‘Energy News’ Category
In any country, at the end of the proverbial day, both energy utilities and consumers are finally interested in the technologies that generate a kilowatt of electricity most inexpensively, all other considerations aside.
Accordingly, all countries involved in solar energy are optimists, but nascent industrial efforts to generate power on a commercial scale from the sun are without exception dependent upon current government subsidies to enter the market, which is littered with optimism, the failure of U.S. federally subsidized company Solyndra being Exhibit A.
But countries worldwide are seeking government support to shield their embryonic solar industries from market realities until conditions improve, and few countries are more caught between the realities of the “free market” and national priorities in developing energy alternatives than Israel, whose energy imports remain a major topic of concern to the government. Subsidies are viewed as critical worldwide by solar producers, especially in a recession market, but fiscal realities are asserting themselves, which alternative energy companies warn could kill their efforts.
Israel’s government is now reconsidering its alternative energy policies due to fiscal constraints, to cut the incentives price for mid-sized photovoltaic power plants.
Association of Renewable Energy of Israel CEO Eitan Parnass bluntly told Public Utilities Authority (Electricity) acting chairman Orit Farkash-Hacohen, “People will avoid private power production in Israel if the rates the entire industry relied on are changed.”
As a consequence of the global recession that began in 2008 prices for photovoltaic solar panels worldwide have receded. Quite aside from substantial economic recessionary pressures, Chinese manufacturers of photovoltaic solar panels are now facing a substantial inventory backlog of unsold panels. Electricity market sources say that several Western countries that are prominent in the solar energy industry, such as Germany, Italy, and Spain, have reduced their subsidies and tariffs to solar energy producers, because of the global crisis.
In Israel however, the steep decline in prices for photovoltaic solar panels initially generated unexpected profits for solar power companies, as national electricity rates were set two years ago, but Israeli solar companies are now threatened by the proposed government reduction in subsidies.
Accordingly, the Public Utilities Authority plenum decision is awaited by Israel’s solar community. In seeking to advance their arguments, solar companies aver that the Public Utilities Authority is not considering their expenses since 2009, when almost no power production licenses were issued, due to bureaucratic delays.
All is not bleak on the Israeli solar front, however – on 24 October SolarEdge Technologies Inc., a firm that developed a power harvesting and monitoring system for photovoltaic panels capable of improving the performance of solar energy systems, raised $37 million in venture capital, primarily from California-based Norwest Venture Partners.
Despite issues of funding of solar panels electrical production, in July Arava Power inaugurated its 4.95-megawatt solar power field. In the future, Arava Power projects launching 40 solar energy fields in the Negev desert region, assisted by tariffs for investors supported and guaranteed by the government.
Interestingly, despite Israel’s renowned high technology base, Arava Power has partnered with Chinese-produced Suntech photovoltaic solar panels because Israel’s nascent solar energy is currently unable to compete. Arava Power CEO Jonathan Cohen CEO said, “The technology needs to be time-proven to prove its bankability. When the means are made available to ensure Israeli novel technologies are included in Israel’s solar drive, we and others will be looking to employ them as much as possible.”
Cohen has reason to be sunny, as on 21 October Israel’s Public Utilities Authority awarded Arava Power the country’s first permanent solar license in the aftermath of Arava Power interconnecting its 4.95 megawatt Ketura sun field to the national grid by the Israel Electric Corporation.
So, Israeli solar power – glass half-empty or half-full? Given Arava Power’s experience, should the troubling issue of government support be resolved, it would seem that the container could soon be overflowing, with the only problem being what happens after twilight.
Just a question of government grants to tide companies over the rough patches.
By John C.K. Daly
» posted on Thursday, December 30th, 2010 at 11:49 am by Woody Wilson viewed 207 times
Dec 29, 2010
An ongoing criticism of solar energy is that it only works during the day. This problem is being tackled in a plethora of different ways, from oversizing solar systems and connecting them to battery backups and thermal storage to creating syngas (synthetic gas) via algae. New research from CalTech and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology are looking at a new way of producing hydrogen and syngasses in another way, by using solar funnels.
CalTech Professor and researcher Sossina Haile and her colleagues published their research in the Dec. 24, 2010, edition of Science. The device that they developed is able to concentrate solar radiation and heat it up to 1,600 degrees Celsius. The resulting heat is used to split water or carbon dioxide into their constituent elements.
The device consists of a quartz lens that focusses the solar radiation on a reaction chamber. The reaction chamber is internally reflective, capturing most of the photons that enter the chamber and converting them to heat. The device heats up at a rate of 140 degrees Celsius a minute until it reaches about 1,250 degrees Celsius, and stabilizing at more than 1,400 degrees Celsius.
Through a two-step process, the device’s catalyst ceria (cerium dioxide) converts carbon dioxide or water into its constituent elements. “Ceria is a metal oxide, what that material will do when heated is it will release oxygen.…It happens at high temperatures, when we cool it back down it wants to absorb oxygen,” Haile said. The ceria replaces the oxygen by stripping it from the supplied material, carbon dioxide or water, thereby creating carbon monoxide—used for syngas, or hydrogen—which can be used directly. Either resulting fuel could be used to store the sun’s energy for use in power generation.
The funnels can be small, but they’re not nano-sized. “It’s like a sponge it’s porous and the gasses flow through it,” Haile said. But “it’s not nano because these temperatures are too high for nano-structures.”
