Monthly Archives: July 2016

Coming into landImage copyrightSOLAR IMPULSE

Image captionSolar Impulse coming in to land in Abu Dhabi just before dawn

The first round-the-world solar powered flight has been completed, after the Solar Impulse aircraft touched down in Abu Dhabi.

Bertrand Piccard piloted the plane for a final time, steering it safely from the Egyptian capital Cairo to the UAE.

He has been taking turns at the controls with Swiss compatriot Andre Borschberg, with the mission aiming to promote renewable energy.

It brings to an end a voyage that began in Abu Dhabi on 9 March last year.

“The future is clean. The future is you. The future is now. Let’s take it further,” Mr Piccard said, arriving into Abu Dhabi to cheers and applause.

The 17-stage journey covered some 42,000km, taking in four continents, three seas and two oceans.

Solar Impulse touches down at Al Bateen Executive AirportImage copyrightEPA

Image captionSolar Impulse touched down at Al Bateen Executive Airport early on Tuesday
Pilots Andre Borschberg (L) and Bertrand Piccard hug at the end of the Solar Impulse's round-the-world journeyImage copyrightREUTERS

Image captionThe two pilots embraced on landing

The longest leg, an 8,924km (5,545-mile) flight from Nagoya in Japan to Hawaii, US, lasted nearly 118 hours and saw Mr Borschberg break the absolute world record for longest (time duration) uninterrupted solo flight.

It was just one of 19 official aviation records set during the global adventure.

Mr Piccard and Mr Borschberg have been working on the Solar Impulse project for more than a decade.

The pair had hoped to complete the challenge last year but progress was not quite swift enough to get the best of the weather in the Northern Hemisphere’s summer.

And when battery damage was sustained on that epic five-day, five-night passage over the western Pacific in June/July 2015, the decision was taken to ground the effort for 10 months.

Plane graphic

Solar Impulse is no heavier than a car, but has the wingspan of a Boeing 747. It is powered by 17,000 solar cells.

Its experimental design presents a number of technical difficulties, with the airplane being very sensitive to weather conditions.

Indeed, the passage from Cairo was very bumpy for Mr Piccard as he battled severe turbulence above the hot Saudi desert.

The cockpit is about the size of a public telephone box, with the pilots having to wear oxygen tanks to breathe at high altitude and permitted to only sleep for 20 minutes at a time.

Map showing journey of Solar Impulse

LEG 1: 9 March. Abu Dhabi (UAE) to Muscat (Oman) – 772km; 13 Hours 1 Minute

LEG 2: 10 March. Muscat (Oman) to Ahmedabad (India) – 1,593km; 15 Hours 20 Minutes

LEG 3: 18 March. Ahmedabad (India) to Varanasi (India) – 1,170km; 13 Hours 15 Minutes

LEG 4: 18 March. Varanasi (India) to Mandalay (Myanmar) – 1,536km; 13 Hours 29 Minutes

LEG 5: 29 March. Mandalay (Myanmar) to Chongqing (China) – 1,636km; 20 Hours 29 Minutes

LEG 6: 21 April. Chongqing (China) to Nanjing (China) – 1,384km; 17 Hours 22 Minutes

LEG 7: 30 May. Nanjing (China) to Nagoya (Japan) – 2,942km; 1 Day 20 Hours 9 Minutes

LEG 8: 28 June. Nagoya (Japan) to Kalaeloa, Hawaii (US) – 8,924km; 4 Days 21 Hours 52 Minutes

LEG 9: 21 April. Kalaeloa, Hawaii (US) to Mountain View, California (US) – 4,523km; 2 Days 17 Hours 29 Minutes

LEG 10: 2 May. Mountain View, California (US) to Phoenix, Arizona (US) – 1,199km; 15 Hours 52 Minutes

LEG 11: 12 May. Phoenix, Arizona (US) to Tulsa, Oklahoma (US) – 1,570 km; 18 Hours 10 Minutes

LEG 12: 21 May. Tulsa, Oklahoma (US) to Dayton, Ohio (US) – 1,113 km; 16 Hours 34 Minutes

LEG 13: 25 May. Dayton, Ohio (US) to Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania (US) – 1,044 km; 16 Hours 47 Minutes

LEG 14: 11 June. Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania (US) to New York (US) – 230km; 4 Hours 41 Minutes

LEG 15: 20 June. New York (US) to Seville (Spain) – 6,765km; 2 Days 23 Hours 8 minutes

LEG 16: 11 July. Seville (Spain) to Egypt (Cairo) – 3,745km; 2 Days 50 Minutes

LEG 17: 23 July. Egypt (Cairo) to Abu Dhabi (UAE) – 2,694 km; 2 Days 47 Minutes

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Solar energy has grown 100-fold in this country in the past decade. Globally, solar has doubled seven times since 2000, and Dubai received a bid recently for 800 megawatts of solar at a stunning “US 2.99 cents per kilowatt hour” — unsubsidized! For context, the average residential price for electricity in the United States is 12 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Solar energy has been advancing considerably faster than anyone expected just a few years ago thanks to aggressive market-based deployment efforts around the globe. Since it’s hard to keep up with the speed-of-light changes, and this is the fuel that will power more and more of the global economy in the near future, here are all the latest charts and facts to understand it.

