Tag Archives: thermal

New solar energy technology comes on line in Hawaii

From solar.coolerplanet.com

Solar energy through solar-thermal technology is not new, but it has not been adopted on a micro scale until now.

Sopogy, the designer of a concentrating solar power system called MicroCSP, announced this week that it has built the world’s first small-scale solar-thermal plant on the Hawaiian island of Kona.

Sopogy’s technology is similar to that used in massive solar-thermal installations that occupy thousands of acres of land. Those systems use mirrors to concentrate the sun’s rays on a central tower that contains fluid; the fluid is heated and steam can be generated to spin a turbine that generates electricity. But the MicroCSP units are small and modular; they circulate fluid through a receiver in the middle of the mirror.

The new plant on Kona occupies just 3.8 acres, Sopogy says. Its 1,000 MicroCSP units can generate 2 megawatts of electricity, and a buffer system allows thermal energy to be generated even in cloudy weather.

The 2-megawatt facility was built at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii, a state-run research and education center on Kona’s west coast. The lab’s tenants study ocean-based and renewable energy technologies.

Solar mecca

Plans to build three large energy plants on the Carrizo Plain could turn SLO County into a nationwide pioneer — but the proposals aren’t without critics, who say the industrial uses would cause irreparable harm to the area’s environment and wildlife

By David Sneed, sanluisobispo.com

San Luis Obispo County could become the nation’s leader in solar energy if three large-scale commercial solar plants are approved to start operating near the Carrizo Plain National Monument.

Two are photovoltaic plants that use solar panels to convert sunlight into electricity. According to the Solar Energy Industry Association, they would be the two largest photovoltaic systems in the world.

The third would also be the world’s largest of its kind: a solar thermal plant that uses the sun’s heat to drive electrical steam generators.

The plants could be online as early as 2013. Together, they would produce 977 megawatts of power, enough electricity to serve more than 100,000 homes. Not only are the plants large, they are also on track to be some of the first to come online, said Sue Kateley, executive director of the California chapter of the Solar Energy Industry Association.

“San Luis Obispo County could be the first to see the actual shovels in the ground,” she said.

Several factors are driving this unprecedented growth of solar power.

One is Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ambitious goal of having 33 percent of the state’s power come from renewable sources by 2020. State and federal tax breaks also encourage the quick development of renewable energy sources.

All three plants are still in the planning phase with state and county officials processing construction applications, but little seems to stand in the way of their eventual approval. Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has signed contracts to purchase all the power they will produce.

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eSolar unveils new solar energy plant

By Danny Vo, Coolerplanet.com

The solar energy industry took a step forward this week as eSolar unveiled a new solar thermal tower in California.

According to the company, its 5-megawatt Sierra SunTower plant is currently the only one of its kind in the country. The facility will be able to power at least 4,000 California homes through Southern California Electric.

“Sierra is just the beginning. Soon eSolar technology will be deployed worldwide to provide clean, affordable energy to hundreds of thousands of homes,” said eSolar CEO Bill Gross.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger also praised the “historic plant opening” that had been helped along by the state’s solar-friendly policies.

The plant will use thousands of mirrors to focus sunlight onto a tower containing fluid that is heated to power turbines. According to eSolar, the project was completed in under a year and created 300 construction jobs while it was in development.

A number of other utility-scale solar energy plants are expected to go online early in the next decade, especially in various parts of the Southwest.

Nobel laureate: Wind is not the future

By Erik Palm, CNET.com

While the Obama administration has expressed increasing hopes that wind power will play a key role in America’s future energy system, one of the world’s leading scientists is ruling out the technology.

Jack Steinberger, the 1968 Nobel Prize winner in physics and director of CERN’s particle-physics laboratory, spoke at a conference of Nobel laureates at the 350-year-old Royal Society in London last week.

His conclusion: “Wind is not the future,” according to the London Times.

Steinberger says Europe should cancel its big wind plans and that solar energy is the future.

Historical resources in the energy-hungry world are being depleted, he said, predicting that fossil fuels, coal, and oil will be gone in 60 years. But the solution, he asserted, is not wind power.

The reason? Wind power still requires backup power when the wind isn’t blowing, and that decreases its contribution to emissions reductions.

