Two solar power plants to relieve mining sector’s power needs in Chile

As subsidies for renewable energy are falling in the depressed European economies, which represent the world’s largest market for solar technology, manufacturers have started looking to new markets.

One example is First Solar, a major developer of solar power plants in North America, which announced Friday it will start expanding to Latin America, being Chile the first country in which it is landing.

According to local newspaper El Diario, the company plans to build at least two plants of about 50 to 100 megawatts next year, both in the mining rich northern Chile.

Mining companies in the area regularly struggle with power supply issues. Although mostly in the form of electricity, it’s been estimated that major mining operations eat up as much as 80% of Chile’s energy.

And the demand for power keeps growing among the mining companies operating in Chile at an estimated rate of at least 5% annually for the next several years.

Cristian Sjogren, First Solar’s general manager told El Diario that his company is in a good position as it provides a reliable source of power that doesn’t require the consumption of water, a resource that northern Chile is short of.

Profits of solar panel manufacturers have collapsed in recent months because a surplus of solar panels on the global market has reduced its prices. The drop, however, has made solar power less expensive and more attractive to small and medium size companies, as well as homeowners and utilities.

According to Bloomberg, U.S. Solar installations surged 85% in the first quarter of this year as prices have dropped 47%. Last year solar installations more than doubled compared with 2010.

In recent months, experts have warned that the South American nation, the top copper producer in the world, will not be able to keep mining for the red metal, gold and other minerals if the country doesn’t find a solution to their pressing energy needs.

Currently, Chile imports about 98% of all the fossil fuels it uses and it is estimated the country will need between 6,000 and 8,000 megawatts in the next 10 years to keep up current production levels.


Robot-Installed Solar Panels Cut Costs by 50%

Solar panels are obeying the will of Moore’s Law by getting ever cheaper and more efficient. What’s not getting cheaper or more efficient is the human labor required to install them. This keeps the cost of going solar higher than us duck-squeezing envirinmintl types would like, but robots are busy coming to our rescue by setting up solar power plants much cheaper and much, much faster.

Here’s the executive summary, since I’ve never done an executive summary before and it sounds fancy: using robots to set up a 14 megawatt solar power plant can potentially cuts costs from $2,000,000 to $900,000, while being constructed in eight times faster with only three human workers instead of 35.

So there you go! If you’re still reading, we can tell you a little bit about the robot that performs this incredible feat of engineering efficiency: it costs just under a million bucks, but it’s built from off-the-shelf parts and in continuous use will supposedly pay for itself in either no time at all or less than a year, whichever comes last. And like all robots, using one of these things means you can get work done in rain or sleet or snow or darkness with no complaints, but if you find yourself installing solar panels where all of those things are occurring at once, you should probably just give up and go someplace, you know, sunny.

The robot itself has a mobile base that runs on tank treads, and a robot arm grips huge 145 watt panels one at a time and autonomously positions them in just the right spot on a pre-installed metal frame. Humans follow along behind, adding fasteners and making electrical connections, but secret plans are underway to roboticize these jobs too. Zee Germans, being big fans of solar power in their quest to go 80% renewable by 2050, are quite interested in putting robots like these to work, as are the Japanese, who want to construct solar farms near Fukushima within the next six months.



Mother Nature designed chitin to be an exoskeleton for insects that can be either flexible or rigid…and that has inspired Harvard researchers to invent a similar substance that may become a biodegradable replacement for plastic!

Courtesy: Jim Parks

Easier Rooftop Installation = Cheaper Solar Power

© Solon

Making Large-Scale Solar Rooftop Deployment Possible

Over the past few decades, the cost of solar panels has dropped so much that factors that used to be kind of afterthoughts are now becoming very significant. In some commercial rooftop projects, the panels themselves are now less than half of the total cost, with the rest going to installation, power electronics, etc. This means that we’re now at the point where figuring out an easier and quicker way to install the panels can provide bigger benefits than a new cheaper/more efficient solar panel technology. Thankfully, there are some nice low-hanging fruits to be harvested there, since a lot of rooftop solar panel installation so has been kind of ad hoc and sub-optimized.

© Solon

As has been shown in other industries, a lot of efficiency can be gained from standardization, integrating and simplifying processes (f.ex. what used to take 10 steps now takes 4..), and going for economies of scale.

A good example of this is Solon’s SOLfixx PV system, which you can see in the pictures above. The company claims that its system can reduce the time needed for solar rooftop installation by more than half, greatly reducing costs (labor costs alone are about 30% of the total cost of a solar rooftop system — how much you save depends on local labor costs).

Solon is just used as an example here, but other companies are doing similar things. These types of innovations can make PV solar more affordable, both to companies with lots of flat rooftops that could be used to generate power, or for citizens who own homes and would like to generate their own clean electricity.


California Hits Solar Power Milestone


Novartis solar initiative, Vacaville California

1.255 GW of solar power is now generated from more than 122,000 rooftops across California. The migration to solar by low- and middle-income homeowners is the main reason behind the popularity of solar power in the Golden State. The data is revealed in the California Public Utilities Commission’s (CPUC) 2012 California Solar Initiative(CSI) Annual Program Assessment, which was issued a few days ago.

“California’s solar success is unmatched in the nation,” said CPUC President Michael R. Peevey. “In the first quarter of 2012, there has already been 97 megawatts of solar installed. This means that the CSI Program is on track to reach 1,000 megawatts in installations by the end of the year.”

In January 2007, California began an unprecedented $3.3 billion effort to install 3,000 MW of new solar energy over the next decade and transform the market for solar energy by reducing the cost of solar generating equipment.

CSI is the USA’s largest solar program, with a $2.4 billion budget and a goal to install 1,940 MW of solar capacity by the end of 2016.

The report also reveals that costs for residential solar systems have decreased by 28 percent since 2007. Besides, CSI projects in low income markets (areas with average incomes of less than $50,000) have increased by 364 percent since 2007. Approximately 1,500 low income homeowners, with help from the Single-Family Affordable Solar Homes (SASH) program, have installed solar panels to generate energy and improve their monthly cash flow.

Virtual Net Metering has allowed thousands of low income tenants to receive the direct benefits of solar as reductions in their monthly electric bills. In just over two years of operation, the CSI-Thermal Program, which provides rebates for solar water heating systems, has received 704 applications for $4.87 million in incentives.