Solar Energy in Seville

Solar Seville

Solar SevilleSeville, Spain is hosting the first commercial operation of solar tower technology, which features more than 1,000 freestanding heliostat mirrors, following the arc of the sun. In a process referred to as Concentrated Solar Power (CSP), the mirrors reflect solar rays to the tower, where water is boiled, and steam generated in order to drive a turbine, that produces electricity. The electricity is then sold to the national grid.

To make this happen, Spain’s government has provided incentives and subsidies supporting the solar industry. The upfront investment is enormous, and most of the money goes into building the plant. The investor community tends to see solar plants as high risk. After the economics of scale are achieved, solar power is one of the cheapest sources of energy. The report also makes the argument that it is quite difficult to detect the value of solar power currently.

When conventional sources of electricity are subsidized, it succeeds at artificially making them appear cheap. The magazine GOOD reported that “concentrated solar power…will be a core element of the transition from dirty coal to clean energy.

Gus Schellekens of PricewaterhouseCoopers said:

“Solar has a huge role it can play, the fact that it’s an endless supply of energy…the one thing that’s needed to unlock much of that is the political leadership and will.”

The Jobs Project

A group devoted to creating alternative energy jobs in Central Appalachia, The Jobs Project is building a set of rooftop solar panels, assembled by unemployed coal miners and contractors. The 40- by 15-foot solar array is to be set on top of a doctor’s office.

Nick Getzen, spokesman for The Jobs Project said:

“This is the first sign for a lot of folks that this is real, and that it’s real technology, and they can have it in their communities…In no way are we against coal or trying to replace coal. There’s still going to be coal mining here. This is just something else to help the economy.”

The Jobs Project merged last year with Mountain View Solar & Wind of Berkeley Springs, a solar energy company from the Eastern Panhandle, with the objective to develop a privately bankrolled job-training program. The 12 employed trainees are earning $45 per hour for three days of work, and some local laborers are earning $10 an hour for helping out.

Mountain View owner Mike McKechnie said:

“We are not funded by any state organization. We’re doing this as a business because we want to grow the solar infrastructure and industry…We’re West Virginians, and we think it’s important. There’s a need here that’s not being met…This training model we’re unleashing in Williamson is something we’ve proven…It’s not a pilot project. It’s something we’ve shown works…What we’re doing is giving them a crash course. They get an introduction, and if they want to continue, then that’s who we’ll call in the future…”

If they enjoy the work, they are to follow up with additional training in the Eastern Panhandle “to get them to a certain caliber, and then they’ll continue their training as we start to do work down there…We’re hoping they will go out on their own and find some sales leads and close those sales. We want to develop the entrepreneurial spirit so eventually they can go out on their own…The public wants it and they can’t find it…”

He continued:

“We’re impressed with the focused enthusiasm and boldness of Mountain View Solar and Wind, and its partnership with The Jobs Project to spread the economic activity and financial savings of solar, and we want to do whatever we can to support and enhance the effort…”

Jeans and Solar Cells

Brilliant Cornell University Researchers say that they have found a solution to creating yet more proficient solar cells. Well, as it turns out, particular molecules found in blue jeans and some other ink dyes may be used in a process for assembling a structure called “covalent organic framework” or COF, which help to make cheaper, flexible solar cells.

While organic materials have failed to prove ease of use in the creation of solar cells, the researchers are finding that these molecules found in every-day materials might be just what we needed.

The process makes use of phthalocyanines – common industrial dyes similar in structure to chlorophyll. It can absorb the entire solar spectrum, and is therefore ideal for maxium solar cell efficiency.
By using this molecule and a new process, the researchers have come up with something special.

According to Life Sciences:

“The strategy uses a simple acid catalyst and relatively stable molecules called protected catechols to assemble key organic molecules into a neatly ordered two-dimensional sheet. These sheets stack on top of one another to form a lattice that provides pathways for charge to move through the material.”

So, not only is it easy to build, but the structures may be taken apart and re-made to correct any errors. Thus far, the research has yielded but a structure for a solar cell, that is, not an actual solar cell. But the researchers hope that it is a model which can be used in manufacturing more effecual solar cells in the near future.

Solarex to Downsize Its Maryland Operations

solar panels

solar panelsSolarex was once a solar energy firm which opened shop in Frederick, Maryland in the 70’s. It was very much a pioneer company and far ahead of its time. Its high visibility plant located next to an interstate highway leading to and from Washington, DC, was partially powered by solar electric energy.

