The Fundamental Limitations of Renewable Energy

Many people still think that it will not be long before renewable energy such as solar and wind becomes outright cheaper than fossil fuels, thereby leading to a rapid expansion of the thin orange slither in the graph below. This is an ideologically very attractive notion, but, as discussed in this article, it is questionable whether this is in fact physically possible.

So, what does renewable energy have to accomplish before it can compete with fossil fuels in an open market? Well, in short, we will have to overcome the diffuse and intermittent nature of renewable energy more efficiently than we can overcome the declining reserve qualities and unrefined nature of fossil fuels.

In other words, renewables need to overcome the following two challenges in order to displace fossil fuels in a fair market:

Solar panels and wind turbines need to become cheaper than raw fossil fuels. This is the challenge posed by the diffuse nature of renewables.
Storage solutions need to become cheaper than fossil fuel refineries (e.g. power plants). This is the challenge posed by the intermittent nature of renewables.

Written by Schalk Cloete. To read the full article, click here.

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.

Opening the Roof for Affordable Solar

The high upfront cost of solar has always been a barrier to participation for many who would otherwise welcome the chance to green their energy supply. So has a lack of roof ownership for renters. These factors, along with other barriers have given solar somewhat of a reputation — that it’s really only a feasible option for the wealthier homeowner. Many organizations, including IREC, are working to change this by offering solutions to break through these economic barriers.

After all, renewable energy could theoretically be viewed as a great equalizer. Like many energy efficiency programs, solar can be an excellent way to reduce long-term energy costs. But it also goes a step further by providing a hedge against rising energy prices, which often represent a disproportionately large line item on low-income budgets.

States have tried a number of different approaches to facilitating solar development among low-income residents. Massachusetts, for example, provides a “Moderate Home Value” and “Moderate Income Adder,” each equaling an additional $0.40/watt onto the existing state rebate. Vermont also provides an incentive adder under its rebate program for low-income households, schools and non-profits, which can equal up to $1.50/watt higher than would be available for other customers. And in Denver, Colorado, the Clean Energy Collective (CEC) has recently pledged to devote five percent of the power produced by three community solar facilities to low-income residents under a new partnership with the Housing Authority of the City and County of Denver. This Community Solar Low-Income Residential Program will offset the electric bills for approximately 35 families living in the housing authority’s facilities.

Written by Laurel Passera. To read the full article, click here.

How Solar Tech is Breeding Independence from The Grid

For thousands of years, the sun has been revered by many cultures for its enormous power and size. Now, people are admiring the giant star for a very tangible reason: its ability to help lower electric bills. Installing solar panels will save the average person around $1000 a year on their energy bills, notes SolarEnergy.net – not too shabby!

In an effort to reduce the amount of money they spend on energy, more people are becoming interested in “going off the grid” and leaving traditional electric and gas companies – and their corresponding high bills – and getting energy from other sources. The use of solar power in residential homes was nearly 10 times higher during the first quarter of 2013 than it was five years ago, the Solar Energy Industries Association reports.

One way to take going off the grid from fantasy to reality is through solar power. By hooking up one’s home, RV or other dwelling to solar power, it is now easier than ever to go off the grid but still enjoy creature comforts such as air conditioning, television and computers.

Speaking of television, there are options for folks who are interested in alternative viewing options for their favorite programs while living off the grid. These include DirecTV packages that can work with personal computers and even mobile devices.

Written by CleanTechies. To read the full article, click here.

Transparent Solar Film Gets Big Efficiency Boost

A novel, transparent, two-layer solar film — possessing an impressive efficiency conversion of 7.3% — has been created by researchers at the University of California–Los Angeles. This is about double the transparent solar cell efficiency the researchers had previously achieved. The solar film can be placed on windows, buildings, sunroofs, electronics displays, etc; harvesting energy while still at the same time allowing light to pass through and visibility/transparency to be maintained.

The new solar film is essentially an improved form of the “breakthrough photovoltaic cell design” that the same researchers unveiled last year – an improved form with nearly double the efficiency, that is. It consists of two thin polymer solar cells that work together to maximize sunlight collection and conversion to electricity — the two cells absorb more light than single-layer solar devices do because together they absorb light from a wider part of the solar spectrum. There’s also a thin layer of ‘novel materials’ present between the two cells that works to reduce energy loss.

Written by Nathan. To read the full article, click here.

The Lesson in Renewable Energy Development from Spain

The most recent energy sector reforms passed in Spain represent the fourth time that a sweeping set of retroactive changes has rocked the country’s renewable energy (RE) industry. This new Royal Decree Law modifies billions of Euros worth of renewable energy contracts in a move that, when added to previous retroactive measures, will almost undoubtedly trigger insolvencies across the sector.

Instead of looking at the new Law in detail, this article takes a step back, and looks at the key lessons that policymakers around the world should draw from the Spanish experience.

As highlighted in previous analyses, the underlying problem that legislators in Spain are trying to address is the rapid growth of the electricity system deficit, which now stands at €26 billion.

This deficit has been created over the last fifteen years as the costs of generating electricity have risen faster than what utilities can lawfully recover from rates. The root cause of this is ultimately that Spain limits the amount by which electricity prices can increase.

Written by Toby D. Couture. To read the full article, click here.

Charging Your Electric Vehicle with Solar Energy

Here’s a good article that analyzes the eco-friendliness of electric transportation that makes a point that I try to emphasize in my discussions on the subject: the EV “selection effect.” The vast majority of EV buyers at this point make their decision based on their interest in protecting and preserving the environment, and are extremely likely to charge their cars with solar energy, i.e., “green people buy green cars and green electricity.”

The article (and those it links to) makes the usual error, however, of discussing the average preponderance of coal in the grid-mix, as if this has bearing on the validity of EVs from an ecologic standpoint. The real question, of course, is: Where does the energy come from when you put an incremental load on the grid in most portions of the U.S. in the middle of the night? And the answer, because it’s the least expensive form of baseload, is coal.

But again, let’s not lose sight of the selection effect. As the gentleman interviewed says, “At least 56 percent of all EV owners in California, who make up 35 percent of EV owners in the U.S., either have or are installing solar panels in their homes, according to the Center for Sustainable Energy, California.”

Written by 2GreenEnergy. To read the full article, click here.