Solar Panels Work Great in Snowy Regions, Research Shows

Solar power installations are well worth the investment, even in snowy climates, according to new research from Michigan Technological University. The albedo effect caused by white snow cover actually helps to increase solar panel efficiency (counter to what many of us might have thought).

20121026-012442.jpg

While a layer of snowfall temporarily covers the panel and stops production, the panels don’t remain covered for long, even in the most snow-heavy regions.

“Sometimes snow actually helps solar cells,” says Michigan Tech’s Joshua Pearce. Referring to the albedo effect, which is caused by white colors reflecting sunlight. “It can make a panel generate more electricity in the same way that it gives skiers sunburn on sunny winter days.”

For the new research, scientists from St. Lawrence College and Queen’s University, along with a group of 20 industry partners, investigated the effects of snow on the Open Solar Outdoors Test Field.

“They created a computer model to predict how much power generation would decline in various amounts of snow cover and on different types of solar modules mounted at different angles, from flat to steeply pitched. Then they validated their model with data from many of Ontario’s huge commercial solar farms.”

“In most cases power losses are minimal, even in snowy Canada,” Pearce said. As part of the research, though, they also created a model that is designed to help the most efficient photovoltaic systems, even in extremely snowy areas.

Pearce and R. W. Andrews have authored a paper based on the preliminary study, “Prediction of Energy Effects on Photovoltaic Systems Due to Snowfall Events,” published in proceedings of the 2012 38th IEEE Photovoltaic Specialists Conference.
Clean Technica (http://s.tt/1r4oK)

Advertisements

Competing projects propose $500 home Cng Fueler

Eaton Corp. and General Electric Co. are working on competing projects to develop a $500 home natural gas fueling station, a product that could entice car owners to switch to a fuel whose price has plummeted because of shale drilling.

The companies’ efforts are part of a U.S. Department of Energy push to reduce the cost of such stations, which can sell for more than $5,000, and the time it takes to refuel as a way to attract more people to drive vehicles powered by compressed natural gas.

An affordable CNG station for homes could “revolutionize” how Americans commute, Dane Boysen, director of an Energy Department program to encourage use of the fuel in vehicles, said in a statement from Cleveland, Ohio-based Eaton.

“My hope is that these advanced technologies will enable us to use our abundant domestic supply of natural gas for transportation, diversifying our nation’s fuel and refueling portfolio for the future,” he said.

CNG is selling at retail for the equivalent of about $2.09 per gallon of gasoline, according to Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy Corp., one of the nation’s largest producers of natural gas. Monday in Tulsa, the most common price of regular-grade gasoline was $3.39 a gallon.

Eaton said its technology will tap into a home’s existing natural gas system. The company is developing the home station with the University of Minnesota, funded in part by a $3.4 million Energy Department grant. The company said it will draw on its experience installing electric-vehicle charging stations across the nation.

GE said last week that it’s working with Chart Industries Inc. and the University of Missouri to develop a fueling station. The Fairfield, Conn.-based company received a $1.8 million Energy Department grant, according to Todd Alhart, a GE spokesman.

The Energy Department is also funding projects including storage tanks being developed by Ford Motor Co. and United Technologies Corp. in separate efforts.

Thanks to drilling technologies to recover the natural gas from shale rock, the market price of the fuel is about 80 percent lower than four years ago. Monday on the New York Mercantile Exchange, natural gas rose a penny to finish the trading day at $3.09 per 1,000 cubic feet.​

This article was first published by Tulsa World.

Turning Carbon Dioxide Into a Green Fuel

A research team is working on turning carbon dioxide into methanol to use later as a green fuel.

The researchers from the Freiburg Materials Research Center (FMF), led by the chemist Prof. Dr. Ingo Krossing, have developed a new system that produces methanol from CO2 and hydrogen. They hope to eventually be able to harness the power of CO2 on a large scale and integrate it back into the utilization cycle as a sustainable form of energy production.

In order to produce methanol, Krossing’s doctoral candidates combine the carbon dioxide with hydrogen in a high pressure environment, a process known as hydrogenolysis.

