Apple is building two solar power plants in China

By: Christian Zibreg

SunPower Corporation

In another environmentally friendly move, Apple and SunPower Corporation today announced a partnership that will result in two solar power plants, currently under construction in China, marking SunPower’s first international solar collaboration with the iPhone maker.

Located in the ABA Region of China’s Sichuan Province, these power plants will initially provide a total of forty megawatts of power. This is just the start, Apple’s vice president for environmental initiatives, Lisa Jackson, told The Associated Press.

Both found in the environmentally-preserved ABA Region of China’s Sichuan Province, when complete, these two projects will be co-owned by Sichuan Shengtian New Energy Development Co., Ltd., SunPower’s project development joint venture, and Apple.

The first solar power plant is located in Hongyuan County and the other is found in Ruoergai County. As mentioned before, they will be twenty megawatts each, providing a total of forty megawatts of power.

All told, Apple and SunPower expect the projects to provide up to eighty million kilowatt-hours per year of eco-friendly energy.

The Hongyuan site, which already generates two megawatts of power, utilizes single-axis tracking technology with rows of parabolic mirrors that reflect light onto SunPower’s Maxeon cells.

The dual-use approach means that pasture farming can continue while power is generated, providing agricultural benefits to the local farmers.

According to the media release, Maxeon’s cells file as the world’s “most efficient commercially available mass-produced solar cells.” The two sites are projected to come online by the fourth quarter of 2015.

Lisa Jackson, who previously worked as U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator during President Barack Obama’s first term, said that “Before we go somewhere else and start asking and eventually requiring clean energy, you want to make sure you show folks how to do it”.

Apple also partners with SunPower on solar power plants in the United States, including sites in California, Nevada and North Carolina.

“We continue to value our partnership with Apple and commend them for their global environmental commitment,” said Tom Werner, SunPower’s president and CEO.

In another eco-friendly move, Apple announced this morning buying a forest 2.5 times the size of Manhattan to create sustainable eco-friendly product packaging.


Want to fight drought? Build Wind Turbines

Renewable energy doesn’t just slow climate change, it saves water too — lots of it.

By: Sami Grover

California’s drought brings the question about renewable energy into sharp focus. (Photo: Global Marine Photos/flickr)

As California struggles with the specter of ongoing drought, much has been written about water conservation. From clever ways to conserve water at home to the urgent need to tackle pot’s environmental footprint, there are so many places that we need to adjust our collective behavior and reduce our water footprint.
Fossil fuels suck (water)
One area of water use that sometimes gets overlooked is energy. It turns out that reducing our dependence on fossil fuels doesn’t just reduce climate change (and therefore prevent future droughts), it also helps mitigate the massive amounts of water used in conventional power plants. Here’s how the Union of Concerned Scientists describes the problem:
Coal plants, like most other steam-producing electricity-generating plants, typically withdraw and consume water from nearby water bodies, such as lakes, rivers, or oceans, to create steam for turning their turbines. A typical coal plant with a once-through cooling system withdraws between 70 and 180 billion gallons of water per year and consumes 0.36 to 1.1 billion gallons of that water.
Luckily, we have alternatives. Here’s more from North American Wind Power:
In 2014, wind energy saved 2.5 billion gallons of water in California by displacing water consumption at the state’s fossil-fired power plants, playing a valuable role in alleviating the state’s record drought. Wind energy’s annual water savings work out to around 65 gallons per person in the state — or the equivalent of 20 billion bottles of water, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). According to AWEA, one of wind energy’s most overlooked benefits is that it requires virtually no water to produce electricity while almost all other electricity sources evaporate tremendous amounts of water.
Boosting grid stability
This benefit of wind energy takes on additional significance when we consider that hydroelectric generation — another relatively low-carbon source of electricity — can be severely impacted by drought, so wind power helps to both reduce fossil fuel-related water usage and guard against the vulnerability of hydropower to prolonged drought:
The drought has taken a toll on California’s hydroelectric generation, but wind energy is helping to pick up the slack, according to AWEA. Last year, California’s hydroelectric generation was down 7,366 GWh from its 2013 levels. California-based wind generation more than made up for that shortfall, providing 13,776 GWh in 2014.
Renewable energy critics tend to harp that wind power is unreliable and unpredictable. Here too, however, the reality is a little different. As the AWEA points out, wind power allows hydroelectric generators to conserve their water resources until they are needed, using them only at times of high demand, thus contributing to grid reliability too.
Energy conservation saves water too
So as more and more of us are urged to quit watering our lawns, and to “let it mellow if it’s yellow,” we would also be wise to consider our energy consumption. Every time we choose a renewable energy provider, every time we switch off the lights, and every time we make efforts to conserve energy and/or support renewables, we are not only cutting carbon emissions — we are conserving water too.
And in other news, floating solar power plants are also gaining traction as a way to generate energy while reducing water loss from evaporation.
We have the solutions. We just have to implement them.


