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Solar Panel Recycling: The Ultimate Answer to the Solar Panel Waste Problem​

Solar Panel Recycling: The Ultimate Answer to the Solar Panel Waste Problem

Aniket

Written by qualified solar engineer Aniket. Last updated:

Solar photovoltaic is the technology that provides tremendous hope when it comes to solving the climate crisis. With solar officially becoming the cheapest technology, its widespread adoption is obvious. However, there is a downside. After their lifespan of 30 years, solar panels’ power generation drops significantly – enough to make sense to simply discard them.

With millions of panels installed every year, we will soon be left with gigantic amounts of solar panels that have no use. However, there is an opportunity in crisis. The International Renewable Energy Agency predicts that by 2050, we will be able to extract a whopping 78 million metric tons of valuable material from these solar panels if recycled correctly. And the absolute best thing? To inject these materials back into solar panel manufacturing.

Making the Economy Circular

Solar panel recycling is not a new concept. Some countries and states even have legislation for mandatory recycling of panels. As time progresses and the amount of solar waste increases, these legislations will become more common – and for a good reason. Solar panels generally contain raw material that is non-decomposable and, to some extent, even harmful to the environment.

image – sstimated pv waste increase

Image – Estimated PV waste increase (Source: Greenmatch)

The materials that can be recycled in solar panels are mainly glass, metal, and silicon. However, conventional solar panel recycling focuses on extracting these materials and utilizing them in various industries. But one solar company has adopted a custom technology to disassemble panels and extract materials – to use them in their own solar panels again.

In Ohio, one of the leading solar companies worldwide called First Solar has established a recycling plant right beside its panel manufacturing plant. The company claims to recycle 90% of the materials from end-of-life panels to use them again in their own new modules. First Solar also has similar recycling plants in Germany and Malaysia.

According to the company, if 95% of the semiconductor material can be recovered and put back in a solar panel, and the cycle continues to repeat, the same material could serve us for up to 1200 years – an astonishingly long duration. This would ease the pressure on mining for more silicon, saving resources, and reducing the relatively few emissions caused by solar panel manufacturing.

Solar Panel Recycling: What Comes Next?

outdoor solar field

Though solar panel recycling is not a novel concept, it has a few limitations. There is a significant gap in the numbers of module manufacturing plants and recycling plants. Often, end-of-life modules must be shipped to distant locations for recycling.

The cost incurred in this transportation does not always make financial sense for the materials that get reused. To solve this problem, more recycling plants need to come up. If possible, as Andreas Wade of First Solar says, they should be mobile recycling plants.

As new module manufacturing units come up, it would be a good idea to design and build module manufacturing and recycling units instead. Companies doing this might even have financial benefits in this model since they won’t have to import raw materials from foreign destinations, which is normally the case. Of course, this would happen only when modules will be recycled in huge numbers, which, as we have discussed, is not so much in the distant future.

Solar PV modules, whether they are regular panels or rugged, portable panels, all have a specified lifespan. Although most panels are not near the end of their life, we must act with foresight. It will be wise to plan better for the huge amounts of waste solar will generate in the coming decades – and reusing the recycled materials into building solar panels might be the ultimate answer to the waste problem.

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Tesla powerwall

Best Tesla Powerwall Alternatives

Tesla Powerwall Alternatives

Tesla powerwall

Aniket

Written by qualified solar engineer Aniket. Last updated:

Overall Rating 9
Portability 8
Compatibility 9
Durability 8
Ease of Use 10
Value for Money 9

Table of Contents

It is said that successful people (read: companies) do not do different things; they just do the same things differently. Tesla might not have invented the electric car or batteries, but it certainly came up with ways to improve these technologies and their respective business models. In just a few years, the Tesla Powerwall has established itself as one of the sleekest, most reliable, and reasonably-priced energy storage options in the market. 

The residential energy storage market is expected to grow fourfold to $26.4 billion by 2027, at a striking CAGR of 19.7%. It’s no wonder that CEO Elon Musk said at a recent Tesla conference call that the company might soon be making a million powerwalls every year – a prediction aptly called wild by some experts. But it doesn’t sound so wild when you consider that Tesla already has a backlog of 80,000 powerwalls, worth $500 million!

