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.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Smart Energy Use Close To Home

There is no reason why distributed RE cannot be baseload, dispatchable power. All that is required is cost-effective, no-maintenance, efficient electrical energy storage that can be part of a smart grid intertied system.

There already is such storage in the form of economically scalable lithium-titanate battery systems. A recent 2 MW installation was reported at $0.50 per nominal kwHr. But with a reported 15,000 deep cycles for this technology at 90%+ throughput efficiency, this translates to costing about 3-4 cents a kilowatt hour stored, a fraction of the current standard of high-maintenance flooded lead acid batteries which run $0.15+ per kwHr stored.

This would indicate that only financing to ramp up production (which would also reduce costs) of these batteries and the development of mass-produced distributed energy appliances that are cheap to install and have no or low maintenance is what stands in the way. Although mismanagement could also factor in.

This is not a lifestyle choice it is a rational economic choice. It is also a choice which can maintain our lifestyle without wrecking our habitat. If you simply put in RE and allow the continuing incredible waste of energy, nothing gets solved. This means put the knowledge and control at the point of use.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Sunny future beckons

Are Tax Credits the Best Way To Drive Renewable Energy Investments?

While, this idea of requiring new construction to also finance RE systems to offset the ever expanding atmospheric carbon output is worth developing, the devil is in the details. That old "law of unintended consequences" could easily take the shine off the concept.

Personally, I am not sure that the market needs to be stimulated by mandates. I have lived utilizing solar energy in my home for 16 years. I am quite happy with my PV energy system, but I am very technically oriented and don't mind getting my hands dirty. What I glean from the experience is that no one to date, has developed integrated, modularized, no-maintenance energy appliances that are user friendly and cost-effective.

But it is not because it cannot be done. All of the elements of such a system have already been demonstrated, piecemeal, by small innovative companies. What's left to do is to gather the visionary investment required to integrate the innovations and thereby make this technology appropriate for non-technical users and available on a wide-spread basis. The company that does this will own the future, because right now there are hundreds of thousands of customers for such a system. They are easy to identify. They have a conscience and care about the future prospects of their children and grandchildren.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

How To Create A Solar Economy

April 14, 2008

The German FIT for Renewable Energy -- A Bargain!

by Marcus Maedl

The year 2004 marked the beginning of the solar-age for Germany. In that year alone, 600 megawatts (MW) of solar photovoltaic (PV) electricity systems were installed. Up until 2004, the combined number of all systems ever installed in Germany was 405 megawatts. What caused this explosion in solar installations? It is called the "EEG" (Energie-Einspeise-Gesetz), commonly referred to as a "Feed-In Tariff" in the U.S. Because this renewable energy model has been in place for some time now, it's possible to analyze and derive value from its real costs to determine if the model is truly viable.

The EEG concept is simple — legislation obligates electric utility companies to purchase renewable energy at set rates (such as solar electricity at about 4 times the market price) over the next 20 years. At minimum, utilities must pay the market rate. So did the poor utilities get suckered? No, absolutely not. They are allowed to redistribute the additional cost to the general public in the form of higher electricity rates — call it hidden taxes. Just to address the obvious suspicion of the critical reader, note that the increase as of 2008 has been a mere EU € 0.007 [US $0.01] per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for German rate payers. It is a well-implemented approach that deserves recognition. The fact that many neighboring countries have adopted their own flavors of feed-in tariff models underscores the overall attractiveness of the program.

So why is the U.S. so timid in dishing out similar incentives? Many in the U.S. believe that the overall cost of such a program makes it economically unwise. Using actual data from the German incentive program as an example, along with some realistic estimates for future growth, it is possible to understand the magnitude of the true cost.

The tariffs paid for green electricity are defined in a table whereby small systems and façade installations get more and large industrial installations and utility-scale ground-mounted systems get less. The tariffs have an annual reduction factor of at least 5%, adjusted as necessary going forward. The starting point in 2004 was an average of EU €0.55/kWh [US $0.86/kWh] guaranteed for 20 years. In 2008 the average tariff has dropped to EU €0.45 [US $0.71]. So, for example, a solar system installed in 2008 will receive EU €0.45 cents/kWh until 2028. All solar PV systems put in service up until end of 2007 account for 3.8 gigawatts (GW) total peak performance.

