How to Use this Web Log

1. Browse through articles by clicking on "Older Posts" below each article in the center column.
2. Search through the Blog Archive at the lower right-hand column.

3. Read Editor's articles to the right.
4. Get Technical help in the lower left hand column.
5. Efficiency and low-waste strategies in the lower right column.

Monday, January 28, 2008

How To Deploy Solar Electric Systems

Response to Eric Janszen
This article " “The Next Bubble: Priming the Markets for Tomorrow’s Big Crash,” Harper’s, February 2008. touts renewable energy as the next bubble. I beg to differ.

Since I have education in business and economics, and a background in solar energy going back 26 years, I have to weigh in on this one. First of all what Eric Janszen is describing is not the healthy functioning of the economic system. It is actually what happens when the system is pervaded by corruption. These vulture capitalist tendencies are not a part of what sustains a free market economy. They are what destroys it.

The excessive, non-economic profits, (as they are called in business school) are making ruthless, immoral people fabulously wealthy while robbing society of its vitality. Don't get me wrong, I support a free market economy that operates within bounds that reflect the values of fair play, and healthy societal functioning. But when we get desensitized to the shady operators and dirty tricks that are at the root of these bubbles we are writing the epitaph of a free, prosperous society.

If the clean energy revolution falls into this same trap, we are finished. Because this is one issue which is not simply about consumerism, or the latest trend or the coolest new gizmo. This is about survival. If we don't truly allow the innovators to rise to the top, then we can kiss civilization goodbye, because the alternative is depopulation on a massive scale. James Lovelock, author of the Gaia hypothesis is predicting that this depopulation will kill off 5 1/2 billion people, leaving the earth with a sparsely populated impoverished habitat. He is also predicting that it is inevitable. He may be right if we don't clean up our act in terms of the systems that we use to solve our problems. This means government and economics.

The words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt come to mind: "We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics."

I am not a Libertarian or any other kind of ideologue. I am a student and practitioner of innovation, business, economics, history and a developer of solar energy technology for 26 years. I have a Masters degree in business and have built numerous highly successful solar energy products and installations. Because of this experience I conclude that the main impediments to implementing the transition to a solar/renewable energy economy occur because renewables do not easily fit alongside the highly vested monopolistic interests of our current energy providers. As a result I have been developing products that will take these monopolistic dinosaurs out of the loop. Competition is the only thing that will force them to change.

Eric Janszen responds:

Date Posted:
January 26, 2008

J Cole,
Solar is economical for consumers buy and run but not for producers to market, sell, install, etc. Is there no business model that works for the industry? Solar vs oil/gas is the difference between buying commoditized audio products (made in China) from a retail distributer at the local mall or the high end audio solutions (Made in USA) at the one high end audio reseller in a region. It comes down to demand, economies of scale, cost, price, cost benefit, marketing costs, cost of sales, etc. If oil were $200/bbl many home builders would include your solar products as a feature and an add on option for existing homes to reduce dependence on grid electticity would take off. Also, with economies of scale, off peak solar can feed back into the grid. A floating tariff that raises imported oil gradually to $200 will make this business model work for your industry.

Reply from Jonathan Cole, January 28th :

What you say is true that "It comes down to demand, economies of scale, cost, price, cost benefit, marketing costs, cost of sales, etc." However that is a general statement that does not address the specifics of how products are engineered to serve the user purpose as well as the economic purpose. At this time, all solar electric installations are one-of-a-kind custom designed installations. Like the early days of the automobile industry where every car was coach-built. How many cars would be sold today if each one was unique? Until we mass produce modularized energy appliances with low installation & maintenance costs, and high durability, we cannot make the change to distributed (the most efficient) solar electric systems.
Jonathan Cole

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Selling Excess Solar Energy to the Grid

Extra Power From Private Wind and Solar Generation Can Be Given Back To Grid More Easily

ScienceDaily (Jan. 25, 2008) — An increasing number of people use wind or solar energy as a power source, and at times, they have extra power available that could be sold to the electricity grid. Dutch-sponsored researcher Haimin Tao examined how this externally generated energy can be better stored and transferred.

