Solar Technology News – Solar Tribune https://solartribune.com Solar Energy News, Analysis, Education Sun, 16 Feb 2020 17:24:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.4.2 Elon Musk’s Complete Master Plan https://solartribune.com/master-plan/ Sun, 16 Feb 2020 12:24:10 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=11110 Sustainable energy and transport, shared autonomy, and saving the world. Here’s how Elon Musk’s vision is becoming reality. Tesla Master Plan, Part 1 From 0 to Mainstream: Hot off the heels of his PayPal victory and determined to change the status quo, Musk launched Tesla in 2003, at the same time he was building SpaceX. His […]

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Sustainable energy and transport, shared autonomy, and saving the world. Here’s how Elon Musk’s vision is becoming reality.

Tesla Master Plan, Part 1

From 0 to Mainstream: Hot off the heels of his PayPal victory and determined to change the status quo, Musk launched Tesla in 2003, at the same time he was building SpaceX. His Master Plan for the nascent company was essentially as follows:

  • Build sports car that runs on zero-emission electric power generation
  • Use the revenue to build an affordable electric car
  • Use that revenue to build an even more affordable electric car

“The strategy of Tesla is to enter at the high end of the market, where customers are prepared to pay a premium, and then drive down market as fast as possible to higher unit volume and lower prices with each successive model,” he writes on Tesla’s blog.

1. Create a low volume car, which would necessarily be expensive

Source: Tesla.com

The Roadster, Redefining The Electric Car: Tesla debuted the Roadster, a luxury electric sports car, in 2008. The vehicle was the first mass-produced electric car to use lithium-ion batteries, and the first to travel more than 200 miles on a single charge.

Just as he envisioned, the Roadster immediately broke preconceptions about what an electric car could be. The vehicle set the world distance record of 501 km for a production electric car on a single charge in October 2009; It could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in less than four seconds.

Tesla sold 2,450 of these high-end sports cars at a base price point of $109,000, and funneled the revenue into development of the Model S.The company stopped producing the Roadster in 2012, and plans to replace it with a second-generation version in 2019. Even so, the original Roadster served its purpose by raising eyebrows, funding the Model S, and setting Tesla’s Master Plan into motion.

Musk put as much of the profits from the Roadster as possible back into research and development, with the aim of creating a slightly more affordable but still luxurious family-oriented car.

2. Use that money to develop a medium volume car at a lower price

Source: Tesla.com

Model S, Setting the Standard for Luxury Cars: Telsa released the Model S, a second-generation luxury vehicle at a lower price point, in 2012. The new model became one of the top-selling all-electric vehicles in the world and won numerous awards, including Time Magazine’s Best 25 Inventions of the Year Award in 2012 and Motor Trend Car of the Year in 2013.

Model X, Addressing the Other Half of the Car Market: Tesla rolled out the Model X, a luxury SUV sporting falcon-wing doors, in September 2012. While the model was absent from the company’s original master plan, Musk couldn’t ignore the fact that SUVs comprised 50% of the vehicle market.

The car was difficult to manufacture, and the pace of deliveries suffered. Soon after its release, a litany of glitches appeared. While many were related to the falcon-wing doors (such as the possibility of injury while closing), customers also reported issues with stubborn front doors, frozen touch-screens, and underperforming heaters. Elon now refers to the Model X as “step 2.5” of his Master Plan, and claims that Tesla’s “hubris” in adding so many new features was the source of its flaws.

3. Use that money to create an affordable, high volume car

Source: Tesla.com

Model 3, Mass-Market Adoption: With the Model S and Roadster under its belt and the Model X behind it, Tesla is now working on the key piece of its strategy—a high-volume car with a low price point. Meant for the masses, the Model 3 will start at a mere $35,000 before government incentives.

More than 100,000 pre-orders for the Model 3 flooded in sight-unseen in the 24 hours before Musk even displayed the prototype in March 2016. There were roughly 400,000 total pre-orders as of May 2017.

Production of the Model 3 is slated to begin in mid-2017 and ramp up to 500,000 cars per year in 2018. The first deliveries are scheduled for late 2017.

4. Provide solar power

Solar roof tiles. Source: Tesla.com

Tesla Acquires SolarCity for a “Whole-Home” Energy Solution: While the Powerwall can work in concert with solar panels and Tesla car chargers, truly seamless integration would require a merge between SolarCity and Tesla, Musk decided. Tesla bought SolarCity in 2016, moving Musk one step closer to his vision of a comprehensive energy solution for consumers, complete with rooftop solar generation, battery storage, and electric vehicle charging. SolarCity is slated to begin producing solar panels at its own gigafactory in Buffalo, New York in the summer of 2017.

Re-Inventing Solar for the Mass Market: With the other pieces of the renewable energy puzzle in place, Musk felt it was it was time to take rooftop solar to the next level. That meant a differentiated solar product with curb appeal for the masses—the solar roof.

Tesla rolled out roof tiles with invisible solar cells to widespread acclaim in October 2016. The tiles provide greater coverage with a seamless, integrated aesthetic. Homeowners can choose from four different styles that mimic traditional shingles. Made of tempered glass, they’re also quite tough; the tiles are designed to withstand hail impacts of up to 200 mph. Tesla’s solar roof lasts longer than a traditional roof, and at a lower cost when factoring in the electricity it generates.

The solar roof product was approved for permitting and installations by from Underwriters Laboratories (UL) in May 2017, and installations will begin in California in June 2017. Inventory has already sold out well into 2018.

 

Tesla Master Plan, Part 2

With the company’s initial goals well on their way to fruition, Musk publicly expanded his Master Plan in a 2016 blog post. He mapped out Tesla’s future endeavors as follows:

  • Integrate energy generation and storage
  • Expand to cover the major forms of terrestrial transport
  • Implement self-driving technology
  • Enable car sharing

1. Integrate Energy Generation and Storage

Source: Tesla.com

Home storage: Storage has long been considered the “holy grail” for solar. When paired with storage, intermittent renewables like solar and wind can be just as reliable as energy based on fossil fuels. Storage can also sync solar production (which peaks at midday) with demands on the grid (which spike in the morning and evening).

While there are various ways to store energy, batteries are the only practical option for homes. Still, household-sized batteries remained expensive and difficult to maintain. Musk knew that solving storage would change the game for solar.

He achieved this goal in 2015 when Tesla released the Powerwall, a rechargeable lithium-ion battery for residential storage, and the Powerpack, a larger version for commercial and utility-scale projects.

The attractive, sculpture-like Powerwall simply mounts to an external or internal wall, and requires little maintenance. It debuted at an astonishing $3,000, and sold out through the following year almost immediately.

Scaled Battery Production: Musk knew that making batteries attractive and affordable wasn’t enough—rooftop solar with storage had to meet or beat the utilities on cost per watt. That meant large-scale production.

In 2013, Tesla announced plans to build a massive “gigafactory” near Reno, Nevada. While the facility is still under construction, it began producing battery cells for Powerwalls and Powerpacks in January 2017. The factory is about 30% complete, with roughly 4.9 million square feet of operational space planned. That figure may eventually double. Even at its originally planned footprint, the facility is the world’s largest building by square footage. Boeing’s plant in Everest, Washington comes in second at 4.3 million square feet.

Source: Tesla.com

The massive facility will manufacture 35GWh of battery cells and 50GWh of packs per year by 2020, all with renewable energy. Production at the gigafactory will likely slash the cost of batteries by more than 30%. A total of just 100 such facilities could provide the storage needed to transition the entire world to sustainable energy.

While Tesla can’t build all 100 of them, Gigafactory 1 is just the beginning. The company will also release plans for 2-4 new gigafactories later this year. Musk is hoping that other companies follow his lead and build their own gigafactories to address the world’s energy needs.

2. Expand Into All Forms of Ground-Based Transportation

With the SolarCity deal locked in and construction on Gigafactory 1 underway, Tesla could focus on the next phase of its Master Plan—expanding its line of vehicles. A full transition from fossil fuels to clean energy would require heavy-duty electric trucks and vehicles for shipping goods, in addition to passenger sedans and SUVs.

Tesla Semi. In December of 2017, Musk unveiled the Tesla Semi. Musk projects the new vehicle will beat diesel trucks on cost per mile, and has an estimated range of up to 500 miles. Tesla plans to begin production of the vehicle in 2019.

 

 

Next-Gen Tesla Roadster. At the Tesla Sami unveil event, Elon Musk surprised the audience by revealing a refresh of the car that originally launched Tesla, the Roadster. Boasting a record-braking 0-60 mph acceleration of 1.9 seconds and 620 miles of range, the the new Roadster aimed to provide  “the hardcore smackdown” to internal combustion engine vehicles.

 

Cybertruck. On November 21, 2019 Tesla launched its entry into the lucrative pickup market with the unveil of Cybertruck. “It doesn’t look like anything else,” proclaimed Elon once the truck came onstage. As the demonstration continued, it became clear that the Cybertruck did not have the specs and performance of anything else, either. Drawing from innovations at SpaceX, the Cybertruck abandoned the traditional body on frame design of all other cars in favor of cold-Rolled stainless-steel exoskeleton.

 

During a demonstration gone awry, Franz von Hozhausen threw a steel ball that shattered two of the trucks windows. Between the botched demonstration and the futuristic cyberpunk appearance of the truck, the unveil made waves across the media, internet, and cultural zeitgeist.

 

3. Vehicle Autonomy

Musk plans to roll out autonomous capability as soon as possible, and not just for the coolness factor—he’s primarily concerned with safety. Tesla will integrate self-driving components such as cameras, radar, and sonar with all of its vehicles as the technology evolves, he reports. Autonomous systems will be fail-operational, meaning that a vehicle will still drive itself safely if a component system breaks. While it will be some time before self-driving vehicles become street-legal, Tesla cars will be ready.

“I should add a note here to explain why Tesla is deploying partial autonomy now, rather than waiting until some point in the future,” Musk writes on Tesla’s blog. “The most important reason is that, when used correctly, it is already significantly safer than a person driving by themselves and it would therefore be morally reprehensible to delay release simply for fear of bad press or some mercantile calculation of legal liability.”

4. Sharing

Once your car is self-driving, you can put it to work for you when you’re not using it, Musk says. It will essentially be an “Uber driver,” but in Tesla’s shared fleet. Your Tesla may eventually end up paying for itself, meaning that anyone could afford to buy one.

 

It’s a win-win for both Tesla and the consumer, and the final phase of Tesla’s Master Plan—as far as we know. Judging from the company’s history, it could be the path to funding “Master Plan: Phase 3.” Musk may just be getting started.

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Solar-Powered Cars: The Future of Personal Transportation? https://solartribune.com/solar-powered-cars-the-future-of-personal-transportation/ Fri, 29 Nov 2019 15:14:25 +0000 https://solartribune.com/?p=67083 The widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles into our daily lives seems like an inevitability that is just around the corner. A recent flurry of activity in the auto industry around solar-powered cars, however, has momentarily supplanted autonomous technology as the most talked about innovation in the industry, as the once fanciful idea starts to enter […]

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The widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles into our daily lives seems like an inevitability that is just around the corner. A recent flurry of activity in the auto industry around solar-powered cars, however, has momentarily supplanted autonomous technology as the most talked about innovation in the industry, as the once fanciful idea starts to enter the mainstream.

A Brief History of Solar Cars

Despite their futuristic reputation, solar-powered cars have been around in some form or fashion for several decades. William G. Cobb of General Motors is credited with creating the first solar car back in 1955. Cobb’s invention – dubbed the “Sunmobile” was not a passenger car by any conventional measure as it was just a tiny 15-inch model car made of balsa wood and equipped with 12 selenium PV cells and a small electric motor.

Source: Wikipedia

The first functional solar-powered car built to-scale is thought to have been built in 1980 by a team of researchers at Tel Aviv University. Although weighing in at over 1,320 pounds, the clunky vehicle was neither functional nor visually appealing.

Source: ResearchGate.net

In this century, solar cars have mainly been associated with record-breaking speed pursuits and higher educational purposes.

The Innovators Educational Foundation (IEF) is a non-profit that has organized collegiate level solar car racing in North America since 1980. The IEF hosts two premier events annually, the American Solar Challenge and the Formula Sun Grand Prix, where teams of college students compete against each other to see who has the fastest solar-powered vehicle. The solar vehicles resemble bobsleds more than passenger cars, but they are marvels of modern engineering having the ability of reaching speeds of over 50 mph while using less power than a hair dryer.

The World Solar Challenge is a similar competition held biennially in Australia that welcomes 50+ international teams of competitors representing dozens of countries. The Ashiya University Sky Ace TIGA is the current Guinness World record holder for fastest solar-powered vehicle, achieving a top speed of 56.75 mph in Japan in 2014.

Musk Goes from Skeptic to Believer

Elon Musk once again captivated the attention of the global auto market recently in a way that only he can. No, he wasn’t launching another Tesla-made vehicle into outer space again (it’s still up there, by the way). He instead unveiled the much-anticipated Tesla Cybertruck – an all-electric battery-powered vehicle that represents Tesla’s first foray into the pickup truck market. As expected, the new-age Cybertruck comes with a number of outside-the-box features, including; an ultra-durable 30X cold-rolled stainless-steel body, armored glass windows, on-board power inverter, fully autonomous capabilities, and much more.

One of the more surprising pronouncements about the Cybertruck’s specs and capabilities came the day after the unveil when Musk revealed the following on Twitter:

Musk’s embrace of solar panels on cars represents a 180 of sorts from his previous stance on the topic. He has long been skeptical about the efficacy of generating power from solar panels affixed to the roof of a car, citing surface area limitations and the amount of time that cars spend in garages and in shaded areas as primary reasons to not embrace the technology. Musk most prominently shot down the idea during the Q and A portion of his appearance at the 2017 National Governors Association summer meeting in Rhode Island:

In responding to a question from Gov. Phil Scott of Vermont, Musk stated, in part:

“Putting solar panels on the car itself…not that helpful…The least efficient place to put solar is on the car…It’s way better to put it on a roof.”

Musk also mentioned that just a year earlier he flirted with the idea of offering a solar roof as an option on the Model 3 in the form of a “retractable” deployable solar shield in order to provide the surface area necessary to generate meaningful amounts of solar energy. He asked Tesla engineers to look into it, but they ultimately came to the same conclusion – putting solar panels on vehicles wasn’t a worthwhile pursuit.

So, what changed to make Musk do an about-face on the topic? For one, solar cells continue to get more and more efficient, as we’ve noted before. Technological advancements with malleable, thin film multi-junction cells in particular have significantly advanced the reality of equipping vehicles with solar cells. Industry-leading thin film solar cells can achieve solar efficiency scores above 30%, thanks to companies like Alta Devices that have broken new ground in the quest for making thinner, lighter, more flexible solar cells that remain highly efficient.

Secondly, Musk’s embrace of solar panels on personal vehicles is likely also a response to the evolving competitive landscape. Some of the world’s biggest automobile companies are developing hybrid electric vehicles equipped with solar capabilities. A direct competitor of Tesla’s in the pickup truck sub-market – Ford – plans to release a hybrid electric version of its famed F-150 as early as next year. By equipping the Tesla Cybertruck with solar energy capturing capabilities at such an early stage, Musk is establishing a key differentiator with what is likely to be their biggest competitor before that competitor’s product has even hit the market.

Solar-Powered Cars and the Consumer Market

Rest assured that Tesla isn’t the only company planning to bring solar-powered vehicles to market. In just recent years, the consumer market for solar-powered vehicles has taken shape as iconic global brands and little-known startups alike race to perfect the technology that will bring solar-powered cars into the mainstream.

In Japan, Toyota is experimenting with a version of its Prius Prime, equipped with 860 watts worth of high efficiency thin film solar cells on the car’s hood, roof, and rear hatch. Toyota claims that the solar panels affixed to the car have an efficiency rating of 34%, providing the car with enough energy to travel 35 miles on a sunny day.

Source: GreenCarReports.com

While Toyota’s Prius Prime is still undergoing testing and not quite ready for the consumer market, Hyundai released a solar-powered version of their Sonata Hybrid in August of this year. Hyundai claims that 30-60% of the car’s battery can be charged solely by solar energy, and with about six hours of charge per day from solar energy, the car can increase travel distance by about 807 miles per year.

The solar-equipped version of Hyundai’s Sonata Hybrid is available in South Korea, and the company eventually plans to enter the North American market in early 2020.

Source: CNBC

Auto giants like Toyota and Hyundai aren’t the only ones diving into the solar-powered vehicle space; the start up community is also getting in on the action.

Co-CEOs Laurin Hahn and Jona Christians founded Sono Motors in 2016 with the sole purpose of bringing a solar-powered electric vehicle to the market. That dream has been realized in the form of the Sion, the company’s lone vehicle offering that is scheduled to be introduced into the European market next year.

Unlike the aforementioned vehicles, the Sion is virtually covered in solar panels. A total of 248 solar panels cover every plausible part of the car’s body, including doors and side panels. This unique design was created so that the car could capture solar energy regardless of the sun’s angle in the sky. The company claims that the Sion can add an estimated 3,600 miles per year in driving distance from solar energy. When driven short distances – like by urban commuters – the car is completely self-sufficient.

The general lack of garages in European households and the car’s small, compact build and ridesharing capabilities make it perfectly equipped for the European lifestyle. The company is solely focused on the European market at this time for the Sion (priced at approx. $27,500) and has no current plans to introduce the car elsewhere.

If the budget-friendly Sion is the equivalent of a basic Honda Civic, then its counterpart – Lightyear One – may as well be the renewable energy version of a Rolls Royce. With an expected retail price of about $170,000, the Lightyear One is by far the most luxurious solar-powered car to soon be made available to consumers. The prototype of the vehicle was unveiled earlier this year and production is planned for 2021.

Lightyear the company is the brainchild of former University of Eindhoven (The Netherlands) engineering students who competed in the World Solar Challenge race and won in 2013, 2015, and 2017.

The sleek Lightyear One is outfitted with 54 square feet of solar panels covering its roof and hood that are able to charge the car’s battery at a rate of nearly 7.5 miles of charge per hour. The Lightyear One is equipped with batteries that will hold enough energy for up to 450 miles of driving, an impressive feat that eclipses the electric vehicle market-leading 370 miles range afforded by the Tesla Model S.

There are few industries in the world that are innovating as rapidly as the automobile and renewable energy industries. While there is reason to be skeptical about the unproven technology, solar-powered cars have the potential to make progress in combating climate change in ways that could have only been imagined decades ago. It will be interesting to see if solar-powered cars take off now that several models of solar-powered vehicles are soon to be made available on the consumer market. Regardless, the ongoing popularization of electric vehicles, hybrid vehicles, and solar-assisted vehicles in lieu of the gas guzzling automobiles of yesteryear is a development worth celebrating.

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Was 2018 the Year of the Home Battery? https://solartribune.com/was-2018-the-year-of-the-home-battery/ Mon, 14 Jan 2019 03:33:40 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=14399 2018 turned out to be a pretty good year for batteries. Prices continued to fall and a handful of states like New York, Colorado and Florida created new policies to drive adoption from storage mandates to new net metering and interconnection policies, as well as new incentives specifically for energy storage. With more homeowners installing […]

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2018 turned out to be a pretty good year for batteries. Prices continued to fall and a handful of states like New York, Colorado and Florida created new policies to drive adoption from storage mandates to new net metering and interconnection policies, as well as new incentives specifically for energy storage.

