IKEA Surges to Second-Largest Private Producer of Solar Energy in U.S.

IKEA surges to 2nd largest private solar power producer in the US, plans to become a net producer of energy by 2020
Photo Credit: epSOS.ep

What business do retail chains like IKEA have getting into the world of electricity generation?

Years ago, the answer would be “none.” But here we are in 2013, and it’s a different game. In a recent sustainability overview, IKEA announced it has jumped ahead of Costco and Kohl’s Department store to become the second largest private user and producer of solar power in the United States. Now second only to Walmart, the store intends to keep ramping up renewable energy installations until it produces more power than it uses by 2020. The famous maker of inexplicably well-packaged, well-priced designer furniture plans to become a net PRODUCER of renewable energy!

IKEA’s overview states, “Through a mix of solar, wind and geothermal installations, IKEA hopes to produce more energy than it consumes by 2020.”

The company is well on its way. Thirty-nine out of 44 IKEA locations in the United States already have solar installations totaling 34 megawatts of solar power, producing 49 gigawatt hours of electricity. It’s enough to vault the company to its national second place private solar production status. With a massive allocation of $1.8 billion, mostly for solar projects, the furniture retailer is building toward its full-on-renewable goal, aiming to get 70 percent of its power from renewable sources just two years from now in 2015, then on to 100 percent by 2020. Globally, IKEA has a quarter million solar panels and a hundred and ten wind turbines. How many tiny Allen wrenches does it take to install that many solar panels? Ask IKEA.

IKEA’s strides are part of a larger commitment it made in April of this year when it signed onto a Climate Declaration with 32 U.S. companies including Intel, eBay, Starbucks, Nike and others. The joint declaration calls for bolder action and policy by the United States to combat climate change and for increased use of renewable energy, reduced carbon footprint and greater energy efficiency. The signatories assert that addressing climate change is a economic opportunity for the U.S., and they’re leading the charge, showing that renewable energy is a viable, long-term option for businesses around the world.

America’s favorite Swedish (and the world’s largest) designer of stylish, yet affordable, home furnishings and solutions is also helping the East Coast recover from Hurricane Sandy. In addition to donating ten thousand blankets, pillows, washcloths, bath towels and hundreds of essential home furnishing sets like beds and dining room furniture, IKEA is also funding a full-scale “Solar for Sandy” project in New Jersey. The idea is to fund community centers with grid tied backup solar power. What we’ve seen in the case of many natural disasters is that old infrastructures are replaced with exactly the same system and infrastructure. When an area is torn to pieces, why not help the area upgrade to something more modern? Such as solar back up systems?

IKEA isn’t the only company looking to move toward a fully renewable energy future. Walmart and Apple and other major U.S. and global companies are also striving to power their companies entirely with renewable energy. We’re stepping into a new world, and many of the world’s more responsible corporate citizens are leading the charge.

Source: http://www.triplepundit.com

AT&T and Goal Zero deploy solar-powered Street Charge stations in NYC

If you’re lucky, your smartphone’s battery can just make it through a full day, with the percentage meter dropping to the single digits as you finally get a chance to plug in. With 10 hours out and about, some handsets can’t even last through dinner, though, and out of reach power outlets make juicing up at the restaurant a tad inconvenient. Beginning this summer, public power will be much more accessible in New York City. AT&T is partnering with Goal Zero to deploy Street Charge stations in a handful of parks and other locations around NYC. They’ll be coming to Fort Green Park on June 18th, and will roll out to Brooklyn Bridge Park, Coney Island, Riverside Park, Rockaways, Summerstage in Central Park, Randall’s Island, Governor’s Island, Union Square, and Hudson River Park over the next few weeks. Each solar-powered pole, designed locally by Pensa, sports six USB connectors: for iPhones and iPads, there’s 30-pin and Lightning plugs, Android and Windows Phone users can hook up to micro-USB, and everyone else can use their own cable with one of three female USB connectors.

