Jan 312014

The start of the new year certainly brought us a fresh crop of solar innovations — as always in our monthly “Solar Everywhere” series, we look at where solar is popping up beyond the roof.

We’ve got a broad array of findings this month, so let’s start small and work our way up.

First: A solar street bench. As part of the city of Boston’s overarching Complete Streets initiative, which aims to make city life more efficient, people-friendly and green, the city just two benches with solar panels included, which can be used to charge mobile phones while people sit and rest.


solar soldiers


Solar soldiers: Writing in Forbes, Navigant Research points us to trends in solarizing soldiers, allowing fighting forces to carry solar panels instead of a dozen pounds of batteries. Among the products are two that bear acronym-friendly names that would only exist in the military: the Rucksack Enhanced Portable Power System (REPPS) — pictured at right — a portable solar power source, and the Soldier Worn Integrated Power Equipment System (SWIPES), a wearable charging system.



solar roof tileSolar roof tiles: OK, so this doesn’t fit our mandate of looking only at solar freed from the roof, but it’s pretty neat nonetheless. Via Inhabitat, a look at Swedish company SolTech, which has created the SolTech system, using glass roof tiples to heat or even power a house. Frida Jeppsson writes, “The tiles are installed on top of a black nylon canvas, under which air slots are mounted. The black colour absorbs heat from the sun and the air starts to circulate. The hot air is then used to heat up water, which is connected to the house’s heating system via an accumulator. The beauty of the system is that it cuts energy costs throughout the year, during dark winter days as well as night time, due to its capacity to store heat in the isolating layers of air under the canvas.” They look quite pretty, as well!


solar ELF bikeSolar-powered trike: The ELF is a solar egg of a bike, a three-wheeled pedal machine created by Organic Transit, it combines the best parts of a car and a bike, and it’s powered by the sun (and your feet). With a hard shell and an electric pedal-assist engine, the ELF aims to make it impossible to resist biking — you could commute in style with minimal effort an sweat, or you could push your giant egg across town and glow with pride at your eco-lifestyle (and a fine sheen of sweat). Either way, at $5000 to start, the ELF isn’t for the faint of heart or weak of leg, but it’s a fine-looking machine.


140131-solar-everywhere-5The solarest bridge in the world: Move over, London Bridge, there’s a new landmark on the Thames: The Blackfriars Bridge features 4,400 solar panels and can generate up to half the electricity needed for the Blackfriars train station. Writes BusinessGreen: “First Capital Connect, which runs Blackfriars, expects the panels to cut the stations’ carbon emissions by an estimated 511 tonnes a year, further reducing the carbon footprint of its train routes to the south east of England…. The bridge will also act as a major advertisement for London’s efforts to become a sustainable city, with tourists and workers viewing the panels as they enter the capital.”


Solar drought solutions: Finally and biggest-ly, with California in the throes of an epic drought, The Guardian offers a look at solar-powered desalination, which could potentially solve one of California’s most pressing problems: chronic shortages of water for either state residents or the state’s ag land (which feed much of the nation). Oliver Balch writes:

WaterFX’s solution comes in the unlikely shape of a vast bank of parabolic mirrors and an advanced “multi-effect” evaporating unit. The Aqua4 system offers a renewable method of desalinating briny water, which, if its developers prove right, could put California “on a path to water independence”.

How does it work? Unlike conventional desalination, which uses a high-pressure reverse osmosis system that forces salt and other solids through a membrane, WaterFX cleans water through use of a 400-kilowatt solar “trough” – hence the mirrors. This concentrated solar still collects the sun’s energy, which heats a pipe containing natural oil, providing heat for the subsequent distillation process.”

And that wraps up our small-to-big rundown of solar innovation for the month. With the Super Bowl coming up in just two days, we will be curious to see if solar makes an appearance — for instance, when is SolarCity going to run a SuperBowl ad?

The post Solar Everywhere, Jan. 2014: Solar Soldiers, Bridges & More appeared first on Solar Power.

Dec 032013

sunsaluter photoThis inspiring story is making the rounds on the internet this week: Eden Full, a 21-year-old junior at MIT, who has long been a solar innovator, gets a profile on Mashable for her creation of a low-cost way to greatly improve solar panel performance.

