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Making Solar Panels with an Ion Cannon

Hyperion ion cannon solar cellTwin Creeks Technologies has announced a new method to make less expensive solar cells. While we see many new ways of making cheap solar panels, most of these methods focus on producing panels with alternative materials rather than silicon. But the method developed by Twin Creeks produces ultra-thin pieces of crystalline silicon by using an ion cannon dubbed Hyperion.

There are a number of different materials that are used for solar cells, but crystalline silicon is the material that has been used for cells with the highest efficiency. Unfortunately, it also has a very high cost. Much of the thickness of the silicon cell does not contribute to making electricity. Thinner cells would work as well, and use less material, but they have been too hard to produce until now, because crystalline silicon is a fragile and brittle material.

The Hyperion ion cannon bombards discs of silicon with hydrogen ions with a very precisely controlled charge. These accumulate in a layer 20 micrometers below the surface. After bombardment, the discs are transported to a furnace where the ions expand into hydrogen gas and shear off a fine layer of crystalline silicon called a lamina, which is ten times thinner than conventionally produced silicon (20 micrometers versus 200 micrometers). These pieces can be mounted on a metal backing which supports the silicon and allows it to flex without breaking. This method also eliminates the waste of silicon which is ordinarily lost from conventional sawing. MORE

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TUTORIAL: About Solar Energy / Why Solar Energy

Update (December 2011): A recent study does a great job explaining how analysts systematically overestimate the costs of solar and also points out that solar has hit grid parity in some regions. Nonetheless, even this study doesn't take into account some key factors mentioned below. HERE

 

solar availability compared to other energy sources


Solar Panel Startup Achieves Amazing 33.9% Efficiency

Semprius solar panelSemprius, a startup company manufacturing tiny concentrated solar cells that forgo any cooling systems has achieved a truly amazing leap in solar cell efficiency. The company was able to hit 33.9 percent efficiency with their solar panel, the first time a commercially-viable solar technology has passed the one-third mark.

Semprius's solar cells use gallium arsenide, rather than silicon, which is able to absorb sunlight and dissipate heat far better. The solar panel that scored this major efficiency record is made up of hundreds of these tiny cells that are about the width of a pen-drawn line. Lenses atop the cells concentrate sunlight 1,000 times.

To capture a better chunk of the solar spectrum, Semprius uses three layers of gallium arsenide, each one tweaked to convert a different part of the spectrum into electricity. Silicon solar cells, by contrast, only absorb a narrow band of sunlight and have efficiency rates that typically fall somewhere in the sub-15 percent area. The record for silicon cell efficiency is 22.9 percent and the previous record for commercial-level solar technology was 32 percent. MORE

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Solar Power Network launches 23,000 square feet of rooftop solar with Plaza Ontario

Solar Power Network and Plaza Ontario Join Forces to Bring Solar Generation Project to WindsorTORONTO, Feb. 15, 2012 /CNW/ - Solar Power Network (SPN) is pleased to announce the completion of its first site, 230 kW comprising 910 solar panels, across 23,000 square feet of rooftop space at Plaza Ontario. The announcement highlights a 20-year commitment to generating sustainable energy through the Ontario Feed-In-Tariff (FIT) program and EnWin's continued committed to connecting solar generation capacity. The rooftop solar panel system supports Ontario's goals of eliminating the province's dependence on coal-fired power and the related emissions, which are the principle ingredient in the smog that causes Ontario air quality advisory alerts.

"We're very proud to participate in the Solar Power Network, contributing efficient, clean and sustainable energy to Ontario's electrical grid," says Paulo Fontana, Co-owner and GM of Plaza Ontario. "With no upfront costs or associated project costs for us, and no structural impact to our rooftop, turning unused rooftop space into a source for energy generation is a low-risk, high-reward undertaking. It makes good business sense and good environmental sense."

