Solar panels as inexpensive as paint? It’s possible.

Posted by 22 May, 2013 (0) Comment

Most Americans want the U.S. to place more emphasis on developing solar power, recent polls suggest.

A major impediment, however, is the cost to manufacture, install and maintain solar panels. Simply put, most people and businesses cannot afford to place them on their rooftops.

Fortunately, that is changing because researchers such as Qiaoqiang Gan, University at Buffalo assistant professor of electrical engineering, are helping develop a new generation of photovoltaic cells that produce more power and cost less to manufacture than what’s available today.

One of the more promising efforts, which Gan is working on, involves the use of plasmonic-enhanced organic photovoltaic materials. These devices don’t match traditional solar cells in terms of energy production but they are less expensive and – because they are made (or processed) in liquid form – can be applied to a greater variety of surfaces.

Gan detailed the progress of plasmonic-enhanced organic photovoltaic materials in the May 7 edition of the journal Advanced Materials. Co-authors include Filbert J. Bartoli, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Lehigh University, and Zakya Kafafi of the National Science Foundation.

The paper, which included an image of a plasmonic-enhanced organic photovoltaic device on the journal’s front page, is available at: http://bit.ly/11gzlQm.

Currently, solar power is produced with either thick polycrystalline silicon wafers or thin-film solar cells made up of inorganic materials such as amorphous silicon or cadmium telluride. Both are expensive to manufacture, Gan said.

His research involves thin-film solar cells, too, but unlike what’s on the market he is using organic materials such as polymers and small molecules that are carbon-based and less expensive.

“Compared with their inorganic counterparts, organic photovoltaics can be fabricated over large areas on rigid or flexible substrates potentially becoming as inexpensive as paint,” Gan said.

The reference to paint does not include a price point but rather the idea that photovoltaic cells could one day be applied to surfaces as easily as paint is to walls, he said.

There are drawbacks to organic photovoltaic cells. They have to be thin due to their relatively poor electronic conductive properties. Because they are thin and, thus, without sufficient material to absorb light, it limits their optical absorption and leads to insufficient power conversion efficiency.

Their power conversion efficiency needs to be 10 percent or more to compete in the market, Gan said.

To achieve that benchmark, Gan and other researchers are incorporating metal nanoparticles and/or patterned plasmonic nanostructures into organic photovoltaic cells. Plasmons are electromagnetic waves and free electrons that can be used to oscillate back and forth across the interface of metals and semiconductors.

Recent material studies suggest they are succeeding, he said. Gan and the paper’s co-authors argue that, because of these breakthroughs, there should be a renewed focus on how nanomaterials and plasmonic strategies can create more efficient and affordable thin-film organic solar cells.

Gan is continuing his research by collaborating with several researchers at UB including: Alexander N. Cartwright, professor of electrical engineering and biomedical engineering and UB vice president for research and economic development; Mark T. Swihart, UB professor of chemical and biological engineering and director of the university’s Strategic Strength in Integrated Nanostructured Systems; and Hao Zeng, associate professor of physics.

Gan is a member of UB’s electrical engineering optics and photonics research group, which includes Cartwright, professors Edward Furlani and Pao-Lo Liu, and Natalia Litchinitser, associate professor.

The group carries out research in nanphotonics, biophotonics, hybrid inorganic/organic materials and devices, nonlinear and fiber optics, metamaterials, nanoplasmonics, optofluidics, microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), biomedical microelectromechanical systems (BioMEMs), biosensing and quantum information processing.

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3-D design from MIT team increases solar panel efficiency

Posted by 27 March, 2012 (0) Comment

Innovative 3-D design from an MIT team can more than double the solar power generated from solar panels in a given area. For more info see MIT News Release.

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SunRidge Farms Kicks off 30th Year by Going Solar

Posted by 6 February, 2012 (0) Comment

SunRidge Farms, a California-based company best known for its large offering of natural and organic foods, snacks, confections, and trail mixes, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year with the completion of its new solar panel expansion. 2,500 U.S.A.-made solar panels now line the roofs on top of its candy-making facility and warehouses.

“We founded our company on a commitment to respect the sanctity of the earth and to contribute to a healthy lifestyle.  Our investment in solar energy is an important part of that commitment” said Morty Cohen, President and CEO of SunRidge Farms. “We are excited because this expansion will allow us to continue delivering the high quality foods that our consumers love and deserve, at a reduced environmental cost.”