With more homeowners installing solar in 2018 than ever before – a single quarter of 2018 beat out the entire previous year – are we seeing the turning point for energy storage?

Battery Deployment Enjoys 3x YOY Growth in Q3 2018

Storage installations in Q3 of 2018 continued to grow and for the second quarter, YOY growth tripled, despite dropping 15% under the previous quarter.

According to Wood Mackenzie’s 2018 Q4 Energy Storage Monitor, the U.S. installed 136 MWh of energy storage in Q3 2018, with California leading the way, followed by Hawaii. This is down from Q2’s 160 MWh, but as you can see in the chart below, still miles ahead of 2017 Q3.

Energy Storage Deployment in the US (2013 – Q3 2018)

Source: Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables/ESA U.S. energy storage monitor

Of that 136 MWh, behind-the-meter installations (BTM, which is customer-sited residential and commercial installations) accounted for 60%, or 82 MWh. That’s equal to over half of 2017’s entire BTM storage deployment – all within a single quarter.

Of those BTM installs, residential installations accounted for over 50% (or about 47 MWh) of that. For a bit of perspective, Tesla Powerwalls can store 13.5 kWh (or 0.0135 MWh) of electricity, so 47 MWh is equivalent to about 3,481 of them.

GTM, which formerly published the reports above, foresaw this huge uptick in 2017, with GTM Research director Ravi Manghani  saying, “We’re going to have to strike the word ‘nascent’ from our vocabularies when describing the U.S. energy storage market.”

Once all the numbers are in, GTM actually expects 2018 to see over 1,000 MWh of storage deployment – obviously a record-setting number – with residential installations to hit that number by 2023.

California and Hawaii Continue to Lead in Installations

California and Hawaii continue to lead the way in terms of cumulative storage capacity from residential systems. California leads the pack by far, outpacing Hawaii and the next four states combined. In fact, beyond California and Hawaii, most utilities reported a pittance of residential energy storage.

In 2017 (the last year for which information is available), the EIA reported that the next four states with the most residential storage see between just 0.19 and 0.39 MWh. To put that into more concrete terms, that’s equivalent to 14 and 28 Tesla Powerwalls.

Source: Data from US Energy Information Administration, graphic by Solar Tribune

With their high electricity costs and focus on renewables, it’s no surprise that California and Hawaii take first and second place. Since 2016, though, storage companies have pushed into new territories across the US, as utility prices rise, battery prices fall, and more states and utilities pass regulations and/or incentives to encourage storage adoption.

Falling Prices, New Incentives, and Changing Regulations Key to Growth

With lithium-ion accounting for over 90% of all energy storage in the U.S., the technology’s falling cost is a key component in the storage industry’s growth. In 2020, lithium-ion battery packs cost $1,000 per kWh, according to the National Renewable Energy Lab. In 2017, that number had dropped to just $209 per kWh, a 79% price drop. They further estimate that prices will continue to drop, reaching $70 per kWh by 2030.

Beyond falling costs, new state-level incentives and regulations designed to encourage residential and commercial energy storage have accelerated the storage market.

As of 2018, twenty-nine states have adopted Renewable Portfolio Standards (or RPSs) mandating utilities source a certain percentage of electricity sold from renewable sources. On top of that, five states have passed mandates specifically for energy storage:

  • California: Adopted the first storage mandate in 2014, which legislators have since updated to 1.8 GW (1.3 GW by 2025).
  • Oregon: In 2015, the state passed mandates that their two largest utilities, PGE and PacifiCorp must each set up 5 MWh of energy storage by 2020.
  • New York: In 2018, Governor Cuomo signed into law storage mandates of 1.5 GW by 2025.
  • New Jersey: 2 GW by 2030
  • Massachusetts: 200 MWh by 2020

Beyond mandates, several states have also passed regulations to ease the installation process or increase energy storage’s value proposition:

  • California: Enacted A.B. 546 in 2017 to streamline storage permitting
  • Florida: Utility JEA approved an incentive for energy storage and new net metering regulations
  • Vermont: Through their Bring Your Own Device program, utility Green Mountain Power began a program offering bill credits to residential customers who allow GMP to pull electricity from the homeowner’s energy storage systems during times of peak usage.
  • Arizona: Salt River Project launched the Consumer Storage Incentive Program, offering rebates of $150 per kWh for residential Li-ion battery systems
  • Colorado: Passed S.B. 18-009 to streamline and reduce barriers to storage interconnection
  • New York: NYSERDA, CUNY, and DNV-GL published interconnection guidelines for outdoor Li-ion storage in NYC
  • Virginia: In 2017, the state amended the Virginia Solar Energy Development Authority to include energy storage. In early 2018, Virginia passed S.B. 966 requiring utilities establish energy storage pilot programs to run until 2023.

While we haven’t yet seen the positive effects, all of these policies and incentives set up a solid foundation for the growth of energy storage in the next few years.

Battery Installations Grow Despite Drop in Residential Solar

As we’ve seen, more and more homeowners are deciding to install storage with their solar installations, despite a drop in the total number of households going solar.

And despite Tesla pulling back on growth to refocus on profitability, both they and Sunrun are reporting record quantities of energy storage. Tesla has installed over 1,000 MWh of storage cumulatively, with Sunrun reporting in Q1 2018 that 20% of all their California customers chose to install storage with their solar installation.

While just 1% of all residential solar installations included storage in 2017, Wood Mackenzie expects that by 2024, 24% of distributed solar will include storage.

Some might call 2018 the year of energy storage, but even with this growth, deployment is still localized to just a few key areas that see high utility prices and storage-friendly policies. To continue this growth trajectory, other states will need the example set by the states listed above. Just a decade ago, the solar industry was at the same place, teetering on the verge of an explosion. With the storage landscape changing so deeply in 2018, hopefully we’ll see the positive effects in the next few years.

Image Source: Tesla Press Kit

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SolFilm Technology from Sol Voltaics: An Interview with CEO Erik Smith About this Disruptive Solar Panel Technology https://solartribune.com/solfilm-technology-from-sol-voltaics-an-interview-with-ceo-erik-smith-about-this-disruptive-solar-panel-technology/ Mon, 24 Sep 2018 20:06:56 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=14053 Sol Voltaics is looking to apply their breakthrough nanotechnology to improve the efficiency of solar panels across the world. Boasting a 50% efficiency improvement when the lightweight nanowire SolFilm is applied to panels, this Sweden-based company is positioned to revolutionize the potential of solar installations everywhere. This interview with the company’s CEO taps into his thinking […]

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Sol Voltaics is looking to apply their breakthrough nanotechnology to improve the efficiency of solar panels across the world. Boasting a 50% efficiency improvement when the lightweight nanowire SolFilm is applied to panels, this Sweden-based company is positioned to revolutionize the potential of solar installations everywhere.

This interview with the company’s CEO taps into his thinking on the solar market and how their approach to thin film technology will fulfill promises long made by researchers.

Despite widespread desire to buck to promote solar power globally, many constraints still surround solar power, whether they be political, economic, or institutional. A non-controversial way to make progress outside of these roadblocks is to advance the technology. While such technological progress often takes immense investment and resources, which are not easy to come by, when breakthroughs in renewable technologies do emerge from this R&D they can be embraced across the world without much debate.

Sol Voltaics is showing that universal truth, particularly with their nanotechnology called SolFilm. This company is driven to take their innovations to advance the efficiency of solar panels across the world. By adding their lightweight nanowire SolFilm technology, Sol Voltaics boasts that this cost-effective and easy-to-install material can improve panel efficiency by a mind-blowing 50% (safe to say that would represent the largest even single jump in the efficiency of mainstream solar power).

SolFilm. solar panel

Photo source: Solvoltaics.com

What exactly is SolFilm? According to the company, it is a “lightweight photonic film consisting of high-efficiency, gallium arsenide PV nanowires [that] converts high energy sunlight directly into power and is transparent for infra-red light. The infra-red light can be converted into power…enabling a far greater power conversion efficiency than found in current leading-edge conventional modules.” That’s quite a mouthful, and the more technical among us can read more from their recently published scientific paper, but essentially enables existing solar panels to produce significantly more energy. Best of all, Sol Voltaics will ensure solar panel manufacturers could integrate their product without much cost or effort– SolFilm can be used alone as a replacement for thin film/silicon cells in the manufacture of solar panels, or even better, they can be stacked on top of the conventional PV module (during the latter stages of manufacturing) to create an even more high-efficiency product.

I recently had an opportunity to ask a few questions to Erik Smith, CEO of Sol Voltaics, about this technology that will inevitably be a true disruptor of the solar power industry.

Sol Voltaics

Matt Chester: Erik, I wanted to first thank you for making yourself available to answer my questions about Sol Voltaics, the exciting SolFilm development, and the solar market in general. I’ve read a decent amount about SolFilm on your website, in Forbes, and other publications, and the future appears bright. But before getting into the future, I wanted to get a sense of the past. Can you provide a quick overview about how Sol Voltaics got here?

Erik Smith: Sol Voltaics was founded in 2011. Our roots are firmly embedded in Lund, Sweden, and Lund University. The University’s NanoLund organization is one of the international pioneers of nanoscience and nanotechnology.

World-renowned nanotechnologist Lars Samuelson is a scientific founder of the company and the vice director of NanoLund. Sol Voltaics’ intellectual property is based on a combination of Professor Samuelson’s 25 years of Silicon (Si) and III-V nanowire research and Sol Voltaics-generated IP. I have spent over 20 years in technology development and leadership in solar, semiconductor equipment, and materials and global contract manufacturing. Our wider team is a nexus of science and industry. It is important that the managers understand not only their scientific fields, but also the requirements of being in a company with the ultimate objective of providing a product. The company consists of 55 people representing 15 different nationalities.

The impetus for the founding of Sol Voltaics was the invention of Aerotaxy by Dr. Samuelson. Aerotaxy is a continuous flow manufacturing process that enables Sol Voltaics to produce gallium arsenide (GaAs) solar cell nanowires at a very low cost. The ability to bring GaAs, the best solar material in the world, to market at a low cost was the idea that attracted the investors. Since being founded, Sol Voltaics has raised $64 million of total investment, with 20% coming from non-dilutive sources.

Chester: Continuing with that thread, how does SolFilm factor into the whole story of Sol Voltaics? Was the SolFilm technology the reason behind Sol Voltaics being formed, or is it one in a line of multiple products? Are there other innovations into which you’re looking to branch out? 

Smith: Sol Voltaics was formed to realize the vast solar energy potential of GaAs through nanotechnology. GaAs has tremendous solar energy-generating properties and holds the single-junction conversion efficiency record. It is also an extremely robust and reliable material. It has been used for many years in concentrated solar PV systems and in space applications. However, until now, the high cost of GaAs has prevented it from being manufactured into a scalable, economically acceptable product for the mass solar power market. Through our patented Aerotaxy process and the nanophotonic effects of the nanowires, we are able to produce a highly-efficient, low-cost GaAs PV cell called SolFilm.

SolFilm will be the first commercial product produced by Sol Voltaics. But given the ability of Aerotaxy to produce numerous kinds of sophisticated nanowires and our ability to align and organize these nanowires, we see vast potential to apply these two core technologies to other applications.

Chester: What are the biggest hurdles facing Sol Voltaics today? Do they come from the technology side, the economics or market side, any sort of political obstacles, or something else?

Smith: As with many start-ups, obtaining funding is always an obstacle to bring product to market. However, we’re in a good position because we have demonstrated all the key technological aspects of SolFilm. The next round of funding will be used for process optimization to produce prototype samples. This is the final stage before we can commercially manufacture SolFilm.

The SolFilm Technology

Chester: I found that your marketing materials give a great ‘elevator pitch’ summary of the SolFilm technology. Generally, do you find people get on board and understand what you’re trying to do quickly, or do you find that people get a bit lost in the weeds of understanding the tech?

Smith: For those within the solar market, particularly cell and module manufacturers, they understand our value proposition and the benefits of SolFilm very quickly. The solar industry has an urgent need to innovate and bring to market technologies that can enable greater module efficiencies. The industry has seen only incremental increases in efficiencies over the past 10 years. SolFilm’s great success has been the ability to reduce costs to the point where, in many regions, it is competitive with traditional energy sources. To ensure the world complies with COP21 targets, innovation is paramount at acceptable costs. SolFilm represents a technology that will help meet those targets and catapult mainstream solar module efficiencies towards 30%.

Chester: A few companies have come in recent years promising thin film technology that could provide a breakthrough in the solar space, but little progress has been made and investors were resistant to bet on the technology. What makes SolFilm different? How will the story play out this time?

Smith: One key difference for Sol Voltaics is our patented Aerotaxy process. Aerotaxy provides a low-cost path to bringing the well-accepted, sought-after GaAs material to the marketplace. Aerotaxy generates GaAs PV nanowires within seconds, at yields comparable with semiconductor industry standards, and can produce them on a continuous basis. A second key to our low cost is the nanophotonic properties of nanowires. Acting like waveguides, one only needs to cover the module with 20% nanowires. This is the optimum light gathering density. These two critical aspects of SolFilm enable us to bring efficiencies in the upper 20% range at a comparable cost per Watt peak (Wp) to standard low-cost silicon modules.

SolFilm, nanowire

Photo source: Solvoltaics.com

Finally, it is important to note that many of the locations where solar is and will continue to be deployed are in high temperature regions. The temperature coefficient of GaAs as a material is significantly better than silicon. In a region like the Middle East, this can translate to 15-20% more power output with the same efficiency module because GaAs degrades significantly less than silicon in high heat.

Another important point of difference is our association and continued collaboration with the University of Lund and NanoLund. The depth of nanowire understanding at NanoLund in conjunction with its ability to supply a flow of excellent scientists to Sol Voltaics makes it a very valuable partner.

Chester: A main application for SolFilms is to integrate directly into existing PV module lines. Have you had any pushback from the PV cell manufacturers about your product and its integration strategy?

Smith: We have numerous letters of intent from the PV industry to integrate our SolFilm into modules. The integration is an extremely simple process that requires virtually no alternation of the manufacturing process. To execute these LOIs, our job is to produce full-size samples.

Chester: Because the technology applies right to the cell, it seems like SolFilm is equally applicable to utility-scale solar, residential rooftop solar, and any other solar installation. This is obviously valuable for your market to be so wide, but are there any specific applications where SolFilm is especially suitable and the gains are even more impressive?

Smith: We see vast potential for SolFilm in utility-, commercial-, and residential-scale solar. We believe residential and commercial solar are particularly well-suited for SolFilm because of the significantly increased power the cells can generate per square meter of rooftop, thus reducing the overall cost per watt of the system. Its excellent all-black aesthetic and heat resiliency are also key benefits.

SolFilm, solar panel

Photo source: Solvoltaics.com

Market Appetite for SolFilm

Chester: The technology seems like a game changer, but better tech can’t do much unless it’s successfully implemented in the market. With that in mind, what’s the current market of SolFilm? Is the technology still in the development phase or are there any modules in commercial operation today?

Smith: Our technology is still in the optimization phase, so there are no commercial projects featuring SolFilm. We have LOIs and NDAs with all the major solar module manufacturers, all of whom are interested in adopting SolFilm. We are working toward shipping samples to our partners by the end of 2019.

Chester: The solar industry is notorious for being slow to change and adopt new technology. What sort of feedback have you gotten from the solar community– skepticism and doubt or excitement at the potential to disrupt the market?

Smith: Given the urgent need for innovation at the cell and module level, the vast majority of module manufacturers are interested in and excited about the prospect of SolFilm.

The solar industry has been aware of the properties and potential of GaAs in PV for many years since it has been successfully deployed on concentrator PV projects and in outer space. We are on the path to becoming the first company manufacturing mainstream GaAs solar technology at low cost, which has generated significant anticipation of SolFilm in the industry.

The boost that a GaAs material in tandem conjunction with Si/CIGS is also well known. The record is 33% efficiency in this combination. It is our job to demonstrate the product. We have shown that the process of SolFilm works, and we have demonstrated with a world-record nanowire cell that nanowires can make good solar cells. We now need the funds to optimize and scale the form factor. It’s more a matter of when it will happen than if it will happen.

Chester: I’ve seen you talk about how strong the solar market, both commercial and residential, is and how that shows the high, high ceiling of Sol Voltaics’ market potential. Are you seeing a future where SolFilm is in most of the world’s solar panels? What sort of rollout strategy would get you to that point?

Smith: There are a number of rollout strategies we can take. The good news is that the terrestrial solar panel market is already $40 billion a year. So, there is plenty of room for growth.

 

For more information on Sol Voltaics’ continued developments, visit their website for regular updates and follow them on LinkedIn.

About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates the Chester Energy and Policy blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.

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Small Modular Reactors: Launching in 2018 https://solartribune.com/small-modular-reactors-launching-in-2018/ Tue, 14 Aug 2018 18:13:11 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=13994 Small modular reactors (SMRs) are an innovation on nuclear plant design that could replace coal-fired steam turbines with zero or near-zero carbon emissions.  While there are approximately 50 SMR designs around the world, only NuScale, an SMR-startup based in Portland, Oregon, has sought US licensing.   NuScale cleared stage one of the US Nuclear Regulatory […]

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Small modular reactors (SMRs) are an innovation on nuclear plant design that could replace coal-fired steam turbines with zero or near-zero carbon emissions. 

While there are approximately 50 SMR designs around the world, only NuScale, an SMR-startup based in Portland, Oregon, has sought US licensing.  

NuScale cleared stage one of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approval process in April, 2018 leading to hopes for a renewed US nuclear energy program.  

“Renewables are not capable of meeting 100 percent of our global energy needs,” says NuScale Communications Director Mariam Nabizad. “By adding the reliable, flexible carbon-free energy NuScale can provide to complement solar and wind, we can make a real difference in mitigating climate change. This remains a top priority for our customers and prospects, both across the U.S. and around the world.”

Here’s what you need to know about this technology in the context of renewables:

BASICS OF SMR

The key word for the SMR nuclear reactor design is ‘flexible’.   

  • They can provide variable output to “load-follow”, which keeps an electrical grid balanced as renewables like sun and wind rise and fall, and demand varies.
  • They can power small grids or provide graduated support on a big one.
  • They can provide options for utility companies to diversify into reduced-carbon nuclear power without the large scale investment of standard plants.

SMRs currently represent a favorable interim investment for North American nuclear energy, which has slowed construction of standard nuclear designs in recent years.

The US leads the world nuclear industry in reactor design.  But while the US has more operating reactors (61 plants, 99 reactors, constructing 2 reactors ),  recently China (40 reactors, constructing 20 reactors) and Russia (35 reactors, constructing 20 reactors) have become far more efficient at rolling out the technology for public use.   

Civilian use of nuclear power has geopolitical implications. In 2016 the US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz warned that the failure to invest in nuclear energy had the potential to significantly weaken the US’s position in global non-nonproliferation negotiations.

