Posts tagged “solar”
It makes little sense to be anti-solar energy in this day and age, although it does make sense to do it right. Even solar can be done wrong. Usurping farmland, forest, or pristine desert tortoise habitats for solar should be against the rules.
I was motivated to do this post by a rare, cloudless, 50 degree day in the dead of winter. CONTINUE»
Ford’s Solar Car Isn’t Just A Toy
It’s car show season again. I’m not sure I’ll have time to take in the DC Auto Show later this month, but if I do, the entry I’ll be keenest to see won’t be the new Corvette “supercar” or the Acura TLX prototype, as much as those speak to my love of cars. Instead it’s the Ford “C-MAX Solar Energi” concept, an unlikely marriage of electric vehicle (EV) and solar photovoltaic panels (PV). The car previously debuted at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
This isn’t the first time a carmaker has put solar panels on the roof of a car, even if we exclude competitions like the Solar Car Challenge and many other efforts to test how far or fast one-off solar vehicles designed by engineering students or enthusiasts could travel. However, I believe this is the first time an “OEM” has added solar panels to a production car for the purpose of providing a significant fraction of its motive power.
Last month the Department of Interior (DOI) Bureau of Land Management (BLM) held its first competitive auction for commercial solar development on public lands, offering three parcels for lease with a collective acreage of 3,700 in the San Luis Valley of Colorado. The three leases are located in two of DOI’s designated “Solar Energy Zones,” which the DOI carved out for quick solar development due to access to existing transmission, limited environmental impacts, and cheap land rental.
If fully developed, these two Solar Energy Zones could potentially produce 400 MW of energy, enough to power an estimated 125,000 homes. Unfortunately DOI was alone in their enthusiasm as the auction drew zero bids from solar companies. Moving forward, DOI should learn from this initial failure and expand its Solar Energy Zones to also act as a test bed for next-generation clean energy designs, not just off-the-shelf technologies.
Despite the House of Representative’s recent vote to cut appropriations for the Department of Energy’s breakthrough research agency, ARPA-E, by 74 percent, the agency continues to advance the development of next-generation clean energy technologies. ARPA-E recently announced a $30 million funding opportunity, Full-Spectrum Optimized Conversion and Utilization of Sunlight (FOCUS), aimed at developing new hybrid solar energy systems that include storage, at lower costs and with greater performance.
The FOCUS program is looking for projects that research and develop solar technologies beyond current photovoltaic and concentrated solar power models. Research will specifically confront the persistent and most inhibiting performance weakness of existing solar technologies and a major obstacle for improving solar cost competitiveness: providing consistent energy supply when the sun is not shining.
Like ARPA-E projects in general, these solar projects won’t look like your average commercial panels. Instead of funding incremental improvements in solar cell efficiency, ARPA-E’s investments aim to accelerate transformative changes to the way we think about harnessing and controlling solar energy. The FOCUS program recognizes that to reach cost-competitiveness, new solar technologies must not only improve efficiency, they must do so in a way that provides immediate access to solar-based electricity as well as incorporate advanced technologies that can store electricity until it is demanded.
The following guest article was written by Mathias Aarre Maehlum, an Energy and Environmental engineering student from Norway. He frequently writes on the topics of solar power and other green techs. Read more of his work at his site Energy Informative.
The Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory (LBNL) has recently published a study that looks at the price differences in the solar panel industry in Germany and the U.S. By looking at pre-incentivized prices paid for customer-owned systems (third-party-owned systems were not included in the study), they were able to pinpoint the major differences between the two countries.
In the last five years, German solar panel prices have dropped by more than 50%. Some places in the U.S. are almost on par with German prices, but on average the study found a pretty significant gap:
Image source: Environmental Energy Technologies Division
After showing off its innovative product to investors for more than nine months, California-based startup QBotix is preparing to release its so-called solar robots next month, autonomous machines that promise to cut the cost of producing solar electricity by up to 20 percent.
Solar energy plants around the world currently use either single-axis or dual-axis tracking systems to rotate photovoltaic solar arrays in order to keep them pointing towards the Sun throughout the day and the year, helping them to boost electricity production by as much as 45 percent in comparison to arrays that use no tracking system at all. While reliable and effective, these types of tracking systems are expensive; because each individual array must contain a motor and other moving parts, the energy cost that each system demands is high.
The continued existence and expansion of human civilization is wholly dependent on affordable sources of energy. The latest study just released by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (an organization that exists to study and promote the viability of renewable energy) suggests that it may be possible to get 80% or so of our electric power from renewable sources by 2050. The study also (inadvertently) provides evidence that renewable energy will be a minority player in humanity’s energy portfolio.
The results may disappoint my fellow solar enthusiasts because it suggests that only 13% of our electric energy will come from solar. Distributed solar enthusiasts (who favor photovoltaic solar panels on rooftops) will be further disappointed because half of that 13% will come from water-sucking centralized concentrated solar thermal power plants, many located in desert ecosystems, leaving only about 6% for solar panels on rooftops, of which many will probably not be on rooftops but in centralized power plants, probably displacing ecosystems or crops.
Who could have dreamed solving climate change would be so easy? A new paper in Environmental Research Letters called “Greenhouse gases, climate change and the transition from coal to low-carbon electricity” concludes that replacement of all of the world’s currently operating coal-fired power plants — which produce about 40% of the world’s electricity — and replacing them with renewable energy would have an impact of 0.2 degrees Celsius 100 years from now.
Cherry-Picking Conclusions According to One’s Viewpoint
However, a number of climate change websites took away a very different message than I took away from the paper. Here is Joe Romm’s view:
I seem to recall another “bombshell” that he recently reported upon on the same theme: Natural Gas Bombshell: Switching From Coal to Gas Increases Warming for Decades, Has Minimal Benefit Even in 2100. I debunked that by showing that in that particular study, every possible alternative — including wind power, solar power, and even simply shutting down all of the coal plants — was projected to increase global warming in the short term: BOMBSHELL: Solar and Wind Power Would Speed Up, Not Reduce, Global Warming.
But Joe is back with the hyperbolic titles and exaggerations (which I get into below), and he missed the biggest story in the paper.
On a recent trip to Canada, I passed through Kingston, Ontario — home to Canadian Forces Base Kingston (CFB Kingston). A solar power installation just off the roadway — inside the perimeter of the base — caught my attention. Unfortunately, the reason it captured my attention was because the solar panels looked like the side of a trash can.
The picture tells the story.
The panels will provide hot water and some electricity for use in the White House Residence when installed in the Spring of 2011.