Not only will atomic power be released, but someday we will harness the rise and fall of the tides and imprison the rays of the sun. Thomas A. Edison

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

No Room on the Roof? How About a Community Solar Garden?

There is a growing trend among those frustrated homeowners who don't have adequate roof space or their roof is facing the wrong direction to take advantage of solar power. It's called a community solar garden.

Home Power Magazine published an article in their June - July 2011 issue that discusses this interesting option. In those states where the laws are favorable, people in the same community can form their own LLC (Limited Liability Corporation) and build a solar array that can provide energy for sale back to the local power company. Members receive credit towards their utility bill in proportion to their investment.

One thing that is very attractive is there is no need to modify any wiring or metering in any of the members' homes. When a member decides to move and sell his or her house, the membership can be sold simultaneously. The new buyer may be able to roll that investment into the mortgage as a part of the value of the home.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Changing Critters in Biofuel

Fox News recently reported on a Massachusetts firm that shows great promise in delivering high-quality and high-volume diesel fuel using water and carbon dioxide. So what's different between this process and algae fuel? The difference is which "critter" is chosen to produce the fuel. Joule Unlimited is using genetically engineered bacteria instead of the more traditional algae to produce bio-diesel.

The company claims that it's process has an annual capacity of up to 15,000 gallons of diesel fuel per acre, per year. Joule also claims that the cost of production amounts to $20 per barrel, once government subsidies are factored in. At the time of this post, light sweet crude oil was being traded at a price of $89 per barrel.

Here is the link to the Fox News Story:

Joule Unlimited's web site can be found at:

Saturday, October 29, 2011

TCC ENE-110 Students Build Solar Array

Tidewater Community College's Alternative Energy Program doesn't just teach theoretical concepts about solar energy. There's plenty of classroom learning, reading from text books and traditional testing, of course. Students also gain practical work experience in building solar arrays.

Some students plan on starting their own businesses in the future. Instructors also provided information about writing a business plans, incorporation basics, planning, estimating,and performing a SWOT analysis.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Wind-power Win Fall For the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes

Our nation’s history with the Indian tribes who were here before most of our ancestors has left much to be desired. Manifest Destiny had many manifestations of evil: callous indifference, intolerance, and bureaucratic incompetence have been the norm. Prime real estate was taken from tribes such as the Lakota, Pawnee, Shoshone, and Paiute and their people were driven to desolate areas that the government considered unfit for cultivation or hunting. However, the same wind that bears down on the inhabitants of the reservation system can now provide a new kind of currency… energy.

The Shoshone-Paiute tribes of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation have lent their support to the new China Mountain wind project that will provide renewable energy (400MW), new jobs, and economic development to the area. Perhaps other tribes of the wind-swept plains can soon benefit from the same thing.

Follow this link to PR Newswire's article on this new development.

Friday, June 3, 2011

2.4 MW solar installation at Pearl Harbor Naval Base

Of my 21 years in the U.S. Navy, I had the good fortune to spend 11 of them home ported in Pearl Harbor. There are many things that I remember about the islands... the beauty, the surf, scuba diving off Electric Beach, rainbows, and lots of sunshine.

Sunshine feels different in Hawaii. It's almost as if it either has a weight of its own or a downward, vertical breeze. Since Pearl Harbor is in a much lower latitude (21 degrees, 20 minutes North), sunlight is much more direct. Because of this high angle of the sun, there is less atmosphere to diffuse its energy. All of these factors combine to enhance the effectiveness of photo-voltaic (PV) arrays.

The following article from PV Magazine reports on a very large PV installation recently completed at Joint Base Hickam - Pearl Harbor:

2.4 MW solar installation at Pearl Harbor Naval Base
03. June 2011, By: Jonathan Gif

DRI Energy and Niking Corp. install SolarWorld photovoltaic panels on five key buildings at the historic US Naval Base.

Five rooftop solar energy systems worth 2.4 megawatts have been installed by the US military, as part of base improvements at the US Navy base at Pearl Harbor now know as Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickham. The project cost $15 million and was funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The solar systems where engineered, procured and installed by California-based DRI Energy working with Hawaii-based Niking Corp. The installation uses solar panels from SolarWorld, produced in their Californian and Oregon facilities. The solar panels have been installed but final configuration will be completed in the coming months.

The solar systems were installed over five buildings including a historic quarters, built in 1927; a headquarters building from the 1940s; and an on-site shopping and supplies center. The power produced will be enough to supply 440 homes.

The installation was part of the US military’s project to increase its energy independence using renewable energy technology that requires no fuel, parts, maintenance and produces no emissions or noise. SolarWorld’s Kevin Kilkelly said that it was gratifying to see the installation help power one of the world’s best know and historic military sites. “In that light, these projects may be the best signs yet of the nation’s embrace of domestic solar technology.”

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

San Diego Scientists Growing Algae As Next Alternative Fuel

KGTV Channel 10 reports that San Diego has become a center of renewable energy research in the field of algae fuel. Southern California receives a great deal of sunlight, required for aggressive algae growth. Nearby Imperial Valley provides cheap, non-arable land for production. Algae growth requires relatively little water, a good fit for a desert operation.

There is another benefit to algae-based fuel. The entire process is carbon neutral. The formation of algae involves photosynthesis, which converts carbon dioxide into oxygen and stored energy. The resulting oil is refined in the same way as crude oil from wells. Fuel products are very close to the refined products that the consuming public is accustomed to. Once burned, the same carbon is released into the atmosphere as opposed to bringing up fresh carbon from underground. The cycle repeats.

