Solar Compass Points Way to Renewable Energy

By: Dale Bass

The solar compass at Thompson Rivers University, as seen from above. BC Sustainable Energy Association photo

It may look like a compass, but the solar installation at Thompson Rivers University is designed to do more.

Ultimately, said Michael Mehta, it could point the way to integrating charging strips in roadways that could charge electric vehicles as they are being driven.

For now, however, the solar compass outside the Arts and Education Building on campus has other purposes, said Mehta, a geography and environmental-studies professor at TRU.

First, it’s to demonstrate how solar can be commonplace and not relegated to large panels on tops of buildings or out in fields. It’s also designed to show solar projects can also look good.

Mehta entered the project into the university’s sustainability grant competition. Once approved, he opted to use the existing compass design at the building, but build into it more than five dozen one-foot by two-foot solar modules, each producing 80 watts of power that ultimately should see it generate enough power per year to run about 40 computers and printers.

Just prior to the official unveiling of the compass on Thursday, with the city experiencing its first significant snowstorm of the season, Mehta kept an eye on the installation to see how people reacted walking on it. He didn’t expect to see a flurry of falls, he said, because the only real difference people might feel walking on it is the modules have a slightly different friction level than the sidewalks surrounding them.

He likened it to walking on a sidewalk and encountering a painted line or a grate. There’s a different feel underfoot, but nothing too significant.

The compass has been in place and generating energy since July, so students are likely familiar with its underfoot feel, he said.

The solar walkway is a first in Canada. The university invested about $30,000 in the project, which Mehta and other researchers will continue to monitor.

The panels were donated to the university by Solar Earth Technologies.



Scotland ‘On Target’ for 100% Renewable Energy by 2020

Citizens’ Assembly hears how Denmark became one of most efficient countries in world


By: Ronan McGreevy

Scotland is on target to generate all of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, the Citizens’ Assembly has heard.

Under chair Ms Justice Mary Laffoy, the 99 assembly members, meeting in Malahide, Co Dublin are spending a second weekend debating on how the State can make Ireland a leader in tackling climate change.

Scotland has hit its 2020 emission targets five years early and has gone from delivering 10 per cent to 60 per cent of its electricity consumption from renewable sources over the past 15 years.

Prof Andy Kerr told the assembly members that the Scottish Assembly had set the most ambitious renewable targets possible. Instead of the UK goal of having CO2 emissions 32 per cent lower than they were in 1990, the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) set a target of 42 per cent.

The switch to renewables has been achieved without a detrimental impact on the Scottish economy and there is no longer a choice to be made between the environment and the economy, he said.

Prof Kerr said Scotland’s “enviable reputation” on the issue of climate change has been achieved with cross-party support. The Scottish Assembly voted unanimously in 2009 for the higher target of a 42 per cent reduction in CO2 levels by 2020 – from 1990 levels, and 80 per cent by 2020.

It was also achieved with the support of some of Scottish biggest industries including the whiskey industry.

The general public have also been broadly in support with recent surveys indicating that 75 per cent of the population are in support of measures to curb climate change.

He also said Scotland had been clever in dealing with objectors to wind farms with grants to local communities which allowed them to take an equity share in developments.

The Scottish government set a target for 500MW of locally owned energy generation facilities across Scotland by 2020, but has already exceeded this. It is resetting this target at 1,000MW (1GW) of installed capacity.

“There is clear evidence in Scotland that supporting local communities to get involved in – and benefit from – the local energy system enables a range of related social and economic co-benefits,” he said.

Prof Kerr said climate change was not pitched as being “about polar bears” but about a more sustainable way of life into the future.


Former European commissioner for climate change Connie Hedegaard said her native Denmark was now, along with Japan, the most energy efficient country in the world.

Half of Denmark’s electricity is now generated from renewable energy sources. Since 1990, the CO2 intensity of Danish industry has dropped by more than half and the energy intensity (the amount of energy consumed by Danish industry) is down by a third.

Thirty per cent of all energy consumed in Denmark now comes from renewable energy sources.

