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Solar Energy Storage Problem May be Solved in New Single-System Technology

Generating power from the sun isn’t the problem. The technology has been there for decades. Storing that power efficiently, however, has been a challenge. Until now.


AUSTIN, Texas — Generating power from the sun isn’t the problem. The technology has been there for decades. Storing that power efficiently, however, has been a challenge.

That’s why the Department of Energy has awarded $3 million to engineering researchers at The University of Texas at Austin to overcome the Achilles’ heel of the solar power story since Day One: how to store its energy.

To date, most major solar energy systems are bulky and expensive, with inefficient storage capacity. Energy coming from existing solar power systems must be housed in storage systems outside of the generators that create the power. In other words, two separate systems are required to ensure successful operation.

But experts from UT’s Cockrell School of Engineering have developed a way to integrate solar power generation and storage into one single system, effectively reducing the cost by 50 percent. The UT project will develop the next generation of utility-scale photovoltaic inverters, also referred to as modular, multifunction, multiport and medium-voltage utility-scale silicon carbide solar inverters.

Collectively, the combined technologies are known as an M4 Inverter – their main function being the conversion of the direct current output of solar panels to medium-voltage alternating current, which eliminates the need for a bulky and expensive low-frequency transformer.

Electrical and computer engineering professor Alex Huang, who directs the Semiconductor Power Electronics Center in the Cockrell School and works with the UT Center for Electromechanics, is the lead principal investigator for this DOE-funded project. He believes the M4 Inverter will create efficiencies in a variety of ways.

“Our solution to solar energy storage not only reduces capital costs, but it also reduces the operation cost through its multifunctional capabilities,” Huang said. “These functionalities will ensure the power grids of tomorrow can host a higher percentage of solar energy. By greatly reducing the impact of the intermittence of solar energy on the grid and providing grid-governing support, the M4 Inverter provides the same resilience as any fossil-fuel-powered grid.”

One such additional functionality is the ability to provide fast frequency control, which would prevent a solar-powered grid from experiencing blackouts on days when large cloud cover might obstruct solar farming.

To achieve the level of efficiency needed to convert the solar energy to the power grid, new silicon carbide power electronics switches will be used in the M4 Inverter. The need for a bulky 60-hertz transformer is also eliminated in the M4 Inverter to further increase the efficiency and to reduce the capital and installation cost. Construction of the system will be based on the modular building block concept that further reduces manufacturing costs and provides reliable operation through a power backup. The team will partner with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, Toshiba International, Wolfspeed and Opal-RT, as well as Argonne National Lab.

The DOE awarded $20 million in funding for nine projects to advance early-stage solar power electronics technologies. The projects chosen were deemed critical to addressing solar photovoltaic reliability challenges, lowering the cost of installing and maintaining a photovoltaic solar energy system and achieving the DOE’s goal to cut in half the cost of electricity for a solar system by 2030.

Source: UT News


India Plans 2 Gigawatt Solar-Wind Hybrid Tender To Cut Costs

In an attempt to sustain low tariff bids and optimal use of transmission infrastructure, India is looking to introduce tenders for development of hybrid wind and solar power projects.

The Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) has announced plans to issue a tender to develop 2 gigawatts of solar and wind energy capacity. SECI will auction 1 gigawatt of solar and 1 gigawatt of wind energy capacity at a location likely to be disclosed once the actual tender documents are released.

The concept behind this tender is true co-development of solar and wind energy projects. Site planning would be done in such a manner that solar panels would be installed in shadow-free areas between wind turbines. This would significantly reduce land cost per megawatt of capacity installed.

There would be additional savings for integration of these projects with the transmission network. No specific or additional grid integration equipment would be required for installation. Such projects would ensure that project developers continue to quote highly competitive bids to install solar and wind energy projects.

Such projects, apart from cutting development and transmission integration costs, would also help in renewable energy penetration in states where land availability is an issue and restricts development of renewable energy on a very large scale.

Since hybrid renewable energy projects would in this manner and at this scale would be implemented in India for the first time, it will also be interesting to see how the power generated from these projects is handled. India has so far been unsuccessful in integration of large-scale storage systems with solar and wind energy projects in order to reduce the impact of their unpredictable generation on the grid. Combining wind with solar power projects may give greater flexibility to regulators to ensure a much smoother power injection compared to standalone wind and solar power projects.