You can read the entire article from KGTV 10 news by clicking here.

Bacterial Breakthrough Could Lead to Cheap, Renewable Bio-Batteries

By Loren Grush
Published May 23, 2011

You may not think twice about what goes down the drain in your toilet. But soon, what you're flushing away could turn on the lights in your home.

This unique take on recycling comes from a substantial discovery concerning the way in which bacteria transfer electrical charges -- and it could lead to the development of “bio-batteries” or bacteria-fueled electrodes. Eventually, these fuel cells could take human or animal waste and convert it into usable energy.

“The exciting thing is that we really never understood how the electrons were getting on the surface,” Dr. Tom Clarke, one of the lead researchers on the project from the University of East Anglia, told “What happens in this process is that bacteria take in organic carbon molecules and ‘chew’ them inside the cell, which then releases electrons.”

The project -- funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the U.S. Department of Energy -- has revealed how the microscopic molecular structure of bacteria proteins allows for energy transfer.

Multiple layers of proteins inside bacteria essentially act as the cell’s organic power lines, enabling electrons produced within the bacteria to be transferred to the bacteria’s surface. Now that scientists understand what’s happening on the surface, they will be able to produce a cell that can connect to the bacteria.

Then the bacteria can feed off the electrode, and in return, generate electrons.

The process is called iron respiration, but the researchers have colloquially dubbed it "breathing rocks."

“Bacteria have a whole different arsenal of things to breathe other than just oxygen. They can breathe on mineral oxides, so this process of bacteria sitting on rocks and breathing rocks can be applied to electrodes. Bacteria can breathe on the electrodes and produce electrons.”

There have been attempts to harness electricity on the surface of bacteria before, but lacking the knowledge discovered in this project, only small amounts of energy were able to be obtained. Now sizable amounts of electricity can be put towards practical use.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Reuters reports on solar panel leases.

Buying systems to generate alternative energy is expensive. Before the housing bubble burst, many were able to obtain a second mortgage or restructure their existing one to come up with the cash to purchase and install solar panels. Either way, you had to borrow money to install.

Caleb Denison reported on May 13, 2011 that solar leasing is a growing trend for homeowners and small businesses. As Denison states: “A solar lease can provide a path toward solar energy integration for home and small business owners that might otherwise be unable to make such an investment. In this article we'll take a look at what is involved in a solar lease, how some of these programs work and discuss one solar energy company's recent adoption of solar leases and how it integrate these programs into its business model.”

To read the Reuters article, click here.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Pasquotank County planning board to consider wind farm

From the Virginian-Pilot:
May 7, 2011

The Pasquotank County Planning Council will meet next week to consider a permit application for a large-scale wind farm.

The Daily Advance of Elizabeth City reports the council will meet Wednesday to discuss an application from companies involved in the Desert Wind Energy Project. The project was approved by the North Carolina Utilities Commission on Tuesday.

About 80 of the project's 150 wind turbines would go in Pasquotank. The rest of the 475-foot turbines would be in neighboring Perquimans County.

Most of the 20,000 acres in the project would remain farmland. The project is expected to generate up to 300 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 70,000 homes a year.

Local officials estimate construction of the facilities could create 300 temporary jobs and pay about $1 million a year to local landowners. The company building and operating the turbines, Iberdrola Renewables, said it expects to employ about two dozen people to manage the wind farm once it is built.

From Rubble to Sustainable Energy, the Story of Greensburg

The recent rash of tornados that ripped through much of the South reminds us of the awesome destructive power that is contained in these storms. I grew up in Nebraska. I’ve seen first-hand funnel clouds darting across the prairie. It is not uncommon to see stalks of straw driven completely through telephone poles.

Yet, power of wind can be reclaimed to remake a community devastated by these powerful twisters. The link below tells the story of Greensburg, Kansas. This small farming community was the unlucky recipient of the first tornado classified EF-5, the most powerful level of cyclone (greater than 210 mph).

Using mostly reclaimed materials and a great deal of determination, Greensburg is the greenest town in the United States. Their community has a 10-turbine wind farm generating 12 megawatts of electricity. There are more geothermal wells per capita than anywhere on earth. All city buildings are LEED Platinum certified (the highest energy efficiency certification available) and the brick used was reclaimed from the conventional power station destroyed by the storm in 2007.

Get the whole story by clicking here.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Israeli Company Sees Future In Floating Solar Panels

Photo-voltaic (PV) arrays offer a variety of attractive features. They are quiet, reliable, and durable.

They also have some drawbacks. Tree, buildings, and terrain can conspire to hide the sun. Heat buildup under the array reduces PV efficiency. The arrays add structural and wind stress to the supporting roof. The roofline may not be oriented to provide optimal surface area to the sun and may not be of sufficient surface area to provide adequate power for the home. Finally (my favorite), roof-mounted PV arrays provide the perfect hiding place for your kid’s Frisbee.

The article below reports that an Israeli company, Solaris Synergy (, has developed a scalable, floating array that takes advantage of large bodies of water. A floating array has the advantage of an unobstructed view of the sky. Further, the water serves to cool the array by dissipating heat, increasing efficiency.

The following article can be found at Israel National News,

by Gavriel Queenann

Israel's Solaris Synergy is one of the companies to see a future in floating solar panels, Green Economy reports.

Such panels would float on agricultural and mining ponds, hydroelectric reservoirs and canals, and similar locations.

