Life In A Day
As we come upon Earth Day 2012 let’s take a brief peek backwards at the work of film makers from around the world in a film called “Life in A Day.” it was produced by Ridley Scott and directed by Kevin Macdonald. The documentary serves as a time capsule to show future generations what it was like to be alive on the 24th of July, 2010. The complete film is below.
Top 10 Solar Trends for 2011
By Ucilia Wang Earth 2 Tech - This year has turned out to be a boom year for the solar industry, thanks in no small part to lucrative government subsidies in Europe, particularly in countries such as Germany and Italy. New solar project installations shot up from 7.2 GW in 2009 to an estimated 15.8 GW in 2010, according to iSuppli. But analysts are predicting slower growth in 2011 because incentives in these key European markets are set to fall quite a bit. At the same time the U.S. market could grow faster. Here are key trends I expect to see in 2011:
1. The rise of the U.S. market. Given the size of the country, solar industry folks have long counted on the U.S. as becoming a dominant solar electricity generator one day. We’ll likely see a particularly big upswing in that direction because of a confluence of state and federal policies. Congress just extended a popular grant program that helps to cover 30 percent of the cost of installing solar projects. The extension will end Dec. 31, 2011, and projects that start construction by the deadline will still qualify to get the money. That deadline will prompt companies to quicken their project development pace.
Project developers who have signed contracts to sell solar electricity to California utilities had also better get going on completing their work. The state’s three big utilities are supposed to buy enough renewable energy to make up 20 percent of their supplies by 2010. The utilities aren’t likely to be able to make that deadline, but state regulation gives them until the end of 2013 to comply. Meanwhile, the utilities will have to make sure they line up enough contracts or install their own projects to meet the 33 percent goal by 2020.
2. The money spigot opens up. Banks and other project investors seem to have boosted their financial support in 2010, and more money should flow forth. U.B. Bank, the venture capital arm of Pacific Gas and Electric Corp. and Rabobank have put up millions for residential and commercial installations, while NRG Energy emerged committing to invest up to $1.55 billion for utility-scale projects by SunPower, BrightSource Energy and First Solar. Lining up money for a project that exceeds 100 MW remains tough, but smaller projects are more palatable (and their development cycle is shorter). California could launch a 1-GW program sometime next year to encourage projects of up to 20 MW in size. Utilities in the rest of the country are also pursuing smaller projects.
And let’s not forget the biggest banker of all: the U.S. government. The federal government has offered big loan guarantees followed by the loans themselves to solar manufacturers and project developers in the past two years, including the $400 million to Abound Solar and $1.45 billion to Abengoa Solar. A portion of the loan guarantee program, (Section 1705) is set to end next year, and projects that want to qualify must start construction by September 2011.
3. Utilities embracing ownership. Owning power plants gives utilities control over electricity production costs and comes with tax benefits, including a 30 percent investment tax credit approved by Congress in 2008. So the solar industry has expected utilities to invest their own money in solar projects. The aggressive moves by NRG Energy (which is a wholesale power generator that owns two utilities) to invest in a host of solar projects in the past two years will nudge more utilities to move quicker into the game. Other players who already have plans or projects in place include Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison, Florida Power & Light, and Duke Energy.
4. Factory boom. Many solar cell and panel manufacturers are expanding their factories at a dizzying pace, and the biggies will only become bigger, making it even harder for startup companies and definitely brand entrants to compete. First Solar vows to nearly double its production capacity from 1.4 GW in 2010 to 2.7 GW by 2012. Suntech Power expects its cell and panel production capacity to surge from 1.8 GW in 2010 to 2.4 GW in 2011. JA Solar already has reached 1.9 GW of cell production capacity by November of this year. Solar Frontier is building a 900-MW factory that is set to come online next year; it currently has two factories of 80 MW total.
Good luck to those startups that haven’t lined up public or private financing to catch up. SpectraWatt, which started production at its 60-MW factory in New York this year, recently announced plans to lay off more than 100 employees and close the factory by spring 2011.
5. Make the gear AND build the projects. For a while, being both an equipment manufacturer and a project developer seemed an unwise undertaking. OptiSolar went bust; Suntech Power’s project development business in the U.S. didn’t take off. But SunPower and First Solar have shown that being successful at doing both is possible and a good way to create outlets for their solar panels.
This year we saw Sharp buy Recurrent Energy for $305 million, SunPower buy SunRay Renewable Energy in Europe for $277 million and First Solar buy yet another project developer, NextLight, for $297 million. I continue to read about new project developers entering the business. Coupled with some of the existing ones that are having a hard time lining up project financing, the market is set for more acquisitions.