Understandably, it will be much easier for the companies with experience in development of wind and solar power to implement these hybrid projects. Such companies include ReNew Power, Adani Power, Avaada Power, and Tata Power.



Guiding Light: This Indian Village Could Show The Way To 1.5 Billion Who Lack Electricity

When GE Global Research Center engineer Jayesh Barve arrived in Behlolpur, India, in February, he found children and adults from this remote village learning to read and write with the help of a new computer.

The sight overwhelmed him. As recently as last fall, Behlolpur, located in Bihar province, had no electricity — much less computers. Villagers rose with the sun and lit candles or oil lamps at night, just like their ancestors centuries ago.

The village is only 40 kilometers as the crow flies from the nearest town, but it could be on another planet, technologywise. But things changed last summer, when Barve and his colleagues from GRC, GE Power and GE Licensing connected the homes in Behlolpur to a small microgrid they’d designed. The villagers are already rushing to catch up with the 21st century. “To see the difference from what it was to where they are now,” Barve trails off, his voice heavy with emotion. “I’m so proud of what we accomplished.”

Barve, lead engineer on the project, was part of a team from GE’s Global Research Center in Bangalore, India, which along with GE Power and GE Ventures Licensing deployed this hybrid distributed power system that uses a combination of solar and diesel battery technology to provide continuous, reliable power to the villagers. The station has a small solar farm connected to batteries to store extra power on a sunny day. A diesel generator can step in on an overcast day. The power sources are connected to an intelligent control box that monitors the energy flow and decides which one — solar, diesel or battery — is the best to use at any given moment.

The technology originally was developed for GE’s large wind and solar power installations. But the latest adaptation potentially can bring electricity to some of the 1.5 billion people around the world who don’t have it.

Until recently, residents in the remote Indian village Behlolpur completed their nightly tasks by candlelight or oil lamps. But starting in August, each house began receiving electricity through overhead power lines connected to the power station. Images credit: GE Power.

The team also installed its newly developed “mini field agent,” a highly secure gateway that streams real-time operational data from the remote plant to Predix, GE’s app development platform for the Industrial Internet. It uses GE’s “digital twin” software, which monitors the condition and performance of the on-site equipment and helps optimize performance. “It enables the plant to send information to engineers, so that small issues can be spotted before they become expensive problems,” says Srinivas Kandasamy, research engineer at GRC India. The remote monitoring helps overcome challenges of scarcity of skilled resources for plant operations and maintenance in such remote locations.

Today in Behlolpur, each house has access to electricity through overhead power lines connected to the power station. The first light, connected in August, was just outside the control room of the station. Engineers then worked to connect each household.

The new computer, which is helping rid the village of illiteracy, is just the start of the changes that electricity has brought to Behlolpur. Barve says children are spending time doing schoolwork after dark, and playing games, and the villagers are constructing a women’s education center. Having power also means new commercial opportunities. Villagers are developing a rice-husking mill and installing irrigation for their crops.

Building the power plant presented a set of challenges. It takes four hours to reach the village from the nearest city, partially along unpaved roads. Then there’s the bridge across the mighty Ganges River right outside of the village. The river rises so fast and so high during the wet season, which starts in mid-June, that residents have to take down the only bridge across it every year.

Behlolpur now has a computer, and its children spend their evenings studying and playing under the glow of electric lights. The villagers also are constructing a women’s education center. Image credit: GE Power.

Early in June, the GE team rushed to beat the rains to get the power plant components to the village. Each piece had to be taken by a small truck across the bridge, which is made of metal sheets and plastic barrels that are lashed together with metal chains for easy disassembly. “We had to beg them to keep the bridge up a few extra hours to get everything across,” says Kandasamy. But it was for naught. While one truck made it across the bridge, the last battery modules and accessory boxes had to be ferried across the river by wooden boat the day after the bridge was removed.

“In a country like India, where an estimated 300 million people still live without access to reliable electricity, this technology will help energy providers build community microgrids, overcoming the challenges of setting up transmission and distribution lines,” said Munesh Makhija, CEO of GE India Technology Centre and CTO of GE South Asia. “I am proud of how our Power, GRC and Licensing teams are bringing GE’s purpose to life!”

