Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Link to CleanTechnica

Solar Balance of System Proving Increasingly Important

Posted: 26 Nov 2012 11:27 PM PST

Balance of Service (BOS) manufacturers are suddenly accounting for 68 percent of the total costs for the average solar photovoltaic (PV) project, whereas in 2008 67 percent of the total cost was spent on the PV module itself.

"BOS manufacturers around the globe are being challenged to offer products at reduced prices, in addition to providing value-added benefits like professional engineering services, highly integrated components and lengthy, robust product warranties," said MJ Shiao, co-author of a report published by GTM Research, which looks at BOS markets, BOS component innovation, and the survivability of current leading BOS manufacturers.

"Our report examines each of the BOS product segments, its key players, market forecast and potential game-changing innovations that will drive success.”

Solar Balance of System Increases in Importance

The report finds that some BOS manufacturers will find it difficult to “successfully navigate the next few years” as they “are tasked with a difficult set of objectives in order to grow profitably and succeed in a marketplace that expects them to deliver on highly aggressive cost targets within a short period of time.”

"This report is bullish on the BOS industry's capability to deliver on promises of cost reduction," said Stephen Smith of Solvida Energy Group and the report's lead author.

"The advent of technology decision-making based on historic system performance is upon the industry, which will result in maximum system performance and long-term operation. The cost pressure will also push many existing BOS players to the edge, and the eventual industry landscape will be less crowded, more realistic and more grounded in actual data than marketing claims. Coupling this with diminishing solar incentives — the anticipated reduction in BOS costs will result in a more predictable and investment-ready industry."

Source: GTM Research via Greentech Solar

California County’s PACE Program Could Get Feisty With Feds

Posted: 26 Nov 2012 02:25 PM PST

pace actionEditor’s note: PACE programs are hugely supported by CleanTechnica, and we’ve written about them (and summarized the idea) several times over the years. Here’s another good summary (I think we’re due for one, in case you haven’t heard about the idea yet) as well as quite an interesting potential collision (or not) course between a PACE program and the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Thanks, John:

Does a Riverside County, CA, residential energy financing program put thousands of homeowners on a collision course with the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA)?

In a proposed rule-making, the FHFA has suggested that Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) policies represent a threat to the safety and soundness of mortgages held by government-backed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. PACE is a unique financing strategy that allows homes and businesses to invest in significant energy efficiency and renewable energy upgrades and pay them back through a property tax assessment (for an explanation of PACE, see this PACE 101 slideshow). The fight with FHFA stems from these assessments being "first liens," e.g. in the event of bankruptcy, they are paid back before the mortgage holder (FHFA's Fannie or Freddie).

The FHFA's initial ruling in 2010 brought most residential PACE programs to a screeching halt, because residential participants would be threatened with having to pay their entire mortgage – in full – at any time. Residential PACE programs in Boulder, CO, and Sonoma County, CA, as well as elsewhere were suspended after the FHFA ruling.

But Riverside County launched its Home Energy Renovation Opportunity (HERO) Financing Program in late 2011, almost a year after FHFA had thrown down the gauntlet. Since then, over 2,000 homeowners have signed up (acknowledging the FHFA threat in writing) and proceeded with tens of millions in home renovations improving efficiency, generating local energy, and creating jobs. These participants have already met thresholds for positive equity in their home, and been current on the mortgage and property tax payments.

By keeping the program alive and using strong guidelines for participating homeowners, Riverside County puts a serious question to Fannie and Freddie: are they willing to default or accelerate mortgages on thousands of homes, all with mortgage holders who are customers in good standing?

New Smartphone Apps Will Help Boost Range Of GM Electric Vehicles

Posted: 26 Nov 2012 02:07 PM PST

General Motors recently set the bold target of 500,000 electrified vehicles sold annually by 2017, and is now turning to the promise of smartphone apps to reach the finish line.

Three new OnStar apps were recently previewed at the GM Electrification Experience to help extend the range of GM-brand electric vehicles and make charging more efficient than ever – among the largest hurdles for EVs to overcome in their drive for wider integration.

