Government Announces Grant for Alaskan Native Tribal Energy Assistance

by Kevin Tidmarsh

A new initiative from the US Department of Energy aims to “develop regional energy experts to provide technical energy assistance and informational resources,” according to a DOE press release. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this move has already drawn criticism from conservative pundits, who are calling the move a waste of money on the government’s part.

Just a day after the Andrew Follett at the Daily Caller has already released a piece [http://dailycaller.com/2016/02/16/energy-dept-spends-7-million-on-north-alaska-solar-power-except-its-dark-247/] decrying the program as a waste of government money. The headline, which declares that the energy department has spent “$7 Million On North Alaska Solar Power, Except It’s Dark 24/7,” is both misleading and factually incorrect. While that may be true at some points in the winter for locales above the Arctic Circle, the grant isn’t limited to these locations, and a report from the Department of Energy’s Office of Indian Energy notes that in the southern parts of the state, power production from solar panels doesn’t actually have to stop during the winter Continue reading

New Record for Organic Solar Cells Today, Solar-Powered Car Tomorrow

by Woodson Powell

German solar company Heliatek has officially set the new world record for organic photovoltaic (OPV) cells with a conversion efficiency of 13.2%, as confirmed by Fraunhofer CSP [http://www.heliatek.com/en/press/press-releases/details/heliatek-sets-new-organic-photovoltaic-world-record-efficiency-of-13-2]. Conversion efficiency refers to direct conversion of sunlight into electricity. The company’s end goal is 15%, but this is a big leap forward. With this progress, Heliatek CEO Thibaude Le Séguillon has said that the company is looking forward to the possibility of future cars being covered in solar coatings, enabling drivers to charge their cars while they are on the road, either behind the wheel, or parked. For the moment, Heliatek is working on replacing sun roofs with OPV cell windows. Continue reading

Solar Roads in France

by Isaiah Boone

In an article in Popular Mechanics from February 9th, Jay Bennett examines the details and implications of a recent announcement by the French Minister of Ecology and Energy, Ségolène Royal, that France intends to build over 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) of solar roads. The country will commission the road building company Colas as well as the National Institute of Solar Energy to complete the project. It is estimated that the project will be able to provide clean energy for 8-10% of the French population and is expected to be completed in the next 5 years. Continue reading

Solar Access for Disadvantaged Communities in California

by Maithili Joshi

Solar energy is widely used throughout California. It is versatile, makes sense financially, and has a great effect on the environment, offsetting more polluting forms of energy production. However, one of the biggest issues faced by solar energy is the ability to distribute it to low-income and disadvantaged areas that would greatly benefit from such a program.

This week, California passed a bill that will allow greater distribution of solar energy into lower-income communities around the state. Even though solar energy, and other renewable energy sources, have been a great asset towards California, it has not overcome barriers that would include disadvantaged communities. Solar energy tends to be a more expensive, and is not helpful for people who do not own homes, live in multi-tenant buildings, people with low credit scores, and those with less expendable incomes, among other issues. This new policy will try and meaningfully address these issues and allow more participants in California’s clean energy economy.

To do this, the independent Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) is attempting to push through their CleanCARE proposal, it would use funds from their California Rates for Energy (CARE) program to purchase renewable generation from a third-party owned renewable energy facility located in a disadvantaged community. So, these communities would be investing in a package of shared renewable energy facilities, energy efficiency measures, energy storage and demand responses, in effect providing a bill discount rather than a rate discount. The end goal of the CleanCARE option is to produce bill savings for low-income families at a greater level than what they receive under the CARE program.

Hopefully, the CleanCARE program would help stretch the existing CARE program to more low-income areas and receive a higher discount on rates for solar energy. They also envision providing opportunities to locate renewable energy facilities in disadvantaged communities, which may bring local economic development and job training programs.