The addition of 1,960 new solar panels brings the company’s solar panel system from 99,000 Kilowatt hours to 785,000 Kilowatt hours of annual production. This enables the system to supply 35-40 percent of the company’s energy needs. In addition, the system will keep an estimated 1.3-million pounds of CO2 from entering the earth’s atmosphere each year. That’s the equivalent of planting 1,800 acres of trees.

The expanded solar panel system is just the latest living green effort implemented by SunRidge Farms. In fact, this year the company celebrates 30 years of green practices, including the following:

~ Offering a bike-to-work program that pays employees $5 a day to bike to and from work.

~ Using biodiesel delivery trucks and hybrid cars for its sales team.

~ Providing staff with a 24 hour work and recreation center with state of the art equipment, onsite yoga classes, recycling education classes, and more.

~ Installing full spectrum lighting in office workspaces, low voltage/low energy lighting in the warehouses, and optimal, clean, filtered air system for its staff.

~ Installing low-flow water-saving devices and making use of recycling programs throughout its facilities.

“We are delighted to be operating on clean energy,” said Mark Devencenzi, national sales director and company spokesman for SunRidge Farms. “We are always looking for opportunities to expand and improve our vision.  Our new solar panels are a huge help towards that end.”

SunRidge Farms has worked diligently over the past several years and is now certified as a Green Business by the Monterey County Green Business Program. The initial installation of solar panels in 2007 was a key component in achieving its green business certificate in September of 2010.

ABOUT SUNRIDGE FARMS
Based in Pajaro, California, SunRidge Farms is a family-owned and operated manufacturer and distributor of the finest certified organic and natural foods, both bulk and packaged. Founded in 1982 with a mission of promoting healthy living through the quality, integrity, and environmental sensibility of the products they create, SunRidge Farms offers a diverse array of more than 1,000 organic and natural trail and snack mixes, confections, nuts, seeds, dried fruits, granolas and cereals, grains, beans, teas, coffees, and spices. All products are made sustainably in a manufacturing plant powered with solar energy. They are available throughout the U.S.A., Canada, parts of Asia, and online at www.sunridgefarms.com.

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YMCA in Arizona Goes Solar

Posted by 20 December, 2011 (0) Comment

YMCA in Arizona goes SolarCentroSolar America and Scout Solar to Develop Solar Projects for
Arizona “Valley of the Sun” YMCAs

Scottsdale, AZ – December 20, 2011—Today, Centrosolar America, a national solar energy manufacturing and services company, headquartered in Scottsdale, AZ and Scout Solar, LLC, a Tempe, Arizona-based solar installer, announce plans to activate solar PV projects at four ‘Valley of the Sun YMCA’ branches. The solar arrays will be installed at YMCA branches in the Tempe, Chris-Town, Ahwatukee, and Scottsdale/Paradise Valley communities.

With more than 1,500 Centrosolar America solar panels mounted on rooftops and shade canopies, the combined solar power systems at the four locations will generate more than 612,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity annually – an amount equal to the energy required to power 48 Arizona homes for one year.

Tempe YMCA goes Solar

“The YMCA’s commitment to sustainability includes finding more ways to promote the use of alternative energy. Utilizing the available space on our shaded canopies and rooftops for the installation of solar panels was an easy decision for us”, said George Scobas, President and CEO of the Valley of the Sun YMCA.

The Tempe branch will offset 21% of its energy costs with a 96.6 kWh shade canopy solar system. The Chris-Town location will offset 24% of its costs with a 98.7 kWh rooftop system. The Ahwatukee branch will offset 19% of its energy costs with a 98.7 kWh shade canopy. And, the Scottsdale/Paradise Valley branch will offset 12.5% of its energy costs with a rooftop solar system. All four project installations are planned for completion by March 2012.

The systems are being installed and financed by Scout Solar, who will also own and operate the systems and hold the rebates that are generated through the Arizona state solar rebate program.

“There were no out-of-pocket costs for the Valley of the Sun YMCA for this installation, “said Scout Solar Project Administrator, Michael Norris. They will make a set monthly lease payment on the system, an amount far less than what their savings on electricity will be. And they are protected from future spikes in energy prices with this arrangement.”

Bringing together best-in-class project partners, Scout Solar teamed with Centrosolar to provide the solar equipment, Solar Energy Group for system design, Wang Electric on the electrical installation and Skyline Steel to construct the shade canopies and racking.

