Saturday, 28 December 2013

Clean Energy Breakthroughs:2013 part 2

In part one of this review we looked at the first 6 clean energy breakthroughs of 2013 that hit the headlines during the year. Below we conclude our report into these developments that potentially promise great things in our search for a  zero carbon future

Clean Energy Breakthroughs 2013

7. Wind power is now competitive with fossil fuels.

The Columbia Energy Symposium in late November was told that power agreements are currently being signed with wind farms at as low as $25 per megawatt-hour. The Symposium was informed that wind’s ongoing variable costs are now negligible, meaning an owner can bring down the cost of power purchase agreements by spreading the up-front investment over as many units as possible. Because of this, larger wind farms in the Midwest are now competing vigorously with coal plants in the Powder River Basin.  Even without the production tax credit, wind can still undercut many natural gas plants. A clear sign of its viability, wind power now currently meets 25 percent of Iowa’s energy needs and is projected to reach a whopping 50 percent by 2018.

8. New age offshore wind turbines that float. 

Offshore seas are prime areas for wind farms, but current turbines are costly to construct and are limited to to waters no deeper than 60 meters. But Statoil, of Norway, using their deep sea oil experience began work this year on a hub of floating wind turbines off the coast of Scotland. The turbines merely require a few cables to keep them anchored, and can be placed in water up to 700 meters. This process should vastly expand the amount of economically viable offshore wind power. The hub off Scotland will become the largest floating wind farm in the world — the Japanese are planning two floating turbines off the coast of Fukushima, as well as, the world’s first floating electrical substation.

9. Batteries that are safer, lighter, and store more power. 

Abundant and cost-effective storage technology will become the most crucial consideration for a clean energy economy — no more so than with electric cars. Batteries don’t always hold enough charge to power vehicles for extended periods, and they are bulky and costly. Earlier this year researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory successfully demonstrated a new lithium-ion battery technology that not only stores far more power in a much smaller size, but is safer to use as well.. Using nanotechnology to create an electrolyte that’s solid, ultra-thin, as well as porous, they also combined the approach with lithium-sulphur battery technology, which should further reduce costs.

10. Cutting electricity bills with direct current power. 
Alternating current (AC), rather than direct current (DC) is the dominant standard for electricity use. But DC current has its own advantages: its cheap, efficient, and it works better with solar panels and wind turbines. Also it doesn’t require adaptors that waste energy as heat. Top 100 companies like Facebook, Boeing, and Bank of America ,have all recently built DC-powered data centers , because they are 20 percent more efficient, cost 30 percent less, and need much less floor space. On the residential level, new USB technology will soon be able to deliver 100 watts of power, bringing DC power to ever more low voltage personal electronics, and cutting down home energy costs..
11. Commercial production of clean energy from plant waste.
Ethanol derived from corn, was once held up as a climate-friendly alternative to gasoline, but is coming under increasing criticism of late. Cellulosic bio fuels, offer much more promise and 2013 may be when the industry finally turned the corner. INOES Bio’s cellulosic ethanol plant in Florida and another plant in Mississippi began commercial production this year. Two more such plants are planned for Iowa, and yet another is being built in Kansas. Due to this, 2014′s proposed cellulosic fuel mandate of 17 million gallons will be easily met.

12. Innovative financing brings clean energy to more people. 
In DC, the first ever property-assessed clean energy (PACE) project allows investments in efficiency and renewables to be repaid through a special tax levied on the property, which lowers the risk for owners. Crowd funding for clean energy projects made major strides while Solar Mosaic is pioneering crowd funding to pool community investments in solar in the United States. California allows customers who aren’t property owners or who don’t have a suitable roof— that’s three quarters of the population— to nonetheless purchase up to 100 percent clean energy for their home or business. Minnesota has advanced its community solar gardens program,. And Washington, DC finally voted to bring in virtual net metering, thereby allowing people to buy a share in  a larger solar or wind project, and then have their portion of the electricity sold or credited back to the grid on their behalf, thereby reducing their energy bills.