Renewable Energy World (http://blog.renewableenergyworld.com/ugc/blogs/2016/02/expanding_solar_acce.html)

Interstate Renewable Energy Council (http://www.irecusa.org/2013/08/opening-the-roof-for-affordable-solar/)

 

The Future in Community Solar

by Deedee Chao

Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) is the first of California’s major utilities to enhance community solar programs; customers who are unable to install their own solar panels will still be able to draw their electricity directly from solar sources. Named Solar Choice, customers can choose to pay a premium of approximately 3 cents per kilowatt-hour to have half or all of their electricity come from solar. This new program opens up a new market and was created in response to high demand: over half of PG&E’s customers responded to a survey, saying they wanted to go solar, but could not implement it themselves. Solar Choice is a streamlined process for customers to go from traditional power to renewables, without having to do any installations or solar contracts themselves. This allows for easy buy-in, participation, and support for renewables, all at the cost of a few cents per kilowatt-hour. This premium is extracted primarily to ensure that non-solar customers don’t pay extra for their electricity; this suggests that the more participation there is, the lower the premium will be, making solar more affordable as demand increases. Never before in California has the process of switching to solar been so painless. Continue reading

Technological Leapfrogging: Africa’s growing solar industry

by Charles Kusi Minkah-Premo

Joseph Amankwah-Amoah writes an informative piece on solar energy in Africa with an emphasis on how the solar photovoltaic (PV) industry has made huge strides in the continent particularly in South Africa, Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria. I spent a great part of my high school years living through one of Ghana’s worst periods of energy crisis. For most of my junior year, I had to make use of candles and rechargeable lamps at night to study and get assignments done because of a notoriously unreliable load-shedding scheme. It’s been uplifting though, to see concerted efforts from the government and the private sector in recent years, to move the country away from its over-dependence on hydroelectric power and towards more sustainable energy sources such as solar and wind.

Many African countries depend on hydroelectric power to sustain and drive domestic and economic activities and a majority of the continent’s population has had to contend with unreliable grid power. An estimated 600 million people in Africa still have no access to electricity. [http://www.bbc.com/news/business-30805419]

Off-grid homeowners and entrepreneurs spend about $10.5 billion a year on kerosene —an environmentally unfriendly and inefficient energy source— to power up their homes and businesses. Until a few years ago, it was almost as if most of the continent had forgotten that it had yet to harness to one of the most abundant and cost-effective energy sources available —the sun.

Technological leapfrogging is a process through which developing countries circumvent the resource-intensive (and expensive) form of economic development by skipping to the most advanced technologies available rather than investing in old and inefficient technologies. Africa’s solar photovoltaic industry is a prime illustration of this phenomenon with South Africa, Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria being its main vanguards. Globally, the solar industry has been growing phenomenally and it is projected to become one of the fastest-growing markets in Africa. Key factors in the solar PV industry’s rise in Africa are that the price of solar PV panels have fallen by as much as 50% due to increased production in China and a number of technological breakthroughs that the industry has seen. One notable breakthrough is the thin-film PV cell, which is known to have low defects, is easier to manufacture and is cheaper than the more ubiquitous crystalline-based solar panels. [http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/thin-film-solar-cell.htm]

Technologies like these are being quickly diffused in Africa and are driving its ‘leapfrog’ in the solar industry.

Kenya and South Africa are the continent’s trailblazers given how they are attracting and using capital from the private sector to improve the development of solar energy. Kenya’s strengths lie in its strong solar PV market, which is focused on small home and commercial systems, which has had a huge buy-in from its domestic market. As far back as 1990, Kenyan household consumption represented about 40% of all solar PV sales. In addition, there are no taxes on solar products and other renewable hardware in Kenya, which has no doubt helped with the diffusion of solar technologies and is helping local firms compete in both domestic and foreign solar markets. The governments of South Africa and Kenya have formed strong commitments towards renewable energy and are creating attractive environments for both foreign solar panel makers and investors, and local solar panel developers —a model that Ghana and Nigeria are following closely albeit through private-public partnerships.

Despite the promising signs of Africa’s solar revolution, there are still a number of barriers holding back the scaling-up process. For most African countries, the high up-front costs of solar panels still remains prohibitive. Furthermore, the lack of proper financing schemes and human-capital development for solar initiatives in low-income countries is affecting the rate at which solar technology is spreading across the continent. However, on a smaller scale, there is a growing consensus that Africa is finally beginning to realize the potential of this energy source to its energy sector and economic development as a whole.

