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Category Archives: Energy News

Australia Solar Power Additions Hit Record In 2017

Australia’s new solar capacity addition hit the highest on record, according to preliminary estimates from the Clean Energy Regulator, at 1.05 GW, Bloomberg reports. The country is among the frontrunners in solar power globally, with rising electricity prices proving a great motivator for utility clients to switch to solar.

According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, electricity bills Down Under have been rising while the costs of residential-scale rooftop solar panels have been falling. As of last year, the average cost of residential solar power installations was less than US$1.20 (A$1.50) per Watt, after subsidy.

Australian solar panel makers have coal and gas suppliers to thank for the higher electricity bills that drove the record solar installation adoption. Coal and gas are used to generate the bulk of Australia’s electricity, and supply last year was tight, not least because of growing LNG exports, which in turn drove electricity prices higher.


A forecast from BNEF has suggested that Australia is on track to become the world’s leader in distributed electricity supply. It will overtake Germany in 2024, BNEF projects, with 21.7 percent of electricity capacity in the country being of the behind-the-meter sort, compared with 20.2 percent for Germany. By 2040, Australia will get 44.6 percent of its electricity from behind-the-meter installations, with Germany remaining a distant second with 33.6 percent. Rooftop installations will account for 24 percent of Australia’s total installed capacity by 2040.

Subsidies have doubtless had their role to play in the growing attractiveness of solar installations, but so has the falling cost of these installations. “The payback period for residential solar is now as low as it was in 2012, when super-generous feed-in tariffs and subsidies drove a massive boom in installations,” BNEF analyst Annabel Wilton says. Still, subsidies and grants continue to be pretty generous, stimulating wider adoption of the renewable energy systems.



Dominion Energy invests $1B in solar

WASHINGTON — Dominion Virginia Power parent company Dominion Energy is investing $1 billion in its solar fleet in Virginia and North Carolina, and now ranks among utilities with the largest solar portfolios, either operating or under development.

The Solar Energy Industries Association ranks Dominion Energy the sixth largest among U.S. electric utilities.

Over the past two years, Dominion Energy’s solar projects have grown to 1,350 megawatts in service, in construction or under development. Dominion Energy said that is enough to power 340,000 homes during peak sunshine.

In Virginia, Dominion Energy has 27 solar generating facilities covering nearly 4,700 acres either in operation or under development.

Dominion has several high-profile solar projects in the works, including one to power Facebook’s $750 million data center in Henrico County and a partnership with Amazon Web Services to sell power produced by two of the largest solar farms in the mid-Atlantic that Dominion will develop.

“More and more companies have set their own goals for renewable energy and we will back them,” said Pail Koonce, president and CEO of Dominion Energy’s Power Generation Group. “Our programs are intended to meet their needs and help strengthen Virginia’s reputation as the ideal place to do business.”

In addition to projects in Virginia, the company has 13 projects totaling 353 MW either online or scheduled to be in service by 2019 in North Carolina.

Dominion said during construction, its solar projects have to date created 4,300 jobs in Virginia and North Carolina.



Alternative to silicon offers cheaper solar power

The ability to transform the energy of the sun into electricity has already changed energy markets around the world. Last year more than 90 gigawatts of solar power were installed globally — equivalent to the energy generating capacity of Turkey.

However, researchers believe that in coming years solar power could become even more efficient and cheaper than it is now. While most solar cells today are made from silicon, a key area to watch is the development of new materials for solar cells.

One of the most promising of these is a family of crystals known as perovskites (named after the Russian geologist Lev Perovski). Certain perovskites are very good at absorbing light, and have been shown to have a power conversion efficiency of 22 per cent, on par with traditional silicon cells.

Perovskites have so far outperformed other new solar materials — such as dye-sensitised solar cells or organic photovoltaics — in their ability to absorb the sun’s power efficiently. The rapid pace of improvement of perovskite solar cells since they were first tested less than a decade ago has left many scientists optimistic for their progress.

There are still some significant hurdles to overcome before perovskites are suitable for commercial deployment. Because the crystals dissolve easily, they are unable to handle humid conditions and must be protected from moisture with sealed glass plates. Also, while scientists have achieved high efficiency with very small perovskite cells, they have not been able to replicate the effect with larger cell areas.

“The perovskites are certainly not as stable as silicon,” says Michael McGehee, professor of materials science at Stanford University. “So that’s the main challenge. The other is just that it is so new — it hasn’t been scaled yet, and factories haven’t been built. It will take some time.”

