Wednesday, December 12, 2012

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Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

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Renewable Energy Big Pic (Including 34 Charts & Graphs)

Posted: 11 Dec 2012 06:00 PM PST

As I mentioned in my article covering the latest US Solar Market Insight report (which I just published a few hours ago), I was “out of the office” today giving a presentation on solar power growth. But the presentation was actually on much, much more than that, as you’ll see in the article below and in the one to follow tomorrow.

It’s a Small World

Unbeknownst to me until a few months ago, there’s a renewable energy graduate program at a university here in Wrocław (the city where I live). Turns out that at least one of the students currently in the program is a CleanTechnica reader. He noticed that I was living in Wrocław, and decided to reach out to me. We met up at a coffee shop one day to talk solar energy (for several hours), and not long after that I was invited to give a guest lecture to his class.

Knowing that the students were more focused on the science and engineering side of things, I decided to focus my presentation on the solar and wind energy markets and key policy topics. I gave the presentation earlier today, and figured it would also be worth sharing it with you all (with plenty of text added in place of my vocal commentary, and with some chart switcharoos and additions, including a few from the new US Solar Market Insight report, which was released less than an hour after my presentation ended).

So, anyway, that’s the story; let’s get rolling….

thomas edison clean energy

Notably, the info below doesn’t even take into account the tremendous health costs of coal and natural gas, which would make them much more expensive “at the register” if actually included in the price.

Solar Power Price Drops

1.5 years ago, GE projected that solar power would be cheaper than fossil fuels (on average) within 5 years. With 3.5 years left, GE’s prediction definitely seems within reach. In fact, GE was putting big money into a solar cell manufacturing plant in Colorado, but in January it pulled the plug on that due to the fast-falling prices of competing solar cells. In other words, solar prices are falling even faster than GE had thought they would (and faster than most analysts and renewable energy followers thought they would).

I’ve shared the following two graphics a few times in the past couple years. They make a rather important point that doesn’t seem to get enough attention: solar power projects go up relatively fast, while nuclear and coal power plants require many more years to get designed, planned, permitted, and built. With nuclear and coal costs rising while solar costs are quickly falling, by the time a new nuclear or coal power plant would be built, its electricity would already be more expensive than electricity from solar (or wind, for that matter):

solar power cheaper than coal

Solar is cheaper than coal, practically speaking. (To enlarge, hold down ‘ctrl’ or ‘command’ and click the ‘+’ key, or click on the image and then click on the link to the image on the next page — that’s the link that indicates the size of the image.)

solar power cheaper than nuclear

Solar is cheaper than nuclear power, practically speaking. (To enlarge, hold down ‘ctrl’ or ‘command’ and click the ‘+’ key, or click on the image and then click on the link to the image on the next page — that’s the link that indicates the size of the image.)

In fact, one report from 2010 found that the solar–nuclear crossover occurred a few years ago.

Solar and Nuclear Costs: The Historic Crossover

Now, an assumption in all of these projections mentioned above is that solar prices will consistently drop at a good rate. And that’s exactly what’s been happening. As I just shared a couple weeks ago, here are a few nice graphs of solar PV price drops in Germany:

October 2012

Lest you think it’s only Germany seeing such price drops, below are similar graphs from the US.

This first one shows that the installed price of residential and commercial solar dropped from an average of about $12/W in 1998 to about $6/W in 2011 (~50%).

Similarly, this next one shows the drop in the price of solar modules from 1985 to 2011 (from over $6.5/Wp to about $1/Wp):

Here’s a look at the drop simply from 2009 to 2011:

And here’s one graph published just a few hours ago for the drop from Q4 2011 to Q3 2012 (for solar modules and specific module components):

Wind Power Price Drops

So far, of course, we’ve just been looking at solar, but the other big renewable energy player these days is wind energy. It has followed a very similar path, just a bit earlier than solar energy. It actually hit a big grid parity point last decade… before natural gas prices fell off a cliff:

Note that the figure on the right should be $25-40/MWh.