All the solar projects will be equipped with Centrosolar America E-Series modules.
“Our E-Series panels utilize polycrystalline high-efficiency silicon cells in an optimal configuration to generate higher power output per module. This PV module configuration also meets the highest industry standards for resisting intense heat as is typical in the Arizona climate,” said Centrosolar Director of Sales, Chris Wood. Centrosolar America, a wholly owned subsidiary of Centrosolar Group AG in Munich, Germany, is one of the leading solar distributors nationally as well as in the Arizona market.

# # #

About the Valley of the Sun YMCA
The Valley of the Sun YMCA is one of the largest human services non-profit organizations in Arizona. As the oldest non-profit in Arizona, the YMCA serves local communities in Maricopa County, Flagstaff and Yuma offering over 283 programs and 26 social services at 17 locations. Members are welcome regardless of gender, religion, ethnicity, age or ability to pay. The YMCA aims to provide each member with every opportunity to reach farther and improve their lives and the lives of those around them. Through Youth Development, Healthy Living and Social Responsibility, the YMCA’s goal is to inspire positive and lasting social change. Visit www.valleyYMCA.org to learn more.

About Centrosolar America, Inc.
CENTROSOLAR America Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of CENTROSOLAR Group AG, one of the leading publicly traded solar companies in Europe, with revenues of EUR 403mn ($540mn) in 2010 and over 1000 employees in 21 locations. CENTROSOLAR has production facilities in Germany for its PV modules and components like solar glass. Centrosolar America, Inc. has a strong offering in the US market with complete CentroPack® PV kits – along with branded PV modules, PV rooftop racking solutions and other balance-of system components like switchgear and inverters. Centrosolar America has full-scale distribution facilities in Arizona, California and New Jersey and serves a national value-added integrator network for the residential and commercial channel. More information at www.centrosolaramerica.com

About Scout Solar, LLC
Scout Solar, LLC is a privately owned solar project integrator based in Tempe, Arizona, providing installation, project management and financing services. Having assisted both commercial and non-profit organizations in the Phoenix Metro area, the company has established a reputation for installing systems that rate well above market standards. Working closely with a range of equipment manufacturers and distributors, steel contractors and engineering consultants, as well as 3rd party financial institutions as needed, Scout Solar is able to provide quality systems under a financial model that works well for all parties involved. For more information, e-mail Scout Solar at info@scoutsolar.com

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Missouri: A New Day Dawning in Solar Energy Advancements

Posted by 18 October, 2011 (0) Comment

Missouri PartnershipBy Christopher Chung

When you think of solar energy in the U.S., Missouri may not be the first place that comes to mind. But a new study by Professor Matt Croucher of Arizona State University has put Missouri among the top states for solar power generation.

It’s a matter of resources – and resourcefulness. Missouri is in a great place for solar, with more than 200 sunny days on average per year and solar resources ranging from 4.5 to 5.0 kilowatt-hours per square meter per day. That number puts Missouri higher than Germany, the country that leads the world in solar energy production.

Missouri also has the sixth lowest cost-per-watt for solar installation and better than average opportunities for job creation in the industry. But the thing that really tips the scales in the state’s favor is the fact that demand for solar power is high.

Solar initiatives are more than just environmental obligations for the state of Missouri. They are also engines for economic growth. In the past few years Missouri has aggressively implemented programs requiring utility companies to increase their renewable energy portfolios. In 2008, the state’s citizens overwhelmingly approved a measure calling for 15 percent of Missouri’s electricity to originate from clean energy sources by 2021. The measure included a two percent solar carve-out (or 190,000 megawatt hours.) Missouri was one of only 16 states to adopt such a provision.

In 2009, the state formed the Missouri Solar Energy Industry Association (MOSEIA) with the goal of increasing market growth for solar in the state. MOSEIA works to protect the regulatory language for enhancing Missouri’s solar initiatives and for passing subsequent legislation.

Missouri also offers numerous government loans and incentives for solar energy. The state’s Linked Deposit Loan Program – along with Property Assessed Clean Energy loans for commercial developments – helps promote the creation and retention of solar energy jobs. Solar rebates and federal investment tax credits strengthen Missouri’s foothold as a solar energy state.

Aside from legislation, Missouri also has one of the best business climates in the nation, making it an ideal location for solar start-ups. The state ranks third for low business costs and has the fifth best corporate income tax index in the U.S. A central location helps support Missouri’s thriving manufacturing industry, with 52 percent of all manufacturing establishments located within a single day’s drive. The state’s top ten transportation network is a terrific asset for industries – like solar – which depend on low-cost shipping to stay profitable.