Plaza Ontario's Provincial Road location in Windsor, has not only been outfitted with 910 solar panels, but is also actively monitored by Solar Power Network to ensure peak efficiency at all times. To minimize power lost in transmission, as is the case with traditional power delivery, Ontario's FIT program enables energy collected to be distributed to the local grid, and consumed by the building itself and then homes and businesses closest to the site.

"As Ontario continues to shift its priorities toward more sustainable sources of energy, we have seen a growing interest in our rooftop lease offer from similar companies across the province," says Peter Goodman, President and CEO, Solar Power Network. "Our unique approach uses the latest solar technology and offers customers an innovative lower panel angle design, which results in no structural impact to their rooftop while maximizing the revenue from their leased out roof space." MORE


 

Re-Evaluating Germany's Blind Faith in the Sun

The costs of subsidizing solar electricity have exceeded the 100-billion-euro mark in Germany, but poor results are jeopardizing the country's transition to renewable energy. The government is struggling to come up with a new concept to promote the inefficient technology in the future.

The costs of subsidizing solar electricity have exceeded the 100-billion-euro mark in Germany, but poor results are jeopardizing the country's transition to renewable energy. The government is struggling to come up with a new concept to promote the inefficient technology in the future. The Baedeker travel guide is now available in an environmentally-friendly version. The 200-page book, entitled "Germany - Discover Renewable Energy," lists the sights of the solar age: the solar café in Kirchzarten, the solar golf course in Bad Saulgau, the light tower in Solingen and the "Alster Sun" in Hamburg, possibly the largest solar boat in the world.

The only thing that's missing at the moment is sunshine. For weeks now, the 1.1 million solar power systems in Germany have generated almost no electricity. The days are short, the weather is bad and the sky is overcast.

As is so often the case in winter, all solar panels more or less stopped generating electricity at the same time. To avert power shortages, Germany currently has to import large amounts of electricity generated at nuclear power plants in France and the Czech Republic. To offset the temporary loss of solar power, grid operator Tennet resorted to an emergency backup plan, powering up an old oil-fired plant in the Austrian city of Graz.

Solar energy has gone from being the great white hope, to an impediment, to a reliable energy supply. Solar farm operators and homeowners with solar panels on their roofs collected more than €8 billion ($10.2 billion) in subsidies in 2011, but the electricity they generated made up only about 3 percent of the total power supply, and that at unpredictable times. MORE


Cheap Chinese Panels Spark Solar Power Trade War

chinese solarThere's a solar trade war going on inside the U.S., sparked by an invasion of inexpensive imports from China.

The U.S. solar industry is divided over these imports: Panel-makers say their business is suffering and want a tariff slapped on the imports. But other parts of the industry say these cheap panels are driving a solar boom in the U.S.

On the manufacturers' side, there's Gordon Brinser. He's an Oregon native who says the company he runs there, SolarWorld, is not only green, it's red, white and blue. "The mission that we have is to build products here in America, for America's community, for America's energy independence, and really leave the world a better place," he says.

Brinser claims China is threatening that vision by flooding the U.S. with cheap solar panels. He claims China subsidizes its solar panel industry to the tune of $30 billion a year, yet uses only a small percentage of the panels it makes. "So obviously," he says, "these subsidies have gone into the industry, and their full intention is to export and control markets in other countries." MORE

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Solar Panel Roads - Why You May Soon Drive on Glass Highways

A truly ingenious concept, solar panel roadways promise to completely transform the world's road networks by making streets and highways digital, intelligent, profitable and carbon neutral, using already available technology. 

solar_roadwayIdaho based Solar Roadways, the brainchild of Scott Brusaw, is a startup that has recently gained tremendous momentum through government and philanthropic grants enabling them to build an impressive prototype of a piece of intelligent road of glass, which they say will antiquate asphalt roads.

 

Features:

- You'll be driving on top of a layer of glass, underneath which will be solar panels that store the energy of the sun. The sun already produces the energy that makes asphalt roads so hot, so why not harness that phenomenon and collect that energy?

