India solar power investment could surpass coal by 2019-20 – Deutsche Bank

By Tom Kenning

Deutsche Bank raised its forecasts for solar capacity additions to 34GW by 2020, up 240% from its previous 14GW projection. Image: Deutsche Bank

Investment in solar power in India could surpass investment in coal by 2019-20, with US$35 billion already committed by global players, according to a Deutsche Bank report.

The report ‘India 2020: Utilities & renewables’ said the focus on solar would be driven by prime minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious target of deploying 100GW of solar capacity in the country by 2022.

The report stated: “Private sector interest is decisively moving towards solar from coal power, and we foresee numerous opportunities of fund-raising, yieldco structuring and M&A activity.”

Furthermore, Deutsche Bank raised its forecasts for solar capacity additions to 34GW by 2020, up 240% from its previous 14GW projection. Therefore, by 2020 annual solar power capacity additions could also surpass those in coal power projects, which are slowing down.

Research suggested that solar could significantly impact on day power rates, with generation peaks between 9am and 6pm. This could reduce coal requirement by around 8% by 2020 and result in significant savings of approximately US$17 billion per year.

The report said solar has to be “an inherent part” of the expansion strategies of local independent power producers’ (IPPs) as renewable energy obligations become more enforced and as the price of producing power from coal rises.

It also forecast that domestic manufacturers are unlikely to be benefitted as the majority of PV cells are still likely to be imported “given the small scale of domestic PV industry”.

Meanwhile, state governments are seen to be putting in the necessary frameworks to achieve the 100GW target, which has attracted interest from domestic companies as well as global players including utilities, renewable energy giants and private equity firms.

The report stated: “Solar fundamentals are becoming compelling in India, and investments are bound to grow dramatically, in our view. But there are numerous challenges which still need to be addressed.”

The main risks cited included dealing with the challenges of higher penetration, transmission constraints and integration of diurnal power into the grid, along with a lack of peak-load management capability.

A further risk is a lack of enforcement of Renewable Energy Purchase Obligations (RPOs), because state distribution companies are weak financially and have little incentive to take on more solar energy.

Others issues include: financing, land acquisition, limited domestic manufacturing, and reliability of baseline data.

Importantly, however, solar tariffs have dropped 60% in four years from INR 14.90 per kWh in 2010 to INR 5.75 per kWh in 2015. Deutsche Bank said this is almost at parity with other conventional power sources.

Meanwhile market expectations are that solar equipment prices could drop a further 30-40% due to technological and efficiency improvements.

Tarun Kapoor, joint secretary of the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) said: “By next year, solar installations will overtake those for wind by several-fold.”

Finally, one of the main findings of the report was that India could become one of the largest renewable energy producers in the world by 2022.

Referring to the huge 100GW by 2022 solar target the report said: “Technically this is achievable – if administrators are willing to put enough support behind it. Realistically, challenges of weak financials of distribution companies and grid constraints need to be addressed.”

India had 4.5GW of solar installed as of end of June this year, according to Deutsche bank.


New Material Combines Photons for Big Solar Energy Gains

By Graham Templeton

An innovative new approach to solar energy from University of California Riverside could dramatically increase the amount of light available to contemporary solar panel designs. Rather than widening the absorption spectrum of the solar panels themselves, this new study looked at taking currently inaccessible infra-red light and turning it into visible light. They hope that by directing this newly fabricated light onto conventional solar panels, the efficiency of solar power could be greatly improved, for an affordable price.

Infrared light currently passes straight through most silicon solar cell technologies, representing a substantial inefficiency in generating electricity from sunlight. Much of solar research has worked to directly convert infrared light to electricity, but such technologies change the transistor design, and thus the manufacturing process for solar panels. Their impacts tend to be limited by cost concerns, more than anything else.