But workforce is continually cited as the state’s most important asset. And, with a work force of over 3 million, Missouri has the numbers to support solar production on a large scale. A recent report from the Brookings Institution ranked Missouri 6th for solar photovoltaic jobs in 2010 and 8th for degree of solar photovoltaic job specialization. The state also placed 8th for growth in solar thermal jobs from 2003-2010, a fact that is drawing attention from companies in the industry:

• Milbank Manufacturing recently announced plans for new production lines in Kansas City, Mo. where renewable energy products – including solar components – will be made. The $2.7 million expansion is expected to create 57 new jobs.

• Solutia, a world-leading provider of critical components for use in the solar energy market is headquartered in St. Louis. Solutia produces encapsulants for solar modules, heat transfer fluids for concentrated solar power plants and PV film coatings.

• Dow Chemical is currently developing a solar park in conjunction with the city of Columbia. It will be the largest solar production site in the state of Missouri.

The Columbia project will join a number of solar arrays across the state. Emerson Electric, headquartered in St. Louis, recently built a new data center powered by more than 550 solar panels. At peak output, the array meets about 16 percent of the center’s energy requirements.

Kansas City Power & Light has announced plans to install rooftop solar technology at selected commercial buildings, government facilities and residences as part of its SmartGrid demonstration, made possible by a $24 million grant from the Department of Energy.

Recently, the St. Louis Housing Authority, along with Sunwheel Energy Partners, began the final phase of a $10.4 million solar installation. Using more than 2,000 solar panels, the project will create enough electricity to power more than 70 homes for a year. The expected reduction in carbon dioxide emissions will be equivalent to removing 170 cars from the road.

None of these projects would be possible, were it not for new energy research coming out of Missouri’s colleges and universities. At the University of Missouri – Columbia (MU), Professor Patrick Pinhero, Ph.D., recently developed a flexible solar sheet that captures 95 percent of available light – that’s nearly five times the efficiency of traditional panels. Pinhero is looking to commercialize his technology within the next five years.

MU also collaborated with Missouri Science and Technology University (Missouri S&T) in Rolla to build a solar house which placed 11th in the recent Solar Decatholon in Washington D.C. The house joins three previous entries to make up S&T’s “Solar Village,” a community of solar-powered homes available for rent by students and faculty. The school recently won a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for research in solar energy and energy management, which will allow students to use hybrid solar thermal electric panels (STEPS) in their house design.

These advances in research and production breed a certain optimism for Missouri’s solar industry, and companies are beginning to take notice. Solar is no longer a “someday” concept. It’s happening right now in Missouri.

Christopher Chung is Chief Executive Officer of Missouri Partnership, a public private non-profit corporation working closely with the Missouri Department of Economic Development and regional and local economic development organizations around the state.

For more information visit: www.missouripartnership.com

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Un-Analytics: How Google Went Solar

Posted by 8 September, 2011 (0) Comment

by Dan Auld

September 8, 2011 –  Google loves talking about world before analytics — when web owners knew almost nothing about their sites.

Nothing useful, anyway.

That all changed when a new technology came along that allowed web owners to monitor their sites as much as they wanted. Any time they wanted.

Web sites suddenly became a business proposition, not just an enthusiasm for a few hobbyists.

Flash forward from the introduction of Google Analytics up to 2007, when Google got into the solar business and opened a 1.65 megawatt photovoltaic power array. The largest commercial system in the world at the time.

Just like web sites before Analytics, Google would soon learn how little it actually knew about its solar array.

After its panels were up for 15 months, Google cleaned them and documented its efforts in a report called “Getting the most energy out of Google’s solar panels.”

On several sections of its array, solar energy output doubled after the cleaning. Eight months later, energy output went up 37 percent after another cleaning. But here comes the money graph:

It would be difficult to detect manufacturer defects or accidental damage by data analysis alone, unless the damage impacts >~20% of the solar panels in that building.

Example: There have been few occasions when some of the solar panels … were damaged by delivery trucks accidentally hitting the support beams that hold up the solar panels.

Since these accidents did not damage a sizable portion of the solar panels, the damage went undetected for a while.

Losing 50 percent of your power is real money, even for Google.

“Just like the web prior to Analytics, Google had to admit it really did not know what was happening in its array — because it had no way to monitor when good panels went bad,” said Mark Yarbrourgh, a city councilman in Perris, California who pioneered the use of solar in public buildings. “But neither does anyone else. Arrays malfunction and no one knows because they do not use monitors at the panel level.”

