Solar for Farms on the Horizon

By: James Risdon

Capitalizing on low cost, rebate programs, company hopeful for panels to catch on

The cost of solar panels has fallen by roughly 70 per cent in the past five years. (123RF)

Big solar-power systems for farms could be a reality in Nova Scotia as early as next year, says a spokeswoman for a Kentville-based company.

“They would be anywhere from 50-100 kilowatts . . . for large farms,” said Amanda Brulé, the marketing director for Nova Solar Capital, in an interview.

“We’d be looking at that later this year or early next year.”

With the cost of solar panels falling by roughly 70 per cent in the past five years, Nova Solar Capital is hoping to seduce Bluenosers with the promise of cheap, environmentally-friendly energy.

Its main tool for offering that cheap solar energy is a Community Economic Development Investment Fund that allows homeowners to use tax credits and energy savings to pay off their solar energy systems.

Here’s how it works.

A nine-kilowatt system used to heat a standard home, and ordered and installed through Nova Solar Capital, would cost about $33,000, including the 3.5-per-cent financing costs over 11 years.

Under the Nova Solar Capital’s current CEDIF offering, homeowners can invest in this investment vehicle, typically by moving a portion of their registered retirement savings portfolio over to the CEDIF, and get tax credits.

With a recommended investment of $30,000 in that CEDIF, staggered tax credits over a 10-year period would add up to $19,500 going back to the investor.

That means that if a homeowner with a sufficiently-large income invests $30,000 into the Nova Solar Capital CEDIF and has a standard home solar system installed by the company, it could wind up costing only $10,500, explained Brulé.

And energy savings from the solar system during the term of the lease would more than make up the remaining costs, resulting in a system that would pay for itself, claims Nova Solar Capital.

“You’ll start saving after about nine years because of the energy rates,” said Brulé.

With these solar energy systems guaranteed to last about another 15 years beyond that break-even point, Nova Solar Capital is essentially selling Nova Scotians on the promise of more than a decade of free energy while hanging onto their retirement savings in the CEDIF — all while collecting dividends.

The brainchild of Dr. Andrew Bagley, the company has until May 8 to raise a minimum of $1.4 million to make a go of its CEDIF. Failing that, Nova Solar Capital would have to return all funds to any investors.

“We need 45 people to go with us,” said Dr. Bagley in an interview.

So far, 180 people have expressed interest in Nova Solar Capital’s offering.

These are prospects.

Neither Dr. Bagley nor Brulé would divulge earlier this week how many people have so far actually invested in the Nova Solar Capital CEDIF.

“We’re very happy with our progress,” said Brulé.

“We’ve got a number of investors who have put their money forward.”

The company’s hopes of offering much bigger solar-energy systems to the agricultural sector in Nova Scotia are contingent on the CEDIF being able to close this first offering.


SolSol’s Baseball Hat can Charge Your Phone Using Solar Power

And dad caps are coming soon.

By: Edgar Alvarez

Solar technology is still far from becoming ordinary, but we’re seeing more and more of it make its way to consumer products. And now that includes hats. SolSol, a startup from Los Angeles, made a baseball cap that has a small solar panel built into its brim. You can use it to charge your smartphone, tablet or any other device that needs to be plugged in via USB. It looks kind of odd to have a cable hanging down from your head, but the hat could come in handy if your gadget’s battery is running low and there are no other outlets nearby.

I tried it on at SXSW and it felt like any other baseball cap I own, although the brim did feel a bit on the heavy side due to the embedded solar panels. SolSol says it’s tech, which is patented, can charge a device at about 200mAh per hour. The company is already working on improving that rate, along with making more types of hats, including those dad caps everyone in Hollywood loves so much. SolSol’s baseball cap is up for grabs now for $56, in case you’re interested in rocking one the next time you hit the streets.


New Research Could Turn Water Into the Fuel of Tomorrow

By: Dom Galeon


Over the past decades, fossil fuels have become the backbone of the world’s industries. They have also been the number one cause of man-made climate change. Fortunately, things are beginning to change, as fossil fuels are on the decline thanks to the rise of renewable energy sources.