Today, what used to be Solarex is now part of the BP Solar chain of solar production facilities found scattered around the planet. Today, Solarex is beginning to fade into the sun.

BP Solar announced it has ceased silicon casting, wafering, and cell manufacturing at the facility. It has laid off approximately 320 out of 430 positions at the site. Research, sales and marketing personnel will for now remain in Frederick.

The company has been on a solar cost-cutting mission since the beginning of 2009. It cannot compete with high cost solar products in a world where solar prices have dropped between 40 and 50% since the beginning of the global financial crisis about two years ago.

Photovoltaic technology just might have advanced beyond BP’s silicon-based photovoltaic products. This tried and true technology, versions of which BP made in Frederick, are the most effective in terms of conserving energy. But if cost is a larger issue than efficiency, thin film solar, using other technologies such as Cadmium Telluride (CdTe) and Copper Indium Gallium Selenide (CIGS) seem to be the new way to go for large scale projects in the megawatt-plus scale, utility grade Reyad Fezzani, CEO of BP Solar had this to say:

“The global solar market is expected to reach 12 GW in 2012 with the US growing to nearly 3 GW, and we are scaling up our supply chain to serve this rapid growth here in the US, in the European, and Asian markets…The company is bringing its worldwide experience gained over 37 years as a solar product supplier and developer to both develop larger scale projects ranging from 1-300 MW in size and supply distribution partners serving residential and smaller commercial segments.”

In 2009 BP Solar increased its sales by more than 26% and expects to grow sales by 50% in 2010.

The departure from high cost solar manufacturing, such as the Frederick shop, has helped BP cut unit costs by an impressive 45% making products more competitive in a global market.

Tribute to a Green Pioneer

Byron Washom Since taking the job as UC San Diego’s first director of strategic energy initiatives in September 2008, Byron Washom has worked to turn the 1,200-acre campus into a model of sustainability, a “living laboratory” he calls it.

This includes renewable energy, greenhouse-gas reduction, energy management, energy storage systems and greening the campus transportation fleet. The university impressively generates 80% of its own electricity.

“The only thing we’re looking at, at the campus, are quantum improvements…It’s not just to install the next incremental step; it’s to put in the next breakthrough. What I’m doing with my colleagues is going to have a global impact…I’m so anxious to put the different pieces of the puzzle together…Learning patience is the only negative part of the job.”
Though born in Maryland, Washom was raised in Hawaii and on the isolated Midway Atoll. His father, a retired naval officer, went into the electric-supply business distributing utility products and his mother worked as an account executive for a newspaper agency.

Living in the middle of the Pacific on a bird and marine sanctuary roughly the size of UC San Diego was for him a firsthand education in sustainability. The 400 residents of the atoll relied on a monthly supply ship, diesel generators and a desalination plant. With only two passenger cars, most people rode on bikes. “Using renewable systems was a way of life…You lived within your means. It was a radically different world.”

Washom, now 60, graduated from Honolulu’s Punahou School in 1967, more than a decade before Barack Obama graduated from the same school. He left for USC just as Hawaii was opening its first freeway. He earned a bachelor’s degree in management and finance (with a minor in oceanography) in 1971, and then an MBA the next year. In 1976, he completed his postgraduate studies in ocean engineering at MIT.

After working on solar energy for Fairchild Stratos Corp., Washom founded Advanco Corp. in 1980. Four years later, Advanco set the world record for the most efficient rate of converting solar energy to electricity, using a technology that NASA later considered using to power the International Space Station.
In 1989, Washom founded the energy and environmental technology consultant firm Spencer Management Associates and served as president for 20 years.

He has also advised the World Bank, the Energy Department and the International Finance Corp.

An avid surfer since childhood, Washom credits this sport for his risk-taking business style:

“That’s when my greatest genius comes out, at the end of the branch of a tree…It’s a culture to me. The element of risk was also combined with the grace and athleticism of surfing a wave, so you were scared and performing at the same time.”

Flying on the Sun

First, man-kind was bedazzled to walk on the moon. Now, we could be flying on the sun; on the sun’s energy, that is. Think I’m crazy? Well, let me explain:

It simply does not make reasonable business sense, physics sense, or otherwise, to try and fly an airplane on solar power.

Not yet, anyhow.