Without taking too long of a side tour here, it is worth noting that natural gas prices fell off cliff as certain fracking practices became commonplace, and those only became commonplace once Dick Cheney got a ridiculous policy enacted for the fracking industry on his way out of office (and yep, Cheney was previously CEO of Halliburton, the company probably benefiting the most from this policy). What is the policy? Known as “The Halliburton Loophole,” it’s essentially that fracking fluids are exempt from the Clean Water Act (for no clear reason) and companies engaged in the process don’t even have to disclose what chemicals they are using. Needless to say, countless health externalities from the fracking process are not being accounted for in the price of natural gas, and can’t even be calculated by anyone outside the industry. (And, of course, no one inside the industry is going to do that.)

Long story short: natural gas fracking as it is happening today is artificially legal (i.e. should be illegal).

Furthermore, even with things as they are today, many are projecting that the price of natural gas will rise again in the coming years, making wind the cheaper option by far… yet again:

And, even today, wind energy is the cheapest option for new electricity in many, many places.

But, that’s not the end of the story — the price of wind power, like solar, is on a downward trend. Numerous technological improvements are bringing the price of wind down to an absurdly (in a good way) low number:

As we just reported about a month ago, a recent report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance has documented some important technological and other wind power cost reductions over the past four years. Two of the key findings were that:

  • O&M costs have been 38% lower in 2012 than 2008.
  • The price per megawatt of wind power is down to €19,200 from the €30,906 it was at in 2008.

The report also noted technological improvements and price reductions. Also worth noting is the birth and growth of Chinese wind turbine manufacturing firms, which is driving down prices and increasing competitiveness.

Solar Power Boom

A rapid price drop and an installation boom are naturally going to go hand in hand. As the price falls, more solar gets installed. And as more solar gets installed, the price falls. This is the kind of feedback loop we like. :D

Here’s annual solar power growth from 2000 (almost no solar power installed) through 2010 (about 17 GW installed):

solar power growth

Here’s a similar chart for US solar power growth:

Here’s a look at installation data from 2010 & 2011 and installation projections through 2016 (chart just released earlier today):

And here’s a broader look:

Here’s solar PV, wind, and biomass growth in Germany through 2011 (and I know 2012 has added a ton onto that):

germany renewable electricity generation

Wind Power Boom

Of course, it’s a similar story for wind, with projections that the growth will continue at a fast clip for decades to come:

Installed wind power capacity in the US under the 20% electricity demand by 2030 scenario. (click to enlarge)

Some key stats regarding global wind power are that 1) it had a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 25% from 2005 through 2010; 2) by the end of 2011, 200,000 MW were installed; and 3) by 2030, 1,750,000 MW are projected to be installed.

Europe Leading The Way

As a sign of things to come in Europe and many other places, the EU’s new power installation split in 2011 was quite uplifting — as I reported in February, 70% of new EU power was from renewable energy sources in 2011:

Why have I just been focusing on solar and wind energy in this article/presentation? Because solar and wind energy are the dominant renewable energy options these days. You can see in this chart that 96% of 2011 renewable capacity additions were from solar and wind:

And here’s a look at all net capacity changes in the EU in 2011:

You can see in the next chart that wind and solar have come to dominate new power installations in the EU in just the past 5 or so years (note that solar PV is green not yellow in this chart):

Perceptions, Oy…

Despite all of the above, there are big misconceptions about energy. Perhaps it’s because people heard things 10 years ago that they still keep in their heads and think are true today. Perhaps it’s because people hear things that are simply false (from pseudoscience fossil fuel think tanks, utility companies, and misguided media). But the bottom line is that many (or the large majority of) people don’t realize how cheap solar and wind have gotten.

Here’s one look at the difference between perceptions of the levelized costs of wind and perceptions of the levelized cost of coal:

cost of wind versus cost of coal

We also have a post coming soon showing that UK residents don’t realize how cheap solar has become, and how much money they can save by going solar. I’m sure the same is true for the US and other countries/markets.

Rooftop Solar PV Competes With Retail Electricity

Something that doesn’t get emphasized nearly enough is that rooftop solar PV essentially competes with the retail price of electricity, not the wholesale price.