As the first, and only SMR design to seek US licensing NuScale is leading the pack to restore the US nuclear economy.  NuScale’s product design was funded by $228 million in grants from the US Department of Energy, it’s first customer is the municipal association Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems and the potential buyers reported by the New York Times include Tennessee Valley Authority.  Future design competitors may include Westinghouse with an SMR design on hold, GE as a recent market entry with a boiling water design, and even smaller “microreactor” designs from HolosGen and Oklo.

Across the border, Canada’s federal authority, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), is rapidly collecting public feedback in the midst of updating its regulatory strategy for SMRs.

CNSC is addressing key questions about the regulatory and licensing implications presented by SMRs,” says Cristina Canas, a senior communications advisor. “To meet regulatory requirements, safety claims must be supported by suitable scientific information.”

No energy technology is without debate. SMRs haven’t had a chance to prove themselves in the day-to-day life of North Americans. This is why there are both passionate proponents and dire predictions of gloom regarding their future.

However, when it comes to utilizing new technology, society always includes a wide spectrum of tech innovators, early-adopters, late-adopters and laggards. So, the best way to beat the hype, pacify naysayers, and determine the true commercial viability of a new product is from a trial of pragmatic implementation.

Here’s hoping NuScale can execute its vision to offer the world a safer and more flexible energy to complement renewables!

By Drea Burbank, MD, Peter Worden and Prachur Shrivastava.  Drea is a science writer, Peter is a veteran journalist and Prachur is an experienced researcher.  Image NuScale Small Modular Reactor Design courtesy of NuScale Power.

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Solar Challenge 2018: Pushing the EV envelope https://solartribune.com/solar-challenge-2018-pushing-the-ev-envelope/ Mon, 23 Jul 2018 21:18:00 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=13931 Since 1990, young engineers and aspiring auto designers from universities across the world have been gathering every other summer to compete in one of the world’s premier solar vehicle races. This year, the field was brighter than ever. The American Solar Challenge alternates years with the World Solar Challenge (held in Australia) and takes place […]

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Since 1990, young engineers and aspiring auto designers from universities across the world have been gathering every other summer to compete in one of the world’s premier solar vehicle races. This year, the field was brighter than ever.

The American Solar Challenge alternates years with the World Solar Challenge (held in Australia) and takes place in a different part of North America every two years. This year’s race began in Omaha, Nebraska on July 14th, and reached the finish line in Bend, Oregon on July 22nd, with a course that roughly followed the path of the early pioneers on the Oregon Trail. The race is held on public highways, in a multi-day rally format. The winner is determined by which team can complete the entire course with the shortest total elapsed time.


This year’s race proved to be a David and Goliath story, and after completing all five legs of the race, an Australian team from Western Sydney University unseated the solar racing giant University of Michigan. With a development and support team half the size of many of the seasoned competitors, WSU’s car, Unlimited 2.0, defeated Michigan by 16 minutes– a squeaker by solar car racing standards. Project lead Saami Bashar called the final days of the event “very stressful, very competitive and very close.”

“Michigan is a high-caliber team, they are such fierce competitors, they had a lot to prove by racing against us, and they haven’t lost a competition since 2001,” Mr. Bashar told Australian Associated Press from the US on Monday.

Unlimited 2.0 utilizes a Monocoque Carbon Fiber chassis, carbon fiber wheels, a 960W Silicon solar array and 5kWh Lithium Ion batteries.

The results are in

Teams competed in three classes; single occupant vehicles (SOV), multi-occupant vehicles (MOV) and demonstration (DEMO.) 2018 was the first year to include the MOVs, with an Italian team from University of Bologna defeating another American solar racing giant, University of Minnesota. The final standings for the 2018 races are as follows:

SOV


MOV

DEMO

Solar Cars? Really?

Before you head out in search of a dealership to buy yourself a solar car, we need to point out that 100% solar-powered cars are not only not ready for commercialization, but they may never be. The solar race cars designed and built by the student teams are spartan affairs, something akin to a cross between a recumbent bike and a bobsled, with a canopy composed of no more than 6 square meters of photovoltaic cells. No trunk, no air conditioning, not even a cup holder.

“It’s about 95 degrees and humid,” Kathy Van Wormer, co-captain of the Oregon State University Solar Vehicle Team told Wired in 2008. “In the car, it’s about 110. However, what’s got us worried is the wind. The car is shaped like an airplane wing.”

Not only are the cars hot, cramped and slightly dangerous, but they also aren’t very fast. The average speed of the fastest cars this year was somewhere around 45 MPH.

Okay, so the 100% solar-powered car is still far in the future, but what about current EVs, could they benefit from onboard PV panels integrated into the roof, hood and trunk? Another Wired article points out that even Tesla’s electric semi truck, with all of its surface area covered in solar panels, would require 80 hrs to charge the batteries. Obviously, there are A LOT of solar panel performance gains to be made before passenger vehicles will be able to be self-charging.

photo:Tesla

For now, 100% solar-powered vehicles are a long way off, but let’s take a look at the gains made over the nearly 30 years of solar racing.

A history of technical breakthroughs

SunRayce 1993 Photo: Purdue Solar Racing

Like any form of auto racing, solar racing has seen significant advancements that are reflected, most clearly, in increases in both average and top speed, and decreasesin elapsed times. The University of Michigan won the first race in 1990 (then called the GM Sunrayce) covering just over 1800 miles in about 73 hours. That’s an average speed of under 25 MPH! Speeds have improved steadily, with top speeds now well over 65 MPH and average speeds pushing toward 50. Starting in 2008, new safety rules and restrictions on active panel surface area were instituted to keep student racers safe.

These gains are due primarily to the advances in solar panel efficiency, along with increased focus on more conventional automotive design areas like .aerodynamic efficiency and suspension packaging.

The future of design

The greatest thing about the Solar Challenge is the grassroots nature of the event. The teams are student-run, and the relative success of the teams depend on the establishment of a cross-disciplinary team of imaginative young people. Solar Tribune congratulates all of the teams who competed this year, and we hope to see more great things from these young innovators in the future!

 

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Bright Future Ahead for Solar-Powered Drones https://solartribune.com/solar-powered-drones/ Wed, 27 Jun 2018 15:13:03 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=11815 Despite Facebook’s recent grounding of it’s solar drone program, the long-term future looks bright for solar powered drones. The simultaneous proliferation of solar panels and drones in modern society provides a sneak peak of what the future holds for these constantly innovating technologies. Two Fitting Partners If you want to win some easy money, bet […]

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Despite Facebook’s recent grounding of it’s solar drone program, the long-term future looks bright for solar powered drones.

The simultaneous proliferation of solar panels and drones in modern society provides a sneak peak of what the future holds for these constantly innovating technologies.

Two Fitting Partners

If you want to win some easy money, bet on there being a whole lot more solar panels on the ground and drones in the skies in the near future.

The FAA predicts small, hobbyist drone purchases to more than double from 1.9 million in 2016 to 4.3 million by 2020. The agency also predicts that drone sales for commercial purposes will increase just as dramatically from 600,000 in 2016 to 2.7 million in 2020.

The projected growth in U.S. and global solar capacity is equally robust. The U.S. solar market alone is expected to triple in capacity from 42 GW in 2016 to 128 GW in 2020. Global solar energy capacity will increase at a similarly steep clip, as China drives global demand and ramps up their own solar panel production capabilities.

The anticipated ubiquity of these two technologies is fueling promising new business opportunities tied to solar-powered drones for hobbyists, businesses, and the government.

Source: Alibaba.com

Traditional drones rely on a battery that carries a finite charge, often measured in mere hours. This reality partially negates the endurance advantage that drones have over aircraft that require a human pilot. Solar power is a golden ticket for expanding the possible applications of drones, because it solves the central limitation confronting conventional drones – longevity.

Perfecting the Technology

Heavy and bulky solar panels are unfeasible for drone applications, but a next generation-type of flexible, thin, and lightweight solar cell has solved that problem.

Since its founding in 2008, Alta Devices has gone on to be recognized as the industry leader in developing drone-compatible solar energy solutions. The company specializes in multi-junction solar cells, which incorporates multiple semiconductor materials that allow for the absorption of a broader range of wavelengths. The result is greater sunlight to electrical energy conversion rates that allow Alta Devices to pack a lot of power into their thin solar cells, while not compromising their aerodynamic-friendly physical properties.

Source: Fortune.com

Alta Devices’ bread-and-butter product is a Gallium Arsenide (GaAs) solar cell. GaAs is a chemical compound of gallium and arsenic that is increasingly being used for solar cell manufacturing purposes (over traditional silicon) due to its high efficiency. GaAs is resistant to moisture and UV radiation, making it a highly durable medium for solar cell applications.

GaAs solar cells first came onto the scene in the 1970s at the height of the space race. Noted USSR physicist Zhores Alferov is credited with developing the first highly effective GaAs heterostructure solar cells in 1970. It’s lightweight, thin, and durable properties have traditionally made it a preferred product for PV arrays on satellites and space vehicles.

The technology has come a long way since the 1970s, though, thanks to technological advances made by Alta Devices. Alta Devices boasts the world’s most efficient GaAs-based solar cells that are used for commercial purposes.

In 2016, Alta’s dual-junction solar cell achieved a solar efficiency score of 31.6% from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), meaning that the solar cell converted direct sunlight into electricity at 31.6% efficiency. Alta claims energy efficiency records for both the dual-junction solar cell (31.6%) and the single-junction solar cell (28.8%). In a crowded field of competitors operating in the multijunction solar cell space, Alta Devices is the clear industry leader.

Alta’s high efficiency, low-weight solar cells have fundamentally changed the economics of drone technology for both small UAVs and HALE (high altitude long endurance) UAVs.

Source: Unmannedsystemstechnology.com

Tech Giants Embracing Solar-Powered Drones

Among the promising future applications for reliable solar-powered drones is to use them to beam broadband Internet to rural and underserved areas of the world.

Global tech giants, Google and Facebook, have in the past few years invested heavily in R&D related to possibly transmitting broadband internet from the sky through unmanned aerial devices. The results of their efforts have been somewhat mixed. Very recently, Facebook grounded it’s fleet of solar powered drones.

Google acquired drone startup Titan Aerospace in April 2014. Shortly after the acquisition, Google began Project Skybender, which was an effort to study the feasibility of using drones to deliver low-cost internet access to remote regions of the world.

Source: The Verge

Google’s solar-powered drone suffered a crash in New Mexico in 2015, with the NTSB citing wing damage as the cause. In 2016, Google abandoned its plans to pursue Project Skybender, due in part to the more promising prospects of Project Loon, which uses a balloon-like device to pursue the same goal of aerial internet connectivity. Google’s Project Loon also uses solar cells and a battery storage device as the only sole source powering its balloons.

Source: Engineering.com

While Google abandoned its solar-powered drone project, fellow tech juggernaut Facebook appears much more bullish on the potential of its own solar-powered drone program. Facebook acquired small UK-based aviation company Ascenta in March 2014. The company then launched Project Aquila, which seeks to use a solar-powered drone to deliver internet service to remote regions of the world.

Through its internet.org initiative, Facebook has been clear about its mission to build drones, satellites, and lasers that deliver internet to all the billions of people in the world who lack reliable Internet access.

To date, Aquila has completed two successful test flights, in addition to one unsuccessful flight due to a turbulence-induced broken wing. Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg have given all indication that they are committed to their solar-powered drone program. Zuckerberg views solar-powered drones that enable billions of dislocated people on the planet to connect to the Internet to be a potential watershed moment for humankind. As Zuckerberg put it after Aquila’s first successful flight last year:

“The internet really does bring so many opportunities to people. There are all these studies that show that for every 10 people that get on the internet, about one person gets lifted out of poverty, and almost one new job gets created. If you’re talking about 4 billion people who are not on the internet, spreading internet connectivity is clearly one of the biggest things we can do to improve the quality of life for so many people around the world… I think the future is going to be thousands of solar-powered planes on the outskirts of places where people live. That’s going to make connectivity both much more available and cheaper.”

Following Aquila’s successful second flight this summer, Zuckerberg optimistically posted on Facebook:

“When Aquila is ready, it will be a fleet of solar-powered planes that will beam internet connectivity across the world. Today, more than half the world’s population — 4 billion people — still can’t access the internet. One day, Aquila will help change that.”

A New Global Arms Race

A couple generations ago, the U.S. and the former Soviet Union were engaged in a race to explore outer space. Fast forward several decades later, and solar-powered drones are fueling a similar kind of arms race.

In June, China’s largest unmanned solar-powered UAV, the Caihong-T4, set a domestic record by reaching an altitude of over 12 miles during a secretive test flight. The Caihong-T4 is equipped with eight propellers that are powered entirely by solar energy. It’s wingspan of about 130 feet makes it wider than a Boeing 737 jetliner, however, the Caihong-T4 weighs between 880 to 1,100 pounds, or about 1% of the total empty weight of a Boeing 737.

Details by the Chinese government have been vague, but all indications are that the Caihong-T4 will be used as a “quasi-satellite” with applications ranging from transmitting telecommunications services domestically to being used for military-related information gathering.

China’s Caihong-T4 unmanned UAV is second only in size and capabilities to the United States’ NASA Helios Prototype, which boasts a 247-ft wingspan and can fly over 18 miles up in the air. Other countries like the United Kingdom have shown interest in solar-powered drones, with the UK going as far as to purchase two Zephyr S solar-powered drones from Airbus last year.

Source: DailyMail.com

Solar-powered drones like the Caihong-T4, NASA Helios Prototype, and Zephyr S that can stay airborne for months or potentially years have significant geo-political implications. Solar-powered drones are ideally suited for carrying out extensive surveillance and military reconnaissance operations. These sub-orbital drones are capable of collecting similarly high-quality imagery as traditional satellites, at a fraction of the cost.

Recent solicitations for “ultra-long endurance” UAVs by the U.S. Department of Defense further underscore the United States’ interest in harnessing the potential of solar-powered drones for military applications.

The Next Big Thing?

While it’s easy to fall victim to “shiny object syndrome,” it’s hard not to get excited about the bright prospects that lay ahead for solar-powered drones.

It is exciting to be alive in an era where renewable energy solutions ranging from solar-powered drones to electric autonomous vehicles seem poised to solve major problems facing our world.

As solar and drone technologies continue to advance and converge, the future applications of solar-powered drones comes better into focus. Facebook and Google’s efforts to use solar-powered aerial devices to connect billions to the Internet could revolutionize the global economy and the human experience. Multi-billion-dollar traditional satellites could be replaced by substantially cheaper solar-powered drones operating in near space. Military reconnaissance, weather and wildlife data collection, and drone-based delivery for disaster relief and commercial retailers are just a sampling of the other activities that could be made markedly more efficient and economical due to solar-powered drones.

Solar-powered drones are just another example of the tremendous potential of leveraging solar energy to solve some of the most pressing challenges of our time.

 

Featured Image Source: Nasa.gov

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Tech Giants Help Fuel Growth in Solar, Renewables https://solartribune.com/tech-giants-help-fuel-growth-in-solar-renewables/ https://solartribune.com/tech-giants-help-fuel-growth-in-solar-renewables/#comments Mon, 30 Apr 2018 15:43:53 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=13761 Major tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon are increasingly embracing renewable energy sources – like solar – to meet their growing energy demands. As major tech companies grow in influence and ubiquity, the footprint of their energy-guzzling data centers also continues to expand. The data stored and transmitted through these data centers help to […]

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Major tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon are increasingly embracing renewable energy sources – like solar – to meet their growing energy demands.

As major tech companies grow in influence and ubiquity, the footprint of their energy-guzzling data centers also continues to expand. The data stored and transmitted through these data centers help to keep the global economy humming and the human experience pleasant in the Digital Age. The critical role that these data centers play in improving our quality of life, however, comes at a cost.

In 2014, data centers consumed an estimated 70 billion kWh of electricity, equivalent to the energy consumed by 6.4 million average American households that year. The energy consumption figure for data centers is expected to grow to 73 billion kWh by 2020. Efficiency improvements in data storage have slowed the consumption patterns of data centers somewhat, compared to the previous decade, but critics still decry their massive energy consumption habits.

In an effort to combat public scrutiny and be more socially responsible in their business practices, tech firms are increasingly turning to renewable energy sources to meet their out-sized energy needs. This trend is having a significant ripple effect on the broader industrial energy market in the U.S. as more and more mainstream companies follow the lead of Big Tech and flood the renewables market to take advantage of the lower costs that first movers in Big Tech helped to spur.

In 2017, 43 businesses signed long-term agreements for 5.4 gigawatts of clean energy worldwide, a record figure up from 4.3 gigawatts in 2016.

long-term renewable energy contracts

In case there was any doubt about who is leading this new corporate trend towards renewable energy, the top global corporate buyers of renewable energy last year were Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple.

 

corporate purchasers of renewable energy

Source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance

Since 2014, over 100 companies worldwide have committed themselves to a goal of being powered 100% by renewable energy sources. This global initiative called RE100 is representative of the tectonic shift that has occurred in the corporate community in recent decades as the business case and moral case for clean energy grows harder and harder to refute.

In the current political environment, the sustainable energy practices of Big Tech are especially noteworthy, as  industry players fill a renewable energy leadership void vacated by the federal government.

As Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s corporate energy strategy analyst, Kyle Harrison, puts it:

“The growth in corporate procurement, despite political and economic barriers, demonstrates the importance of environmental, social and governance issues for companies. Sustainability and acting sustainably in many instances are even more important, for the largest corporate clean energy buyers around the world, than any savings made on the cost of electricity.”

Multi-national tech firms have cemented themselves as the pioneers of this new era of clean energy-inspired corporate responsibility. In the past couple of months alone, tech giants have hit numerous renewable energy milestones.

-Apple: This month, Apple announced that all of its global operations (including retail stores, data centers, and offices) are 100% powered by renewable energy. Apple’s leadership is having positive downstream effects, as 23 of their suppliers have also committed themselves to a goal of operating entirely on renewable energy.

-Microsoft: In March, Microsoft announced the largest corporate purchase of solar power in U.S. history in the form of an agreement with sPower to purchase 315 megawatts of solar-generated electricity in Virginia. Microsoft’s global operations have been 100% powered by renewable energy since 2014.

Google: Earlier this month, Google announced that their total purchase of energy from renewable sources exceeded, for the first time, the total electricity consumed by its global operations last year. Google is the largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy in the world.

-Facebook: In March, Facebook announced a deal to buy all of the power generated from a 320-megawatt wind farm in Nebraska by 2029 that will eventually power a new data center to be located about 120 miles from the farm. Facebook has a goal of reaching 50% clean and renewable energy in their data center electricity supply mix by the end of this year.

-Amazon: While most of their industry peers are leading the way in purchasing renewable energy, Amazon is a corporate leader in generating their own renewable energy. In SEIA’s 2017 Solar Means Business Report released earlier this month, Amazon ranked 10th among corporate on-site solar energy users. In Amazon’s Q1 financial statements, they revealed that 15 of their fulfillment centers in the U.S. have solar panels affixed to them, and the company is committed to increasing that number to 50 fulfillment centers by 2020.