If you are looking for one chart to sum up the whole solar energy miracle, Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) Chairman Michael Liebreich has one from his keynote address at BNEF’s annual conference in April titled “In Search of the Miraculous”:

solar energy

Solar’s exponentially declining costs and exponentially rising installations (the y-axis is a logarithmic scale).

Thanks to sustained long-term deployment programs, Liebreich explained, “We’ve seen the costs come down by a factor of 150 since 1975. We’ve seen volume up by 115,000.”

“How much more miracle-y do you need your miracles to be,” Liebreich added.

What that chart doesn’t reveal is that the price drop and the sales volume increase are directly linked. There is a learning curve: Over the past four decades, for every doubling in scale of the solar industry, the price of solar modules has dropped roughly 26 percent.

BNEF has the learning curve chart in its “annual long-term view of how the world’s power markets will evolve in the future,” their New Energy Outlook (NEO) from June. In a section headlined, “Solar and Wind Prices Plummet,” BNEF says “The chart below is arguably the most important chart in energy markets. It describes a pattern so consistent, and so powerful, that industries set their clocks by it”:



BNEF projects that by 2040, the world will invest an astonishing $3.4 trillion in solar. That’s more than the projected cumulative investment of $2.1 trillion for all fossil fuels — and $1.1 trillion in new nuclear — combined.

The result of these investments and the continued learning by solar (and wind) makes “these two technologies the cheapest ways of producing electricity in many countries during the 2020s and in most of the world in the 2030s.”

Here is an interesting — though already out-of-date — chart of the decline in the price per kilowatt-hour of utility-scale solar power (as opposed to the charts above of the price per kilo-watt of the solar cells). It is based on U.S. Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs), which are contracts to sell electricity at a guaranteed price. It comes from a May 2015 Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory study, “Is $50/MWh [5 cents/kwh] Solar for Real? Falling Project Prices and Rising Capacity Factors Drive Utility-Scale PV Toward Economic Competitiveness.”



It illustrates the plummeting prices utilities have to pay for large-scale solar. But while the study is only a year old, it’s already out of date. For instance, Austin Energy has reported that last fall they they “signed on the dotted line for 288 MW of utility-scale solar power with First Solar Inc. and Hanwha Q CELLS USA Corp” with both offerings “coming in below 4 cents per kilowatt-hour” [below $40/MWh]!

This year we learned “City of Palo Alto considers solar power contract at under $37/MWh.” Bloomberg reported last week that “Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s NV Energy agreed to pay 3.87 cents a kilowatt-hour for power from a 100-megawatt project that First Solar Inc. is developing.”

It is worth remembering that U.S. solar power bids include the 30 percent Investment Tax Credit. According to one analysis, NV Energy’s “$.0387/kWh would potentially turn into about $.07/kWh if we backed out the 30% Federal Tax Credit and 60% depreciation in Year One.”

The bids seen around the world this year without subsidies or incentives are even more stunning. Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) received a bid this year for 800 megawatts at a jaw-dropping “US 2.99 cents per kilowatt hour.” Two other bids were below US 4 cents/kWh, and the last two bids were both below 4.5 cents/kWh — again all of these bids were without subsidies!

That 2.99 cents bid is way down from a 2015 deal Dubai signed for more than 1000 megawatts at 5.84 cents over 25 years. So Dubai has seen a 50 percent price drop in solar in just 18 months.

And these prices aren’t unique to the Middle East. As Bloomberg New Energy Finance reported in April, Enel Green power signed a contract for $.036/kWh in in Mexico — 3.6 cents.

With prices dropping so fast, sales of solar PV systems have been soaring, as you can imagine. Here is the recent growth in this country:

solar pv

ANNUAL U.S. SOLAR PV INSTALLATIONS in Megawatts (2000-2015)

From 2005 through 2015, annual PV sales in this country went up 100-fold! And projections suggest that solar sales may double this year, driven by Congress’s five-year renewal (with phase-out) of the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC).

And here is what the recent solar boom looks like world-wide — cumulative installed PV capacity and annual additions — from the recent “Renewables 2016 Global Status Report” by REN21, the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century:



The solar miracle has been driven by major state, national, and international policies. BNEF Chair Liebreich calls this “The March of the Price Signal” — the rapid expansion of global deployment programs, especially market-based mechanisms such as renewable portfolio standards and reverse auctions.

Unfortunately, other countries have had bigger and more reliable deployment programs whereas our erratic policies generally diminish or disappear whenever and wherever conservatives assume control. In the past decade in particular, massive government-led deployment policies in China and Germany have been a major driver of the world’s stunning price drop.