Full’s Sunsaluter (pictured at left) is a solar-tracking device that makes it easy for people in the developing world to get as much as 40 percent more power out of their solar panels.

Using an old soda bottle and the ages-old principle of water clock, Full has created a cheap solar-tracker that moves the panel to follow the sun over the course of the day, dramatically improving the amount of electricity it can generate.

From the Mashable profile:

At first glance, Eden Full may seem like a typical Princeton undergrad, but she’s far from typical. The 21-year-old is a Thiel Fellow and inventor of The SunSaluter, a solar panel that pivots to face the sun without requiring a motor. Full didn’t set out to radicalize the way the developing world sources power — she was a self-proclaimed “solar enthusiast” by the age of 10. But her ingenuity and a tip from someone at an international science fair led her to optimize solar energy, so a solar panel produces up to 40% more electricity. And all it takes is gravity and some soda bottles.

Below is a short video interview with Full, highlighting the impact her work has had, and likely will continue to have as her company expands its reach in the developing world.

Sunsaluter photo CC-licensed by TEDxYouth@SanDiego.

The post A Simple, Low-Cost Way to Boost Solar Panel Performance by 40% appeared first on Solar Power.

Nov 202013

solar pedi-bikeWelcome to our monthly installment of Solar Everywhere, a brief roundup of where solar is appearing when it’s not on your roof and not in a gadget — we draw the line at solar gadgets (though we reserve the right to change our mind if the right solar gadget comes along). This month brings us an interesting range of solar applications, from a solar bicycle to a floating solar system to solar for the developing world.

Without further ado, let’s jump in:

The solar pedi-bike: Rhoades Car, makers of four-wheeled, multi-passenger pedi-bikes, has just released two new models: the SOLARped and the SOLARide, sit-down bikes that can carry anywhere from one to four passengers and feature a roof-mounted solar panel to help you cruise along the road. The SOLARped is a seven-speed (or 42-speed, if you live in a hilly region) bike that features a 190-watt solar panel and a 750-watt pedal-assist motor. It retails for almost $7,000, so it’s not for the faint of heart, but you could certainly take the family out for an epic Sunday ride in one of these…

solar backpackA taxpayer-funded solar backpack: Cleantechnica points us to the Enerplex Packr, a backpack featuring a 3-watt solar panel. Developed in part with funding from NREL (which we as taxpayers fund), it’s great to see these cutting-edge research programs result in tangible, if pricey, goods (the EnerPlex Packr retails for $99).

solarwindow testSolarWindow to see the light of day: New Energy Technologies, Inc., just announced that it is about to bring it’s new, see-through solar window technology to market this year. The SolarWindow, a new building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) product, is just one of the company’s applications for its electricity-generating coatings, which the company says is a see-through coating that can be applied to glass, flexible plastics, and even airplane fuselages, will soon hit the market and be available for integrating into a building (or plane) near you.

Solar parking canopy: Around certain parts of the country, a solar parking canopy is no big deal — if I bike for 15 minutes from my house in the East Bay, I can pass under at least three different canopies — but NRG Solar is rolling out a new wrinkle on the solar canopy: a freestanding, modular, grid-connected or off-grid solar canopy. The idea is that something as simple as a parking structure or shelter can provide enough energy to offset some of the energy used by a home (or more likely, a business), but could also include a battery system for providing off-peak or even emergency backup power.

solar parking canopy

nokero solar lightSolar-powered light bulbs: Moving on from the fairly Western-consumer-focused aspects of this month’s solar roundup, Silvio Marcacci at the Energy Collective offers us a look at the Nokero, a solar-powered light bulb that is designed to end the reliance on kerosene lamps in the developing world. The company makes three light bulbs that range in price from $6 to $45, about which Marcacci writes: “Over 10 years, one solar lantern could replace 600 liters of kerosene and cut 1.5 tons of CO2 emissions, while solar lighting could save up to $800 million in avoided fuel purchases.”

solar water pumpSolar water pump: In another move targeting the power of solar to provide leapfrogging technologies for the developing world, SunEdison has just announced the launch of its solar-powered water pumps, large-scale systems designed to help farmers in India provide more regular watering to their crops, as well as grow crops in fields that they currently could not reach with irrigation.

