Germany breaks 3 solar power records in 2 weeks

By Zachary Shahan

CC BY 2.0 Tim Fuller

Despite being quite a grey country, with average solar irradiation levels worse than even the US Northwest and Alaska, Germany is the world’s solar power leader. In the past couple of weeks, it just broke another three records.

On June 6, between 1pm and 2pm, solar power output rose to a record 24.24 GW, according to the Fraunhofer ISE solar energy research institute. That was a Friday. Over the entire week, German solar power systems generated 1.26 TWh of electricity, another new record for the country.

On Monday of the next week, June 9, German solar power output rose to 23.1 GW. Due to it being a national holiday and there being less electricity demand, Germany hit yet another record — 50.6 percent of total electricity demand.

Naturally, the late spring sun helps with all of this, but none of it would be possible without Germany’s strong solar power leadership and growth. Again, look at how poor Germany’s solar resources are:

© National Renewable Energy Laboratory

However, this maturing solar power market makes another technology more and more important — energy storage. Solar power’s great market share in the middle of the day has driven down wholesale electricity prices a great deal at that time. If producers could store solar energy cheaply, that would help to even out the electricity price roller coaster and make more use of solar’s continual growth.

“The large amounts of solar electricity being generated demonstrate clearly that Germany will need more energy storage capacity in the future. Already, the more than 1.4 million photovoltaic systems are producing a surplus, especially on sunny days around midday,” Tobias Rothacher, expert for renewable energies at Germany Trade & Invest, says.

Storage is indeed growing, and costs will come down more and more as production scales up. 4,000 new battery storage systems were added in Germany since a German incentive for residential lithium-ion battery systems was implemented about a year ago. This is the same sort of incentive that drove the country’s solar growth and the resulting takeoff of the global solar energy era.


Apple Nabs Itself A Renewable Power Plant Project in Oregon

by Greg Kumparak

If you had to guess the next thing Apple would take under its wing, what would it be?

If you guessed “a hydroelectric power project in Central Oregon”, you’d be right! You’d also be a weirdly specific guesser.

OregonLive reports that Apple has taken over the efforts to complete a hydroelectric plant just outside of Prineville, Oregon.

“Cool!” you say. “But what the hell is a hydroelectric plant?”

You know those big wooden water wheels you always see in kitschy paintings of rivers? It’s like that, except with more of that sweet, sweet science. Falling water is used to spin big turbines, which in turn generate electricity. The Hoover Dam, for example, doubles as a hydroelectricity plant.

As for why Apple would want one, it’s simple: data centers. Apple operates a handful of data centers around the world (including one right down the road from their new hydro plant) to power things like iCloud. Data centers use a lot of power; even just keeping them cool enough to operate is a costly battle.

Apple claims that 100% of the energy that powers their data centers comes from renewable sources – but for now, they’re still buying much of that energy from third-party wind, solar, and hydroelectric plants. As made clear by this move and the company’s recent efforts to build massive solar farms, Apple would much rather be filling their energy needs on their own.

Don’t expect them to be entirely self-sufficient right away, though — even with regards to just their Oregon data center. This new hydro-electric project is said to output somewhere around 3-5 megawatts. Many big data centers — like Facebook’s Oregon data center, just down the road from Apple’s — require up to 6x that.


Google Aims To “Fundamentally Change the World of Power”

According to sources familiar with the company, Google has set its sights on transforming the delivery of electrons.

Brian Womack and Mark Chediak, Bloomberg

The Green Evolution via Shutterstock.

SAN FRANCISCO — Google Inc. plans a deeper push into the $363.7 billion U.S. power-sales market by working on tools that help utilities deliver electricity to homes and businesses more efficiently, people with knowledge of the matter said.

The operator of the most popular Internet-search engine is in the early stages of building software and hardware tools to manage power lines and other infrastructure, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the matter is private. The technology is being developed by Google’s EnergyAccess team and led by Arun Majumdar, vice president of the company’s energy unit, the people said.

Google, a big consumer of electricity for the computer servers that power its services, is looking at ways to transform the century-old utility industry, which has been struggling to adapt to changing demands for power management and production. As solar, wind and other renewable energy sources come online, the power grids that transmit electricity will need to be more flexible and efficient.

“They recognize there is a huge wide-open space and that the utility companies are not stepping up to the plate,” Steven Chu, former secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy, said of Google during an interview last month at an energy conference in Fremont, California. “They see a huge market opportunity.”

Chu said he isn’t familiar with Google’s plans and was expressing his views on what the company might do. Kelly Mason, a spokeswoman for Mountain View, California-based Google, declined to comment on its energy project and who is handling the effort.

Power Projects

Others have pushed into energy-management services. ABB Ltd., Siemens AG and Alstom SA are among the companies offering tools that can help utilities integrate rooftop solar systems and quickly respond to changes in electricity demand such as on hot summer days when air-conditioning units tax the grid.

Google, which is also funding projects in health care, computerized eyewear and self-driving cars, has been stepping up investments in recent years to make energy more clean and efficient. Earlier this year, it spent $3.2 billion to acquire Nest Labs, a digital-thermostat company, and is an investor in Atlantic Grid Development LLC, a project designed to help deliver electricity in New Jersey.

Google has also put more than $1 billion into environmentally friendly energy power projects in the U.S. and around the world. That includes everything from wind farms in Oregon to solar efforts in Germany.