The result is that while the United States invented the modern solar photovoltaic cell over a half-century ago, as of 2015, we are fourth in installed capacity worldwide:



The good news is that solar power in this country has a very bright future, thanks to the renewal of the ITC. By one recent projection, the U.S. could hit 100 gigawatts total installed capacity by 2021. That said, India also plans to hit 100 gigawatts by 2022.

China, however, plans to triple solar PV capacity to 150 gigawatts installed by 2020! So the race is definitely on.

No wonder the International Energy Agency concluded last fall: “Driven by continued policy support, renewables account for half of additional global generation, overtaking coal around 2030 to become the largest power source.”

The ‘Other’ Form Of Solar Energy, Which Can Run At Night

Earlier this month, I wrote about the “other” form of solar, concentrating solar thermal power, which uses sunlight to heat water and uses the steam to drive a turbine and generator. That heat can be stored over 20 times more cheaply than electricity — and much more efficiently — so CSP can provide power long after the sun has gone down.

For the sake of having all the solar charts in one place, here’s CSP capacity over the past decade:



Now that China appears to be placing a large bet on solar thermal electric, it seems likely CSP will also start coming down the learning curve, which will help it increase sales, which in turn will keep it coming down the learning curve — a virtuous circle that PV is already benefiting from.

The 2014 STE Technology Roadmap from the International Energy Agency (IEA) projected that while PV could generate 16 percent of the world’s electricity by 2050, as much as 11 percent could be generated by STE at the same time.

IEA Solar 2050

Given how fast solar PV has been coming down in price — and given the world’s commitment in Paris last December to keep ratcheting down carbon pollution in the coming decades to keep total global warming “well below 2°C” — it seems entirely possible if not likely that solar power will outperform the IEA’s scenario.

Indeed, it’s precisely because clean energy has been moving at the speed of light that “almost everything you know about climate change solutions is probably outdated,” as I’ve been detailing for months. Stay tuned to this channel for more surprises.


Article By: Joe Romm

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Aquila drone, which at cruising speed uses the same wattage as three hairdryers, uses lasers to beam internet to remote regions

The Aquila Facebook plane
The Aquila Facebook plane will be part of a fleet providing internet access to parts of sub-Saharan Africa and beyond. Photograph: Facebook

The Aquila drone has the wingspan of an airliner but weighs less than a car. When cruising it consumes just 5,000 watts – the same as three hairdryers or a powerful microwave.

Facebook plane
The final adjustments are made to the drone before takeoff. Photograph: Facebook


The first flight took place on 28 June in Arizona. Facebook said the test went better than expected and that Aquila’s 96-minute flight was three times longer than planned.

Aquila was developed in Bridgwater, Somerset, by Ascenta, a designer of solar-powered drones that Facebook bought in March 2014. The drone, designed to fly non-stop for three months, will use lasers to beam down internet access to remote areas without online capacity.

The Aquila drone.
The Aquila drone ascends from the runway. Photograph: Facebook


Facebook installed a team of engineers at Bridgwater from fields of expertise including aerospace, avionics and software and who had previously worked at organisations such as Nasa, Boeing, and the Royal Air Force.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, revealed in March 2015 that the company had been testing drones in the skies over the UK.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his team watch the drone take flight.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his team watch the drone take flight. Photograph: Facebook

Facebook intends Aquila to be part of a fleet of planes that will provide the internet to 4 billion people in sub-Saharan Africa and other remote regions that do not have access currently.

Jay Parikh, Facebook’s head of engineering and infrastructure, said in a blog: “We’re encouraged by this first successful flight, but we have a lot of work ahead of us … In our next tests, we will fly Aquila faster, higher and longer, eventually taking it above 60,000 feet.”

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PG&E’s Topaz Solar Farm on the Carizzo Plain in San Luis Obispo County, Calif., can generate 300 megawatts of power a day. When it’s finished, its capacity is expected to rise to 550 megawatts.

PG&E’s Topaz Solar Farm on the Carizzo Plain in San Luis Obispo County, Calif., can generate 300 megawatts of power a day. When it’s finished, its capacity is expected to rise to 550 megawatts. Andrew Robillard San Luis Obispo Tribune

California’s booming solar industry had a record day this week when the state’s largest utilities generated more power than ever from the sun.

The state’s largest power grid, the California Independent System Operator, or ISO, on Tuesday, managed enough solar energy to power 2 million homes.

Its 8,030 megawatts recorded at 1:06 p.m. from solar sources stood out as double the network’s best day in 2014. It also was 2,000 megawatts more than its solar peak from last year.

“It’s a great milestone for California and the solar industry,” said Sean Gallagher, vice president for state policy at the Solar Energy Industries Association. He said California represents about half of the nation’s solar industry in megawatts produced.

That number, though impressive, does not capture the full scale of solar power in the state, such as rooftop solar panels that dot California households.

It also doesn’t include solar power generated by some of the state’s smaller utilities that don’t belong to the ISO. The Sacramento Municipal Utility District, for instance, is not part of the ISO, although it can generate about 250 megawatts from solar sources, according to an agency spokesman. Altogether, the state can generate 14,000 megawatts from solar sources, according to the industries association.