- The roads would feature dynamic light signals, that could display any message, such as "slow down", "wet road" or "pedestrians ahead".

- Using mutual induction techniques, electrical vehicles could eventually be recharged while driving, completely obviating the need for external fueling.

- The energy gathered by the solar panels will be distributed by the roads themselves, which will act as cables. In effect, the highway network will become an electrical grid.

- One mile of road can produce enough electricity to serve the power needs of more than 400 homes.

- Solar roads would be built to last 22 years, exactly the time they would take to produce enough electricity to pay for themselves, so in practice they'd cost nothing.

- If the entire current US highway system were replaced with solar panels, they would produce three times the energy need of the United States.

- The roads would be built upon a base layer of recycled garbage pellets, relieving landfills.

- The roads will heat up to speed the condensation of dangerous rain, as well as melt snow and ice right off the road, rendering plow trucks a thing of the past. MORE


 

Higher Efficiency with Quantum Dot Solar Cells

quantum dots for solar panelsPhotovoltaic technology has taken another step forward as researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have demonstrated a photocell with an external quantum efficiency over 100 percent using quantum dots. The new cell uses a process called Multiple Exciton Generation (MEG) that produces more than one electron-hole pair per absorbed photon, and reached a level of 114 percent.

This development offers the possibility of increased efficiency in solar panels, and the technology is able to be manufactured using high-throughput roll-to-roll manufacturing. With the use of quantum dots, photocells could theoretically see as much as a 35 percent increase in power conversion efficiency above contemporary cells. The research cell was constructed as a "layered cell consisting of antireflection-coated glass with a thin layer of a transparent conductor, a nanostructured zinc oxide layer, a quantum dot layer of lead selenide treated with ethanedithol and hydrazine, and a thin layer of gold for the top electrode." MORE

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Lily Lake Solar Farm—Onatrio's First 10 MW Municipally Owned Solar Farm

Lily Lake Solar FarmPeterborough Utilities Inc. (PUI) has constructed a new 10.0 MW solar PV generating facility on approximately 140 acres of rural lands located at the northwest corner of Lily Lake Road and Fife's Bay Road across from Hydro One's Dobbin Transformer Station.

PUI has developed the project in an environmentally responsible manner in accordance with applicable legislation and to following up on project related commitments. PUI has completed the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and has obtained the requisite permits for the project from the Otonabee Region Conservation Authority (ORCA) and Ministry of the Environment.

PUI has committed to creating a minimum 30 meter buffer between the project and Middle
Jackson Creek wetland. Within this buffer, PUI will replant trees and allow existing agricultural lands to return to a natural environment. PUI has committed to planting five new trees for every tree removed from the project properties.

PUI will be working cooperatively with neighbouring residences regarding options to screen the view of the solar farm with the intent of completing this work by the fall of 2011.MORE

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The Chinese Solar Machine

Chinese manufacturers have dominated the international market for conventional solar panels by building bigger factories faster. Now they will need to innovate to maintain their lead.

Chinese solar manufacturingTen years ago, solar panels were made mostly in the United States, Germany, and Japan. Chinese manufacturers made almost none. But by 2006, the Chinese company Suntech Power had the capacity to make over a million silicon-based solar panels a year and was already the world's third-largest producer. Today Chinese manufacturers make about 50 million solar panels a year—over half the world's supply in 2010—and include four of the world's top five solar-panel manufacturers. What makes this particularly impressive is that the industry elsewhere has been doubling in size every two years, and Chinese manufacturers have done even better, doubling their production roughly every year.