In a project funded by Technology Foundation STW, Haimin Tao examined the conditions a good regulation system for energy transfer must meet. As the sources and storage elements vary considerably in terms of aspects such as voltage level, the conventional conversion technique needed to be improved. The search for improvements focused on soft switching, reduction of current amplitudes and a greater efficiency.

To safeguard the quality of the power flows, the researcher sought the appropriate regulators and storage systems so that the energy generated by external sources could be (temporarily) stored in suitable components, such as batteries and supercapacitors.

Eventually he arrived at a triple port system that rendered energy transfer between different sources possible. As the new triple port converter transforms the energy in a single step, it could be more cost effective, flexible and efficient than the conventional approach.

Philips, which participates in the STW users' committee for the research project, saw a marketable idea in the system. Following the testing of an experimental system, a patent was applied for and obtained. Philips might use the patent for future products.

Adapted from materials provided by Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Maximum Efficiency Solar Electric

Maximum efficiency Inverter

Published: 18 January 2008 08:30 AM
Source: The Engineer Online

A maximum efficiency rating of 98.5 per cent for photovoltaic inverters has been achieved by the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE in a test using prototype silicon carbide-based MOSFETs manufactured by Cree.

These are claimed to be the highest efficiency results reported for photovoltaic inverters to date. Fraunhofer researchers succeeded in reducing the power dissipation of conventional inverters by 30 to 50 percent when compared with results obtained with traditional silicon-based transistors. They are the first researchers worldwide to test the new semiconductor material for this application.

Inverters transform direct current generated by photovoltaic systems into alternating current and feed it into the public grid. The higher the efficiency rating of the inverter, the greater is the energy yield of the entire photovoltaic system. To achieve the highest energy output over time, the efficiency rating should also remain high over a wide range of power levels.

During testing, the inverter with Cree SiC components also set a new performance precedent across a wide range of power output values.

'We are thrilled to have achieved this record level of efficiency. Silicon carbide components switch faster and have a smaller forward bias power loss than traditional silicon-based transistors,' said Dr Bruno Burger, head of the Power Electronics Group at Fraunhofer ISE.

Fraunhofer ISE is the first organisation known to test silicon carbide MOSFETs in this application. 'Our work involved characterising the components and integrating them into existing inverters. If, in a further step, the inverter circuitry is optimised specifically for silicon carbide, then even greater efficiencies could certainly be achieved,' he added.

Currently, the semiconductor silicon carbide (SiC) has mainly been used in white LEDs. SiC diodes have been available for quite a while. However, the MOSFETs (Metal Oxide Semiconductor Field Effect Transistors) which are necessary for the power stage in inverters have not been available until recently.

The Fraunhofer team achieved the efficiency rating record with a single-phase inverter with their patent-pending HERIC topology and a nominal power rating of 5kW. They also increased the efficiency rating of a three-phase inverter with a nominal power rating of 7kW from 95.1 to 97.5 percent.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Super-efficient Solar Energy From Heat

Revisiting nano-antenna technology

January 4, 2008 Idaho National Laboratory (INL) reports that research conducted in conjunction with partners at Microcontinuum Inc. (Cambridge, MA) and Patrick Pinhero of the University of Missouri is promising a method for developing cheap solar energy technology that could be imprinted on flexible materials and still draw energy after the sun has set. The technology uses a special manufacturing process to stamp tiny square spirals, or “nanoantennas”, of conduction metal onto a sheet of plastic and the team estimates individual nanoantennas can absorb close to 80 percent of the available energy in comparison to current commercial solar panels which usually transform less that 20 percent of the usable energy that strikes them into electricity – this is even more impressive than the 30% conversion rate offered by the recently discussed development of nano flakes.