If you’re an average Joe considering whether or not to go solar, you don’t compare the price of solar with the wholesale price of a coal or natural gas power plant — you compare it with what you would pay for electricity from your utility. In many places, solar is already cheaper. And in many, many more places, that will soon be the case. (In other words, utilities have something to be worried about).

With the increasing use of “time of use” (TOU) pricing, and the fact that peak power demand (when prices are highest) often coincides with peak solar PV output, this clean technology gets even that much more attractive (i.e. cheap relative to electricity from the grid).

Leading Countries

You can’t give a big picture summary of clean energy without noting which countries are leading the way.

In absolute terms, you can see the world’s current solar and wind power leaders here:

Solar Installations 2011

I love rankings and top 10 lists as much as the next guy, but these absolute installation rankings always irk me a bit. Isn’t relativity important these days?

Little Einstein by • Happy Batatinha • (some rights reserved)

Without finding good rankings based on relative solar and wind leadership on the interwebs, I decided to create such rankings myself.

You can find a lot more rankings and info at the links below, but for a quick snapshot, here are a few key “relative leadership” rankings:

Top solar power countries per capita:

Top solar power countries relative to population. (To enlarge, hold down ‘ctrl’ or ‘command’ and click the ‘+’ key, or click on the image and then click on the link to the image on the next page — that’s the link that indicates the size of the image.)

Top solar power countries per GDP:

Top wind power countries relative to GDP. (To enlarge, hold down ‘ctrl’ or ‘command’ and click the ‘+’ key, or click on the image and then click on the link to the image on the next page — that’s the link that indicates the size of the image.)

Top solar power countries per TWh of electricity production:

Top wind power countries relative to electricity production. (To enlarge, hold down ‘ctrl’ or ‘command’ and click the ‘+’ key, or click on the image and then click on the link to the image on the next page — that’s the link that indicates the size of the image.)

Top wind power countries per capita:

Top wind power countries relative to population. (To enlarge, hold down ‘ctrl’ or ‘command’ and click the ‘+’ key, or click on the image and then click on the link to the image on the next page — that’s the link that indicates the size of the image.)

Top wind power countries per GDP:

total installed wind power by country per gdp

Top wind power countries relative to GDP. (To enlarge, hold down ‘ctrl’ or ‘command’ and click the ‘+’ key, or click on the image and then click on the link to the image on the next page — that’s the link that indicates the size of the image.)

Top wind power countries per TWh of electricity production:

Top wind power countries relative to electricity production. (To enlarge, hold down ‘ctrl’ or ‘command’ and click the ‘+’ key, or click on the image and then click on the link to the image on the next page — that’s the link that indicates the size of the image.)


So, what are the leading countries doing to lead in the energy sector? What about energy subsidies and incentives? What about technology improvements? What about merit order pricing? What about energy storage?

These are all topics I got into in the second half of my presentation, but I think I’ll put them in a separate post here on CleanTechnica. Keep your eye out for that one tomorrow if you’re interested in more of the “Renewable Energy Big Pic.”

Renewable Energy Big Pic (Including 34 Charts & Graphs) was originally published on: CleanTechnica

US Solar Power Booming: 684 MW Of Solar PV Installed In US In 3rd Quarter, 44% More Than Q3 2011

Posted: 11 Dec 2012 11:57 AM PST

I just gave a presentation today which mentioned solar PV’s tremendous growth over the past several years and its projected growth in the coming years. As the U.S. Solar Market Insight: Third Quarter 2012 report released today shows, the US Solar industry is indeed still growing at a rapid clip, just as had been projected for the past few years.

As indicated in the title and chart above, 684 MW of solar PV were installed in the US in the 3rd quarter, up 44% from the 3rd quarter of 2011. In fact, 2012 3rd quarter installations were the third best ever, only behind the 2012 2nd quarter and the 2011 4th quarter (note that the 4th quarter tends to be the best quarter each year).

The most recent U.S. Solar Market Insight report, which is a collaborative product of the Solar Energy Industries Association® (SEIA®) and GTM Research, also indicated that cumulative 2012 installations at the end of Q3 hit 1,992 MW, more than 2011's annual total of 1,885 MW.

For some more statistics fun, here are the 3rd quarter state leaders for new PV installations:

And here are cumulative solar installation leaders:

Here are some more stats from the report, followed by several charts from the Executive Summary:

  • Total US solar PV power capacity is now over 5,900 MW
  • Concentrating solar power (CSP) adds another 500 MW
  • In total, the power capacity of solar is now enough to power over 1 million average US homes.
  • The residential PV market added 118 MW in Q3, enough to power about 113,000 average American homes. The 118 MW total is 12% more than in Q3 2011.
  • The commercial market (which includes governmental and institutional facilities) added 257 MW in Q3, 24% more than in Q3 2011.
  • “Average residential system prices dropped quarter-over-quarter from $5.45 per watt to $5.21 per watt nationally while average non-residential prices declined 15 cents per watt, falling to $4.18.”
  • “Average utility system prices, which are currently at $2.40 per watt, continue to see the greatest reduction in prices of the three market segments covered, falling by 30 percent since third quarter last year.”
  • 119,000 Americans are now employed at about 5,600 solar companies, most of which are small businesses. Of course, there are now solar companies in all US states.
  • “Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania saw growth of 5 MW or greater compared to the previous quarter.” 
  • “Behind Maryland, Massachusetts saw the greatest quarter-over-quarter increase, up from 25 MW in Q2 2012 to 40 MW this quarter.” 
  • “All Massachusetts installations in Q3 2012 came from the commercial and residential sectors, boosted by the expansion of net metering allowances and an influx of national retailers that offer leasing and other innovative "third-party" ownership models.”
  • “During this quarter, residential PV markets in Arizona, Colorado, California, and Massachusetts saw third-party systems range from 57 to 91 percent of total residential system installations.”

Solar Leasing vs Solar Ownership

While there solar ownership often outperforms solar leasing in the long run for those who can put money down for a few decades of electricity from clean energy, the appeal of $0 (or at least not much money down) is very appealing and solar leasing seems to dominate every market it enters. As noted in March, around 73% of California solar installations were through a solar leasing system as of february 2012, similar to the 57–91% noted above by SEIA and GTM Research.

As NREL noted just a couple weeks ago, however, new loan programs are making it possible for more people to gain the benefits of solar leasing programs while actually owning their own solar PV systems. We’ll see if those catch on or third-party systems continue to dominate. My guess is that solar leasing’s head-start and savvy marketing from the companies offering it will mean that solar leasing remains top dog for awhile.

Expect a Big Boom in Quarter 4

As noted above, quarter 4 tends to be the biggest quarter of the year. It’s projected that 2012 won’t be any different.

"While Q3 2012 was remarkable for the U.S. PV market, it is just the opening act for what we expect to see in Q4," said Shayle Kann, vice president of research at GTM. "We forecast more than 1.2 GW of PV to be installed next quarter on the back of developers who are pushing to meet year-end deadlines in both the utility and commercial segments. We also expect to see the residential PV market post another record number in Q4, as third-party residential installers gain more traction in mature, cost-effective markets."

Some pretty remarkable stats: In 2011 and 2012, 4th quarter solar PV installations represented 41% and 42% of annual installations, respectively. I can’t wait to see the cumulative solar power installation number at the end of 2012. If GTM and SEIA’s quarter 4 projections are correct, that would be 7,100 MW of solar PV power. Total 2012 installations would total 3,200 MW, or enough to power half a million average American homes.


To you CSP and CPV fans: thanks for being patient, here’s the SEIA/GTM summary update on CSP and CPV:

  • The BrightSource Energy Ivanpah project in California is progressing on schedule, with the project (392 MW) coming online in stages during 2013.
  • Abengoa's Solana 280 MW Generating Station in Arizona is over 75 percent complete and expected to be online in summer 2013.
  • SolarReserve continues power purchase agreement (PPA) discussions with Tri-State and Xcel for its 200 MW Saguache project in Colorado.
  • The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) unanimously approved an amended PPA for BrightSource's 200 MW Sonoran West Project.

