Viewing posts tagged: "Solar"

Duke Energy Says It Can’t Afford the $50M Solar Project

Ucilia Wang: January 30, 2009, 1:49 PM

Duke Energy might abandon a project to experiment with distributed solar energy unless North Carolina state regulators change their minds about how the utility can recover the project’s cost.

Duke petitioned the North Carolina Utilities Commission Thursday to remove the limits the commission set last December. Back then, the commission said Duke could only pass on part of the $50 million project cost onto ratepayers under the state’s 2007 renewable energy law. The utility might be able to recover the rest of the cost in a separate process.

Duke now says those restrictions could force it to violate federal accounting rules governing how the utility can take advantage of up to $250 million in investment tax credits.

The solar project has run into problems since Duke announced it last summer. The company initially set out to get permits for installing 20 megawatts worth of solar panels at residential, commercial and even school properties. The idea is to invest $100 million in a project that would enable it to meet the state’s renewable energy mandate while exploring the concept of distributed power generation.

Distributed power generation means producing electricity close to where it’d be used. That’s a different approach than the traditional, centralized power generation (i.e., coal-fired power plants).

Duke cut the project in half last October after critics said the project was too expensive and that the utility should’ve allowed other power producers to participate.

Applied Materials CEO Talks Solar With Obama

Ucilia Wang: January 28, 2009, 8:03 AM

Applied Materials CEO Mike Splinter advocated for a mix of direct investments and tax incentives when he met with President Obama today.

Splinter was part of a group of CEOs from large companies, including Google, IBM, Jet Blue Airways and Micron Technology, who spoke with Obama. The president, in turn, used the opportunity to lobby for the business community’s support of his proposed $816 billion stimulus package.

While the president chatted with the business execs, the House of Representatives was set to vote on the stimulus package today.

Splinter spoke about the importance of investing in solar and championed ideas that also had been presented by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). The SEIA’s call for converting an investment tax credit into a direct payment to solar power project developers is now part of the stimulus package.

The tax credit, extended by Congress last October, can offset 30 percent of the cost of building a solar power plant. The tax credit has lost some of its allure because of the credit crunch. Solar project developers in the past used the tax credit to obtain loans from banks, which were then entitled to benefit from the tax credit. But the banks, as you know, aren't so willing to loan money these days.

Splinter pushed for using solar energy to power federal buildings. He said Congress should set aside $10 billion for installing and operating solar energy systems on federal buildings. He also recommended an increase to loan guarantees and research funds to promote renewable energy developments and commercialization.

Obama has said previously that he wants to double the country’s renewable energy production in three years, though exactly how the government could accomplish that remains a big question.

BrightView Gets $6M to Develop Solar Equipment or Software?

Ucilia Wang: January 27, 2009, 11:12 AM
An Israeli solar startup called BrightView Systems has raised $6 million, but you will have to wait to find out what the company does.

The Series A funding came from Israel Cleantech Ventures, which provided the money to  BrightView in mid-2008. Hasso Palttner Ventures in Germany is another investor.

What we know is that BrightView thinks its technology can fix some shortcomings in solar cell production. But whether that means the company is developing equipment or software remains to be seen. The company, which isn't disclosing its technology, plans to launch its first product this year. 

The market already has large equipment makers, including GT Solar and Applied Materials. But we haven’t heard much from software companies that develop tools to improve solar cell manufacturing.

In the semiconductor industry, which shares similar manufacturing processes as the solar industry, a plethora of large and startup companies have developed software to monitor and analyze manufacturing performances.

Rudolph Technologies (NSDQ: RTEC), a Flanders, N.J.-based software developer in the semiconductor industry, launched a solar manufacturing software suite earlier this month.

Could BrightView be doing something similar?

Rumor: First Solar Looks to Experiment With CIGS

Michael Kanellos: January 23, 2009, 11:29 AM
Speculation is swirling that First Solar -- the thin-film solar cell giant that makes cadmium telluride solar cells -- is taking a look at CIGS. No one says there are product plans. Instead, First Solar will start to examine CIGS in its labs, according to the rumor mill. Whether or not the company comes out with a CIGS product is impossible to say, but lab experimentation is generally an early sign of some interest in a market. Part of the speculation is tied to the recent hire of Markus Beck, the former chief scientist at Solyndra. Solyndra specializes in copper indium gallium selenide. First Solar also several months ago created a disruptive technologies department to look at alternative solar chemistries and technologies. It is run by Raffi Garabedian. The company is also checking out lab space in Silicon Valley, say sources. There is also the long-term view. Cad tel solar cells will not be as efficient as harvesting light from the sun as CIGS cells. First Solar cells now sport an efficiency of around 10 percent to 11 percent, and the company has manufactured them for years. Cad tel cells have a theoretical maximum of 19.6 percent. By contrast, CIGS makers are producing small batches of CIGS cells now at around the ten percent level and in the industry has just started. At the National Renewable Energy Labs, experimental cells have hit 19.9 percent and some say a cell that can do 20.2 percent already exists. Ultimately, CIGS cells could hit a mid-20 percent to low-30 percent efficiency level. CIGS cells, say proponents, can also be put on flexible foil substrates. Cad tel cells currently come out on glass substrates, which are more expensive and heavier to ship. On the other hand, First Solar has built a reputation for relentless execution and focus. It has concentrated on cad tel for over twenty years. Getting serious about CIGS would be a shift. The company has also hired other CIGS specialists like Benny Buller in the past. First Solar did not return calls.

