Floating Solar Panels Buoy Access to Clean Energy in Asia

Workers install photovoltaic solar panels at the Gujarat solar park under construction in Charanka village in Patan district of the western Indian state of Gujarat, India. India is planning new large-scale installations of the technology on hydropower reservoirs and other water bodies in Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand states, and in the Lakshadweep islands

When the worst floods in a century swept through India’s southern Kerala state in August, they killed more than 480 people and left behind more than $5 billion in damage.

But one thing survived unscathed: India’s first floating solar panels, on one of the country’s largest water reservoirs.

As India grapples with wilder weather, surging demand for power and a goal to nearly quintuple the use of solar energy in just four years, “we are very much excited about floating solar,” said Shailesh K. Mishra, director of power systems at the government Solar Energy Corporation of India.

India is planning new large-scale installations of the technology on hydropower reservoirs and other water bodies in Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand states, and in the Lakshadweep islands, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“The cost is coming almost to the same level as ground solar, and then it will go (forward) very fast,” he predicted.

As countries move to swiftly scale up solar power, to meet growing demand for energy and to try to curb climate change, floating solar panels – installed on reservoirs or along coastal areas – are fast gaining popularity, particularly in Asia, experts say.

The panels – now in place from China to the Maldives to Britain – get around some of the biggest problems facing traditional solar farms, particularly a lack of available land, said Oliver Knight, a senior energy specialist with the World Bank.

“The water body is already there – you don’t need to go out and find it,” he said in a telephone interview.

And siting solar arrays on water – most cover up to 10 percent of a reservoir – can cut evaporation as well, a significant benefit in water-short places, Knight said.

Pakistan’s new government, for instance, is talking about using floating solar panels on water reservoirs near Karachi and Hyderabad, both to provide much-needed power and to curb water losses as climate change brings hotter temperatures and more evaporation, he said.

Solar arrays on hydropower dams also can take advantage of existing power transmission lines, and excess solar can be used to pump water, effectively storing it as hydropower potential.

Big Potential

China currently has the most of the 1.1 gigawatts of floating solar generating capacity now installed, according to the World Bank.

But the technology’s potential is much bigger – about 400 gigawatts, or about as much generating capacity as all the solar photovoltaic panels installed in the world through 2017, the bank said.

“If you covered 1 percent of manmade water bodies, you’re already looking at 400 gigawatts,” Knight said. “That’s very significant.”

Growing use of the technology has raised fears that it could block sun into reservoirs, affecting wildlife and ecosystems, or that electrical systems might not stand up to a watery environment – particularly in salty coastal waters.

But backers say that while environmental concerns need to be better studied, the relatively small amount of surface area covered by the panels – at least at the moment – doesn’t appear to create significant problems.

“People worried what will happen to fish, to water quality,” said India’s Mishra. “Now all that attention has gone.”

What may be more challenging is keeping panels working – and free of colonizing sea creatures – in corrosively salty coastal installations, which account for a relatively small percentage of total projects so far, noted Thomas Reindl of the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore.

He said he expects the technology will draw more investment “when durability and reliability has been proven in real world installations.”

Currently floating solar arrays cost about 18 percent more than traditional solar photovoltaic arrays, Knight said – but that cost is often offset by other lower costs.

“In many places one has to pay for land, for resettlement of people or preparing and leveling land and building roads,” he said. With floating solar, “you avoid quite a bit of that.”

Solar panels used on water, which cools them, also can produce about 5 percent more electricity, he said.

Mishra said that while, in his view, India has sufficient land for traditional solar installations, much of it is in remote areas inhospitable to agriculture, including deserts.

Putting solar panels on water, by comparison, cuts transmission costs by moving power generation closer to the people who need the energy, he said.

He said India already makes the solar panels it needs, and is now setting up manufacturing for the floats and anchors needed for floating solar systems.

When that capacity is in place, “then the cost will automatically come down,” he predicted.

Courtesy: https://www.voanews.com/

Scientists are Trying To Bottle Solar Energy and Turn It Into Liquid Fuel

“A solar thermal fuel is like a rechargeable battery, but instead of electricity you put sunlight in and get heat out.”

 

Professor Kasper Moth-Poulsen holding a tube containing the catalyst in front of the ultra-high-vacuum setup that was used to measure the heat release gradient in the molecular solar thermal energy storage system.Johan Bodell

By: Wayt Gibbs

What if we could bottle solar energy so it could be used to power our homes and factories even when the sun doesn’t shine?

Scientists have spent decades looking for a way do just that, and now researchers in Sweden are reporting significant progress. They’ve developed a specialized fluid that absorbs a bit of sunlight’s energy, holds it for months or even years and then releases it when needed. If this so-called solar thermal fuel can be perfected, it might drive another nail in the coffin of fossil fuels — and help solve our global-warming crisis.