An alternative energy source with great potential is solar power. One variant of solar energy is solar fuel, which is produced by using sunlight to convert water or carbon dioxide into combustible chemicals. Because of the relative abundance of solar fuel components, it’s considered a desirable goal for clean-energy research. However, these reactions, such as producing hydrogen by splitting water, aren’t possible by using just sunlight. Materials to efficiently facilitate the process are necessary.

Scientists have been working on creating practical solar fuels by developing low-cost and efficient materials to serve as photoanodes. Photoanodes are similar to the anodes in a battery and activate the production of solar fuel by aiding the flow of Electrons during the process. Scientists from the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have successfully doubled the number of potential photoanodes in just two years.

Now, researchers led by Caltech’s John Gregoire and Berkeley Lab’s Jeffrey Neaton have developed a new, faster method to identify new materials to use as photoanodes, and they’ve found 12 promising candidates. They published their research in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Neaton, director for the Molecular Foundry at Berkeley Lab, said that the study advanced this field of research by not only providing an improved method to look for photoanodes, but also by giving researchers insight into the new photoanodes.

“What is particularly significant about this study, which combines experiment and theory, is that in addition to identifying several new compounds for solar fuel applications, we were also able to learn something new about the underlying electronic structure of the materials themselves,” Neaton said in a Caltech press release.

To discover these new photoanodes, the team combined computational and experimental approaches. A Materials Project database was mined for potentially useful compounds. Hundreds of theoretical calculations were performed using computational resources at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC), together with software and expertise from the Molecular Foundry. Once the best candidates for photoanode activity were identified, it was time to test those materials in the laboratory.

Image credit: Caltech

The materials were simultaneously tested for anode activity under different conditions using high-throughput experimentation. This was the first time these kinds of experiments had been run this way, according to Gregoire.

“The key advance made by the team was to combine the best capabilities enabled by theory and supercomputers with novel high throughput experiments to generate scientific knowledge at an unprecedented rate,” Gregoire said in the press release.

They found that compounds with vanadium, oxygen, and a third element had highly tunable electronic structure that made them uniquely favorable for water oxidation.

“Importantly, we were able to explain the origin of their tunability, and identify several promising vanadate photoanode compounds,” Neaton said in the press release.

This research has provided us with more ways to make use of water — one of the world’s most abundant resource — as an energy source. As advancements like this allow us to develop renewable energy cheaply and more efficiently, governments, investors, and individuals alike will have more reasons to leave fossil fuels in the past.


Innovative Projects to Harness Green Energy for a Cleaner Future

As awareness about the harmful effects of the conventional sources of energy is spreading, researchers, as well as investors, are incorporating renewable energy resources as much as possible. Right from solar farms to massive wind turbine systems, organizations are collecting energy in humongous amounts of the wind, water, and the sun and producing megawatts of energy from them. With the demand for renewable energy on the rise, researchers have come up with innovative ways to harness green energy. Some of these novel projects are not only intriguing but also fruitful ways to generate energy.

It is important to note that the energy produced through renewable means cause minimum or no harm to the environment. Only then can the source of energy be called green energy in the truest sense.

The Iceland Deep Drilling Project

This project studies the high-temperature hydrothermal systems in Iceland on a long term basis. The Iceland Deep Drilling Project is a result of the collaborative efforts by the Icelandic government and a group of Icelandic power companies. They collaborated to test whether utilizing supercritical geothermal fluids will improve the power production of geothermal fields or not.

Various innovative ways to harness green energy are coming up.

Over a span of several years, the project will drill to test a series of boreholes which will penetrate supercritical zones. These zones are present at three places under the surface of Iceland. The temperature of the hydrothermal fluids underneath ranges from 450 degrees Celsius to 600 degrees Celsius. A drilling of at least 5 km. is required to reach these fluids. A normal 2.5 km. deep geothermal well in Iceland has the ability to produce five megawatts of energy.

Jernhusen Stockholm Central Station

Traveling in a means of public transportation seems like quite a task due to the excessive crowd and people perspiring all around. But who would have thought that the body heat can be useful to generate energy? This is what a transportation real estate company in Sweden has come up with. Jernhusen has installed heat exchangers in the Stockholm central station which has at least quarter million commuters every day. The heat exchangers fit in the ventilation system convert the body heat into hot water. This hot water is then pumped into the heating system of a building across the seat. The heat generated through the hot water saves up to 25% of energy consumption.