Tips for Homeowners Considering Solar Panel Systems

Know what the inspectors are looking for in a home solar project site, and know what to ask a contractor, with these consumer tips.


With solar power growing as an option for homeowners, here’s some things to consider when shopping for a system.




Solar power installation on a home is a permit project. Mike Lara , the director of building and safety for Riverside County, has some tips for consumers:

Electrical service panel: Ask if the new system will require replacement of your current electrical service panel. That’s the box with the meter on it outside your home.

“You will be feeding additional electrical power through the panel, so it has to be sized properly” to handle inbound from the local utility company as well as the solar panels’ contribution.

Firefighter clearance: A rooftop panel array must allow space for firefighters to walk on the roof.

“If it’s a daytime fire the panel stays energized all the time,” Lara said. “We work with fire departments to make sure the panel layouts have a clear path.”

The roof: Inspectors will also look at the roof’s structure to make sure it can handle the panels and the rack system that supports them. The rack is bolted through the roof rafters.

The solar panels: State code requires Underwriters Laboratories approval.

Final look: Inspectors want to see the rack and panels properly secured; that connectors and inverters that take the solar power into the service panel are correctly installed; and that warnings are posted on the service panel that electricity is coming from a solar system as well as the grid.

For unincorporated Riverside County, “We like to do a startup to make sure the system is working before we sign off,” Lara said. If it is, inspectors OK the project and notify the power company that the system is completed and online.


Contractors for solar power installations are part of a growing industry, and few have long track records. Some have similar previous experience installing rooftop solar water heaters for swimming pools.

Follow the usual guidelines: Make sure they are licensed and check their record at – the contractors state license board site. Interview several candidates, and check with neighbors or previous customers to see if they are satisified with the work done at their home or business.

If you discover you need more than just a solar panel system – such as roof reinforcement, installation, or repair – consider a “turnkey” contractor who can handle all aspects of the job.

How many solar panels? Your past electric bills are the key. Try to get a year’s worth; check if your utility company has other methods of showing energy use such as bar charts or other graphics, sometimes available online. These will tell you how much energy you use over the year, and peak usage months.

Contractors use software to calculate how many solar panels a customer needs to offset or eliminate their charges for electricity from the grid, said Bill Pierce of Solar Pool Services in Riverside. This software takes into account the number of panels, size in watts, the slope and pitch of the roof, shading by trees or other objects, local weather and other factors.

Ask to see the result of those calculations, and the proposed layout pattern for the panels.

Roof not right: The best location for solar panels is facing south and/or west. And as free of shade as possible. But not everyone has a home that fits those criteria. Are there alternatives?

If you have available property, a ground-mounted system might be a consideration, “but they are more expensive,” said Jamie Eggleston, chief executive officer for Above All Construction in Riverside. Trenching, pouring concrete footings, and runs of wire and conduit add to costs, he said.