Unlike oil, coal and natural gas, solar thermal fuels are reusable and environmentally friendly. They release energy without spewing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

“A solar thermal fuel is like a rechargeable battery, but instead of electricity, you put sunlight in and get heat out, triggered on demand,” says Jeffrey Grossman, who leads a lab at MIT that works on such materials.

A MOLECULAR JEKYLL AND HYDE

On the roof of the physics building at Chalmers University of Technology in the Swedish city of Gothenburg, Kasper Moth-Poulsen has built a prototype system to test the new solar thermal fuels his research group has created.

As a pump cycles the fluid through transparent tubes, ultraviolet light from the sun excites its molecules into an energized state, a bit like Dr. Jekyll transforming into Mr. Hyde. The light rearranges bonds among the carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen atoms in the fuel, converting a compound known as norbornadiene into another called quadricyclane — the energetic Mr. Hyde version. Because the energy is trapped in strong chemical bonds, the quadricyclane retains the captured solar power even when it cools down.

The energy system works in a circular manner. First, the liquid captures energy from sunlight, in a solar thermal collector on the roof of a building. Then it is stored at room temperature. When the energy is needed, it can be drawn through the catalyst so that the liquid heats up.Yen Strandqvist

To extract that stored energy, Moth-Poulsen passes the activated fuel over a cobalt-based catalyst. The Hyde-like quadricyclane molecules then shapeshift back into their Jekyll form, norbornadiene. The transformation releases copious amounts of heat — enough to raise the fuel’s temperature by 63 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit).

If the fuel starts at room temperature (about 21 degrees C, or 70 degrees F), it quickly warms to around 84 degrees C (183 degrees F) — easily hot enough to heat a house or office.

“You could use that thermal energy for your water heater, your dishwasher or your clothes dryer,” Grossman says. “There could be lots of industrial applications as well.” Low-temperature heat used for cooking, sterilization, bleaching, distillation and other commercial operations accounts for 7 percent of all energy consumption in the European Union, Moth-Poulsen says.

A solar thermal fuel could be stored in uninsulated tanks inside houses or factories — or perhaps piped or trucked between solar farms and cities. Very little of the fuel or the catalyst is damaged by the reactions, so the system can operate in a closed loop, picking up solar energy and dropping off heat again and again. “We’ve run it though 125 cycles without any significant degradation,” Moth-Poulsen says.

HEAT WITHOUT FIRE

Moth-Poulsen has calculated that the best variant of his fuel can store up to 250 watt-hours of energy per kilogram. Pound for pound, that’s roughly twice the energy capacity of the Tesla Powerwall batteries that some homeowners and utilities now use to store electricity generated by solar panels.

“I’m very excited by what Kasper is doing,” Grossman says of the research. After a burst of work on norbornadiene fuels in the 1970s, he says, chemists were stymied. The fuels kept breaking down after a few cycles. They didn’t hold their energy very long, and they had to be mixed with toxic solvents that diluted the energy-grabbing fuel. Moth-Poulsen “has gone back to that molecule and is using state-of-the-art tools to fix it,” Grossman says.

The new results, published in a series of scientific papers over the past year, have caught the attention of investors. Moth-Poulsen says numerous companies have contacted him to discuss the potential for commercialization.

FROM PROTOTYPE TO PRODUCT

For all the promise of solar thermal fuels, years of development lie ahead. “We’ve made a lot of progress,” Moth-Poulsen says, “but there is still a lot to figure out.”

A crucial next step will be to develop a single fuel that combines the best characteristics of the many fuel variants the Chalmers team has developed — including long shelf life, high energy density and good recyclability.

Wei Feng, who leads a research group working on solar thermal fuels at China’s Tianjin University, points to solvent-free operation as another “big challenge for future commercialization.”

Moth-Poulsen’s prototype fuels are made via common industrial processes and from widely available industrial agents, including derivatives of acetylene. But it’s unclear how much a commercial version of the fuel would cost.

One important factor in the cost will be the fuel’s efficiency, which currently is quite low. The prototype fuels respond only to the shortest wavelengths of sunlight, including ultraviolet and blue, which account for just 5 percent of the solar energy available. Moth-Poulsen says he’s working to extend the fuel’s sensitivity to include more of the spectrum.

He’s also aiming to break his own record of a 63-degree C temperature increase. When that heat is added to water that has been preheated to 40 degrees C or more by conventional solar collectors, he says, “That’s just enough to boil water into steam.” The steam could then drive turbines to make electricity. But with more tweaks to the chemical structure, he says, “I think we could push [the temperature increase] to 80 degrees C or higher.” For electricity generation, hotter is better.

“When I started, there was really only one research group working on these kinds of systems,” the 40-year-old Moth-Poulsen recalls. But progress has drawn others to the challenge. “Now there are teams in the U.S., in China, in Germany — about 15 around the world,” he says.

Courtesy: https://www.nbcnews.com/

After Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico May Shift To 100% Renewable Energy

After Hurricane Maria left many on the island without electricity for nearly a year, politicians are leaning toward a more sustainable and resilient way to power Puerto Rico.