No company manufactures commercial perovskite solar cells at large scale yet, although one, Oxford PV, an offshoot of Oxford university, has a pilot production facility for perovskite solar cells in Germany.

The academics and small companies researching perovskites will, for the time being, struggle to match the high levels of funding going into silicon research.

“It is hard right now to go head to head with silicon and beat it,” says Prof McGehee. “The reason is that they already have massive economies of scale.”

In the near term, one solution advocated by Prof McGehee is the use of “tandem” solar cells, which layer a perovskite on top of traditional silicon. The perovskite cell, which is semi-transparent, captures certain wavelengths in the visible spectrum of light, allowing other wavelengths to pass through and be captured by the silicon cell underneath.

Prof McGehee’s research has shown that a tandem cells are 10 per cent more efficient than silicon cells alone. It could be a way for the new material to break into the silicon-dominated market.

“If you go on top of silicon, you are essentially upgrading something that is a $30bn per year market and offering silicon companies something that can improve [their output],” he explains.

If the hurdles of scale and stability can be overcome, perovskite solar cells have the potential to change the economics of solar power, as they are much cheaper to produce than silicon cells. Perovskite crystals can be produced at relatively low temperatures, unlike silicon which requires a tremendous amount of heat to make a wafer.

“The hope is to make [the cost] pennies per watt. That is the goal of these solar cells,” says Nitin Padture, director of the institute for molecular and nanoscale innovation at Brown University. “The versatility and the possibilities of these materials are quite exciting.”



BSES launches rooftop solar single-point for apartment complexes

In an initiative to promote clean energy, BSES, one of Delhi’s two electricity distribution companies (discoms), on Sunday launched the country’s first solar rooftop consumer aggregation programme for residential buildings to provide the installations at a single point for the entire apartment complex. 

The sister discom BSES Rajdhani Power Ltd’s (BRPL) “Solar City Initiative”, designed to maximise rooftop solar power use in south and west Delhi, was launched at an event here by Delhi Power Minister Satyendar Jain. 

“Taking its commitment to promote renewables to the next level, BRPL, in partnership with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) PACE-D and Indo-German Collaboration (GIZ) has launched an ambitious ‘Solar City Initiative’,” a BSES release said. 

“Unlike conventional methods, under this programme, rooftop solar installations will be provided at a single point for the entire apartment complex.” 

In the first phase of the programme, around 150 residential societies will be targeted in the Dwarka area. 

“Looking at the response, the programme will be expanded to other residential segments across BSES,” it said. 

Listing the benefits for consumers, the discom said a 1 kW solar photovoltaic (PV) rooftop system is expected to generate 4-5 kilowatt hours (kwh) of electricity per day, which corresponds to an average monthly saving on bills of about Rs 750 for a period of 25 years for single-point delivery consumers. 

“Moreover, to set up the solar plant, a 30 per cent capital subsidy is provided by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy along with a Rs 2 per unit generation-based incentive allotted to a limited number of early projects by the Delhi government,” it said. 

Besides, the scheme would help BRPL in meeting its renewable purchase obligation, as well as minimise overloading issues in congested areas during the peak summer months, the statement said. 

 “It will also help us in achieving capex deferment for line replacement and unplanned grid up-gradation intermittently,” it added. 

BSES also announced that a portal has been launched as part of the initiative for online processing of rooftop solar applications, as well as a dedicated solar helpline for faster resolution of customer queries. 




India Racing To 200 Megawatts Of Solar Projects At Airports

India seems well on track to have 200 megawatts of solar power capacity operational at its airports over the next few years.

India’s civil aviation minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju recently told media outlets that 200 megawatts of solar power capacity is planned for airports across the country. He was speaking at the inauguration of the 15 megawatt solar power project at the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport at Kolkata, West Bengal.

With the project, the total solar power capacity installed at government-owned airports increased to 90 megawatts. Capacity at privately-operated airports stands at 45 megawatts, bringing the total national capacity to 135 megawatts and the target of 200 megawatts well within sight.

The Kolkata airport project works on the same principle as the one at the Kochi airport which is the first airport to run only on solar power. Any excess power generated from the solar project will be fed into the grid for additional revenue.

The Kochi airport currently operates a 15.5 megawatt solar power project and plans to increase its capacity in a phased manner to 24.2 megawatts, including a 2.7 megawatt solar-powered carport.

Not just airports, India plans to set up renewable energy projects at its seaports as well. Earlier this year, the Ministry of Shipping announced the ‘Green Port Initiative’ which will see implementation of 91.5 megawatts of solar and 45 megawatts of wind energy capacity. This capacity will be installed at government-operated ports only while privately-operated ports are expected to install additional renewable energy capacity.