These researchers chose to accept the absorptive abilities of current silicon transistors, and instead looked to make the light conform to the panels. They created an all-new hybrid material that takes two photons of 980-nanometer infrared light shone onto it and “up converts” them into one photon of 550-nanometer orange/yellow light. This photon has almost double the energy of the originals and, more importantly, it exists in a form that existing solar panels can absorb.

By changing the incoming sunlight into silicon’s favorite for absorption, the material could improve solar panel efficiency by as much as 30%. And while the costs of the material itself are not yet known, there is huge potential in offering such large improvements without the need to completely reinvent the transistor manufacturing process.

This hybrid material combines two things: an inorganic layer with semiconductor nanoparticles — this absorbs the infrared light, but isn’t capable of directly passing it into the electricity generating process. Instead, the light moves on to the organic phase of the material, which takes these long-wavelength photons and combines them. The resulting, lower-wavelength photons can move on to be absorbed by the transistors of the solar panel as normal, just as though it has been that color upon first arrival.

The overall costs of solar power lie much more in installation, maintenance, and land use costs than in the panels themselves; adding a new layer of this IR-capturing material would certainly increase panel costs, but could still improve the affordability of solar power. Infrared radiation accounts for an enormous amount of the energy in direct sunlight, and it is currently being missed by every solar panel outside of a research laboratory.

In general, this sort of research into the manipulation of light could allow a wider rollout of solar power around the world. Plenty of raw energy is falling on highly clouded days, but the distribution of that energy through the spectrum is different, and harder for modern solar panels to turn into power. Infrared radiation moves through and overcast sky quite well, however; if its energy could be added to that of the cloud-filtered visible light, solar might start to make good financial sense in less sunny areas than Texas and California.

The ability to accurately convert photons between wavelengths could have a wide range of applications, from medical imaging to optical data storage, but none is so direct as solar power. Energy will be one of the defining issues of the next few decades, and while some all-new tech revolution may end up saving the day, evolutionary steps like this one will be needed to sustain the world until that day comes.



The Big Energy Debate that Solar Power has Finally Won

The cost of solar panels has dropped from $150/watt in 1970 to 60 cents/watt today.

By: Terry Tamminen

For nearly half a century, homeowners and utilities have mounted solar panels on rooftops and in massive generation projects in the desert. Much of that was only made economical because of tax breaks and subsidies, such as California’s Solar Initiative (CSI)—or the Million Solar Roof Initiative, as it is often called—and the federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC), which paid for as much as 50 percent of the costs. But solar is no longer a charity case. It’s now grown up to out-compete conventional energy generation in many ways.

Mario Anzuoni | Reuters Technicians install solar panels on a house in Mission Viejo, Calif.

Not only has the cost of solar panels dropped from $150/watt in 1970 to 60 cents/watt today, the industry that was jump-started by the early incentive programs also resulted in a dramatic drop in the “balance of system” costs—design, installation, electrical connections, etc. The installed cost of solar in 2007, when the CSI began, was nearly $10/watt of generating capacity. Today it’s down to just over $5/watt for residential and about $4/watt for utility-scale projects.

Expressed another way, the average cost in the U.S. of generating energy from the sun is about $130/megawatt hour compared to coal-fired generation at $147 and conventional natural gas generation at $128. Solar, installed where the energy is used, is also more efficient than large centralized generation, where electrons must travel many miles over transmission lines, losing more than 6 percent of the energy along the way, meaning the effect of every megawatt of solar is greater to the nation’s energy supply than conventional systems.

Since 2007, Californians installed nearly 2,000 megawatts of solar, equal to two nuclear power plants (which turned out to be a very good thing for the state’s energy grid when leaks in the San Onofre nuclear power plant forced it to shut down in 2013).

Solar created jobs throughout the recent recession. In 2007, OCR Roofing in Sacramento, California, employed more than 100 people in traditional roofing jobs. The recession hit OCR and the entire housing industry hard, but instead of laying off workers as others did, OCR trained its staff to install solar on rooftops and actually grew the business. In 2009, Peterson Dean bought the company and became one of the largest privately owned solar and roofing companies in the nation.

