How viable is the solar energy business?

by Tashi Mitra

Solar energy as a viable business is crucial to the world’s energy market. The jury has been out on this question: is it possible to make money in the solar business?With oil prices at an all time low, the viability question becomes even more relevant as development related investments in the solar energy sector could dramatically reduce. The world’s dependence on fossil fuels — coal, oil, etc — over the years has resulted in an environmental degradation of an unprecedented level. Hence it is crucial that alternative energies, like wind and solar, become viable businesses. Continue reading

The thinnest, most lightweight, and flexible solar cell

by Samantha Englert

An MIT research team has recently developed what is believed to be the thinnest, most lightweight, and flexible photovoltaic cell, with the ability to be installed onto any surface and the potential to charge any portable electronic device. The solar cell is so light that it is able to rest on a soap bubble without the bubble being popped. The real key to this innovation Is a one-process approach in manufacturing the ultra-thin solar cell and the unique substrate that supports it. 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

2016? Mexico’s year for Solar Energy?

by Tyler Hoyle

In 2014, Mexico approved promising energy reforms, which predicted a 9 billion dollar increase in investments in the electric power sector by 2019. Mexico was anticipated to lead the market growth in Latin America. Yet two years later, solar growth is slower than predicted. Mexico struggles to adjust to catch up with the country’s growing demand for power. On January 27th-28th, Greentech Media held a two-day long Solar Summit in Mexico City to analyze the risks and opportunities of Mexico’s future in the global Solar market. Greentech posted an article shortly after the Solar conference [https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/an-illustrated-guide-to-mexicos-solar-market] to try to explain Mexico’s solar market. Why has Mexico’s solar market growth declined? And what obstacles must Mexico overcome to fully reach its potential in the future? Continue reading

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

What California’s NEM 2.0 Decision Means

by Deedee Chao

On January 28, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) voted to pass NEM 2.0, a net energy metering decision for solar that updated how rates would be monitored for solar customers (those who own solar energy systems to generate energy for their own use). Net energy metering (NEM) is a method through which solar system owners are credited for their surplus energy that they feed to the grid, which subtracts from the costs incurred when they use energy from other sources (for example, on cloudy days or at nighttime), so they are only billed for their “net” energy consumption. 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

Expanding the Frontiers of Energy: Pay-as-You-Go Energy

by Alison Kibe

With little to no access to electricity grids in rural areas of Africa, the Nairobi based startup M-KOPA solar launched in 2012 as an effort to provide affordable solar energy units to households in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. A recent press release announced that M-KOPA is entering its fourth round of investment worth $12.45 million (Jackson, 2015). The money will be used to add products to M-KOPA’s line, expand business into East Africa, and license their products for use in other markets (Jackson, 2015). The start up also won the Zayed Future Energy prize in February. Worth $1.5 million, the money will be used to start a development program called M-KOPA University that will focus on developing employees’ business and technical skills (Mutegi, 2015). Continue reading

Samsø Inspiration

by Chloe Rodman

New York Times’ Diane Cardwell (2015) writes about the impact that Samso, a 44 square-foot island off the coast of Denmark, has been making in regards to clean energy production. A majority of the island’s 3,800 citizens decided that they no longer wanted to rely on foreign, costly fossil fuels. Rather, they made it their goal to become completely powered by green energy. This $80 million project has resulted in 10 wind turbines as well as solar, geothermal and plant- based energy systems. These four methods have allowed the island to thrive, producing more energy than it consumes. Samso, which used to be primarily dependent on coal and diesel, has become a role model for many other islands around the globe, which are also striving to wean off of fossil fuels. The Samso Energy Academy was created to educate others about new forms of green energy. Many individuals are sent to the academy to learn about the island’s methods and return home to teach their own communities about the changes they can make. Continue reading

Effects of Utility Scale Solar Energy on Aquatic Ecosystems in the Southwest

 

by Melanie Paty

In a recent Environmental Management article, Grippo, Hayse, and O’Connor (2015) speculate on the potential detriments solar farm development imposes on temporary bodies of water and the wildlife that depend on them. The authors’ locational focus is the Southwestern United States, where there are more than 40 pending or approved solar development permits. Temporary bodies of water, either intermittent, “seasonally dry stream, especially during times of low rainfall or high heat,” or ephemeral, “defined as those that do not receive groundwater inputs and contain water only briefly and in direct response to precipitation,” play an important role in desert ecosystems: they connect the landscape, transport water and nutrients downstream, serve as the short-term habitat for animals with aquatic life stages and the reproductive site for various animals, and give rise to riparian corridors that provide a variety of benefits to local animal species. However, unlike permanent bodies of water, temporary water is not protected under the Clean Water Act, unless it is significantly connected to a permanent body of water. Continue reading