Posts Tagged ‘solar panels’

Germany Runs Half the Country on Solar Power

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

During a spell of extremely sunny weather, – on Saturday, May 26 — the solar-energy record by sourcing nearly 50 percent of its daytime electricity needs from sunshine.  According to Germany’s Institute of the Renewable Energy Industry (IWR), solar power plants produced an unprecedented 22 gigawatts of electricity, approximately the same amount generated by 20 nuclear power stations operating at full capacity.  Even on days when it’s not setting records, Germany has formidable solar numbers.  On Friday, May 25, while its citizens were at work and its power-hungry factories were running, one-third of Germany’s power was produced by solar plants.  The German government plans to move to 100 percent renewable energy by 2022.

Germany decided to abandon nuclear power after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, closing eight plants immediately.  They will be replaced by renewable energy sources such as wind turbines, solar and bio-mass.

“Never before anywhere has a country produced as much photovoltaic electricity,” said Norbert Allnoch, IWR director.  “Germany came close to the 20 gigawatt (GW) mark a few times in recent weeks.  But this was the first time we made it over.”  Germany has nearly as much installed solar-power generation capacity as the rest of the world combined and gets nearly four percent of its annual electricity needs from the sun alone.  Its goal is to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2020.

According to critics, renewable energy is not reliable enough nor is there enough capacity to power major industrial nations like Germany.  Chancellor Angela Merkel disagrees, noting that Germany is eager to demonstrate that is indeed possible.  The jump above the 20 GW level was due to increased capacity and bright sunshine nationwide.

Government-mandated support for renewables has helped Germany became a world leader in renewable energy.  The incentives provided through the state-mandated feed-in-tariff (Fit) are not without controversy, however. The tariff is the main support for the industry until photovoltaic prices fall further to levels similar for conventional power production.

Utilities and consumer groups have complained the tariffs for solar power adds about two cents per kW/h on top of electricity prices in Germany that are already among the highest in the world, with consumers paying about 23 cents kW/h, compared to New York, which pays 17.50 cents KW/h or Phoenix at 9.9 cents kW/h.  German consumers pay about €4 billion per year on top of their electricity bills for solar power, according to a 2012 report by the country’s environment ministry.  Critics also complain that employing increasing levels of solar power makes the national grid less stable due to fluctuations in output since Germany is not renowned for its sunny climate.

Office Buildings Have to Get on the Smart Grid

Monday, April 9th, 2012

Back in the day, hot weather that overtaxed the power grid meant that office buildings had to turn down the air conditioning to save electricity.  Meanwhile, the employees would notice that their surroundings were getting appreciably warmer.  Today – because more buildings are connected to a smarter grid – fewer adjustments need to be made, one of those perhaps switching to a secondary power source that happens to be roof-mounted solar panels.

Writing in National Real Estate Investor magazine, Managing Editor Susan Piperato says that “Smart grids are digital networks connecting utilities, power-delivery systems and buildings.  Traditionally, when local energy grids become overtaxed, what’s referred to as a ‘demand event,’ a utility company must fire up additional power stations to meet increased demand or ask its biggest users to reduce power consumption.  If a building that isn’t connected to the smart grid receives notice of a demand event, the building engineer must manually reduce the building’s power usage in some way.  When the event is over, the engineer manually revs up the building’s energy consumption level again.  But by connecting to smart grids and utilizing demand response (DR) systems, a building can determine automatically through its building management system (BMS) how much electricity it needs at various times of day.

DR systems manage buildings’ consumption of electricity in response to supply conditions and respond to a utility company’s demand event by automatically reducing the amount of power being used or starting on-site power generation through, say, a solar panel array or wind turbine.”

Unfortunately, the majority of commercial owners are not using these highly beneficial advanced technologies.  A surprising finding of a preliminary CoR Advisors survey found that most commercial building owners and managers aren’t even thinking of connecting.

According to the survey, a mere 19 percent of buildings have some type of automated connection to the smart grid, while 32 percent are using DR systems.  CoR Advisors President and CEO Darlene Pope said that 68 percent of building owners are not planning to connect their buildings to automated smart grid systems within the next three to five years.  The survey, commissioned by Continental Automated Buildings Association and conducted by CoR Advisors, asked 25,000 commercial building owners and managers about “their attitude about smart buildings and the smart grid,” according to Pope.  The survey included approximately 12,000 buildings comprising approximately 1.2 billion SF.

A Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rule allows smart buildings in DR programs to recoup some of their investment by shedding load during times of non-peak demand and selling that excess capacity at spot pricing, Pope said.  “So if the price of electricity is $200 a kilowatt hour in Dallas in the middle of August because there’s such a demand for capacity…and you have a building in New Jersey that you want to shed load, and you want to sell it in Texas, you can do that.  While you might be paying 17 cents per kilowatt hour in New Jersey, you can sell it to people in Dallas for $200.”

Why don’t more building owners take advantage of these new technologies?  According to John Bredehorst, executive vice president with WSP Flack+Kurtz, his firm’s “more responsible clients” are already participating.  Additionally proactive clients are the exception and not the rule.  The smart grid is still nascent, and “No one wants to be a guinea pig.”  Many existing buildings lack the infrastructure to support the technology, meaning that their owners don’t have the ability to cut electrical consumption by switching to a secondary power source.

California is showing the most interest in smart-grid buildings, according to WSP Flack+Kurtz’s Clark Bisel, senior vice president.  He is managing the construction of 350 Mission Street in downtown San Francisco, which hopes to acquire LEED-Platinum status and will have smart grid connection and DR systems.  It’s a multifaceted project, but Bisel sees 350 Mission as “a very good idea from the building owner’s perspective.  Demand response is becoming more of a discussion topic,” he said, with the big electrical utilities directly approaching customers and offering competitive rates for DR programs.

“California is a hotbed for this,” Bisel said.  “Frankly, the utility crisis of 2000 is still in people’s minds, so that may be more of a reason why (smart grid and DR) is active out here.”  If there was more new construction, according to Bisel, the smart grid and DR would take off even faster.  With new construction, “You have architects, engineers, and developers all very engaged in the whole dialogue so when a utility company approaches, they find a very receptive audience.”  When it comes to existing buildings, operations are decentralized and owners are “more interested in making tenants comfortable.”

WSP Flack+Kurtz’s Bredehorst says it will take 10 years for the smart grid and DR to catch on.  With more smart buildings being constructed, he said, existing buildings will need to make alterations to stay competitive.  Additionally, utility companies need become more proactive: “They make it easy for building owners to be able to upgrade their building’s control system and tie it in with a utility,” he said.  “They need to make it so that it’ll be enough of an incentive for (buildings) to reduce their load, but also easy enough that (building owners) don’t have to tie (DR) in with their entire infrastructure and change out a lot of equipment.”

Google Goes Green

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

Google and SolarCity,  a rooftop solar-panel company announced a $280 million investment deal,  the largest such deal for home-based solar power systems in the United States.  The investment gives San Mateo, CA-based SolarCity the funding to build and lease solar power systems to as many as 7,000 to 9,000 homeowners in the 10 states in which it operates.

Established in 2006, SolarCity currently has 15,000 solar projects around the nation completed or under way.  Customers who want to have the firm’s solar system installed at their homes can pay for it up front; however, the majority let SolarCity retain ownership of the equipment and rent back the use of it through monthly solar lease payments.  By financing SolarCity, Google will recoup its investment through those lease payments.  “We hope to be seen as a model,”said Rick Needham, Google’s director of green business operations.  Needham didn’t discuss the deal’s terms, but said “these investments are designed to earn us a good return on our capital.”

“It allows us to put our capital to work in a way that is very important to the founders and to Google, and we found a good business model to support,” said Google’s Joel Conkling.  Google CEO Larry Page wants the firm’s operations to eventually produce no-net greenhouse gas emissions.  To achieve this, Google has invested in wind farms in North Dakota, California and Oregon, solar projects in California and Germany, and the beginning stages of a transmission system off the East coast to encourage the construction of offshore wind farms.  The SolarCity deal is Google’s seventh green energy investment, totaling more than $680 million.