Two of the apps target range anxiety and public charging costs. The first, the Spark EV Waypoint tab, is designed specifically for use in GM's new Chevy Spark all-electric car model.


Waypoint Takes EVs Way Further

Waypoint will be integrated into the existing RemoteLink app and work like any other navigation system to tell Spark drivers if they can reach their destination on the car's existing battery pack charge.

When destinations are beyond the Spark's current range, Waypoint will plot a route and recommend turn-by-turn directions to public charging stations along the way.

The app will also take past driving habits into account to provide a customized estimate, and will be available through GM's online owners service, enabling directions to be sent electronically to a vehicle and stored in the OnStar Virtual Advisor service. Waypoint is on schedule to launch with the Spark EV's release in 2013.

Park-Tap-Charge Connects Drivers With Chargers

Since not all charging stations are free, GM is also developing an app to empower drivers to estimate how much charging away from home will cost and pay for electricity using their smartphone. The aptly named Park-Tap-Charge (PTC) app will show drivers the hourly rate of charging and estimated time/cost of a full charge, and handle payment through PayPal.

PTC will use Near Field Communication (NFC) technology for all its tasks. Similar to radio-frequency identification (RFID), NFC is designed for use by devices in close proximity with each other, and will create a secure connection between enabled phones and charging stations to send and receive information.

Gamifying Volt Driver Competition

Making EV charging more efficient on one’s own certainly appeals to most EV drivers, but where's the fun in that? Humans like to compete against each other, so OnStar's new Volt Driver Challenge app will use the power of gamification to let Chevy Volt drivers compare their driving habits against each other for badges and more mileage.

The Volt Driver Challenge app will log the number of miles each Volt owner drives in electric-only mode as well as total gallons of fuel saved, and store it online so drivers can compare their data to other registered Volts on a leaderboard.

In addition to a calendar for drivers to set monthly electric miles and MPG goals, the app will also award digital badges ranging from "Rookie" and "Fuel Miser" all the way up to "EV VIP" as the Volt hits certain milestones. The app is currently available to any driver with an active OnStar account.

Image Credits: Woman on electronic device in car image via Shutterstock; Spark EV Waypoint images courtesy of General Motors

The Evolution Of Lasting

Posted: 26 Nov 2012 01:32 PM PST

Here’s an interesting guest post passed along to me today (not the sort of thing we tend to cover… and not really anything I’ve ever thought about, but seems quite important and fitting):

With advancing technology comes great benefits, and the automotive industry is certainly a top example of how the development of efficiency and longevity for moving components such as engines improves our world. Indeed, some amazing strides have been made since the first internal combustion engine appeared on the automotive scene years ago. Here we look at several key factors that contribute to the ease of use and reliability we have all come to accept as standard:

As everyone knows, friction is the enemy in a motor, as it produces both component wear and radiates heat. The proper lubricants are essential to combat these two elements, reducing energy loss and increasing dynamic efficiency. In a perfect world, if opposing components never came into contact with each other, they would last forever and never overheat. Lubricating oil goes a long way in that direction, as statistics show that over half the energy lost from an engine is due to friction.

Inherently, however, lubricants are actually designed to be used up over time, rather than last indefinitely. Fortunately, today’s scientists and engineers have overcome a great many elements that at first baffled them. The very first oils and lubricants were much less effective in resisting thermal breakdown, including evaporation and viscosity loss. While today’s products can easily remain fluid in cold temperatures for easier cold starts and fast start-up circulation, early efforts fell far short.

The result, initially, was difficult operation and general frustration all around, as parts wore out quickly and operating temperatures went through the roof. Synthetic engine oil, for example, was nowhere in sight, and sludge and carbon deposits were all too common. These buildups hampered economy and performance, to say nothing of emissions before the time of fuel catalysts. Al Gore would not have approved.