This dominance isn't due to cheap labor in Chinese factories: making solar cells requires such expensive equipment and materials that labor contributes just a small fraction of the overall cost. Nor is it because the Chinese companies have introduced cells that last longer or produce more power: by and large, they make the same type of silicon-based solar panels as many of their competitors around the world, using the same equipment. They have succeeded in large part because it's faster and cheaper for them to build factories, thanks to inexpensive, efficient construction crews and China's streamlined permitting process. The new factories have the latest, most efficient equipment, which helps cut costs. So do the efficiencies that come with size. As a result, Chinese manufacturers have been able to undercut other makers of silicon solar panels and dash the hopes of many upstarts hoping to introduce novel technology.

But the solar market is rapidly evolving, and technological innovations are becoming increasingly essential. MORE


Solar Power Less Expensive than Analysts Purport

(Editor’s note: this is NOT even taking health, energy security, and environmental costs into account—not what this study is about—and it STILL finds that solar has reached grid parity in many places!)

solar rooftopThe real cost of implementing solar power is being deliberately hidden from the public according to a study conducted at Queen’s University in Canada.

“Many analysts project a higher cost for solar photovoltaic energy because they don’t consider recent technological advancements and price reductions,” says Joshua Pearce, Adjunct Professor, Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering. “Older models for determining solar photovoltaic energy costs are too conservative.”

In addition, Dr. Pearce is certain that solar photovoltaic systems are near a ‘tipping point’ at which point they will be able to produce energy for approximately the same price as traditional sources of energy, and are at that point in places.

“It is clear PV has already obtained grid parity in specific locations,” according to the study, “and as installed costs continue to decline, grid electricity prices continue to escalate, and industry experience increases, PV will become an increasingly economically advantageous source of electricity over expanding geographical regions.” MORE


 

The Coming Solar Trade War Threatens Progress

US and China trade warSolar power is finally becoming a viable renewable energy resource. This was accomplished by major achievements from different parts of the world over the past two decades and a rapid reduction in solar modules over the past two years.

The solar market reached the point at which generating solar power (with no subsidies) costs less than the electricity purchased from the grid—better known as grid parity.

Sounds like great news right? Not so fast...

What has taken decades of global collaboration and competition, to finally create affordable solar power, might be spoiled by a trade war between China and the United States. MORE


Breakthrough could double solar energy output

Xiaoyang ZhuA new discovery from a chemist at the University of Texas at Austin may allow photovoltaic solar cells to double their efficiency, thus providing loads more electrical power from regular sunlight.

Not only that, but it's way cheap. Chemistry professor Xiaoyang Zhu and his team discovered that an organic plastic semiconductor could double the number of electrons harvested out of one photon of sunlight. Yep, plastic.

An issue with regular photovoltaic panels is that much of the energy delivered by sunlight comes in the form of “hot” electrons, which are too high-energy to be converted to electricity in silicon and are instead lost as heat. For that reason, the max insolation-to-electricity efficiency of a silicon solar cell used today is considered to be about 31%. Capturing those hot electrons could boost it to 66%.

Zhu's process involves absorbing the photon of sunlight in a plastic—in his experiments, pentacene—to produce a dark quantum “shadow state” from which two electrons can be retrieved, instead of just one. MORE

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CanSIA FIT Program Review 2011 Submission

CanSEA logoOn December 14, 2011 CanSIA submitted its FIT Program Review recommendation document Maximizing the Benefits of Early Success: Recommendations for the Sustainability of Ontario's Solar Energy Sector to the Ontario Government FIT Program Review Team.

This document presents recommendations prepared in consultation with over 500 of our member companies, with operations in the province of Ontario, to the Government of Ontario for their review of the microFIT and FIT programs.

For the CanSEA document click HERE

 

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Cost Of Solar Power Overestimated, Performance Understated

solar and nuclear cost

One of the few remaining arguments about PV based solar power is its cost. It may have been a valid point just a few years ago, but many of today's studies reiterating that claim may be well out of touch.

According to Professor Joshua Pearce from Canada's Queen's University Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, many analysts who prepare reports on solar photovoltaics that state the clean energy source is expensive may be basing their calculations on old data.

With solar panel technology evolving so rapidly, "old" can mean just a couple of years.