Doctoral candidate Elias Frei has already been conducting research on methanol for several years. “Our goal is to develop new catalyst systems and methods for accelerating the chemical reaction even more,” explains Frei.

The researchers at FMF use the metal oxides copper, zinc, and zirconium dioxide as catalysts, enabling the reaction to happen at lower temperatures. In this way, the gases don’t have to be heated as much. Together the catalysts form a so-called mixed system of surface-rich porous solid matter with defined properties. If the catalysts consist of nanoparticles, their activity is increased even more.


Frei and colleague Dr. Marina Artamonova have also been testing techniques by which the catalysts are impregnated with ionic liquids, salts in a liquid state that cover the catalyst like a thin film. This would help fix the CO2 and hydrogen to the catalyst and therefore remove methanol and water. This conversion would subsequently lead to the production of pure methanol. The researchers believe that in two years they will be able to produce methanol on a mass scale using this technique.

The theory runs that the CO2 would be filtered out of the waste gas stream of a combined heat and power plant and used to create methanol. This methanol would be used in motors, but because it was being used twice — so to speak — it would theoretically be possible to use 50 percent less CO2 to create the same amount of energy.

The amount of methanol that could be converted from 10 percent of the yearly CO2 emissions in Germany would cover the country’s yearly fuel needs.

“There is enough energy out there, but it needs to be stored,” says Frei. “As a sustainable means of energy storage, methanol has potential in a wide range of areas. We want to use that potential, because the storage and conversion of energy are important topics for the future.”

Source: Freiburg Materials Research Center
Image Source: joezero5 on Flickr

Source: Clean Technica (http://s.tt/1eqRY)

Low-Income Households in Colorado Going Solar

30 low-income households in northeast Denver, Colorado are going solar thanks to a partnership between Northeast Denver Housing Center (NDHC), Del Norte Neighborhood Corporation, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Bella Energy, Groundwork Denver, and the Governor’s Energy Office of Colorado. Good news! Here’s more from NREL:

Until recently, the low-income housing community has been a tough nut for the solar industry to crack.

Low-income housing developments have historically avoided going solar due to the obvious difficulties of incorporating high-cost, discretionary photovoltaic (PV) systems into affordable housing. However, a unique mix of local, utility, and federal support combined with a little financial creativity allowed a community in Colorado to demonstrate the application of PV into a low-income housing program.

Here’s how it worked.

Figure 1. Solar PV and a low-income housing development in Denver, Colorado [1]

It Takes a Village

In northeast Denver, Colorado, a partnership of community stakeholders came together to pilot the first U.S. low-income housing project to take on solar. The partnership itself was a large and diverse collaboration of various interests groups. No less than six organizations were involved in the effort, including:

  • Northeast Denver Housing Center (NDHC)
  • Del Norte Neighborhood Corporation
  • National Renewable Energy Laboratory
  • Bella Energy
  • Groundwork Denver
  • Governor’s Energy Office of Colorado.

Collectively, these organizations put the pieces together to develop the Whittier Affordable Housing Project (WAHP). Within WAHP, 30 affordable housing rentals across 12 buildings received residential-scale solar PV systems [1]. Figure 1 shows three of these systems.

One of the key enabling factors of the low-income solar housing is also evident in Figure 1; each of the housing units selected in the program is smaller than the average American home and has undergone recent energy efficiency retrofits (e.g., insulation, lighting, and building envelope improvements). Because of these small and energy efficient housing characteristics, the WAHP program was able to utilize relatively small 1.88-kW systems to offset approximately 85% of the occupant’s energy usage. The small size of the individual systems allowed for a greater number of system installations across WAHP [1].

The Financing Puzzle with One Wildcard

Like most renewable energy financing arrangements, the partnership utilized any and all available revenue streams to have the PV system’s economics pencil out. First, the project was set up for the first six years as a third-party financing mechanism, where a private tax-paying investor owns the PV system to take advantage of the federal 30% investment tax credit and accelerated depreciation benefits. Second, WAHP received a $2/Watt upfront cash incentive from the local utility Xcel Energy that significantly bought down the cost of the PV systems. Xcel also agreed to purchase the renewable energy certificates (RECs) at a healthy $0.11/kWh for the first 20 years of the project’s operation. Additionally, the low-income housing residents paid $0.08/kWh for the energy produced by the PV systems. By comparison, the average electric rate for NDHC residents was $0.95/kWh, thus the PV is projected to save NDHC money over the course of the 20-year contract period.

Even with these large revenue streams, there was one more puzzle piece required to complete the financing [1]. NDHC was successful in applying for a $107,500 grant from the Governor’s Energy Office of Colorado to finance the project. The NDHC award was immediately loaned to the investor to provide the final revenue piece to make the project viable. The investor, in turn, repays the loan with interest to NDHC over six years. At year seven of the project, NDHC will buy out the investor using the loan and interest repayments and will own the low-income solar project [1]. Figure 2 illustrates the lifetime cash flows between the investor and NDHC.

Figure 2. Lifetime cashflows of Whittier Affordable Housing Project [1]

Good for the Goose and for the Gander

Although not all tenants in NDHC received PV systems on their rooftops, WAHP program designers also implemented several community-wide programs to broaden the overall appeal.  First, a PV installation training and education program was created for low-income residents. From this training program, several community residents were hired by a local PV installer. Second, a neighborhood-wide energy conservation incentive program was established and funded through savings from the PV installation [1]. Lastly, the community was able to showcase its program as a first-of-a-kind in the nation with successful implementation.

Despite WAHP’s use of the one-time grant to fully fund the program, it was intended for the model to be a roadmap for other communities to follow. Since the development of WAHP, there have been sizable reductions in both renewable energy subsidies as well as PV system prices. Therefore, other communities will need to customize their program to take advantage of local financial strengths and resources, but WAHP demonstrates the successful application of PV to all income classes.

Resources:

[1] Dean, J.; Smith-Drier, C.; Mekonnen, G.; Hawthorne, W. “Integrating Photovoltaic Systems into Low-Income Housing Developments: A Case Study on the Creation of a New Residential Financing Model and Low-Income Resident Job Training Program,” September 2011. Accessed April 23, 2012.

Source: Clean Technica (http://s.tt/1cem7)

Hydrogen — Tomorrow’s Biofuel?

Questions swirl around the idea of bioethanol as an alternative to gasoline for powering transport, but researchers from the University of Birmingham have started creating clean hydrogen from food waste, an idea that could revolutionise the bioenergy industry.

A look at Brazil — the world’s most intensive user of bioethanol — finds that mass-producing bioethanol from sugarcane is not as sustainable in the long-term as would be hoped. Bioethanol generates carbon dioxide as well as agricultural waste.

However, creating clean hydrogen from food waste not only uses up that waste, but provides a fuel that is emissions free and can be generated sustainably.

“Fuel cells need clean energy to run them. If you provide bacteria with a supply of sugary waste from, for example, chocolate production, the bacteria can produce hydrogen,” said Professor Lynne Macaskie, Professor of Applied Microbiology at the University of Birmingham, who presented the research at a collaborative bioenergy workshop in São Paulo on Monday. “At the moment manufacturers pay to dispose of waste but with our technique they could convert it to clean electricity instead.”

“Bioethanol is the current biofuel of choice in Brazil but our research shows the huge potential for biohydrogen to be the fuel for the future. Biohydrogen could even be made from the wastes from bioethanol production — two biofuels for the price of one. More work from focused teams, however, is needed, as agricultural wastes are tougher for bacteria to digest.”

Source: University of Birmingham

UK’s Largest Community Wind Farm Takes New Step Forward

The largest community-owned wind farm project in the UK took an important step towards becoming reality this week, after the trust working on the scheme formally lodged a planning application with Bolsover District Council.

Roseland Community Energy Trust announced that it had filed a planning application for the £19m project, which if approved will see six wind turbines erected on a 450-acre site leased from The Chatsworth Estate.