“I have worked on many projects over my 25-year career,” Barve says. “But this project was special. It was such a rare opportunity to see the real, life-changing impact of our technology.”

Source: GE.Com


Smart windows could combine solar panels and TVs too

Imagine standing in front of a wall of windows, surveying the view. You hear someone enter the room behind you. You turn. “Welcome,” you say. “Here is the video I wanted to show you.” At the press of a button, the view vanishes and the windows transform into a high-definition TV screen.

No, your friend isn’t James Bond, and you aren’t the next Q. Still, even as you watch the video, your window-TV is doing as much to help avert global catastrophe as any Bond-film gadget ever did. You see, it’s also a solar panel, constantly harvesting renewable energy from the sun. The problem of climate change is not a typical movie supervillain, but it’s a trickier problem than Goldfinger posed. Worse, humanity’s efforts to solve it with existing technologies aren’t working fast enough.

The heroes swooping in to the rescue could be a new technology called organic semiconductors, a new way to make materials that conduct electricity only under certain conditions. Most semiconductors in modern electronics are made of crystalline, rock-forming elements like silicon. Organic semiconductors, by contrast, are made primarily of carbon-based molecules. They take less energy to make than conventional semiconductors. A conventional photovoltaic cell, for instance, can take years to produce as much energy as was required to build it; an organic photovoltaic cell takes just months.

However, perhaps the most exciting thing about organic semiconductors is that it’s possible to design molecules that are flexible, lightweight, colored or completely transparent. In the lab I work in, we design and test new small molecules that have specific, targeted properties – like making a simple transparent pane into a window, screen and solar panel.

Each of these research samples is a small organic solar panel made from different molecules, with varying degrees of transparency to visible light.

Capturing solar energy
Making a solar panel that’s also a window involves a bit of creativity: It has to be something that both absorbs light, to make electricity, and lets light through, to let people see in and out.

Our material takes advantage of the fact that a window only needs to transmit human-visible light; in my lab, we can make molecules that absorb only UV and infrared light, wavelengths of light our eyes don’t see. These are parts of the spectrum we don’t really want to pass through a window anyway. UV light gives you a sunburn. And infrared light is hot: Filtering it out can save on the energy use and expense of air conditioning. It’s true that our method doesn’t capture absolutely all the energy in sunlight, but that’s okay. The amount of solar energy that reaches Earth every hour is more than all humanity uses in a year.
Transparent organic solar panels don’t absorb the part of the solar spectrum that includes visible light; they only absorb UV and infrared light.

Flipping the process around
Organic semiconductors are also useful for making monitors and displays. If you think about it, a screen is basically a solar panel run backwards. It generates light from an electric current. Both solar panels and display screens involve conversions between light and electricity. Just like we can design transparent organic semiconductors, we can design molecules that emit specific colors of light when an electric current is applied.

Put together one molecule that emits red, one molecule that emits blue, and one molecule that emits green, and you have an organic light-emitting diode. Those are the key to what are known in the TV and monitor marketplace as OLED screens.

Simplified diagrams of organic photovoltaic cells and organic light emitting diodes show how they operate very similarly, just in reverse.

To make a smart window, we would need to deposit two layers of organic semiconductors – one layer to generate electricity from sunlight and another to emit light – onto a pan of a transparent conducting material, like indium tin oxide. These technologies exist, but are not yet available for sale.

Putting the pieces together
Half of this device is already commercially available: Energy-efficient high-resolution OLEDs are a big hit in the marketplace for home and office TVs.

Companies selling organic solar panels, and even organic solar panel windows, are just getting going. Ongoing research efforts, like mine, are aimed at optimizing the properties of these materials, increasing their efficiency, and making them more durable.

As we make the components better, we’ll also find ways to integrate organic-semiconductor solar cells and organic-semiconductor displays together. It may be a few years out yet, but there is certainly incentive to do so, with so many possible applications. An electric car with smart windows could collect enough solar energy to drive the car 10 to 15 miles a day, enough for a typical commute. Driving directions could appear on the windshield, too. Anywhere there’s a window – whether in a skyscraper or a mobile home – there could be a smart window, saving space, saving energy and letting the occupants feel like James Bond.



California set to become first US state requiring solar panels on new homes

California is set to become the first US state to make solar panels mandatory on most newly built homes.