In addition to being an efficient use of space, floating solar panels have other economic benefits attached. First, they minimize the use of steel, which is the main cost in the production of land-based panels. Second, the water's cooling effect can increase electricity production over typical ground-mounted systems. And third, a solar system floating on water also reduces water evaporation 70%, while inhibiting destructive algae growth by blocking sunlight on the water.
Solaris engineers say such systems can produce up to 2 MW of electricity per mile.

Solaris has installed its first live floating concentrated photovoltaic (F-CPV) system connected to the Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) grid. The system is based at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies' Center for Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation located on Kibbutz Ketura, 30 kilometers north of Eilat.

The project is part of Capital Nature Experimentum, a verification and inspection center for new technologies developed by renewable energy companies.

"This installation is a milestone for us," Solaris Synery CEO Yossi Fisher said. "We're confident that it's just the first of many future Solaris implementations in Israel and throughout the world."

Solaris Synergy also plans to float a solar array on a reservoir in the south of France in a trial with French utility EDF.

Monday, April 25, 2011

JEB Little Creek-Fort Story Celebrate Earth Day

As reported in last Friday’s Virginian-Pilot, Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story commemorated Earth Day by commissioning three residential-style wind turbines. The units selected were the Skystream 3.7, rated at 400 kWh/mo. Therefore, the total rated capacity is 1200 kWh/mo of renewable energy. If the project simply stopped there, it might have amounted to a “feel good” project, but additional plans include the installation of photovoltaic arrays. This is a very small part of the U.S. Navy’s determination to derive 50 percent of its total energy needs met through non-polluting, renewable energy by 2020.

Small wind turbines represent an increasing segment of the alternative energy market. Of course, your site must be suitable for wind energy in order for anyone to derive any benefit. In the case of JEB Little Creek-Fort Story, these turbines are placed close to the shore, in line with consistent coastal breezes. In fact, initial readings exceed the rated capacity (500 kWh vs. 400).

According to Kevin Pepper, the base resource efficiency manager, the small wind turbines are merely a test project. As these systems prove themselves, the turbines will pave the way for more distributed power generation throughout the facility.

I looked into the manufacturer’s web site ( and found some interesting features. For one, the static inverter is housed within the nacelle. Control and monitoring is linked via wireless 2-way remote system that provides a simplified user interface on a personal computer. The system uses a down-wind turbine configuration, simplifying control. The entire set of three turbines cost $89,000.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Home Insurance for Those Living 'Off The Grid'

I don’t know about you, but homeowner’s insurance makes up a good chunk of that monthly expense I call “mortgage payment”. Uncle Sam does not have a monopoly on alternative energy “goodies” for those who cut utility puppet strings. Tax credits and deductions can provide a nice incentive to a homeowner, but you have to wait for April to see the benefit. Getting a discount on your homeowner’s insurance is something you can enjoy 12 times a year. Another great thing about insurer’s discount… it’s not funded by China… uh, the federal government.

The article below was found in the Fox Business web site (see link below). Lots of good information on how you can save money as a reward for energy independence.

Published April 22, 2011

As more homeowners unplug, they may find home insurance companies hooking them up with specialized coverage.

To save energy and money, many environmentally conscious homeowners recycle, compost, switch to compact fluorescent bulbs, take public transportation and use green materials in their houses.

And a growing number of Americans are taking an even bigger step to reduce their carbon footprint -- they're generating their own energy. Instead of hooking up to a public electric or gas company, they're taking their homes “off the grid” by using alternative energy sources.

Donegal Insurance Group, based in Marietta, Pa., is currently the only insurer to offer a discount for reducing reliance on public utilities. It gives homeowners a 5% discount on their premiums if they use solar panels or geothermal pumps to heat their homes.

But living “off the grid” doesn't mean going without power.

"If someone is living in a house with no heat and no water, that's not somebody we would like to insure," says Cyril Greenya, Donegal's chief underwriting officer. "If they have wood fireplaces or coal stoves, that's not something we want to insure. Now you're talking about a fire hazard. But geothermal and solar are different. They're safe."

To qualify for Donegal's discount, you must hire a qualified contractor to install the solar panels or the geothermal pump. In addition, the geothermal heat pump has to meet the federal government's Energy Star requirements at the time of its purchase. So far, Donegal hasn't written any homeowner policies for homes powered by wind, Greenya adds.

Donegal has been an environmentally conscious company for years. At the company's headquarters in southeastern Pennsylvania, for instance, lights automatically turn off when a room is not in use. "We want to be socially and environmentally responsible," Greenya says. "It's not in our mission statement, but it is one of the objectives in our business plan."

Home insurance discounts for going “green”
Over the last several years, many home insurance companies have offered their customers discounts for owning environmentally friendly homes. At the end of 2009, the Insurance Information Institute (III) reported that 22 companies offered 39 products and services for new green buildings or older buildings with green upgrades. Since then, more insurers have begun to offer green coverage to homeowners, says Michael Barry, an III spokesperson.

Barry says he isn't aware of any insurers besides Donegal to offer homeowners a discount for being off the grid.

"Alternative energy coverage is a niche business," he says. "But as more homes are being built that are so-called eco-friendly, and as more homeowners take an interest in them and as more builders build them, you will see more insurers cater to this audience."

Roughly 750,000 American households are off the grid, according to a 2010 Christian Science Monitor article. Nick Rosen, author of Off the Grid: Inside the Movement With Space Less, told the publication he estimates that this population increases 10% a year. One of the most well-known persons who lives off the grid may be Ed Begley, Jr., an actor and environmentalist, whose quirky life is chronicled in the "Living With Ed" series on the Planet Green cable channel.