There’s three 15-watt solar panels and a 168 watt-hour battery, enabling each Street Charge to power up to six devices for several days without exposure to the sun. Sure, it’s probably impractical to fill your gadget’s cell completely, but if you have a few minutes to spare, you’ll be able to juice up and go. You can plug in phones, tablets, cameras, or even a Pebble watch — each cable can pump out up to two amps of 5V power, providing support for just about any USB-powered device. Each weatherproof unit will have AT&T branding, which seems reasonable, considering the carrier is footing the bill here. You should start seeing these pop up at several TBA locations in New York throughout the summer, with more stations to come if the trial’s a success.

Source: http://www.engadget.com

Cheap Batteries for Backup Renewable Energy

A battery made of cheap materials could store power when it’s windy for use when it’s not.

Investors recently chipped in $15 million to fund battery startup EOS Energy Storage, a company that says its batteries could eventually compete with natural-gas power plants to provide power during times of peak demand.

Cheap energy storage is becoming increasingly important as greater numbers of wind turbines and solar panels are added to the grid. If renewable energy is to replace the fossil fuels that dominate power supplies and serve to backup wind turbines and solar panels, very large-scale, inexpensive batteries like the ones EOS is developing will be needed (see “Wind Turbines, Battery Included, Can Keep Power Supplies Stable,” “Battery Could Provide a Cheap Way to Store Solar Power,” and “A Solution to Solar Power Intermittency”).

On the cheap: EOS is working on a battery based on such cheap materials as water, zinc, and air. If successful, the result could be a boon to the renewable energy industry.
Image by Eos Energy Storage

EOS is trying to commercialize a type of battery that’s based on inexpensive materials: water, zinc, and air (see “Startup Promises a Revolutionary Grid Battery” and “Years in the Making, Promising Rechargeable Metal-Air Batteries Head to Market”). Such batteries—in which zinc reacts with oxygen in air to generate electricity—have been around for a long time, but it’s been difficult to make them rechargeable. Electrodes deteriorate, for example, and the batteries are inherently inefficient because of the difference in voltage levels when charging and discharging them—they waste nearly half the energy it takes to charge them.

EOS has addressed these issues in a couple of ways. It uses a slightly acidic water-based electrolyte that helps prevent deformations of the zinc electrode that can damage the battery.

The company is also supplementing the zinc-oxygen reaction with reactions between zinc and a mixture of up to six other materials (it won’t identify the type of compounds). The other reactions help reduce the difference between charge and discharge voltages, improving the efficiency from 60 percent to almost 75 percent. The mixture of reactions makes the battery more difficult to operate, but George Adamson, vice president of R&D, says that today’s battery management software is up to the task.

The decision to make use of these extra reactions was the result of a bit of serendipity. Impurities were causing unwanted side reactions in the original zinc-air prototypes. But then the researchers noticed the beneficial impact on voltage. “Once we realized that,” Adamson says, “we started searching on purpose for multiple combinations of reactions.”

EOS has built a two-kilowatt prototype. Eventually, its batteries will be packaged inside a shipping container to make one-megawatt batteries than can store six megawatt-hours of electricity, enough to power a typical U.S. home for six months. It plans to build a pilot manufacturing plant by the end of the year or early next year, and to start making full-size one-megawatt batteries by the end of 2014.

EOS wants to produce batteries that cost as little as $160 per kilowatt-hour and last for 30 years. Current batteries that cheap would fail after only a couple of years of service. The U.S. Department of Energy has set a goal of batteries at $100 per kilowatt-hour that can be recharged 5,000 times with 80 percent efficiency, saying that at that point batteries could be widely adopted for grid storage. EOS says its batteries can last 10,000 charges, which could make up for the higher upfront cost and lower efficiency of its batteries.

But the company hasn’t reached its goals yet. It says it’s “well within” $300 per kilowatt-hour. EOS has completely charged and discharged the most recent iteration of its battery cells over 1,000 times, and the batteries have so far retained 90 percent of their capacity. Typically, batteries are designed to retain 80 percent of their capacity at the end of their life, so the current rate of capacity loss is too fast for a 10,000-cycle battery.

But, Adamson says, much of the capacity loss is from electrolyte levels falling too low. In one experiment, topping off the batteries restored capacity from 80 percent to 96 percent of the original capacity. Manufactured batteries will come with a mechanism for automatically topping off the electrolyte, which could improve the durability of the system.