With the state of technology, and given how relatively young the solar sector is – such an endeavor would be considered impracticable by today’s standards – forget 2003, when Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, the co-founders of technology firm Solar Impulse, announced that they would be designing a solar-powered aircraft to fly around the world.

It would be a statement about global dependence on fossil fuels and the untapped promise of blossoming green technologies. The Swiss pilot-entrepreneurs were on a dream of “perpetual flight”: a plane that could climb to 9,000 feet and fly on the sun’s energy by day, while descending below cloud cover to lower altitudes, where it would cruise on its stored battery power by night.

A long shot to say the least. Well, seven years of interesting innovation later, the 70-person team at Solar Impulse is nearing its goal:

Borschberg said:

“We were intrigued by this notion of perpetual flight…we wanted to be totally independent of any fuel…forget hybrid planes, or the biofuels fixating most of the sustainable aviation sector today; Piccard and Borschberg are purists. No fuel, no CO2, no pollution. It could fly almost forever, assuming good weather…”

By November of last year, test pilot Markus Scherdel, formerly of DLR German Aerospace, the NASA of Germany, if yo will, was climbing into the cockpit of the completed prototype to taxi down the Dübendorf runway for the very first time. And soon after that, Scherde was back in the cockpit, this time guiding the plane as it shot up into the air for a series of successful “flea-hop” mini-flights over the tarmac.

The Ups and Downs of Nuke-Powered Sleds

Did you know that sometime in this remaining lifetime of yours you might find yourself driving a nuclear-powered car? ‘Tis true, ’tis true. You also might be driving a solar-powered, wind-powered, landfill-gas powered, hydroelectric powered, ocean-energy powered, coal, oil or natural gas-powered car. ‘Tis true, ’tis true.

As it stands the US gets about 20% of its electricity from nuclear power and with President Obama’s new commitment for more uranium-fired power plants, we could see that percentage rise a few points. So, depending on what grid your electric car is recharging from, or what time of day it is, your car could very well be storing electricity generated at a nuclear plant. If this is the case, then you will have a nuclear-powered car.

This of course is assuming that someday you shall be driving an electrically-powered car, which is a likelihood that increases daily.

Financial help from Washington, using money on loan from taxpayers is helping to push along the drift toward electric driving. The requirement for automakers to meet new fuel economy standards is also helping the effort.

But government is not the sole force behind this electric drive effort: Small companies and startups are getting into the electric car business because they want to. Large companies too. Many of the majors are guaranteeing that electric cars and trucks are in their model portfolios of the future because they want them there.

Here are some reasons for the interest in electric cars…

1- Zero or largely reduced carbon emissions removes the cars as contributors to climate change.

2- Zero or largely reduced noxious emissions removes the cars as contributors to unhealthy air pollution.

3- Then of course there is the issue of oil supply. Manufacturers have seen the results – the widespread failure of their businesses – due partially to a spike in oil prices.

4- Leaps in technology, particularly in batteries. Lithium-based batteries with less weight and more stored power have improved range. Charging times have become reduced too. High voltage charging (440/480 volt for example) charging times could near that required to fill up a tank with gas. High voltage charging could also eliminate the need for battery swap-on-the fly schemes.

5- There is also battery life and afterlife. The lithium batteries are expected to last roughly the life of the vehicle. Also, when batteries can no longer hold enough charge to propel a car they can work in semiretirement storing electricity from renewable energy from the grid, like solar power.

6- Lastly, there appears to be enough demand in the marketplace. There are those people who want to charge from home, possibly with home-generated electricity. And there are people who want the relative simplicity of electric drive. And then there are the early-adopters who just want electric drive because it is new and different.

So if there is anything which is holding back the commercialization of electric cars it’s the cost of batteries that drive up the cost of the whole vehicle. Further, pure battery electric drive should not be expected to totally dominate the vehicle market for decades. The mix of vehicles on the road will range from conventional vehicles, any combination of hybrids, plug-in hybrids as well as variations of bio-fuel-powered vehicles for many years.

Me last thoughts are these:

President Obama’s yet-to-be-approved budget has $54 billion in federal loan guarantees for new nuclear reactors…you’ve probably heard this. ‘Tis true, the reactors will provide emission-free power, but nuclear power to charge electric cars is not necessarily the “green” way to go.