The ISO reaches about 80 percent of the California energy market. It includes Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric.

The utilities have been racing to meet the state’s increasingly stringent renewable fuels mandates, which require them to produce a third of their power from renewable sources by 2020 and a half by 2030.

With those goals in mind, PG&E has added over the last two years two of the largest photovoltaic solar installations in the world.

The company’s Topaz Solar Farm in San Luis Obispo County, connected to the grid last year, can generate up to 300 megawatts from the sun. When it’s finished, its capacity is expected to hit 550 megawatts.

Meanwhile, PG&E’s Agua Caliente solar project in Yuma County, Ariz., brings in another 300 megawatts. It was completed in 2014.

“California continues to lead the nation in adding clean resources to the system and writing a playbook for operating a low-carbon grid,” said ISO President Steve Berberich.

On Friday, the ISO managed a peak of 39,00 megawatts, with about 11,700 megawatts coming from renewable sources including wind.

550 megawattsPeak planned capacity for PG&E’s Topaz Solar Farm

To hit the next solar milestone, the ISO is advocating a proposal that would link its power grid with one managed by PacifiCorp, a Berkshire Hathaway company that serves utilities in the Western states.

Supporters say that partnership would give the California agency more outlets to manage renewable energy generated in the state, supporting the industry’s growth.

“All that solar power has to go somewhere. While we’re generating solar power at noon, it could go to Las Vegas. It could go to Phoenix,” Gallagher said.

Critics, including the Sierra Club, say linking the California grid with others could lead to California customers supporting fossil fuel power plants in states that do not share California’s aggressive renewable energy mandates.

The solar industry’s growth also is raising worries among some land use analysts, who say its increasing footprint may be encroaching on open spaces.

Rebecca Hernandez, an assistant professor of land and water resources at UC Davis,published a study in November that showed a large portion of solar facilities moving to open spaces, such as scrub land and pastures. She encouraged the industry to look instead at already developed, urban locations.

“People are watching California and using California as a model system, so we really need to set the precedent for how we use our land to produce energy,” she said. “What we do here is really emulated in the world.”

Article By: Adam Ashton


Hawaii is a national leader in rooftop solar power, but despite the state’s ambitious goal of using only renewable energy by 2045, people are being shut out of solar incentive programs because of limits set by the state.

On Maui, a program that reimburses customers who supply energy to the grid reached its maximum in June. The cap likely will be reached on Oahu — the state’s most populated island — by the end of summer, experts say.

“We were going along fine at a pretty fair clip doing exactly everything that people in public policy in Hawaii want us to do, which is to get this stuff on people’s roofs so that we use less oil,” said Rick Reed, president of the Hawaii Solar Energy Association. “And then all of a sudden … boom. Things change overnight, and it’s been incredibly disruptive.”

In October, Hawaii ended its popular net energy metering program, which refunded customers at the full retail rate for electricity they supplied to the grid. The customer grid supply program that replaced it offers a lower reimbursement rate — and it’s filling up.

Critics say capping the amount of people who can participate boosts profits for the utility, which makes less money when people supply their own electricity.

“It comes down to a financial issue,” said state Rep. Chris Lee, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection. “The more distributed generation, the more power that individuals generate themselves, the less of a customer base the utility ultimately has in the long run.”

Around the country, several states that offer tax credits for solar installations have been ending programs or allowing them to expire. Utilities have lobbied lawmakers and regulators nationwide to reduce incentives, arguing the solar industry can stand on its own.

In Hawaii, 14 percent of all new construction costs in 2015 came from solar installations on homes, according to the Hawaii State Energy Office. But in the past six months, 88 percent of solar companies polled by the Hawaii State Energy Association reported job losses.

“Folks have gone out of business,” Reed said. “There’s some walking zombie companies that are barely squeaking along.”

Hawaii has the nation’s highest electricity costs, in part because it relies heavily on imported oil. Two-thirds of Hawaii’s energy came from oil in 2014, compared with less than 1 percent for the whole country, according to the energy office.

But nearly a quarter of the state’s energy came from renewable sources in 2015, and 30 percent of that came from customers supplying energy to the grid, according to data from the Public Utilities Commission.

Randy Iwase, commission chairman, said the net energy metering program was never intended to be permanent, and reimbursing customers at the full retail rate was costly.

“That has to be paid by somebody,” Iwase said, adding it’s unfair to people who can’t install solar panels. He said the program met its goals because the state now has solar installed on more than 70,000 homes and businesses.

People who live in an apartment or a community with a homeowners association often can’t install solar panels, said Darren Pai, spokesman for Hawaiian Electric, the state’s largest utility.

“We want to make sure that those customers are treated fairly, and that customers who do have the option to can do it,” he said.

Another Hawaii program lets customers with solar power connect to the grid, but it doesn’t reimburse them for energy supplied. It hasn’t taken off.