So how much did the Germans pay for this amount of solar? Let's first estimate what the total PV electricity production was up until now. In cloudy Germany on average, one kilowatt (kW) of installed PV capacity will generate about 800 kilowatt-hours (kWh) over the year. (Yes, that's low compared to the approximate 1,600 kWh/year harvested in sunny California.) Approximately 7.5 billion kWh have been generated by solar PV systems in Germany from 2004 through 2007. The price tag in terms of tariffs for this amount of solar energy was EU €3.9 billion [US $6.1 billion]. The same amount of energy would have been purchased from the power utilities for approximately EU €1.2 billion [US $1.9 billion]. That means the "cumulative additional net cost" of the program so far is in the range of EU €2.7 billion [US $4.2 billion]. So 3.8 GW installed for EU €2.7 billion? That is not a bad ratio if compared to other programs, especially considering that the 3.8 GW are actually installed and not simply the wishful thinking or projections what installations might yield.

Looking forward, one might argue that EU €2.7 billion is only the tip of the iceberg and that the remaining 16 to 19 years for those systems' output plus the additional installations from now on will cause an enormous extra burden. Wrong again! Assuming an aggressive 17% compound average growth rate (CAGR) in installed systems over the next decade and a low-end, realistic annual increase of about 4.25% in general electricity cost over the same period, the critical cross over (or grid-parity) point will be reached as early as 2016. (This is all detailed on the attached chart.) This may of course vary by a few years plus or minus, but it will be reached in the not too distant future. The "cumulative additional net cost of energy" will plateau approximately 8 years after grid parity is reached at around EU €27 billion [US $42 billion]. Furthermore, assuming the 17% CAGR to be a low estimate, the picture doesn't change much. Due to the fact that the majority of the cost will be realized near the point of grid parity, the impact of a simulated 25% growth in installations will be a mere two to three billion EUR in total additional cost. An amount that would easily be made up by the additional sales tax alone that such a deployment would trigger. (Let alone the income tax and corporate tax as a direct result of the more than 200,000 jobs created by the renewable energy industries in Germany to date.)

To put this in perspective, over the next two decades, German electricity users will pay an additional EU €1.5 billion [US $2.35 billion] per year — this is equivalent to the current amount that the U.S. budget deficit increases per DAY.

The German feed-in tariff approach has demonstrated with hard facts that it is the best, most efficient and most cost effective incentive program there is. In 2007 alone Germany installed more PV systems than the U.S. has ever installed in history.

On a related note, there seems to be something equivalent to the famous "Moore's law" in computer science going on in solar PV, not in terms of cell performance but in the cost of production. Available statistics seem to agree that the cost per Watt decreases by 20% for each doubling in production capacity. If that is the case, the argument for fast increases in production can't be over emphasized.

Looking at the program from a pure economic viewpoint (the considerable costs of global warming issues, health risks and energy independence aside), the ultimate measure is the "cumulative additional net cost." That number shows how much extra money Germany has dished out for green energy from the start of the FIT program. It compares the feed-in tariff payments to the alternative of purchasing electricity from the utilities at market rates. This number is the final "all-in" cost of moving from conventional energy to renewable energy. That final number is around EU €30 billion [US $47 billion]. Using German population figures from 2005, that equates to about EU €363 [US $573] per person over 20 years. So should Germans make such an investment? Most of the "shareholders," such as myself, approve highly. After all, the cost of securing fossil fuel reserves in various geographic locations around the world seems to be sky-rocketing these days....

Marcus Maedl was born in Stuttgart, Germany to an American mother and a German father enabling him to carry two passports and exposing him to both cultures all his life. In 2003 he was introduced to the solar PV industry in Germany. He started working in sales of photovoltaic systems (PV) for a small company and in 2004 the skyrocketing demand there transformed his role into a freelancing purchasing agent for various project developers in Germany. Equipped with transferable letters of credit, he went on a global sourcing quest for silicon cells. This brought him to China, India and many other interesting places including California, where in 2006 he started the regional office for SunTechnics in Carlsbad, CA. The turbulences of SunTechnics' mother company Conergy in 2007 contributed to closing of that career path and opening an exciting, new one. As of October 2007, Marcus is heading the newly formed division Applied Technologies - Energy Solutions in Paso Robles, CA. Privately held Applied Technologies Group is a strong and healthy technology and service provider to the oil and gas industry with 36 locations world wide.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Ultimate Light

Delta's new energy efficient, high brightness LED lamps

Delta's High Brightness LED

Delta's High Brightness LED

April 10, 2008 The world’s largest lighting and building display exhibition, Light+Building 2008 in Frankfurt, continues to produce more bright ideas with Delta Electronics, Inc. announcing it has developed an advanced, energy-saving High Brightness 5W/9W/12W LED Lamp, which is 100% compatible with current sockets (E27) and is similar in appearance to compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) of the same wattage. The lamp is easily installed and readily replaces CFL and incandescent lamps. Advantages of the Delta High Brightness LED Lamp include: power-saving, excellent thermal dissipation & color rendering index (CRI), high efficiency, and long life. Of special note is the lamp's outstanding energy-efficiency, especially at lower environment temperatures.

