Twin Creek Introduces Thinner Cheaper Solar Cells

The world of solar energy is one of the most vibrant energy production technology on the horizon. The reason is simple, it’s a green technology, providing power without any of the current side effects of coal burning or other methods used today. As such, it’s not surprising that many companies are trying to get solar energy production to be more efficient, and putting a lot of thought into manufacturing models. It seems now that Twin Creek, a small company in California, found a way to reduce the code of producing solar cells by almost half, and create these cells to be flexible, which would allow them to be integrated into buildings without the need to find perfect angles.

The basic problem with solar cell production is that when a silicon wafer is created in order to create the solar cells, it’s hard to get it thin enough. The current limit is around 200 microns, under which the silicon sheet starts to brittle. But now, Twin Creek has developed a new manufacturing technology, and a new machine that can create these wafers to be around 20 microns. The process uses hydrogen protons which get sent against the sheet of pure silicon, and creates bubbles which helps peel off sheets off of the material, without causing problems. The method isn’t new, and has been observed before, but the production of solar cells presented unique challenges that hadn’t been overcome before. By using modern engineering and technologies developed in-house, the company managed to create a brand new type of solar cells, and the whole process saves money on the material cost, which means the resulting solar cell costs just 50 cents instead of 85 cents.

Hyperion, the name of the machine producing these new cells, is being evaluated now by several leading solar manufacturers, and CEO Siva Sivaram is confident that it will enter production next year. The company is filled with experienced engineered, and backed by a $93 million investment from Crosslink Capital, Benchmark Capital, Artis, DAG Ventures, and a Taiwanese funding group, along with $30 million from the state of Mississippi, where they built a demonstration plant. If the machine is adopted by manufacturers, it would make solar energy much cheaper to install, often times going lower than current power consumption, which could be a breakthrough for getting a lot of people and businesses to adopt a green technology. The initial investment to actually buy the machines still involves millions of dollars, and it’s unsure yet how many manufacturers will be ready to take the jump.

Whether this advancement is what’s needed to get governments and organizations to embrace solar power fully or not, there’s no question that scientists around the world believe that humankind needs to move to cleaner, more renewable energy models, instead of relying on things like gas, petrol and coal. Technology breakthroughs like this certainly help move the world in the right direction, and make solar energy a more attractive proposition for boards and caucuses around the world.

Renewable Energy Deals Hit Record High in 2011

There’s no question that our current energy sources aren’t sustainable. The scientists have sounded the alarm years ago now, and politicians along with businesses are slowly starting to catch up. Still, the transition to renewable energy sources is happening, and now new numbers from 2011 show that renewable energy deals hit a record high during this past year. These figures show some interesting improvement in how companies are rapidly switching around and adopting strategies that ensure new constructions and new projects use renewable energy.

According to the numbers that came out, global renewable energy deals climbed around 40% to a high of $53.5 billion last year, from $38.2 billion in 2010. This is a surprising amount, showing that more conversions were done than ever before. These figures include both solar and wind, as well as energy efficiency by those firms. It shows that spending has gone up, which may be due to several factors. Of course the realization that they can’t rely on gas and oil for much longer, but also the global economy slowly returning to normal levels, after a long depression, may contribute in this type of trading becoming more popular, and with more money spent. Often, new installations require these types of deals in order to get the needed solar arrays or turbines, since the fields are still pretty young.

This is all proof that the renewable market is maturing. What’s the future looking like? Last year, one in three deals were for solar energy, and with prices going down in the equipment needed to produce that type of energy, it’s likely that we’ll see that particular source take a more central role. However, not everything is looking green. China right now is having a lot of over production problems, and many factories are being left at overcapacity, which will reduce the cost of traditional energy, making renewable energy less attractive financially. It remains to be seen whether the companies that have been making a concrete effort to go into renewable sources will keep doing that when the financial situation changes, and it becomes much more economical again, at least for a certain time, to go with what China has to offer.

Overall, there’s no doubt that the renewable energy market will keep growing, and as such these numbers will keep going up. The only question now is how fast, and whether it will be enough to save the few natural resources we do have on the planet. Solar energy in particular will certainly prove a pivotal role in the way we produce and consume energy throughout the world, and the civilized countries will likely have to lead the way for the others to follow.

Apple into Renewable Energy

According to reports, Apple is increasing their investment in renewable energy. Recently, Apple was issued the necessary permits to prepare a site for a large solar farm on a 171 acre plot of vacant land near their data center in Maiden, North Carolina.

The data center, which is used for Apple’s new iCloud service, has been criticized in the past for its reliance on cheap, coal and nuclear-generated power.