Typically, a rooftop solar system costs $25,000 to $30,000, which is beyond the means of many homeowners.  Instead, solar providers like SolarCity, SunRun and Sungevity pay for the system with money borrowed from a bank or a specially-designed fund similar to the one that Google has created.  The resident then pays a set rate for the power generated which is lower than or approximately the same as local electricity.  Typically, s 5-kilowatt system will generate 7,000 kilowatt-hours of power annually, or about 60 percent of the household’s annual use.  The homeowner buys remaining electric power from the local utility, typically enjoys lower overall power bills and has some protection against potentially higher traditional electricity prices.  Electricity prices have not risen in recent months, but are expected to rise in coming years as the cost of increasingly stringent clean-air regulations are passed on to customers.  If the solar company is to make money and the homeowner save money, there must be a combination of high local electric rates, state and local subsidies, as well as low installation costs.  Then there is the matter of sunshine.  A house with solar panels should have a roof that faces South that is not shaded by trees or other buildings.

You have full flexibility in what you want to pay on a monthly basis,” said SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive, who pointed out that homeowners are charged only for the electricity the company’s solar panels generate at or below market rates.  If the panels produce more power than the home uses, the consumer gets a credit.  “It’s actually a win-win,” Rive said.  “This industry is going gangbusters despite the economy,” said Danny Kennedy, founder of Oakland-based Sungevity.  According to Kennedy, the lease option his company started offering in March 2010 has pushed sales “through the roof.”  He expects to complete 30,000 leases in 2011, up from 10,000 in 2010.

California and Colorado accounted for more than a third of the residential solar market leases in the 1st quarter of 2011, according to a report from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).  The growth reflects that of the overall solar panel market, which expanded at an average annual rate of 69 percent since 2000, including 100 percent in 2010, according to SEIA, which expects the market to double this year.

Google has chosen to invest in clean energy projects because of the potential returns and the potential to impact the industry.   “We hope that Google’s leadership in the space will encourage other corporate investors,” Rive said.  There definitely is room for other investors to get involved: Fewer than 0.1 percent of American homes currently have rooftop solar panels, but that number is expected to grow to 2.4 percent by 2020, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. It’s highly likely that Google-financed companies like SolarCity will have a role in that growth.

The SolarCity project is not Google’s first venture into the clean energy market.  The firm has invested $168 million in California’s Ivanpah solar farm and another $100 million in the world’s biggest wind farm.  That is the $2 billion Shepherds Flat project,  near Arlington, OR, that will stretch over 77 square kilometers of north-central Oregon and generate enough energy for 235,000 homes.  The project, which will go into operation in 2012, is being developed by Caithness Energy.

GE Enters the Solar Power Business

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

The nation’s largest conglomerate – General Electric – is getting into the solar business in a big way with the firm’s announcement that it is investing $600 million to build a new solar-panel manufacturing plant as it pursues what it thinks could be a $3 billion business by 2015.  The firm, already a leader in renewable energy, has designed a thin-film solar panel that converts sunlight to electricity more efficiently than any other product currently on the market.  The firm, a leading manufacturer of wind- and natural gas-powered electric turbines, plans to open a factory in an as-yet unknown location by 2013.  The facility will employ 400 workers and produce enough solar panels annually to power 80,000 homes.

“The biggest challenge today for the mainstream adoption of solar is cost, and the way you move cost is efficiency,” said Victor Abate, vice president of GE’s renewable energy unit.  “We see ourselves continuing to push that and continuing to move efficiency and as a result the costs of solar continue to come down.”  According to Abate, a decision on where to locate the factory will be made within the next three months.  The decision will be based on criteria including proximity to GE’s research centers, available space, and state and local government incentives, Abate said.  GE expects to make a decision before the end of the year at the latest.

GE’s entry into the solar business comes at an excellent time.  Solar panel installations are expected to surge in the next two years as the cost of generating electricity from the sun approaches that of coal-fueled plants. Large photovoltaic projects would cost $1.45 a watt to build by 2020, half the current price, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates.  Solar is feasible against fossil fuels on the electric grid in sunny regions such as the Middle East.  “We are already in this phase change and are close to grid parity,” said Canadian Solar chief executive Shawn Qu.  “In many markets, solar is already competitive with peak electricity prices, such as in California and Japan.”

