Environment Forum

Solar power mounts in Canada

canadaflag Solar power is heating up in the northern reaches of  Canada, a country not exactly known for its sunny rays and warm weather.

The industry has seen a heap of news from the region this week. US. solar heavyweight First Solar and Canadian pipeline company Enbridge announced that they are quadrupling the size of a solar farm in Ontario.

That’s on top of Chinese solar company Canadian Solar’s plans for a new $23 million plant in the province and a supply deal for Suntech in Ontario, too.

Why Canada and solar?

As Raymond James analyst Pavel Molchanov pointed out, having optimal solar patterns is not as important for the economics of a project than the right set of incentives.

(Case in point: Germany is the world’s top solar market, not a ranking it won by its weather.)

Thank you, EPA: U.S. solar companies

tomwernerMany businesses chafed on Monday at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s declaration that greenhouse gas emissions endanger human health.

But executives at the two largest U.S. solar power companies took a shine to the statement, which clears the way for federal regulation and came as a global climate summit opened in Copenhagen.  Now they’ll keep their eyes on Congress to act on future legislation.

First Solar’s chairman and former chief executive Mike Ahearn called the EPA’s move “an affirmation of the administration’s commitment to addressing climate change.”

Wind projects don’t harm property values: study

Not-in-my-backyard — or NIMBY — protests can stall or stop wind power projects, with their spinning turbines, or other renewable energy projects, as Reuters has reported here.

But a new study issued by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory gives wind power companies and developers a leg up in the debate.

The study — which can be read here – examined the sales of 7,500 single-family homes from 1996 to 2007. It found that wind power does not deserve the stigma — like causing a nuisance or ruining the scenery — that it sometimes carries.

Solar players see sun rising over India

India has ambitious plans for solar power as the country looks to boost its solar output to 20 gigawatts by 2022 from close to zero, as Reuters reported in this story.

Some companies are already looking to capture some of the demand they see growing in India.

U.S.-based solar cell maker Suniva finished this week a project with Titan Energy Systems Ltd for a large scale project in West Bengal.

U.S. lab says 2008 pivotal year for solar costs

The holy grail for solar power is to match the cost of power from coal-fired power plants or other traditional fuel.

That goal is still on the horizon. But researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab say the industry is getting closer as the cost of going solar in the United States saw a pivotal year in 2008.

In a new report, the researchers found that the cost of going solar fell by more than 30 percent from 1998 to 2008. The installation costs — before taking into account any incentives –  dropped from $10.80 per watt to $7.50 per watt during that period.

The race for U.S. smart-grid cash

Utilities across the United States are rushing to a federal stimulus program that is doling out money to create a “smart grid” — systems that will upgrade the electricity grid.******In this story, Reuters correspondent Eileen O’Grady looks at the tough job facing the U.S. Department of Energy: They have to divvy up $4.5 billion in smart-grid money among some 565 applications.******Smart grid technology measures and modifies power usage in homes and businesses and improves grid reliability. Experts envision that it will open the door to a new era with “smart” appliances that turn themselves on and off, electric cars, more renewable energy and more efficiency on power lines.******San Diego Gas & Electric is one of the utilities hoping to launch a smart grid through the federal program and has applied for $100 million in stimulus funds.******Their plan would build micro smart grids at the University of California, San Diego and a residential community in San Diego County. They would work with companies like IBM, Cisco and Itron on the system technologies, software and hardware.******”They not only have to talk with each other but we have to make sure the entire network is secure. So from an intellectual security standpoint, we’ll ensure that we have that set-up, that we have the ability to communicate from one device and we make it seamless for the customer,” said Michael Niggli, chief operations officer at San Diego Gas & Electric.******Another major issue the utility hopes to solve is what happens when energy from renewable resources is intermittent, with its power generated fading or spiking.******”If the wind stops blowing or if the sun has clouds that intervene, so you can be in a situation where the power supply is affected,” Niggli said in a phone interview with Reuters.******”That’s a lot different than what we have today … where it’s like driving a car. If you want to go faster, you push the accelerator.”******Niggli envisions a system where customers can control their home energy use remotely, turning on the air-conditioning from a computer through the Internet or even on  their handset.******Some companies that are partnering with utilities are not putting all their eggs in one basket in the race for the smart-grid stimulus funds.******IBM is working as a vendor with a dozen utilities that have applied for money.******If the smart grid is done right, then customers won’t even notice a difference, said IBM’s Stephen Callahan, who leads the company’s Intelligent Utility Network unit for the Americas.******”Those customers shouldn’t see anything but improvement in cost, reliability, all those things,” Callahan said.******We wanted to know what readers think about the federal program to jump-start smart grid projects. What should the DOE prioritize? What kind of projects would you like to see?******(Photo: The sun is shown as it rises between power transmission lines in Burbank, California. Photo credit: Fred Prouser/Reuters)*********************

New Jersey has best payback on residential solar in U.S.

California may be the Golden State, but it’s New Jersey where U.S. residents get the best deal on their solar power systems, new research shows.

A survey by Global Solar Centertried to give an “apples to apples” comparison for the cost of solar power in all 50 states, the center’s chairman Jack Hidary told Reuters.

The common denominator turned out to be the cash payback, or how many years it would take a residential or commercial customer to recoup their investment and start seeing real savings, Hidary said.
“That takes into account the cost of the system, the sun at that spot, the incentives of that region, utility rates. It blends in everything all together,” Hidary said.

Smithsonian gets solar panel that once graced White House roof

U.S. President Barack Obama has made climate change legislation one of his top goals and has pushed for more clean, renewable energy like solar and wind power.

But back in 1979, when another Democrat was in the White House, 32 solar panels graced the roof above the Oval Office.

Part of an initiative called “Solar America,” the panels turned sunlight into electricity that heated water in the staff kitchen — which President Jimmy Carter often used. They were removed during Ronald Reagan’s administration in 1986.

Sage, wind and grouse: The “brown” side of clean energy?

CARBON, Wyoming – They used to mine coal in the abandoned town of Carbon. Now this patch of southern Wyoming is a battleground in the debate over what many hope will be the clean energy source of the future: wind power.

At the heart of the dispute are plans to build a network of wind farms in the American West that conservationists fear could disrupt threatened habitat such as sage brush, a dwindling piece of the region’s fragile ecosystem.

This has made the greater sage grouse — which as its name suggests is totally dependent on sage brush — an unlikely poster child for some U.S. environmentalists, in much the same way that the rare spotted owl became a symbol in the 1980s of pitched battles with the logging industry.

A rocket man’s view of solar energy

After nearly 25 years in the computer science and aerospace industries, including a stint at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Doug Caldwell decided to pursue a career-long dream of putting his engineering skills to use for the environment. So the Southern California native left his own start-up, a company that builds cameras for spacecraft launch systems, to explore his options.

He didn’t have to look far, or for very long. Within months Caldwell had landed work on a solar power development project, recruited by an old buddy from his days launching model rockets in the desert. Perhaps more ironic is the company he ended up working for — Boeing Co.

Two years later, Caldwell, 47, is chief engineer of the project, which employs about 60 people in a $45 million endeavor to design a new type of photovoltaic solar technology for what would be a 20-megawatt power plant.

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