Floating solar power plant: Last but not least, Vice Magazine points us to a new solar power plant currently under construction in Switzerland that consists of three floating islands on Lake Neuchâtel, each holding 100 solar panels. The islands will also be able to rotate 220 degrees to track the sun, and boast a generating capacity of 33 kilowatts. The CEO of Nolaris, the company behind the solar islands, believes that a solar island a mile across could generate 190 megawatts of power.

solar island

The post Solar Everywhere: Solar Parking, Light Bulbs, Water Pumps and More appeared first on Solar Power.

Nov 042013

solar iphone chargerLast time we spoke of Apple and solar power in the same sentence, it was in September, when we shared a link to a job posting from Apple that hinted at the need for solar engineers to work on a new Apple product.

Well, it looks like Apple is continuing down that path: PV-Tech is reporting that Apple just filed for a a patent that would allow iPhones and iPads to recharge using solar power.

The patent covers “power management systems in electronic devices for accepting power from power adapters and/or solar panels.”

As PV-Tech reports:

The system would accept direct current (DC) from solar panels, and AC current using a system micro controller (SMC), to an AC-DC adapter, so devices can use both solar power and an adapter.

It uses existing technologies including maximum power point tracking (MPPT) and would not use a converter circuit, allowing adapter and solar power use simultaneously to power devices or recharge batteries.

Whatever device Apple is working on would allow users to recharge using either the sun or the wall, whichever is more convenient or accessible.

There’s no real “range anxiety” concept associated with solar-powered phones (that we know of), otherwise we’d have to go ahead and call this the Chevy Volt of phone chargers. But realistically, this is yet another cool way to spread the word about solar.

DIY solar iPhone charger photo CC-licensed by Flickr user Bryan Lee.

The post Apple Takes the Next Step to a Solar iPhone with New Patent appeared first on Solar Power.

Oct 032013

131003-solar-boomThe phrase “solar boom” has become a cliché at this point: Since 2010, demand for clean energy from the sun has more than doubled, rising from around 4 gigawatts per three-month period globally in 2010 to more than 8 GW each quarter in 2013, according to the latest quarterly solar tracking report from SolarBuzz.

Over the past six months, during the second and third quarters of 2013 (April-June and July-September) more than 17 gigawatts of new solar capacity were added worldwide. And SolarBuzz predicts that the pace is only going to accelerate, with another 10-12 gigawatts of solar power coming online between October and December.

The findings of this quarterly report from SolarBuzz are echoed by another quarterly tracking report, this one published by IHS. According to the IHS tracker, 2014 will be the year of fastest growth for solar in the last three years, growing 18 percent over the course of 2014 and reaching 41 gigawatts of total solar capacity worldwide.

What’s driving this rapid growth? Strong demand from the United States and China, first and foremost, with incentives for solar installations as one main factor. We’ve seen recently that laws encouraging homeowners to go solar have strong support across the country.

“PV installations will accelerate in 2014 driven by low system prices, the creation of new markets in emerging regions and the continued growth in major countries such as the United States, Japan and China,” Ash Sharma, senior research director for solar at IHS, said in a statement. “As the industry’s recovery accelerates and market revenue returns to near record levels, solar manufacturers will leave behind the turmoil of recent years and enjoy improved business conditions.”

Although IHS and SolarBuzz disagree on just how much bigger the solar boom will get in 2014 — SolarBuzz predicts global capacity to climb to somewhere between 45 and 55 gigawatts, while IHS sets a more conservative target of 41 gigawatts — both groups agree that the future is still bright for generating clean power from the sun.

The post Solar Power Boom Continues Through 2013, May Expand In 2014 appeared first on Solar Power.

Sep 302013

Boulder Colorado Solar PanelsLast week, we wrote about a few innovative efforts to crowdsource renewable energy, particularly solar garden and community solar efforts in Colorado — as well as an ambitious community wind project in the Netherlands.

Since we wrote about those efforts, a few more crowdfunded-solar news items have crossed our radar, making us think that there’s real steam behind people-powered renewable energy.

