Our solar-advocating governor has signed in two bills that will add monetary incentives for installing more solar. AB 920 will mean that solar on your home won't just reduce your electric bill; you might actually get paid by the utility for producing more than you consume. And SB 32 means that the utilities have to buy energy at above-wholesale prices from producers between 1.5 and 3 megawatts. So we might see more big installations on large roofs and large parking lots.Articles:
Quest, a science program that airs on KQED public television in San Francisco, recently ran a program featuring three Bay Area individuals whose homes make extensive use of alternative energy. Here is a summary. Chris Beaudouin, a resident of the Castro district, at the recommendation of California’s Department of the Environment, contacted Blue Green Pacific, the wind generation start-up company of another San Francisco resident, Todd Pelman, who is a marine and energy engineer. Soon to be on top of Chris’s garage (only one has been installed), looking as he describes it like two pieces of sculpture, will be two vertical wind turbines. He is anticipating that his experiment with micro-wind generation will reduce his energy bill 20-30%. The target price for one of the systems is $5000 dollars. Pelman estimates the payback period to be 8-10 years. Gavin Newsom, recently encouraged home owners to experiment with wind energy.
The second home featured is the home of Lisa and Michael Rubenstein, a 6,000 sf single level home in Hillsborough. Despite its size, the average monthly energy bill is $8. The Rubensteins wanted their dream home to be as sustainable as possible and so invested in a geothermal system as well as PV cells. The home is 41 percent more efficient than state Build It Green Standards. (The home was built before a residential LEED program was in place.) Other eco-friendly measures include: graywater recycling, reclaimed wood floor, insulation made from recycled denim, dual flush toilets, and fly-ash concrete.
The third home was the remodeled Victorian home of Dixon Beatty and Stephanie Parrot. They remodeled the home to use solar thermal energy to provide hot water and heat to their house and photovoltaic cells to meet most of their electricity needs.
Solar energy is getting more and more attention as oil prices continue to climb. Guest speakers Rhone Resch, President of the Solar Energy Industries Association; Frederick Morse, Senior Advisor for U.S. Operations to Abengoa Solar, which operates an 11MW solar power plant and is building a 20 MW plant; and Brad Collins, Executive Director, American Solar Energy Society,publisher of Solar Today, which recently won 3 APEX awards for publication excellence, appeared on today’s broadcast of Ira Flatow’s Science Friday on NPR. At issue was the ongoing debate over the Renewable Investment Tax Credit, a tax that supports 112,000 jobs in the alternative energy market and generates 19 billion dollars of investment. Whether or not to renew the credit before it expires at the end of this year has been an issue deadlocked in congress or months.
As well, the speakers addressed the current state of solar power. They raised several points. Sixteen percent of the homes in this country have roof space ideal for solar power installations. Installing existing solar panel technology on all of that underutilized space would generate half of the nation’s current energy needs. The price of the silicon used to create solar panels has fallen dramatically easing investment worries in alternative energy. As a result, investments in solar have increased, including the recent investment of 100 billion to explore alternative energy by T. Boone Pickens. As an energy producing resource, solar power has none of the difficulties fossil fuels do as a traded commodity. Solar power installations are a fixed cost. The price of solar power does not rise, but remains constant and predictable after the generating station is built. Due to energy saving, especially as energy cost rise, many people who installed a solar power system years ago are now generating a return on their initial investment. In the case of the speaker, his return is besting his IRA. And solar power is finding its way into more devices, including the Toyota Prius. By using solar power to offset some of the energy demands of the air conditioning and electrical equipment, it is estimated the range of the Prius will be extended 15%. The most important point: The US has some of the best solar potential in the world.
The Solar Car Challenge, a time/distance race of solar powered vehicles from Dallas, Texas to Alberta, Canada, is set to arrive in North Dakota today. The University of Michigan Continuum, winner of four previous solar challenges, is currently in the lead. Each of the cars must meet a stringent set of standards, closely follow a set of rules and regulations, and qualify for the event in difficult test matches. The race is a proving ground for emerging technologies like advanced lithium ion batteries and solar cells. The cars are highly engineered to be lightweight and aerodynamic. The last solar challenge saw speeds in excess of 65 mph, an increase of 20 mph since the first race was held in 1987. Auto companies are paying attention. Ford and Honda are well represented among the competing teams and Toyota is a major sponsor of the event. The events of the race can be followed on the race blog and photos can be viewed at this photostream.
With solar technology emerging as fast as it is, maybe we can expect solar powered vehicles for local travel soon. Toyota recently announced that the Prius would incorporate solar technology to help power the cars electrical components.
Scientist at MIT have a created a thin film coating for windows that lets light pass through but still can generate electricity. Made of organic dyes, light energy is transmitted to the edges of the windows were it is collected by solar panels. Because the window acts as a light gatherer, concentrating the energy, less photovoltaic material is need helping to bring down the total cost. And it produces 10 times more power than current solar energy methods.
Capable of generating 12 MWs of electricity, GM’s solar panel installation on the roof of its factory in Zaragoza, Spain, once completed, will be the largest solar panel array in the world, covering over two million square feet. The panels are unique because they are flexible and are installed like carpeting. Or as they put it: a continuous web, multilayer, large-area thin-film amorphous silicon (a-Si) technology. Spain was chosen as the installation sight because of the subsidies its grants solar power. This installation is 5 times larger than the largest planned single installation in the United States. The company providing the system to GM, Energy Conversion Devices, has plans to have 1 gigawatt of solar generating capability by the year 2012. Southern California Edison has plans to develop a larger project, capable of 250 MWs, though it will be spread across 65 million square feet of rooftops in southern California.
German structural engineer Professor Jörg Schlaich has created a solar thermal plant capable of generating 200MW continuously. By creating a large volume of heated air underneath a thermal blanket and letting it rise naturally upward through a tall tower with turbines, the Solar Tower will provide power to 200,000 homes, offsetting 900,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions.