DMSolar Blog

Gateway to Photovoltaic

Archive for July, 2009

Nestor Bachmann/European Pressphoto Agency A technician on a rooftop solar power station in Hassleben, Germany.

Variations on the policy that jumpstarted Germany’s decade-long boom in rooftop solar systems are taking root in more cities in the United States.

The policy, called a feed-in tariff, offers small-scale producers of solar energy long-term contracts (usually at above-market rates) for the electricity they sell. Last week, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, which serves 1.4 million people, approved a feed-in tariff that allows homeowners with solar panels a chance to sign up for 10, 15 or 20 years of guaranteed payments. The policy will take effect next January. The city of Gainesville, Fla., adopted a feed-in tariff this spring, as did Vermont. Washington state also has such a policy, and Hawaii is currently considering one.

While feed-in tariffs are most closely associated with solar photovoltaic panels, utilities managing the programs in Vermont and Sacramento will also pay a set price for electricity generated from other renewable sources, like wind.

The Sacramento program is open to homeowners who are not participating in another program, called net metering, which allows anyone whose system is producing more electricity than they need to sell the excess back to the utility, thus reducing their electric bill. But once their bill falls to zero, the homeowner gets no more money from the system.

Jon Bertolino, a spokesman for the Sacramento utility, said that customers with land to spare had been asking whether, if they put up small solar farms, the utility would buy the excess electricity.

As long as they are not part of the net-metering program and not seeking the $2.80-per-watt ratepayer subsidy for their new panels under the state’s “Million Solar Roofs” program, Mr. Bertolino said, small generators can sell their power to S.M.U.D. The rates would depend on the time of day the power is generated, ranging from a low of 5 or 6 cents a kilowatt-hour to 30 cents on a hot summer afternoon; the size of eligible systems is capped at 5 megawatts (and the program overall has a 100-megawatt cap).

The Vermont law caps the size of individual systems at 2.2 megawatts. Solar energy fetches a fixed price of 30 cents a kilowatt-hour, and other forms of renewables fetch lower rates.

In order to meet our world’s rising energy needs, and to help reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, some ideas that seem right out of a science fiction novel are picking up steam with start-ups and investors. But does using satellites for energy production really make sense financially or environmentally?

Space Based Solar Power (SBSP) is an idea first voiced by scientist Dr. Peter Glaser over 40 years ago, and during times of high energy costs or crises in fossil fuel supplies, the idea keeps rearing its head. The premise is that large photovoltaic arrays can be assembled in a geosynchronous orbit at 22,000 miles above the Earth, generating electricity that can then be transmitted via microwave or lasers to Earth.

On the positive side of SBSP, power can be produced 24 hours a day, regardless of the time of year, and the strength of the solar power in space is 6 to 8 times that on the surface of the planet. The drawbacks are the physical logistics and extreme expense of launching all of the materials into orbit, and the lack of an efficient, scalable system for getting the energy to Earth.

The advantages of Space Based Solar Power, according to the National Space Society :

* Unlike oil, gas, ethanol, and coal plants, space solar power does not emit greenhouse gases.
* Unlike coal and nuclear plants, space solar power does not compete for or depend upon increasingly scarce fresh water resources.
* Unlike bio-ethanol or bio-diesel, space solar power does not compete for increasingly valuable farm land or depend on natural-gas-derived fertilizer. Food can continue to be a major export instead of a fuel provider.
* Unlike nuclear power plants, space solar power will not produce hazardous waste, which needs to be stored and guarded for hundreds of years.
* Unlike terrestrial solar and wind power plants, space solar power is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in huge quantities. It works regardless of cloud cover, daylight, or wind speed.
* Unlike nuclear power plants, space solar power does not provide easy targets for terrorists.
* Unlike coal and nuclear fuels, space solar power does not require environmentally problematic mining operations.
* Space solar power will provide true energy independence for the nations that develop it, eliminating a major source of national competition for limited Earth-based energy resources.
* Space solar power will not require dependence on unstable or hostile foreign oil providers to meet energy needs, enabling us to expend resources in other ways.
* Space solar power can be exported to virtually any place in the world, and its energy can be converted for local needs — such as manufacture of methanol for use in places like rural India where there are no electric power grids. Space solar power can also be used for desalination of sea water.
* Space solar power can take advantage of our current and historic investment in aerospace expertise to expand employment opportunities in solving the difficult problems of energy security and climate change.
* Space solar power can provide a market large enough to develop the low-cost space transportation system that is required for its deployment. This, in turn, will also bring the resources of the solar system within economic reach.