 

Amankwah-Amoah, J. (2015), Solar Energy in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Challenges and Opportunities of Technological Leapfrogging. Thunderbird Int’l Bus Rev, 57: 15–31. January 30 2016

 

BBC News (http://www.bbc.com/news/business-30805419)

 

HowStuffWorks (http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/thin-film-solar-cell.htm)

 

 

 

TWEET: Look out for #Africa’s #solar leapfrog

One of the Nation’s Biggest Solar Farm Open in California

by Shannon O’Neill

The Desert Sunlight Solar Farm located in Riverside County, opened in February 2015 as one of the biggest solar farms in the world. First Solar, who also contributed more than 8 million solar modules to the project, runs the project. The farm has 4,000 acres of solar panels, providing the capability to produce 550 megawatts of energy. This is enough to provide energy to more than 160,000 homes. Additionally, this energy source will replace the use of 300,000 tons of carbon dioxide each year, a number equivalent to removing 60,000 cars off of the roads. In addition to the environmental benefits, the project has also created many jobs. This project is aiming to contribute to governor Jerry Brown’s initiative of one-third of California’s energy coming from renewable resources by 2020, and one-half from renewable sources by 2030.

This project opens during a time where the future of solar energy is uncertain due to the fact that federal funding and investors’ interests have decreased in recent years. Specifically, the federal investment tax credit is expected to decrease from 30% to 10% by the end 2016. Additionally, with many states already on track to meet renewable energy goals, investing in solar energy has not been a priority. However, as solar energy is slowly becoming price-competitive due to the decrease in prices of photovoltaic panels along with the opening of this solar farm, there is hope of re-initiating such interests in solar energy.

Pacific Gas and Electric Company and Southern California Edison have already agreed to purchase energy from the Desert Sunlight Solar Farm for the next twenty years. Additionally the Obama Administration is making renewable energy a priority. They have designated 22 million acres in California for the sole use of renewable development in order to generate 20,000 megawatts of power by 2020. This is enough energy to power around 6 million homes.

 

Huge Solar Farm Opens in California: Enough Energy from 160,000 Homes (http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-solar-farm-20150209-story.html)

 

Desert Sunlight Solar Farm (http://www.firstsolar.com/en/about-us/projects/desert-sunlight-solar-farm)

 

550 MW Desert Sunlight Solar Farm in California Now Online (http://cleantechnica.com/2015/02/10/550-mw-desert-sunlight-solar-farm-california-now-online/)

 

 

Better Sensors in Buildings to Decrease Energy Consumption

by Niti Nagar

Buildings account for about 40 percent of the total energy consumption in the United States. Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) predict advanced sensors and control have the potential to reduce the energy consumption by 20–30 percent. To develop low-cost wireless sensors, ORNL researchers are experimenting with additive roll-to-roll manufacturing techniques. Roll-to-roll is a technology still is development that allows electronics components like circuits, sensors, antennae, and photovoltaic cells and batteries to be printed on flexible plastic. Continue reading

Solar Power From Space

by Alex Elder

Although solar power is currently a popular source of renewable energy in the United States, it has several drawbacks. The biggest problem with relying on sunlight for energy is the disruption of solar absorption when there is a lack of sunlight. Thus, in areas of the country that often experience cloudy or overcast weather, solar power is not a reliable source of energy. Furthermore, solar power is not typically available at night without a sophisticated energy storage system. One solution to this problem is to establish solar farms in space. Although it may sound like science fiction, colonies of solar panel satellites in space would circumvent the major disadvantages associated with using solar panels on Earth. Additionally, sunlight in space is about ten times more powerful than what we experience on Earth, making this system more efficient in both its reliability and its strength. Continue reading

Environmental Impacts of Utility-Scale Solar Energy

 

by Jincy Varughese

With utility-scale solar energy (USSE) systems growing in number internationally, many have researched the environmental impacts of such systems. Hernandez et al. (2014) reviews studies examining the environmental impacts of USSE on biodiversity, water, human health, and potential solutions to mitigate impact. Continue reading