Due to their size – each interlocking spiral nanoantenna is as wide as 1/25 the diameter of a human hair - the nanoantennas absorb energy in the infrared part of the spectrum, just outside the range of what is visible to the eye. Since the sun radiates a lot of infrared energy, some of which is soaked up by the earth and later released as radiation for hours after sunset, nanoantennas can take in energy from both sunlight and the earth's heat, with higher efficiency than conventional solar cells. The new approach, which garnered two 2007 Nano50 awards, was made possible by the boom in nanotechnology, but finding an efficient way to stamp out arrays of atom-scale spirals took a number of years. The INL team says that the antennas might one day be produced like foil or plastic wrap on roll-to-roll machinery and so far they have demonstrated the imprinting process with six-inch circular stamps, each holding more than 10 million antennas.

The nanoantennas could prove to be a more efficient and sustainable alternative to current commercial solar panels, which are made of processed silicon – the supply of which is lagging – and doped with exotic elements to boost efficiency. In contrast the nanoantenna circuits can be made of a number of different conducting metals, and the nanoantennas can be printed on thin, flexible materials like polyethylene. By focusing on readily available materials and rapid manufacturing the team’s aim is to make nanoantenna arrays as cheap as inexpensive carpet. The team says nanoantenna collectors might be used to charge portable battery packs, coat the roofs of homes or even be integrated into polyester fabric.

As exciting as the potential of the technology is, not all the hurdles have been passed yet. While the nanoantennas are easily manufactured, the problem of creating a way to store or transmit the electricity is yet to be solved. Although infrared rays create an alternating current in the nanoantenna, the frequency of the current switches back and forth ten thousand billion times a second - much too fast for electrical appliances, which operate on currents that oscillate only 60 times a second. The team is exploring ways to slow that cycling down and has a patent pending on a variety of potential energy conversion methods. They anticipate they are only a few years away from creating the next generation of solar energy collectors.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Advanced compressed air storage for renewable energy

Compressed Solutions
Published: 02 January 2008 05:11 PM
Source: The Engineer Online

RWE Power has joined forces with GE to develop an Advanced Adiabatic Compressed Air Energy Storage (AA-CAES) system with higher efficiency than current available solutions.

The intermittent nature of wind energy means that there is a need for the energy generated from wind turbines to be stored efficiently so that it can be recovered when needed.

And, according to Chris Bullough from Alstom Power Technology Centre in Leicester, whilst pumped hydro storage, batteries and fuel cells have some advantages, only compressed air energy storage (CAES) has the storage capacity of pumped hydro, but with lower cost and less geographic restrictions.

In a paper he presented at the 2004 European Wind Energy Conference, Bullough said that existing diabatic CAES plants lose heat energy from the cycle during compression, which must be re-generated before the compressed air is expanded in a modified gas turbine. Adiabatic CAES, on the other hand, uses a separate thermal energy store during the compression part of the cycle. During the generation part of the cycle the thermal energy store is used to reheat the air, which is then expanded through a sliding pressure air turbine.

This storage technology offers significant improvements in cycle efficiency and, as no fuel is used, it generates no CO2.

RWE Power and GE will initially conduct a joint feasibility study which will be completed by the end of 2008. Based on the findings of the study, a first demonstration plant is scheduled for 2012.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Low-cost ways to slow planetary decline