Disadvantages of Space Solar Power

* High development cost. Yes, space solar power development costs will be very large, although much smaller than American military presence in the Persian Gulf or the costs of global warming, climate change, or carbon sequestration. The cost of space solar power development always needs to be compared to the cost of not developing space solar power.

A Washington company, PowerSat, plans to use a group of up to 300 satellites which then send the energy to a single satellite for transmission to Earth. PowerSat plans to be able to implement the system within 10 years. Several other firms, Space Energy and Solaren, are working toward their own systems as well.

As a layman, I have to wonder if the billions (trillions, maybe?) that will be invested to harvest and transmit renewable energy from solar panels on satellites in space wouldn’t be better spent implementing conservation efforts and developing Earth-based clean energy sources.

What happens when something needs repairing or adjusting in space? What’s the price of a service call to a solar power system based in space? (And are those frickin’ lasers safe for us pedestrians?)

BEIJING, July 21 (Reuters) – China has launched an unprecedented plan to offer hefty subsidies to independent solar power projects, a move likely to boost the solar sector.

The move would benefit industry firms including Suntech Power Holdings Co Ltd (STP.N), Yingli Green Energy Holding Co Ltd (YGE.N), Trina Solar Ltd (TSL.N) and JA Solar Holdings Co Ltd, analysts said.

“This is very positive for the solar sector and positive for solar stocks out there,” said Christine Wang, an analyst with HSBC.

Beijing’s bid to boost the solar energy sector could draw more than $10 billion in private funding for projects and put China on track to become a leading market for solar equipment in the next three years. [ID:nHKG193]

As the world’s top greenhouse gas polluter, China is trying to catch up in a global race to find alternatives to fossil fuels, blamed for carbon emissions affecting the planet’s climate.

The Ministry of Finance said the government will subsidise 50 percent of investment for solar power projects as well as relevant power transmission and distribution systems that connect to grid networks.

For independent photovoltaic power generating systems in remote regions that have no power supply, the subsidy will rise to 70 percent, the ministry said in an announcement on its website (

Grid companies are required to buy all surplus electricity output from solar power projects that generate primarily for the developers’ own needs, at similar rates to benchmark on-grid tariffs set for coal-fired power generators.

To qualify for the subsidy, in addition to other requirements, each project must have a generating capacity of at least 300 kilowatt peak, while construction will have to be completed in one year and operations will have to last for at least 20 years.

The government plans to install more than 500 megawatts of solar power pilot projects in two to three years. But the total generating capacity in such pilot projects in each province in principle should not exceed 20 megawatts, the ministry said.

In March, the Finance Ministry said it would provide 20 yuan per watt peak (Wp) of subsidy for projects attached to buildings that have capacity of more than 50 kilowatt peak, which could cut the power generating cost by around half to about 1 yuan per kilowatt-hour.

China is expected to raise its 2020 solar power generation target more than fivefold to at least 10 GW. With incentives, analysts expect over 2 GW in new solar capacity will be installed as early as 2011, up from just over 100 MW in 2008. (Additional reporting by Eadie Chen; Editing by Ben Tan)

New research has found a novel way of making workable photovoltaic solar cells with three-dimensional nanopillar structures.

Conducted by the University of California Berkeley, the report claims that flexible cells made using the design could be very efficient at converting solar energy into electricity as well as being low-cost, according to

The devices developed by the team of researchers have absorbing efficiency of six per cent, with a material conversion rate of 12 per cent, “much higher” than previous attempts at nanoscale photovoltaic cell production.

Ali Javey, who worked on the report, told the news provider: “The nanopillars we produced could be used to develop a robust technology for low-cost and lightweight photovoltaics with respectable efficiencies.”

Photovoltaic cells for solar panels made of polymer instead of inorganic materials could help reduce the cost of harnessing the suns energy, Strathclyde University researchers recently claimed in the Engineer.

Rapid Electronics are a leading UK supplier of electronic components, electrical products and industrial equipment to the Electrical Contractors sector.

Solar Power 101

dmsolar on July-20-09

Solar power has become the key to meeting today’s energy requirements. Solar power installed in your house through photovoltaic power systems is the most ordinary method of converting sunlight into electricity. There are actually numerous benefits of acquiring and using a home solar power system.

• Solar panels are known to have long functional life. They can last for 30 to 40 years.

• Generating electricity through solar panels is entirely a silent process. It will not give you pestering sounds as gas motor or noisy diesel does.

• Solar panels provide some sort of a shade to your roof. The part from where the photovoltaic panels are situated is not affected by the sun’s heat thus resulting to a bit cooler upper floor of your home.

• Your returns on the investment can be back in a very fast time frame.

• Solar power systems do not need any maintenance. Once it is installed and constructed, it is already considered as a maintenance free energy production system. If it has battery, all you just need is to periodically check the batteries.

There are a few detriments to using solar power that you must be mindful about. These should be considered when you decide to have solar power systems installed in your home.

• Once the solar power system is installed, it is already part of your house. Therefore, when you decide to move into a new home, the system will stay with your home and you can’t bring it along wherever you are moving to.

• It doesn’t work that well for huge gadgets that utilize an electric heat component. This will not work for devices such as an electric range or oven, electric heater or an electric full house heating system.

• If you are planning to change your roof, it will need some extra work and money as the solar panels and other installed hardware must be removed from your roof. Once the re-roofing is done, you’ll need to re-install and re-configured the solar panels.

Before you come into a conclusion, weigh the pros and the cons. It is still up to you if you want to take the benefits of the sun’s gift and enjoy it while you save tons of money on your electrical bills.

If you are interested to learn how to install a home solar power system, visit:

Treasury and Energy departments release long-awaited rules for grant money

When Congress was debating an extension of the renewable energy tax credits set to expire at the end of 2008, the loudest argument from the wind and solar industries was that letting the tax credits expire would have a deleterious affect on renewable energy development in the United States. And before the credits expired, Congress passed a short term extension of the renewable energy production and investment tax credits.

But then the credit markets froze. There was little to no money to borrow to get projects off the ground. At that point, the extension of the production tax credit was almost moot.

Recognizing this, the authors of The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 addressed some of the problems created by the credit freeze by authorizing the Treasury Department to make immediate, direct payments to companies for projects—in lieu of tax credits—for an estimated 5,000 bio-mass, solar, wind and geothermal energy facilities.

And on Thursday, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner together announced that they were ready to start doling out that cash, or at least how they would dole it out.

The thinking behind the move is that developers will not have to wait until they have a project in production in order to take advantage of the federal tax benefit. The new grant program essentially front-loads the tax benefit, freeing-up money for material, labor and other investments in project development.

“The renewable energy program provides another important avenue for the Recovery Act to contribute to economic development in communities around the country,” said Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. “This partnership between Treasury and Energy will enable both large companies and small businesses to invest in our long-term energy needs, protect our environment and revitalize our nation’s economy.”

Preventing another renewable energy bust

The $3 billion in grants are designed to temporarily replace the production tax credit (PTC) that has been a critical factor in the growth of renewable energy capacity in U.S. The boom-and-bust cycles caused by lapses in the PTC have been particularly troublesome for the wind energy industry. In the two times the tax credit was let to expire, once in 2002 and again in 2004, new U.S. wind power capacity fell precipitously, taking with it, a burgeoning U.S. wind industry.

The specter of another bust in the renewable energy industry had industry groups welcoming the Thursday move.

“The implementation of this program for renewable energy will be a welcome boost, just when we all need it,” said American Wind Energy Association CEO Denise Bode. The grants can amount to as much as 30% of the value of a new wind project, explained Bode.

“As with all industry, the economic conditions of the past eight or nine months have held us back. We believe these grants will help get our companies back on track, create more jobs, and balance our electricity portfolio with clean, renewable energy.”

Solar industry groups welcomed the move as well, emphasizing the fact that it would free-up several projects in various phases of development.

“Solar stimulus is ready, set and … coming soon,” said said Rhone Resch, CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). “Once Treasury begins accepting grant applications, the solar industry will create tens of thousands of jobs and spur investment in the clean energy economy.”

“There are dozens of large solar power projects in the pipeline that can now move forward,” added Resch.

The Treasury will be launching the web-based application system in the coming weeks and begin making direct payments within 60 days after projects are submitted.

Imagine a world without steering wheels. Well it’s not here yet, but the ATNMBL is on its way.