Delta's LED Lamp offers superior light efficiency to CFLs and five times higher than incandescent lamps while Delta's novel heat sink design also delivers 25% higher thermal dissipation than other LED lamps on the market. The lamp offers a CRI of up to 80% (sunlight is 100%) and is particularly well-suited for low temperature environments. At 0°C, the efficiency of the LED lamp is six times higher than a CFL of the same wattage. Lamp life is greater than 35000hrs, which is six times longer than CFLs and 20 times longer than incandescent lamps. Produced under lead-free conditions, the LED Lamp is mercury-free, 100% RoHS compliant, and Delta predicts the luminous efficacy of the lamp will reach 70 lm/W by July 2008. In addition to the 5W/9W/12W LED Lamp, Delta is demonstrating LED lighting for outdoor use such as street lamps and floodlights that is based on the same technology.

For further info visit Delta.

Technology for Reducing Energy Use

Electricity And Gas Consumption At A Glance

The EWE Box enables customers to monitor their electricity and gas consumption any time. (Credit: Copyright EWE, Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft)

ScienceDaily (Apr. 11, 2008) — People who want to save energy should always keep an eye on their consumption. The EWE Box offers customers a neat solution: It enables private households to monitor their electricity and gas consumption whenever they want – and save costs thanks to new pricing models.

In some European locations, once a year, someone from the electricity or gas works comes to read the meter. Soon afterwards, the customer receives an invoice listing the power consumption for the whole year. It does not reveal precisely how much energy the customer has used at what times or with which devices. This has been the situation in the past. In future, however, private households will always be able to check their power consumption – at all times of the day and night.

With the support of the Fraunhofer Application Center System Technology AST, scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE have developed a new solution in collaboration with Oldenburg-based energy provider EWE. It enables customers to keep track of their current electricity and gas consumption at all times. "The days of ‘stupid’ meters are over," says ISE project manager Dr. Harald Schäffler.

The new metering technologies are intelligent: "The EWE Box is an innovative communication gateway that records and saves the readings from the electricity and gas meters and transmits them to a control center via DSL." This metering and display method – known by experts as ‘smart metering’ – has a particular advantage: "The power provider can offer the customer individual pricing models, depending on factors such as the load, the time of day or the time of year," explains Schäffler. A different price rate could apply in summer, for instance, when little heating is required, than in winter.

The researchers have developed a special LCD display so that users themselves can always keep tabs on their energy consumption and benefit from the various pricing models. The EWE Box constantly transmits the measured values by radio to the display, which shows the current power usage in real time. If the user switches on a ‘power-guzzling’ device, the effects can immediately be seen on the display.

Also displayed are the hourly and daily totals for electricity and gas consumption, costs and CO2 emissions. Customers can also view their stored power consumption data via a personal Internet access and receive a monthly power consumption and cost analysis plus a forecast of their probable annual energy costs in future. In this way, users are in control of their energy management themselves, and saving becomes child’s play. The system will be tested by EWE in May as part of a field test involving 400 private households in the Oldenburg, Germany, area. The ISE and the AST will support and monitor the experiment and evaluate the results.

Adapted from materials provided by Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Solar + Evolution = Solution!

Cash in the sun

Published: 03 April 2008 08:00 AM

Source: The Engineer Online

1366 Technologies, a new MIT start-up aiming to make inexpensive high-efficiency silicon solar cells, has secured $12.4m in a first round of financing co-led by North Bridge Venture Partners and Polaris Venture Partners.

MIT Professor, 1366 founder and CTO, Ely Sachs, noted that 1366 Technologies has developed an innovative silicon cell architecture and a complementary manufacturing methodology that will allow it to make the solar cells so inexpensively that, once deployed, they would produce electricity at a comparable cost to that generated from coal powered stations.

The solar cells, developed at MIT, are claimed to have an efficiency to 25 per cent, and to build them, the company has taken space in Lexington, Massachusetts where it will erect a pilot solar cell manufacturing facility.

1366 Technologies plans to partner with solar companies and government agencies, licensing its technology. In addition, the company has rather ambitious ideas to build industrial, 100MW plants around the world.

'Once the pilot plant has proven itself, we’ll work with governments and energy agencies worldwide to build a string of factories,' said Carmichael Roberts, general partner at North Bridge Venture Partners, who is joining 1366 Technologies board of directors as chairman.