Speaking to BusinessGreen, the trust’s director John Hudson said that the group had spent three years developing the plans and engaging with the local community and remained confident that the project can secure planning approval.

“We have three factors in our favour: we have good community support for the project, the Localism Bill makes local community benefits a material factor in planning decisions, and changes to planning laws make it more likely that community-owned projects will be consented,” he said.

Hudson acknowledged there was some local opposition to the plans, but stressed that as a community-owned project Roseland had a better chance of engaging with critics and would also ensure that the financial benefits that arise from the scheme would go to the entire community, including those opposed to the project.

If the project is approved, the trust will seek to raise the £19m of capital it requires from banks and a number of green investment bodies.

Hudson said early site assessments and negotiations with potential investors and energy purchasers confirmed that the wind farm could generate annual profits of over £750,000 a year, which would then be distributed through a Local Enterprise Organisation and Community Voluntary Partners.

The groups have drawn up a plan for utilising the revenue from the wind farm, which could see them provide advisory support for local start-ups, undertake refurbishments of local buildings and facilities, install renewable energy technologies at people’s homes, provide re-training for the unemployed, and fund university places for local children.

The Trust is hoping that it can gain planning approval by the end of the year, allowing it to begin construction work and start delivering power and income before the end of 2013.

Hudson said that if successful the Trust would aim to provide a template for other community groups to follow, offering advice on how to develop successful plans and raise the capital to support community-owned projects.

The Roseland wind farm is the latest in a series of community owned projects to emerge in recent weeks. Earlier this month, the Bristol Energy Co-Operative launched a share issue  designed to raise £90,000 for two local solar projects, while a similar £200,000 issue is due to be launched by the Brighton Energy Co-operative next week.

Source = Business Green

The War to Build America’s First Offshore Wind Farm

cape wind offshore

Jim Gordon has been pioneering the installation of the United States’ first offshore wind farm to be located off the coast of Cape Cod for over a decade now, and while the proposal is closer now to being started than ever before, Gordon is well aware that the fight is not over yet.

Cape Wind has been getting permits and the go-ahead from governments over the past two months, and the first of 130 wind turbines is soon to be installed, six miles off the coast in Nantucket Sound. But just as this milestone is within reach, the U.S. Congress has decided not to renew tax incentives for the wind power industry.

Opposed over the project’s lengthy history by such luminaries from across party lines as Senator Edward M. Kennedy and petroleum and coal magnate and GOP fundraiser William Koch, Gordon has had a long fight, and he’s expecting it to continue, thanks in large part to Koch’s efforts. So far, he has faced reviews by 17 government agencies, court challenges, and some very public outcry.

Gordon was recently interviewed by Yale Environment 360, where he spoke about his decade-long fight to build the U.S.’s first offshore wind farm, why he thinks renewable energy developers will survive a boom in cheap natural gas, and why Cape Wind’s long struggle will ultimately benefit the clean energy sector.

“It was painful, it was costly, it was frustrating,” Gordon said. “But you know something, if it makes it easier for others after me, I take some pride in that. And I take some hope in that because America needs renewable energy.”

When asked whether the 10-year fight was over, Gordon replied:

I wouldn’t call it a fight, I would call it an epic battle. With every major energy or infrastructure project in New England you’re always going to have some opposition to it. People are resistant to change.

We were announcing a project that would produce over 75 percent of the Cape and islands’ electricity with zero pollutant emissions, zero water consumption and zero waste discharge — and most importantly harnessing an inexhaustible and abundant energy resource that’s ours, that’s not controlled by cartels overseas. We thought people would really be excited about it.

But we were surrounded by the wealthiest, most politically influential people in the United States, and a lot of them still are fighting this project.

For the rest of the interview, where Gordon discusses the ins and outs of Cape Wind, his own motivations, and why he thinks the battle will benefit the wind and renewable industries overall, click on over to Yale’s Enviornment 360.

Source: Clean Technica (http://s.tt/1aGRo)