Photosynthesis Drives Solar Fuel Cell

Matthew Weinberg: January 21, 2009, 7:45 AM
Combine carbon, marine sediment, seawater and light and you've got a simple way to generate electricity from sunlight. The proof-of-concept solar fuel cell is powered by graphite electrodes that are covered by microbe films and embedded in marine sediment. One type of microbe uses sunlight to turn carbon dioxide and water into glucose and oxygen. Another type of microbe converts the glucose and oxygen back into carbon dioxide and water, producing electricity in the process. The fuel-cell waste -- carbon dioxide and water -- is recycled as input for the photosynthesis step. Artificial photosynthesic devices produce small amounts of energy but are inexpensive. Microbial photosynthesic devices promise be long-lasting and durable because the biofilms can assemble and repair themselves. Research paper: A Self-Assembling Self-Repairing Microbial Photoelectrochemical Solar Cell Energy & Environmental Science, published online January 6, 2009 Researchers' homepage: Energy Harvesting Program, Center for Bio/Molecular Science and Engineering, Naval Research Laboratory Eric Smalley is editor of Energy Research News. He has written about technology since 1987 and has freelanced for many publications including Discover, Scientific American, Wired News and The Boston Globe on topics ranging from quantum cryptography to global warming.

Torresol Borrows €171M to Complete Solar-Thermal Plant in Spain

Ucilia Wang: January 20, 2009, 3:21 AM

ABU DHABI -- Torresol Energy has borrowed €171 million to complete construction of its first power plant to use the sun’s heat to generate electricity.

Formed last year by Masdar in Abu Dhabi and Sener in Spain, Torresol now has the entire €240 million it needs to build the 17-megawatt solar thermal power plant called Gemasolar, said Manuel Fernandez, chief financial officer at Torresol Tuesday.

Torresol, based in Madrid, started building its Gemasolar plant last November, and is scheduled to complete the project in the first quarter of 2011. The €171 million is coming from Banco Popular, Banesto and the Instituto de Credito Oficial. The rest of the €240 million is equity coming from Torresol, Fernandez said.

Torresol is a joint venture between Masdar, owned by the Abu Dhabi government, and Sener, an engineering firm with a 60 percent stake in Torresol. Abu Dhabi is using Masdar as an investment and power plant development vehicle to get a slice of the growing renewable energy market around the world (see Abu Dhabi Picks Suntech, First Solar For 10MW Solar Farm in Masdar City).

Masdar and the Abu Dhabi government have been using the World Future Energy Summit to announce their efforts on investing and building renewable energy projects. Abu Dhabi organized the summit partly to highlight its initiatives to develop a new type of energy economy that doesn’t rely on oil. As a wealthy oil-producing country that launched Masdar only in 2006, it likes to do things on a grand scale.

Gemasolar, located in southern Spain, will use a type of solar-thermal technology that uses heliostats, or an array of flat mirrors, to focus the sun’s light onto a central collector atop a tower and use it to heat up the molten salt to more than 550 Celsius.

The salt is good at storing the heat, so the power plant operator can use the heated salt even at night to run the generator.

Torresol is one of many companies developing this type of solar thermal power projects. Competitors in the field include Abengoa Solar, a large solar player also based in Spain.

Torresol also is developing two other solar thermal power plants that will use the more conventional parabolic trough technology. The technology uses curved mirrors to channel the sun’s heat to boil oil for steam generation.

The two power plants, with a 50-megawatt capacity each, will sit next to each other in southern Spain as well, near the town of Jerez. Torresol plans to raise between €500 million and €600 million total for the two projects, Fernandez said.

Construction for the plants is scheduled to begin in the second half of this year.

Exec Departures at Ausra, and Layoffs Too

Michael Kanellos: January 19, 2009, 7:00 PM
Layoffs are moving to solar thermal too. Ausra, the solar thermal specialist that moved from Australia to build utility-scale plants in the Southwest, has shed some of its employees in a layoff, according to people who were laid off by Ausra. The layoffs began in December. And a pair of high-level executives have left the company as well. Glen Davis, executive vice president and chief commercial officer, and Robert Morgan, executive vice president and chief development officer, sent notes to various acquaintances and colleagues this weekend stating that they both have left the company. The two plan on reinvigorating Agile Energy, the company they were at before Ausra. A number of solar companies have already started cutting employees in the wake of the credit crisis and economic slowdown. Optisolar laid off 300 employees, or about half of its staff, recently. Optisolar makes solar panels and wants to run solar power plants. SunEdison, a power provider, cut around 50 employees in December. HelioVolt, which makes CIGS solar panels, cut about 15. Suntech Power Holdings, the giant Chinese solar panel maker, cut 10 percent of its workforce in December. The company has around 8,000 employees. Ausra marks the first solar thermal company we've seen with layoffs. But again, more should be expected. Solar thermal plants are huge, multimillion dollar projects that rely on massive financing packages. Some of the solar thermal companies planning projects now won't be producing power for a couple of years. Back in the '90s, the solar thermal company went under after the state of California refused to continue real estate tax exemptions for these parks. The company has been trailing some of the other solar thermal companies in landing big contracts, so it was also the most likely to have layoff first. Ausra landed a contract to build a 177-megawatt solar farm for PG&E (and recently opened a 5-megawatt demo facility in the state). But those are small in comparison. Brightsource Energy has a 500-megawatt contract with PG&E that could be expanded to 900 megawatts and Stirling Energy Systems has a 600-megawatt contract with San Diego Gas & Electric and another 850-megawatt contract with Southern California Edison. Solel, one of the early thermal pioneers, is working on a 533-megawatt plant for PG&E. In these contracts, the developer builds the solar thermal farm and the utility agrees to buy the power. The utilities need to get power from these plants to meet their renewable power requirements in California. But, if the plants aren't built, it is unknown what will happen to the renewable standards in the state.