Dr. Pearce says there has been a 70 percent reduction in the price of solar panels in the last few years; a point that the Australian Solar Energy Society (AuSES) also made a couple of weeks ago. This price reduction is not being considered in some studies, nor is the improved performance of solar modules over the long term. MORE

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“Greenhouse Gas” Technology Goes to Work for Low-Cost Solar Power System

photonic chrystalA team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has come up with a way to lower the cost of solar energy, by mimicking the same effect that enables greenhouse gases to trap heat in the Earth's atmosphere. The new technology could eventually lead to powerful concentrated solar energy systems that don't rely on the huge arrays of mirrors that are required in conventional systems.

Instead of using mirrors, the MIT researchers fabricated a crystalline material arrayed with precisely spaced microscopic holes. Sunlight can enter the holes, but most of the radiation can't find its way out by the same route. That's because holes are configured in such a way that the rays must reflect back at precisely the right angle in order to escape. Think of a high-tech lobster trap of nanoscale proportions, and you're on the right track. David L. Chandler of MIT News compares this approach to the greenhouse effect, in which radiation from the sun is admitted to the Earth's atmosphere and is trapped there.

According to Chandler, the new material—called photonic crystal—could be manufactured using standard processes that are used to fabricate chips. That could give the new device a cost advantage over mirror-based technologies, which require precise optics to boost efficiency. The idea is that simplicity of manufacturing plays a key role in determining the installed cost of solar power, an approach that President Obama's SunShot solar power initiative aims to encourage. MORE


 

IEA Says Solar May Provide a Third of Global Energy by 2060

solr energyDec. 1 (Bloomberg) -- Solar technologies such as photovoltaic panels, water heaters and power stations built with mirrors could provide a third of the world's energy by 2060 if politicians commit to limiting climate change, the International Energy Agency said.

Energy from the sun could play a key role in de-carbonizing the global economy alongside improvements in efficiency and imposing costs on greenhouse-gas emitters, the agency said in a report today.

“The strength of solar is the incredible variety and flexibility of applications, from small scale to big scale,” Paolo Frankl, the agency's head of renewable energy, said in a telephone interview yesterday.

Economic activity will shift toward the sunnier zones around the equator by 2050, making solar energy a viable power source for most of the global economy, the report said. Those regions will be home to almost 80 percent of the human race by the middle of the century, compared with about 70 percent today, and their energy needs will be higher as living standards in countries such as Brazil and India approach those of the U.S. and Europe.

To realize the potential of solar power, officials should move away from a strategy of subsidizing individual technologies such as solar panels or solar-thermal generators toward measures such as a carbon price that encourages a broader view of the energy transition, Frankl said. MORE


Renewable energy: Demand for solar power heats up as prices fall

Chinese workers holding solar panelFor established manufacturers of solar panels, this has proved a difficult year, in the face of falling demand and a wave of cheap imports from China.

Chinese manufacturers have benefited from a big fall in the price of silicon, the main raw material, which makes up more of their costs than at European and US.

The general fall in commodity prices because of the weak global economy has been exacerbated in the case of silicon by shrinking demand following the reduction of subsidies, or “feed-in tariffs”, in several countries. MORE

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Canadian solar project wins top environment award

community solar

VIENNA—Canada has scooped a top prize for environmental protection awarded by the Austrian foundation Energy Globe for a community project that uses solar-powered heating to warm local houses. The Energy Globe World Award for Sustainability was handed to the Drake Landing Solar Community project in Alberta, west Canada, in a ceremony late Friday in Wels, Austria.

In the Canadian town of Okotoks, where temperatures drop well below freezing in winter, residents have devised a huge communal heat storage system.

Solar energy is collected in underground tubes during the summer and then used to heat 52 local homes in the winter. This solar power currently meets 80 percent of the community's energy needs and the project is on track to meet a target of 90 percent in 2012. MORE

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