Jernhusen also announced that the company aims to install such a system in industrial buildings along with the residential property. This will help in cutting down the energy expense to a great extent.


Malls, Schools Lead in use of Solar Energy

By: Nduku Muema

More people are awakening to the fact that powering, heating and cooling homes and offices using conventional energy is expensive. This realisation has seen renewable energy gain popularity. The world is also gearing towards ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. Solar power is one type of renewable energy has been well received. The International Energy Agency predicts that by 2050, solar energy will be the number one producer of electricity in the world. For instance, in the United States, every three minutes, someone switches to solar energy. Closer home, Uganda commissioned a 10MW solar project. The $19 million (Sh1.9 billion) consists of more than 32,680 PV panels and will provide power to more than 40,000 households in rural Eastern Uganda.

Locally, the reception rate may not be that high but the transition is going on. Individuals, big firms, developers and institutions are having enough of the soaring energy prices and switching to solar power. We have witnessed major solar projects in the country. A good example is the Two Rivers Mall solar project, which is expected to produce about two megawatts. The mall will be powered by an advanced solar technology, which will be complemented by power from Kenya Power.

PV Power

Over 150 solar panels have been installed with a smart intelligence system that optimises the PV power churned by the system to the grid. The system quickly detects any malfunctions as a result of low power produced and a panel can be replaced without interfering with the rest. The solar system seamlessly integrates with grid and diesel generator and optimises the solar energy generation to meet the consumption load. During the day, the solar system is given priority, enabling the mall to reduce its energy bill by 30 per cent. Another remarkable solar project is the Garden City carport. A carport is a wall-less shelter for cars consisting of a roof supported on posts. Solar carports are gaining popularity worldwide because they make use of otherwise functionless rooftops. The Garden City solar carport has over 3,300 solar panels that generate 1.26 megwatts per year. The project was installed by Solarcentury, a London-based solar firm. It provides clean energy to all the retail tenants at the shopping mall.

Developers are also turning to solar energy. Strauss Energy, a firm dealing with solar roofing tiles, has partnered with a real estate firm in a mega project in Kitengela. The project involves roofing of 700 houses in a gated community with the solar tiles. This will achieve a one megabyte solar power system to power the estate. The energy firm also has ways of storing the excess power from this system, with the option of sending power back to the grid. “We use a technology called compressed air energy storage that has batteries that can serve the client for 30 years as compared to typical solar batteries that last a maximum of two to three years,” says Charity Wanjiku, the chief operations officer of Strauss Energy.

For institutions, Strathmore University leads the pack, being the first university in Africa to have the largest solar panel rooftop. The institution boasts a 600-kilowatt grid connected solar PV rooftop with over 2,000 panels. The project, funded through a subsidised loan from the French Government, was completed and commissioned in 2014. The solar system caters for all the electricity needs of the university. The excess power is supplied to the national grid at a fixed pre-determined rate. Recently, Starehe Girls Centre won an international energy award for its proposed solar project. The school plans to implement a rooftop photovoltaic system that will reduce the institution’s utility bill by 20 per cent.

Constant Sunshine
The principal, Sr Jane Soita, says: “The project entails installation of a 25-kilowatt photovoltaic rooftop system, four solar water heaters and 10 solar powered street lights. Although Kiambu doesn’t have constant sunshine, the sun-length we experience will sustain the system.
The project will help us reduce our utility bill by 20 per cent and we intend to use the savings to enrol an additional 10 girls in the next academic year.” Solar energy has challenges, though. Nickson Bulachi, a solar energy expert, says that clean, renewable energy is the future and with the rapid growth of solar market, solar has the possibility of becoming a primary energy source.
He says solar is a clean source of energy as it is void of carbon dioxide and other emissions synonymous with most of the fossil fuels. For that reason, it helps mitigate the effects of climate change. Additionally, solar is a more affordable source of energy because it is generated naturally by the sun. One setback is storage. “Solar energy is mostly available during the day and hence needs storage or back-up for use at night. Most of the storage technologies available in the market are very expensive. Storage increases cost by more than 60 per cent of any installation,” says Bulachi.