First, advocates in the city of Boulder, Colo., just closed the doors on a massively successful fundraising campaign to cut the city utility loose from Xcel Energy and create a local electric utility that relies on renewable energy. New Era Colorado earned $193,018 — nearly five times its goal of $40,000 — to make the Boulder public utility a reality, by educating voters and getting out the vote to counter an Xcel Energy-sponsored bill on the November ballot that New Era says would “kill our local electric utility process dead in its tracks.”

Here’s more of what they say about the goals of the campaign: “Boulder wants to break away from our current, coal-dominated utility — Xcel Energy — to create a local electric utility based on renewable energy. Feasibility studies have shown we could reduce our carbon emissions by over 50% immediately by shifting to cleaner energy. And we wouldn’t have to pay more than we do now, because we could afford a lot more renewable energy if we’re not paying for Xcel’s enormous profit margins. This is an incredible opportunity to create a landmark model for how communities all over the country can take control of their energy future.”

New Era has much more information, and is still raising money on their website.

The second story comes from New America Media, and aired on KALW public radio last week. It’s a profile of RE-volv, a nonprofit that lets individuals donate small amounts of money that are then pooled to help bring solar power to community centers.

From the article:

It happened for the Shawl Anderson Dance Center in Berkeley. As piano melodies spill out the door, and dancers walk in and out, Managing Director Rebecca Johnson explains how and why her studio went solar. For one thing, she says, they were spending about $400 a month on utilities. Then they noticed their neighbors.

“All our neighbors are totally residential homes and when they got solar, we thought wow our roof is the same exact slope as well,” says Johnson.

As they were figuring out their options and getting quotes, they got an unexpected offer. A man named Andreas Karelas offered them a lease to own system that would power 100% of the center’s electricity needs. They wouldn’t owe any money up-front and their monthly bill would drop.

When she saw the offer, Johnson says she thought, “the proposal it looks too good to be true. I don’t understand where the loophole is.”

RE-volv’s business model is much like that of Mosaic, which brings small-scale investors on board to fund solar projects, and guarantee a 4–6 percent rate of return. Just last week, Mosaic opened up a new project to investors, a 12.3-megawatt solar system on the McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst joint Army-Navy base outside Trenton, New Jersey.

With all this momentum behind giving people power over their energy, I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Boulder solar photo courtesy of New Era Colorado.

The post California, Boulder Get Busy Crowdsourcing Solar Panels appeared first on Solar Power.

Sep 192013

SEIA Report CoverA new research report from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and GTM Research finds continued growth in rooftop solar, even though the non-residential markets for solar panels are a bit more sluggish.

The top-level number the SEIA is crowing about in its U.S. Solar Market Insight report for the second quarter of 2013 is 9,400 megawatts: That’s how much total solar capacity is installed in the U.S. as of the end of June.

The report says that the pace of growth in the U.S. solar industry should is expected to push the U.S. over the 10-gigawatt level by the end of 2013 — however, the country reached that goal in mid-July, becoming just the fourth nation with 10 GW of solar capacity, after Germany, Italy and China.

The report lists three additional top-level milestones that U.S. solar will achieve in 2013:

  • Over 100,000 individual solar systems will be installed by year’s end
  • The U.S. share of global solar installations will reach a high of 13 percent, up from 5 percent in 2008
  • A solar project will be installed, on average, every four minutes in the U.S.

However, there are still three worrying trends that may slow down solar’s growth in the U.S.:

1. Net Energy Metering and Rate Design Battles: As we’ve discussed elsewhere, there’s is an ongoing battle on many fronts to reduce or eliminate incentives for homeowners to install solar panels. Net metering policies are the front line of this fight, and the future of these solar-friendly policies is very much in the air in Colorado and Arizona, among other states.

2. Non-Residential PV’s Tepid Growth: Although home solar installations continued to grow in the past quarter, commercial installations fell 11 percent compared to 2012.

3. The Reduction in Utility Solar Procurement: Despite record levels of adoption of utility-scale solar, in some states utilties are slowing down their purchasing from new solar projects, which introduces uncertainty into investors and solar developers.

The best news on the home-solar front is that, between June 2012 and June 2013, residential system prices fell 11.5 percent, while installation costs declined a cumulative 2.2 percent, falling in most major residential markets including California, Arizona, and New Jersey. The report is careful to note, however, that “installed PV prices vary greatly not only state to state, but also project to project.”

