Self-Assembled Carbon Nanotube Antennas for Solar Power Revolution

By: Brian Wang

NovaSolix’s carbon nanotube (CNT) antennas are small enough to match the nano-scale wavelengths of sunlight. Antennas can convert electromagnetic spectrum much more efficiently than photovoltaic (PV) cells. When perfected, NovaSolix antennas will capture over four times the energy of current solar panels. They will reach nearly 90% efficiency versus ~20% for todays solar panels.

NovaSolix has invented a self-assembling antenna array solar cell which will be 2-4 times more efficient at a less than one-tenth the cost per watt of existing solar.

NovaSolix claims to have demonstrated a proof of concept to third parties that has touched 43% efficiency. That’d suggest a 72 cell solar module near 860 watts, with a 90% solar cell pushing 1700 watts.

They could buy used manufacturing hardware and retrofit them in the early stages of growth. The first manufacturing lines could cost $4.1 million, and would initially produce ~45% efficient modules, at a clip of 20MW/year with a proposed price of 10¢/W. At full efficiency, costs are cut in half and volumes per year doubled.

Solar Powered Car Gets

Sono Motors is a separate company that makes an electric car with built-in solar power supplemental charging. A sunny day can provide 18 miles of driving range on a 24% efficient solar cell. If NovaSolix increased solar cell efficiency to 90% then one day of sunlight driving would be 67 miles.


Construction Starts on Saudi Arabia’s First Solar Energy Project

$320m 300MW Sakaka PV IPP project is the first renewable energy project under King Salman Renewable Energy Initiative

By: Sam Bridge

The solar plant is expected to start commercial operations next year and upon completion, will supply 45,000 households with power in Al Jouf.

Saudi Arabia’s ruler has attended the ground-breaking ceremony for the 300MW Sakaka PV IPP, the first renewable energy project under King Salman Renewable Energy Initiative.

The SR1.2 billion ($320 million) solar plant is expected to start commercial operations next year and upon completion, will supply 45,000 households with power in Al Jouf, while offsetting over 430,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.

The project will also create new employment opportunities in fields including construction and operations, said Mohammad Abunayyan, chairman of ACWA Power, the company behind the project.

Abunayyan said: “Today, we renew our pride and honour as King Salman bin Abdulaziz graciously grants us the starting signal to commence the construction and operation of Sakaka PV IPP.

“The project is marked as the first project under the progressive initiative to benefit from renewable energy in the kingdom and is set at a world record-breaking tariff that will transform the photovoltaic solar energy sector across the globe.”

He added: “We are immensely proud to take part in the first clean energy project in Saudi Arabia that contributes to the sustainable transition of the kingdom.

“We look forward to utilising our expertise gained from renewable projects across the globe to develop and advance the capabilities of the renewable energy sector in the kingdom.”

The event took place following an announcement last week of the successful financial closure of the project.


Thin, Flexible New Solar Cells Could Soon Line Your Shirt

By: Amelia Urry


The general rule when developing a new kind of solar technology is to expect progress to be slow. Take silicon solar cells, the most ubiquitous and recognizable form of photovoltaic generations today. When silicon panels were first built in the early 1950s, they could only turn about 6 percent of the light that hit them into electricity. More than 30 years later, that number had inched up to 20 percent, and today—30 years after that—they regularly perform in the mid 20s.

So when, in 2017, a new material jumped from 3.8 percent to 22.7 percent efficiency after less than 8 years of development, it got people’s attention.

“This was the first time we really didn’t know much about the material, and we were still able to make really efficient solar cells,” says Joe Berry, who works on solar cells at the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, Colorado. And that efficiency will only continue to improve as scientists learn more about the new material, Berry explains. “My expectation is that it will be faster than anything that’s happened before.”

The new material is called perovskite, after a naturally occurring mineral found abundantly throughout the Earth’s crust. Perovskite photovoltaics are made out of a different material with a similar crystal structure, which gives them semiconductor properties. They are sometimes referred to as “hybrid perovskite cells” because they exhibit characteristics of various existing photovoltaics.