Workers install solar panels on the roof of a home in San Rafael, California Getty

The state’s Energy Commission is due to vote next week on new energy standards that would require virtually all new homes to be constructed with solar panels from 2020.

Currently around 20 per cent of single-family homes are constructed with solar capacity built in, but if the new standards are approved as expected this proportion will rise sharply.

“California is about to take a quantum leap in energy standards,” Bob Raymer, technical director for the California Building Industry Association, told The Mercury News.

“No other state in the nation mandates solar, and we are about to take that leap.”

The new requirement would apply to all homes over three stories tall.

Besides the wider implementation of solar power, the new guidelines would also call for increased reliance on electricity over natural gas and increased battery storage.

The new mandate dates back over a decade to a goal by the energy commission to improve the efficiency of homebuilding so that “newly constructed buildings can be net zero energy by 2020 for residences and by 2030 for commercial buildings”.

“Net zero” would mean that all homes produce enough solar power to offset all electricity and gas they use.

The new mandate does not actually demand homes must be net zero, as state officials stated this goal is not yet cost effective.

CR Herro, vice president of environmental affairs at real estate development company Meritage Homes, said the new energy standard would add up to $30,000 (£22,164) to the cost of home construction.

However, he noted that over the 25-year lifespan of the home’s solar system, the owner’s reduced operating costs would save them up to $60,000.

Despite this, the added costs were criticised by homebuilder and design consultant Bill Watt, who said they would push house prices further out of reach for many.

“We’re not building enough housing already,” said Mr Watt, who is former president of the Orange County Building Industry Association.
“Why not just pause for a little while, focus on the affordability and housing issues, then circle back?”

The news was welcomed by environmental groups, with Pierre Delforge, energy efficiency programme director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, describing the move as “another important step towards the environmentally-friendly, healthy and affordable home of the future”.

The co-called Golden State has a good record on solar energy – with a large proportion of California’s power supply already generated by renewable methods.

On particularly sunny days, the state’s already ample solar capacity has been known to produce so much power that electricity prices turn negative.

While there was a massive worldwide increase in renewable energy investment in 2017, particularly in solar power, the US as a whole actually saw a slight dip.

Source: Independent


Bright future for solar cell technology

Harnessing energy from the sun, which emits immensely powerful energy from the center of the solar system, is one of the key targets for achieving a sustainable energy supply.

Light energy can be converted directly into electricity using electrical devices called solar cells. To date, most solar cells are made of silicon, a material that is very good at absorbing light. But silicon panels are expensive to produce.

Scientists have been working on an alternative, made from perovskite structures. True perovskite, a mineral found in the earth, is composed of calcium, titanium and oxygen in a specific molecular arrangement. Materials with that same crystal structure are called perovskite structures.

Perovskite structures work well as the light-harvesting active layer of a solar cell because they absorb light efficiently but are much cheaper than silicon. They can also be integrated into devices using relatively simple equipment. For instance, they can be dissolved in solvent and spray coated directly onto the substrate.

Materials made from perovskite structures could potentially revolutionize solar cell devices, but they have a severe drawback: they are often very unstable, deteriorating on exposure to heat. This has hindered their commercial potential.

The Energy Materials and Surface Sciences Unit at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST), led by Prof. Yabing Qi, has developed devices using a new perovskite material that is stable, efficient and relatively cheap to produce, paving the way for their use in the solar cells of tomorrow. Their work was recently published in Advanced Energy Materials. Postdoctoral scholars Dr. Jia Liang and Dr. Zonghao Liu made major contributions to this work.

This material has several key features. First, it is completely inorganic – an important shift, because organic components are usually not thermostable and degrade under heat. Since solar cells can get very hot in the sun, heat stability is crucial. By replacing the organic parts with inorganic materials, the researchers made the perovskite solar cells much more stable.

“The solar cells are almost unchanged after exposure to light for 300 hours,” says Dr. Zonghao Liu, an author on the paper.

All-inorganic perovskite solar cells tend to have lower light absorption than organic-inorganic hybrids, however. This is where the second feature comes in: The OIST researchers doped their new cells with manganese in order to improve their performance. Manganese changes the crystal structure of the material, boosting its light harvesting capacity.

“Just like when you add salt to a dish to change its flavor, when we add manganese, it changes the properties of the solar cell,” says Liu.

