Japan Solar Energy Soars, But Grid Needs to Catch Up

Hokkaido, Japan’s second largest and northernmost island, is known for its beautiful wild nature, delicious seafood, and fresh produce. Now another specialty is taking root: Large-scale megasolar power plants that take advantage of the island’s unique geography.

A new renewable energy incentive program has Japan on track to become the world’s leading market for solar energy, leaping past China and Germany, with Hokkaido at the forefront of the sun power rush. In a densely populated nation hungry for alternative energy, Hokkaido is an obvious choice to host projects, because of the availability of relatively large patches of inexpensive land. Unused industrial park areas, idle land inside a motor race circuit, a former horse ranch—all are being converted to solar farms. (See related, “Pictures: A New Hub for Solar Tech Blooms in Japan.”)

But there’s a problem with this boom in Japan’s north. Although one-quarter of the largest solar projects approved under Japan’s new renewables policy are located in Hokkaido, the island accounts for less than 3 percent of the nation’s electricity demand. Experts say Japan will need to act quickly to make sure the power generated in Hokkaido flows to where it is needed. And that means modernizing a grid that currently doesn’t have capacity for all the projects proposed, installing a giant battery—planned to be the world’s largest—to store power when the sun isn’t shining, and ensuring connections so power can flow across the island nation.

Written by Yvonne Chang. To read the full article, click here.

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Bringing Color to Solar Panels

Covering a roof or a façade with standard solar cells to generate electricity will change a building’s original appearance — and not always for the better. At present only dark solar panels are widely available on the market. “Not enough work has been done so far on combining photovoltaics and design elements to really do the term ‘customized photovoltaics’ justice,” says Kevin Füchsel, project manager at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Optics and Precision Engineering IOF in Jena.

But things are changing. The IOF physicist has been focusing for the last four years on nanostructured solar cells suitable for mass production as part of a junior research group funded by Germany’s Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF). Together with a Fraunhofer team and scientists from the Friedrich-Schiller University in Jena, the group of optics specialists is looking for cost-effective techniques and manufacturing processes to increase both the efficiency of solar panels and the design flexibility they give architects and designers.

Written by Science Daily. To read the full article, click here.

Renewable Energy: Top 5 Trends to Watch in 2013

The move toward newer forms of renewable energy, particularly solar and wind, has been one of fits and starts. First it was only the early adopters who installed small renewable energy systems for the sole purpose of sustainability even when cost and reliability did not justify the switch. But as costs have come down, others have followed to reduce energy costs. However, these systems mostly are still tied into the local grid and do not provide backup when the grid is down. Now even that is changing as the renewable energy industry develop new ideas and new technology.

David Droz, a mechanical engineer who heads the telecom sector at Urban Green Energy, New York, NY, a provider of distributed renewable energy solutions, says that the telecom industry is one that has been at the forefront, installing solar for almost 10 years at off-grid sites. This was even before “it became of faddish or trendy for residential use and even before it was financially stable [for other industries]. The market has continued to mature, and today companies are offering much more integrated installations.”

Written by Nancy S. Giges. To read the full article, click here

Can You Have Too Much Solar Energy?

It’s been a long, dark winter in Germany. In fact, there hasn’t been this little sun since people started tracking such things back in the early 1950s. Easter is around the corner, and the streets of Berlin are still covered in ice and snow. But spring will come, and when the snow finally melts, it will reveal the glossy black sheen of photovoltaic solar panels glinting from the North Sea to the Bavarian Alps.
Solar panels line Germany’s residential rooftops and top its low-slung barns. They sprout in orderly rows along train tracks and cover hills of coal mine tailings in what used to be East Germany. Old Soviet military bases, too polluted to use for anything else, have been turned into solar installations.
Twenty-two percent of Germany’s power is generated with renewables. Solar provides close to a quarter of that. The southern German state of Bavaria, population 12.5 million, has three photovoltaic panels per resident, which adds up to more installed solar capacity than in the entire United States.

Written by Andrew Curry. To read the full article, click here

Solar power costs closing in on wind: Wynn

May 16 (Reuters) – Solar panels were cheaper than wind turbines for the first time last year in certain markets, per unit of capacity, and are rapidly closing a remaining gap in the full cost of power generation.

Until now, wind power has been the leading low-carbon alternative to oil, coal and gas, outside large niche markets such as Germany, which has seen a huge ramp-up in installed solar.

But that could change, with deep implications for the health of both industries if one substitutes the other.

As soon as this year, solar could for the first time surpass wind in annual global installed capacity, given an expected contraction in the wind market.

Written by Gerard Wynn. To read the full article, click here

Japan: The world’s new star in solar power

FORTUNE — Until recently less than 1% of Japan’s electrical power output came from renewables. But following the catastrophe of Fukushima and the power blackouts that followed, Japan has seen an explosion in investment in alternatives. Solar, in particular, in this averagely photon-blessed country, has seen a seismic rise of late and is this year poised to become the world’s largest solar market in volume after China.
According to a report by energy analyst IHS on Japan’s energy mix, Japan’s solar installations jumped by “a stunning 270% (in gigawatts) in the first quarter of 2013.” That means by the end of 2013 there will be enough new solar panels equal to the capacity of seven nuclear reactors. Such massive growth will allow Japan to surpass Germany and become the world’s largest photovoltaics (PV) market in terms of revenue this year.

Written by Michael Fitzpatrick. To read the full article, click here