And that’s exactly why any discussion on residential energy storage is incomplete without Tesla. In the coming sections, we help you discover everything about the Tesla Powerwall, from its specifications to its pros and cons, while also exploring some of the best alternatives.

Understanding the Tesla Powerwall

In Tesla’s own words, “Powerwall is a rechargeable home battery system designed to maximize your home’s energy independence.” The powerwall stores excess energy from your solar power and supplies the same amount of energy to your house at night or during power outages, saving you money and ensuring continuous (more or less) power delivery.

Power Flow: Morning
Power Flow: Afternoon
Power Flow: Night

How the Powerwall Works (source: Tesla)

It also comes with time-based control that allows users to decide when and how much energy to use from the grid, helping them save even more money if they live in areas with time-of-use pricing. 

The makers have added another cool feature into the Powerwall – the device autonomously communicates with the National Weather Service and prioritizes charging in anticipation of severe weather.

Pros

Tesla powerwall

Let’s begin with what matters most for most people – the price tag! The Powerwall has a sticker price of $7,800, which is a price of $577 per kWh of battery capacity. Compare this to other popular products (Panasonic – $701/kWh, LG – $601/kWh), and it does not look so bad. 

Of course, there are additional costs, like supporting hardware costs and installation costs, but for something that will last a minimum of 10 years, it’s not terrible.

Speaking of longevity, the Powerwall might share the same number of warranty span with LG or other brands, but Tesla is the only one that provides unlimited cycles in its warranty, making it a genuine 10-year warranty. 

On the other hand, a battery warranty with limited cycles might be less than 10 years if you complete the specified number of cycles.

The Tesla battery also triumphs in the Depth-of-Discharge (DoD). DoD is nothing but the actual, usable amount of battery capacity. Historically, batteries often had disappointing DoDs like 60% or 70%, where the remaining 30-40% of the battery capacity wasn’t usable, meaning a 10 kWh battery bank was, in reality, a 6 or 7 kWh one. Tesla’s Li-NMC battery offers a 100% DoD. 

Not just that, its round-trip efficiency clocks at 90%, meaning if you put in 10 kWh of energy into it, you will get around 9 kWh when you extract it, which is better than many other options in the market.

Batteries can be AC-coupled or DC-coupled. An AC-coupled battery like the Tesla Powerwall is slightly less efficient but provides greater flexibility and scalability because you can charge it through an AC source. 

DC-coupled batteries are slightly more efficient, but they cannot supply power to the house simultaneously with solar since there’s just one centralized inverter. Also, DC-coupled units would be difficult to scale up, say, in the event of creating a small micro-grid out of the devices.

Tesla powerwall

DC-coupled vs AC-Coupled System Layouts (Source: NREL)

The powerwall is the only battery system in the market which employs a liquid thermal management system. Instead of passive air-cooled systems, like in an LG battery, Tesla’s uses a chemical coolant circulated through the unit to reduce heating.

This design delivers effective cooling, and you can install it without leaving space between the wall, improving the aesthetics of the unit.

Tesla powerwall

Tesla Powerwall Exploded View

Unlike many other companies, Tesla manufactures its own battery cells, thanks to the enormous investment and experience of the company in the lithium battery area from its electric cars. This avoids the hassle of dealing with a different company for warranty procedures when something goes wrong with your battery.

Additionally, while many manufacturers require customers to ship the battery back at their own expense (which can be a few hundred dollars!), Tesla right away sends a new device and picks up the old one once the new one has arrived. 

The powerwall receives updates from the company regularly and automatically, and this not only fixes bugs but also adds some new and cool features every now and then.

Cons

Tesla powerwall

If you already own a solar power system and are looking to buy a Tesla Powerwall, then it’s not your best day. A few months ago, Tesla decided that it would only sell the Powerwall together with its solar panels or solar roof.

So, if you have already bought and installed solar panels from, say, LG or SunPower, then the Powerwall is not an option for you. This is probably its greatest drawback.

The exclusivity is not limited to the purchase but also the installation. Unlike other storage products, you cannot simply buy the Powerwall and install it yourself or call your favorite electrician. You must use one of Tesla’s recognized system installers, which not only takes away the flexibility but also adds to the cost. The installation costs can sometimes take the price to as high as $15,000 per powerwall.