Solar photovoltaic system installation has the potential to nearly double to 32.6 gigawatts by 2013 from 18.6GW last year, according to New Energy Finance.  Manufacturing capacity worldwide has quadrupled since 2008 to 27.5GW annually; 12GW of production will be added in 2011.  Canadian Solar had about 1.3GW of capacity and is expected to reach 2GW in 2012, Qu said.

Writing in Time’s “Ecocentric” column, Bryan Walsh says that the new plant is “Good news for solar advocates and bad news for competitors — General Electric is ready to break into the solar cell business in a major way.  The $218 billion company announced today that it had built a solar module with the highest-ever efficiency rate for cadmium-telluride thin film — the most popular low-cost solar technology — at 12.8 percent, according to independent testers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.  That announcement came as GE told reporters that it intends to manufacture those solar modules at a 400-MW factory — in what would be the biggest such facility in the U.S. — that is set to open in 2013.  GE also completed the acquisition of PrimeStar Solar, the Colorado-based thin-film manufacturer, which will complement its recent acquisition of the power conversion company Converteam.”

United States in Third Place in Developing Clean Energy Sources

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

The United States has fallen to third place – behind China and Germany – in the development of clean energy sources, according to a new report from the Pew Charitable Trusts. Investment in global clean energy expanded significantly in 2010 to $243 billion, a 30 percent increase over 2009.  China, Germany, Italy and India were among the nations that were most successful at attracting private investments.  China solidified its position as the world’s clean energy leader.  Its 2010 investment record of $54.4 billion in 2010 represents a 39 percent increase over 2009.  Germany ranked second in the

G-20, up from third last year, after experiencing a 100 percent increase in investment to $41.2 billion.  The United States’ 2010 investment totaled just $34 billion, a 51 percent increase over the previous year.

“The United States’ position as a leading destination for clean energy investment is declining because its policy framework is weak and uncertain,” said Phyllis Cuttino, director of Pew’s Clean Energy Program.  She said that the U.S. could lag behind even more as competitors adopt renewable energy standards and incentives for investing in solar, wind and other forms of clean energy.  “We are at risk of losing even more financing to countries like China, Germany and India, which have adopted strong policies such as renewable energy standards, carbon reduction targets and/or incentives for investment and production,” Cuttino said.

“The United States remains the global leader in clean energy innovation, receiving 75 percent of all venture capital investment in the sector, a total of $6 billion in 2010, but the U.S. has not been creating demand for deployment of clean energy.  As a result it is losing out on opportunities to attract investment, create manufacturing capabilities and spur job growth.  For example, worldwide, China is now the leading manufacturer of wind turbines and solar panels,” says Michael Liebreich, CEO of Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

China’s goal is to install 20,000 megawatts of solar energy by 2020; the European Union intends to generate 20 percent of its power from renewable sources over the same timeframe.  In the United States, 30 states have policies requiring utilities to buy more electricity from renewable sources.  Although the federal government has incentives in place to cut project costs, there’s no nationwide mandate for clean energy.

The website believes it doesn’t really matter who leads the world in alternative energy creation – as long as global effort continue.  According to Douglas McIntyre, “Most of the data does not matter much.  The fact that China invests such a large amount in clean energy does not mean it will not sell products based on that technology to U.S. firms.  China will export manufactured wind and solar infrastructure just as it does everything else.  Green technology is hardly a strategic asset.  The Chinese are as anxious to make money from their investment as U.S. companies.  If any proof is needed, many Chinese and US alternative energy firms are listed on stock exchanges.  Green is a business as much as it is a movement.”

Unfortunately, McIntyre says, solar and wind energy are not as powerful a source as many believe.  Solar energy doesn’t work at night unless the user has a storage device such as a battery; cloudy weather can make the technology unreliable.  Solar technologies are also quite costly and need significant land to collect the sun’s energy at useful rates.  Wind energy is intermittent in most areas.  Additionally, wind turbines typically are not connected to the American power grid, making the energy it produces difficult to deliver effectively to places where it could replace coal-powered electricity.