Missed part one of this report?? Check it out Here

Edited version of a report first published on AlterNet

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Clean Energy Breakthroughs.Review of 2013 Part one

12 Major Clean Energy Breakthroughs of 2013

While the news about climate change seems to get worse every day, the rapidly improving technology, allied with it's declining costs, and increased accessibility has made 2013 a breakthrough year for clean energy. In the first part of our report we analyse 6 of the 12 key breakthroughs during 2013 which shows the most promise in the march toward a zero-carbon future.
1. Using salt to keep producing solar power even when the sun goes down. Helped along by the Department of Energy’s loan program, Solana’s massive 280 megawatt (MW)  solar plant came on strem in Arizona this October, The plant will use a ‘salt battery’ that  allows it to keep generating electricity even when the sun doesn't shine. Not only is this a first for the United States,but the Solana plant is also the largest in the world to use parabolic trough mirrors to concentrate solar energy.
2. Electric vehicle batteries that can also power buildings. Nissan’s groundbreaking ‘Vehicle-To-Building‘ technology will enable companies to regulate their electricity needs by tapping into EVs plugged into their garages during times of peak demand. Then, when demand is low, electricity flows back to the vehicles, ensuring they’re charged for the drive home. With Nissan’s system, up to six electric vehicles can be plugged into a building at one time. As more forms of renewable energy are added to the grid, storage solutions like this will help them all work together to provide reliable power.
3. The next generation of wind turbines promises to revolutionize wind energy. This May saw the arrival  of GE’s brilliant line of wind turbines, which bring two technologies to the turbines to address storage as well as intermittency concerns. An “industrial internet” communicates with grid operators, to predict wind availability and power needs, and to optimally position the turbine. Grid-scale batteries built into the turbines store power when the wind is blowing but the electricity isn’t needed — then feeds it into the grid as demand increases, smoothing out fluctuations in electricity supply. It’s a more efficient solution to demand peaks than fossil fuel plants, making it attractive even from a purely business aspect. Over 60 of the turbines are already planned for Michigan,and Texas.
4. Solar electricity now as cheap as coal. In 1977,a single solar cell cost $76.67 per watt . Bloomberg Energy Finance  forecast the price would reach $0.74 per watt in 2013 but as of the first quarter of this year, they were actually selling  for $0.64 per watt .Immensely cutting down solar’s installation costs — and since the sunlight is free, lower installation costs mean lower electricity prices. And in 2013, they hit grid parity with coal: earlier this year a southwestern utility,  agreed to purchase electricity from a New Mexico solar project for less than the going rate for a new coal plant.  Unsubsidized solar power also reached grid parity in countries such as Italy and India. Solar installations are certainly across the globe. 

5. Advancing renewable energy from ocean waves. With the United States first commercial, grid-connected underwater tidal turbine successfully producing renewable energy off the coast of Maine, the Ocean Renewable Power Company has big plans for the future. The project has invested more than $21 million into the Maine economy and an environmental assessment in March found no detrimental impact on the marine environment and they are set to deploy two more devices in 2014. A Japanese delegation visited the project this year as that country endeavours to produce 30 percent of its total power offshore by 2030.
 This year also saw the announcement of Carnegie Wave Energy’s upcoming desalination plant near Perth, Australia. It will use the company’s underwater buoy technology to harness ocean wave force to pressurize the water, cutting out the fossil-fuel-powered electric pumps that usually force water through the membrane in the desalination process. Once completed the plant will supply 55 billion litters of fresh drinking water per year.
6. New ultra-thin solar cells break all efficiency records. Efficiency is measured as  the amount of light hitting the solar cell that’s actually changed into electricity and is normally between 18 percent and 24 percent. But Alta Devices, a Silicon Valley solar manufacturer, set a new record of 30.8 percent conversion efficiency this year. Its method is more expensive but the result is a durable and extremely thin solar cell that can generate a lot of electricity from a small surface . This makes the cells perfect for small and portable electronic devices like smartphones and tablets, 

Part 2 coming shortly

The full unedited report can be seen on AlterNet

Monday, 23 December 2013

Scotland leading the way on Renewable Energy

Scotland leading the way on Renewable Energy

Scotland's renewable electricity output has reached record-high levels, according to official statistics newly released. 

The figures, released by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, show that renewables met a record-breaking 40.3 per cent of gross electricity consumption last year, confirming they are on track to meet their interim target of 50% by 2015. The Scottish government has further pledged to be 100% renewable by 2020.

Scottish renewable electricity also made up 36 per cent of the UK's entire renewable energy generation in 2012, and continues to be a net exporter of electricity, exporting over 26 per cent of it's generation.Also, provisional figures indicate that renewable generation in 2013 is on track to beat last year's record.