“They’re like the Reese’s peanut butter cup of solar cells,” says Dan Schwartz, director of Washington’s Clean Energy Institute, where companies rent lab space to develop new solar and battery technologies. “They bring some of the best parts of each, and some of the challenges.”

First, the best parts: Unlike typical solar panels where silicon must be smelted in high-temperature furnaces and then carved into perfect wafers and soldered together, perovskites can be printed like ink, which means they take much less energy to manufacture. The perovskite structure is also less rigid than silicon, so they can be made into flexible, thin-film panels and installed on office building windows, vehicles, electronics, or even clothing. Other kinds of thin-film solar cells have been around for awhile, but they haven’t shows the kind of performance and rapid improvement that perovskite films achieve. The theoretical maximum efficiency for perovskite is 33 percent—at the current rate of improvement, they could be getting close within decade.

But back to the challenges. For perovskites, the big hurdle has been their volatility. Perovskite’s crystal structure is prone to degrading, especially in the presence of oxygen or moisture. A few years ago, perovskite crystals only lasted a few hours before losing their effectiveness; today, materials in the lab are tested for about six weeks at a time. One potential fix is in the way perovskites are “packaged,” or protected from exposure to the air.

Another barrier is economic. The market for solar is already set up to favor silicon photovoltaics, an industry that has had more than 30 years to fine-tune its tech and trim its margins. Competing directly with traditional silicon solar panels may not be the way that perovskite and other new solar materials make it into the market. One promising application of perovskite is in combination with other solar cells, layered up like a photovoltaic cake. Since sunlight is composed of many different wavelengths, it turns out that it is much more efficient to convert specific wavelengths with targeted photovoltaic cells — say, one cell for the blue-green end of the spectrum and one for the red end. These combination or “multi-junction” cells have already hit efficiencies above 40 percent—twice that of a traditional solar panel on the market today.

“The most important thing to getting this technology to the market is being very open to unique use cases,” says Paul Meissner, CEO of Silicon Valley-based startup Energy Everywhere, one of a handful of new companies trying to develop perovskite, along with other unproven technologies. “It’s more than simply, how do we lower the cost per watt. It’s how do we reconceive energy?”

Meissner believes perovskite is one of a few technologies with the ability to redesign our energy system from the ground up. Right now, solar power generation only makes up about 2 percent of the global power supply. To get that number higher will require vast amounts of cheap solar cells—and lots of novel places to put them, not just utility-scale fields of panels. With technology like perovskite, our buildings, roads, and vehicles could all be harvesting some of that solar power.

When that happens, Meissner says, we’ll have to shift from thinking of energy as flowing from producers—companies with massive, centralized power plants—to the rest of us. Instead we’ll need what Meissner thinks of as the “internet of energy,” a democratized, decentralized electrical system where everyone can produce, use and trade renewable energy. One startup in Brooklyn is experimenting with this kind of energy trading already, where neighbours buy and sell their own solar power from one another; elsewhere, microgrids are test-driving the software needed to shuffle energy around a complex network of supply and demand as seamlessly as possible.

“The goal is to have solar everywhere,” says Dan Schwartz. And at the moment, perovskite offers the most promising path to a world where installing solar can be as cheap and easy and automatic, Schwartz says, as rolling “Tyvex onto the side of a house.”


Newcastle City Council, UTS Join the Stampede into Solar Energy

By: Peter Hannam

A solar farm on top of an old colliery will supply half the electricity used by the local government overseeing the world’s biggest coal export port.

And one of Sydney universities will help launch a separate solar plant in the state’s sunny north-west to meet a similar share of its power needs.

The new ventures add to growing momentum of solar power in Australia and abroad, as tumbling prices for photovoltaic panels make the renewable resource cheaper than even existing coal-fired power plants.

An artist’s impression of the Summerhill solar farm that Newcastle City Council is building on top of the former Wallsend Borehole Colliery.