Iwase said the customer grid supply program had to be capped because the grid can only handle so much renewable energy, and the state should have a mix of renewable energy sources, including utility-scale projects. Utility executives have argued the power generated — which varies when it comes from wind or the sun — must match customer demand for the grid to be stable.

Kauai County’s utility uses plenty of solar energy both from utility-scale and distributed sources, Hawaii Gov. David Ige said.

“During peak hours during the day, they get very close to 100 percent of their energy being provided by solar,” Ige said. “The challenge is to really examine what kinds of caps and limits make sense, and then drive those caps as high as we can while maintaining grid stability.”

Post By: Cathy Bussewitz

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Kennesaw State researchers develop third-generation solar cells.
Credit: David Caselli

A humming laboratory is birthing tiny solar cells — the first such devices created on campus — as Kennesaw State researchers strive to develop better photovoltaic technologies.

Sandip Das, assistant professor of electrical engineering in the Southern Polytechnic College of Engineering and Engineering Technology, along with a team of three undergraduate research assistants, has recently fabricated the delicate solar cells, which are about 100 times thinner than a human hair.

The future of solar power generation is in these flexible solar cells, Das said. He and his research team are investigating various nano-materials to fabricate the third-generation solar cells. The researchers hope to develop a superior photovoltaic technology that produces cheaper and more efficient solar cells.

“The most fascinating part of doing this research is the enormous potential that this new technology offers, such as integrating flexible solar cells on wearable electronics, backpacks and self-charging cell phones and electricity-generating layers on windows, especially on skyscrapers, and solar power’s ability to supply a large amount of clean, renewable and cheap energy for the future,” said David Danilchuk, an electrical engineering major who is an undergraduate research assistant on the project.

In the laboratory, the research team fabricated the solar cells’ multiple nano-structured layers using a unique manufacturing process. Specialty instruments, like electron microscopes, as well as X-ray spectroscopy techniques and precision electronic measurement systems, enable the research team to investigate and better understand the cells’ behavior.

Baker Nour, an electrical engineering student and member of the research team, explained that the fabrication process developed by the team can produce these solar cells on plastic substrates to create flexible solar cells — one of the most advanced ideas in solar technology today.

In practice, these flexible solar panels can be beneficial after catastrophic storms. Disaster relief personnel could transport rolled-up solar panels to produce portable power on site, Das explained. Commercial building developers also are eyeing smart building applications, like transparent solar panels for windows, so skyscrapers can generate solar power and be more energy efficient.

Innovative materials and efficiency

Current commercial solar panels use first-generation silicon solar cells, which are expensive, fragile and bulky, limiting their portability, according to Das.

The most promising materials systems for future generation solar cells, according to Das, are the materials that his research team applies in their fabrication — an ultra-thin hybrid Perovskite noncrystalline film. Rather than using expensive silicon, they fabricate their solar cells on cheap glass substrates like those in windows and beverage bottles.

The team plans to explore the fabrication process so they can develop solar cells on flexible plastics or metal foils, without requiring expensive materials, million-dollar equipment or scientific-grade clean rooms.

“For the past 20 years, efficiency of silicon solar cells could not be improved much after substantial research efforts globally,” Das said. He explained that silicon is not a good light absorber, and new technologies are needed to create high-efficiency cells at a lower cost. The new bandgap-engineered Perovskite crystals, which his team is investigating, can absorb a wider spectrum of sunlight compared to silicon, on a film that is 200 times thinner than silicon cells.

Implications for their research are still months away, but the team is confident that they will soon improve solar cells to attain higher efficiency, without the latest high-tech equipment or costly raw materials.

Cutting Costs

A major goal for their research is to substantially reduce the cost of producing solar cells.

Typically, solar cells are fabricated in a clean room, a controlled environment for manufacturing electronics that is free of dust or other contaminants. Even without a clean room, Das and his team are able to fabricate this next generation of solar cells and test their newly hatched cells.

“In the past 20 to 30 years of studying solar energy, researchers worldwide have learned how to cut costs tenfold,” Das said. “The raw materials used for the third-generation solar cells are less expensive than the electronic-grade silicon.”

A cutback in both material and fabrication costs means a significant reduction in the overall cost to produce electricity, ultimately saving consumers money.

“Our long-term goal is to bring the cost down to less than 10 cents per watt,” Das said. In the U.S., silicon solar cells currently cost about 30 cents per watt.

Das predicts that by 2040 solar power will become mainstream as researchers develop technologies to more efficiently use available space for power generation and solar cells become cheaper.

“For us, it’s exciting to be able to contribute to the field by sharing the knowledge that we obtain from our research and help advance the solar industry,” Danilchuk added.

Article By: Kennesaw State University

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Suni Solar installers setting up a 300-watt system on San Antonio de Upa, a primary school in Matagalpa, Nicaragua.