Thirdly, in these solar cells, the electrodes that transport current between the solar cells and external wires are made of carbon, rather than of the usual gold. Such electrodes are significantly cheaper and easier to produce, in part because they can be printed directly onto the solar cells. Fabricating gold electrodes, on the other hand, requires high temperatures and specialist equipment such as a vacuum chamber.

There are still a number of challenges to overcome before perovskite solar cells become as commercially viable as silicon solar cells. For example, while perovskite solar cells can last for one or two years, silicon solar cells can work for 20 years.

Qi and his colleagues continue to work on these new cells’ efficiency and durability, and are also developing the process of fabricating them on a commercial scale. Given how quickly the technology has developed since the first perovskite solar cell was reported in 2009, the future for these new cells looks bright.



2017 Was Weird For Solar. What’s Coming This Year and Beyond?

Several positive trends halted last year, but new sources of strength are appearing.

The solar industry weathered a particularly strange 2017, but is poised for global growth.

If the right factors come together, solar power could provide 15 percent of the global electricity mix by the 2030s, rather than the business-as-usual rate of 5 percent, said MJ Shiao, Wood Mackenzie’s global lead for renewables and emerging technologies, during a presentation at GTM’s Solar Summit in San Diego Tuesday.

Achieving that level would make crucial strides toward global climate-change mitigation, but requires overcoming notable obstacles. In recent months, module prices have actually risen, growth in the U.S. has slowed, and policy fluctuation has introduced uncertainty.

Over the long term, the growth of solar creates problems for itself by reshaping grid dynamics, tanking prices in the sunny hours and ramping them up for the morning and evening peaks.

“We’re on the cusp of a broad transformation, but we haven’t gotten there yet,” Shiao said.

Strange days

Last year bucked a long-running trend in U.S. solar deployments: They finally went down compared to the year before.

The downturn came from a slowdown in distributed solar combined with a decline in the contracted utility-scale pipeline. It didn’t help that the original federal Investment Tax Credit expiration pulled ample capacity into 2016 deployment, leaving pipelines depleted for 2017.

Adding to the weirdness, module prices moved in a new direction.

“They did fall in many markets, but we saw the first global average uptick in years,” Shiao said.

That movement resulted from supply constraints from China’s deployment ramp-up and hoarding in advance of the U.S. solar tariff decision, among other things.

Better times to come

The industry has reason to hope for a better 2018.

After years of policy and regulatory roadblocks, the community solar market is breaking free and achieving substantial growth.

“We finally have been able to open up these markets and install a record amount of community solar,” Shiao said.

Solar deployments have grown increasingly diversified across the U.S., which insulates the industry against swings in the largest market, California. That state represented 39 percent of installed capacity over the last five years, but will account for only 22 percent of solar installed in the next five years.

“We’re going to see solar spread throughout the U.S., as well as the emergence of large sunny states like Florida and Texas,” Shiao noted.

Those states haven’t tapped their massive solar potential, but are poised to surpass current No. 2 market North Carolina over the next five years.

Perhaps most striking, the cost-competitiveness of solar has changed the breakdown of why states deploy it.

Legal mandates such as renewable portfolio standards led the charge when solar cost more than grid power. Now, those mandates have ceded ground as a driver for deployments.

“Over half of the solar currently contracted in the pipeline right now is driven by pure economics,” Shiao said. “That’s a big deal.”

Utility-scale power-purchase agreements even compete with the cost of a new-build combined cycle gas plant in the U.S. The thing solar can’t do is provide dispatchable power in a manner similar to gas plants, but that’s starting to change too.

Groundbreaking solar-plus-storage projects, like the Tucson Electric Power contract awarded to NextEra and the bids for Xcel’s all source procurement, have brought firm solar power into the realm of affordability.

And then what?

The advances in solar economics promise to reorient how the grid works, setting up new kinds of operational complexity.

High penetration of solar depresses electricity prices in the middle of the day, and amps up the peaks before and after the solar generation arrives. The “duck curve” has already emerged in California, where it continues to grow, but it has also begun to appear in Texas and New England.

This poses an enduring threat to solar business models: If the value of solar generation continues to drop and curtailments rise, it will become harder to sustain new capacity.