This is a list of things that every responsible person must undertake immediately to reduce our impact on the planetary system. We do not have to wait for politicians. If we take these steps to reduce wasteful energy use, we not only save a lot of money, but we also save an incalculable amount of suffering for ourselves and future generations. This is written for non-technical people and takes a few minutes to read, so please read it.
  • The single most energy intensive appliance for most people is the electric water tank heater. The energy intensive electric water tank systems is without argument the most wasteful appliance and also very easy to improve and reduce both the cost and use of electricity. This is inexpensively accomplished by the use of a water tank timer, that shuts off the heater element at bedtime and turns it back on an hour or so before you get up. These cost about $40 and are installable by a handy person or an electrician. A permit is not required so it is generally very inexpensive even if you have to pay someone for installation. You can save up to 12% of the energy use of an un-timed heating tank. For most people, the payback time is less than a year for self installation and less than two years for the cost of having it installed. These timers are available at most hardware stores such as Ace and True Value, and building suppliers such as Home Depot, Lowes as well as local building supply and electrical supply businesses. It involves the mounting of the timer and the hook up of an in wire and an out wire, so don't let anyone overcharge you to do the installation. Do this right away!!!!! You can save even more money although the payback is somewhat longer, by installing an instantaneous hot water heater that does not store heated water in a tank. It makes it only when you use it. There are both gas and electric models for any sized household. The most energy and cost saving hot water system is the solar hot water system. Usually pays for itself in 5 years in sunny places and longer in places with less sun. These systems typically last for 15-25 years, so represent an excellent investment, especially if you can take advantage of tax credits and other incentives.
  • The second most energy intensive appliance for most people is the refrigerator/freezer. You can also use a timer on your refrigerator. Turning it off at night when people are not opening and closing the doors will prevent the refrigerator from cycling unnecessarily during periods of low use. I am doing this with great results. No food spoilage or even excessive condensation requiring defrosting. The reason this works is because a considerable amount of cooling is stored in the contents of your refrigerator/freezer. If you don't have much in yours, you can just put in bottles of water to get the same results. You can buy a timer at the same stores as those that sell the water heater timer. You want to make sure you get an appliance grade timer with a rating that will meet or exceed the energy draw of your refrigerator. This information is often on the label that identifies the model. Sometimes the label is inside the refrigerator along the door frame and sometimes it is on the back. You are looking for a rating in watts or horsepower (HP). I am successfully saving significant energy use with a $12 timer from the hardware store. The installation only requires setting the timer, plugging it into the outlet that your refrigerator uses and then plugging the refrigerator into the timer. Your hardware store should be able to show you the right timer, when you tell them how many watts or what horsepower rating your refrigerator motor uses. If you buy a new refrig, make sure you get the one with the best energy rating for the size that you need. There is generally a yellow tag inside the freezer of the models being sold in stores. They give you an energy use in kilowatt hours per year. The lower the number the more energy efficient it is.
  • Use compact fluorescent light bulbs where ever possible. Get the kind that have a white plastic globe and look like ordinary light bulbs. The plastic globe will contain the mercury in these bulbs if one should be dropped and break. At the end of the 5-10 year life of the bulb they should be recycled or safely stored until recycling becomes available. They use 1/4 of the electricity to produce light as incandescent and halogen bulbs do. This is because almost all the energy is converted to light instead of heat. These bulbs are just a transition phase on the way to a lighting revolution in the next ten years which will use LED, OLED and capacitive light sheets . Your next round of lighting purchases will be from these categories and will reduce energy use even more while providing lights that may last 20-50 years. But don't wait for these. The big retailers are selling compact fluorescents at rock bottom prices and you get your investment back in a very short time. And by the way you can buy dimmers for fluorescent lights, so that is no excuse.
  • Get power strips with on-off switches for all appliances such as TVs, stereos, computers and other electronic equipment so that you can defeat the standby feature that wastes untold amount of energy. There is virtually no benefit to the end user of these standby systems so why pay for electricity use that gives you no benefit? Power strips are widely available for very low prices in grocery stores, hardware stores, building suppliers, etc. Shop around. I have bought them for as little as a few dollars. They can be conveniently mounted on wall, under tables or desks and also help to organize your wiring. You can also get switched surge protectors which also protect your equipment from spikes in the electrical voltage. These are a bit more expensive but pay for themselves because your equipment will last longer.
  • For those in the financial position to afford solar electric power systems, properly installed, these systems will pay for themselves in under 10 years and continue producing electricity for up to 40 years. I have lived on such systems for decades and continue to be amazed at the fact that more people don't take this option.
  • Educate the children on the importance of not wasting energy. They must learn the importance of turning off lights, TV, computer, and stereo when not in use.They will be the main victims of the planetary climate crisis, and they need to be told in strong terms of the necessity of protecting the world and themselves.
If all the people of the developed world were to take these steps immediately an enormously large amount of CO2 and other pollution would be avoided, while at the same time saving money. Anyone who fails to undertake these steps once informed of the ease and cost-saving advantage is a threat to themselves, their families and the entire community of human beings. Be responsible, save money, DO These Things NOW!!!! And pass this on to everyone you know!