Most Insurance Quotes Ignore Alternative Energy
While the nation's leading home insurers don't offer lower insurance quotes for homes that use alternative energy sources, they do sell insurance for them. For years, State Farm has underwritten policies for homes that are not hooked up to a power company. Jeff McCollum, a company spokesperson, says the insurer treats these homes like any other property: The risk and insurance premium for each is evaluated on an individual basis.

"We have no problem insuring homes that are off the grid," McCollum says. "We've been around more than 80 years, so we were insuring homes that were off the grid before there was a grid."

No Need to Buy Additional Home Insurance Coverage
You do not have to buy additional riders for policies to cover either solar panels or geothermal pumps. The equipment value is included in your home's total replacement cost. But you should make certain that your policy accurately reflects the current replacement cost to rebuild or repair your home.

Barry says that as alternative energy becomes more popular, more insurers might start offering “off the grid” discounts in order to gain a competitive edge.

"As homeowners migrate toward green buildings, home insurers are going to go with them," he says.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

U.S. Navy Predicting Cost-Effective Biofuels By End of Decade

I've said it before and it bears repeating, sources of alternative energy can be either a curiosity in a science fair or a real solution to our energy needs. The difference is "marketability". Most people will make purchases based upon their own self-interests (maximum utilization of limited funds). In other words, sales of alternative fuels will take off when the public sees more "bang for the buck". In the accompanying article, Grace Jean (writing for National Defense at reports on how the U.S. Navy green initiative will benefit the entire marketplace.

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Navy's goal is ambitious: By 2020, half of the service’s total energy requirement will come from alternative sources. To meet the challenge, industry must produce 8 million barrels of alternative fuels annually, Navy officials said April 12 at the annual Navy League convention.

“The question is can the market do that? Can they respond in quantity? Can they respond in price points to meet our needs? ... We feel the answer is a resounding ‘yes,’” said Thomas W. Hicks, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for energy.

When the Navy first began exploring the viability of alternative fuels for use across the fleet, officials worked with Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management to calculate price points at which biofuels would be competitive with petroleum-based products.

The resulting study revealed that cost parity with the existing price of oil would occur slightly after 2020, said Rear Adm. Philip H. Cullom, director of the Navy’s energy and environmental readiness division.

“If there are incentives from government to move things, to scale up in industry, then it could happen much more quickly,” he said. The parity point could be as early as 2018, or earlier, depending on the level of incentives, he added.

“We’re looking for something sooner than later,” Hicks told National Defense. “This is a role that the government has played in the past, in terms of moving markets, helping to mature markets,” including coal and nuclear power, he said. “We’re going to lead the way here as well. Doing so in constant communication with industry, with commercial aviation, with maritime industry, we’ll really be able to advance this and get the fuels that we need, I am convinced, if not by 2020, then earlier and at the right price points we need to really power the fleet.”

President Obama last month directed the Navy to work with the Agriculture Department, the Energy Department and the private sector to create an advanced biofuel market capable of powering not only military fighter jets, but also trucks and commercial airliners.

“We’ve been working closely with USDA and DOE over the last weeks and months to build to this effort. We are very excited about the path that we have forged,” Hicks said.

Both Energy and Agriculture have loan guarantee programs and grant initiatives at their disposal that Navy officials hope to leverage to advance biofuel production across the country. That would enable the Navy to stay on track with its plans to demonstrate next year a carrier strike group operating locally on alternative fuel.

“To do that demo, we need about 8,000 barrels of alternative fuel — biofuel, roughly split 50-50 with F-76 and JP-5,” petroleum-based fuels, Hicks said. When that strike group, powered solely by alternative energy, deploys for real-world operations in 2016, the number of necessary barrels climbs to 80,000.

The technology is “ripe” for industry to produce biofuels in quantity, said a General Atomics representative as he stood behind vials of switchgrass and jars of algae and biofuel on display in the exhibit hall. It’s only a matter of having enough funding to scale up the pilot plants and processes, he said. The San Diego-based company, today better known as the manufacturer of the Predator and Reaper family of military drones, has capitalized on its original roots in energy to develop several processes to grow and produce algae-based biofuel. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is funding an expansion of its half-acre phototropic algae production facility on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. The larger facility will house eight acres of algae ponds and associated equipment to scale up its production of biofuels by the end of the year. A commercially viable facility would require 1,000 acres to 5,000 acres to produce biofuels adequate to meet the demand.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Industry Leaders: SunShot's $1 per Watt Goal Feasible

"We have the technology now! We should make people use it!" I rush to my roll of duct tape to wrap my head to keep it from exploding. After I calm down a bit, I simply ask how that person feels about having choices taken away from them. What if you could only watch those movies or play "approved" games on your X-box... what then? If the state can't keep you from pushing the speed limit, how do you expect it to force your will upon your neighbors?

The bottom line is that we live in a free society; the alternative is either collectivism or fascism. It matters little which of the two you wind up with because liberty is sacrificed for the cause du jour. When you legislatively mandate or tax your will on the people, one builds resentment (not a good business model).

If you want people to consume products or services, impassioned appeals to responsibility to the environment or energy independents will only reasonate with those with disposable cash to do so. Most consumers are faced with choices on how to get what they want with limited resources (money). Any attempt to change the way people get their energy MUST meet them where they live... in their pocketbook. The best way to change public buying habits is to provide better alternatives that are less expensive than the undesirable outcome.