Energy Minister Fergus Ewing said: "These figures show that renewable electricity in Scotland is going from strength to strength, confirming that 2012 was a record year for generation in Scotland and that 2013 looks set to be even better. We can already see from the first 9 months of 2013 that generation is 4 per cent higher compared to the same period in 2012.Our support for renewable generation, combined with energy efficiency measures, will help protect Scotland's consumers by keeping energy prices down in the long term."

Commenting on the publication of an update to the Scottish Government Routemap for Renewable Energy for Scotland, Mr Ewing said: "Today, our publication clearly show the progress that has been made in the last year and the further steps that are being taken to help Scotland achieve the equivalent of 100 per cent from renewable sources by 2020. This is an ambitious target, but achievable as we are already on track to meet our 2015 interim target."

Also commenting on the UK Government's Electricity Market Reform Delivery Plan, he said: "The UK Government continues to ignore the need for different levels of support across the three main island groups – a need that the UK's own research identified. I have announced plans to convene a summit in early 2014 bringing all interested parties together to assess whether anything further can be done to help deliver a positive outcome for each island group. Island renewables could provide up to 5% of total GB electricity demand by 2030 and support tens of thousands of jobs – an opportunity which we can't afford to put at risk.

WWF Scotland director Lang Banks added: "It's great news that Scotland's renewable energy capacity and output both continue to grow, and this year looks like being another record breaker. Most importantly, Scotland is further along the track to meeting its 2020 target than we thought, which means ever greater amounts of climate change emissions are being avoided every day.

"However, in order to remain on target Scotland will need to deploy significant amounts of offshore wind in the near future. It's therefore vital that the UK Government gives a stronger signal of its ambition on the growth of offshore wind in Scotland's seas, as well as the necessary support needed to deliver that growth. We also need to see a quick resolution to outstanding issues over transmission charges and the harnessing of renewable energy from the Scottish Islands.

"While the rest of the UK has become distracted by gas fracking and new nuclear power, Scotland has quietly got on with the business of deploying renewables at scale. It's clear from these figures that renewables are already ensuring the lights stay on, creating jobs, and cutting emissions".

Report first published on NextGen

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Going Solar. The 4 best ways to cut cost

Going Solar. The 4 best ways to cut cost

So, you've been thinking about taking the plunge and investing some of your hard-earned cash  into solar energy. Well, guess what? It's not nearly the leap of faith that it used to be. Several innovative financing packages have emerged in the last few years that allow more people to get into solar than ever before -- and for less money than ever before.

1. Solar Leasing

So you want solar panels on your roof but you’re wary of the cost of full ownership? Leasing solar panels might be the best option for you, especially if you have an above average solar resource, lots of extra roof space and little or no money to put down.
Solar leasing, also known in the USA as a Solar Power Purchase Agreement, is a pretty simple (and cheap) option. Customers make a monthly  payment which covers the solar panels that produces some or all of the electricity you use in your home or business. If you consume more than you produce, the remainder of your electricity is purchased from the utility company in the normal way. Unlike other examples explored here, a third-party developer owns, operates, and maintains the solar PV system.
Like most other leasing programs, servicing and repairing your solar system is done by the solar leasing company, usually at no cost to the customer. As such, you will not be eligible for the 30 percent federal Investment Tax Credit( USA only). But-solar leases usually require no upfront cost. Some companies may charge a $1,000 upfront fee for service. But the more money you put down upfront, the less your monthly payments will be.
Most contracts have a 10 to 20 year lifespan, which are normally transferable to a new owner  if you move home. If you stay in your home  for the length of the contract,most companies will give you an option to buy the system outright.
Several companies operate solar leasing schemes including Sungevity and Solar City, but do your  research to learn which one has the most suitable package for your requirements and whether solar is the correct choice for you economically.