My journey with United Solar Initiative began in January of 2015 when Alex Wilhelm, founder and co-president of USI, and Charlie Egan, project development coordinator of USI, gave a presentation to my class about what USI is. They spoke about the non-profit’s plan to help replace dangerous kerosene lamps used in remote communities in Nicaragua with a cleaner solution: solar energy. They passed a piece of paper around the room and asked students to provide their names and email addresses if they wanted to become part of the team. United Solar Initiative’s mission, as well as Charlie and Alex’s passion and dedication to USI, were more than enough to make me and about eight other students want to join USI as its first wave of UNC volunteers!

In our first meeting, I learned that the non-profit was still in its infancy and had tremendous momentum and potential for future growth. Its leadership consisted of students from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Appalachian State University, and other professionals of various backgrounds. By that time, USI had already completed four successful solar installations with support from Strata Solar, LLC., Sisterhood Communities of San Ramon, and Appalachian State’s Department of Technology and Environmental Design. The new team and I were given more background on how USI got started, what its mission is, and how important our help was to them. The story went something like this:

United Solar Initiative began in early 2013 with only three volunteers. Alex Wilhelm, Steven Thomsen, and Ed Witkin used their knowledge about the harmful effects of kerosene lamps, their awareness about the problems that developing communities faced without access to electricity, and their passion to find a solution in order to create USI’s mission.

Co-founder Steven Thomsen and Project Development Coordinator Charlie Egan stand in front of USI’s first completed project on a primary school in Matagalpa, Nicaragua.

Co-founder Steven Thomsen and Project Development Coordinator Charlie Egan stand in front of USI’s first completed project on a primary school in Matagalpa, Nicaragua.

United Solar Initiative concentrated its first efforts on a project in a remote village in Nicaragua and successfully installed a small-scale solar panel system on a school. Installing the system made the volunteers realize that they were resolving a bigger issue than just eliminating the need to use dangerous kerosene lamps.  Solar not only gave this community electricity for the first time, but it also connected them to the world for the first time. Now that the school had electricity, it closed education gaps for children, it allowed for phones to be charged, and it allowed for job trainings to be held once the sun went down.

All smiles here: The students at Verapaz Primary School in Verapaz, Nicaragua are enjoying their newly-solarized classroom.

All smiles here: The students at Verapaz Primary School in Verapaz, Nicaragua are enjoying their newly-solarized classroom.

We were all captivated by the impact United Solar Initiative had on these communities and by the dedication that the people sitting around us had towards its cause. Our newly expanded team was ambitious from the start. We all focused on different tasks and met weekly to discuss and collaborate new ideas and to set goals for the organization. That summer we concentrated on branding the organization. We built recognition and broadened our audience through revamping our website and being active on our various social media outlets.

During that time, USI expanded to welcome Brandon Durham and Jack Schaufler to its team. With help from its various support groups, United Solar Initiative was able to lead two more projects in remote communities in Nicaragua. USI acted as a supervisor for local companies Suni Solar and SONATI to ensure seamless installation throughout the entire process. USI completed a total of six projects that ranged in size from 240-watt systems to 500-watt systems, depending on the size of the roof and the needs of the community.

Two installers from local company Suni Solar work to set up this 250-watt PV system on a primary school in San Jose, Nicaragua.

Two installers from local company Suni Solar work to set up this 250-watt PV system on a primary school in San Jose, Nicaragua.

Throughout the following year, United Solar Initiative also launched a few new campaigns. The Humans of Solar campaign and the High School Ambassador program. Humans of Solar features business leaders, people in the solar and energy industry, and people who have solar. Every other week, we would post an interview and a photo of our featured Human of Solar. This was a huge success and we reached upwards of 5,000 people! Our High School Ambassador program allowed local high schools to get involved in fundraising for USI and allowed its students to take on leadership roles.

Recently, United Solar Initiative’s new partnership with World Vision opened up the opportunity for solar to help with another important issue: alleviating water poverty. World Vision is the leading nongovernmental provider of clean water. They reach one new person with clean water every 30 seconds. Through our partnership, United Solar Initiative will solarize water pumps by replacing the traditional hand-crank and diesel-powered pumps with solar-powered pumps. The partnership is bringing clean water to communities across Ghana, Africa this summer. Once these efforts are finished, 100 new solarized water pumps will be built and it will give 80,000 people access to clean water. That is something truly remarkable.

This past spring, we were fortunate to have the opportunity to interview William Kamkwamba, author and speaker from Malawi, Africa, who at the age of 14 taught himself how to build the windmill that would power his home. He spoke about the dire need to resolve the issue of water poverty in his community and all over sub-Saharan Africa. Kamkwamba expressed how our efforts with World Vision will save tons of women and children from walking 6 kilometers every day in order to get water. The solar-powered pumps allow women and children to have more free time to either go to school or help out with other daily tasks. Solarizing water pumps, therefore, helps people directly by giving them access to clean water and indirectly by freeing up more time.

William Kamkwamba, author of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, gladly agreed to be interviewed for our Lug-a-Jug promotional video and explained the importance of alleviating water poverty.

William Kamkwamba, the author of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, gladly agreed to be interviewed for our Lug-a-Jug promotional video and explained the importance of alleviating water poverty.