Major tech firms face more scrutiny these days over their size and influence than every before. While debates on Capitol Hill and elsewhere about the role of Big Tech have merit, much of the enormous progress that the world has achieved in the expansion of the renewable energy sector is owed in part to these companies.

On this topic, at least, Big Tech deserves the good headlines they’ve earned.

 

Cover photo source: Google

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Innovations Spur Era of Rapidly Declining Solar Costs https://solartribune.com/residential-solar-cost-trends/ https://solartribune.com/residential-solar-cost-trends/#comments Wed, 11 Apr 2018 10:02:04 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=13343 In the midst of the dramatic headlines that have accompanied the solar energy sector in recent months, it’s easy to forget about the remarkable progress that the sector has enjoyed in this decade alone. Much of this growth can be attributed to the array of industry-specific innovations that have put substantial downward pressure on solar […]

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In the midst of the dramatic headlines that have accompanied the solar energy sector in recent months, it’s easy to forget about the remarkable progress that the sector has enjoyed in this decade alone. Much of this growth can be attributed to the array of industry-specific innovations that have put substantial downward pressure on solar energy costs for the average residential consumer.

Plummeting Costs Translate to Soaring Residential Generation

In economics, the law of demand states that as the price of a good decreases, demand for that good will increase. This economic truism explains how the once nascent solar energy sector in the U.S. grew by leaps and bounds over the span of just a handful of years.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) released a report last year modeling the all-in cost for solar energy systems, accounting for all system and project-development costs incurred during installation. The report provided time-series cost benchmarks dating back to 2010.

In modeling residential system costs in the study, the NREL assumed a 5.7 kWh system using 60-cell, multi-crystalline, 16.2%-efficient modules from a Tier 1 supplier on a standard flush mount, pitched-roof racking system. According to NREL estimates, total installed systems costs for residential solar PV systems have dramatically declined since 2010. The estimated all-in cost for residential solar systems in Q1 2017 were $2.80 per direct current watts (Wdc), a decline of 61% since 2010.

Meanwhile, total solar PV capacity and solar generation from residential sources in the U.S. have skyrocketed over the same time period, as the industry has scaled up. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, total solar PV generation from residential sources in the U.S. stood at just under 14 billion kWh in 2017, which is more than 14 times where it was in 2010.

Source: Data from National Renewable Energy Laboratory & U.S. Energy Information Administration, graphic by Solar Tribune

Declining Residential Costs by Sub-Group

The steady decline in the costs associated with residential solar PV systems, for both the developer and the end-user, have been driven by cost decreases across an array of component sub-groups. Costs of solar modules, solar inverters, and related electrical/hardware components in particular have plummeted since 2010, while the declining cost of installation labor has been the predominant driver of declining “soft costs” associated with residential solar energy systems.

Source: Data from National Renewable Energy Laboratory, graphic by Solar Tribune

The decline in recent years of the hard costs associated with residential solar systems has been especially significant in making solar a more financially feasible investment for U.S. consumers. NREL cost benchmarks estimate that solar module prices have plummeted from $2.57 per watt DC (Wdc) in 2010 to a mere $0.35/Wdc in Q1 2017, representing a decline of over 86% in just 7 years. The cost of inverters and the cost of associated electrical/hardware component parts per watt DC declined by 59% and 37% respectively over the same time period.

Source: Data from National Renewable Energy Laboratory, graphic by Solar Tribune

What follows is a more detailed look at some of the major innovations that have helped significantly bring down costs for residential solar energy systems.

Solar Module Cost Trends

The affordability of solar energy systems today versus roughly a decade ago is owned in large part to the stunning decrease in the price per kWh of solar PV panels themselves. In the mid-70’s, the price of a solar panel exceeded $100 per watt. Fast forward almost 30 years later, and that price is now under $0.40 per watt.

Source: Cleantechnica.com

So, what happened in those 30-some years for solar panels to become so much cheaper? The primary answer is that the solar industry benefited from experience curve effects, like improvements in technology and economies of scale. The experience curve effect basically describes the dynamic that causes the price of a good to decrease when the cumulative volume of that good increases.

The continuous improvements in solar cell technologies also explain why mainstream solar panel prices have fallen so much in recent decades. The one-upmanship between solar cell manufacturers seeking to make their solar cells more and more efficient has broadly helped drive down the price of solar panels.

More efficient panels are also able to capture more of the sun’s energy while taking up less rooftop surface area. This allows for greater opportunities to sell more solar generation capacity, which in turn helps to further bring down solar costs.

The following chart from the NREL of best-in-class solar cell efficiency rates shows the marked improvement in efficiency rates of high-end solar cells over the years.

Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Emerging PV technologies like perovskite cells, solar thermophotovoltaic devices, and quantum dot solar cells, are just now beginning to have their potential realized. As these PV technologies mature, the average solar customer will benefit from the added efficiencies that these products will bring to the solar module market.

Solar Inverters Cost Trends

Historically, solar inverters have always comprised a small share of the total cost of a solar energy system. Even so, the cost per watt of this critical piece of hardware continues to steadily decline. The $0.19 cost per watt DC for solar inverters in 2017 was more than half of what it was just 7 years ago. According to Deutsche Bank, solar inverters typically decline in price each year by about 10-15%. This matches the average 9% year-to-year decline that the NREL noted in their cost benchmarks from 2010-2017.

From string inverters to micro inverters to power optimizers, technological advances in the solar inverter market continue to result in more efficient and less costly options for the average solar user.

Solar Racking Cost Trends

In addition to the solar panels themselves, the cost of installing solar PV systems in the form of racking system costs and labor costs constitute the bulk of what you pay for when get a solar energy system placed on your rooftop.

Just like solar panels and solar inverters, efficiency improvements in how solar racking systems are manufactured and in how they are eventually installed are helping to reduce the overall cost of a residential solar energy system. Integrated-racking systems and pre-assembled rooftop racking systems are among the innovations that have significantly reduced the costs of installing rooftop solar energy systems.

The new generation of rooftop solar solutions that includes solar shingles, solar roof tiles, and similar roof-integrated solar solutions are further helping to reduce otherwise unnecessary costs unique to rack-mounted panels. These solar products almost entirely eliminate the abundance of nuts, bolts, wires, and assorted metal components that make traditional rack-mounted solar energy systems both more expensive and laborious to install.

Soft Costs Trends

While the bulk of the decline in residential solar costs can be attributed to hardware cost declines, soft costs have also declined steadily over the years. Solar soft costs from the end-user’s perspective are comprised of install labor and all other soft cost sub-groups like sales tax, overhead, net profit, and fees associated with permitting, inspection, and interconnection (PII).

Since 2010, costs associated with install labor have declined by 73%, while all other soft costs declined by a combined 37%. Despite these declines, soft costs have been markedly more stubborn than hardware costs, where price declines – especially for PV modules – have been more pronounced. Soft costs actually increased marginally from 2016-2017. More importantly, the proportion of total residential solar costs tied up in soft costs was 68% in 2017, compared to 2010 when the share was just 50%.

Source: Data from National Renewable Energy Laboratory, graphic by Solar Tribune

With hardware prices falling nearly as low as they can go and government subsidies for solar likely to decrease, future reductions in solar costs will almost assuredly have to come from a reduction in soft costs. The soft cost category is ripe for innovation, and there is evidence that the growing synergies between IT and solar will help chip away at solar soft costs. Companies like Geostellar, which uses an online platform to reduce customer acquisition costs, and EnergyBin, a B2B online marketplace where solar industry players can buy and sell products, are among the creative tech-based solutions to the solar soft cost predicament.

Both Geostellar and EnergyBin have received funding from the Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative, which is pursuing a multi-pronged program to lower solar soft costs. Supporting tech innovators and other software-based cost-cutting solutions is a top SunShot priority.

Solar Financing Tools

While widespread cost reductions in the actual manufacturing and installation of solar panels have made them more affordable for your average American consumer, the availability of solar financing tools have also lowered the financial barriers to entry for prospective customers. These tools – often backed by governments, financial institutions, and solar companies – are a sign of an industry that has scaled and matured in recent years.

-Solar loans: Solar loans, both secured and unsecured, are now more ubiquitous than ever before, with traditional banks and solar companies themselves being the typical source of the lending. Other solar loans, like Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) loans are backed by a municipal government, and typically come with low rates like traditional secured solar loans.

-Federal/State Incentives: The 30% federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for solar has long been the mainstay government-backed financial tool for making solar energy investments affordable. An array of state and local governments offer their own incentives, that when combined with the ITC, can significantly bring down the cost for the consumer.

-Solarize & crowdfunding: Initially pioneered in Portland in 2009, “Solarize” programs allow for the cost of solar to be driven down through bulk purchases that often benefit whole neighborhoods or communities. Solarize programs are typically sponsored by a local nonprofit organization, in partnership with area commercial solar installation companies. A number of solar-specific crowdfunding platforms, like Mosaic and SunFunder, have also revolutionized how solar energy is financed, opening doors to under-served consumers in the process.

The myriad of financial tools that are available to subsidize solar investments have done wonders to ease the cost burden for the average consumer. These innovations in the solar industry are generally recent phenomena that underscore how mainstream and affordable solar has become this decade alone.

Although the solar tariffs, and steel and aluminum tariffs implemented by the Trump Administration will likely raise solar costs for U.S. consumers in the short-term, the long-term trend is unmistakable – solar energy costs are rapidly declining. This fact is due in large part to the constant innovation taking place in the industry that is leading to more efficient and affordable products for the solar energy user. Here’s hoping this long-term trend continues.

 

Cover photo source: Cnbc.com

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Holiday Guide To Solar Gifts https://solartribune.com/holiday-guide-solar-gifts/ Sun, 26 Nov 2017 13:09:56 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=12110 We generally stick to serious solar news and analysis, but even we like to take a break to get into the holiday spirit! Does it feel like the holidays are all about consuming? Let solar energy bring a little sustainability to your seasonal celebration! We at Solar Tribune are dreaming of a greener Christmas, so […]

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We generally stick to serious solar news and analysis, but even we like to take a break to get into the holiday spirit!

Does it feel like the holidays are all about consuming? Let solar energy bring a little sustainability to your seasonal celebration! We at Solar Tribune are dreaming of a greener Christmas, so here is our seasonal solar gift guide!

In the Northern hemisphere, the days are growing short as we approach the winter solstice- the shortest day of the year. It may seem like a strange time to be thinking about collecting energy from the sun, but with the holiday shopping season kicking off this weekend, it’s actually an excellent time to consider adding a little solar power to Santa’s celebration. You don’t have to cover your roof with solar panels to enjoy saving energy, money and reducing your carbon footprint with solar.

Cool Solar Toys

Solar toys can be educational as well as a lot of fun. There are a lot of great kits out there that give kids a chance to experiment and learn, and others are just plain entertaining. A few of our favorites include:

 

NSI Smithsonian Eco Rover

Kids 8 and up can build their own working rover with the NSI Smithsonian Eco Rover. The bright orange and green rover is easy to assemble, sturdy, and operates in forward and reverse. One cool feature- in case of cloudy days, it comes with a nifty hand-crank generator to provide power. A great hands-on experience!

Best Online Price: On sale for $37.99 at Kohls.

4M KidsLabs Solar Mechanic Science Kit

Like the Eco Rover, this Solar Mechanics kit comes with both solar panels and a hand crank generator. It can be assembled to power a vibrating robot that slides across the floor, A cooling fan, an illusion and more. The fun and the power are unlimited. This green science kit is environmentally friendly and uses repurposed materials. Again, for kids 8 and up.

Best Online Price: $15.95 at Walmart.

Solar Powered Thomas Edison Figurine

Wait, What? I know it’s goofy, but I love this one. Set the great inventor in the sun, and when he is charged up, you can turn on the lightbulb in his hand! How cool is that? Well, if Edison isn’t your favorite, you can also get a solar Einstein, a solar Pope, a solar Napoleon, or a solar Queen Elizabeth. They are all made by novelty company Kikkerland, who makes other nifty solar gizmos as well.

Best online price: $25.00 from Kikkerland

Solar Decorations

LED Solar String Lights

These unique droplet-shaped lights add a unique effect to outdoor holiday lighting. Place the small solar panel in the direct sun during the day for 8 hours of light at night on a full charge. The kit includes a 20-foot-long string of 30 lights with solar-rechargeable battery.

Best online price: $10.95 Amazon Prime

Solar Star Lanterns

These lanterns add a lot of impact and are easy to put up and take down. They are high-quality, durable, have an integrated solar panel on top and an auto on/off feature to bring them on at dark. I also like that they have an easy to replace rechargeable battery, unlike so many of the cheap solar yard lights.

Best online price: $34.95 at Plow and Hearth

Solar Nativity Scene

For a traditional Christmas display powered with safe, clean solar power, this is a pretty nifty-looking product. According to the manufacturer: Crafted from iron, this celestial figure is powered by the solar panel attachment. The solar panel requires 1 AA battery to operate, which is included. When fully powered, these garden stakes glow for up to 8 hours. The Size is: 23″x28″.

Best online price: $39.99 at Cokesbury

Solar Gifts

Solar Backpack

There are a lot of backpacks and laptop bags with integrated solar panels these days, but in a lot of cases the panel and battery isn’t big enough to give a lot of charge, and they are light on features. Not so with the Ghostek NRGsolar Series 40L Eco Laptop/messenger backpack. This bag is well built and compact but has a compartment large enough for a 15” laptop. It also features a 16,000mAh Battery + 8.8-Watt Solar Panel, 5 USB Ports Total (2-Ports On Solar Panel, 2-Ports Inside Backpack, 1 External Port) and an Integrated LED Power Bar Indicator.

Best Online Price: $99.95 at Amazon Prime

All-American Sun Oven

This solar cooker has been around for a while, and anyone who has used one knows how fun and effective they are! The Sun Oven is American made by a small mom & pop company, which I like. It is perfect for cookouts, campouts, scout troops, 4H clubs and schools. It will bake bread or cookies, cook a dutch oven meal, make jerky or dehydrate fruit and vegetables for storage. Since it uses no flame, it’s great for using at parks or on a boat!

Best Online Price: $261.00 at Solar Home

Homepower Magazine Subscription

If you know someone who is into renewable energy, there is no better publication than Home Power. A subscription will keep them up to date on the latest in solar, windpower, micro-hydro, electric vehicles… whatever is out there, Home Power covers it. AND- the online archives go all the way back to 1987! It’s fun to go back and read about the real pioneers in the field, and there are some pretty cool DIY projects that are still relevant and educational. Endless hours of fun!!

One year subscription: $14.95 at Home Power

Charitable Gifts

While you are enjoying all of your blessings this holiday season, please remember those less fortunate. This year, you can give a charitable gift that will deepen your commitment to solar energy while helping our fellow Americans who are without electricity.

From the Solar Saves Lives website:

In September 2017, Hurricanes Maria and Irma swept across Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, devastating the lives of 3.5 million American citizens. Several weeks after the storms, the islands remain in urgent need of reliable electricity, clean water, and food. Full restoration of the power grid is expected to take months. Remote and rural locations have been hit especially hard.

The American solar industry has a unique and immediate opportunity to help. Solar and solar + storage technologies can help communities restore electricity and provide essential services like lighting, refrigeration, and fresh water. This will help address immediate, short-term needs while building a more resilient electricity grid for the future.

Solar Saves Lives is an initiative led by The Solar Foundation to coordinate the delivery and installation of donated solar equipment to areas in need.

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Peer-To-Peer Solar and The Bitcoin Revolution https://solartribune.com/peer-peer-solar-bitcoin-revolution/ Mon, 13 Nov 2017 05:00:46 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=12020 Can Bitcoin technology create a truly free market for energy? In March, 2016, Solar Tribune began reporting on how blockchain technology is finding its way into the energy industry. Since then, the number of blockchain pilot projects has boomed in the solar sector, and promising developments may soon bring solar users more autonomy than ever. […]

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Can Bitcoin technology create a truly free market for energy?

In March, 2016, Solar Tribune began reporting on how blockchain technology is finding its way into the energy industry. Since then, the number of blockchain pilot projects has boomed in the solar sector, and promising developments may soon bring solar users more autonomy than ever.  In the increasingly hostile environment for indie solar created by government-sanctioned monopoly utility companies and the coal industry, blockchain tech may be the first major step to changing that paradigm.

Blockchain technology is the foundation for all of the various cryptocurrencies (Bitcoin, Ethereum and ZCash, to name a few) that have older financial analysts grumbling and scratching their heads, while millennial entrepreneurs race to profit.

There are endless articles across the web that go into great detail about how the blockchain works, but for the purpose of this article, all you really need to know is that the blockchain is an encrypted digital ledger that exists not on a central server, but across a network of independent computers, distributed in secure “blocks” of information. Using a block validation system guarantees that nobody can tamper with the records. Old records are kept on the chain to insure that record match and there has been no unauthorized activity. This is why the blockchain is referred to as a mutual distributed ledger (MDL).

On the most basic level, the blockchain is a secure, decentralized accounting system. One top of the ledger, the currency piece comes into play. Cryptocoins News describes how it works like this:

A cryptocurrency is a medium of exchange like normal currencies such as USD, but designed for the purpose of exchanging digital information through a process made possible by certain principles of cryptography. Cryptography is used to secure the transactions and to control the creation of new coins. The first cryptocurrency to be created was Bitcoin back in 2009. Today there are hundreds of other cryptocurrencies, often referred to as Altcoins. Put another way, cryptocurrency is electricity converted into lines of code with monetary value. In the simplest of forms, cryptocurrency is digital currency.Unlike centralized banking, like the Federal Reserve System, where governments control the value of a currency like USD through the process of printing fiat money, government has no control over cryptocurrencies as they are fully decentralized.

 

 

As we can see, electricity is literally at the heart of cryptocurrencies, so it makes perfect sense that solar should be both a fuel source to power the crypto-economy as well as an industry that can take advantage of the blockchain’s decentralized nature. Using the blockchain and cryptocurrencies, neighbors can buy and sell electricity with their neighbors, or even trade solar power with a producer in another country. Even beyond the simple transaction of a customer buying power from a producer, some developers think that blockchain technology can be used to manage how energy is purchased and consumed down to the level of individual devices. In 2016,  IBM and Samsung unveiled a platform for controlling connected devices based on the blockchain called ADEPT. Developers call this “device democracy,” and wrote in a white paper on the subject:

“We demonstrate how, using ADEPT, a humble washer can become a semi-autonomous device capable of managing its own consumables supply, performing self-service and maintenance, and even negotiating with other peer devices both in the home and outside to optimize its environment.”

To be sure, skepticism continues to surround the “Internet of Things” (IoT) and IBM and Samsung may very well have over-reached when it comes to “device democracy.” Likewise, there are plenty of questions about the cryptocurrency teams that are looking to elbow their way onto the energy grid playing field despite their lack of experience in the extremely complex field of energy production and transmission.  An army of new start-ups across the globe are currently raising money through ICOs (Initial Coin Offerings), a controversial practice of launching a new cryptocurrency to quickly pull in cash for an under-funded project.

