The Largest Concentrated Solar Power Plant About To Turn On In California

The 392MW Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System is coming online within the next few days. It is the largest concentrated solar power plant in the world. This $2 billion project, located in the California Mojave Desert about an hour southwest of Las Vegas, is capable of powering 140,000 homes. 

Concentrated solar is basically taking a large area of sunlight and concentrating it onto a small area using mirrors or lenses. In the case of Ivanpah, there are approximately 200,000 mirrors about the size of a garage door, each being pointed at a 400 ft solar tower. On top of the tower is a boiler where water is heated into steam from the directed sunlight of the mirrors. The steam then powers a turbine that generates electricity. 

 There is an interesting side story to this project as well. On the Ivanpah site, approximately 200 tortoises were found and relocated (at the costly price of $55,000 per tortoise.) The project developers came under scrutiny by several environmental groups for causing the loss of desert habitat. The problem was solved by setting aside nature preserves in the desert for the Ivanpah project as well as other future desert solar projects. 

California, Arizona, and Nevada are now trying to implement this solution in more places by setting up desert zones open for renewable energy development, and others that are off-limits (nature preserves.)  

These developments are significant because they show that many of the western states are working to ensure future support for large-scale desert solar projects from all parties. (NPR and Solar Industry Magazine)

Nobody in Boston Wants Free Money, what about Los Angeles?

We couldn't help but laugh at this video when we saw it. Apparently, people in Boston flat out don't want money when handed to them!

http://youtu.be/HYupUy7wiIU

The reason we laughed so hard because we often run into the same situation. What we do as a solar company is install systems for nothing down. Our customers pay us monthly, but the amount they save is even more. So they are making money, for free! Sometimes people just don't believe us.

Of course, it isn't really free. Who really pays for it is your utility. Because you get energy from the solar system, the utility isn't able to sell you theirs.

Do we feel bad for them? Of course not! They have been overcharging you for years. We are glad we can provide a low cost and green energy solution.

The World's Largest Solar Boat

The MS Tûranor PlanetSolar – The world’s largest solar boat – completed its unprecedented trip around the world in May 2012, after 19 months and 37,000 miles. The point of the voyage was to showcase the impressive power of solar energy. This summer, the PlanetSolar is continuing to show off its practical applications by being part of a scientific expedition up the Gulf Stream, led by Dr. Martin Beniston, a climatologist from the University of Geneva. The study focuses on the impact of aerosols and phytoplankton on climate.

The reason why the MS Tûranor is ideal for the study is that it has no pollutants (such as CO2 emissions), being powered completed powered by solar energy. This allows the scientists on-board to collect climate data without worrying about the contamination you would get on a regular boat.  

As can be seen from the picture above, PlanetSolar has a solar deck featuring 5500 square feet of photovoltaic solar panels, 93.5 kW worth of PV power, working at 18.8% efficiency. The boat also has eight tons worth of lithium ion batteries to store the solar energy. At full charge, the batteries can power PlanetSolar’s electric motor and its twin propellers for 72 hours. The maximum engine power is about 120kW, but on average the boat uses only 20kW (roughly 26.8HP). At a 100 foot length, MS Tûranor has an average speed of about 5 knots (9.25km/hour). It has a maximum capacity of 60 passengers at a time.

PlanetSolar was the brainchild of the Swiss eco-adventurer Raphaël Domjan. Valued at $17Million, the boat was financed by a German investor who saw potential in Domjan’s vision. Domjan has experience in electrical engineering, as an ambulance driver, as a mountain tour guide, and more – a jack of all trades. Throughout his life he has remained true to his belief in ecology conservation as well as the need for renewable energy. The MS Tûranor PlanetSolar will continue to serve Domjan’s vision, as it shows us the potential of solar power and renewable energy in general. (N.Y Times and PlanetSolar)

   

High-Efficiency Solar Cells Used In Space May Soon Become Affordable In the Consumer Market

Researchers at UC Berkeley released a paper on 7/24/2013, detailing a way to manufacture high efficiency III-V Photovoltaics at an affordable price for the mainstream consumer market. This could fundamentally alter the photovoltaic industry that is currently made up of mostly silicon-based cells, operating at around 20% efficiency at their peak.