EOS says it’s teaming up with seven utility companies to test the battery and design it to the performance specifications they need—it will announce the partners in the next couple of weeks.

Source: http://www.technologyreview.com

Google Makes Its First Renewable Energy Investment In Africa

Google today announced that it is investing $12 million in a 96 megawatt solar photovoltaic plant in South Africa. This marks Google’s first renewable energy investment in Africa and its 12th overall renewable energy investment. Once it’s completed, Google says, the Jasper Power Project, which is situated in the Northern Cape province of South Africa, will generate enough power for 30,000 South African homes. In total, Google has now committed more than $1 billion to green energy projects.

In South Africa, Google is joining SolarReserve, Intikon Energy and the Kensani Group as the main funders for this project, which is also backed by Rand Merchant Bank, the Public Investment Corporation, Development Bank of South Africa and the PEACE Humansrus Trust. The project will be one of the largest in South Africa and cover about 450 acres with more than 325,000 solar modules.

In today’s announcement, Google’s director for energy and sustainability, Rick Needham, also lays out some of the criteria the company uses to make these kinds of investments. He notes, for example, that Google will “only pursue investments that we believe make financial sense.” Because South Africa has policies that support these kind of projects, Google believes it is an attractive place for it to invest in this technology. The company, however, is also looking for “projects that have transformative potential – that is, projects that will bolster the growth of the renewable energy industry and move the world closer to a clean energy future.”

Source: http://techcrunch.com

Batteries included: New wind turbines and solar panels come with built-in storage

If you want to use solar power at night or wind power on calm days, you need batteries that can store energy after it’s produced. But why bother with two pieces of equipment when you could have one?

Engineers are now beginning to build batteries directly into wind and solar systems.

Combined renewable generation-storage systems are just starting to be deployed in the wind sector. From a report last month in Quartz:

What if every wind turbine became a node in an energy internet, communicating with the grid and each other to adjust electricity production while storing and releasing electricity as needed? That’s the idea behind General Electric’s new “brilliant” turbine, the first three of which the company said … will be installed at a Texas wind farm operated by Invenergy.

General Electric

The 2.5-MW windmill is something of a technological leap in an industry where turbines have gotten bigger and bigger but not necessarily smarter. The turbine’s software captures tens of thousands of data points each second on wind and grid conditions and then adjusts production, storing electricity in an attached 50 kilowatt-hour sodium nickel chloride battery. If, say, a wind farm is generating too much electricity to [be] absorbed by the grid—not an uncommon occurrence in gusty west Texas—it can store the electricity in the battery. When the wind dies down, the electricity can be released from the battery and put back on the grid.

“This provides a path for lowering the cost of energy even more,” Keith Longtin, general manager of GE’s wind product line, told Quartz. “We think by being able to integrate the storage into the turbine and by being able to provide predictable power it’s going to minimize a lot of the balancing the grid has to do today.”

And the solar industry is trying to catch up. A team of University of Wisconsin researchers describes a new invention in the journal Advanced Materials. From a press release:

In a quest for a smaller, more self-sustaining solar power source, a UW-Madison electrical engineer has proposed a design for solar panels that can simultaneously generate power from sunlight and store power reserves for later, all within a single device. …

The final design allows for a standard-size solar cell that can simultaneously power a device and store energy for later use, creating a closed-loop system for small-scale applications of solar energy. “We can have some energy set aside locally, right in the panel, so that when you need it, you can get it,” says [engineer Hongrui] Jiang. …

Other such solar panels — referred to as photovoltaic self-charging cells — have been around for a while, but the ability to provide energy continuously, rain or shine, sets Jiang’s apart. …

Since the design scales up easily, says Jiang, microgrids — small scale power grids used to balance renewable power sources in energy-efficient buildings — would be another ideal application, since self-contained solar panels would limit the need for battery management and would allow engineers to design buildings that rely on the outside power grid even less than current systems.

And there are futuristic applications: picture lighting systems that can be installed in remote areas — without running expensive power lines. “You could have one solar panel installed that will store the energy the system might need through nights and cloudy days,” says Jiang.

By John Upton

Source: http://grist.org/news