Despite some dodgy financing on the part of Altcoin entrepreneurs, when it comes to the management of independent solar arrays and microgrids by energy sector veterans, the hype around solar plus blockchain seems to be well-deserved. Blockchain technology does indeed excel in the area of managing distributed resources securely, as well as providing a trading platform that transcends many of the current roadblocks to financing solar projects.

The first two solar/blockchain projects that Solar Tribune featured were Australia’s Power Ledger and the LO3’s Brooklyn Microgrid in Brooklyn, New York. Both companies have seen substantial growth since I wrote about them last year. What follows is an update on those two veteran companies as well as a preview of what’s ahead from some of the rookie players in the arena.

Power Ledger

According to Power Ledger’s website:

“Power Ledger allows for each unit of electricity to be tracked from the point of generation to the point of consumption within the building it is generated, or when sold to other consumers, using the local electricity distribution network. Blockchain technology couples a tracked energy transaction with a financial one, making the process of realizing the value of renewable energy investments simple and secure. Power Ledger allows renewable energy asset owners to decide who they want to sell their surplus energy to and at what price. Energy traded across the distribution network is tracked providing a secure revenue stream for DNSPs (Distributed Network Service Providers).”

Last month, Power Ledger secured $34 million via an initial coin offering (ICO) in one of the largest successful raises by an Australian startup for this alternative mode of financing. This fresh round of funding builds on the $17 million the startup raised in its pre-sale ICO in September this year, which sold out in just 72 hours after its 190 million Power Ledger tokens — called POWRs — were snapped up by buyers on the Ethereum cryptocurrency network.

Power Ledger co-founder Jemma Green told StartupSmart:

We want to focus on the democratization of power and really using our resources efficiently to demonstrate leadership in that area.

Brooklyn Microgrid

The Brooklyn Microgrid launched in 2015 in the Gowanus/Park Slope area of Brooklyn. It was the first of the blockchain-driven solar energy trading systems to roll out, and it has been an extremely successful test platform for the concept. The wide variety of commercial and residential customers, along with the diversity in architecture provided challenges that a newer, less urban neighborhood might not have.

With initial backing from German energy giant Siemens, The company has just pulled in new investments from Braemar Energy Ventures and Centrica Innovations in a series A round of capital financing. Their next step is a pilot project in Germany, the Landau Microgrid Project, at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology with local utility EnergieSüdwest AG.

CEO Lawrence Orsini told Green Tech Media:

There is no command-and-control system that can manage a billion devices at the grid edge efficiently. So there’s a different way you have to manage the level of DERs (. Distributed energy resources) that we’re going to have in the next few years. Blockchain, it turns out, is a really efficient communication platform for value.

Sun Exchange

Sun Exchange is a peer-to-peer solar equipment leasing marketplace based in South Africa. They recently raised $1.6 million in startup money from several partners including New York-based Network Society Ventures. The project uses blockchain technology to allow investors to purchase solar arrays located in the developing world and earn rental income paid in Bitcoin.

Members of the marketplace can finance arrays at hospitals, factories, schools and rural communities in Africa and the Middle East, where the power is needed and the solar assets are good, but capital is lacking.

Greeneum

https://www.greeneum.net/Greeneum is another blockchain newcomer in the energy management space, based in Tel Aviv. In what seems like a potentially over-ambitious plan, they are attempting to introduce blockchain-based “smart-contracts” and Artificial Intelligence (AI) into energy management, and are testing with a system operator in Cypress.   Despite a pretty thin pilot project portfolio, they are planning to launch an ICO before the end of 2017. According to their white paper:

Energy Trading on the GREENEUM system takes place on the electrical grid as well as the GREENEUM blockchain network. Electrical data transmits through a validation process, where the energy is profiled and verified. The system runs periodic calculations of production and consumption on the grid and allows consumers to interact directly with each other. Producers of GREEN energy are rewarded with GREEN certificates and GREENEUM tokens. Consumers use GREENEUM colored tokens (GREEN certificates) for energy consumption…GREEN certificates can be used to convert to GREENEUM tokens in the GREENEUM Energy Trading System. Carbon Credits and GREEN Certificates will be validated, monetized, and globally traded.

WePower

WePower has gotten a considerable amount of positive press lately both from mainstream media and cryptocurrency journalists. They have a relatively simple plan for using smart-contracts and  “tokenizing” energy through an Ethereum-based platform.

WePower is a blockchain-based green energy trading platform. It connects energy buyers (households and investors) directly with the green energy producers and creates an opportunity to purchase energy upfront at below-market rates. WePower uses energy tokenization to standardize, simplify and globally open currently existing energy investment ecosystem. Energy tokenization ensures liquidity and extends access to capital. WePower blockchain solution is already recognized by Elering, one of the most innovative Transmission System Operators in Europe.

They are seeking to raise $30 million, but according to their website: “After a successful public pre-token sale, WePower team has decided to postpone the token sale date to 1st of February, 2018. Decision was led by the need to do a better and more secure token sale…”

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Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: Is Transportation the Next Frontier for Solar? https://solartribune.com/planes-trains-automobiles-transportation-next-frontier-solar/ Mon, 16 Oct 2017 05:06:04 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=11852 Solar Impulse, DEMU, and the World Solar Challenge are all cutting-edge examples of how solar is finding it’s place in the future of transportation. With the advent of cheaper large-scale lithium-ion battery technology, integrated solar technology is beginning to be a more feasible addition to nearly every form of human transportation. From the sublime around […]

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Solar Impulse, DEMU, and the World Solar Challenge are all cutting-edge examples of how solar is finding it’s place in the future of transportation.

With the advent of cheaper large-scale lithium-ion battery technology, integrated solar technology is beginning to be a more feasible addition to nearly every form of human transportation. From the sublime around the world flight in a solar-powered plane by two Swiss adventurers to the mundane practicality of India’s solar-augmented passenger trains, solar transportation isn’t just for space stations anymore.

World Solar Challenge

At the time of this writing, solar cars are crossing the finish line in Australia at the World Solar Challenge. The solar-powered car race first took place in 1987 and has served as a showcase of the latest cutting-edge uses of solar in the automotive setting. The race is a 3,000-kilometer endurance adventure that occurs once every two years.

What began as a race of esoteric-looking single-seater rolling solar arrays now features a “Cruiser Class” of two and four-seater cars that are beginning to look like practical alternatives to petrol-powered vehicles. Event Director Chris Selwood said the Cruiser Class first aimed to deliver a practical demonstration of how the future of automotive technology might look.

“That future is now. These incredible solar cars have been designed with the commercial market in mind and have all the features you’d expect in a family, luxury or sporting car. ‘It’s about so much more than speed. As this part of the judging, based on criteria such as passenger kilometers and energy efficiency draws to a close, we now turn our attention to the most relevant issue of all – do these cars have what it takes to appeal to the consumer?”

In 1987, The General Motors Sunraycer finished the race in just over 45 hours, averaging a speed of 41.5 miles per hour. This year, Team Nuon from the Netherlands won its third straight race, finishing in 38 hours at 56 miles per hour average speed. In the new Cruiser Class, the winner in 2015 was Team Eindhoven’s Stella Lux from the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands with an average speed of 47.68 mph. As of this post, Team Eindhoven is once again dominating the Cruiser Class in 2017. Selwood said;

“Team Eindhoven are to be congratulated on their achievement to date – clearly the most energy efficient solar car in the field, capable of generating more power than they consume. This is the future of solar electric vehicles. When your car is parked at home it can be charging and supplying energy back to the grid.”

Don’t hold your breath waiting for truly solar-powered cars to arrive at the local dealership, though. Dr. Tom Lombardo at engineering.com points out that:

While Toyota engineers are offering a solar option that extends the Prius’ range by about four miles, European engineering students built an EV whose solar panels can add up to 220 miles to the car’s range, proving that although a solar powered car isn’t feasible, a practical, solar assisted EV is, even with current technology.

To Dr. Lombardo’s credit, he does agree that a solar-charged EV could be considered a “solar-powered car,” but he is correct that a commercially produced car with an integrated, self-contained solar power plant and onboard storage like the Stella Lux is still a long way from hitting the dealerships.

Solar Trains: Solar-Assisted DEMU

Diesel Electric Multiple Units (DEMU) are passenger railroad cars that feature a self-contained propulsion system, eliminating the need for a locomotive. DEMUs are different from other self-propelled diesel railcars as the diesel engines power electric drive units rather than directly propelling the carriage. Now, the Indian Railways Organization of Alternative Fuel (IROAF) program is fitting twenty-four coaches with solar panels to alleviate the reliance on the diesel generators and reduce air pollution in India’s congested urban areas.

In keeping with the Indian Railways (IR) ‘Solar Mission’ to reduce dependency on fossil fuels, IR launched its first 1600 HP solar-powered DEMU (Diesel Electric Multiple Unit) train from Safdarjung railway station in July 2017. The train has six trailer coaches, with 16 solar panels fitted in each of them. The solar panels will power all the electrical appliances inside. Presenting the Railway Budget for 2016-17, Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu announced plans to generate 1000 MW solar power in the next five years. According to the India Express, IR is hoping to reduce 239 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions by saving approximately 90,800 liters of diesel per train. Indian Railways estimates that just one train with six solar-panel equipped cars will save around $20,000 per year.

Retrofitting Historic Trains with Solar

Meanwhile, in the Australian beachside town of Byron Bay in New South Wales, two vintage 1949 passenger train carriages have been retrofitted with solar and battery storage to create what the Byron Bay Railroad Company claims is the world’s first 100% solar passenger train. The refurbished two-carriage 600 series train will soon be ferrying passengers along about two miles of restored track between the Byron Bay town center and the North Beach neighborhood – home to Byron Arts Estate, Sunrise Beach and Elements of Byron resort.

The train has a capacity of 100 seated passengers plus standing room, and it will operate an hourly shuttle service between stations for $3AUD for a one-way trip.

The project – restoring the train, repairing the track and bridge, and constructing two platforms – has been entirely funded by Byron Bay Railroad Company, a not-for-profit organization founded by mining millionaires Brian and Peggy Flannery, who also own the five-star Elements resort. The projects development director Jeremy Holmes explained;

“Internally the trains have been restored to as close to their original condition as possible. Some people will be attracted to the heritage nature of the train and service; others will be fascinated by the world’s first solar-powered train.”

Solar Air Travel: Beyond Impulse

Flight may be the most problematic form of transportation to power with solar. However, on July 26th, 2016, the world’s first entirely solar-powered aircraft touched down in Abu Dhabi, completing an epic 505-day odyssey around the globe. Piloted by two Swiss adventurers, Andre Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard, Solar Impulse 2 proved that solar photovoltaic generation of electricity could not only power our homes but also power our dreams.

Solar Impulse 2 was not the first around the world flight to rely on solar power, however. The Breitling Orbiter 3 was the first hot-air balloon to circumnavigate the globe, piloted by Brian Jones and… none other than Bertrand Piccard. Piccard’s first successful trip around the globe in 1999 used solar panels suspended below the gondola to power critical systems.

Chances are, a totally solar-powered airliner is probably never going to happen, according to Aatish Bhatia of Princeton Univerity. In a Wired article entitled “Solar Planes are Cool, but They’re Not the Future of Flight” he wrote;

“Sadly, we still have a long way to go in building a viable, greener alternative to conventional flight… I’ve argued that it isn’t even possible – commercial airplanes are about as energy efficient as they’re ever going to get. The Solar Impulse is certainly an impressive technical feat, and it gets us to think more clearly about what really matters when it comes to building a better airplane.”

Professor Bhatia may be correct, but his back-of-the-envelope calculations using current technologies has not stopped the development of prototype electric planes by NASA, France’s Airbus and others. According to NASA’s Tom Neuman;

“While the range of electric aircraft has been growing, limited flight time remains their main weakness. The reason is that batteries are heavy relative to the propulsive energy they provide—by a factor of 10 or more compared with that of gasoline-powered internal combustion. For ground vehicles, designers can compensate somewhat for this shortcoming by adding more or bigger batteries. But aircraft are extremely sensitive to extra weight: Just about every component of a plane’s structure must grow in size for each added kilogram. The requirement for beefier components, in turn, leads to a heavier aircraft, one that requires still more energy and therefore larger batteries to fly. This vicious circle means that for electric-plane design, adding batteries to boost range isn’t a viable strategy.”

For Now, Solar Assisted Transportation

For now, fully solar-powered transportation is still in the future. However, integrating solar generation into current transportation, from cargo ships to city buses is a completely viable option and can reduce fuel consumption in nearly any system that is currently relying on robbing power from the main engine to generate electricity. Air conditioning, lighting, and any other electrical needs could be handled by lithium batteries and solar, or at the very least augmented. In the words of Solar Impulse’s Bertrand Piccard;

“If an aircraft can fly day and night without fuel, propelled only by solar energy, let no one claim that it is impossible to do the same thing for motor vehicles, heating and air-conditioning systems, and computers. This project voices our conviction that a pioneering spirit with political vision can together change society and bring about an end to fossil fuel dependency.”

 

 

 

 

 

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The Tesla Network: The Future of Fully Autonomous Ride Sharing https://solartribune.com/the-tesla-network/ https://solartribune.com/the-tesla-network/#comments Mon, 31 Jul 2017 19:04:22 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=11541 The autonomous vehicle will revolutionize society in profound ways. Elon Musk is positioning Tesla to lead the way. The Autonomous Vehicle Revolution is Happening Make no mistake about it; autonomous vehicles are no longer a hard to conceptualize fantasy. They are in fact a near-term certainty whose wholesale integration into global transportation networks is just […]

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The autonomous vehicle will revolutionize society in profound ways. Elon Musk is positioning Tesla to lead the way.

The Autonomous Vehicle Revolution is Happening

Make no mistake about it; autonomous vehicles are no longer a hard to conceptualize fantasy. They are in fact a near-term certainty whose wholesale integration into global transportation networks is just years – not decades – away.

Market predictions vary, but most industry experts and automaker executives predict that autonomous vehicles will be mainstays on American highways within the next ten years. Morgan Stanley’s widely followed auto analyst, Adam Jonas, has long pegged the mid-2020s as the time when autonomous vehicles will fully penetrate the market, so long as government regulators don’t stand in the way.

These autonomous vehicle predictions – once thought to be lofty – are actually playing out right before our eyes. Executives from major auto manufacturers have gone on record in recent years to declare that their respective companies will have fully autonomous vehicles on the road in the 2020s, if not sooner.

There are thought to be at least 44 major tech and auto corporations currently working on autonomous vehicle development for personal use.

 

Photo Source: CB Insights

Autonomous Vehicles Lead to More Ride-Sharing

The integration of autonomous vehicles onto our roadways will put wind at the sails of a ride-sharing culture that has swiftly become the norm in many corners of the world.

Since unmanned autonomous vehicles will have minimal idle times and no labor costs, they represent a significant opportunity for existing ride-sharing systems to be optimized.

In an expansive study released earlier this year by Stanford economist and clean energy expert, Tony Seba, and London-based tech investor, James Arbib, the two researchers document the monumental changes in store for the transportation industry as autonomous ride-sharing gradually becomes more ubiquitous. According to the researchers:

“By 2030, within 10 years of regulatory approval of autonomous vehicles (AVs), 95% of U.S. passenger miles traveled will be served by on-demand autonomous electric vehicles owned by fleets, not individuals.”

Their analysis predicts an 80% drop in private car ownership in the U.S. by 2030, and a drastic reduction in the number of passenger vehicles on America’s roadways in the next decade, thanks to the expected widespread adoption of autonomous electric vehicle fleets.

Existing ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft have fully embraced autonomous vehicles as the future of their respective businesses.

Uber has invested heavily in autonomous vehicle research in recent years. Their autonomous vehicle research division – the Advanced Technologies Group – now employs several hundred people in multiple offices in North America. Disgraced former CEO, Travis Kalanick, declared back in 2015 that Uber would have a driverless fleet by 2030.

Photo Source: Wired

 

Lyft’s CEO, John Zimmer, projects that a majority of the rides offered on his company’s network will be in autonomous vehicles by 2021, and personal car ownership will go the way of the dinosaur in many U.S. cities shortly thereafter.

Photo Source: Time Magazine

 

Similarly, auto companies also recognize that mass production of ride-sharing capable autonomous vehicles is where the future of their industry is headed.

Ford has already announced their plans to roll out an autonomous vehicle designed for high volume commercial use in a ride-sharing service by 2021. General Motors, the #1 automaker in the U.S., has committed to investing $500 million in Lyft as it pursues the develop of an on-demand network of self-driving cars with the ride-sharing company. Through this partnership, GM is basically acknowledging that the future of the automobile industry does not involve personal ownership of human-driven cars. As their President, Dan Ammann, succinctly put it:

“We see the future of personal mobility as connected, seamless and autonomous.”

And then there’s Tesla.

Photo Source: Tesla

 

There is perhaps no player in the auto manufacturing or ride-sharing sphere who has been able to connect the dots about the future of personal transportation like Tesla.

In “Part Deux” of his Master Plan, released last year, Tesla’s Elon Musk outlined the company’s plans to transform personal transportation by melding autonomy with ride sharing. On the topic of autonomy, Musk’s vision is clear:

“As the technology matures, all Tesla vehicles will have the hardware necessary to be fully self-driving with fail-operational capability, meaning that any given system in the car could break and your car will still drive itself safely.”

Musk’s Master Plan also made it clear that the mass production of fully-autonomous vehicles and ride-sharing go hand-in-hand:

“When true self-driving is approved by regulators, it will mean that you will be able to summon your Tesla from pretty much anywhere. You will also be able to add your car to the Tesla shared fleet just by tapping a button on the Tesla phone app and have it generate income for you while you’re at work or on vacation, significantly offsetting and at times potentially exceeding the monthly loan or lease cost. This dramatically lowers the true cost of ownership to the point where almost anyone could own a Tesla. Since most cars are only in use by their owner for 5% to 10% of the day, the fundamental economic utility of a true self-driving car is likely to be several times that of a car which is not”

The introduction of the much-anticipated Tesla Model 3 – the first mass-market car with full autonomy capabilities – to the market in July, and the aggressive production plans outlined by Musk, show that Tesla continues to make measurable progress towards realizing Musk’s vision for full shared autonomy.

All Tesla vehicles now being produced have the hardware necessary for full autonomy, and the Tesla 3 is well on its way to being the first mass-market fully autonomous vehicle.

Photo Source: Business Insider

The Future of Shared Autonomous Vehicles is Electric

The transportation industry is in the midst of an era of transformational change, as ride-sharing, autonomous vehicle production, and electric vehicle usage converge.

Recent analyses of the automotive industry conducted by Morgan Stanley and Bloomberg project that global electric vehicle sales will surpass gas-powered vehicle sales by roughly the year 2040. According to the Bloomberg report:

“EVs are on track to accelerate to 54% of new car sales by 2040. Tumbling battery prices mean that EVs will have lower lifetime costs, and will be cheaper to buy, than internal combustion engine (ICE) cars in most countries by 2025-29.”

Other industry experts, like Mr. Electric Vehicle himself, Elon Musk, claim that these projections are far too conservative.

At a July appearance before the summer meeting of the National Governors Association, Musk made his thoughts clear about the future of electric vehicles. On the topic of U.S. electric vehicle sales, Musk declared:

“My guess is probably in 10 years more than half of new vehicle production is electric in the United States.”