Eric Smalley from Wired stresses that recent criticism of Apple’s environmental impact “raises the possibility that the solar plant is part of a greenwashing campaign aimed at blunting criticism from the environmental movement.” However, if the entire site is developed, it “could generate 25 to 35 megawatts of power, depending on the solar technology used.”

Notwithstanding Apple’s motives, the North Carolina solar farm is not the firm’s first foray into renewable energy. According to Apple’s Facilities Report, however, the company’s facilities in Ireland, Cork, Elk Grove, California and Austin, Texas are all powered completely by renewable energy. Apple insists they avoided releasing 27.5 million kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalents in 2010 by utilizing renewable energy sources.

Apple has been increasingly mum about their solar plans. The permit which Apple filed is solely for permission to reshape the lot’s terrain and only discusses erosion control measures during construction and plans for gravel access roads. Yet more facts are foreseen for when Apple applies for a building permit.

AppleInsider has images of Apple’s permit and reports that land clearing has already begun and is “bothering the neighbors.”

Earlier this year, Apple was criticized in China for “turning a blind eye as its suppliers pollute the country.”

New: Solar Powered Keyboard

The K750 Wireless Solar Keyboard for Mac, a new offering from Logitech runs on the power of light. The solar-powered wireless keyboard is made only for Mac.

Inside the box the product is sandwiched between four pieces of thin brown paperboard. Underneath the keyboard is a cloth for cleaning its solar cells and a wireless USB receiver for plugging into your computer. Instructions for setup are printed in pictograms on the inside of the box instead of being on a separate piece of paper, to further reduce waste.

The keyboard is only 1/3 of an inch wide. But it is rather sturdy and has four grippy rubber feet which stick nicely to your lap, allowing you to lean back in your chair and revel in the freedom. The keys are comfortably spaced. Unlike other Mac keyboards, this one allocates a nice amount of real-estate so your hands can really spread out. Even the numeric keypad has large buttons that are clearly marked. This model comes in a few colors.

Two strips of photovoltaic cells are embedded at the top of the keyboard underneath shiny plastic windows.

This all makes the keyboard very durable.

Aside from the usual function keys the K750 is outfitted with a tiny button allowing you to check whether your ambient light levels are enough to alter the manganese lithium battery inside. If so, an LED light next to a printed smiley face glows green. If light levels are too weak to replenish the keyboard, then a red LED next to a frowny face will blink once.

You can also install a free, downloadable “Solar App” on your Mac which launches when you press the light check key. The Solar App shows just how much charge you have on your battery as well as the light levels your keyboard is getting in terms of lux.

ABI Research Thrusts U.S. Ahead in Photovoltaic Installations

The United States is ready to push aside Italy, Germany and Japan as being the home of the largest market for photovoltaic (PV) installations. ABI Research‘s Global Photovoltaic Cells and Module Markets study predicts that in year 2013, the United States will have more PV installation than any other country on the globe. Now, that is a lot of PV installations.

According to the recent study, an estimated 900 megawatts (MW) of installed capacity went online during 2010 in the United States’ PV market. This number is expected to nearly triple in 2011. The growth will only be expected to continue over the next few years. Experts predict that there will be an increase of 5 gigawatts installed during 2013 in the United States.

Increased incentives at both the federal and state level will drive much of the growth. Thirty separate U.S. states have already implemented renewable energy standards (RES) or renewable portfolio standards (RPS) – targets for major utilities to reach by either purchasing a percentage of their energy from renewable energy sources or generating. California has an RPS target of 33 percent by 2020 and will most likely be the first state to actually introduce feed-in tariffs for PV power generation.

Actually, renewable energy technologies are growing exponentially in the utility, industrial and commercial sectors. And government is playing a huge role as well, even the United States military is looking into PV solutions to power supplies for equipment and troops.

ABI Research is a market intelligence company that specializes in global connectivity and emerging technology. Their special blend of quantitative forecasting and trends analysis provides forward-looking insight for countless decision makers in the technology industry each year. ABI Research, the sole intelligence firm dedicated to emerging trends in technology and connectivity, has a deliberately designed focus on specific and complimentary practice areas which provide our clients with an unrivaled multidisciplinary integration as well as an in-depth perspective on today’s technology markets.

They conduct their research according to a rigorous 14-step process which leverages organizational teamwork, know-how, centralized planning, decentralized intelligence gathering and experienced research and general management which has evolved over 21 years and continues to adapt to the rapid.

Jinko Solar Jig

A solar panel maker which was targeted by violent protests over pollution from one of its factories in eastern China recently apologized and says that it will do what is necessary to clean it up. Jinko Solar Holding Co., which is the parent company of the factory in Haining city west of Shanghai, said that the first round of tests showed pollutants could have spilled into a nearby river.

The cops detained some twenty people after hundreds protested last week, some storming the factory compound and turning over cars. The fuzz said that the factory had failed to address other environmental complaints and that the protests followed mass fish deaths in late August.