On Tuesday, Newcastle City Council will officially start work on its five-megawatt Summerhill solar farm that will sit on a capped landfill site that occupies the former Wallsend Borehole Colliery.

“The solar farm will produce enough energy to run the equivalent of all of our council facilities during the day, which represents significant environmental returns for ratepayers and millions of dollars in savings on electricity costs,” Nuatali Nelmes, Newcastle Lord Mayor, said.

The solar plant will cost $8 million, with $6.5 million of that lent by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Annual savings are expected to reach as much as $350,000, helping cut a power bill that had doubled in recent years.

“While cost savings are certainly a critical factor in our decision to build the solar farm, sustainability initiatives are about more than just money and our community expects us to be good environmental stewards,” Ms Nelmes said.

A similar motivation mix spurred the University of Technology Sydney to power purchase agreement that will ensure a new $40 million solar plant at Walgett goes ahead.

The 32MW plant, to be built by Epuron with generation starting from mid-next year, will supply UTS with 27,000 MW-hours of electricity annually. That’s about half the university’s needs, Jonathan Prendergast, UTS Green Infrastructure Project Manager, said.

The Walgett venture’s benefits include “capping our exposure to energy prices”, Mr Prendergast said, adding the project would allow the university to meet both financial and environmentally sustainable goals.

The surge in new solar projects comes as solar power supplied to the National Electricity Market serving eastern Australia surpassed wind for the first time in September. NSW alone has more than 11,000MW of new large-scale solar farms in the planning process, Fairfax Media reported last week.

“The amount of large-scale solar capacity that commenced generation during the [September] quarter is higher than the NEM’s entire large-scale solar capacity at the start of the year,” the Australian Energy Market Operator said in its latest quarterly energy report.

“Quarterly NEM [greenhouse gas] emissions reached their lowest level on record, both in terms of total emissions and average emissions intensity,” AEMO said.

China, the world’s largest supplier and installer of solar panels, meanwhile, is planning to hike its PV targets after eclipsing its 2020 goal set in 2015 by more than half.

The country’s National Energy Agency is considering raising its 2020 target to at least 210 gigawatts of PN capacity,  but the goal could go as high as 270GW by then, according to PV magazine.


Walmart to Install Solar Panels on 19 of its Stores in Illinois, Including Belleville


The nation’s largest retailer is joining the solar boom in Illinois next year.

Walmart has reached an agreement with a California company to install solar systems at two distribution centers and 19 stores, including those in Belleville, O’Fallon, Sparta and Litchfield. It’s billed as a way to save money and help the environment by reducing carbon emissions.

The move was prompted by the state’s new Adjustable Block Program, which provides incentives for commercial and residential rooftop solar projects, as well as community solar farms.

This photo shows a commercial solar system installed by SunPower, a company based in San Jose, California. It’s designing systems for 19 Walmart stores and two distribution centers in Illinois.

“We can meet or beat our current cost of energy (under the agreement),” said Katherine Canoy, Walmart’s senior manager for renewable energy, speaking by phone from Bentonville, Arkansas. “From a business perspective, it makes sense for us on a lot of levels.”

The company already has solar systems at about 350 of its 5,000 sites in the United States, including Walmart and Sam’s Club stores. Canoy said installations don’t have a direct effect on prices, but the company’s increasing use of renewable wind and solar energy will help keep them low in the long run.

For Walmart’s first 21 solar projects in Illinois, the retailer is partnering with SunPower, a company based in San Jose, California. It designs, installs and maintains commercial solar systems all over the country, often combining rooftop and ground-mounted solar panels.

Most customers are able to generate 40 to 75 percent of their electricity with solar, said Robert Rogan, SunPower’s senior director of strategy. Walmart generates 5 to 70 percent at its existing solar sites.

“It really varies from store to store, depending on how much of the roof space we can utilize and also how much energy that store is using,” Rogan said.

Some Walmart stores have skylights and air-conditioning units on their roofs, and climate can affect how much electricity is needed to heat and cool buildings.