Photo: Solar Sensations: Solar Technologies

(Courtesy Orange/Samsung/MIT SENSEable City Lab/Solar Impulse)

This futuristic electric car sports rooftop solar panels that support the four motors underneath. But the ATNMBL isn’t just “green;” it’s intelligent. ATNMBL, which is still in development, will rely on GPS and sophisticated sensor systems to navigate infrastructure that is already in place.

The only problem is speed: normal drivers will dread getting stuck behind one of these. Because ATNMBL is being developed for simple travel, it won’t travel very fast. As the vehicle’s Web site says, “It’s time to look at performance in a new way.”

Aside from the advanced driving capabilities, the project will also sport a flat panel console, using mobile communication technology. The display will not only help navigate through traffic, but will also let passengers surf the Internet from the road.

The car’s designers, Maaike Evers and Mike Simonian, have been involved in a number of futuristic design projects, including Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and the T-Mobile G1 — the first phone to sport Google’s Android operating system.

Evers and Simonian have introduced their ahead-of-the-curve design as a future alternative to transportation, though there’s no word yet on a release date.

“The ATNMBL project is meant to provoke a broader conversation about the future of cars and to promote a shift from styling cars to redefining the entire experience. Emerging technologies will create a new measure of performance: one of time-saving, quality of life, smart exploration, efficiency and accessibility for all,” Simonian said in an email.

But the ATNMBL isn’t the only imagination-stretching device out there trying to harness the power of the sun.

The first of many roadside electric charging stations in Brazil is set to be installed in the Barra de Tijuca neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro, and it’ll be solar-powered.

The neighborhood was chosen because it has the highest number of electric motorcycles certainly in circulation. The battery charging point will serve a mainly symbolic purpose at first, “awakening environmental awareness by showing people that it is possible to use energy without harming the environment,” said spokesperson Edimar Machado.

Brazil has been a worldwide leader in reducing the impact of the transportation sector on the environment, with 90% of new cars sold in the country being flex-fuel- capable of running on ethanol or gasoline in any proportion. Now the hope is that they can also lead the world in infrastructure for electric vehicles. Once they become more financially viable, Machado hopes to have an electric charging station positioned every 30km across the country.

That could soon allow every electric motorcyclist the capability to travel the entire length of Brazil’s major roadways if they wanted, even if their battery length is only around 40km, like most of the bikes currently in circulation there. Machado also suggested that used batteries could be exchanged for already-charged ones at the stations for the same price as a full charge, in case roadsters can’t wait around for the standard 4 hours it takes to charge the batteries. That would make the time it takes to “fill up” your electric vehicle no longer than it would take to fill up a gas tank.

Even better, the charging stations will generate their electricity from solar energy. The charging point captures solar energy by means of an array of 28 photovoltaic panels that generate 184 volts of direct current, which is transformed into triphasic alternating current. Output is at 110 or 220 volts [1]. And on days when there isn’t much sunlight, or at night, the stations could still derive electricity from the grid system.

The Brazilian Electric Vehicle Association says the market for electric vehicles is already growing by about 50 percent a year, and with new charging stations located conveniently around town that number is expected to increase dramatically. They also project that electric vehicles will consume barely three to five percent of the country’s total energy in 2030, meaning as the system expands it shouldn’t be a significant strain on the country’s electricity. Meanwhile, car fuel consumption will be reduced by 10 percent.

Although that nationwide system of stations is still far from practical, the implementation of this first station is symbolic of what can be envisioned with the right political will and incentive.

Photovoltaic fabric: Your jacket becomes a solar panel

Can you imagine never having to recharge your cellphone again? That’s the promise of this solar-fabric concept from Konarka, a U.S. solar tech company. Instead of plugging your phone into an outlet, you’d stick it in the pocket of a special jacket woven with fibers that are ultra-thin photovoltaic cells.

Each thread contains a stainless-steel wire the thickness of a human hair, covered with several layers of organic photovoltaic material. The wire is paired with another, thinner one that functions as a secondary electrode. Once the wires are coated with a protective, transparent polymer, they’re ready to be woven into wearable solar clothing — shirts, hoodies, full-body Game Boy costumes — whatever you like.

One downside is the woeful efficiency — just 3% — but when you consider the entire surface area of your clothing becomes a solar collector, it would probably still soak up enough rays to keep that iPhone in your pocket juiced. While it’s years away from becoming a real product, we’d much rather hang a jacket made of solar fabric in our closet than that silly solar vest from last week.