Musk’s full remarks at the NGA meeting can be viewed below:

While reasonable people can disagree over exactly when the electric vehicle will overtake its gas-powered counterpart, there can be virtually no disagreement that such an occurrence is inevitable. The cost of batteries continues to plunge and investments in electric vehicles by automakers continue to accelerate.

Photo Source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance

Even before all-electric power-trains reach cost parity with internal combustion engines, lower maintenance and fuel costs will drive consumers and businesses to electric vehicles. As Tony Seba points out, the typical gas-powered vehicle has 2,000+ different moving parts, while the all-electric Tesla S has less than 20.

Further, shared autonomy amplifies the benefits of lower maintenance costs. While human-driven cars sit idle some 90 percent of their lives, shared autonomous vehicles will spend the vast majority of their life in transit.

Tesla’s Competitive Edge

In a crowded space of automakers and ride-sharing service providers, Tesla is in an enviable position to corner the market on shared autonomy.

The competitive advantages of Tesla at this point, relative to its competitors, are widely apparent.

  • Vertical integration: Tesla’s ability to both produce autonomous electric vehicles and develop the shared network and associated software which the vehicles operate on is their chief differentiator in a crowded field of competitors. Traditional OEMs may have the ability to produce electric vehicles capable of autonomy, but they can’t match Tesla’s ability to integrate ride-sharing software on said vehicles. On the other hand, ride-sharing service companies have the software, but don’t have the vehicle production capabilities.
  • Strong brand identity: Musk is a household name and thought of as a transformational innovator and thinker. Tesla is viewed as a socially-conscience company that is committed to tackling big challenges (ie, climate change, inter-planetary travel). Tesla’s unique ability to brand itself as a Silicon Valley-birthed software company that happens to use a car as its hardware system has fundamentally transformed the auto industry.
  • Large existing vehicle fleet: No auto company has more existing vehicles on the road that are equipped with autonomous driving capabilities than Tesla. Tesla’s introduction of the Model 3 into the market and the software updates that continuously modernize their fleet have only put more distance between them and their competitors.
  • Machine learning capabilities: Unlike other auto companies, the whole Tesla fleet is interconnected. When one semi-autonomous Tesla learns something while operating on the road, the whole fleet learns it. The ability of Tesla’s existing fleet of semi-autonomous vehicles to learn as they accumulate miles will – over the long-term – be a coup for Tesla. While other auto companies are working to develop an autonomous vehicle in one fell swoop, Tesla already has an existing fleet of vehicles on the road capable of transitioning from semi-autonomy to full autonomy.

At the end of the day, companies seeking to compete in the shared autonomy arena need to be able to do two things well; 1) manufacture electric autonomous vehicles, and 2) develop software allowing them to connect and communicate.

Right now, Tesla is the only company with that ability, and they are poised to lead the way as we enter a new era for private transportation.

 

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Google Rolls Out “Project Sunroof” in Germany https://solartribune.com/google-rolls-project-sunroof-germany/ Mon, 08 May 2017 12:12:59 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=11034 Solar mapping by Google has spread across the U.S. and now to select German cities. Google’s solar mapping initiative entitled “Project Sunroof” became available in three U.S. cities–Boston, Fresno and San Francisco– late in 2015. The long-term plan is to expand across the country, and eventually, the globe. The brainchild of Google Engineer Carl Elkin, […]

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Solar mapping by Google has spread across the U.S. and now to select German cities.

Google’s solar mapping initiative entitled “Project Sunroof” became available in three U.S. cities–Boston, Fresno and San Francisco– late in 2015. The long-term plan is to expand across the country, and eventually, the globe. The brainchild of Google Engineer Carl Elkin, Project Sunroof now covers most metropolitan areas in the United States, and last week expanded to cover Munich, Berlin, Rhine-Main and the Ruhr areas in Germany.

Project Sunroof data is now integrated on www.eon-solar.de. On the site, people can investigate their home’s solar potential, as well as purchase a suitable system consisting of photovoltaic modules, energy storage, and system management software provided by E.ON. As of this month, the online tool covers about 40 percent (roughly 7 million) of German homes.

Germany is topped only by China among nations for total installed solar capacity, with nearly 7% of the nation’s total electrical generating capacity coming from a combination of distributed independent and rooftop solar arrays as well as larger industrial installations and solar farms. Germany has long stood as an example of how effective solar can be at higher latitudes. However, growth in the solar industry has slowed in the last five years. E.ON and other solar companies are looking for ways to increase sales, and hosting Project Sunroof on their website could very well be a boon to the company because of the solar calculator’s integration into the Google portfolio.

The motto of Project Sunroof is “”Mapping the planet’s solar potential, one roof at a time.” The project uses imagery from Google Earth and Maps and performs an analysis that takes into account a variety of factors that may impact the site and to determine the solar potential of any given roof.  There are currently over 60 million buildings in the database of buildings, which covers all 50 states.

The analysis of solar potential is not the only function performed by Project Sunroof. In a blog post from 2015, engineer Carl Elkin explained that…”To provide accurate estimates, Project Sunroof uses a unique set of data that assesses how much sunlight your roof gets, the orientation, shade from trees and nearby buildings, and local weather patterns—essentially creating a solar score for every rooftop that it maps. You can then provide your current average electricity costs and compare them to what you’d pay with solar. So not only can you learn whether your house is a good fit for solar panels, but you can also determine whether paying for installation will pay off in the long run — in short, see the effect sunlight can have on your wallet.”

Project Sunroof is by no means the only solar calculator on the web. However, its integration into google maps is impressive, and it combines elements of many other online databases into a one-stop shop. Its system sizing tool is on par with others like PV Watts from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and Project Sunroof even integrates a search feature to explore financial incentives, similar to the information on the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Energy Efficiency (DSIRE). Project Sunroof is, of course, a commercial endeavor, and user data is collected and made available to solar installation companies. So don’t be surprised if you receive advertisements from your friendly local solar installer after analyzing your solar potential with Project Sunroof.

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Solar + Storage Update https://solartribune.com/10440-2/ Mon, 16 Jan 2017 06:00:52 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=10440 Will 2017 be the “Year of  Solar Storage?” This week, Kaua’i Island Electric Cooperative announced that it will be purchasing 11% of its generation from a new solar plus storage facility, below the cost of its current fossil fuel-powered generation. This is huge news, even in spite of the fact that Kaua’i is one of […]

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Will 2017 be the “Year of  Solar Storage?”

This week, Kaua’i Island Electric Cooperative announced that it will be purchasing 11% of its generation from a new solar plus storage facility, below the cost of its current fossil fuel-powered generation. This is huge news, even in spite of the fact that Kaua’i is one of the nation’s most expensive energy markets. As storage prices start to come down, “low hanging fruit” like Kaua’i will be the first to be picked by solar + storage developers.

AES Distributed Energy, a unit of AES Corp., announced on January 10th  that they will be executing a power purchase agreement (PPA) for Kaua’i Island Electric Cooperative to provide a 28 MW solar array, coupled with a 20 MW, 100 MWh battery system to deliver baseload generation to the Hawaiian island.

The key to this project’s economic viability is the fact that the island has no access to conventional electrical generation other than diesel generators fired with millions of gallons of fuel that has to be shipped in. According to Utility Dive, not only are the costs of both solar-plus-storage facilities below the cost of fossil fuel to power the island, they often beat the cost of the fuel alone. According to co-op documents, KIUC has paid between $0.122/kWh and $0.18/kWh in just fuel and commodity costs since Dec. 2014, with Nov. 2016 costs coming in above $0.15/kWh. In 2015, KIUC’s average residential electric rates were $0.323/kWh. Needless to say, it is not hard for solar to dominate in this market, and the island has been known to reach renewable energy penetrations of above 90% during peak wind and solar generating hours.

“Energy from the project will be priced at 11 cents per kWh and will provide 11 percent of Kauaʻi’s electric generation, increasing KIUC’s renewable sourced generation to well over 50 percent,” said KIUC president and CEO David Bissell. “The project delivers power to the island’s electrical grid at significantly less than the current cost of oil-fired power and should help stabilize and even reduce electric rates to KIUC’s members. It is remarkable that we are able to obtain fixed pricing for dispatchable solar-based renewable energy, backed by a significant battery system, at about half the cost of what a basic direct to grid solar project cost a few years ago.”

The Kauaʻi project is just a preview of what is to come in the realm of solar + storage in the years to come. 2017 could very well be the breakthrough year for storage for a number of reasons.

“Climate change concerns, government initiatives including renewable portfolio standards, and consumer efforts are resulting in increased deployment of solar and wind resources,” said Swati Gupta, GlobalData’s Analyst covering Power. “However, the variability of solar and wind power makes it hard for electricity providers to integrate them into the electricity grid. To achieve this, BESS (battery energy storage systems) are being installed into electricity grids to make the power supply from renewable energy sources smoother and more reliable.”

The US currently has the largest BESS market, valued at over $750 million in 2015, and is expected to continue to lead through 2020, with its market value reaching an impressive estimated $1.7 billion by 2020.

“The US market for energy storage has so far been focused on frequency regulation – in other words, storage to balance out swift, short-term variation in power output,” added Gupta. “The country’s BESS market will expand as renewables continue to penetrate the power market.”

GlobalData’s latest report, Grid Connected Battery Energy Storage System — Market Size, Competitive Landscape, Key Country Analysis and Forecasts to 2020, points out that the introduction of BESS will resolve many of the common criticisms of renewable energy as a replacement for baseload generation.

It’s not just traditional solar companies that are looking to get into the energy storage market, either.  Green Tech Media reported that there will be a lot of high-powered players coming onto the field, including Lockheed Martin, Caterpillar and Mercedes-Benz. That is a lot of big money and serious technical prowess that is going to come to bear on the rapid development and deployment of new storage systems.

Meanwhile, Tesla announced that production of its “2170” lithium-ion cells that will be used in Tesla’s Powerwall 2 and Powerpack 2 energy products are rolling off the line as of this month. Model 3 cell production will follow in Q2 and by 2018, the Gigafactory will produce 35 GWh/year of lithium-ion battery cells, nearly as much as the rest of the entire world’s battery production combined.

 

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Game Changer: Musk’s Vision of Indie Solar https://solartribune.com/game-changer-musks-vision-indie-solar/ Wed, 02 Nov 2016 15:12:24 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=10296 Naysayers love to predict the downfall of Elon Musk. Don’t hold your breath. “No One Saw Tesla’s Solar Roof Coming.” Bloomberg’s Tom Randall reported today that Tesla’s new solar roof was not anything like the predictions that have been flying around the tech news websites. Some thought it might be a system comprised of large […]

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Naysayers love to predict the downfall of Elon Musk. Don’t hold your breath.

“No One Saw Tesla’s Solar Roof Coming.” Bloomberg’s Tom Randall reported today that Tesla’s new solar roof was not anything like the predictions that have been flying around the tech news websites. Some thought it might be a system comprised of large standing-seam panels, like those in development by Forward Labs, or some variation on the solar shingles that came and went earlier in the 2000s. It is neither. Tesla’s solar roof system is everything solar shingles were not; tough and beautiful.

The panels are designed to mimic the look of a slate or tile roof, and all eye-witness reports agree that they are attractive and indistinguishable from other high-end roofing products. In his roll-out presentation, Musk claims that the Tesla roofing system is competitive with other premium roofing products- plus the price of electricity. Musk says the tempered glass is “tough as steel,” and can be equipped with heating elements to melt snow in colder climates. “It’s never going to wear out,” Musk said, “It’s made of quartz. It has a quasi-infinite lifetime.” Another shocking claim is that current prototypes that Tesla engineers are working will reduce the efficiency of the underlying solar cell by only 2 percent.

tesla-solar-roof-1280x392Along with the roll-out of the solar roofing products came the unveiling of the Powerwall 2 as well as the Powerpack 2. The Powerwall 2 (Tesla’s residential/small business storage system) has specs much superior to it’s predecessor, bringing it well into the realm of commercial viability with increased storage and reduced price. PLUS… the biggest feature that is being overlooked by many reports– the Powerwall 2 includes an onboard inverter, made by Tesla in their mega-factory.screen-shot-2016-10-30-at-24956-pm_large

For utility-scale customers, the updated Powerpack system includes a new energy module and power electronics, as well as twice the energy density of its predecessor, or 200 kilowatt-hours. In addition, the new Powerpack also sports a new, in-house designed and manufactured inverter, which Tesla says is “the lowest cost, highest efficiency and highest power density utility-scale inverter on the market.”

As is the case with most of Musk’s big product roll-outs, at this point there is a lot of heat, but not a lot of light. The news that Tesla building their inverters in-house is huge, and yet very little is known about them. Specs on the roofing system look good, but the details and price are still fuzzy.  For Musk fans, this lack of detail is excusable in the wake of Musk’s unrelenting optimism and dedication to disrupting the status quo. However, not everyone is willing to get on board with team Musk. Some critics don’t see the beauty in the Tesla trifecta of solar generation, energy storage, and electric transportation.

Business Insider, who predicted Musk’s “Epic Failure” last summer, can’t resist throwing buckets of cold water when it comes to Tesla. In their report on the new Tesla solar roof, they point to the fact that the residential roofing market is relatively small compared to the commercial market. They even pull out this tired solar boogeyman:

“For what it’s worth, the last buzzy, innovative company in the solar space was the ill-fated Solyndra, which captured a lot of attention in Silicon Valley for a revolutionary solar design, but which also went bankrupt in 2011 amid charges of favoritism from the Obama administration. (Those charges were debatable.) And Solyndra’s focus was commercial rooftops — large-scale installations bought by companies that could afford Solyndra’s product.”

Over at Forbes, Ellen R Wald get’s the award for saddest attempt to dismiss Tesla’s innovation, where she writes:

“When this alternative energy revolution comes, we will know it – and no subsidies or tax breaks will be necessary to prop it up. When innovation truly works, it speaks for itself. Until then, Tesla’s new solar roofs, while aesthetically stunning and technologically sexy, cannot match the reliability of nuclear and fossil fuels. The old energy powers have nothing to fear – for now.

I’m not sure what fracked oil-shale rock Ms. Wald has been hiding under for the last 10 years, but her dismissive attitude is one that is indicative of so many veterans of the fossil fuel industry when confronted with cognitive dissonance. State the obvious, avoid talking about massive government supports and externalized costs of fossil fuels, deny the evidence and downplay the significance of the facts presented to you.

Both of these pedestrian views toward Tesla’s announcement illustrate the basic problem that is created in utility markets when innovation is stifled by government sanctioned monopolies. Innovators don’t serve markets, they create markets. Whether or not they like what they see in Musk’s vision of distributed, independent clean energy, the market is growing. Fast.

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Blockchain Tech: The Next Step in Solar Economics? https://solartribune.com/blockchain-tech-next-step-solar-economics/ Sat, 20 Aug 2016 16:02:33 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=10204 Blockchain technology is the backbone of cryptocurrency Bitcoin. Could it also work for peer-to-peer energy trading? With the monopoly investor-owned utility industry waging all-out war against net metering, new and innovative approaches to “cord cutting” need to be explored. Just like the land-line telephone companies before them, power generation and distribution companies are choosing to […]

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Blockchain technology is the backbone of cryptocurrency Bitcoin. Could it also work for peer-to-peer energy trading?

With the monopoly investor-owned utility industry waging all-out war against net metering, new and innovative approaches to “cord cutting” need to be explored. Just like the land-line telephone companies before them, power generation and distribution companies are choosing to fight the inevitable change in their industry. Rather than embracing disruptive technology as an economic opportunity, utilities are forcing consumers to explore other options for buying energy.

Battery storage is seen by many as the silver bullet that will take down the utility industry werewolf, but there are many other technological options on the horizon. One promising option is local energy trading, a scheme in which neighbors can buy and sell excess solar generation amongst themselves, rather than dealing with the utility company. One neighborhood in Western Australia is employing a digital cryptographic ledger– known as a “blockchain”– to manage their energy transactions.

According to a recent article in New Scientist, a retirement village in the city of Busselton, Western Australia, is taking part in the pilot project run by local start-up Power Ledger. Meters at 20 homes plus a clubhouse in the retirement community will be fitted with Raspberry Pi mini-computers to track their energy usage. Homeowners can decide who and how much to sell their excess renewable energy to, with each transaction logged on the blockchain. “Consumers want to take control of their energy generation and consumption,” Power Ledger co-founder Jemma Green says. “We want to show that this tech is so simple to use that anyone could use it.”
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So what exactly IS  blockchain?

Idealog contributing writer David Hall describes it like this:

“The concept was invented in 2008 as the basis for renegade online currency, bitcoin. In this context, the blockchain is a digital ledger that records every bitcoin transaction that has ever occurred. It is protected by cryptography so powerful that breaking it is typically dismissed as “impossible”. More importantly, though, the blockchain resides not in a single server, but across a distributed network of computers. Accordingly, whenever new transactions occur, the blockchain is authenticated across this distributed network, then the transaction is included as a new “block” on the chain.”

In other words, there is no central repository of information- a constantly updated list of encrypted transactions exists across the network, allowing free interaction among participants across an extremely secure private network.  According to Power Ledger’s website: “Power Ledger allows for each unit of electricity to be tracked from the point of generation to the point of consumption within the building it is generated, or when sold to other consumers, using the local electricity distribution network. Blockchain technology couples a tracked energy transaction with a financial one, making the process of realising the value of renewable energy investments simple and secure. Power Ledger allows renewable energy asset owners to decide who they want to sell their surplus energy to and at what price. Energy traded across the distribution network is tracked providing a secure revenue stream for DNSPs.”According to the Australian publication RenewEconomy, the trials will last eight weeks.

Interestingly, Power Ledger is partially owned by Ledger Assets, whose other projects include photo and video authenticity service Uproov.com, and it is developing Enome.io for “blockchain medical records applications.” It also has projects in the works for both fine arts and insurance. Obviously, the primary motivation of the developers is to develop new uses for blockchain technology, not specifically to work in the energy sector.

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The Australian project is not the first such blockchain powered solar projects. In March, I reported on the Brooklyn microgrid, another blockchain powered solar energy trading project. The Brooklyn project appears to be making slow and steady progress since it’s launch, running on the Ethereum blockchain. The first energy sale on the network took place in April. LO3 Energy, the microgrid’s developer, is working on other interesting energy projects, like Project Exergy, an R&D effort to turn computers into primary sources of heat. This computational and distributed model provides utilities with new integration options for recapturing wasted resources, managing both the load/shift balance and demand-response needs, and increasing customer retention through innovation.

Although there is some debate surrounding the actual energy usage embedded in a blockchain-based system, it appears that there is a great deal of promise in the use of blockchains in microgrid energy trading.  Solar advocates will be watching both the Brooklyn and the Busselton projects with great interest.

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After Solar Impulse: The Next Solar Adventure? https://solartribune.com/solar-impulse-next-solar-adventure/ Fri, 05 Aug 2016 01:29:27 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=10190 Solar Impulse 2 proved that solar energy can be exciting on many levels. Tuesday, July 26th, the world’s first entirely solar powered aircraft touched down in Abu Dhabi, completing an epic 505 day odyssey around the globe. Piloted by two Swiss adventurers, Andre Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard, Solar Impulse 2 proved that solar photovoltaic generation […]

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Solar Impulse 2 proved that solar energy can be exciting on many levels.