III-V compounds, compounds made up of elements in columns III and V of the periodic table, are what make up these high-efficiency solar cells. These compounds are excellent semiconductors, allowing them to convert sunlight at 30% efficiency and above. However, in the past, the manufacturing of the compounds has been very complex and expensive, so III-V technology has been limited to powering satellites in space and military applications. III-V solar cells can cost up to ten times as much as silicon-based cells so the technology has not made sense for the consumer market.

Now, a research team led by UC Berkeley Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Ali Javey, have uncovered a way to produce indium phosphide, a III-V compound, from thin metal foil, faster and cheaper than traditional manufacturing processes. This will allow III-V solar cells to become very cost-efficient and therefore reasonable for every-day consumers.

Just like silicon-based solar cells made it from space satellites to our homes starting in the 1980’s, we could soon be seeing III-V solar cells that power our current satellites on our neighbors’ roofs. If this proves a viable and cost-efficient option, SunStarter and Solar Provider Group could be using it in the near future. (UC Berkeley News Center and IMEM-CNR Institute)

The Environmental Benefits of Solar Power in Los Angeles

How many trees would you have to plant to get the same effect as going solar on your home in Los Angeles? Could you give up your car? If you had a chance to prevent the burning of 10 barrels of oil, would you do it? Wouldn’t it be nice to learn exactly how much carbon you’ll keep out of the air by making the leap to solar energy? Now you can! With the Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator, you can figure how much noxious gas you’d keep out of the atmosphere, along with how many trees you’d have to plant, or cars you’d have to remove from the road to get the same effect.

There are also a variety of other equivalencies, like the number of barrels of oil you’ll avoid using and the acres of forest you’d be using to keep the air clearer.

To make the calculator work, you need to input the number of kilowatt-hours your system would produce each year. An average system in the LA area is about 5 kilowatts. Over the course of a year, a 5 kW system produces about 8000 kilowatt-hours of electricity. By putting that into the calculator, you get:

  • 1.2 cars taken off the road,
  • 633 gallons of gasoline avoided, and
  • 4.6 acres of forest preserved to recycle carbon dioxide.

There are many other cool equivalences, so check it out.

At the top of the list of the benefits that come with solar is the difference you’ll make for the environment. And at the end of the day, it’s our responsibility to do our own part to keep our skies clear and our air clean – and going solar will go a long way in decreasing our dependence on dirty fossil fuels.

Transparent Solar Cells: The Future of Solar?

Scientists at the UCLA Nano Renewable Energy Center of the California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI) have created a new type of solar cell that allows visible light to pass through, while absorbing infrared light. The result is a solar panel 70% invisible to human eyes that can be used on windows and other unprecedented surfaces.

Together, Dr. Yang Yang, Director of the Nano Renewable energy Center, and Dr. Paul S. Weiss, Director of CNSI, have been able to make even the metal that carries out the charge from the solar cell nearly transparent, using a silver nano wire.  

The solar cell is made from a specific polymer plastic that can be cheaply and efficiently produced. The material can even be made as a liquid and sprayed onto surfaces, opening it up to many different applications.

The trade-off is that transparent solar cells are not close to being as efficient as traditional silicon-based cells. The current efficiency achieved by the transparent cells is around 4% in lab conditions, whereas silicon-based, mainstream solar cells are at around 20% efficiency.

So, when will we start “seeing” invisible solar panels on our windows, maybe even our cellphone screens? According to Dr. Yang Yang, the technology could be widely available in a decade.

As SunStarter and Solar Provider Group are dedicated to providing the most current and cost-efficient solar options, we will surely be following the progress of this exciting new technology. (L.A Times and UCLA Newsroom)

What Is Weatherization and How Does It Save You Money?