Rooftop tilt-facing systems to catch the sun’s rays are another possibility, “but it doesn’t look very pretty,” Eggleston said.

Inverters: These are the devices that convert the direct current of solar energy into the alternating current you use in your home. Contractors Eggleston and Pierce in separate interviews both recommended micro-inverters, which are each dedicated to one solar panel. With one main inverter, a single underperforming solar panel – covered with afternoon shade for example – can affect the entire system’s output. The same shaded panel linked to its own micro inverter will not affect the rest of the system.

The contractor cost for a micro-inverter is $45 to $65 more per panel than a single-system inverter, Pierce said, but it has long-term advantages.

“These systems should be around for 20-25 years,” he said. Micro-inverters allow easier assessments on whether a single panel is underperforming or damaged, and it will be less costly to replace a micro-converter than a single-system inverter, he said.

Cautions: “Make sure the company you have a contract with is the company doing the installation” and not a subcontractor, Riverside County’s Lara said. And tell a potential contractor to only apply for a permit after you have signed the contract. If the winning-bid contractor applies for a permit for an address that already has been granted one, there’s confusion, Lara said.


Free Panels Place Solar Power Within Reach for Kiwis

By: Tess McClure

Workers install some of the first free solar panels under the “SolarZero” scheme at a St Albans home.

Solar panels will be a more common sight on kiwi rooftops as free panels are offered for those committing to buying the energy.

Energy firm Solarcity has announced a nationwide scheme where home owners can get solar panels installed on their roof for free, if they then buy the energy it produces.

The move means customers can now buy solar power just as they would conventional – except it will be coming off their own roof. Until now, one of the main barriers to solar power was the significant layout cost of having it installed. By erasing that cost, local firm Solarcity is hoping to see a groundswell of popularity for the renewable technology.

Solarcity founder and chief executive Andrew Booth said the SolarZero scheme would “remove the whole upfront cost of solar, which in New Zealand is a huge barrier”.

“We know that 85 per cent of Kiwis want to go solar but the vast majority of them can’t afford the $10,000 to put a solar system on their roof. With SolarZero it’s no longer an issue, because you don’t have to pay anything up front,” he said.

The design, installation, insurance and maintenance of the panels was also covered by the company, which is already New Zealand’s largest solar provider for residential homes.

Booth said the cost of power for those using the panels would be less than those buying conventional – but would only provide for daytime hours. For night-time use, customers would still have to buy off the grid.

He said Solarcity would examine the power needs of the household, cater the installation to meet that, and then set a fixed rate. “We can set a price for solar power generated from your roof at a rate below what’s charged by your current power company and then fix this rate for 20 years,” he said.

The first Canterbury households had free panels installed this week under the scheme.

The company is aiming to fit out 5000 New Zealand houses over the next two years. Anyone around the country can sign up.

Trevor Foster, sales manager of Enasolar, another solar technology company, said there were some question marks around the scheme, and consumers should be sure to understand all the future implications of signing up.

“There are serious questions around such a program – like if you then sell that house, you have to find someone to take up that lease arrangement you might have which could be up to 20 years – and if the new buyer doesn’t want that liability, what do you do? You have to buy yourself out of the contract,” he said.

“If the new buyer doesn’t want it, it doesn’t become an asset – it becomes a liability.”

Booth said that if customers did choose to sell their homes, they had the option of transferring ownership of the contract, or taking the panels with them to their next home. He said the panels could easily be removed from the roof without damage or displacement.

He said if the company failed or went into liquidation, a standby service provider would step in and run the business. Westpac bank has taken some responsibility in backing Solarcity.

“[If the company goes under] Westpac take all responsibility for operating the systems, so basically Westpac stand behind the proposition,” he said.

SolarZero is backed by Stephen Tindall’s K1W1 investment and New Zealand Superannuation fund through Pencarrow.


Urban Dwellers Grow Their Own!

A new device is hitting cities where apartment-dwellers haven’t been able to grow their own food… and it’s doing all the hard stuff!