2. Group Purchasing

Going Solar.The 4 best ways to cut cost
If you’re at all familiar with the group purchasing platform, Groupon,  you already have an understanding of the guiding principle behind San-Francisco-based start up, One Block Off the Grid home solar (1BOG). By negotiating a large group discount with a network of reputable solar installers and passing some of the savings onto the customer, 1BOG’s save customers money, time, and perhaps most importantly, the headaches associated with getting all of the rebates and incentives sorted out and determining if solar is right for you
With active campaigns in San Francisco, New Orleans, as well as Los Angeles and  Philadelphia to mention just a few, homeowners  across the U.S. are saving as much as 15 percent on a solar system for their home, an investment that can pay for itself in as little as 3 years in some cases.
But the biggest savings provided by 1BOG may actually come in the time saved having to do through research. By vetting the solar installers for you, coordinating all the  solar rebates and incentives that are available, and walking  their customers through the process with impartial advice, group solar purchasing programs can eliminate many obstacles that stand in the way of large-scale solar adoption not just in the  in the U.S.

3. Community Solar Gardens

Going Solar. The 4 best ways to cut cost
What if you want to install  solar  but don’t own any roof space or land to put the panels on  Or you have the roof space but where you live is too shaded to make solar viable? You probably think you’re out of luck, right? Wrong.
Several states including Colorado, Washington, Maine, Vermont, and Massachusetts have all now passed laws that allow groups of individuals to collectively own a solar array and cash-in on potential benefits from net-metering . So taken by the idea in his home state of Colardo,  U.S. Senator , Mark Udall, has even introduced the Community Solar Gardens idea to the Senate.
Much like the community wind model that sprung up out of Denmark in the last decade Solar Gardens are aimed, to allow individuals to buy as few or as many “shares” in a given solar installation as they wish. Customers then receive  credits based on the percentage of the array they own. Dependant on the size of the solar garden, investors may be able to buy into the system for substantially less than virtually any other solar ownership model currently available.
 Installation costs of community solar gardens will normally be the same as if you put a large solar array on your roof, but the costs and other licensing or hook-up fees are borne by all of the solar garden owners, representing a substantial cost savings to the group.

4. PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) Financing

Going Solar. The 4 best ways to cut costFirst launched in Berkeley, California, so-called Property Assessed Clean Energy programs could be the safest and easiest way to  install solar in your home. Because PACE programs tie the cost of the solar panels to your property taxes, getting started requires virtually no upfront costs.
After a homeowner gains approval for the solar system from their city or county, the cost is added to their property taxes spread  over a 20 year period, at a competitive rate of interest. But what if you want to sell your home? No problem, the solar system and the tax liability is transferred to the new homeowner 
Unfortunately, just as the popularity of PACE  was gaining momentum, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) earlier this summer, put a stop to any new programs determining that they “present significant safety and soundness concerns.”
Considering the effectiveness and popularity of the programs however, our bet is that once the dust has settled on the national housing and mortgage situation,  PACE  will surely return in some form or other.

Report first appeared on Earth&

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Solar City to aid rural communities throughout the Developing World.

Solar City to aid rural communities

Solar installer Solar City is aiming to bring light  to rural villages in the developing world with solar and battery backup systems.They will use their high-tech commercial skills in solar and energy storage to supply electricity and light to villages throughout the developing countries.

The goal will be achieved through the recently created Give Power Foundation in partnership with buildOn which builds rural schools in developing countries that have no electricity infrastructure. For every megawatt of solar power they install in 2014,projected to be around 500mw,Solar City will donate a solar and battery back up system to the combined project.A spokesperson for the foundation  said the first buildings to receive solar and battery systems will be in Haiti, Malawi, Mali and Nepal.

SolarCity employees have already installed one such system at a buildOn-constructed school in Nicaragua. Like many  communities in the developing countries, the village lacks grid electricity and light, making  it difficult for both students and parents to educate themselves, company executives said in a video. The solar panels were installed with the help of local people and provided LED light, powered with a simple back-up battery, to the school at night, which also operates  as a community center.

The United Nations Development program has estimated  that 1.4 billion people worldwide do not have access to electricity at all and 1 billion more have unreliable electricity networks. Welcome projects like this are sadly the exception and much more needs to be done to address this issue.Off-grid solar,, with back-up batteries is a sensible approach for microgrids, as well as on-site power generation  around the world where there is no electricity service and building a centralized grid is just a pipe dream.. 

The Solar City installations will focus only on providing light, using technology it's developed for the US market. Earlier this month,the company introduced a combined solar-energy storage product built around lithium ion batteries  which coupled with power electronics and a cloud service, helps to determine when it's most cost-effective to power a building with a battery. For a community building or school equipped with rooftop solar panels, the back-up battery can be substantially simpler and cheaper.