Today’s methods of sealing and insulating have also contributed to component lifespan, some say boosting operational efficiency as much as twenty percent. This applies not only to engine seals but also other fluid-related piping and connections.  In the case of Apple Rubber o-rings, produced by a leading designer and manufacturer of seals and seal material science, modern techniques have resulted in an airtight and leakproof barrier that engineers could only have dreamed of not two decades ago.

As increasingly stringent emissions and fuel standards are imposed on the auto industry at large, our methods of prolonging engine life and maximizing energy efficiency are forced to evolve and improve.Several EPA laws will be coming into effect with regard to auto manufacturer production in 2016, and engineers are scrambling to make the deadline. If history is any indicator, our lives will only be made the better from their efforts.

Author Bio: Nancy is a blogger, freelance writer and recent college graduate. She currently performs market research for an online marketing firm when she is not contributing her own thoughts and observations to the online community.

250MW Solar Plant On Tribal Lands In Nevada

Posted: 26 Nov 2012 01:11 PM PST


The Moapa River Indian Reservation will be hosting a new 250MW solar plant soon. It is expected to be operational by 2016. Two thousand of the reservation’s 71,680 acres will be used for the 910,000 solar panels. The land that will be used for the plant is northeast of Las Vegas, not far from a somewhat famous state park called the Valley of Fire.Moapa_Valley.jpgThe Moapa Travel Plaza truck stop is next to the plant’s intended site and may receive solar power as well. (This is just a side comment, but if you are in Vegas and want to visit a beautiful natural setting, the Valley of Fire is a short drive and a very worthwhile destination. The Moapa Paiute Travel Plaza is very close as well.)

During the height of the installation phase, about 400 jobs will be created. Once the plant is operational, about 15 to 20 permanent staff will be required. There are about 320 Moapa living in the area. They are a band of the Paiute tribe and had been called Moapats and also Nuwui.

The coal-powered Reid Gardner Power Station is located near the reservation and coal ash pollution can be a problem for the Moapa people. Senator Harry Reid from Nevada has opposed such coal plants and spoke about the new solar plant being built in his state: “Unlike the old, dirty technologies used at the nearby Reid Gardner coal plant, this new solar project will not emit any hazardous emissions, wastes, or carbon pollution.”

The Los Angeles City Council has approved an agreement to purchase power from the plant for $1.6 billion.

Image Credit: Bvburnes, Wiki Commons

Solar-Powered Floating Schools Allow Bangladeshi Kids To Learn During Monsoon Season

Posted: 26 Nov 2012 07:31 AM PST

During monsoon season in Bangladesh, the very severe onslaught of torrential (extremely heavy) rain is such a frequent problem that hundreds of schools have to shut down periodically because of it.

Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha, a non-profit organization in the area, has started building solar-powered schools which float like boats (they technically are boats) to help address the problem.

They enable schools to continue operation even on floodwater, and into the night, unlike non-solar-powered, grid-connected schools, which end up in the darkness if there is a flood or if it is too stormy.

Source: Inhabitat
Image Credits: Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha 

Sandy-Battered Neighborhood Gives Thanks For Solar (VIDEO)

Posted: 26 Nov 2012 06:51 AM PST

In the Rockaways, Long Island, the Bell Harbour Yacht Club made it possible for a local relief effort to serve Thanksgiving dinner to the community that to solar power… they still didn’t have electricity from the grid due to Hurricane Sandy.

This location became an important hub for supplies after Sandy, and the fact that their power wasn’t reconnected quickly enough certainly didn’t help. So, they started utilizing portable solar panels to provide electricity for lighting, some heating, etc.

I’m sure they were happy and thankful that their Thanksgiving wasn’t ruined by darkness and cold weather.

Source: Grist

Video Credit: ClimateDesk on Youtube.

