Californians Take a Shine to Solar Power

By: Jocelyne Zablit

Nearly 4.9 million homes in California are now powered by the sun’s rays

Jacquie Barnbrook had grown tired of the high electricity bills and her gas-guzzling luxury car when she finally decided to take the plunge last year.

The 52-year-old Los Angeles resident joined an ever-growing number of Californians who are switching to solar power for their energy needs in a bid to not only save money but to also do their part for the environment in a state setting the pace for the rest of the country in that sector.

“At this time of year, my power and water bills usually were around $400 a month,” Barnbrook said. “Right now, it’s $150 a month.”

As for her vehicle, Barnbrook said she ditched it in favor of a hybrid one that she now plugs in and charges at her house.

“I was previously spending $80 dollars on gas every three or four days and now I haven’t put gas in my new car since the beginning of March,” she noted. “That’s four months ago!”

Nearly 4.9 million homes are powered by solar energy in California—the nation’s green trailblazer and the most populous state—and that number is expected to continue to grow, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, a non-profit trade association.

Even President Donald Trump, an avowed sceptic on climate change, is considering putting solar panels on the wall he plans to build on the Mexican border.

Snake oil

Although solar installations have slowed this year due, in part, to a record number of people rushing to sign up in 2016 for fear of losing a tax incentive, the market is expected to continue to grow, especially in places like California which has a plethora of sunny days, experts say.

Driving this expansion is the plummeting cost of solar panels—which were traditionally limited to relatively affluent homeowners—and improving technology on batteries to store energy, they add.

“Right now, we’re in throes of rapid change in the solar industry,” said Rajit Gadh, director of the UCLA Smart Grid Energy Research Center. “As people process all the information out there and report their success stories and it starts to become mainstream … the momentum will grow.”

He said apart from cost, another reason average consumers have gingerly adopted solar power in recent years was the dizzying number of regulatory hoops they had to go through to get approval from utility companies and a lot of complicated information to process.

Moreover, as demand for the product has surged in the last decade, so have the number of companies—both serious and shady—jostling for a piece of the pie.

“Solar power is confusing and for a long time it really didn’t make a lot of economic sense,” said Ryan Willemsen, CEO and founder of the San Diego-based start-up Solar to the People.

“In California, solar is really getting a snake oil reputation because of some of the unscrupulous folks involved who are pushing solar super hard,” he added. “In San Diego alone, for example, there are over 200 solar operations.”

Ara Petrosyan, CEO and founder of LA Solar Group, a consulting firm, said he believes that once the dust settles and shady companies inevitably go out of business, consumers will be able to make more informed and affordable choices and the sector will take off like “a rocket ship.”

“In five years, so many rules and regulations have been added that you have to be a really good expert to stay in the business,” he said.

He added that a clear sign of where the industry is going is the number of installations—which cost between $15,000 and $20,000 for an average size house—his company is handling.

“When we started in 2012, we did about 10 installations a month,” Petrosyan said. “Today, we do about 120 a month … and it will definitely keep increasing.”

Such projections are good news for a state that has mandated that 50 percent of its electricity come from renewable energy sources, including solar, by 2030.

Solar power is also growing fast in other states, including New York, which look to California as an example.

“The overall industry trend is that the cost of solar panels and other components is going down,” said Willemsen.

“And more and more standard folks are hearing it’s a good idea and once one person in the neighbourhood goes solar, more and more follow.”

Courtesy: https://phys.org/news/



UPS Sets New Renewable Energy & Electric Vehicle Goals For 2025

By: James Ayer

The highly prominent global shipping carrier UPS has announced a new set of “sustainability” goals that will see the company greatly add to its fleet of alternative fuel and electric vehicles in the coming years, as part of its push to reduce its absolute greenhouse gas emissions footprint for global ground operations by 12% by 2025.

As well as adding more alternative fuel and electric vehicles to its fleets, the new report — the 2016 Corporate Sustainability Report — revealed that the company is planning to increase its reliance on renewable energy.

Interestingly, the company has revealed that the goal to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions footprint of global ground operations by 12% by 2025 was developed using “a methodology approved by the Science Based Targets initiative.”