Other notable developments cited in the report:

• Market ups and downs in some of the most sun-rich states: Arizona’s installations fell 8 percent over last year, likely due to uncertainty about the state utility’s support for solar. Hawaiian installations plummeted 18 percent over last year, “as a combined result of changes to building permit fees and the state PV tax credit, as well as the increasing saturation of some key geographies.” California, however, grew 4 percent in Q2 2013, particularly in the wake of the new laws supporting California solar that passed earlier this month.

• Leases remain extremely popular: In Arizona, California, Colorado and Massachusetts, leases are the predominant form of solar financing. In Arizona and Colorado nearly 90 percent of installations are third-party owned, while in California and Massachusetts it’s just around two-thirds of new installations being financed through leases.

Tied to the release of the report, SEIA has put together a shiny infographic spelling out the impacts of the current solar boom; you can see the image below (and click on it for a larger version).

Solar Infographic

The post An Inside Look at the Solar Boom of 2013 appeared first on Solar Power.

Sep 092013

To some extent, solar power has long had a gimmicky side — look no further than this solar-powered “dancing flower” or the Nivea skincare ad that includes a solar panel to charge your phone.

But at the same time, these unbelievably broad applications of solar as a technology, as a power source, are also key to its success. You can use a solar panel to power just about anything these days. As Zachary Shahan at CleanTechnica wrote about that Nivea ad: it means that “solar is becoming mainstream.”

In the last few days, I’ve come across a good number of examples of just how mainstream solar is becoming, as solar-powered doo-dads of many kinds hit the newswires. In no particular order:

•  Solar Clothes Dryer: Today, German appliance manufacturer Miele unveiled its T881 EcoComfort clothes dryer, which connects to a home’s central heating system and then to a rooftop solar installation to dry clothes with clean energy. The system is pictured below, and according to Inhabitat, this dryer-to-rooftop solar setup gives the machine an “A+++ energy efficiency rating, which is up to 80 percent more efficient than competing clothes dryers.”

solar clothes dryer schematic

Schematic for Miele’s solar-powered clothes dryer

•  Solar laptop: Last month, Solaptop unveiled the specs on what it’s calling an “all-terrain off-road sport utility laptop” — a $400, solar-powered, Linux-based and waterproof computer.

solar laptop

Solaptop’s solar-powered, rugged laptop

•  Solar travel by air and sea: When the Solar Impulse landed its cross-country flight from San Francisco to New York last month, it marked a pretty momentous achievement for solar flight, and drew comparisons to Elon Musk’s achievement with Tesla (though the Solar Impulse was not, as IEEE’s Spectrum reminds us, the first cross-U.S. solar-powered plane flight). The Guardian offers a broad look at solar-powered travel, from Solar Impulse to the solar-powered motorboat the MS Tûranor PlanetSolar, which circumnavigated the world between September 2010 and May 2012 (20 months to travel around the world is fairly equivalent in speed to the Solar Impulse’s 24-hour trip time between Washington, D.C., and New York City).

• Solar drones: While the rest of the world was talking about the miraculous XXX-hour flight of the solar-powered airplane mentioned in the article above, The Economist was putting together this look at solar-powered drones, unmanned aircraft powered by solar cells that could be used to “survey pipelines and power cables, perform aerial filming for anyone from television news stations to estate agents, monitor fires, assist in search-and-rescue operations” and more.

• Not-exactly-solar bikes: The two products that got me thinking about this post were electric bikes, namely something called “The Beast, which is a bamboo-framed, electric-powered mountain bike, and the NTS 2×4 electric Cargo Bike (pictured below). Granted, these are not solar-powered, but as electric vehicles, it’s just the easiest thing in the world to plug them in to your solar-powered home and create a zero-carbon mode of transport (which doesn’t really answer for me the question of why you really need an electric bike anyway, but then I live in a pretty flat place…).

electric cargo bike

NTS’s 2×4 electric Cargo Bike

With all these applications of solar tech already on the market, I can’t wait to see what my next “Solar Everywhere” roundup will bring.

The post Solar Everywhere: Dryers, Drones and More appeared first on Solar Power.

Aug 162013

130815-cheap-solarA drop in hardware costs has sent rooftop solar installation costs plummeting between 6 and 14 percent over the past 18 months, but high soft costs continue to prop up overall install costs.