This is why the greatest challenge to alternative energy is not technology to provide electricity, but the technology to produce, market, and deliver those products at a COMPETITIVE COST.

Industry Leaders: SunShot's $1 per Watt Goal Feasible

By Robert Crowe, Contributor April 11, 2011

Economies of scale, technological advancements needed.

San Antonio, Texas, USA -- Rapid growth in solar photovoltaics fueled a space race that has brought installation costs within sight of $1 per watt for large projects and closer to competing with fossil fuels.

Prices still hover around $3 per watt currently, so it will take multiple breakthroughs in technology, public policy and manufacturing processes before reaching the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot goal of $1 per watt by 2017.

Industry leaders say a lot can happen in six months, let alone six years, so that goal might even be achievable without a major technological breakthrough.

“Freefall is the only way to describe solar energy prices in the last couple of years,” said Ryne Raffaelle, director of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s National Center for Photovoltaics.

That “freefall” has been driven by the growth of solar installations, which is no longer a small business – it is a $100 billion industry worldwide, he said. The cost reductions are so dramatic, that Bloomberg recently reported that solar energy could soon rival coal, while it has also become competitive during peak times in Japan and California.

“Conventional wisdom said our current approaches, materials and efficiencies and cost structures couldn’t get us the metrics ($1 per watt) we were looking for,” Raffaelle said. “That’s changing.”

Economies of scale with incremental, but more rapid and consistent technological improvements, could soon drive costs down to $2 per watt. Bloomberg estimated costs would fall to $1.45 a watt by 2020.

“From our standpoint, if you ask us globally, we believe you can get it down to $1 per watt,” said Helena Kimball, Yingli Solar spokeswoman.

Yingli is among China’s emerging solar giants, many of whom have rapidly lowered costs through vertical integration. Those companies stand to benefit from more scaling since the Chinese government has announced it could double solar capacity from five to 10 GW by 2015 in an effort to replace some nuclear power with sun power in the wake of Japan’s nuclear crisis.

Though the United States has been behind the curve, it is starting to nip at the heels of Asian and European manufacturers with the NREL’s PV Technology Incubator program and private sector research and development.

GE recently announced that PrimeStar Solar Inc., a startup that GE invested in three years ago and now owns, recorded a record-high 12.8% efficiency for CdTe thin film solar panels. GE plans to take those panels to market, announcing last week that it plans to build a 400-MW American manufacturing plant.

“Our plan to open a U.S. solar manufacturing facility further demonstrates our confidence in this technology,” said Victor Abate, vice president of GE’s renewable energy business. “We’re not only excited by the efficiency milestone, but also by the speed at which our team was able to achieve it.”

More U.S.-based startups are advancing technology with private investment and government support through the DOE’s SunShot initiative, which has provided $50 million to small businesses under the PV Technology Incubator program since 2007. NREL officials say the private sector has invested an additional $2 billion in those incubator companies.

Lower Manufacturing Costs

First Solar’s manufacturing costs per watt fell 75.5% from $2.94 in 2004 to 75 cents in 2011, according to spokeswoman Michelle Friedman. First Solar also increased efficiency of its thin film and glass solar panels to 11.2% this year from 10% in 2009.

The company’s roadmap calls for reducing the cost per watt to 64 cents by 2014. Friedman said First Solar does not discuss the costs of installing its panels, however. First Solar anticipates production of 2.9 gigawatts by 2012. It has expanded multiple facilities and also plans to build a new manufacturing plant in Arizona.

China’s Suntech has targeted 2015 for grid parity in global markets. In 2001, the average levelized price of solar electricity was 75 cents per kWh, according to Suntech spokesman Walker Frost. Solar electricity now costs less than 10 cents per kWh in some regions with abundant sunlight, he added. Suntech is reducing costs by using less expensive materials that are more abundant.

“The technology also allows us to use copper in the metallization process, which has the same conductive properties as silver but is less expensive,” Frost said.

Suntech also reduced energy and water use at production plants and invested heavily in building up to 1,200 MW of wafers in-house. Wafers typically account for 50% of a solar panel’s cost. Chinese competitor Yingli also produces much of its raw materials in house, including about 3,000 metric tons of polysilicon in-house.

There has been talk of an oversupply in the photovoltaic market, but NREL’s Raffaelle said that does not appear to be the case because unmet demand is keeping prices up.

“Demand continues to exceed supply, which drives costs up,” Raffaelle said. “The reality is [that] we use a lot of power. It’s hard to wrap your mind around terawatts of power. There is still much more solar PV manufacturing necessary to put a dent into terawatts of power,” which is currently generated by coal, natural gas and nuclear.

Technological Advances

While economies of scale seem to be driving cost reductions, researchers are still looking for “disruptive” technologies to increase efficiency and ultimately lower costs. NREL tests show 40% efficiencies for some concentrated photovoltaics (CPV). The CPV market is expected to grow from 1.5 to 75 MW in the next five years. That growth was historically limited to desert regions with consistent sun exposure.

The tracking and optical devices required for most CPV have also posed problems. Santa Barbara, Calif.-based HyperSolar Inc. claims it can achieve the same results minus the optical devices by installing an acrylic top sheet onto PV panels.

Researchers are also closing the gap in manufacturing PV “champion cells” with 20% efficiencies. Researchers, however, had difficulties in translating those high efficiencies to the largest panels. In 2009, the large panels could only get 12 percent efficiencies. Some companies are now demonstrating 14 to 17% efficiencies.