On the other hand, solar thermal power–where collectors concentrate sunlight using mirrors and lenses to produce electric power and heat–is already economical and can handle the storage problem, he said. The heat produced can be stored, enabling solar thermal plants to produce electricity during hours without sunlight.

Steinberger now wants funding for a big pilot project.

The idea is to link solar thermal power from Northern Africa to Europe via high-voltage undersea cables. The proposed 3- to 3.5-gigawatt power plant would cost an estimated $32 billion to build. Steinberger believes that 80 percent of Europe’s energy needs could be met by solar thermal power plants in the Sahara by 2050.

In the U.S., which has the world’s largest installed base of wind power, the Obama administration has pinned high hopes on wind, with Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar recently expressing hope that wind power could replace coal.

Meanwhile, the 1976 Nobel Prize winner in physics, professor Burton Richter of Stanford University, agreed that solar energy is a promising new technology, but speaking at the Royal society conference, did not want to rule out wind as a future energy source.

Solar energy a possibility in Southlake

By Chrisitina Rowland, Staff writer, SCNTX.com

The city of Southlake currently has no ordinance on the books concerning solar energy systems. They are prohibited in Southlake.

That could soon be changing, however. There was a citywide SPIN meeting Monday night to inform the public about a proposed ordinance that will go before planning and zoning April 9.

Daniel Cortez, a member of the city planning department, gave Monday’s presentation and answered questions for citizens.

He said the interest in solar energy came about last summer when some residents inquired with the city about it. They decided not to move forward, but it made the city begin to weigh such items for the future.

Although there is currently no one asking the city about permits for solar energy systems, the city is trying to be proactive and put an ordinance in place.

The new ordinance would address both solar PV systems and solar thermal systems. The solar PV systems generate solar energy for a home, while a thermal system heats home water.

According to the PowerPoint presentation, a solar thermal system in Texas can generate up to 90 percent of annual water heating needs.

The initial cost of either system can be expensive, but the federal government does offer some assistance for those wanting to switch to solar energy. The government will cover 30 percent of the cost of the system. In Texas, property taxes will not be raised if the system increases your property value. In addition, Oncor offers customer rebates of up to $2.46 per installed watt of system size for those who want to use solar power.

There are also similar incentive programs for commercial businesses wanting to be greener.

For those residents wanting to use solar energy, they would have to apply for a specific use permit and meet certain requirements.

For residential systems mounted on the ground, they can not exceed a height of 14 feet and must be 10 feet from any property line or building. For roof mounted systems, the ordinance notes it cannot extend beyond the thickness of the panel itself and an addition of up to six inches from the roof.

For commercial use, the units must all be mounted on the roof and must “not extend beyond the lowest point of the parapet wall and shall be installed at the same angle as the roof.”

For both residential and commercial use, the ordinance would require that the system is not to impact any neighboring properties or public right-of-way from nuisance glare. The ordinance also states the solar energy system cannot be installed on a lot until a building permit has been issued or the building is built.

Some residents at the meeting had a problem with this, noting that if they own a lot adjacent to their home with no building on it they could not use that lot to house a solar energy farm.

Public input was gathered at the meeting and will be presented to both planning and zoning and city council as the ordinance moves forward. No changes will come out of Monday’s meeting and it will be presented in the same form to planning and zoning as it was to the public on Monday night.

Solar Energy Industry Group Reports US Solar Market Hit Record Growth In 2008, Despite Economic Crisis

From SEIA.org

Smart federal policies needed to maintain growth and meet President Obama’s renewable energy goals

WASHINGTON– Today, the Solar Energy Industries Association released its 2008 U.S. Solar Industry Year in Review, highlighting a third year of record growth. The report notes that 1,265 megawatts (MW) of solar power of all types were installed in 2008, bringing total U.S. solar power capacity up 17 percent to 8,775 MW. The 2008 figure included 342 MW of solar photovoltaic (PV), 139 MWTh (thermal equivalent) of solar water heating, 762 MWTh of pool heating and an estimated 21 MW of solar space heating and cooling.