My co-volunteers and I are forever proud to be a part of an organization that gives so much and works so hard to make sure that everything is done in the right way. Now with new co-presidents Lydia Odom and Shep Byles, I look forward to seeing where USI is headed. United Solar Initiative strives to make it known that issues of energy and water poverty are becoming more important to resolve every day. Now that the cost of solar has significantly gone down, there’s no reason why people in underdeveloped and remote communities shouldn’t be connected to the rest of the world. There’s no reason why people in Africa shouldn’t have access to clean water powered by clean energy.  United Solar Initiative aims to alleviate these issues one panel at a time.

Article By: Andie Migden, USI Volunteer

Solar Roadways are finally gaining traction in the United States. Scott and Julie Brusaw have been developing their energy-generating roads for the last several years, hoping to replace asphalt with solar panels that can withstand the weight of cars. Now they are bringing their dream to a section of the historic Route 66 highway in Missouri.

Solar Roadways, solar road, solar panels, solar modules, road, highway, Route 66, Missouri, transportation, MoDOT

Solar Roadways will be installed on Route 66 as part of Missouri’s Road to Tomorrow initiative, which focuses on improvements like smart highways and incorporating renewable energy.

Tom Blair, Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) engineer who heads Road to Tomorrow said, “It gets Missouri and MoDOT prepared for 21st-century innovations. We expect them to be in place, I’m hoping, by the end of this year, maybe before the snow flies. If [Solar Roadway’s] version of the future is realistic, if we can make that happen, then roadways can begin paying for themselves.”

Solar Roadways, based in Idaho, designs energy-generating roads made of modular solar panels covered in tempered glass. Inside the modules are microprocessors that communicate with other panels, a control center, and even with cars driving on the road. LED lights in the panels provide street lines and signs, and there are even heating elements so snow and ice don’t build up on the solar panels. Plus, because the units are modular, if one breaks, it’s easier to replace it stopping so much traffic.

Solar Roadways, solar road, solar panels, solar modules, road, highway, Route 66, Missouri, transportation, MoDOT

Solar Roadways was first funded through a research contract from the U.S. Department of Transportation. An Indiegogo campaign garnered an additional $2 million. The idea is so popular, President Obama mentioned the project during his 2015 State of the Union address.

It looks like there’s a bright future for the startup. Soon these smart solar panels could line more than just roads. Solar Roadways envisions their modules on surfaces from playgrounds to basketball courts and airport runways.

Article By: Lacy Cooke

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The Juno spacecraft successfully entered orbit around Jupiter on July 4. The solar-powered craft will spend 20 months studying the planet’s composition and history, then burn up in Jupiter’s atmosphere.


A Five-Year Trip

Juno spent two years looping through the inner solar system, then slingshotted past Earth to gain speed for its long trip to Jupiter.

Jupiter Arrival

Juno accelerated toward Jupiter, pulled in by gravity. On July 4, Juno fired its main engine for 35 minutes to slow down and enter orbit around the planet.

Two-Week Orbits

After two long orbits of about two months each, Juno will settle into a series of tighter orbits, passing Jupiter every 14 days. Juno’s final orbit in early 2018 will graze Jupiter’s clouds, incinerating the spacecraft.

A Spinning Spacecraft

Juno is the most distant solar powered spacecraft. Its spinning hexagonal body supports three large solar panels to capture the dim light of the outer solar system. Instruments are fixed between the solar panels for a wide field of view.

Pole to Pole

Juno will pass close to Jupiter’s surface to avoid the punishing bands of radiation surrounding the planet. The orbits are timed to gradually scan the planet from pole to pole in evenly spaced bands, seen here looking down on Jupiter’s north pole.

Piercing a Titan’s Veil

A short video on the Juno mission, from launch to final orbit:

Article By: Jonathan Corum

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Floating solar panel arrays are increasingly being deployed in places as diverse as Brazil and Japan. One prime spot for these “floatovoltaic” projects could be the sun-baked U.S. Southwest, where they could produce clean energy and prevent evaporation in major man-made reservoirs.

Courtesy of KYOCERA Corporation

A 2.3-megwatt floating solar array in Kasai City, Japan.

The Colorado River’s two great reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, are in retreat. Multi-year droughts and chronic overuse have taken their toll, to be sure, but vast quantities of water are also lost to evaporation. What if the same scorching sun that causes so much of this water loss were harnessed for electric power?

Installing floating solar photovoltaic arrays, sometimes called “floatovoltaics,” on a portion of these two reservoirs in the southwestern United States could produce clean, renewable energy while shielding significant expanses of water from the hot desert sun.

The dual energy and environmental benefits of floating solar arrays are already beginning to earn the technology a place in the global clean energy marketplace, with floatovoltaic projects now being built in places as diverse as Australia, Brazil, China, England, India, Japan, South Korea, and California. And nowhere could they prove as effective as on lakes Mead and Powell, the two largest man-made reservoirs in the U.S.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation estimates that 800,000 acre-feet of water– nearly six percent of the Colorado River’s annual flow – is baked off Lake Mead’s surface by the searing desert sun during an average year. Lake Powell loses about 860,000 acre-feet annually to evaporation and bank seepage. Since floatovoltaics can reduce evaporation in dry climates by as much as 90 percent, covering portions of these two water bodies with solar panels could result in significant water savings.