“If we just keep adding solar to the grid, eventually that doesn’t help us very much,” Shiao said. “We have to look to other technologies.”

Energy storage looks increasingly like the one to help with this predicament. Its price has declined significantly, and business model innovation continues to grow.

Storage project design and financing are more complex than the straightforward generation of electricity. But already, trend lines are pointing to a future grid system where distributed and utility-scale solar provide the majority of electricity on certain grids, enabled by energy storage and electric vehicles (seasonal swings create problems when the grid approaches 100 percent renewables, and the jury’s still out on how to cost-effectively manage that).

Wood Mackenzie’s business-as-usual case sees the solar market swelling to $1.5 trillion over the next 15 years, delivering 5 percent of the global electricity mix. That’s a huge improvement from today, but does not go far enough to tackle the Paris Agreement’s global commitment to confronting climate change.

In an aggressive case, Shiao noted, solar could push to deliver 15 percent or more of the global electricity mix. He left the room of solar professionals to ponder how to achieve that.



Sunrun Sees A Bright Future For Solar In Puerto Rico

When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, it wreaked havoc on the aging electrical grid supporting the island, taking out power for island residents for months for many.

Many new energy companies like Tesla, sonnen, and Sunrun championed a charge into the country in an effort to restore power to the country by installing bundled solar + storage systems for critical service providers around the island.

We sat down with Sunrun’s Senior Director of Business Development, Nick Smallwood, to talk about the work Sunrun has done and continues to do to help the Caribbean island rebuild its electrical grid with modern, renewable technology.

Sunrun partnered with Empowered by Light to install solar + storage microgrid systems in Puerto Rico that would ensure the stations would be able to continue operations even in the event of a power outage. The 3 installations are comprised of 6.6kW worth of REC 275-watt panels which have been paired with a bank of Outback Power lead acid batteries. These batteries differ from the lithium ion products typically used in Sunrun’s installations in the mainland United States but are commonplace in Puerto Rico due to their lower cost and higher availability.

To install the systems, Sunrun designed and shipped the components and coordinated the installation of the systems with local resources doing the actual installs on-site.

Sunrun doesn’t do business in Puerto Rico, so the experience was chock full of learnings including one that surprised the Sunrun team: Puerto Rico was an island full of solar experts. The average income in Puerto Rico is only $19,518, which has forced the population to become experts in energy pricing, energy efficiency and…it turns out…solar pricing.

This focus, coupled with the cost competitiveness of solar, has resulted in a booming industry for rooftop solar (with 11,000 existing rooftop solar installations) but the vast majority of these systems were not coupled with any local storage when they were installed. Since the widespread power outages caused by Hurricane Maria, demand for solar + storage installations in Puerto Rico has boomed, as well as a new focus on adding local energy storage to homes with existing solar installations.

On the installer side, Sunrun partnered with a reputable local construction company that already had a large renewables arm. Yet again, the Sunrun team was pleasantly surprised with what they found when looking for local partners to execute the installations. Nick related that, “There is a level of sophistication with local installers that you don’t even see in some states here in the mainland.”

Only a few weeks after the installations were completed, the systems were put to the test in a real life situation when power to the entire island went out again for more than 24 hours. Sunrun confirmed via Twitter that the power was indeed still on at the fire stations where the solar systems were installed after Hurricane Maria.

Looking to the future, Sunrun has committed to installing 8 microgrid systems in total in Puerto Rico and sees that as just the beginning of a much longer process of leveraging its expertise in renewables to restore power to the island. “We are going to be around [Puerto Rico] for the long haul.”

The failure of the existing grid highlighted an island in crisis as the territory declared bankruptcy early in 2017 and was operating under the governance of a financial oversight board. The trauma of the hurricane not only took down power to the island of Puerto Rico, it also completely severed the underwater connection that was the sole source of power for two of Puerto Rico’s smaller islands to the east, Vieques and Culebra.

With an estimated time to repair of four years, a Request for Proposals was put out by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) to look for solutions that could offer alternative options to power up the smaller islands. That effectively opens the door for renewables to swoop in and prove not only their cost-competitiveness, but their capability to truly replace fossil fuel-fired generation for entire islands.

The transition to a more resilient electric grid will not be smooth, easy, fast or peaceful. Fossil fuel companies, utilities, power plant operators, and those fearing change — fearing the future — always push back. But what Hurricane Maria and the damage she wreaked in Puerto Rico have made clear is that renewables do offer more resiliency. They do offer the same electricity at a lower cost. On top of that, they don’t pollute.

These are the reasons Sunrun was started in the first place, and Nick shared that Sunrun sees the current rebuilding of the grid as a pivotal moment for Puerto Rico, “It’s a really good opportunity for the people involved in Puerto Rico to be able to take control of their future and ensure that whatever emerges from it is something that is beneficial for everyone involved and that it is a resilient solution.”



New production concept for building-integrated solar modules drastically reduces costs

Building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) places high demands on solar PV module design. The aesthetics and freedom of design are just as important as the module efficiency, and in manufacturing today, a conflict often exists between individualized sophisticated design, high module efficiency and low costs.

The combination of different materials presents a variety of different design options for photovoltaic modules.

In the BIPV-Fab project, the equipment manufacturer SCHMID and the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE investigated possibilities for manufacturing customized modules in series production. With the newly developed production concepts, the costs of building-integrated PV modules can be reduced by 35 percent.

Photovoltaics is an important cornerstone in the energy transformation, and the present PV capacity must be increased several fold for its successful implementation. Buildings play a key role here: Theoretically, building envelopes provide more economically useful area than the required increase in PV capacity demands.

In a joint project funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, SCHMID and Fraunhofer ISE examined the design limitations as well as the existing standards, laws and technical regulations for building-integrated photovoltaics.

At the same time, they evaluated the effects of each on the module design.

Fraunhofer ISE analyzed the building stock and the associated market potential. “Potential uses for BIPV modules with customized designs are, for example, office buildings with large-area facades,” says Max Mittag, scientist at Fraunhofer ISE. Based on the market potential and the design requirements, Fraunhofer ISE and SCHMID developed two new customized production line concepts for the flexible series production of BIPV modules.

The production lines are equipped, for example, with additional transfer stations and thus are able to quickly adapt to different module designs.

From the beginning on, the system concept considers the modifications necessary for building integration such as the module format, glass color and encapsulation material, different thicknesses of glass and variations in the solar cell matrix. The production line enables a cost-saving series fabrication yet offers a wide range of freedom in module design at the same time.

During the one year project that focused on industrial applicability, cost calculations were carried out for all of the developed product solutions, proving the great potential.

“Our results showed that the combination of series production and freedom of design do not comprise each other. We also demonstrated that we can reduce the costs by an average of 35 percent compared to conventional manufacturing processes of BIPV modules,” says Stefan Sellner, project head at SCHMID.

“A flexible, yet cost-competitive, BIPV production that also accommodates the various needs of architects, module producers and system integrators at the same time is now possible.” This new BIPV production concept, developed jointly by SCHMID and Fraunhofer ISE, is now available to interested partners in the field.

Source: Solardaily


Tech firms like Google, Amazon push power companies toward solar and wind, a blow to coal

SAN FRANCISCO  — Every time you save a photo to the cloud, buy something on Amazon, open a Google doc or stream a movie, you’re probably pulling electricity from a wind turbine in Texas or a solar farm in Virginia.


energy, in some cases shifting away from traditional electricity supplies like coal and natural gas. Even in coal mining states like West Virginia.

“We have the ability to shape the market,” said Michael Terrell, head of Google Energy Policy. “If you build it, we will come.”

Last year, the top four corporate users of renewable energy in the world were Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Google announced this month that as of 2017, all its facilities and data centers were running on 100% renewable electricity.

Coal declining

A practice of insisting power companies offer wind- and solar-sourced power supplies is spreading to other sectors — Walmart, GM and Budweiser all have goals to run more of their global business off renewable energy.

This is bad news for the struggling coal industry. Coal producers have seen their share of U.S. power generation decrease since 2008, even as the Trump Administration has promised to roll back what it considers hostile environmental regulations.

The coal industry has said it now knows that at least the government is not going to discourage production, and it’s only got to deal with the marketplace.

The problem is that a growing portion of the marketplace is demanding green energy.

“There’s no federal or state law out there today that says you must do this, but there are boards of directors that say ‘We want to set a carbon footprint goal for our companies,'” said Appalachian Power President and COO Chris Beam.