Tuesday, July 26th, the world’s first entirely solar powered aircraft touched down in Abu Dhabi, completing an epic 505 day odyssey around the globe. Piloted by two Swiss adventurers, Andre Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard, Solar Impulse 2 proved that solar photovoltaic generation of electricity can not only power our homes, but also power our dreams.

Of course, solar has played a part in many of the epic voyages of the last half-century. Ever since the United States launched Vanguard I on March 17, 1958, solar panels have been a part of space travel. In July of 1969, Apollo 11 delivered the first solar panels to the moon. Solar has powered expeditions on Mt. Everest and experimental car races across South Africa and the Australian outback.

Solar Impulse 2 was not the first around the world flight to rely on solar power, however. The Breitling Orbiter 3 was the first hot-air balloon to circumnavigate the globe, piloted by Brian Jones and… none other than Bertrand Piccard. Piccard’s first successful trip around the globe in 1999 used solar panels suspended below the gondola to power critical systems.

Piccard and Borschberg piloted Solar Impulse 1 in impressive solar-powered flights from Switzerland to Spain and then Morocco in 2012, then a multi-stage flight across the US in 2013, before embarking on the Solar Impulse 2 adventure.

In a time when the world seems smaller and more homogeneous due to digital communications, great human adventures– peaceful voyages of scientific discovery, technical prowess and human endurance– get less and less attention. Solar Impulse 2 held its own in the Twitterverse, with live streaming launches and landings, attractive and articulate jumpsuit-clad video-hosts and endless shots of the technological wonder soaring over countless exotic locations and cultural landmarks. One is still left asking oneself about the actual significance of the flight beyond social media and publicity for green tech, and if there is a technological next step beyond Solar Impulse 2.


According to Government Technology; “The strategic breakthrough that this technology represents is undeniable. Clean, renewable energy in the form of sunshine that can’t be metered has provided fuel for a flight around the world for the first time in human history. This is an innovation in energy that has implications going forward for every sector of modern industrial society. It isn’t too much of an exaggeration to say that Solar Impulse has ushered in a new era.”

It was no coincidence that The United Arab Emirates (UAE) was the taking off and landing point for the journey. Laura El-Katiri, an Abu Dhabi-based consultant and a research fellow at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies wrote an article for the UAE news site The National that states; “The UAE’s target is to increase the contribution of clean energy – renewable energy and nuclear power – from less than 1 per cent in 2014 to 24 per cent of the country’s energy mix by 2024. This commitment will have great job-creating potential for young Emiratis. It is also an indication of the UAE’s increasing emphasis on more climate-friendly development planning, demonstrating that economic growth in the region can be “green”.

But what of Piccard, Borschberg and other up and coming solar adventurers? For the Solar Impulse team, they plan to downsize.  “We will produce a solar drone based on the experience we have,” Borschberg told WIRED in a phone call following the plane’s landing. “We hope to have something of our own flying in the stratosphere in less than three years.”The planned drone will be unmanned – the pilot jokes he is putting himself out of a job – and will have a wingspan of approximately 40 to 50 metres.

As the article is being posted, the American Solar Challenge, a 1,975-mile rally race for solar cars built and designed by university teams around the world, is approaching the end of it’s course crossing the central United States. Meanwhile, Britain’s national solar car team has launched a £500,000 ($666,752) sponsorship drive to build a car to take part in next year’s World Solar Challenge, a race which sees solar-powered vehicles drive from Darwin, northern Australia, to Adelaide on the south coast. A DIY unmanned solar boat named Seacharger has just completed a voyage from California to Hawaii. These may not be as epic as Solar Impulse 2, but taken as a whole, it shows that solar remains the platform of choice for 21st century adventure.


While PV powers earthly adventures, JAXA, The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, recently unveiled a huge prototype solar sail designed to power a JAXA probe as it explores asteroids that circle the sun on roughly the same orbit as Jupiter. The sail measures 2,500 sq. meters and is made up of thousands of ultraslim solar panels.

One has to ask; as Elon Musk looks to pool the resources of Tesla Motors and SolarCity, how will his company SpaceX utilize solar in propelling the first mission to Mars?

 

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New Study Examines Impact of Big Solar https://solartribune.com/new-study-examines-impact-big-solar/ Thu, 14 Jul 2016 19:26:21 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=10160 A new UK report looks at the effects of solar parks on the local environment. Can large arrays provide benefits beyond clean energy production? Environmental Research Scientists at Lancaster University and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology recently released Solar park microclimate and vegetation management effects on grassland carbon cycling which appears in the latest […]

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A new UK report looks at the effects of solar parks on the local environment. Can large arrays provide benefits beyond clean energy production?

Environmental Research Scientists at Lancaster University and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology recently released Solar park microclimate and vegetation management effects on grassland carbon cycling which appears in the latest edition of the journal Environmental Research Letters. Researchers monitored a large solar park near Swindon for a year. Swindon is located in Wiltshire, South West England, 70 miles west of London. The report describes the findings of the first detailed study of the impact of solar parks on the environment, providing vital information for establishing land management best practices at the ever-growing numbers of central-station solar facilities.

The report’s authors, Alona Armstrong, Nicholas J Ostle and Jeanette Whitaker write that “Solar parks may have consequences for microclimate, C cycling, biodiversity, water, soil erosion, air quality and ecosystem energy balances…These impacts may occur at the regional scale, but the physical presence of PV arrays may also promote within solar park variation in climate and ecosystem function. The physical presence of solar parks will impact solar radiation fluxes (and thus temperature), wind speed and turbulence (and thus the exchange of biogenic gases and water vapour) and the distribution of precipitation within the solar park. Given the climate regulation of ecosystem processes, resolving the impacts of PV arrays on the soil and near surface climate within solar parks is essential. The spatial and temporal dynamics of solar park-induced microclimates on ecosystem processes is likely to be different to projected climate change…Further, solar park management, in particular that relating to the vegetation (i.e. seeding, mowing, grazing and fertiliser addition), will be a strong determinant of ecosystem response.”

Some of the results were unsurprising, for instance, they found that soil and air temperatures in the areas shaded by the solar panels were significantly cooler than in the areas between rows which received direct sunlight. Cooling of as much as 5 degrees Centigrade under the panels during the summer was recorded, with effects varying depending on time of day and time of year.  On the other hand, the results of studying the vegetation under the arrays brought more unexpected results.  According to the study;  “The PCA-GLM (Principal Component AnalysisGeneralized Linear Model) results indicated that vegetation metrics and wind speed (which governs CO2 exchange between the leaf and atmosphere…) were more strongly correlated with CO2 fluxes than climate or soil factors. This indicates the pivotal role of vegetation, and thus the importance of vegetation management in the shorter term and vegetation change in response to the microclimate induced by the PV arrays in the longer term, in influencing C cycling at solar parks.”
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The report concludes that; “Land use change for energy generation is accelerating, with the growth of solar parks predicted to continue globally. The effects of this growing land use change on plant–soil processes, which underpin key ecosystem services, is poorly understood. In this study we show that PV arrays can cause both seasonal and diurnal variation in the ground-level microclimate to a magnitude known to affect terrestrial C cycling. We also observed significant differences in above-ground biomass, plant diversity and ecosystem CO2 fluxes which were associated with the vegetation management and microclimate. Given the quantifiable differences in plant–soil C cycling presented here, we argue that there is a critical need for a systematic assessment of the impact of solar parks on ecosystem functioning and the potential to exploit the induced-microclimate effects for co-benefits. For example, the production of crops under PV arrays in locations where solar radiation receipts currently prevent it. Solar parks contribute to climate change mitigation by providing low carbon energy, but the wider environmental costs and benefits need to be taken into account, to ensure they are deployed sustainably.”

What the authors are telling us, is that under current mono-crop conditions, the areas under solar parks (as they are known in the UK) or solar farms are actually losing their ability to capture and store carbon. However, by taking the researchers advice and varying design and plant species, the shaded areas might actually have the potential to increase carbon capture. Depending on the local microclimate, there may be huge potential to grow carbon sinking plants in the cooler, shadier areas under the solar array. For instance, a Swedish report discovered that in the northern  boreal forests is captured by fungus, rather than the trees themselves. Another report from Researchers from the University of Texas, Boston University and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute ran computer models on data from more than 200 soil profiles from around the world. They found that soils dominated by ecto- and ericoid mycorrhizal (EEM) fungi contain as much as 70% more carbon than soils dominated by arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi.

As we can see, fungi play an important role in the carbon cycle, the biogeochemical process by which carbon is taken from the air and captured in the soil. Globally, soil is the biggest single terrestrial reservoir of carbon, far more than the amount of carbon contained in living things and in the atmosphere combined. And where do fungi prefer to grow?  In cooler, shadier areas.

By adding diversity to the ecosystems surrounding large, central station solar arrays, it may be possible for system designers to utilize the types of concepts made popular in permaculture to create solar farms that are truly farms… producing not only energy, but also an array of perennial crops that are both useful in the short term as well as beneficial in the fight against climate change.

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Off-Grid Solar Is Heating Up https://solartribune.com/off-grid-solar-heating/ Fri, 08 Jul 2016 21:32:02 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=10150 2016 is bringing us a flood of new products targeting toward the upcoming boom in battery-based solar. The heyday of indie grid-tied solar is coming to an end. We have reached “peak rooftop” when it comes to utility interconnected systems. The utility companies point to grid constraints or hidden costs to consumers as reasons to […]

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2016 is bringing us a flood of new products targeting toward the upcoming boom in battery-based solar.

The heyday of indie grid-tied solar is coming to an end. We have reached “peak rooftop” when it comes to utility interconnected systems. The utility companies point to grid constraints or hidden costs to consumers as reasons to drop the boom on net metering, and many utilities across the country are now trying to slam the door on true distributed generation.The smoldering utility fears, real or imagined, are fanned into flame by groups like ALEC who are fighting a state-by-state war against indie solar. The consequences of their actions may be more than they bargained for, though. Battery prices are dropping fast, and soon, customers will be cutting the cord on their utilities with the help of a new wave of off-grid products.

Last year, Elon Musk made a splash with the release of the Tesla Powerwall. Despite all of the excitement about the electric car company moving into the stationary battery market, Tesla is far from the only company looking to a solar with storage future. Let’s look at a few of the other companies tooling up to serve the off-grid market.

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Sonnen eco compact

German battery innovator Sonnen has introduced its new  “eco compact”, a streamlined, all-in-one energy storage solution retailing at 40% below the cost of its current residential units.

Admittedly, the eco compact is not a truly off-grid product. Sonnen was able to cut the cost by removing the backup power features. Using Sonnen’s self-learning software, the eco compact provides various grid-tied functions, such as increasing household solar self-consumption, managing time-of-use and supporting grid services, not including backup power. The 4 kWh system retails for $5,950 without installation for a fully integrated system including the inverter, the battery modules with a 10,000 cycle lifetime, the smart energy manager and the measurement technology. Furthermore, the company notes the modular design also allows the product to be expanded in 4 kWh increments up to 16 kWh in a single compact unit.

“We’ve seen increasing demand from our installation partners for a lower-cost energy storage product that enables homeowners to use more of the power generated by rooftop solar systems,” says Boris von Bormann, CEO of sonnen Inc. “With the sonnenBatterie eco compact, we are providing a simple, cost-effective version of our proven energy management technology that enables more solar-powered homeowners to supply up to 100 percent of their own power needs. As a result, we expect to see a dramatic increase in the installation of storage across the country.”

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CyboEnergy Releases On/Off-Grid CyboInverter For PV Water Heating

CyboEnergy, Inc. (Rancho Cordova, CA), the developer of the world’s first solar power Mini-Inverter that possesses the key merits of both central inverters and microinverters, announced today that the company has released a Dual-Output Off-Grid CyboInverter that can run two distinct types of AC loads such as an electric water heater or a refrigerator.

CyboEnergy CEO, Dr. George Cheng said, “With the rapid deployment of renewable energy, the power grid in many areas can no longer take more on-grid solar systems. For instance, Hawaii ended the solar net-metering program in 2015. In April 2016, ISO (Independent System Operator) in California forced temporary shutdown of large solar farms to avoid grid instability. For this reason, off-grid solar heating and cooling has a great potential in the U.S. and European market.”

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Iron Edison Nickel-Iron Batteries

The Iron Edison Lithium Iron battery is designed and assembled at the company’s headquarters located just outside Denver, Colorado. The Lithium Iron battery is available in standard 12 Volt, 24 Volt and 48 Volt configurations. Capacities range from 2 kWh to 42 kWh, with custom high-capacity and high-voltage models available for commercial applications like peak load shaving and UPS.

According to the manufacturer, The Iron Edison Lithium Iron battery is an ideal replacement for lead-acid battery, with longer cycle life, smaller footprint, and maintenance-free operation. Residential applications include solar battery backup, grid-zero and off-grid energy storage. Commercial applications include high voltage battery backup, off-grid telecommunications power and peak load shaving.

“The Lithium Iron battery is the next step in energy storage,” Williams said. “It offers extremely high power in a very small package. The maintenance-free operation of the Lithium Iron battery is a great fit for everyday homeowners. We are offering cutting-edge battery technology in a package that’s easy to install and operate.”

Outback Skybox

Renewable energy systems and products manufacturer Outback Power has introduced the Skybox, a hybrid energy management and storage platform, which will be scheduled for release in January 2016.

The all-in-one box allows PV systems and batteries to interact with the grid to manage self-consumption. The company touted the product as a way to reduce grid reliance. Skybox will integrate directly with the electrical grid and future high-voltage storage solutions, giving customers complete control of their energy consumption and usage. The new system is optimised to work with new and existing commercial and residential installations.

The Skybox is designed for compatibility with storage solutions between 300 and 500 volts from Tesla, Mercedes-Benz, Panasonic and others.

Drew Zogby, president of Alpha Technologies, OutBack’s parent company, said: “This new platform from OutBack Power gives people total control of energy management and power consumption in their homes and businesses. People are growing more aware of the options available to them, and true hybrid energy systems are the future. Skybox will allow energy use to be as intelligent and efficient as possible.”

While American solar installers tool up to meet the upcoming demand for off-grid or behind the meter storage, SA power in Australia is starting a pilot program that will be Australia’s “largest trial of combined solar and energy storage in an established suburb” in Salisbury, with 100 of its eligible customers getting access to subsidized battery storage systems, along with solar arrays (if not already installed). The company is offering the trial to customers living on “particular streets” in certain suburbs of Salisbury, with “significant financial assistance” available for the purchase of the batteries and solar panels, and a guarantee of saving a minimum of $500 per year on their electric bill.

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Solar + Storage: Update https://solartribune.com/solar-storage-update/ Tue, 07 Jun 2016 21:14:44 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=10106 Battery storage is the name of the game in 2016. Will the solar dream of “cutting the cord” become a reality? In a January 2016 article entitled Solar Trends to Watch in 2016: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, I predicted that “Residential battery storage will not be ready for prime time in 2016. […]

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Battery storage is the name of the game in 2016. Will the solar dream of “cutting the cord” become a reality?

In a January 2016 article entitled Solar Trends to Watch in 2016: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, I predicted that “Residential battery storage will not be ready for prime time in 2016. After the Tesla PowerWall hype, it’s going to take a few more years to become reality. Expect a lot of smoke this year- and hopefully we’ll see fire in 2017.” Six months into 2016, let’s take a look at where the energy storage market headed. Will we see batteries hit the mainstream by the end of the year?

A recent report from the Clean Energy Group, based in Montpelier, Vermont, looks at the possible impacts of battery storage on energy bill reduction in multi-family rental housing in California.  The report states that; “Battery storage systems not only provide economic returns today, they can also preserve the value of solar in an evolving policy and regulatory environment. Because batteries empower owners of solar photovoltaics (PV) systems to take control of the energy they produce and when they consume it, storage can deliver deeper cost reductions that can be shared among affordable housing owners, developers, and tenants.”

The major findings of the study are the following:

      • Adding battery storage to an affordable rental housing solar installation in California can eliminate demand charges for building electricity loads, resulting in a net electricity bill of essentially zero.
      • Adding battery storage to California affordable rental housing can almost double the building electricity bill savings achieved over the savings realized through solar alone.
      • Adding battery storage can achieve incremental utility bill savings similar to solar for about a third of the cost of the solar system for owners of affordable rental housing properties in California.
      • Solar+storage projects result in a significantly shorter payback period than stand-alone solar projects.

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However, Jessica Lovering, director of energy at the Breakthrough Institute, thinks the authors of the report are too optimistic about the current state of battery storage. Lovering told the San Diego Union Tribune; “In theory this looks like it would save money and would help make your solar system more economic for affordable housing but the battery technology isn’t there yet, especially not at a cost that would make sense for low-income housing.”

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors, sides with the Clean Energy Group when it comes to being optimistic about energy storage. Musk believes electricity storage will be a faster growing business than selling cars for his company. “No one is really doing it right,” said Musk about battery storage. “[Tesla’s] Powerpacks can scale on a global basis faster than the cars do. … I think the rate of growth will be several times that of the car side of Tesla.”

Are Musk and Clean Energy Group a little too optimistic about the state of solar + storage? Beyond the hype, where exactly are we when it comes to battery tech?

Besides Tesla, the big players in the battery storage space right now are Bosch and Sonnen, both German manufacturers. GE Ventures recently purchased a minority stake in Sonnen, reflecting the global interest in battery storage. With feed-in tariffs being phased out in much of Europe, battery storage may grow more than five-fold by 2020, to at least 170,000 from 30,000 last year, according to the German Energy Storage Association. With Lithium storage prices dropping and demand rising, indications are that storage is on track to pop in the next few years.1_Ameresco-Solar

Not only storage pioneers like Musk are thinking about the implications of batteries, however, and not all of those considering batteries are entirely enthusiastic. According to Energy Wire; “Local utilities’ distributed resources, particularly customer-owned solar and storage facilities, may become large enough before long to pose potential threats to the interstate grid. Disruptions in cities or small towns — whether they’re accidental or intentional — could move upstream to the wider grid, said participants at a daylong grid security conference at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission headquarters.

“There needs to be a lot of work done on distributed resources and how they are effectively integrated into the grid,” said FERC Chairman Norman Bay.” In fact, utilities painted storage as a major threat to grid reliability, along with hackers and terrorism. For the utility industry, which has had every opportunity to integrate solar into their business model, it sounds a bit like the boy who cried wolf.

Meanwhile, battery storage is advancing, in spite of utility industry complaining and foot-dragging. Industry, businesses and institutions in the US are the first wave to see the benefits of battery storage. One example is an Iowa college that has been at loggerheads with its utility over interconnecting renewable energy projects may find it more economical to go it alone with energy storage.

An analysis done by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory concluded that Luther College could save approximately $25,000 in energy costs for each of the next 25 years if it installs a 1.5 MW solar array and a 393 kW battery.