A company spokesperson recently summed up the initiative by saying  
"Solar City's revenue is growing rapidly by signing up solar customers in the United States, and through this foundation, it can bring the technology to other parts of the world. I think the dream is to create a culture within a company that is all about growing and giving. If you can do that ... I think that's really powerful"

This is an edited  version of an article that first appeared at

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

UK Science Museum to build Largest Solar Park

Plans to build the UK's largest solar farm on a former airfield at Wroughton, Wiltshire, moved a stage closer today after Swindon Borough Council provisionally  approve them, at a meeting this week.

The development is a joint project between Swindon Commercial Services Limited, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Swindon Borough Council, and the Science Museum Group, which owns the site and uses it to store 30,000 objects from the reserve national collections.

The new solar farm will cover 67 hectares of unused land on the old airfield and with a capacity of 40MW will generate enough green electricity to supply 12,000 homes.

Matt Moore of the Science Museum Group, said: "Solar farms should be sited appropriately and sensitively – this is a great location, it's semi-industrial land, close to a major town. It will provide a secure and reliable income to help the Science Museum continue our work conserving the national collections and improving conditions on site."

The project not only helps the Museum and SCS but includes  a fund for the benefit of the local Wroughton community,amounting to around £40,000 a year, for the next 30 years, to be allocated by the community for local projects. This is the largest solar community benefit scheme in the UK. Local residents can also invest directly in the solar farm, with a planned minimum investment of just £50, giving them an ownership stake in the project.

James Owen, Commercial Director at Swindon Commercial Services Ltd, said: "This project has had outstanding support from the local community throughout, so we are extremely pleased that Swindon Council has authorized its approval. Residents of Wroughton will benefit from a community fund of £40,000 a year, and it will help put Swindon on the map as a greener place to live and work."

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Solar Schools helping to cut British energy bills

Against a backdrop of rising energy prices, schools the length and breadth of Britain are taking control of their energy and generating their own, thanks to the successful Solar Schools campaign. 

The carbon-cutting campaign helps schools fund raise to buy solar PV and generate their own electricity. And it's not just schools in the sunny south that can reap the rewards. From Five Islands School on the Isles of Scilly in the Southwest corner of the UK, to Springwell School in Hartlepool in the Northeast, schools throughout England and Wales are recognising the financial, community, environmental and educational benefits of going solar.

Justine Roberts, CEO of Mumsnet, the UK's largest website for parents, said: "We can all do something positive for our local school and the planet - encourage them to get on board with Solar Schools. They make it easy and fun for schools to install solar panels so they cut carbon, save money on energy bills, and earn extra cash for school projects."

The project provides expert advice, training and support and a host of free fundraising materials such as stickers, posters, banners and a page on the Solar Schools website. With their help, 14 schools have already completed the Solar Schools process since it launched a year ago, tripling on average their normal fundraising efforts, with eight more well on their way.The campaign launched its second year in October and 19 schools have already started their fundraising efforts this term. The scheme is now open for new schools to apply at any time.

Energy and Climate Change Minister, Greg Barker said: "This is a genuinely exciting technology that will help schools generate their own energy, while saving money and cutting carbon at the same time.But the benefits go much further. Solar Schools brings together the whole community with lots of fun and exciting fundraising activities and helps develop their entrepreneurial and communications skills too.

One example is Pendock Primary School, a tiny rural primary school (46 pupils) on the Gloucestershire/Worcestershire border, which raised over £9,000 to fund a 6.24kW solar array in just two terms. The school emphasised how the fundraising process has strengthened the bond between the school and the local community, leaving a positive legacy that goes beyond the solar panels themselves.The solar panels were installed in May 2013, and thanks to the gorgeous summer weather have substantially exceeded expectations in terms of generation. During the August school holidays when the school normally 'ticks over' electricity use fell by 75% compared with the previous year.The school has saved about £500 on its energy bills and earned an additional £412 from the feed-in tariff. It is estimated that the annual financial benefit to the school will be £1,165.

Amy Cameron, Solar Schools Campaign Manager, said: "Solar Schools is a chance for pupils, parents, local businesses, former students and everyone else to do something good for their school, their community, and the whole world, and we can help them achieve that."Edited report first published on NextGen