Such investments have given the company experience in the power industry, preparing it to develop new products that could help with managing the increasingly complex power market.

Electric Grid

Already, advances in areas including sustainable power and home energy management have begun to threaten the traditional utility business model.

Most electricity now moves from large, centralized generation stations to homes and businesses, powering heating units, laptops and blenders. While generally effective, that approach has raised concerns for potentially being inefficient, polluting and costly — especially when compared to the decentralized movement of bits of information on the Internet.

Now, electricity has begun to flow in new ways on the grid, empowering consumers and prompting demand for new services to efficiently manage the distribution of electricity. Technologies are emerging that will allow for more granular control and movement of electricity, similar to how data is processed and moved over broadband networks.

Google’s Energy Access team is part of a larger group looking at infrastructure, Internet access andenergy that is led by Craig Barratt, who recently joined Chief Executive Officer Larry Page’s top team of leaders, one person familiar with the company said.

Energy Control

“Google is working on innovative solutions for access to clean, low-cost electricity,” according to a job posting on Google’s website. “Google is seeking to develop technologies and products to address global opportunities for electricity delivery via new and improved infrastructure.”

The company didn’t hold back in its assessment of the potential, saying it involved “solutions that aim to fundamentally change the world of power.”

Google also has some patents that target power efficiency. One patent published in 2012 cites an apparatus to manage the flow of electricity on the grid with an eye on how the power is being used by electric vehicles, batteries and household appliances.

“Appropriate control of power use over time can compensate for variations in power supply or demand elsewhere in an electrical grid,” the patent said. “Further, such control of energy use can improve the stability of the electrical grid.”

Mass Production

There are at least two postings tied to the project referred to as “Energy Access/Bottom Up Grid” — one for a hardware engineer in power electronics and the other for a mechanical/thermal engineer. The project is slated to get to “mass production,” according to one of the job listings.

Majumdar joined Google in December 2012. Before that, he worked with Chu at the Department ofEnergy, where he pushed for innovation and new products through the Advanced Research Projects Agency Energy group, known as ARPA-E.


Warren Buffett Ready to Increase Renewable Energy Investment to $30 Billion

Big money will mean a bigger, quicker transition to renewable energy in the U.S., and few statements are larger than the one Warren Buffett made Monday.

Speaking at the Edison Electric Institute’s annual convention in Las Vegas Monday, Buffett, the $65.6-billion man, proclaimed that he would double his investment into strengthening renewable energy across the country. With wind and solar farms in Iowa, Wyoming, California and Arizona, Buffett admittedly had trouble recalling just how much he had already invested, according to Bloomberg. One of his deputies, Greg Abel, told him the amount was $15 billion.

“There’s another $15 billion ready to go, as far as I’m concerned,” Buffett responded.

One of the wealthiest men in the U.S., Warren Buffett said Monday that he would double his renewable energy investments. Video screenshot: Georgetown University/YouTube

Buffett recently received praise from clean energy advocates all over when his company announced that it would close Reid Gardner, a 557-megawatt, coal-fired energy plant near Las Vegas known as one of the nation’s dirtiest. Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway inherited the plant as part of its acquisition of Nevada’s largest utility, NV Energy.

Buffett also owns natural gas pipelines across the country, but Bloomberg believes that Buffett keeps an eye far into the future when it comes to his investments. With renewables positioning themselves as the energy choice of the future, Buffett likely prefers the reinvestment and acquisition opportunities that will accompany solar and wind for years to come. His investments will also play a key role in the government’s desire to decrease carbon emissions by 30 percent, compared to 2005 levels.

“We’re going to keep doing that as far as the eye can see,” Buffett said. “We’ll just keep moving.”

Jeff Matthews, a Berkshire shareholder and author, said Buffett usually makes good on investments, even if he can’t recall exact figures.

“If he says it, he means it,” Matthews said. “The whole complexion of the company has changed.”


Germany produces half of energy with solar

A worker at a solar farm in Frankfurt (Oder) Photo: DPA

Germany produced a record 50 percent of its electricity needs through solar panel at the start of June, breaking a huge milestone on its march to renewable energy.

“German solar demonstrated just what it is capable of in the first two weeks of June,” said Tobias Rothacher, expert for renewable energies at Germany Trade & Invest, the country’s economic development agency.

Analysis from the Fraunhofer ISE research institute showed solar panels in Germany generated a record 24.24 GW of electricity between 1pm and 2pm on Friday, June 6th.

And on Monday June 9th, which was a national holiday, solar power production peaked at 23.1 GW, which equalled 50.6 percent of total electricity demand – setting another milestone.

The week was unusually hot with highs of 37C and Rothacher put the record down to the warm weather and the fact it was a public holiday.

But he added: “I think we could break a new record every two to three months now. We are installing more and more PVs [solar panels].”

The success of Germany’s solar production lies with encouraging people to install them on their roof tops rather than building huge solar farms. Rothacher said 90 percent of solar panels in Germany were on individuals’ roofs.

He added that solar power production had increased by 34 percent in the first five months of the year compared to last year thanks to the better weather.

“The large amounts of solar electricity being generated demonstrate clearly that Germany will need more energy storage capacity in the future. Already, more than 1.4 million photovoltaic systems are producing a surplus, especially on sunny days around midday,” he said.

“From now on, every new solar system that is installed in Germany increases the need for electricity storage solutions.”