Today, in California alone, there are more than 1,800 businesses serving various parts of the solar supply chain, employing over 50,000 workers.

“Solar is the only clean energy source that just about anyone can install and manage for themselves.”

Perhaps the biggest trend that points to a second wave for solar just beginning is the way that projects are financed.

For decades, a homeowner faced an upfront cost of $20,000 or more and a payback period of a decade for commensurate savings on energy bills. SolarCity, SunRun and other companies like them have changed that model to be more like buying a car. You can still pay for the whole thing at once, but now you can lease the system and pay as you go instead, locking in a fixed rate for your energy over time that is far lower than normal utility rates.

Some SolarCity customers are adding battery backup systems that keeps a home or business operating during blackouts and will one day allow them to drop off the grid altogether. In places that have what is called “time variant pricing”—customers pay more for electricity during the peak demand times of day and less at night when demand is lower—batteries can store cheap grid energy at night and dispatch it back to the utility during the day at a profit, while keeping the lights and air conditioner running on the solar power coming from the rooftop.

Which brings me to another driver for solar—rising electricity rates. The drought in the western U.S. means fewer kilowatts generated by our once mighty hydroelectric dams and reservoirs. To make up the difference, utilities build fossil-fueled “peaker” plants that are more expensive to operate because they’re used only when demand is highest (imagine if you owned a car but had to buy another one to drive only when the weather was hot). This trend isn’t limited to North America. The drought in Brazil is impacting its hydropower, too, and coupled with new net metering laws (allowing the sale of excess solar energy to the local utility), its nascent solar industry is poised for rapid California-style growth.

Wind, biomass, geothermal and waste-to-energy plants are also enjoying an upswing in demand, especially as utilities work to comply with state laws that require a growing percentage of power to come from such renewables. But solar is the only clean energy source that just about anyone can install and manage for themselves, at a cost that now competes with—even out-competes—conventional energy generation sources.


Amazon is Building A New Wind Farm in North Carolina

By: Kiona Smith-Strickland

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Earlier this week, Amazon Web Services announced that it was contracting the construction of a 208 megawatt wind farm in North Carolina.

The new Amazon Wind Farm US East is supposed to start generating 670,000 megawatt hours of wind energy a year, beginning in December of 2016. That’s enough energy to power 61,000 U.S. homes for a year, or, according to Amazon Web Services, all of its current data centers in the “US East” region, which is Amazon’s term for northern Virginia, as well as all of the data centers it will eventually build there.

It will be the first utility scale wind farm in North Carolina, sending power to an electrical grid that supplies Amazon Cloud data centers in the region. That grid will also receive power from an 80 megawatt solar farm in Accomack County, Virginia, which Amazon announced in June and hopes to have online by October 2016. Amazon Solar Farm US East, as it will be called, will produce 170,000 megawatt hours of electricity each year; that’s 15,000 homes’ worth.

This is all part of Amazon’s goal of making a wholesale switch to renewable energy in the coming years. Last November, the company announced that it intends to eventually use renewable energy to power 100% of its global infrastructure. In the short term, the goal is 40% by the end of 2016, and Amazon Web Services vice president Jerry Hunter said in a recent statement that the North Carolina wind farm “puts AWS on track to surpass our goal of 40 percent renewable energy globally by the end of 2016.”

According to BusinessWire, Amazon was already drawing 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources as of April 2015. By January 2016, it will be getting another 500,000 megawatt hours of wind power a year (46,000 homes’ worth, for those of you playing the home game) from a new wind farm in Indiana called Amazon Wind Farm Fowler Ridge, which will mostly supply power to data centers in central Ohio.