High Concentration Solar Power Gets Test Run At Edwards Air Force Base

Posted: 26 Nov 2012 06:31 AM PST

First there was concentrated solar power, and now Semprius, Inc. is pushing the envelope with the introduction of high concentration photovoltaic (HCPV) technology. The company has just won a contract to provide the HCPV modules for a 200-kilowatt, $2.3 million demonstration project at Edwards Air Force Base in California, undertaken by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. If the installation proves cost-effective, it will set the stage for additional installations at other U.S. military bases, as well as applications in the civilian sector.

edwards afb will test high concentration photovoltaic system

Bumping up to High Concentration Photovoltaic Power

Concentrated photovoltaic power uses mirrors and other optical devices to focus more solar energy on a smaller surface. That reduces the amount of semiconductor needed to achieve the same result, and since semiconductors are expensive, that can reduce the overall cost of the solar installation.

Semprius stepped it up another level with a system that combines a high concentration factor with solar cells that reach the upper limits of verified efficiency. The system enables Semprius to use pinhead-sized solar cells, which greatly reduces costs.

The cells are manufactured using a printing process called micro-transfer, which is based on chemical reactions.

The concentrating lenses are powerful but also low cost, and the system includes a precise tracking mechanism to keep the solar cells facing the best sun throughout the day.

According to Semprius, overall, its HCPV module has achieved world record efficiencies up to 33.9 percent, at least double the efficiency of several other modules.

As a further boost for the U.S., Semprius is manufacturing its innovative solar technology inside country borders (in Henderson, NC).

Edwards Air Force Base Goes Solar

If Edwards Air Force Base rings a bell, you might recall that it’s been the testing ground for hundreds of breakthroughs in aviation tech, including the breaking of the sound barrier.

Edwards is also the site of three new solar farms constructed and owned by Borrego Solar Systems. Under a power purchase agreement with the company, Edwards provided the land and will buy electricity from Borrego.

All together, the three solar farms have a capacity of three megawatts. That’s just a small chunk of the base’s 30-megawatt peak demand, but it could make a significant difference in the cost of electricity for the base.

Electricity from the farms will help reduce the daytime high-demand charges that Edwards pays for electricity from June to September. That could make a big dent in an electricity bill that ranges from $15 million to $18 million per year.

Image: Courtesy of Edwards Air Force Base

Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey

Total Energy USA Set To Give A Sweeping View Of “All of the Above” US Energy Landscape

Posted: 26 Nov 2012 01:17 AM PST

Total Energy is gearing up for what promises to be an all-encompassing look at the increasingly diversified and dynamic energy landscape in the USA (and beyond), hosting the Total Energy USA conference in Houston this week, Nov. 27-29.

Houston’s long been capital of the US oil and gas industry, and oil and gas companies figure prominently in Total Energy USA, but Houston, the metro area, and Texas more broadly speaking, are home to a growing and increasingly varied range of alternative and renewable energy resources, energy providers, and public clean energy initiatives. The Total Energy USA conference has been organized to reflect that.

As the organizers elaborate, the main aim of the Total Energy USA conference is "to mirror the more current/ progressive thinking about achieving a sustainable energy future. Total Energy USA is based on the principle that addressing our nation's energy challenges will be achieved through a comprehensive strategy in which energy efficiency and clean energy work together."

Kicking off the event with a welcome address will be John Ragan, president of NRG Gulf Coast Region and an executive VP of parent NRG Energy.

Based in Houston, Ragan is responsible for the company’s 15,000MW power generation portfolio, its relationship with electric cooperatives and municipalities in Louisiana and Arkansas, and Reliant energy (NRG’s largest retail electricity provider). All told, these wholesale and retail businesses serve more than 3 million customers in the Gulf Coast Region, Total Energy explains on the conference website.

In addition to energy sources and production, energy efficiency and conservation frame another core aspect of Total Energy USA’s agenda, a conference thread particularly topical as utilities search for ways to sustain their businesses while decoupling revenue and profit from higher levels of energy consumption.

Green building design and architecture, home energy management, and smart grid systems are sure to come into focus here. CleanTechnica had the chance to help set the backdrop to Total Energy USA’s focus on green building and design in an interview with Gordon Gill, an award-winning founding partner of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, whose work includes the design of the world’s first net zero-energy skyscraper–the Pearl River Tower–and the world’s first large-scale positive energy building, Masdar Headquarters.

Reliant, for its part, is offering customers an innovative electricity service plan — the Reliant Learn & Conserve Plan — that includes installation and use of the Nest Learning Thermostat, which is able to adapt to and automate power settings customized to customers’ usage, including automatic adjustments when residents are away from home.

"Cooling accounts for about 60 to 70% of the average home's electricity bill and with the Texas summer heating up, this plan couldn't come at a better time," Reliant senior vice president, Residential and Operations Elizabeth Killinger commented in a press release.

"While only about 10% of programmable thermostats are ever actually programmed, 99% of installed Nest Learning Thermostats are running a schedule that reflects the owners' lives. We're excited to be working with Nest to give customers a better way to control their electricity use."

Earlier this month, on the one-year anniversary of its Reliant Innovation Avenue project, Reliant announced that the 12 participating homes "have reduced their electricty usage by an average 16 percent, with one home achieving a 32 percent reduction in electricity usage."

Ranging in age from recently built to more than 100 years old, each of the 12 homes in October 2011 were kitted out with "a customized set of energy efficiency upgrades and smart energy technology products and services, designed to provide them with detailed information about their electricity usage and costs."

Following Mr. Ragan will be Julie A. Dill, group VP of strategy at Spectra Energy and president and CEO of Spectra Energy Partners, who will be giving the conference’s first keynote address.

In what promises to be a provocative presentation, Ms. Dill will frame her address in the context of resolving the economic, social, and economic choices and trade-offs among a wide range of US energy sources — including shale gas, LNG exports, natural gas for the domestic chemicals and transportation industries, and (of course) the role of renewables. In particular, she will discuss these matters in the light of energy security and the potential impacts of international events.

Most Powerful Blackouts in History

Posted: 26 Nov 2012 01:00 AM PST

Here’s an interesting look at an issue that can cause a lot of chaos. Notably, the increasing use and development of microgrids, which are a perfect fit with decentralized energy sources such as wind and solar, is one key solution to blackouts, as is the development of “smarter” grids.

Blackout via Justin in SD (some rights reserved)

Blackouts can affect millions of people. They can last for days or even weeks, causing chaos throughout cities and entire regions. They often occur following natural disasters, and can add to the damage caused by the original disaster.

Here is a look at some of the most powerful blackouts in history to learn from:

East Coast United States July 2012

This was the largest non-hurricane blackout in history for the United States. Caused by several violent storms, four states and the District of Columbia were affected. Call centres were out of commission for emergencies and petrol (gas) stations were closed down.

The government requested that people conserve water due to sewage plants being out of operation. To make things even worse, many people had to suffer through a heatwave that followed the storms with no air conditioning. [Editor's note: one of our writers was in that boat! Not fun.]

India Blackout July 2012

July was a bad month for India as the country experienced its worst blackout in over a decade. The outdated electrical grid was blown due to the large number of people using air conditioners and other electrical appliances.

The Metro shut down for several hours and people were forced to deal with the oppressive heat as the sun came up. It was restored quickly but a second outage soon followed and this was also widespread.

East United States October 2012

The East Coast of the United States got hit with a second outage, this time in New York and other areas that were affected by Hurricane Sandy. Millions were without power for days; over 250,000 homes were affected in New York City alone. For the entire state, over one million were without power, while 14 states had some outage of power from the storm.

The state least affected was North Carolina, with 6,600 homes without power. Some homes were still without power two weeks after the storm, right when a large snowstorm hit the area, further complicating clean-up operations.

Brazil/Paraguay 2009

This blackout affected almost all of Brazil and practically the entire country of Paraguay. Passengers on metro trains were stranded and there were numerous car accidents due to the lack of street lighting.

Buses had a difficult time handling the extra passengers and many people were left with no way to get home. Even though the blackout only lasted a few hours, over 60 million people were affected. Storms were responsible for the outage.


Blackouts can last from a few hours to over a week, depending on the cause and the infrastructure of the nation in question. Regardless of how long they last, the resulting damage can be widespread and severe. For more information on how to cope with a blackout by using emergency power, visit Mather and Stuart.

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