Jinko Solar, whose shares are listed on the NYSE, says that the factory’s production was suspended though could likely resume within only a few days.

“The company will take all necessary steps to ensure that it is in compliance with all environmental rules and regulations. Any deficiencies in environmental protection uncovered will be immediately remedied…”

The Haining demonstration does well in reflecting the nasty side of clean energy. While the use of solar power may reduce the need for burning heavily polluting coal and other fossil fuels, the process of making photovoltaic cells utilizes various chemicals and materials that can also be toxic. The protests in Haining are the latest increasingly bold public reactions to environmental concerns after three decades of laxly regulated industrialization.

Protests in rural areas and smaller cities are often quashed or ignored. However, those in and near big cities like Shanghai appear to be having influence on leaders who have pledged to deliver an increasingly sustainable, healthy lifestyle along with job-creating growth.

Only last month, a protest by 12,000 residents in the northeastern port city of Dalian against a chemical plant drew a pledge by local officials to relocate the plant. Storm waves breached a dike who was guarding the plant, raising fright in the name of flood waters releasing toxic chemicals. Similar protests in 2007 in Xiamen was also successful. Then, down in Shanghai, the authorities suspended operations at one of the world’s biggest lead-acid battery plants, run by the United States-firm Johnson Controls Inc. after residents living in an industrial zone complained that the lead levels in dozens of children were many times above the legal limit. The firm says that it didn’t believe its factory was the cause of any unsafe lead emissions.

The city government reported on Tuesday that seven of seventeen lead-acid battery plants in the city of 23 million were ordered to stop production due to excessive lead emissions. Lead poisoning may hurt the nervous, muscular and reproductive systems. Children are especially at risk to irreversible damage, especially from low exposure levels. Officials even said that the city was expanding the tests to include even more children.

In the meantime, Shanghai’s Jinshan District, the site of a massive petrochemicals zone, says it had shut down 75 firms because of health risks from dangerous chemicals in a six-month safety campaign.

SPI Solar and Nugen

SPI Solar, a leading developer of photovoltaic solar energy facilities recently announced it has entered into an engineering, procurement and construction contract with EPC contractor for a 1.69MW DC photovoltaic solar project in the great state of New Jersey. The system is a roof-mounted distributed generation system for on-site power consumption. The project is to be operated by NuGen Capital Management, LLC, through a subsidiary owned by NUGEN.

The SEF being constructed by SPI will be connected to five independent meters serving tenants at the complex owned by North Jersey Development Group, Inc. SPI has recently worked with NuGen on the 5-megawatt White Rose Foods project that is under construction now in New Jersey.

NuGen works with large-scale energy users and real estate owners to own, develop and operate commercial-scale PV solar systems.

Solar Power, Inc. is a vertically integrated photovoltaic solar developer with its own kind of high-quality, low-cost distributed generation and utility-scale solar energy facility development services.

NuGen Capital Management was founded in 2009 investing in commercial scale solar systems. NuGen develops its own projects and partners with other developers in its pursuit to operate and own solar systems. Working with large scale energy users and real estate owners, NuGen serves the long term energy and economic needs of its clients.

Renewing Renewable With the IPCC

Sustainable and renewable sources like solar and wind could supply up to 80 percent of the planet’s energy requirements by 2050 as well as play a role in fighting global warming.

But the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change say that in order to achieve that level, governments would have to spend much more money and introduce policies that integrate renewables into existing power grids, promoting their benefits in terms of improving public health and reducing air pollution.

After a recent four-day meeting, governments endorsed the renewable report Monday. The report reviewed solar energy, bio-energy, hydropower, geothermal, ocean energy and wind. However, they did not consider nuclear, the recent nuclear accident in Japan was not mentioned nor did it have any impact on the report’s conclusions.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said swift, deep reductions in use of non-renewables and non-sustainables are needed to keep temperatures from rising more than 3.8 degrees Fahrenheit (2 Celsius) above preindustrial levels, which could trigger climate catastrophes.

Google Does Alternative Energy

A new report says Google is investing $168 million in an alternative energy project aiming to produce enough solar energy to light 140,000 homes. That’s right, 140,000!

The commitment, which, was announced last Monday is part of the very same financing that BrightSource Energy is in need of in order to build a brand new solar power plant in California’s Mojave Desert. BrightSource also has put together $1.6 billion in loans guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Energy and a $300 million investment from NRG Energy Inc.

Google Inc. has been dipping into its deep bank account to fund myriad projects which promise to generate energy from alternative and clever sources besides good old oil and of course coal. Google, the company has emerged as a major consumer of electricity as it has the habit of opening massive data centers in order to house the computers which run its Internet search engine, e-mail and various other online services.