If you’re thinking of installing solar panels on your roof, there’s no better time than right now: In 2012, the cost of installing a rooftop solar system dropped by as much as 14 percent, and during the first half of 2013, system prices in California fell another 10 to 15 percent.

Those are the top-level findings of the latest Tracking the Sun report [PDF] from the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley Lab. The sixth annual Tracking the Sun report, published this week, finds that it’s cheaper than ever to install solar in the United States — and that it’s likely to continue to get cheaper.

Between 2008 and 2012, the average price for photovoltaic modules dropped by about $2.60 per watt, which makes up the bulk of the price reductions over that time. Other hardware costs, such as the inverters and mounting materials, have also gotten more affordable, although not as quickly or as steadily as the modules have.

The report highlights two main reasons why prices aren’t even lower: The end of state- and federal-level incentives for solar installations, and the continuing high “soft costs” of solar — notably installation, permitting and inspections — are preventing even more dramatic drops in rooftop solar systems.

Price drops noted in the United States were higher for small PV systems than for larger ones: Systems larger than 100 kilowatts dropped by 6 percent in 2012, systems between 10 and 100 kilowatts dropped by 13 percent, and systems smaller than 10 kilowatts dropped by 14 percent on average.

Particularly telling among the findings of the report is that installation prices for nearly identical systems can be 50 percent higher in different states: For systems under 10 kilowatts in 2012, 20 percent were installed for under $4.50 per watt, 20 percent were installed for more than $6.50 per watt, and the remaining 60 percent fell somewhere in that range.

Although states with more-developed solar markets are often cheaper to install in than less-developed states, the report notes that California — the nation’s largest solar market by far — also features relatively high installation prices. “States with less competition among installers, higher incentives, and/or higher electricity rates for net metering may have higher installed prices,” the report notes, especially “if installers are able to ‘value-price’ their systems (i.e., price their systems based on the value they provide to the customer, rather than based on the cost borne by the installer).”

Also important to note is how much more expensive on the whole solar installations are in the United States than in some of the world’s largest markets for solar power. In Germany, Italy and Australia, prices for small residential systems can be 40 percent lower than in the U.S. Much of this difference again comes to lower soft costs overseas.

Falling solar prices is of course welcome news, although the issue of soft costs remains troubling. Fortunately, recent weeks have brought encouraging signs from California and New York highlighting efforts in both states to speed solar permitting and thereby lower some of those soft costs.

Although the full Tracking the Sun report is highly technical and wonky, you can download the PDF from Lawrence Berkeley Lab.

Article by Matthew Wheeland.

The post Installing Solar Panels is Cheaper than Ever — But for How Long? appeared first on Solar Power.

Jul 232013

colored solar panels

I will admit to still being new to the whole universe of home solar energy, but I’m confused by what is apparently one of the more common obstacles to solar adoption: The panels themselves are eyesores.

This to me is such a befuddling argument — how often do you currently look at your own roof? Of course, maybe if you’re worried about the neighbors complaining, that’s a different story — but then that also seems like a silly thing to base your energy-purchasing decisions on.

However, if the unsightliness of current solar systems is truly an obstacle to adoption, it may be a short-lived one: Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Optics and Precision Engineering IOF in Jena, Germany, are working on design and manufacturing techniques that could broaden the range of color options available to solar buyers (the range currently runs from roughly black to blue-gray).

Using transparent, nano-scale materials as an outer layer on solar cells not only allows the Fraunhofer team to capture more light — project manager Kevin FŸchsel estimates about 20 percent efficiency for panels made from these cells — it also allows for new colors by changing the thickness of that outer layer, which changes how much light gets refracted by the cells.

If the research project pans out, FŸchsel and his team expect the new shades of solar to help engineers and architects more design flexibility. The photo above is a rendering of how the Frauhofer Institute for Applied Optics could look with a facade constructed of the new solar panels.

And if the research does pan out and solar systems can come in almost all shades of the rainbow, hopefully it’ll help skirt the strange objection of “what would the neighbors think?”

Article By: Matthew Wheeland

Photo courtesy of The Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Optics.

The post Would Multi-Colored Solar Systems Convince You To Invest? appeared first on Solar Power.