The Solar Monk’s New School in Thailand: Self-sufficiency Is the Future

by Samantha Englert

Nearly a decade ago, Thailand’s government amended its constitution to create a more self-sufficient economy, encouraging local and national sustainability activities. ProgressTH, a Thailand based advocacy group, has dedicated its February 5, 2016 blog to the discussion of a new high school powered by solar energy that teaches its students how to live an economically and environmentally sustainable lifestyle. Situated in the forests of Thailand’s northeastern Ubon Ratchathani province, the Sisaengtham School, known as “The Solar School,” was founded in 2010 by Thai monk, Prakruwimolpanyakhun. Inspired by Thailand’s national policy, Prakruwimolpanyakhun wanted to create a school that not only would teach students basic literacy and arithmetic, but also the values and practices of Buddhism, community outreach, environment science, self-sufficiency and sustainable technologies. 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

Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE): Allowing Private Investors to Buy into YOUR Solar Panels

by Jesse Crabtree

Few people disagree with the idea of clean renewable energy, but for many barriers to entry like high upfront costs make its implementation unfeasible. According to RenewableEnergyWorld.com, even after a 30% investment tax credit, a typical 5kW home solar system costs between $14,000 and $20,000. The Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program however, is an attempt by the government to help going green require a little less green. What makes PACE different than typical government programs is that it uses funds from private investors to help finance more efficient home energy systems. Homeowners are extended a special type of loan to pay for energy improvements such as solar panels or proper insulation and in turn pay off the loan through higher property taxes. These loans are packaged into bonds and sold to private investors, who in turn receive the extra property taxes in annuity—think mortgage backed securities but without the dubious valuations and questionable morality. Continue reading

Masdar Institute Research Shows UAE Sand Capable of Storing Solar Energy

by Gage Taylor

A research project known as “Sandstock” at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has successfully demonstrated that desert sand from the UAE can be used in concentrated solar power (CSP) facilities to store thermal energy up to 1000°C. Replacing traditional heat storage materials, such as synthetic oil and molten salts, with an inexpensive material like sand could potentially represent a major step forward in plant efficiency due to increased working temperature (and, naturally, lower costs). Continue reading

Bringing Electricity to Off-The-Grid Communities by Micro-Financing

by Sharon Ha

According to a New York Times article published in January 2016, there have been several solar power companies hoping to provide renewable energy to the 300 million people in rural India who do not have access to electricity. The article focuses on the efforts of Selco, a solar power company that is targeting the rural village of Paradeshappanamatha in Southern India, and urban settlements in Bangalore. By utilizing creative financing solutions, Selco, which was founded in 1995, hopes to disprove the myth that only wealthy people can purchase or use solar energy. Continue reading

New UAE Partnership Plans to Improve Waste-Energy Process

by Isaiah Boone

In a post from January 20th, 2016 Albawaba Business released an article detailing the recent strategic partnership agreement between one of the largest energy companies and one of the largest waste-management companies in the middle east. The agreement is a part of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Government’s Vision 2021, a large initiative by the UAE to improve various economic and social aspects of the country. [http://www.vision2021.ae/en] An important component of the initiative is a commitment towards sustainable energy and waste practices, and thus the implications of this agreement are closely tied to how successful the Vision 2021 plan will become. [http://www.vision2021.ae/en/national-priority-areas/sustainable-environment-and-infrastructure] Continue reading

Solar Fabric is the Second Generation of Solar Technology

by Liza Farr

After seven years of research and development, Perry Carroll’s Solar Cloth Company is putting its lightweight, flexible solar panels on the market (Solar Cloth Company). While sailing his yacht in the Atlantic Ocean, he was inspired to combine solar energy and fabric to enable solar power to cover more types of structures (Hickey, Mar 22, 2015). The new type of panel can be rolled and fitted on curved structures, as well as roofs that are not able to sustain the weight of glass panels (Hickey, Mar 22, 2015). The thin film photovoltaic is being called the second generation of solar technology (Hickey, Mar 22, 2015). The panels are 20 percent of the weight of standard panels, but also produce 15 percent less power and cost twice as much (Hickey, Mar 22, 2015). One parking lot cover, for example, costs $19,000 (Hickey, Mar 22, 2015). Perry assesses the economic viability of the product based on opening new markets with new siting possibilities for solar panels.

The company is marketing these panels for non-load bearing roofs and car parking structures, as well as for data centers, super markets, and warehouses (Solar Cloth Company). According to the Solar Cloth Company, there are 834 million square meters of non-load bearing roofing and 353 million square meters of car parking in the United Kingdom alone. These two potential markets are valued at $250 billion and $100 billion respectively (Solar Cloth Company). Much of the United Kingdom factories are also potential sites for the solar rolls, and they account for 13 percent of national energy consumption, making these panels a way to significantly reduce carbon emissions (Hickey, Mar 22, 2015). The company has already received over $1 million in orders (Hickey, Mar 22, 2015). However, investors were hesitant to fund the new technology, so the company crowd-funded $1.5 million (Hickey, Mar 22, 2015). Perry is a strong advocate for more research and development into solar energy in general in the United Kingdom (Hickey, Mar 22, 2015). Additional funding for his own research and development, as well as rising electricity prices will likely make the product more successful moving forward. If all else fails, Perry has a backup plan to make solar underpants. He made one pair for a Japanese businessman who gave them to his boss with the note “I told you the sun shone out of my backside” (Burn-Callander, Dec 6 2014).

 

Burn-Vallander, Rebecca. New solar ‘cloth’ to turn UK rooftops into batteries. December 6, 2014. [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/businessclub/technology/11274131/New-solar-cloth-to-turn-UK-rooftops-into-batteries.html].

 

Hickey, Shane. Solar Sails Set Course for a New Journey into Renewable Energy. March 22, 2015. [http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/mar/22/solar-sails-set-course-for-a-new-journey-into-renewable-energy]

 

The Solar Cloth Company [http://www.thesolarclothcompany.com]

 

 

Analyzing Bird Use of Photovoltaic Installations at US Airports

by Jincy Varughese

Recently, multiple airports in the US have installed photovoltaic (PV) solar energy systems in large areas of undeveloped grasslands commonly found on their grounds. The potential environmental and economic benefits have been well documented but to date there has been no research on the effect such systems will have on birds. DeVault and a team of researchers from the US Department of Agriculture and Mississippi State University begin filling this knowledge gap by comparing bird use of PV arrays to that of nearby airport grasslands. Continue reading

How Far Have We Come?

by Ali Siddiqui

An article by Chris Mooney for The Washington Post attempts to determine whether the United States of America really is changing the way it uses energy. The conclusion of the article was that America has changed. Mooney gains most of his evidence for America’s change from the Sustainable Energy in America Factbook prepared by the Business Council for Sustainable Energy and published by the Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Continue reading

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/)