McIntyre notes that “America has a nearly inexhaustible supply of coal.  Nuclear energy projects may be delayed by the effects of the Japan earthquake, but its growth in the U.S. is inevitable because the country needs to produce more energy within its borders.  Investment in solar and wind energy may be up, particularly in China.  That does not matter much if the two sources do not work as well as others that are currently available.”

Click here to read a discussion about nuclear power by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now.

Solar Panels Powering More U.S. Homes

Monday, March 21st, 2011

The year 2010 saw 956 megawatts worth of solar panels installed in the United States, providing a cumulative capacity of 2.6 gigawatts – enough to power 500,000 homes. Even though the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) says solar is a fast-growing business, it still provides less than one percent of the nation’s electrical capacity.  In 2010, solar panels were a $6 billion business, a significant increase over the $3.6 billion reported in 2009.  Despite the growth in dollar volume, the global share of American photovoltaic installations fell in 2010, to just five percent of the world’s total from 6.5 percent in 2009.  Although demand is growing in the United States, other countries are adopting solar to the point where they are leaving the United States in the dust.

Not surprisingly, sunny California leads the nation in solar installations.  In second place was Jersey, followed by Florida, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and Pennsylvania.  The six states accounted for 76 percent of solar capacity installed in 2010.

President Barack Obama is an enthusiastic supporter of renewable energy sources, and Congress extended their federal tax credits, originally set to expire at the end of last year, through 2011.  “This remarkable growth puts the solar industry’s goal of powering 2 million homes annually by 2015 within reach,” Rhone Resch, SEIA president and CEO, said.  According to Resch, “Achieving such amazing growth during the economic downturn shows that smart polices combined with American ingenuity adds up to a great return on investment for the public.  The bottom line is that the solar energy industry is creating tens of thousands of new American jobs each year.”

“Another doubling of U.S. installations in 2011 is likely, even in the absence of a substantial mid-year price decline,” said Shayle Kann, GTM Research’s managing director of solar research.  A Treasury Department grant program, which repays 30 percent of the cost of installing solar panels, boosted the number of projects. The price of installing photovoltaic systems fell by 10 percent for commercial and eight percent for residential consumers last year.  Other countries are cutting their subsidies this year, possibly leading to an Italy, the more suppliers are going to price more competitively in new markets, like the U.S., ultimately growing the market,” Kann said.

In addition to the United States, the leading nations that are adopting solar energy include Germany (9,785 megawatts); Spain (3,386 megawatts); Japan (2,633 megawatts); Italy (1,167 megawatts); the Czech Republic (465 megawatts); Belgium (363 megawatts); China (305 megawatts); France (272 megawatts); and India (120 megawatts).

Solar Farm to Sprout on White House Roof

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

A new green initiative is joining the White House's already famous organic vegetable garden.A new green initiative is joining the White House’s already famous organic vegetable garden.  President Barack Obama plans to install solar panels on top of the White House’s living quarters to heat water and provide power to some of the historic mansion. The panels are scheduled to be in place by the spring of 2011, according to Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

Former President Jimmy Carter installed a $30,000 solar water-heating system for West Wing offices during 1976; they were removed 10 years later.  George W. Bush installed a solar system that provided power to a maintenance building, parts of the White House and to heat water for the swimming pool.  President Obama, who is a strong supporter of renewable energy, has been under pressure from the solar industry and environmental activists like to lead by example.  According to White House sources, solar panels have been under discussion since the Obama family first took up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Global warming activists from brought one of Jimmy Carter’s solar panels from Unity College in Maine to Washington, D.C., in an effort to persuade President Obama and other world leaders to install panels on their residences.  Bill McKibben,’s founder, believes the administration is doing the right thing.  “If it has anything like the effect of the White House garden, it could be a trigger for a wave of solar installations across the country and around the world,” McKibben said.

The price tag for the White House solar project is not yet known as it is still in the design phase.  Another question is how much electricity it will generate.  According to a survey of available roof space, the system has the potential to include 25 to 75 panels and could produce up to 19,700 kilowatt hours of annual electricity.  A typical household would save $3,200 a year on their electricity bill and $1,000 on heating water.

“Around the world, the White House is a symbol of freedom and democracy,” Chu said.  “It should also be a symbol of America’s commitment to a clean energy future.”