Policy Changes

As manufacturing costs decrease, solar panels will no longer be the “long pole in the tent,” Raffaelle said. Industry leaders are searching for ways to reduce costs related to labor, installation and public policy.

SunRun, a solar leasing and installation firm, recently said in a report to the DOE that installation costs on residential solar power could be cut by 50 cents per watt by instituting a standard permitting process. While the industry and NREL are targeting a $1 per watt installation cost for large-scale installations, residential and rooftop solar accounts for 70 percent of all PV deployed last year, Raffaelle said.

“Most of the action has still been in small, distributed stuff,” Raffaelle said. “That in itself poses a lot of challenges because our power system existed under large centralized power station models since its inception.”

Advocacy organizations, such as Solar San Antonio in Texas, have been working with utility companies, municipalities and local media to encourage solar-friendly policies and permitting processes that encourage use of distributed systems via feed-in tariffs.

“We think policy changes can go a long way toward reducing costs,” said Lanny Sinkin, executive director of Solar San Antonio.

Multiple megawatt installations can also benefit from consistent policies, incentives and permitting processes, experts said.

“We’ve found that solar installations areas are actually going up in some parts of the United States while they are going down in others,” Raffaelle said.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

QinetiQ North America Sends Unmanned Systems to Japan

It is a sad and shocking thing to read reports about the Fukushima 50, those workers at Japan's stricken nuclear power facility who have already received lethal doses of radiation. They continue to return to the site so they can save the lives of their countrymen. So tragic and maddenly sad that there were no robotic devices to do the work now killing these men. Hopefully, the machines detailed below will arrive on station in time to keep other workers from the necessity to sacrifice themselves as well.

Reston, VA (Vocus/PRWEB) March 28, 2011

QinetiQ North America today announced that the government of Japan has accepted its offer to provide unmanned vehicle equipment and associated training to aid in Japan’s natural disaster recovery efforts. QinetiQ North America’s technology and services will allow Japan’s response teams to accomplish critical and complex recovery tasks at a safer distance from hazardous debris and other dangerous conditions.

The equipment being staged in Japan for rapid, on-call deployment includes QinetiQ North America’s Robotic Appliqué Kits, which turn Bobcat loaders into unmanned vehicles in just 15 minutes. The kits permit remote operation of all 70 Bobcat vehicle attachments, such as shovels, buckets, grapples, tree cutters and tools to break through walls and doors. The unmanned Bobcat loaders include seven cameras, night vision, thermal imagers, microphones, two-way radio systems and radiation sensors, and can be operated from more than a mile away to safely remove rubble and debris, dig up buried objects and carry smaller equipment.

QinetiQ North America is also staging TALON and Dragon Runner robots in Japan in the event they are needed. TALON robots have previously withstood rigorous deployment and twice daily decontamination at Ground Zero. The TALON robots are equipped with CBRNE (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive) detection kits that can identify more than 7,500 environmental hazards including toxic industrial chemicals, volatile gases, radiation and explosive risks, as well as temperature and air quality indicators. The TALON robots provide night vision and sound and sensing capabilities from up to 1,000 meters away.

QinetiQ North America’s lightweight Dragon Runner robots, designed for use in small spaces, will be available for investigating rubble piles, trenches, culverts and tunnels. Thermal cameras and sound sensors on the Dragon Runners can provide data from up to 800 meters away, permitting the robot’s “eyes and ears” to serve in spaces too small or dangerous for human access.

In addition to the unmanned equipment, a team of QinetiQ North America technical experts will provide training and support to Japan’s disaster response personnel.

“We are honored to have this opportunity to support Japan’s recovery efforts,” said QinetiQ North America Technology Solutions Group President JD Crouch. “Our unmanned vehicles will provide reliable, effective, first responder technology to help protect the brave men and women who are working to save lives and restore critical services.”

QinetiQ North America is a world leader in robotic technology solutions that save lives in defense, security and first responder environments. For more information, follow us on Facebook at or Twitter at

About QinetiQ North America
QinetiQ North America delivers world-class technology, responsive services, and innovative solutions for global markets, focusing on US government and commercial customers. More than 6,000 QinetiQ North America engineers, scientists and other professionals deliver high quality products and services that leverage detailed mission knowledge and proven, reliable tools and methodologies to meet the rapidly changing demands of national defense, homeland security and information assurance customers. Headquartered in McLean, Virginia, QinetiQ North America had annual revenues of more than $1 billion in the fiscal year that ended March 31, 2010. QinetiQ North America is part of QinetiQ Group PLC (LSE:QQ). For more information, please visit

Jennifer Pickett
QinetiQ North America
Technology Solutions Group
703.480.0715 (m) 703.217.7781

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sustainable Plant: DOE Launches ‘America's Next Top Energy Innovator’

Do you think that starting a business to market a new product requires vast amounts of research and development? What if somebody has already done that for you? Instead of investing millions to create something new, what if you could pay $1,000 for the license to market a new idea from the Department of Energy?
There are 15,000 new patents or patent applications "floating around" the 17 national laboratories and they are not hitting the market! Sustainable Plant reports on a new initiative this coming May that might just be the thing for a budding entreprenuer.

DOE Launches ‘America's Next Top Energy Innovator’ By Sustainable Plant Staff March 30, 2011 03:29:37 pm

As part of the Obama Administration's Startup America Initiative, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced the "America's Next Top Energy Innovator" challenge, which will give start-up companies the opportunity to license groundbreaking technologies developed by the National Laboratories for $1,000 and build successful businesses. As part of this effort, the Department is reducing both the cost and paperwork requirements for start-up companies to obtain an option agreement to license some of the 15,000 patents and patent applications held by the 17 U.S. National Laboratories.