With these examples becoming increasingly common, battery storage may advance ahead of my January predictions.

 

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Perovskite: A Quantum Leap for Solar? https://solartribune.com/perovskite-a-quantum-leap-for-solar/ Mon, 09 May 2016 19:47:54 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=10070 The new solar cell material is showing promise, but will it live up to the hype? Recently, The Huffington Post ran an article by X-Prize CEO Peter Diamandis entitled Disrupting Solar. In the first installment in the two-part series, Diamandis writes glowingly of perovskite, a new and promising solar material. Diamandis writes that “Many entrepreneurs […]

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The new solar cell material is showing promise, but will it live up to the hype?
XPrize CEO Peter Diamandis

XPrize CEO Peter Diamandis


Recently, The Huffington Post ran an article by X-Prize CEO Peter Diamandis entitled Disrupting Solar. In the first installment in the two-part series, Diamandis writes glowingly of perovskite, a new and promising solar material. Diamandis writes that “Many entrepreneurs and investors are cautious about solar after having been burned in the early 2010s, when a string of solar companies took in considerable capital before shuttering their operations.

That being said, there has been a resurgence of promising startups developing commercially viable solar solutions – and we believe we’ll see perovskite solar cells as early as next year.”

Diamandis, a notable Silicon Valley futurist, entrepreneur and co-founder (with Ray Kurzweil) on Singularity University, has been a big proponent of perovskite in recent years. At this year’s Abundance 360 summit, Diamandis’ annual $12k per seat meeting of “curated entrepreneurs,” perovskite was touted as the “next big thing” in solar generation.

In his article, Diamandis rightly notes that “…Estimates suggest that perovskite solar panels could cost just 10 to 20 cents per watt, compared to 75 cents per watt for traditional silicon based panels — anywhere from 3X to 8X cost savings — making solar panels much more affordable for the average consumer.” Also, that “…the theoretical limit of perovskite’s conversion efficiency is about 66 percent, compared to silicon’s theoretical limit of about 32 percent.”  Diamandis goes as far as to write that “…could enable solar to reach a scale that eventually eliminates dependence on fossil fuels entirely.”

That is a pretty bold claim. This isn’t unusual, though, for Diamandis, who loves to extrapolate, and a claim that is welcome to those eager for a glimpse of “nextgen” solar technology. However, Diamandis’ track record as a prognosticator is a little shaky. After all, in his 2012 book Abundance, he predicted clean, safe “nextgen” nuclear reactors would be coming online soon as well. Techno-Utopians like Diamandis have an attractive message and his optimism is contagious, but how realistic is it?

First off, let’s back up and talk a little about exactly what perovskite is.  Named for a 19th Century Russian mineralogist, L.A. Perovski, perovskite structures are any material with the same type of crystal structure as calcium titanium oxide (CaTiO3). A perovskite solar cell is a type of solar cell which includes a perovskite structured compound, most commonly a hybrid organic-inorganic lead or tin halide-based material, as the light-harvesting active layer. Perovskite materials such as methylammonium lead halides are cheap to produce and simple to manufacture.Solar cell efficiencies of devices using these materials have increased from 3.8% in 2009 to 22.1% in early 2016,making this the fastest-advancing solar technology to date.

Schematic of a sensitized perovskite solar cell in which the active layer consist of a layer of mesoporous TiO2 which is coated with the perovskite absorber.

Schematic of a sensitized perovskite solar cell in which the active layer consist of a layer of mesoporous TiO2 which is coated with the perovskite absorber.

Just days before the publishing of the Diamandis piece on The Huffington Post, Scientific American published it’s own article on Perovskite entitled Solar Cell “Wonder Material”—Perovskite—Falls Short of Expectations.  Ironically, this article refutes nearly every claim that Mr. Diamandis makes in his article.  The damning subtitle reads: “New materials may never become efficient for real power, new report says.” The story is reprinted from work originally appearing on Chemistry World, a website of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Essentially, the article states that the promising perovskite technology works well in theory, but not in practical applications.  The article quotes Robert Palgrave of the University College London, UK, who has has reassessed the validity of the tolerance factor in predicting new hybrid perovskite structures.  “The rapid advance of hybrid solar cells is an amazing story,’ Palgrave says. “Having worked on oxide perovskites before, I was sure there would be many more hybrid perovskites to find.” But following failed synthesis attempts in the lab, the team realised “the tolerance factor simply doesn’t work for iodide perovskites.” Ending on a positive note the article states: “Palgrave remains optimistic about prospects in discovering new solar cell materials. ‘It is quite liberating after trying to make new perovskites – now we can use pretty much any organic and inorganic ions we like!”

Meanwhile, scientists outside of the UK are less ready to pronounce perovskites a dead end. A new study by researchers from Brown University, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Qingdao Institute of Bioenergy and Bioprocess Technology published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society is much more optimistic about bringing perovskite solar cells to the mass market.

“We’ve demonstrated a new procedure for making solar cells that can be more stable at moderate temperatures than the perovskite solar cells that most people are making currently,” said Nitin Padture, professor in Brown’s School of Engineering, director of Brown’s Institute for Molecular and Nanoscale Innovation, and the senior co-author of the new paper. “The technique is simple and has the potential to be scaled up, which overcomes a real bottleneck in perovskite research at the moment.” Padture continues… “The simplicity and the potential scalability of this method was inspired by our previous work on gas-based processing of MAPbI3 thin films, and now we can make high-efficiency FAPbI3-based perovskite solar cells that can be thermally more stable. That’s important for bringing perovskite solar cells to the market.”

For the time being, the dire predictions of UK scientists seem premature in light of the momentum behind perovskite’s popularity in the solar research community. However, Mr. Diamandis might want to revise his prediction of commercial perovskite panels in 2016.

 

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Solar Impulse Soars as Energy Bill Crawls https://solartribune.com/solar-impulse-soars-as-energy-bill-crawls/ Thu, 21 Apr 2016 20:07:52 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=10040 After experiencing setbacks last year, both the Solar Impulse and the Murkowski/Cantwell Energy Bill are on the move again. One is a little more exciting than the other, though. After setbacks last year, pilots André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard are resuming their historic around the globe flight in Solar Impulse 2, the world’s most advanced […]

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After experiencing setbacks last year, both the Solar Impulse and the Murkowski/Cantwell Energy Bill are on the move again. One is a little more exciting than the other, though.
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After setbacks last year, pilots André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard are resuming their historic around the globe flight in Solar Impulse 2, the world’s most advanced solar powered plane. This morning, after a few minor weather delays, Piccard departed from Hawaii en route to San Francisco. Solar Impulse 2 will cross North America before flying back to Abu Dhabi, where the journey began in March of 2015. Ironically, while the visionary swiss adventurers soar above the United States using only the power of the sun, the United States congress will continue to flounder forward in search of a new energy bill that can pass through the heavily partisan political quagmire.

After months of delays, the United States Senate finally passed their version of an energy bill, which CONGRESS_PIPELINE_7includes only very modest initiatives for renewable energy. Because it is not exactly the same as the bill passed by the house, the two versions of the bill will need to be reconciled before a final version can go to the President for his signature, and their has been talk of a presidential veto if certain conditions are not met. It seems that even a bill designed specifically be be non-controversial can cause conflict in the current political atmosphere in Washington.

Hopefully, the trans-continental flight of Solar Impulse 2 can help raise awareness of some of the important issues that are happening on the U.S. energy scene. Borschberg and Piccard have both been vocal climate change activists, promoting high tech solutions to the world’s biggest environmental problem. Bertrand Piccard has suggested 7 Principles for Solving Climate Change with Clean Technologies that include the following:

  1. Highlight the solutions instead of the problems.
  2. Stop threatening human mobility, comfort and economic development in order to protect nature.
  3. Speak of profitable investments instead of expensive costs.
  4. Offer both rich and poor countries a share in the returns on investment.
  5. Refrain from setting goals without demonstrating how to reach them.
  6. Combine regulations with private initiative.
  7. Act in the interest of today’s generation and not only for future generations.

tumblr_inline_nxau6wdBBl1tfbwvh_500Piccard has a strong statement to make, and one that Congress should pay attention to…”Very few people will change their current behavior in favor of those living in the future. Let’s demonstrate that the changes we need can already deliver a favorable result on today’s economic, industrial and political development.”

Piccard’s “Let’s do it now, and do it right” approach is one being echoed by a handful of other energy visionaries like Elon Musk of Tesla, SpaceX and SolarCity fame. One of the keys to visions like those of Piccard, Borschberg and Musk is the rapid development in energy storage technologies, particularly in battery storage. In fact, Piccard and Borschberg have chosen to literally bet their lives on the combination of high efficiency solar and compact, robust batteries. How about the Congress?  Is there anything in the new energy bill for battery storage? In fact there is, in the Senate version of the bill. It proposes to put $50 million a year into research on industrial-scale batteries that would assist large utility providers to better utilize renewables. But for small, residential scale batteries?  Maybe a tax break for early adopters of residential scale batteries?  Nope.

What the Senate is offering up is a mish-mash of corporate handouts to large energy companies, and not much for solar advocates to get excited about. Some of the highlights are:

  • Controversial language promoting wood-burning electrical generation as “carbon neutral” (meaning it adds no greenhouse gases to the atmosphere over the long term). Environmental groups and some scientists have criticized the idea as inaccurate and threatening U.S. forests, whereas other scientists have said federal rules need to be clarified to promote some kinds of forest biomass energy.
  • Faster decisions for energy projects. The bill promises to accelerate federal decisions about permits for liquid natural gas (LNG) export terminals, hydropower dam licensing, and electrical transmission line projects. For example, DOE would have to rule on LNG terminals within 45 days of approval from other agencies. Today, there is no deadline.
  • Electrical grid upgrades. The bill pushes for additional work on cybersecurity for the nation’s electrical grid and improvements in dealing with the spread of small, distributed electricity generators such as rooftop solar panels. It includes $500 million for a 10-year research program to develop large-scale energy storage, a key for renewable energy such as wind and solar that fluctuates throughout the day.
  • Conservation funding. The Land and Water Conservation Fund, created with a portion of oil and gas royalties from federal lands, would become permanent. The program is credited with protecting more than 2 million hectares of land since its creation in 1965. It expired in 2015, only to be kept alive temporarily as part of the budget agreement reached at the end of the year.

(from Science Magazine)

This is not to say that Congress has done nothing for solar. In fact, the extension of the Investment Tax Credit was a major win, and nothing to sneeze at. But the fact that the Edison Institute is in favor of the new Energy Bill,  and it’s emphasis on streamlining regulations for utility providers would lead one to believe that it is payback time after the passage of the ITC, and that big money for large scale storage is a strong indicator that Edison and company are out to shut out the small producer.

Thankfully, while politicians slog through another election cycle, visionaries like Borschberg and Piccard give us something to cheer for.

 

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The Aesthetics of Solar: Why Looks Matter https://solartribune.com/the-aesthetics-of-solar-why-looks-matter/ Wed, 24 Feb 2016 23:47:29 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=9973 Historically, rooftop solar arrays have drawn cheers or jeers from neighbors. Now, solar farms are coming under attack for their appearance. Project designers, take note… Bennington, Vermont is the scene of one of the latest NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) case against a solar project based on aesthetics. According to VermontWatchdog.org, the Vermont Public […]

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Historically, rooftop solar arrays have drawn cheers or jeers from neighbors. Now, solar farms are coming under attack for their appearance. Project designers, take note…

Bennington, Vermont is the scene of one of the latest NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) case against a solar project based on aesthetics. According to VermontWatchdog.org, the Vermont Public Services Board denied certification of Chelsea Solar, was one-half of a 4-megawatt, 27-acre solar array planned for a forested area east of U.S. Route 7, in the Apple Hill residential area of Bennington.

Vermont has a set of aesthetic development standards known as the “Quechee test,” which was commonly used to fight windpower developments in past decades. Now, it is being used to pass judgement on large solar projects as well. Under the Quechee test, an adverse effect is considered undue when a positive finding is reached regarding anyone of the following factors:

Bennington Solar Project

Bennington Solar Project

  1. Does the project violate a clear, written community standard intended to preserve the aesthetics or scenic beauty of the area?
  2. Have the applicants failed to take generally available mitigating steps which a reasonable person would take to improve the harmony of the project with its surroundings?
  3. Does the project offend the sensibilities of the average person? Is it offensive or shocking because it is out of character with its surroundings or significantly diminishes the scenic qualities of the area?

As any reader can clearly see, at least two of the three criteria of Vermont’s Quechee test are very subjective. According to reports, the aesthetic concerns were recently raised by a single area resident in regard to the Chelsea solar project, and despite lack of widespread public support, the single activist was able to stop the project using the Quechee test criteria.

Throughout the case, the activist, a retired New York school teacher,  received “harsh criticism” from the projects father and son development team of Thomas and Michael Melone. The duo own New York-based Allco Renewable Energy, the parent company of the Chelsea Solar project.

In a August 12th petitioner’s reply brief , Michael Melone disparages the activist as a “lone wolf” objector and dismisses her worries as “NIMBY concerns.”  Ironically,  in 2010, Thomas Melone himself tried to block the Cape Wind offshore wind project over similar “NIMBY” concerns — namely, the giant turbines would stand in view of his summer home on Martha’s Vineyard.

Independent solar projects, commonly referred to as “rooftop solar” are becoming less of an issue as neighbors become accustomed to the look of solar panels, and as panel design and rack technology give independent solar a sleeker and more low-profile appearance. However, as centralized solar generating plants get larger and larger, the public concern over the aesthetics of solar installations have shifted away from small independent projects to large, utility scale installations.

Meanwhile, not all large solar developers are all oblivious to the aesthetic element of their projects. If fact, Duke Energy’s new solar generating station in Orlando, Florida is laid out in the shape of Disney’s Mickey Mouse-head logo to greet visitors flying into town. According to Inverse.com:

The farm is 48,000 solar panels across 20 acres, with an energy output of five megawatts, according to builder Duke Energy Florida. That a large structure forms an image from above is a tradition that dates back to cruciform churches and the Nazca Lines in the Peruvian desert. But with the advent of Google Maps and the DJI Phantom quadcopter, it’s becoming more important than ever to have sh*t look awesome from above.
PhoenixTowers-Chetwoods-Architects-4
Less “Mickey Mouse” approaches to making large solar arrays more acceptable generally involve screening off projects with trees or landscaping. Another approach is building integrated solar, which has been slow to take off in the current trend away from independent, distributed generation of solar to a utility-scale model. However, developers in other parts of the world are looking at innovative designs that may “up the game” of building integrated, distributed solar in the near future. In China, plans are underway for the construction of the Phoenix Towers, which, if built according to plans, will not only be the world’s tallest towers, but will be covered with building integrated solar as well. Meanwhile, in the United Arab Emirates, several solar mega-structures are slated for construction in the next five years.

Meanwhile, in the US, look for more NIMBY backlash to large solar projects, and more innovative ways to make them more aesthetically pleasing.

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Solar Trends to Watch in 2016: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly https://solartribune.com/solar-trends-to-watch-in-2016-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/ Tue, 05 Jan 2016 14:50:22 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=9873 With the renewal of the Investment Tax Credit and rapid deployment of new solar in Asia, what can the solar industry expect in 2016? Despite turmoil in much of the energy sector, Fortune Magazine predicts that solar energy will be one of the energy technologies to watch in 2016.  Fortune’s energy mavin Katie Fehrenbacher writes […]

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With the renewal of the Investment Tax Credit and rapid deployment of new solar in Asia, what can the solar industry expect in 2016?

Despite turmoil in much of the energy sector, Fortune Magazine predicts that solar energy will be one of the energy technologies to watch in 2016.  Fortune’s energy mavin Katie Fehrenbacher writes that “…It’s not just the U.S.—China and India are also massive future markets for solar. China is set to install as much solar in 2015 as America has done so far cumulatively. India is a little bit of a wild card as the market has unique hurdles. But in Latin American, countries like Chile and Mexico have growing solar markets, too.”

Across the globe, the solar industry is defying naysayers with solid growth and rapidly improving technology. What will be some of the solar news to watch out for in 2016?

The Good:Solar_panels_on_a_roof

  • Module prices will continue to drop. Supplies will continue to increase, and companies like SunEdison have publically targeted $0.40 cent per watt panels by the end of 2016.
  • Local and regional solar businesses will see big growth in 2016. Unlike the windfarm boom of the early 2000’s which relied on large, national installation contractors, local solar installers are best suited to serve the growing market in 2016.
  • A report by GTM Research forecast that the global market for megawatt-scale solar operations and maintenance (O&M) will reach 237GW by 2018.  With the rapid growth in big solar, there will be lots of opportunities in O&M and asset management on both the hardware and software side.
  • Asia and the Middle East will continue full speed on new solar development, creating more global stability in the solar market. 43 Gigawatts of solar planned in China alone… that is A LOT of solar.
  • The extension of the federal ITC will make it easier for state governments to offer incentives, and even utility companies will no longer be able to ignore the writing on the wall. Look for broader public understanding and acceptance of solar in the U.S. in 2016.

The Bad:tesla-powerwall-battery-mounted-outside

  • Residential battery storage will not be ready for prime time in 2016. After the Tesla PowerWall hype, it’s going to take a few more years to become reality. Expect a lot of smoke this year- and hopefully we’ll see fire in 2017.
  • Rooftop solar will continue to be marginalized as a “boutique” product. Without the impending loss of the ITC, sales will level out or drop . The growth of “Big Solar” is good, but it means less energy independence for individuals and less grid resiliency.
  • Solar policy will not be a hot-button issue in the 2016 election campaigns. Despite the strong growth in the renewable energy market, Republicans will continue to mischaracterize solar, and Democrats will be afraid to stand up to the fossil fuel industry and Wall Street. This could be bad…or it could get ugly.

The Ugly:uk-solar-flag

  • Utility companies will continue to lobby state regulators for onerous and unjustified fees for rooftop solar owners. Hopefully, grassroots solar activists will prevail in fighting discriminatory policies, as they did recently in Wisconsin.
  • The cooling Chinese industrial economy will take down several Chinese solar manufacturers. This could be seen as a good thing, weeding out some of the shaky players in the business, but a lot of other companies could get bruised in the fallout.
  • The UK government dealt a “hammer blow” to the British solar industry just a week after the Paris climate summit. If Prime Minister David Cameron does not reconsider these cuts, the UK is going to have a very hard time reaching its carbon reduction goals.
  • Utility companies will continue to work with large solar firms to develop distributed energy resources (DERs) that will attract corporate buyers, shared renewables developers, and mainstream energy sector players like Warren Buffett. The worm has turned, and formerly anti-solar forces will look to move in and muscle out smaller, local developers and installation companies.

For better or worse, the solar industry is maturing, and that will bring new opportunities for some, and others will fall by the wayside. On balance, look for a stellar 2016 in the solar sector.
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About the Author: Rich Dana has spent the last 18 years in and around the solar industry. He is a former energy specialist at the National Center for Appropriate Technology and senior partner at Plan B Consulting LLP. His clients have included GoSolar, ReneSola, Bergey Windpower, The Union of Concerned Scientists, Alliant Energy and the USDOE.

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