CASE: Forever Looking Good in the Sun

The dream of integrating solar power with building materials has been a source of wonder for decades, but aesthetics has been one of the biggest challenges, according to Anna Dyson, director of the Center for Architecture Science and Ecology, or CASE.

Most applications presented so far, according to Ms. Dyson,

“are pretty ugly and impede your view.”

Let’s face it architects and developers have to have aesthetics in mind, even when it comes to saving energy, because consumers want to be in fashion – and can you blame them?
Many building-integrated solar technologies are also somewhat inefficient, Ms. Dyson said, which means that large parts of a building have to be covered with solar energy-gathering materials, in order to receive significant benefits.

CASE, a research and development collaboration between Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, and other engineering and architectural companies are confident in their abilities to overcome these challenges.

The group has developed what it calls a Dynamic Solar Facade — a glass frontage that looks something like an oversize bead curtain, with rows of transparent, pyramid-shaped concentrators, configured in a honeycomb pattern and hung up on wires that move from up to down, or twist from side to side, in order to track the sun.

Every concentrator comes equipped with a lens that magnifies light nearly 500 times and directs it to a postage stamp-size Spectrolab solar cell made of gallium arsenide.

The concentrators also bring light into the building while deflecting heat and glare, thereby reducing the need for artificial light during the day.

Meanwhile, heat sinks placed behind the solar cells absorb the sun’s warmth and may be used to heat water in the building.

Together, the Dynamic Solar Facade uses the sun’s light and heat with 60 to 80% efficiency, Ms. Dyson said, who also added that savings in electricity and heating costs could pay for the system in as little as two and a half years.

CASE has installed its first full-scale demonstration project – 64 concentrators in an 8-by-10-foot glass installation at the Syracuse Center of Excellence in Environmental and Energy Systems. It is scheduled to open in March.

Commercialization also depends on the ability of Spectrolab, which makes the gallium-arsenide cells.

The technology is apparently stylish enough to satisfy one prominent client: the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. Though still a few years away, they have plans to include the solar facade in the development of a new student center.

Report Shows Job Growth within the Green Sector

In an age where employment is touch-and-go for most economies, the green jobs sector is growing faster than any other. A Pew Charitable Trusts report on the Clean Energy Economy counted 770,000 jobs in all 50 states that met the “double bottom line” of economic growth and environmental sustainability. Clean energy economy jobs grew by 9.1% between 1998 and 2007, compared to the 3.7% in overall job growth in those years. Venture capital investment totaled $12.6 billion in the clean tech sector between 2006 and 2009.

A new report from the Global Climate Network predicts that the world’s eight leading economies will create 20 million new jobs between now and 2020. In the U.S. the stimulus package and the American Clean Energy and Security Act could help create as many as 1.9 million new green jobs in the period. The move to a “smart grid” could create 270,000 jobs and a further 138,000 if U.S. smart grid technologies are exported to a global market.

According to the Pew report, 65% of the national clean energy jobs in 2007 went to conservation and pollution mitigation. Clean energy accounted for 11.6% of new jobs in the period, energy efficiency for 9.5%, environmentally friendly production 7%, and training and support 6.8%. However, environmentally friendly production saw the most growth: up 67% from 1998 to 2007 (followed by clean energy, up 23%).

Of the top 10 clean-tech employers around the world identified by Clean Edge, four are in the U.S.: Illinois, Washington, Arkansas and California. Clean Edge defines the top five sectors for clean-tech jobs in the U.S.
In descending order they are:
Bio-fuels and Biomaterials
onservation and efficiency
Smart grid and wind power

Solar Processing: The Beginning

While the recession has slowed down the rapid rise of alternative energy technologies like solar,wind, wave and bio-fuels, the future still holds promise. The good news for homeowners and businesses is that the benefits of home solar power are not restricted to warm climate states. Gains are actually being seen in some of the least likely of places.

In California, PG&E, one of the major utilities, reports that it connects to 40% of all solar panels in the U.S. It’s probably also not probable that South Florida sees a lot of solar activity, given its warm climate and a progressive bent. Likewise, parts of the Phoenix area are becoming heavily solarized, and to some extent solar panels are being deployed regularly up and down most of America’s coasts, where there is less of a concern with shading and a higher concentration of money.

The decision to go solar is a big one. It may seem complicated, as well as expensive. Getting started may be easier than you think, though, and what’s particularly cool are the rise of solar panel leasing plans and neighborhood groups that are pooling resources to get hefty group discounts.