"America's entrepreneurs and innovators are the best in the world," said Chu. "Today, we're challenging them to create new businesses based on discoveries made by our world-leading national laboratories. Because we've cut the upfront fees and reduced the paperwork, we'll make it easier for start-up companies to succeed and create the new jobs our economy needs. Our goal is simple: unleash America's innovation machine and win the global race for the clean energy jobs of the future."

Currently, only about 10 percent of federal patents have been licensed to be commercialized. This initiative aims to double the number of startup companies coming out of the National Laboratories.

Specifically, as part of "America's Next Top Energy Innovator:

1. On Monday, May 2, 2011, the department will kick off the challenge by posting a streamlined template option agreement online for entrepreneurs to submit to Laboratories. Entrepreneurs must identify the technology of interest and submit a business plan to be considered for the program. Participants will have until December 15 to make their submission to the laboratory.

2. Any of the 15,000 unlicensed patents and patent applications held by the national laboratories will be available for licensing by startup companies.

3. From May 2 to December 15, the department will reduce the total upfront cost of licensing DOE patents in a specific technology to a $1,000 upfront fee for portfolios of up to three patents. This represents a savings of $10,000 to $50,000 on average in upfront fees.

4. Other license terms, such as equity and royalties, will be negotiated on a case-by-case basis and will typically be due once the company grows and achieves wide-scale commercial success. These fees help support the department's continuing research activities to develop new technologies.

5. The department will simplify the licensing process and establish a standard set of terms for start-ups, who generally lack the resources, time or expertise to negotiate individual licensing agreements. This will significantly reduce both the time and cost required to process the license, allowing faster access to the department's patents and enabling the department to process more licenses in a shorter amount of time.

Remember, for every dollar that you don't have to spend in R&D, there's that much available for production and marketing. Money can be very ecologically friendly... it's already green!

Monday, March 28, 2011

UCLA researchers, colleagues at U.S. Energy Dept. make breakthrough in biofuel production

Story from UCLA Newsroom

By Wileen Wong Kromhout March 08, 2011 Category: Research

In the quest for inexpensive biofuels, cellulose proved no match for a bioprocessing strategy and genetically engineered microbe developed by researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's BioEnergy Science Center.

Using consolidated bioprocessing, a team led by UCLA's James Liao for the first time produced isobutanol directly from cellulose. The team's work, published online in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, represents across-the-board savings in processing costs and time. In addition, isobutanol is a higher grade of alcohol than ethanol.

"Unlike ethanol, isobutanol can be blended at any ratio with gasoline and should eliminate the need for dedicated infrastructure in tanks or vehicles," said Liao, the Chancellor's Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science. "Plus, it may be possible to use isobutanol directly in current engines without modification."

Compared to ethanol, higher alcohols such as isobutanol are better candidates for gasoline replacement because they have an energy density, octane value and Reid vapor pressure — a measurement of volatility — that is much closer to gasoline, Liao said.

While cellulosic biomass like corn stover and switchgrass is abundant and cheap, it is much more difficult to utilize than corn and sugar cane. This is due in large part because of recalcitrance, or a plant's natural defenses to being chemically dismantled.

Adding to the complexity is the fact biofuel production that involves several steps — pretreatment, enzyme treatment and fermentation — is more costly than a method that combines biomass utilization and the fermentation of sugars to biofuel into a single process.

To make the conversion possible, Liao, UCLA postdoctoral researcher Wendy Higashide, and Yongchao Li and Yunfeng Yang of Oak Ridge National Laboratory had to develop a strain of Clostridium celluloyticum, a native cellulose-degrading microbe, that could synthesize isobutanol directly from cellulose.

"This work is based on our earlier work at UCLA in building a synthetic pathway for isobutanol production," Liao said. While some Clostridium species produce butanol, these organisms typically do not digest cellulose directly. Other Clostridium species digest cellulose but do not produce butanol. None produce isobutanol, an isomer of butanol. "In nature, no microorganisms have been identified that possess all of the characteristics necessary for the ideal consolidated bioprocessing strain, so we knew we had to genetically engineer a strain for this purpose," Li said.

While there were many possible microbial candidates, the research team ultimately chose Clostridium cellulolyticum, which was originally isolated from decayed grass. The researchers noted that their strategy exploits the host's natural cellulolytic activity and the amino acid biosynthetic pathway and diverts its intermediates to produce higher alcohol than ethanol.

The researchers also noted that Clostridium cellulolyticum has been genetically engineered to improve ethanol production, and this has led to additional, more detailed research. Clostridium cellulolyticum has a sequenced genome available through the U.S. Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute. This proof-of-concept research sets the stage for studies that will likely involve genetic manipulation of other consolidated bioprocessing microorganisms.

This work was supported in part by the BioEnergy Science Center (BESC) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and by the UCLA–DOE Institute for Genomics and Proteomics. The BESC is one of three bioenergy research centers established by the Energy Department's Office of Science in 2007. The centers support multidisciplinary, multi-institutional research teams pursuing the fundamental scientific breakthroughs needed to make production of cellulosic biofuels, or biofuels from non-food plant fiber, cost-effective on a national scale. The centers are led by ORNL, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of Wisconsin–Madison, in partnership with Michigan State University. The University of Tennessee–Battelle manages ORNL for the DOE's Office of Science.

The UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, established in 1945, offers 28 academic and professional degree programs and has an enrollment of almost 5,000 students. The school's distinguished faculty are leading research to address many of the critical challenges of the 21st century, including renewable energy, clean water, health care, wireless sensing and networking, and cybersecurity. Ranked among the top 10 engineering schools at public universities nationwide, the school is home to seven multimillion-dollar interdisciplinary research centers in wireless sensor systems, nanoelectronics, nanomedicine, renewable energy, customized computing, and the smart grid, all funded by federal and private agencies.

Friday, March 25, 2011

NASA plans sun-energy project on Wallops Island, VA

I grew up farming. Cultivating land gives you a unique appreciation for the lowly acre. According to, the term “acre” is “from the Old English æcer, which as early as 1000 A.D. had come to be used for referring to a particular measured area of agricultural land (as much as a pair of oxen could plow in one day).” Modern agriculture has vastly expanded the amount of ground a farmer can till. My father and I could cover an 80 acre plot of ground in one day.

So what does that mean to alternative energy?

The Virginian-Pilot reports:

“NASA announced plans Thursday to develop a solar-energy facility that would meet part of the energy needs at its Wallops Island Flight Facility. The project, to be built in stages, would have as many as 80 acres of solar panels.”

Let me give you some perspective. A section is one square mile or 640 acres. A quarter section is therefore 160 acres, or ½ mile x ½ mile. Half of that (80 acres) forms a rectangle of ¼ mile x ½ mile, a significant amount of space.

The entire project, when completed, will supply energy equivalent to the needs of 850 homes. According to ( ), the average power consumption per home is 8,900 kW/hrs per year. A little arithmetic reveals that over a one-year period, 7,565,000 kW/hrs (7,565 MW/hrs) will be generated. That breaks down to 630.4 MW/hrs each month.

The full text of the article follows:

NASA plans sun-energy project on Eastern Shore
By Tom Shean
The Virginian-Pilot
© March 25, 2011

NASA announced plans Thursday to develop a solar-energy facility that would meet part of the energy needs at its Wallops Island Flight Facility. The project, to be built in stages, would have as many as 80 acres of solar panels.

As part of its alternative-energy project at Wallops Island, it also plans to install two residential-scale wind turbines capable of generating 2.4 kilowatts, NASA said. One turbine would be built near the NASA visitor center and one near the entrance gate and security-guard station at the Eastern Shore facility.

NASA said it expects the electricity output to alleviate rising utility costs at its Wallops Island facility and enable the agency to meet energy-conservation requirements imposed by the Federal Energy Policy Act. When complete, the project would generate enough electricity to supply about 850 typical American homes, it said.

NASA said its alternative-energy plan for Wallops Island no longer calls for installing the two utility-scale wind turbines that it proposed earlier. These were dropped, it said, because of concerns that agencies and organizations expressed about the potential impact on birds and bats.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

3M Awarded $4.4M to Develop Ultra Barrier Solar Film

According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), 3M has been awarded $4.4 million by the DOE SunShot Initiative. The purpose of this initiative is to reduce total costs of photovoltaic (PV) installations by 75% in order to be cost-competitive with other sources of energy. Funds will be disbursed to 3M over a 3-year period.

So, what is 3M going to be doing with this money? The company will accelerate development and marketing of their Ultra Barrier Solar Film. During this time, 3M will be working with DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) outside Denver, Colorado to demonstrate performance and reliability.

So what is this film used for? The intent is to substitute glass with a flexible film. Why is this important? Well, there are a few difficulties with traditional glass:

- Glass is heavy. Care must be used to prevent overloading of a rooftop installation.
- Glass is rigid and inflexible (reminds me of some people I know).
- Glass-covered PV arrays are limited in their size to make them manageable for transport and installation.

How is Ultra Barrier Film better than glass? According to 3M:

- Ultra Barrier Solar Film requires less installation time.
- It removes the need for metal racking (installed to keep glass PV arrays from overheating and providing the perfect hiding place for your kid’s frisbee).
- By reducing logistics expenditures (logistics… think UPS). It weighs less, is flexible, and therefore less expensive to transport.
- The film allows manufacturers to commercialize large area modules, effectively reducing fixed costs associated with module manufacturing, assembled in a continuous roll-to-roll process.
- An effective film barrier would allow for permanent installation of inexpensive, light-weight PV arrays that are flexible and follow the contours of the surface they are attached to.

The reason that glass is used in the first place is to keep dirt and moisture out while allowing the maximum amount of light to reach the semi-conductor material. 3M claims that Ultra Barrier Solar Film has “high light transmission, superb moisture barrier performance, and excellent weatherability”. Weatherability must include resistance to ultraviolet (UV) rays that are well-known to degrade plastic over time. To be truly effective, a homeowner will expect his or her array to last as long as the mortgage (up to 30 years).

Moisture is troublesome if it gets inside a PV array. The stated performance for Ultra Barrier Solar Film is “moisture vapor transmission rates (MVTR) below 5 * 10-4 g/m2/day”.

OK… so what is that?

10-4 is another way of saying 0.0001, so the amount of vapor transmitted through this film is 0.0005 grams (a gram is about the weight of one paper clip) of water over one square meter (a meter is 3.3 feet) per day. In other words, it would take 10,000 days (27 years and 3 months) for 5 paper clips worth of water to accumulate over a 10 square foot area). That’s pretty dry.

Will the reality match the hype? I’ll let you know in a couple of years when I will be reporting from my local hardware store.