6. Solar thermal farms – a losing proposition? California regulators approved nine solar thermal power projects totaling more than 4 GW in the past four months, and that would seem to invite a whole lot of new projects. But more likely, you won’t see a raft of new proposals to build giant power plants using mirrors to concentrate the sunlight for producing steam, which then drives generators. Solar thermal farms need to be large – a few hundred megawatts seem to be the norm – in order to be economically feasible.
But lining up financing for this type of project might be more difficult than for a project that uses solar panels, the price of which has fallen 50 percent in the past two years. Mega thermal projects are prone to elicit criticism and even lawsuits for their impact on the environment, from water use to wildlife survival. Tessera Solar’s two projects, dubbed Calico and Imperial Valley, are prime examples of what could go wrong. Tessera announced yesterday that it had sold the 850-megawatt Calico project to K Road Power. Its other project is facing a lawsuit from the Quechan Indian Tribe.
7. Hybrid solar market slowly emerges. A slew of startup companies have gradually rolled out hybrid systems that generate electricity and heat to create hot water or run heating and cooling systems at homes and businesses. Cogenra Solar installed its first pilot project at a northern California winery this summer, while PVT began selling its equipment to home builders in 2009. Cool Energy lined up a Colorado utility, Xcel Energy, to help launch a pilot project this year. Chromasun plans to launch its first hybrid system in 2011.
Not only are the technologies getting ready, the incentives also are materializing. California launched an incentive program for solar water heater installations earlier this year. New York started a program earlier this month. Both states also offer incentives for solar electric systems and allow hybrid systems to claim incentives from both programs.
8. Canadian solar soars. The Ontario province of Canada launched a feed-in tariff program in October 2009 and became a hot bed of solar development activities. The province has also learned a few lessons about shaping its popular program to manage the explosive growth. The Ontario Power Authority, which runs the program, plans to tweak it even more in the coming year, including cutting the prices set for utilities to buy solar electricity from project developers. Ontario will also have to contend with complaints from Japan and maybe other countries over the province requiring the majority of the equipment and services from each project to come from within Ontario.
Those who advocate a similar policy in the U.S. should take note on how the Ontario program pans out. Feed-in tariffs have successfully created large solar markets in Europe, but have also drawn detractors who believe competitive bidding – rather than having the government set solar contract pricing – leads to more cost-effective projects.
9. IPO solar market remains lukewarm. Many solar startups have dreamed of launching a successful IPO and becoming the next First Solar. Nothing like that happened in 2010 and solar companies still seem to be risky bets. IPO candidates will have to show they can make money, especially as solar energy equipment becomes a commodity and as many project developers continue to have trouble lining up money to finance installations. Out of our potential IPO picks of 2011, BrightSource Energy seems to generate the most buzz. But I think investors will continue to be cautious and skeptical about solar in 2011.
10. Building solar PV market to perk up. After years of making promises, several thin-film solar manufacturers finally unveiled flexible panels designed to blend into residential and commercial rooftops. Dow Chemical plans to start selling shingles embedded with solar cells in mid-2011. Meanwhile, starting next year, builders of large residential communities in California (more than 50 homes) will be required to offer solar panels as a standard option. This rule will help promote building-integrated photovoltaic installations, which appeal to homeowners who don’t want their solar electric systems to standout, aesthetically speaking.
Typical U.S. Homes Reduce Their Energy Bills Most Significantly With Rooftop Solar Energy Systems
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -GlobeNewswire — A White Paper entitled “Reducing Home Energy Costs by Combining Solar and Energy Efficiency” was released today showing that typical U.S. homes will reduce their energy bills the most by generating their own power — rather than implementing energy efficiency measures. The complete text of the paper is available for download at http://www.westinghousesolar.com/whitepapers. The White Paper was written with the support of the California Solar Energy Industries Association (CALSEIA) and Westinghouse Solar.
The White Paper used Department of Energy software to evaluate three different ages of homes (old, typical and new) in ten cities in the U.S. for a total of 30 different test simulations to determine what combination of energy efficiency and renewable generation makes the most sense for homeowners. The conclusions are significant given that the residential sector consumes 22% of the energy in the United States, and there are only two ways to structurally reduce a home’s energy costs: energy efficiency and energy generation.
The results of these 30 different home simulations are that climate, local utility rates and home condition are the biggest factors in determining what are the most cost effective energy savings measures. Lighting retrofits are always cost effective. Weatherization and insulation energy efficiency measures are most cost effective in old homes in cold climates, but are not cost effective in newer homes or in temperate climates. Basic building shell and ventilation energy efficiency measures are most cost-effective in cold climates, but have long paybacks in more temperate zones. Rooftop solar power systems have good paybacks regardless of home condition in sunny areas and in areas with either high electric rates or high solar incentives. Solar thermal systems have good paybacks when the fuel source for hot water is electricity. Upgrades to Energy Star appliances and equipment are generally cost-effective when replacing broken or obsolete equipment, but are generally not cost effective when the existing equipment is still functional (analogous to not upgrading to a new, higher mileage car if the old one still works).
