PDT


ginseng root


Solar installations can be shady deals — and this is a good thing.

Utilizing shade created by solar panels can reduce air conditioner costs and create ideal growing grounds for shade-loving ginseng. (Yes, that ginseng you swallow as part of your daily herbal regiment).

Hanwha Solar is providing 7.7 megawatts of an 8.7-megawatt installation on a building owned by Solvéo Energie in Rion-des-Landes, France. This nine-hectare rooftop solar project of 36,900 panels fosters just the environment needed for the four-year growing period ginseng roots need before harvesting. And every year those shade-giving panels will produce 10 million kilowatt hours of electricity.

Who knew a shady deal could be so mutually beneficial?

Source: Business Wire
Image: Ginseng via Shutterstock

Why We Pay Double for Solar in America (But Won’t Forever)

Posted: 25 Sep 2012 02:16 AM PDT

I often get flak when I publish research on the cost trajectory for solar (e.g. my Rooftop Revolution report estimates 100 million Americans reaching grid parity by 2021). About half think I'm too conservative, and half think I'm too overconfident that solar will continue to drop in price by 7% per year indefinitely.

But I'm not alone in perceiving an enormous cost reduction opportunity for solar in the United States. An article in Forbes last week suggested that we can "Cut The Price Of Solar In Half By Cutting Red Tape.” It provides a chart (reproduced below) like one I published in March, that shows how a similarly sized residential solar array in Germany costs 60% less than one built in the U.S.

This anecdote from a colleague illustrates the ridiculous disparity in red tape between the two nations (and consequently, the enormous opportunity):

There's an article in the most recent issue of PHOTON describing a German family that got a 4.6 kW PV array installed and interconnected to their roof 8 days after calling a solar installer for the first time. The homeowner had a proposal from the installer within 8 hours. The installer called the utility the morning of the installation to request an interconnect that afternoon. The installer called at 10am, the utility came and installed 2 new meters and approved the interconnect at 2:37pm– the same day. The online registration of the PV system with Federal Grid agency and approval of the feed-in tariff took 5 minutes.

I'm sure that not every project gets completed that fast in Germany, but an interconnection and permitting process that takes less than a day?! 10 times that…would still be just incredible.

By comparison, New York City's permitting goal under Solar America Cities was 100 days (before Solar America Cities it took 365 days).

[emphasis mine]


As I've mentioned before, the difference is mostly in "soft costs," not hardware, and these cost barriers are solved by policy, not technological, innovation solutions. For example, soft costs include an enormous paperwork burden for U.S. solar installers, pictured at the top (photo taken from the Forbes post on cutting costs), and already there are policy ideas that significantly reduce these costs.

To add fuel to the fire, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory just released a chart explaining much of why U.S. residential solar costs twice as much as residential solar in Germany. The conclusion? Soft costs. (See an interactive version of the chart here.)

So, is it too ambitious to assume the price of solar continues to fall by 7% per year? On the contrary, if the cost of solar continues at that pace, it will take the U.S. until 2025 – 13 years! – to match today's cost of solar in Germany. Can anyone honestly claim we'll remain so far behind for so long?

When you add potential hardware innovations (e.g. like this) to the soft cost reduction opportunity, the cost of solar is likely to keep falling rapidly in the United States.

This post originally appeared on ILSR's Energy Self-Reliant States blog.

US DOT Announces $59.3M for Clean Energy Transit Projects

Posted: 25 Sep 2012 02:09 AM PDT

The United States Department of Transportation has announced that it will grant $59.3 million to 27 clean transportation projects.

This vehicle upgrade project does not only provide the benefit of reducing bus fuel usage, but because it is an upgrade to new buses, there is an improvement in comfort and reliability, too — if the buses being replaced are very old.

Competition for this grant was fierce, and the funding requests made by the 146 grant applicants totaled a whopping $516 million. Unfortunately, only so many can be funded.

The funding is intended to help fund bus projects, in particular.

Some of the projects that won the grants include:

  1. $4.4 million for the Transit Authority of River City in Louisville, Kentucky, to replace outdated and inefficient trolley cars with ZEV (Zero Emissions Vehicle) buses, which will make them compliant with federal clean air requirements for the first time and enable the transit authority to reduce their operational expenses for years to come.
  2. $2.5 million for Florida's Miami-Dade County to retrofit older buses with new electric engine cooling systems to improve fuel economy, reduce pollutant and CO2 emissions, and prolong the life of the bus fleet.
  3. $4.5 million for the Worcester Regional Transit Authority in Worcester, Massachusetts, to replace aging diesel buses with all-electric ZEV buses, which will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, decrease fuel usage, and lower operating costs.

"As more and more Americans choose to ride the bus to work and elsewhere, it's good to know that they can depend on vehicles that won't pollute their neighborhoods, while also helping us to achieve greater energy independence," said FTA Administrator Peter M. Rogoff. "By investing in these clean-fuel projects today, we're helping to ensure that the nation's transit services are good for the environment for years to come."