“Because of our size and scale, we know our commitments can shape markets, advance technologies and be a catalyst for infrastructure investments,” commented David Abney, UPS Chairman and CEO. “We rely on the ingenuity of our employees, suppliers and technology partners to help us reach goals that will transform the shipping industry and spur innovation.”

The press release provides more: “UPS has a goal that 25% of the electricity it consumes will come from renewable energy sources by 2025, a dramatic increase from the 0.2% in 2016. In addition, by 2020 UPS plans that one in four new vehicles purchased annually will be an alternative fuel or advanced technology vehicle, up from 16% in 2016. The company also set a new goal that by 2025, 40% of all ground fuel will be from sources other than conventional gasoline and diesel, an increase from 19.6% in 2016.”

“… The UPS vision entails a future smart logistics network of advanced technology vehicles and facilities powered by more diverse and sustainable energy sources, including on-site solar, off-site wind, renewable natural gas, renewable hydrogen, and renewable diesel delivered via advanced energy system infrastructure. UPS already deploys many of these technologies in its ground fleet and facilities, and plans to significantly increase their use in its worldwide fleet.”

The new UPS report also outlined its new “workforce and community goals.” These include a pledge to donate $127 million in total charitable contributions in 2020, and to achieve the 20 million volunteer hours milestone by the end of the same year.

Courtesy: https://cleantechnica.com


Increasing Number of Farms Switching to Solar Power

By: Ashley Robinson

Interest in solar energy is growing in Saskatchewan, according to SaskPower. SCOTT OLSON / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA

Farmers have always followed natural progression when it comes to technology.

“(Farmers aren’t) using horses to plow their fields anymore. Solar’s just kind of another step that allows them to be competitive and control the cost that’s a business expense,” said Nathan Jones, solar energy advisor with miEnergy.

Jones was at Canada’s Farm Progress Show last week to give presentations about farms switching to solar power. MiEnergy, a Saskatoon-based company, has been in the renewable energy industry for 15 years, first with geothermal and then expanding four years ago into solar energy.

Since entering the solar business, miEnergy has seen business steadily increase over the years — half of business now comes from farms, according to Jones.

Power bills for farms can be high since farmers are often operating both a business and living onsite. Jones said that with solar energy there is a large upfront cost but in the long run it pays off as the customer can control the cost of their power bill.

“You’re taking control of your power generation, which I think is empowering and allows a piece of mind knowing that (you’re) not going to be paying more every year for power,” he said.

This past year, SaskPower increased its rates by 8.5 per cent. With solar power, in the long run customers don’t have to worry about being affected by rate hikes Jones said.

According to SaskPower, interest in renewable energy sources has been growing. Recently the Crown corporation completed a series of stakeholder engagement surveys across the province.

“As we’ve seen in the growth of some of our (renewable energy) programs that we offer, there has been some definite interest from some of our farming customers across the province,” said Janson Anderson, director of customer programs with SaskPower.

SaskPower has two programs for solar power. The net metering program allows SaskPower customers the ability to offset their power consumption. The small power producer program allows customers to sell back the extra power they generate.

There are currently about 600 SaskPower customers who use the net metering program for solar energy. The small power producers program isn’t as popular, with only 20 clients currently using the system, though there has been rising interest.

Of note, SaskPower has found more interest in solar power from people in rural areas over those in urban areas.

“One of the reasons, probably, we’ve seen the numbers be a little bit higher in the rural scenarios is the lack of obstructions, the more available space, both installing for ground mount type solar as well as for rooftop solar scenarios,” Anderson said.

In rural areas people have an easier time positioning the solar energy system south to get the best maximum production. Rural residents also don’t have as many neighbours to deal with who create shade, which affects solar production.

SaskPower has been promoting alternative energy sources such as solar as part of its long-term goals to reduce power emissions by 2030 by about 40 per cent from 2005 levels.