“In almost all of the U.S. housing stock built since the mid-1980s the ‘low hanging fruit’ of basic energy saving measures have already been harvested through energy efficiency regulations and rebate programs for energy efficiency measures,” said Sue Kateley, Executive Director of CALSEIA. “Consequently, for a typical home in the U.S., rooftop solar energy systems (electric and thermal), will generate six times more energy than can be saved with lighting, weatherization and insulation retrofits combined. Generating the remaining energy required by the home will have the biggest impact on reducing home energy consumption. Put simply, it is time for policymakers to reevaluate loading order priorities to ensure that the state and national policies to reduce energy consumption will be achieved in a cost effective manner.”
“The economics for rooftop solar power systems have improved dramatically since 1980,” said Barry Cinnamon, CEO of Westinghouse Solar. “According to these 30 home simulations, the most cost effective actions homeowners can take are to install energy efficient lighting and a rooftop solar energy system. We can’t conserve our way to energy independence; but fortunately, with affordable rooftop solar we can now generate much of the energy we need.”
The results outlined in the White Paper are somewhat contrary to the “conventional wisdom” regarding cost effectiveness for energy efficiency and solar energy systems. However, these results are not surprising when one considers the range of U.S. housing stock, varying climate conditions and current costs of various retrofit and renewable energy options. Most importantly, these results provide guidance for good national energy efficiency and solar policies that are consistent with homeowner economics. From California Solar Energy Industries Association & Westinghouse Solar
Solar power: Karl Wolfgang Boer and a lifetime of green discoveries
Karl Wolfgang Boer stumbled upon a few little yellow crystals in a drawer of a German physics lab. The accidental discovery would turn out to change his life and the future of green energy. The crystals were cadmium sulfide (CdS) platelets. The scientist investigated both the electrical properties of the crystals, and his long-term research would lay the groundwork for CdS-based solar cells. Boer recently published a memoir, “The Life of the Solar Pioneer Karl Wolfgang Boer” (iUniverse, 2010). Written in conjunction with a foreign-languages professor, the book documents Boer’s life journey –including growing up in Berlin, his personal family trials, immigrating to the United States, and chiefly his scientific discoveries that helped to shape solar power.
From a young boy fascinated by physics, setting up little chemistry labs in his parents’ basement, Boer became a trailblazer for alternative energies technology. In 1973, Boer created the Solar One house, the first house to convert sunlight into electricity and heat. He also helped to develop the American Solar Energy Society, has written numerous books on solar energyand has explained why CdS improves solar energy conversion. He recently spoke with the Los Angeles Times about his work and how he sees the green future developing. How do you believe solar power has most changed the world? Modern solar power, especially photovoltaics (solar cells), has changed the recognition that conversion of sunlight (not only into plants, wind, and rain), but directly into electric energy is real, and already today is able to provide 35 gigawatts to the world. (The average nuclear power utility is rated at 1 gigawatt.)
What would you like to see develop in the future? The future in solar lies in the concerted supply of useful energy (electric, heat, etc.) from multiple sources (solar electric, wind parks, hydroelectric, ocean waves and tidal, bioconversion and many others) that will work together. But most important is the development of a new electric grid (a DC-grid) to interconnect these resources with consumer centers (cities), where DC can be transformed to AC and then distributed to end consumers.
Can you talk about the greenhouse effect? What are the immediate and long-term steps we should take to reverse its impact? The impact of the greenhouse is multifaceted — not just local temperature increases, but the increase of the severity of weather (i.e., weather extremes). Reversing the greenhouse effect is a long-term (decades) process. The best we can do to stop further acceleration of the effect is to significantly reduce emission of CO2.
Part of solar energy is tied to economics. What would, in your opinion, a green economy really look like? A concerted, careful introduction of a green economy would gradually replace fossil power plants with wind and solar in general. (Not nuclear — that produces long-lasting pollution and is too expensive when accounting properly.) This gradual introduction would shift the workforce from conventional plants and their harvesting of resources (oil, gas, and coal) to the new industry related to renewable energy.
This movement has already created — in the last year alone in Europe — several hundred thousand new jobs for a wide variety of openings. But as important, it would drastically reduce the reason to start wars between nations. What technological advances need to be made in order for us to move into a greener future? In solar and wind, there are little “device advances” necessary, except for the aggressive development of mass fabrication of techniques and facilities.Further development of solar cells beyond what is on the market today would be an icing on the cake, but will take decades before such breakthrough cells become marketable. Fifty years from now, by 2060, how do you anticipate we will have advanced? [By then] we must have turned the Earth to a “solar economy” [and] to a “solar world,” if we want to avoid catastrophes of yet-unheard-of magnitudes. Lori Kozlowski -Green Peace