“Despite severe economic pressures in the United States, demand for solar energy grew tremendously in 2008,” said Rhone Resch, president and CEO of SEIA. “Increasingly, solar energy has proven to be an economic engine for this country, creating thousands of jobs, unleashing billions in investment dollars and building new factories from New Hampshire to Michigan to Oregon.”

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Biggest Solar Deal Ever Announced — We’re Talking Gigawatts

By Alexis Madrigal, blog.wired.com

(Credit: BrightSource Energy)

(Credit: BrightSource Energy)

The largest series of solar installations in history, more than 1,300 megawatts, is planned for the desert outside Los Angeles, according to a new deal between the utility Southern California Edison and solar power plant maker, BrightSource.

The momentous deal will deliver more electricity than even the largest nuclear plant, spread out among seven facilities, the first of which will start up in 2013. When fully operational, the companies say the facility will provide enough electricity to power 845,000 homes — more than exist in San Francisco — though estimates like that are notoriously squirrely.

The technology isn’t the familiar photovoltaics — the direct conversion of sunlight into electricity — but solar thermal power, which concentrates the sun’s rays to create steam in a boiler and spin a turbine.

“We do see solar as the large untapped resource, particularly in Southern California,” said Stuart Hemphill, vice president of renewable energy and power at Southern California Edison. “It’s barely tapped and we’re eager to see it expand in our portfolio.”

BrightSource is the reincarnation of Luz International, which built the only currently operating solar thermal facility during the 1980s in the Mojave Desert. After natural gas and energy prices plunged in 1985, that operation became unprofitable. The group’s engineers and founders moved the business to Israel, where they continued to work on their technology.

The new deal breaks the company’s own record for the largest ever solar deal. The new installations, when completed, will produce 3.7 billion kilowatt hours of electricity per year. Previously, they’d cut a deal to deliver 900 megawatts of power to the Northern California utility, PG&E.

“Coupled with our earlier partnership with PG&E, this agreement proves that the energy industry recognizes the important role that solar thermal will play in the energy future,” John Woolard, CEO of BrightSource, said in a press conference with reporters.

While Brightsource is a leader in the field, a variety of other companies compete in the solar thermal space. Google.org and other investors have backed eSolar’s with $130 million funding. Abu Dhabi’s clean-tech fund, Masdar, has funded a $1.2 billion solar thermal company called Torresol. Yet another player, Abengoa, recently signed a $4 billion deal with Arizona Public Utilities, and Stirling Energy Systems, a company that has adapted the Stirling Engine, a 200-year-old invention, for concentrated solar power, even pulled in a $100 million investment.

The first of the seven installations will be in Ivanpah, California and will be rated at 100 megawatts of peak power. The companies expect it to produce 286,000 megawatt hours of electricity per year. When all the installations are finished, they’ll stretch over 10,500 acres of land.

Southern California Edison’s Hemphill said that the new plants would provide a valuable hedge against volatile natural gas prices, noting that his company had seen natural gas prices as low as $4 per thousand million cubic feet (a standard industry measure) and as high as $16. Given the variability of natural gas pricing, Hemphill said that his company did not expect the solar thermal electricity to exceed the market cost of electricity in California.

The 1980s-era solar thermal plants use the oldest solar thermal technology around, known as a parabolic trough. Mirrors shaped like a paper-towel roll cut in half concentrate the sun’s rays on a liquid. That heat can be transformed into various types of energy. The Luz fields made electricity, but Frank Shuman built a plant based on this principle to pump water in Egypt in the first decade of the 20th century.

The new design  sounds more exciting. Mirrors that track the sun — heliostats — sit in a massive field around a tower with a boiler. All those mirrors concentrate the sun’s heat on the boiler, which makes steam and drives a turbine.

Solar thermal is seen as a promising source of energy for city-scale power because it works on very well established principles. Photovoltaics have come down in price — and thin-film plastic solar cells could get even cheaper — but the conversion of sunlight to electricity remains a novel source of energy. The first working cells were only built half a century ago, and they were truly something new in the world.

Steam-driven turbines, on the other hand, make almost 90 percent of the world’s electricity and their ancestry stretches back to the start of the Industrial Revolution. Solar thermal engineers, then, can use the knowledge gained from more than a century of tinkering at coal, natural gas, and nuclear fission plants.