Courtesy: http://leaderpost.com


New Technology will Enable Properties to Share Solar Energy

Dr. Mahmoud Dhimish’s research will mean low energy bills for consumers. Credit: University of Huddersfield

In the UK alone, some 1.5 million homes are equipped with solar panels, and it has been estimated that by 2020 the figure could soar to 10 million, with the prospect of lower energy bills for consumers and massive reductions in CO2 emissions. Now, a University of Huddersfield researcher is developing new technologies that could enable clusters of houses to share their solar energy, rather than simply exporting surplus electricity to the national grid. Also, new systems for fault detection will enable householders to monitor and maintain the efficiency of their panels.

Prize-winning PhD student Mahmoud Dhimish is spearheading the project, supervised by lecturers with expertise in high performance computing, engineering and electrical supply. The research is aided by a solar panel, or photovoltaic (PV) system that has been installed at the University by its School of Computing and Engineering.

“Currently, individual consumers generate electricity from their PV installations and if they are unable to use it, they export it to the network. PV outputs vary unpredictably – as do the electricity demands of each consumer – so supply and demand is difficult to match,” said Mahmoud Dhimish.

Therefore, his doctoral research – which has already led to a sequence of articles and presentations – is investigating the possibility of reducing the need to export unused energy to the grid by making use of “demand diversity” among adjacent dwellings.

A form of energy storage shared by the connected houses and the use of the ‘Internet of Things’ to monitor and manage their electricity demands will form part of the solution.

A major dimension of Mahmoud’s work is the development of a new algorithm that will enable the rapid detection of faults in PV installations. He has carried out pioneering work on the impact of micro-cracks in the performance of solar panels, using the facilities of the University of Huddersfield’s High Performance Computing Research Group to carry out his analysis.

The research could lead to the development of monitoring units operated directly by households or remotely via the Cloud.

Outputs describing the work have included the recent article Fault detection algorithm for grid-connected photovoltaic plants, in the journal Solar Energy. It is co-authored by Mahmoud Dhimish and his PhD supervisor Dr Violeta Homes, who is Subject Area Leader for Electronic and Electrical Engineering at the University of Huddersfield, where she leads the HPC Research Group.

Also supervising are Dr Bruce Mehrdadi, who is MSc Engineering Programme Leader, and lecturer Mark Dales, whose career has included 30 years in the electricity supply industry, and who took charge of the installation of the School of Computing and Engineering’s own solar panels.

Mahmoud Dhimish – who is Jordanian-Russian – earned awards that included a Chancellor’s Prize for his University of Huddersfield MSc in Electronic and Communication Engineering. He was immediately awarded a scholarship for his PhD research in renewable energy system. He has further co-authored articles awaiting publication and has also lectured on the subject to undergraduates.

Courtesy: https://phys.org/news


Study Demonstrates a Better Way to Store Renewable Energy

Wind farms are a common source of renewable energy that needs to be stored. Credit: University of Arkansas

In an effort to find better ways to store renewable energy, physicists at the University of Arkansas, in collaboration with a scientist at the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology, have shown that antiferroelectrics can provide high energy density. The findings may lead to storage devices that improve the efficiency of wind and solar power.

Because the production of renewable electricity may fluctuate from second to second, any device designed to store it must cope with constantly changing loads and still achieve high energy density relative to size. Batteries, supercapacitors and other technologies that can achieve high densities typically cannot react quickly enough to changing conditions. Traditional electrostatic capacitors can react quickly, but can’t hold enough energy for large-scale use.

U of A researchers Bin Xu, a research associate in the Department of Physics, and Laurent Bellaiche, Distinguished Professor of physics, along with Jorge Íñiguez at LIST, showed that antiferroelectrics may be able to achieve both goals. They published their findings in May in the journal Nature Communications.

Antiferroelectrics are materials in which adjacent dipoles – positive and negative charge centers separated by a very small space – are ordered in opposite direction of one another. Ferroelectric materials, by contrast, have adjacent dipoles ordered in the same direction.

Antiferroelectrics become ferroelectric with the application of a high enough electric field. By exploiting this characteristic, researchers predicted that high energy density and efficiency can be achieved in antiferroelectrics, in particular with the rare-earth substituted bismuth ferrite material used in this study. The paper explored improving the storage performance with further manipulation of the electric field. They were also able to create a model that explains the connection between energy density and the electric field, which points toward further research in the future.

Courtesy: https://phys.org/news