Ms Hedegaard said the presumption that renewable energy sources would be more expensive than oil or gas has not come to pass.

Energy prices in Denmark are around the average in Europe both for industries and householders.

In addition, 60,000 jobs have been created in Denmark in clean tech companies, a significant number in a country of five million people, she said.

Ms Hedegaard, who is also a former Danish minister for climate, said taxation was crucial in changing behaviour.

She said the one thing that Ireland could learn from the Danish experience was ensuring that successive governments of whatever political persuasion should continue to implement a policy of climate change.

“There was no stop-go, there was just one major road,” she said.



Cigarette Butts Could be Reborn as Green Energy Storage

But that doesn’t mean smoking is good for the planet.

By: Rachel England

It’s no secret that smoking is seriously bad news for your health, but the impact of the habit on the planet’s health is pretty bleak, too. Every year nearly six trillion cigarettes are smoked around the world, generating more than 800,000 metric tons of cigarette butts. Something has to be done with them all, and they usually end up in landfill (or leaching into waterways). But now, scientists have discovered they may have a hidden potential: hydrogen storage.

Chemists at the University of Nottingham have found that exposing discarded cigarette ends to hydrothermal carbonisation — a process requiring only water and heat — creates a carbon product called hydrochar. When the hydrochar is activated, it generates oxygen-rich porous carbons that have a very high surface area which could, in theory, be used to store extremely high volumes of hydrogen. When burned to produce heat or reacted with air to create electricity, its only by-product is water, making hydrogen an attractive and sustainable fuel alternative.

The researchers believe this technique could then be developed in pursuit of the so-called “hydrogen economy”, replacing gas in cars or used as a heating fuel, but the findings have also offered up some interesting insight into hydrogen storage in general. The work is still in research stage though, so it’ll be a very long time before smokers can claim their habit is helping the environment.





This Weird $9 Trick Increases Solar Panel Efficiency 5-17%

By: John Fitzgerald Weaver 

Mega Sunergy released a new “multi shingled array module” 315W solar panel design that increases the efficiency of a standard solar panel by up to 17%. The company has changed how they lay out the 60 individual solar cells within the solar panel. Instead of perfectly spacing those 60 out – with small, defined areas between the cells – the company has allowed the solar cell’s borders to overlap each other while increaseing the cell count to 68.

The company expects their new solar cell layout to increase solar panel output 5-17% depending on the original solar cell type. In effect, by lowering the efficiency of the average solar cell they’ve increased the solar panel efficiency.

The solar cell technology used in Mega Sunergy’s new solar panel are the standard, cheaper polysilicon solar cells. The company’s 315W solar panels use polysilicon solar cells can be purchased in volume for approximately 22.5¢/W and have a rough wattage of 4.5W per cell. The additional cost per solar panel, just for the eight solar cells, is approximately $8.10 – an increase of 2.5¢/W for the overall panel. It’s for these lower efficiency solar cells that the highest efficiency gains can be gotten.

As can be seen below, in the only image I’ve found online as of yet, instead of seeing evenly spaced square solar cells you now see seemingly wider rectangular solar cells. If the panel is kept in standard dimensions (I cannot tell because bottom of panel is cut off) – that would mean 20 ‘individual’ solar shingles (versus the standard 60 solar cells).

The average efficiency for a residential solar panel installation in the USA is about 17.5%, which equates to about 285W. The range for standard efficiency solar panels is around 16-17% and 260-275W, while the highest efficiencies in the market go from 19-22% and 310-337W. These higher efficiency panels use historically higher cost monocrystalline solar cells.

Mega Energy said –

A PV module made of 60 poly-Si solar cells has power output of 270-275W and one made of 60 poly-Si PERCs (passivated emitter and rear cells) generates power of 295-300W. In the same panel area, a shingled PV module of 68 poly-Si cells has power output of 315W and better resistance to hot spots. If made of mono-Si or poly-Si PERCs, shingled modules can generate power higher than 315W.