So, good news all around on US solar. Any thoughts? Questions? Concerns? Hopes?

US Solar Power Booming: 684 MW Of Solar PV Installed In US In 3rd Quarter, 44% More Than Q3 2011 was originally published on: CleanTechnica

5 Mehlville Schools Equipped With Solar Power Systems

Posted: 11 Dec 2012 09:52 AM PST

5 Mehlville schools have been equipped with solar power systems to provide a portion of their electricity demand, as well as serve as an educational tool for the students.

One of the schools is Beasley Elementary. At that school, 104 solar panels were installed. They have an electricity generation capacity of 25 kW (25,000 watts).

Beasley Elementary’s 25kW solar panel array.

Beasley was equipped with a flat screen television that displays the electricity generation statistics of the solar system.

All of these solar systems are expected to save a combined $130,000 off the schools’ annual electricity costs. Each school’s electricity expenses are in the $100,000 range, totaling around $500,000 combined. While the savings amount is a fraction of their electricity bills, it’s not insignificant.

Superintendent Eric Knost is quite happy.

"This is not just a science experiment,” Knost said. “Years ago, we started to talk about solar power as a way to save some of the taxpayers’ money. That came first. Then, we saw a chance to use it as a curricular opportunity. The students can look at the monitor, see how much energy is produced and learn about it in science classes."

The lease is set for 20 years, with the price set and disconnected from how much conventional energy costs might rise.


5 Mehlville Schools Equipped With Solar Power Systems was originally published on: CleanTechnica

Space-Age Ceramics Tested, Will Improve Fuel Efficiency & Reduce Pollution In Jet Engines

Posted: 11 Dec 2012 09:44 AM PST

New ceramic composites that could potentially greatly improve the fuel efficiency of jet engines and reduce pollution are now being tested thanks to a new testing facility, the first of its kind, created by the Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab). Because of how light they are, and their ability to withstand extremely high temperatures, they could be a great boon to the development of hypersonic jets and next-generation gas turbine engines. It had been difficult to do a truly in-depth analysis of these space-age materials until now, but thanks to the new lab, CT-scanning of different ceramic composites while “under controlled loads at ultrahigh temperatures and in real-time” is now possible.


Ceramics have long been a valuable construction material. Their ability to withstand water, chemicals, oxidation, and extreme heat, while remaining essentially unchanged, makes them a very useful material. They are also generally much lighter than their main rival material, metals, potentially leading to great increases in efficiency in many moving technologies. They have remained somewhat underused because of their brittleness, though. And while the ceramic fiber-reinforced advanced ceramics of today are much stronger than regular ceramics, their structural complexity has limited their use in engines, and elsewhere, because of questions that remain about their safety. The new testing laboratory should go a long way to improve the material’s safety and performance.

“Working at Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source (ALS), a premier source of X-ray and ultraviolet light beams, the scientists created a mechanical testing rig for performing X-ray computed microtomography that reveals the growth of microcrack damage under loads at temperatures up to 1,750 degrees Celsius,” Berkeley Lab reports. ”This allows engineers to compute a ceramic composite material’s risk of structural or mechanical failure under extreme operating conditions, which in turn should enable the material’s performance and safety to be improved.”

“Like bone and shells, ceramic composites achieve robustness through complexity, with their hierarchical, hybrid microstructures impeding the growth of local damage and preventing the large fatal cracks that are characteristic of brittle materials,” Ritchie says. “However, complexity in composition brings complexity in safe use. For ceramic composites in ultrahigh temperature applications, especially where corrosive species in the environment must be kept out of the material, relatively small cracks, on the order of a single micron, can be unacceptable.

“The capacity for validating virtual testing models through direct, real-time, non-invasive experimental observations should greatly advance our understanding and help promote the technological innovation of ceramic composites.”

Source: DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Image Credit: DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Space-Age Ceramics Tested, Will Improve Fuel Efficiency & Reduce Pollution In Jet Engines was originally published on: CleanTechnica

Wind, Solar, & Storage Could Power Full Electric Grid Cost Effectively 99.9% Of The Time By 2030: Report

Posted: 11 Dec 2012 05:11 AM PST

Imagine, if you will clean, renewable energy almost fully powering a full-scale electricity grid.