At this point, the material isn’t efficient enough for commercial use. The prototype is inefficient, converting between 0.7 percent and 0.8 percent of the solar energy in the funnel into fuel. With advances that could change. “We calculated efficiency should be between 15 percent and 19 percent,” according to Haile. “We’re working with University of Minnesota on that. Right now it’s limited by the thermal design of the reactor. We need a better thermal design,” she said.
» posted on Wednesday, November 10th, 2010 at 10:41 am by Woody Wilson viewed 393 times
A Canadian-made turbine designed to fit on roofs and help power homes and small businesses will go on sale in December.
It is being manufactured at a new factory in Windsor, Ont.
Reg Adams, president of manufacturer WindTronics, told CBC News the turbines will appeal to commercial and agricultural operations, as well as homeowners who are environmentally conscious, or need emergency backup power.
“We are complete emergency home standby systems,” he said in an interview. “It’s like the replacement of a home standby generator. We can build a battery support, and if the power outage is because of a storm, it will have wind. If not, we have charged batteries.”
Each turbine comes with a computerized smart box and inverter that will allow the unit to feed directly into the ac power system of a home or business, or feed the energy back into the electricity grid.
‘The Honeywell turbine makes wind technology affordable and accessible.’—Reg Adams, WindTronics
The design is intended to maximize power output while minimizing noise and vibration. The unit differs from industrial wind turbines in that it looks more like a fan than windmill and generates power through the tips of the blades rather than turning a generator.
“The Honeywell turbine makes wind technology affordable and accessible to the vast majority of Canadian homeowners, who have great wind resources,” said Adams.
24 years to payback
When its installed in an area with high winds, the turbine can produce up to 2,700 kilowatt hours a year. Based on Ontario’s peak power rate of 9.9 cents per kWh, a turbine could save $272 in power costs each year.
However, at a cost of $6,500, with an additional $3,000 for installation, it would take 24 years for it to pay for itself.
Adams says the company is currently negotiating with the Ontario government to have the turbines included in the Feed-in Tariff Program, which pays a premium for green-power energy.
He said if the Ontario government agrees to pay 50 to 55 cents per kilowatt-hour, it will make the turbines far more appealing to everyday homeowners.
If Ontario residents were able to feed power back into the grid under such an arrangement, the turbine would earn about $1,500 per year and be paid for in 4½ years.
The turbines will be sold at Home Depot and other major retailers across Canada.
» posted on Thursday, October 21st, 2010 at 12:11 pm by Woody Wilson viewed 314 times
By MATTHEW L. WALD October 19, 2010, 8:29 am
A company that secured a Department of Energy grant to pursue a breakthrough idea in the manufacture of solar cells plans to announce on Tuesday that it has raised $20 million to commercialize its technique, which it says will reduce the price of solar panels by 40 percent.
The company, 1366 Technologies of Lexington, Mass., has found a simpler way to produce the basic building block of solar cells: silicon wafers. It uses molten silicon to cast the wafers in their final form, six inches on one side and 200 microns thick, or about eight-thousandths of an inch.
The current method is to cast the silicon in huge ingots or grow it in giant crystals and then saw off thin pieces, which wastes about half of the silicon.
“Early indications show this could be one of our great success stories,” said David Danielson, the program director for solar energy at the Advanced Research Projects Agency — Energy, a new office within the Energy Department that provides relatively small grants to develop high-risk but potentially high-payoff technologies. It promised 1366 a grant of $4 million for an 18-month program to develop the wafer technology; 1366 is reporting success after eight months.
The company is expected to announce that it has raised $20 million in new capital, some of it from a major customer for the wafers, Hanwha Chemical of South Korea. Other investors include Ventizz Capital Fund, a European company that specializes in clean energy investments. Two companies that had previously invested, North Bridge Venture Partners and Polaris Venture Partners, have also added funds.
The chairman of Hanwha, Ki-joon Hong, said in a statement that his company had “every confidence that 1366’s innovations will fundamentally change solar manufacturing.”
The silicon, the basic material of solar cells and computer chips, is derived from a very cheap material, sand. But to function in electronics it must be made extremely pure, which makes it expensive.
The new technique, going from molten silicon to final product, is a bit like frying pancakes as opposed to slicing salami, except, as Mr. Danielson put it, “when you cut a salami, it’s not like half the salami ends up as salami dust that you have to throw in the garbage.”
The trick is to get the wafer out of the mold without breaking it. Company officials will not say just how they do that. The president of 1366 Technologies, Frank van Mierlo, predicted that the development would make solar power cheaper than coal power, although the technique has not yet been commercialized.
If the wafers go to market, 1366 would be one of the early fruits of the ARPA-e program, which was authorized by Congress in 1997 and signed into law by President Bush but was not financed until the passage of the federal stimulus act, which gave the program $400 million over two years. In December, 1366 received $4 million.
The company’s name is a reference to the amount of solar energy, measured in watts, that falls on a square meter of the earth’s surface.
The cell has other refinements, including finer wires to conduct away the electrons, so the shadow cast on the energy-gathering area is smaller. And the company drills small holes into the cast wafer to give it a honeycomb appearance, which allows light to bounce around inside the crevices, producing better absorption and less reduction, Mr. van Mierlo said.