The Ministry of Shipping also announced that a feasibility study for a 200 megawatt solar-wind hybrid park has been undertaken at the port of Kandla in the west Indian state of Gujarat.



How Is Tesla’s Solar Business Faring?

Tesla has been looking to shake up the solar market following its $2 billion acquisition of SolarCity last year. While the performance of the solar operations has been mixed in recent quarters, Tesla has been focusing on restructuring SolarCity’s operations, to transform its sales and marketing model, introduce new products and focus on more lucrative sectors of the solar market.

Revenues from the company’s energy generation and storage business stood at $818 million over the first nine months of this year, accounting for less than 10% of total revenues. In this note, we take a look at how Tesla’s solar operations are faring.

Reducing Customer Acquisition Costs

Tesla has been looking to cut customer acquisition costs, which account for a meaningful portion of the total costs of a residential solar system. The company said that it would cease SolarCity’s aggressive door-to-door sales model – which involves significant manpower – and focus on selling solar panels through Tesla showrooms – which are located in high-visibility areas, with dedicated energy product sales personnel. The company also said that it would continue to leverage strong-performing channel partnerships. Tesla is also focusing on cutting its advertising expenses.

Focusing On Higher Value Projects

Tesla has also indicated that it would not focus on absolute installation growth in its solar business, noting that it was analyzing its portfolio of residential and commercial solar projects to prioritize those with higher cash flow and profitability. The company said that it has de-emphasized some commercial and industrial solar energy projects. This was partly why the company deployed just about 109 MW of generation capacity over Q3, down from the 187 MW SolarCity solar city deployed in the year-ago period. This could bode well for profitability in the long run.

Manufacturing Ramp-Up

Tesla’s solar panel manufacturing facility, dubbed Gigafactory 2, which will be operated along with Panasonic in Buffalo, New York, will be the largest producer of photovoltaic modules in North America when it is fully operational, producing about 1 GW of panels by 2019. Tesla recently said that production has commenced in the factory while noting that would eventually expand capacity to 2 GW per year. The high-efficiency solar cell production in the United States could prove a competitive advantage for Tesla at a time when the Section 201 case threatens to impose tariffs on imported silicon-based solar cells and panels, potentially driving up the landed cost of competing products.



In 10 years’ time trains could be solar powered

A technique has been devised that allows electricity to flow directly from solar panels to electrified train tracks to the trains themselves making solar powered trains more feasible than ever before.

Last week, my 10:10 colleague Leo Murray co-authored a new report on solar-powered trains with Nathaniel Bottrell, an electrical engineer at Imperial College.


It’s exciting stuff. We think solar could power 20% of the Merseyrail network in Liverpool, as well as 15% of commuter routes in Kent, Sussex and Wessex. There’s scope for solar trams in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Nottingham, London and Manchester too, and there’s no reason it should just be a British thing either. We’re especially excited about possibilities in San Francisco, Mexico City, India and Spain, but trains and trams all over the world could be running on sun in a few years time

It’s also a genuine world first. There are a few solar stations – Blackfriars Bridge being by far the coolest – and some trains in India even have solar panels on their roofs, but that’s just to power equipment like lights and fans. No one’s moving the trains themselves with solar. Yet.

What’s especially interesting is how our new innovation came about – in particular the role community energy groups have played in its development (often despite policy support, not because of it, or in response to policy constraints). Looking ahead, there are also important questions to be asked about what role these community groups might play in its deployment.

The idea came from a community solar group in Balcombe, West Sussex, formed in response to the first anti-fracking protests in the UK, in the summer of 2013. After the drillers, the activists, the press and various other hangers-on had left, the villagers were left with a question our current energy system lets most of us ignore: how should we power ourselves?

They decided they wanted local, community-owned energy, and also that they wanted to go solar. Looking into places to site a solar farm, they initially found the local grid didn’t have the capacity to take more solar. Searching for a way to solve that problem, they looked at the local railway and asked an engineering professor who happened to live locally, “could we plug it there, instead?” His answer was yes, they could, but the technical challenges to get there were a bit too much for a small-scale community group to grapple with. So they found another nearby solar site that could plug into the grid.

But when solar cuts hit the UK in 2015, we dug out the idea. What had been a possible local solution to Balcombe’s grid capacity issues a while back could build into a larger opportunity for renewable energy everywhere. Community energy shouldn’t have had to innovate at that point – renewable energy tech’s pretty great as it is – but with the solar cuts so deep, and onshore wind effectively banned in England, the solar trains idea gave us options. So 10:10 teamed up Energy Futures Lab at Imperial College London, umbrella group Community Energy South, and electrical engineering specialists Turbo Power Systems to find out more under Innovate UK’s Energy Game Changers competition.