In December, the Charleston, W.Va-based utility contracted with Bluff Point Wind Energy Center in Indiana to buy 120 megawatts of wind-generated electricity, green power it can now offer to companies that are making it a core requirement on where they’ll site their businesses, Beam said.

Today Appalachian Power generates 61% of its electricity by burning coal and 5% from wind and solar. By 2031, Beam says he hopes to get that mix to 51% coal and 25% wind and solar.


There’s also a trickle-down effect. Big tech companies are pushing their suppliers to go green. Apple, which said last month that 100% of the electricity it uses for its facilities and data centers comes from renewables, saysnearly two dozen of its suppliers — such as manufacturers of batteries, keyboards and lenses —  have also made a commitment to 100% renewable energy.

“The smart ones are seeing it as a competitive advantage,” said Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of environment, policy and social initiatives and former head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Obama Administration.

“They know they have an edge in competing for Apple’s business.”

Apple’s new headquarters in Cupertino, Calif. is powered by 100% renewable energy, in part from a 17-megawatt onsite rooftop solar installation. (Photo: Apple)

Amazon, Microsoft in Virginia

The biggest energy companies are changing their policies to court big tech energy buyers, who can often promise 20-year contracts.

Three years ago, Amazon wanted to build a new data center in northern Virginia. Because of its commitment to 100% renewable energy, it required that center to be run on electricity generated by wind or solar.

Richmond, Va.-based Dominion Energy, the local utility, didn’t have any way for Amazon to source all its electricity from solar. So it created a special power purchase agreement that allowed the Seattle company to contract for 100% renewable electricity, something that wasn’t previously possible in Virginia.

“We thought about it, we understood their reasoning, we convinced ourselves that it was in our best interests to do it and we ended up signing,” said Greg Morgan, director of customer rates and regulations for Dominion.

Last month Microsoft announced it is contracting to buy electricity from a giant solar array in Virginia in what will be the largest ever corporate purchase of solar energy in the United States and will double the state’s solar capacity.

Other buyers are following. When it goes online in 2019, the solar array in Spotsylvania county, southwest of Washington D.C, will produce 500 megawatts of electricity, with Microsoft buying 315 megawatts. Customers are already lined up for the megawatts it won’t be using, said Microsoft. The deal will bring Microsoft’s total purchase of renewable energy globally up to 1.2 gigawatts.

A public shaming

A Microsoft wind project near its data center in Cheyenne, Wy. (Photo: Microsoft)

The tech push towards renewable began in earnest in 2011, when Greenpeace released a report calling out data centers for being huge users of electricity created by non-renewable sources. It came at an opportune time. Going green fit tech’s corporate ethos. The companies were also flush with cash, making it easier for them to make choices that at least in the beginning were more expensive.

“Over the last few years, the tech companies have knowingly and willingly paid a premium for green power and they’ve been willing to do so because it advanced their self-stated goals,” said Dominion’s Morgan.

Data centers that store racks of iCloud and Google Photos servers use just 1.8% of the United States’ overall energy, according to Arman Shehabi, author of a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory 2016 report on data center energy usage.  But demand to source these from green energy has changed the mix.

Close to 50% of corporate investment in offsite renewable energy in the United States has been from tech companies, the highest of all market segments, said John Hoekstra, vice president at Schneider Electric, a Paris-based energy management and automation company.

Walmart, Budweiser

But other big corporate buyers of electricity have set similar goals. Walmart was one of the first Fortune 500 companies to make a commitment to going 100% renewable, in 2005, said Sam Kimmins at The Climate Group and head of RE100, which sets standards for companies making green energy commitments. Walmart recently said it gets 28% of its global electric needs from renewable energy and wants to hit 50% by 2025.

Last year Budweiser announced that it would be 100% powered by renewable energy by 2025. General Motors plans to get there by 2050.

It’s become such a movement that last year, U.S. corporations bought more renewable power than utilities did, said Timothy Fox, vice president at ClearView Energy Partners, an energy consulting company.

Today, corporate America is happy to throw its weight around, said Bryn Baker, the World Wildlife Fund’s deputy director of renewable energy. “Companies are coming in and saying, ‘If you want us to be here, you have to give us access to clean energy.’”

A solar array used to power a Google data center near St. Guislain in Belgium. (Photo: Google)