Extrapolating from the spatial needs of floating solar farms already built or designed, the electricity gains from installing floatovoltaics on just a fraction of these man-made desert lakes could be momentous. If 6 percent of Lake Mead’s surface were devoted to solar power, the yield would be at least 3,400 megawatts of electric-generating capacity – substantially more than the Hoover Dam’s generating capacity of 2,074 megawatts.

Floating solar arrays are quickly earning their place in the global clean energy marketplace.

This solar infusion could give the power-hungry Southwest a major boost in renewable electricity, and at least some of that power could piggyback on underused transmission lines built for the Hoover Dam.

A key selling point of floatovoltaics is the extra energy punch they deliver when compared to terrestrial photovoltaics in a similar climate. Hovering just above sun-shaded lake water, the floating photovoltaic panels would operate at cooler temperatures than solar arrays on desert land – a key factor in improving the productivity of semiconductors, including PV cells. One project proponent expects a 50 percent boost in electricity per watt of installed power from her company’s planned solar arrays at a sun-saturated sewage treatment pond in Jamestown, South Australia.

In Nevada, Arizona, and Utah, those who enjoy boating, fishing, snorkeling, and swimming on Lake Mead and Lake Powell may not immediately embrace the idea of solar arrays competing with their recreational activities. Yet with beaches retreating and marinas stranded on dry land, the benefits of curbing water loss are becoming increasingly clear. Moreover, at a time when some hydrology experts and conservationists are saying that Lake Powell should be partially drained to restore Glen Canyon and salvage Lake Mead, which is about 360 miles downriver, building solar power on a portion of these ailing artificial lakes may seem like a smarter alternative.

Courtesy of KYOCERA Corporation
A rendering of a major floating solar project under construction in the Yamakura Dam reservoir in Japan.

Japan has been a pioneer in floatovoltaics. It began modestly, floating enough panels on two reservoirs in Hyogo Prefecture to meet the electricity needs of roughly 920 households. Now it is scaling up. On a reservoir in Chiba Prefecture, a plant slated for completion in 2018 will generate power for nearly 5,000 households. In Japan’s relatively mild climate, preventing evaporation may be less critical than in the American Southwest. But the prospect of tapping solar power without taxing scarce land resources has its own merits in a small, densely populated country that is searching — post-Fukushima — for alternatives to nuclear power.

Floating solar arrays also are being installed on a reservoir in the Brazilian Amazon. About 910 square miles of rainforest were flooded several decades ago when Brazil’s reigning military regime built the Balbina Dam,submerging millions of trees and destroying indigenous homes and hunting grounds. Today, due to persistent droughts and the languid flow of the river that feeds the Balbina Reservoir, the dam operates at only a fifth of its rated power capacity.

Soon, though, an expanding network of floating solar modules may help redeem this failed hydroelectric venture. In its pilot phase, a five-megawatt solar installation will cover an area equal to about five football fields and will generate enough power for roughly 9,000 households.

In California’s Sonoma County, sewage treatment ponds are being equipped with floating PV arrays.

Later, if all goes well, planners hope to build a massive 300-megawatt project that would produce enough electricity for about 540,000 Brazilian homes.

The list of pending or completed floatovoltaic projects goes on. In India, a pilot-scale installation has been successfully tested on a lake on the outskirts of Kolkata, and developers are negotiating for much larger floating solar plants on lakes in the state of Kerala. In California’s Sonoma County, sewage treatment ponds are now being equipped with floating PV arrays. And in the United Kingdom, Europe’s largest floating solar installation is nearing completion on the Queen Elizabeth II Reservoir outside London. Another is being built on a reservoir near Manchester. There, as in Japan, efficient use of available land resources is a key driver.

Though the U.S. Southwest is far less land-constrained than the U.K., the open desert is coming under increasing stress as solar developers seek suitable lands for their utility-scale projects. Protecting the desert tortoise has been a major concern at some sites, including two photovoltaic plants on Moapa Paiute tribal land in southeastern Nevada, just a few dozen miles from Lake Mead. In California, renewable energy advocates and conservationists have been at serious odds over the prospect of developing large solar sites in desert areas and adjacent lands in seven counties.

Floating solar arrays on reservoirs like Lake Mead and Lake Powell won’t supplant the need for land-based solar in California and other parts of the Southwest, but they can ease some of the pressure on fragile desert ecosystems.

As we confront the mounting impacts of global warming, maintaining a viable balance between water supply and demand in warmer climates will be especially challenging. In the sunny Southwest, reducing water losses to evaporation should be part of a wide-ranging water conservation strategy. Floating solar farms have a role to play, curbing water waste as they produce carbon-neutral power.

Article By: Philip Warburg

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