Looking ahead, it will be a few years yet before we’re able to deploy the tech necessary to plug solar into trains. It needs building, and it needs testing, but I’d be shocked if it doesn’t happen. What’s less clear is whether community groups will be involved as solar railways roll out. As they’ve been part of this from the get-go, they’re super-keen. But it’s all too easy for the public to be shunted to the sidelines when the big budgets and complexity of infrastructure projects get going.

It’s common for public involvement to be seen as an inefficiency – in science, politics, finance, technology and more – a “nice to have” that takes too much time and effort when we’re in the serious business of things like climate change, economics and keeping the trains running on time.

But the opposite is true, especially when it comes to climate action. It’s the public who are driving change, often despite the actions of policy-makers.

Community energy offers a particularly powerful way to give members of the public a role in decarbonisation. Moreover, by tapping into their energy, enthusiasm and ability to bring other members of the public with them, we’ll get it done faster, as well as fairer. If it wasn’t for community energy groups coming up with this idea, pushing it forward and scoping out the places it could be utilised, solar trains would still be far more than a few years away.

Alice Bell was a founder member of the Political Science blog. Previously an academic in science communication and policy studies, she is now co-director at climate change charity



Japanese solar firm to take on Tesla in roofing-tile competition

 Japan’s Solar Frontier K K plans to sell solar panels incorporated into roofing and wall materials, taking on Tesla in building technology that can generate power in the smallest spaces available.

Solar Frontier, a wholly owned unit of Showa Shell Sekiyu K K, is speaking with potential partners and aiming for the second half of 2019 to begin sales, chief executive officer Atsuhiko Hirano said in an interview at the company’s Tokyo headquarters.

The maker of thin-film photovoltaic panels is entering a business where Tesla created a buzz last year with sleek designs and upscale marketing. Japanese panel makers such as Kyocera and Kaneka have also been offering solar shingles, and attempts that predate Tesla’s effort have come and gone, including one abandoned by Dow Chemical last year.

“Our solar panels will be something that can substitute the functions of building materials currently in use so that customers can reduce overall cost,” Mr Hirano said.

Commercial-building facades also offer opportunities. “Walls aren’t being used because panels tend to be heavy and difficult to handle,” Mr Hirano said, adding that Solar Frontier’s new products will be thin, light and durable. The company plans to replace the glass typically used in the substrate with aluminum.

Solar Frontier is turning to the small-scale market as developers building industrial-size solar-power stations are having difficulty securing access to the nation’s electricity grid, said Mr Hirano, who’s also chairman of the Japan Photovoltaic Energy Association, a solar lobbying group.

Japan’s incentive program for renewables boosted the country’s solar capacity more than eightfold since 2011. Following a sudden increase in installed capacity as well as planned projects, some Japanese utilities began setting caps on how much solar power their grids would take. Projects in less populated regions face the risk that their plants may have to stop selling electricity in response to changes in power demand.

“Hurdles associated with grid access are sapping business appetites,” Mr Hirano said, adding that utilities will face declining power demand as a result of expansions in rooftop solar.



Some of the UK’s trains could be running on solar power by 2020

Railway companies could save £4.5 million a year by moving to solar, according to a new study. If you live south of London, chances are your train journey could soon be powered by solar energy. Well, sort of.

New research by Imperial College and green energy charity 10:10, has found that solar energy could supply ten per cent of the power needed to fuel the UK’s DC-powered rail routes.

The report argues that this can be achieved at a cheaper rate than if the network were fuelled by normal electricity supplies as solar would bypass the national grid and avoid subsidiary costs.

According to the Riding Sunbeams report, 15 per cent of the train networks across Kent, East Sussex and West Sussex could be powered by track-connected solar PV arrays.

On top of this, six per cent of the London Underground’s energy demand could also be supplied by solar-power. This is about half of the electricity used on the Piccadilly line. In the north of England, 20 per cent of the Merseyrail network in Liverpool could also be solar-powered. Rail networks closer to the equator could be completely supplied by solar PV arrays, the report explains.

“This study has concentrated on confirming that the power from a typical solar farm site could be matched with the patterns of train energy use,” says Nathaniel Bottrell, an overseer of the project and a researcher at Imperial College. “The good news is that this is technically feasible and economically attractive.”