Undetected, solar panels go bad in all sorts of ways. Panels degrade anywhere from .5% to 9.5% a year, depending on the manufacturer, says Sandia Laboratories in a study for the Department of Energy.

How will you know what your panels will do? Warranty Week Magazine says you won’t. Not really:

“ And yes, it really is guesswork.”

Dirt plays even more havoc. If not dirt, a bird dropping, or a baseball, or a golfball, or a rock, or a squirrel chewing a wire, or a Texas oak thick with pollen, or heat on the roof, or poor soldering. Or a shadow — all worse than you think, says the National Renewable Energy Laboratories:

“ The reduction in power from shading half of one cell is equivalent to removing a cell active area 36 times the shadow’s actual size.”

“One bird, one truck of dirt, one flowering tree can destroy your solar production, and you would not know for a long time,” Yarbrough said. “Welcome to the Christmas Tree Effect: Hurt the panel a little, hurt production a lot. It is amazing how many people put up solar for great reasons, but really do not watch their systems. As a result, a lot of people lose a lot of money because many, many systems are not producing the power its owners were promised. And few know.”

Maybe because knowing it is not that useful.

“If your solar array produces a megawatt of power, that means it is composed of 3000 to 5000 panels,” said Ray Burgess, CEO of Solar Power Technologies. “If some panels go bad, you need panel level monitoring to find the bad panels. But most systems monitor power at the system level, but as Google found out, that is that useful for detecting catastrophic failure, but not much else.”

Thus the need for small wireless monitors throughout the array.

“Now that we have cost effective monitors from a company in Austin, that is going to change the world, just like Google Analytics.”

Leading the solar monitor business is Burgess and Solar Power Technologies of Austin, Texas. The company is introducing monitors and other devices to give solar array owners unprecedented control over their panels. If you have 3500 panels and a few start breaking, you better have something better than “guesswork” to optimize your array.

“As we travel the country talking to panel owners about their systems, we are constantly amazed at how many systems that are producing power far below their capacity, and some not producing power at all. Monitors on the panels can change that and let you know what is really happening with your system. And where it is happening. Saving system owners thousands of dollars a month.”

Just like Google Analytics.

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New Solar Product Captures Up to 95 Percent of Light Energy

Posted by 18 May, 2011 (1) Comment

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Efficiency is a problem with today’s solar panels; they only collect about 20 percent of available light. Now, a University of Missouri engineer has developed a flexible solar sheet that captures more than 90 percent of available light, and he plans to make prototypes available to consumers within the next five years.

Patrick Pinhero, an associate professor in the MU Chemical Engineering Department, is developing a flexible solar sheet that captures more than 90 percent of available light. Today’s solar panels only collect 20 percent of available light.

Patrick Pinhero, an associate professor in the MU Chemical Engineering Department, says energy generated using traditional photovoltaic (PV) methods of solar collection is inefficient and neglects much of the available solar electromagnetic (sunlight) spectrum. The device his team has developed – essentially a thin, moldable sheet of small antennas called nantenna – can harvest the heat from industrial processes and convert it into usable electricity.  Their ambition is to extend this concept to a direct solar facing nantenna device capable of collecting solar irradiation in the near infrared and optical regions of the solar spectrum.

Working with his former team at the Idaho National Laboratory and Garrett Moddel, an electrical engineering professor at the University of Colorado, Pinhero and his team have now developed a way to extract electricity from the collected heat and sunlight using special high-speed electrical circuitry. This team also partners with Dennis Slafer of MicroContinuum, Inc., of Cambridge, Mass., to immediately port laboratory bench-scale technologies into manufacturable devices that can be inexpensively mass-produced.

“Our overall goal is to collect and utilize as much solar energy as is theoretically possible and bring it to the commercial market in an inexpensive package that is accessible to everyone,” Pinhero said. “If successful, this product will put us orders of magnitudes ahead of the current solar energy technologies we have available to us today.”

As part of a rollout plan, the team is securing funding from the U.S. Department of Energy and private investors. The second phase features an energy-harvesting device for existing industrial infrastructure, including heat-process factories and solar farms.

Within five years, the research team believes they will have a product that complements conventional PV solar panels. Because it’s a flexible film, Pinhero believes it could be incorporated into roof shingle products, or be custom-made to power vehicles.

Once the funding is secure, Pinhero envisions several commercial product spin-offs, including infrared (IR) detection.  These include improved contraband-identifying products for airports and the military, optical computing, and infrared line-of-sight telecommunications.

A study on the design and manufacturing process was published in the Journal of Solar Energy Engineering.

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