Photo: 2pluscolors/iStock

BY: Adele Peters

After Hurricane Maria decimated Puerto Rico’s power grid, causing the longest blackout in U.S. history, it ignited a new push for renewable energy–a solution that could be more resilient in future storms and avoid the emissions that are making hurricanes worse. Now, lawmakers want to make it official: Today, the Puerto Rico House and Senate are holding a joint hearing to consider a bill that would transition the island to 100% renewables.

In Puerto Rico, there were clear arguments for renewables even before the storm. The grid was already unreliable, and blackouts were common. Importing fossil fuels to the island is expensive, and electricity cost twice as much as it does on the mainland. The island has both abundant sunshine and wind. Maria made the case even stronger to switch to those power sources.

“It changed everything,” says Javier Rua-Jovet, who lives in San Juan and now works as director of public policy in Puerto Rico for SunRun, the solar power company, which entered the market there this year because of the demand for solar power and battery storage systems. “People were hurled back from the first world to the third world in terms of energy.”

Rua-Jovet’s own electricity was out for a relatively short two months (for some others, the blackout lasted nine months), but he spent around $1,700 on fuel for a generator during that time. Others suffered significantly more–some people died because they didn’t have the power to run a respirator or dialysis machine. It became clear to everyone, he says, that the energy paradigm needed to change. Long transmission lines crossing mountains, vulnerable in storms could be replaced by a more resilient system with energy distributed in many locations.

After Maria, SunRun, along with companies like Sonnen and Tesla, installed small solar microgrids–solar panels plus batteries to store the power–at sites like hospitals and fire stations. The systems worked, and have continued to work during more recent temporary blackouts. That helped bolster the political case for more microgrids, which the new bill supports as part of the shift away from fossil fuels. It’s also designed to support “prosumers,” consumers who can install rooftop solar systems and then sell excess power to the grid and their neighbors. Some disaster funding from the federal government may help homeowners buy panels. (A request from Puerto Rico to HUD currently asks for $100 million to go to solar power and storage.)

The storm “created broad consensus across the political spectrum,” says Rua-Jovet. “We have a pro-renewables governor. We have a pro-renewables Senate.” He’s optimistic that the bill will pass.

Courtesy:  https://www.fastcompany.com/

School District Soars Into The Future On Solar Energy

By: Bay Stephens

Members and businesses in the Big Sky community donated funds and time to install this array of photovoltaic panels at Ophir School. PHOTO BY BAY STEPHENS

BIG SKY – The spring of 2017 saw the installation of Big Sky School District’s 7.125 kW solar photovoltaic array on the south-facing roof of Ophir School. The system—an array of solar panels that looks down on the playground—along with a digital kiosk run by Bonneville Environmental Foundation displaying the energy data, exposes Big Sky youth to the possibilities of renewable energy.

Located near the gym in Lone Peak High School, the kiosk shows how much energy the solar array generates, allowing students to view output in real time and over time.

Also accessible online, the data shows that in the past 19 months, the array has generated more than 12,5000 kilowatt-hours of energy, enough to power an average home for 1 year or a TV for 12 years. The greenhouse gases avoided amount to about 17,700 pounds of carbon dioxide.

“We thought it was going to be cool idea,” Big Sky School District Superintendent Dustin Shipman said. “We wanted to be able to teach the kids about renewable energy options and what better way to do that when you have it right there in your own system.”

The community came together to bring the educational opportunity to fruition. Lisa Lillelund of Mango Networks coordinated funding for the $39,000 project, garnering a $29,000 Universal System Benefits Renewable Energy Grant from NorthWestern Energy. She said the project would have fallen flat without work by Energy 1, who procured and installed the solar array for a nominal fee, and two private donations from the Bulis family and Highline Partners.

“Alternative energy—especially solar—is a no-brainer in this nation,” Rob McRae of Highline Partners said. “I do think that in 10-15 years, there’s going to be tremendous growth in that industry.”

That growth is already evident. According to a September report by the Solar Energy Industries Association, in the second quarter of 2018 U.S. market installations of solar photovoltaic arrays increased by 9 percent, year-over-year, and in the first half of the year, 29 percent “of all new electricity generating capacity brought online in the U.S. came from solar PV.”

“I think people appreciate and love Big Sky because of its beauty, but the integrity of this place depends on being more environmentally friendly and having sustainable practices,” Ania Bulis said. “This [array] was an opportunity to send the right message to our children.”

Although the array doesn’t significantly offset the school’s energy costs, it sets a precedent in the community, beginning but not ending with education. Bulis thinks the next step in the right direction would be a long-term sustainability plan for Big Sky that all community members can get behind.

A next step for the school district could be more ability to function off the grid. “We would love to partner with any organization in order to expand our use of renewable energy,” Shipman said.

Courtesy: http://www.explorebigsky.com/