By using direct current (DC) rail systems, the solar energy, which is also DC, would not need to be converted to and from alternating current (AC) systems, saving an estimated £4.5 million per year. “It just so happens that solar rays produce direct current (DC) electricity,” says Leo Murray, director of 10:10. The railway needs 750 vaults of DC electricity, and solar comes in at between 600 and 800. “This is a very happy coincidence that solar energy produces the same type and same voltage the trains need,” Murray says.

DC railway networks were some of the first to be built in the UK and have since been replaced with safer AC networks. In AC networks, the electricity cables are above the train rather than near the track, making them less dangerous. However, the compatibility of DC lines with solar rays means the study by Imperial College and 10:10 only focuses on DC traction networks for solar energy expansion.

“The fall in the cost of storage now make this proposal economically feasible,” Bottrell says. Advances in storage technology mean that there is no energy waste from the solar rays. “There could be times when there is power available from the solar panels but no train close by to use it,” adds Bottrell, as often the flow of energy has to be constant. This is solved by including a battery to store the energy and support the rail network during the evening or following the morning rush-hour.

“All of this equipment must be compatible with the railway systems, notably it must pass tests to prove it does not interfere with the things like the signalling system,” says Bottrell. However, the report predicts these tests could be approved and effectively implemented in two to three years.

“There may not be a business case for implementing storage systems in the first place,” Murray says. But installing storage systems down the network rail lines could be costly and will be something Network Rail needs to look into, he adds.

Phillip Thies, a senior lecturer of renewable energy at Exeter University agrees that business negotiations may prove the biggest complication for the idea. “The proposed method is to install them on land close to the power substations. This may have practical implications regarding availability of land and planning permits for large-scale solar arrays,” he says. Nevertheless, he says the research provides a robust basis to explore potential investment in more detail.

However, in terms of vision, the UK may already be falling behind. India has the most ambitious target for implementing a solar-powered network, hoping to make 100 gigawatts of energy from solar PV generating capacity by 2022. “We have also seen news of something a bit similar in the Netherlands where the Dutch rail network is being powered by 100 per cent renewable energy,” says Tim Green, director of the Energy Futures Lab at Imperial College London and lead on this project.

While the UK remains small-scale in vision, ultimately such proposals could be more significant for proving the economic advantages of solar. “It unlocks direct access to a major purchaser of energy in a way which enables subsidy-free solar energy to expand,” Green says.



India’s largest floating solar power plant opens in Kerala

India’s largest floating solar power plant opens in Kerala


Watt a sight!

What you are seeing is the country’s largest floating solar power plant and it’s set up on the Banasura Sagar reservoir in Wayanad, Kerala.

The 500 kWp (kilowatt peak) solar plant of the Kerala state electricity board (KSEB) floats on 1.25 acres of water surface of the reservoir. The solar plant has 1,938 solar panels which have been installed on 18 ferro cement floaters with hollow insides.

Watt a sight!

What you are seeing is the country’s largest floating solar power plant and it’s set up on the Banasura Sagar reservoir in Wayanad, Kerala.

The 500 kWp (kilowatt peak) solar plant of the Kerala state electricity board (KSEB) floats on 1.25 acres of water surface of the reservoir. The solar plant has 1,938 solar panels which have been installed on 18 ferro cement floaters with hollow insides.

Features of the solar plant

The plant has been set up by KSEB at a cost of Rs 9.25 crore. The project has used high- efficiency solar panels and a floating substation have been set up on the reservoir itself to convert the output into 11kV, considering economic and safety aspects.

A 500 KVA (Kilo volt ampere) transformer, 17 inverters, a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system to control and monitor power generation and an anchoring system are part of the floating solar project.

How is a flotaing plant more beneficial?

Floating solar plants had higher efficiency compared to ground-mounted installations due to the moderating effect of water bodies on panel temperature.

So huge

The project is a scaled up version of the 10 kW floating solar project which was inaugurated in Banasura Sagar reservoir itself in January 2016. Officials of Thiruvananthapuram-based Adtech Systems Ltd, which set up the plant, said that the plant would be able to generate 7.5 lakh units of power annually which will be fed to the KSEB grid using underwater cables.

More power to Kerala

Speaking after commissioning the project, Mani said that it has become imperative for the state to explore all avenues of renewable energy as it was currently producing just 30% of its power requirement.

“We are purchasing 70% of our energy requirement from other states. But still the government is hopeful of avoiding power cuts this summer season as well,” Mani said. The power generated by the plant will be transmitted to the KSEB’s Padinjarathara substation.