Source: Greentech Media

India Gets a Girdle of Wave Power Plants from Israel’s SDE

Posted: 25 Sep 2012 02:00 AM PDT

In a move linked to its massive blackout last summer, India is getting a ring of wave power plants along its coastline from the Israeli company SDE. In terms of the global competition for renewable energy leadership, that puts the U.S. way back in the pack. SDE is already building wave power plants in China and several other countries, and Scotland’s wave power industry is coming on strong. Meanwhile, mostly cricket chirps from the most powerful nation on earth….

Israeli company SDE will install wave power in India

Lessons from the 2012 India Blackout

The blackout in India last summer was a history-making one, affecting 670 million people or about 9 percent of the world’s population.

Spared were individual companies and villages that had their own off-grid power plants, including a remote village that had its own solar power array. Officials in the state of Jodhpur also credit wind turbines with providing enough energy for hospitals and vital infrastructure, while enabling them to restore power to the region while other parts of India were still many hours away from relief.

Wave Power for India

Until now, Indian companies seeking to shield themselves from grid disruptions have had to rely on building their own fossil fuel power plants. However, India’s rapid industrialization is headed for a three-way collision course with rising oil prices and environmental issues, making wave energy an attractive alternative.

SDE estimates that energy from its wave power plants costs only two cents per kilowatt hour, making it an attractive bottom-line alternative as well as a clean one.

The wave power projects in India will put SDE in partnership with the country’s automobile industry and other companies, along with electric utilities and local governments.

For Indian companies with an eye on global markets, access to low-cost wave power could also provide a significant competitive edge. It’s becoming commonplace for companies to tout their access to clean energy as a selling point for their products and services, and a recent study commissioned by the wind turbine company Vestas suggest that more consumers prefer to buy from companies that use clean energy.

Wave Power in the U.S.A.

To be fair, the U.S. has been playing wave power catchup with some support from the Obama Administration. Though a full-scale commercial wave power project has yet to launch in U.S. waters, the Navy set up the nation’s first ever grid-connected wave power plant to provide energy for a base in Hawaii back in 2010, with the U.S. company Ocean Power Technologies. Also in Oregon, the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center (NNMREC) at Oregon State University has launched a wave power test facility off the state’s coast.

Ocean Power Technologies is now preparing a new wave power operation for a community on the Oregon coast, and the company Ocean Renewable Power has just started operating a small pilot tidal power project on the coast of Maine.

Meanwhile, the Navy is upgrading its facility to serve as a shared test bed for additional private companies to develop new wave power technology.

Things are just getting started but the U.S. Department of Energy has estimated that wave and tidal power could provide 15 percent of U.S. energy needs by 2030.

Image: Wave power. Some rights reserved by cubanjunky.

Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.

Some Solar Power Considerations

Posted: 25 Sep 2012 01:11 AM PDT


Solar panels on home roof via Shutterstock

Many homeowners are frustrated with the high cost of electricity and are considering adding solar panels to their homes. Not only is sun-powered electricity much cheaper than commercial electricity in many locations, it is also a way to help combat the serious problem of climate change. If you’re just getting into this subject, though, there are a number of things to consider before adding photovoltaic solar panels to a residence:


Before investing in solar upgrades, it’s a good idea to check with the city or county where the home is located. Because electric work is involved, you may need to obtain construction permits for the installation. Even if the panels will be installed at ground level rather than on the roof, there may be some building code restrictions.

If the home is part of a community with a homeowners association, there may be covenants that prohibit installation. Check the association agreement or deed for any rules that apply.


Setup Choices

With improved technology, there are numerous options for adding solar power to a residence. Modern roof-mounted solar panels are thinner and more efficient than early models, so they are less noticeable. Solar shingles are also available in some areas — these both function as roof covers and generate power. Portable solar generators are mounted on wheels for ease of use. There are also permanent models that mount at ground level.

The Grid

Some homeowners may be reluctant to rely completely on solar power. It is possible to install solar panels and still remain connected to an electric utility, of course. In most localities, the electric company is required to credit the user's account for any excess power generated.

A few locations have tax or other rebates as incentives for solar and other green energy upgrades. There are also federal tax credits available to help offset the costs of solar installation. Several states also offer tax credits, grants, and low-interest loans for solar panels.

Solar power is a good choice for homeowners who live in rural or isolated areas. It is possible to install storage batteries and live completely off the grid. Installing a solar power system can be much cheaper than paying to have electric lines run to an isolated location.

With free electric power from the sun, it is possible to enjoy the advantages of reliable electricity without the ongoing cost of monthly electricity bills.

This post was written by Nancy Lynn of Nancy’s a true solar power lover, and a lover of rustic design and off-grid living.

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