On the other hand, there’s still a long way to go. At the end of May, Amazon Web Services announced construction of three new data centers near Columbus, Ohio, in a region where between 70% and 85% of electricity is still generated by burning coal. The company didn’t announce the planned power source for the new data centers, but CleanTechnica reported in June that the facilities together could generate new demand of about 480 megawatts, which it says is roughly equivalent to the output of a medium-sized coal plant. That’s raised concerns that the Fowler Ridge wind farm may not be able to keep up.

But the company probably isn’t planning to stop at Fowler Ridge, if its activities in other regions are a good indication of its likely future plans. Amazon is currently setting up a smaller wind farm in Virginia, and in April, it announced a small 4.8 megawatt hour pilot of Tesla’s energy storage batteries, which are designed to be used with intermittent, renewable power sources like wind and solar.


Bigbelly’s Wi-Fi-enabled, solar-powered bins could lead to smarter cities

By Stanley Goodner

If you’re walking down the street and your mobile device suddenly detects a Wi-Fi hotspot, stop and take a look around – you may see one of Bigbelly’s solar-powered, Wi-Fi-enabled, recycling/garbage bins nearby. With the help of New York city-based Downtown Alliance, Bigbelly has been conducting a pilot test in which two of these bins were turned into free public Wi-Fi hotspots. They’ve already proven a success, but Bigbelly feels there is room to do even more for cities and their residents.

When Bigbelly launched over 12 years ago, its mission was to create the best-possible waste-management system on the planet. It started off with enclosed trash/recycling bins, adding the solar-powered element shortly after. The solar panels provide the energy required to operate the compactor, which allows the bins to collect five times more trash before needing to be emptied.

The company also subsequently implemented cloud-based connectivity that enabled Bigbelly to provide customers with real-time data access to hundreds of its stations to take all the guesswork out of knowing which bins need emptying. But then it dawned on the company that its stations are set in some prime real estate locations all over the world, and that these solar-powered, sustainable, cloud-connected bins could provide additional services, such a free public Wi-Fi by way of a wireless repeater installed on the bottom of each station.

Downtown Alliance has been running a free Wi-Fi program since 2003 and is currently servicing more than 3.7 million sq ft (343,700 sq m) of coverage. It brings in and pays for internet lines to buildings and installing access points to expand the wireless signal along the street.

“One of the biggest challenges in implementing free Wi-Fi is how to provide power to our access points,” Downtown Alliance Chief Technology Officer Jeremy Schneider told us when asked about the goal of this pilot program and Downtown Alliance’s role. “Our idea was to work with Bigbelly to take advantage of the solar power capability they already have to power our access points. This pilot project has shown that Bigbelly can power an access point for a significant portion of the day.”

Although solar power has limitations late in the evening and during winter months, installing Wi-Fi on Bigbelly stations has proven to be a smart way of expanding existing hotspot coverage further along city streets. And since these access points are located at the street level, cities can provide the best wireless signal strength by avoiding the clutter of infrastructure.

“There is this whole smart-city initiative that people are talking about, the idea of adding more services and smarter technology and functionality to the people,” Leila Dillon, VP of Marketing for Bigbelly told Gizmag. “But one thing that cities and towns don’t want to do is add more unnecessary infrastructure. Poles and towers add more cost, are unsightly, and can be a challenge to service and maintain.”

Although most people can agree that free Wi-Fi hotspots are pretty awesome, Bigbelly is focused on further developing their solar-powered garbage/recycling stations into powerful tools.

“Some of the other things that we’re looking at is being able to track urban intelligence data,” added Dillon. “Also things like footfall, pollution levels, radiation levels, and many other services, applications, and benefits to this core city infrastructure that every city and town has and needs.”

Bigbelly stations can be found in major cities in each US state and several countries around the world. Considering how these recycling/garbage bins are enclosed to prevent smells and leaks, self-powered, and primed for hotspot connectivity, cities potentially have a smarter way to provide services while reclaiming public space. No one wants to linger around a foul-smelling trash can, but when it comes to those provided by Bigbelly, one person’s trash is another group of teenagers’ Wi-Fi.