A major incentive in going solar is the large savings on your monthly utility bill. However, in order to maximize these solar savings you need to make sure that you are not wasting energy each month and overpaying for your utility electricity. It may be that your energy needs can be met with a smaller solar system than your current electricity use indicates. We want to make sure that you are being as energy efficient as possible before you get a solar system and that is where weatherization comes in.

Weatherization, also called weatherproofing, is making changes to your home in order to reduce energy use and allow for maximum energy efficiency. It is basically protecting your home from the elements such as sunlight, rain, and wind. For example, making sure that your windows are double-paned so that heat doesn't escape from your home, lowering the house temperature, potentially forcing you to use your heater (i.e. excess energy use.)

According to a 2002 study conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), U.S. families saved an average of 32% on their annual energy bills through the weatherization of their homes (Weatherization Program.) These savings percentages translate to approximately $437 in average annual savings for American families (DOE.) This goes to show how important it is to maximize your energy efficiency before sizing your residential solar system.

Some basic tips on how to weatherize your home are:

  1. Get double-paned windows.
  2. Use blinds or curtains on your windows to keep out the summer sun (to avoid excessive heating) and hold onto the heat in your home (to avoid excessive cooling.)
  3. Replace your incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient LED/CFL lights.
  4. When upgrading your home appliances make sure to get energy-efficient Energy Star appliances.
  5. Unplug your appliances when not using them and/or use power strips, in order to avoid unnecessary energy use.
  6. Get a programmable thermostat to make sure that your AC/Heating system is not being used when you're not home.
  7. Set your water temperature to 120oF to ensure that your water heater is not being overused (this also keeps your water from being scalding hot.)

For more tips on weatherization in your home, download the DOE's excellent Energy Savers  Guide.be that your energy needs can be met with a smaller solar system than your current electricity use indicates. We want to make sure that you are being as energy efficient as possible before you get a solar system and that is where weatherization comes in.

Weatherization, also called weatherproofing, is making changes to your home in order to reduce energy use and allow for maximum energy efficiency. It is basically protecting your home from the elements such as sunlight, rain, and wind. For example, making sure that your windows are double-paned so that heat doesn't escape from your home, lowering the house temperature, potentially forcing you to use your heater (i.e. excess energy use.)

According to a 2002 study conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), U.S. families saved an average of 32% on their annual energy bills through the weatherization of their homes (Weatherization Program.) These savings percentages translate to approximately $437 in average annual savings for American families (DOE.) This goes to show how important it is to maximize your energy efficiency before sizing your residential solar system.

Some basic tips on how to weatherize your home are:

  1. Get double-paned windows.
  2. Use blinds or curtains on your windows to keep out the summer sun (to avoid excessive heating) and hold onto the heat in your home (to avoid excessive cooling.)
  3. Replace your incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient LED/CFL lights.
  4. When upgrading your home appliances make sure to get energy-efficient Energy Star appliances.
  5. Unplug your appliances when not using them and/or use power strips, in order to avoid unnecessary energy use.
  6. Get a programmable thermostat to make sure that your AC/Heating system is not being used when you're not home.
  7. Set your water temperature to 120oF to ensure that your water heater is not being overused (this also keeps your water from being scalding hot.)

For more tips on weatherization in your home, download the DOE's excellent Energy Savers Guide           

New Public Land Order Helps Large-Scale Solar Development

On 7/5/2013, the Department of Interior’s (DOI) Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a new federal order withdrawing 303,900 acres of land in 6 western states (California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico) to protect them from mining claims. The area withdrawn has been federally designated as especially well-suited for solar development. The Public Land Order ensures the possibility of exclusive solar development rights in these zones without the impedance of mining laws.

Although the order does not affect the 143 already-existing mining claims in these “solar energy zones” it is still a major step forward for President Obama’s climate action plan of reaching 20 gigawatts of solar capacity by 2020 (doubling our current 10 gigawatts.) The Administration is trying to show it commitment to expanding the U.S. renewable energy portfolio and making it impenetrably economically viable.