Ok, it’s hard to believe now, but with recent advances in wind and solar power, it may not be that far off.

Image Credit: Wind turbine via pedrosala / Shutterstock

And, it may come within the next two decades, if researchers from the University of Delaware (UD) and Delaware Technical College (DTCC) have their way.

A new report from the two institutions suggest that, by 2030, renewable energy could power a large electrical grid a stunning 99.9%, and at close to today's energy costs!

Analysts at UD and DTCC suggest a well-developed mixture of solar, wind, fuel cells, and battery storage would produce greater supply than electricity demand, plus keep energy costs low.

“These results break the conventional wisdom that renewable energy is too unreliable and expensive,” said co-author, professor in the School of Marine Science and Policy in UD’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment Willett Kempton in the article.

“The key is to get the right combination of electricity sources and storage—which we did by an exhaustive search—and to calculate costs correctly,” he said.

Researchers used a model with 28 billion combinations of storage schemes, and renewable energy sources. Each combination was tested over historical hourly weather data and electricity use over a four-year span. Analysts used data for the model from PJM Interconnection, representing one-fifth of the US electricity grid, which spans 13 states, ranging from the Midwest (Illinois) to the East Coast (New Jersey).

This report was a bit different than others in that it looked at cutting energy costs as much as possible, rather than simply focusing on matching energy generation to energy generation use.

Meanwhile, the report found that, creating more electricity than required during regular hours to meet high energy use (but during low wind hours) would have lower costs compared to storing the excess energy for higher consumption later (of course, this is based on the assumption we won’t see any storage breakthroughs in that time).

Storage can be more costly because storage mediation, hydrogen tanks, or batteries need to be bigger for an extra hour of energy held.

So, one new finding that should warm the hart of clean-tech fans out there is researchers believe a huge electrical system could be running nearly completely on renewable energy.

“For example, using hydrogen for storage, we can run an electric system that today would meeting a need of 72 GW, 99.9 percent of the time, using 17 GW of solar, 68 GW of offshore wind, and 115 GW of inland wind,” said Cory Budischak, instructor in the Delaware's Technical Community College Energy Management Department and a U of D alumnus.

Wind and solar energy generators need higher installed gigawatt (GW) capacity; unlike conventional generators, because renewable energy forms do not achieve maximum capacity as much of the time, the report found. One gigawatt would equal 250,000 rooftop solar systems, or 200 large wind turbines.

Researchers gazed 18 years into the future on what a large-scale clean electricity system would look like and some of the findings are very interesting:

The study sheds light on what an electric system might look like with heavy reliance on renewable energy sources. Wind speeds and sun exposure vary with weather and seasons, requiring ways to improve reliability. In this study, reliability was achieved by: expanding the geographic area of renewable generation, using diverse sources, employing storage systems, and for the last few percent of the time, burning fossil fuels as a backup. During the hours when there was not enough renewable electricity to meet power needs, the model drew from storage and, on the rare hours with neither renewable electricity or stored power, then fossil fuel. When there was more renewable energy generated than needed, the model would first fill storage, use the remaining to replace natural gas for heating homes and businesses and only after those, let the excess go to waste.

Analysts, besides pointing to the possibility of a large, clean electric grid, pointed to such a grid being just as cost-effective. Researchers looked at technology costs in 2030, in comparison with fossil fuel prices today, not factoring subsidies. The report also factored as part of fossil fuel costs, external pricing, including air pollution due to fossil fuels.

Meanwhile, estimates in the report point to capital costs in 2030 for wind and solar to be 50% less than today's capital prices, while maintenance costs would be in line with current costs.

“Aiming for 90 percent or more renewable energy in 2030, in order to achieve climate change targets of 80 to 90 percent reduction of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from the power sector, leads to economic savings,” the report's authors noted in the article.


Wind, Solar, & Storage Could Power Full Electric Grid Cost Effectively 99.9% Of The Time By 2030: Report was originally published on: CleanTechnica

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