LG Solar’s Neon2 315W solar panel, in my mind, is a leading cutting edge solar panel that blends newer monoPERC high efficiencies (19.5%) with reasonable pricing. The LG panel has other unique technologies such as ribbon bus bars. This panel by Mega Sunergy, using standard poly solar cells, has managed to equal the 19.5% efficiency of the LG Neon2. That impresses me and excites me.

Mega Sunergy noted that their technique of solar cell layout would work with higher efficiency PERC solar cells also – but with a lower increase in efficiency. This is because modern PERC cells take advantage of the light that bounces through the empty spaces and collects it on the backside of the solar cell. However, these PERC solar cells still gain at least 5% efficiency.

No pricing information was given.

Mega Energy has a factory in Taiwan with a capacity of 300MW/year. They’re looking to expand that to 400MW/year in 2018. They’ve got contracts in place for 50% of their manufacturing capacity in 2018 already.

Electrek’s Take

I think this is a big moment. Someone has decided that the efficiency of an individual solar cell can be sacrificed for the efficiency of the overall solar panel. Technically, this makes absolute sense – because you and I don’t care about solar cell efficiency since we install solar panels on our house. The reason this company could do this is because they believe the additional cost of 2.5-3¢/W for the additional ‘lower performing’ solar cell will still sell solar panels to customers. And I agree. If you can jump the solar panel by 17% efficiency – you’re going to save far more than those extra pennies on labor, land, racking, etc.

Today’s EGEB also noted that monoPERC solar cells – the highest efficiency products on the market – were coming down in price, and were almost the same price as the standard cheaper poly cells. That means this technique could probably push a panel well past 20% efficiency. I wonder what the record-setting 22.7% cells from LONGi and JinkoSolar would do with a layout like this.

We’re already using multijuction and heterojunction solar that greatly increases solar panel efficiency. The challenge with these technologies is cost and timeframe of getting them into wide usage. If we add multishingled to our toolkits – and then thousands of solar scientists start to optimize the technique within their particular companies – we might have a product that can get to market relatively fast in solid volumes. Tooling lines will have to be altered, but maybe not upgraded. Specifically – the machines that lay out the cells and interconnect the wiring on the panels. No new solar cell technology will be needed.



Saskatoon Light and Power Pitches $3.5M Solar Power Plant

1-megawatt operation eyed for 2020 start

By: Guy Quenneville

A panel at Saskatoon Light and Power’s solar panel demonstration site west of Circle Drive West. The utility wants to build a $3.5-million solar power plant. (Trevor Bothorel/CBC News)

City-owned Saskatoon Light and Power is pitching a $3.5-million solar power plant on the city’s west side.

The proposal, which would see the one-megawatt plant ready by 2020, is meant to provide energy for the utility’s customers and reduce the amount of energy the utility purchases from SaskPower.

The project, according to a city report, would “save 15,893 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) from being emitted over the 25-year term of the project, which is equivalent to removing 134 cars from the road.”

The proposed location is south of 11th Street, between Dundonald Avenue and Circle Drive West, though city councillors need to approve that the land — known as “Parcel M” — be set aside.

The city recommends that be done.

“This would not permit SL&P to start building the power plant, but would allow the utility to further analyze the site and begin developing a program to finance, build and operate a solar power facility on the land,” according to a report.

The area is close to where a 92-panel pilot demonstration — meant to make a case for the larger farm — is located.

Different funding options

Under one financial scenario contemplated for the solar power plant would see the project largely financed through debt.

Other financing options are outlined, however, such as contracting another company to finance, build, and operate a solar power plant as well as launching a virtual net metering program that would allow customers to install their own solar power equipment.

The $3.5-million scenario would involve Saskatoon Light and Power building the plant itself.

It’s part of the utility’s plan to eventually generate 10 per cent of its annual energy requirements from local, renewable resources.

Community engagement on the project is expected.

Saskatoon’s forward-looking draft budget, released last week, proposes to begin setting aside millions of dollars for a “utility-scale solar generation” project in 2019.