The company website answers the question of “Can Powerwall work without internet?” with “Powerwall needs an internet connection…”. Although the connection is mainly needed to communicate status, update stats and receive software updates, there is less clarity on whether it is essential.

When your internet goes down, or worse, you are planning to install the unit in a remote cabin where there’s no internet, the Powerwall might not be your best choice.

As mentioned, although Li-NMC technology offers many benefits over traditional lead-acid cells, it also brings with it a few concerns. For instance, if not disposed of properly, the cobalt in the cells can enter the environment and prove harmful.

Additionally, while NMC promises 500-1,000 life cycles, LFP (Lithium Iron Phosphate) can deliver up to 3,000 cycles.

However, despite deciding to shift to LFPs for their utility-scale batteries, Tesla is still sticking to Li-NMC for their residential product.

Top Alternatives

If you are either unable or unwilling to buy the Powerwall for one of the above reasons, you need to look at other alternatives. There are many battery products in the market today, and while not all have the benefits of the Powerwall, many are better than the Powerwall in some respects. Let’s take a look at some of the best ones:

1. LG Chem RESU 10H:

LG Chem RESU 10H

The closest competitor to the powerwall is LG’s RESU battery. LG sells a huge quantity of RESU’s every year, thanks to a legacy of decades that makes people trust in them as a brand.

The RESU is a 9.8 kWh Lithium battery and works perfectly with SolarEdge or SMA inverters. Unlike the powerwall, it’s a DC-coupled unit, meaning it is slightly more efficient. It also offers many similar advantages like in-house manufactured cells, brand reliability, expandability, and decent aesthetics.

Where the RESU lags, however, is its warranty. Despite the same 10-year warranty period, the warranty says that the battery will operate with at least 60% of its original capacity by the end of 10 years, which isn’t quite impressive.

On the pricing side, the device, including hardware and installation, costs between $10,000 and $14,000, which is a bit more expensive per kWh than the Tesla Powerwall.

2. Panasonic EverVolt:

Panasonic EverVolt

Another global electronics brand, Panasonic, is a popular name in solar as well as batteries. It doesn’t only make and offer its energy storage systems, but also provides battery cells to other brands.

Interestingly, Panasonic offers both DC and AC-coupled batteries and in two different sizes – 11.4 kWh and 17.1 kWh. The EverVolt offers perfectly reliable batteries, but these too fail to impress with a solid warranty – Panasonic also promises only 60% capacity after 10 years, just like LG.

A typical Panasonic AC-coupled EverVolt costs between $15,000 and $20,000, higher than both Tesla and LG.

3. Fortress eVault and eVault Max:

Fortress eVault and eVault Max

We’ve all seen movies of underdogs winning grand championships, and if there’s a lesser-known brand that threatens to become that champion in the energy storage world, it’s Fortress Power.

Pennsylvania-based Fortress offers two incredible battery options – eVault and eVault Max. Both units offer an astounding 18.5 kWh capacity – claimed to have “the largest capacity in the market”.

The eVault can be expanded to 222 kWh, usable not just for homes but entire buildings, while the eVault Max is AC-coupled, and you can expand it to a whopping 370 kWh.

Both batteries boast LFP technology and a 10-year warranty with an amazing 6,000+ cycles. Not just that, Fortress claims a 98% round trip efficiency, which is significantly greater than that of the Powerwall.

Both the eVault and eVault Max cost around the $13,000 mark and do not require specialized and expensive installations, making them seriously affordable per kWh of capacity.

4. BigBattery KONG:

If you are awed by the eVaults, wait till you meet the KONG! As the name suggests, the BigBattery KONG is a mammoth 12 kWh energy storage unit, but the best part – it comes with a ridiculously low price tag of $4,299, making it the most affordable on this list, at a mere $358 per kWh.

You might wonder about the brand and its experience, but BigBattery is a California-based company that claims to be the “ largest supplier of surplus batteries in the United States”, and has facilities in the USA, Singapore, Hong Kong, and China.

The BigBattery KONG also uses lithium-iron-phosphate battery cells and offers a comprehensive 10-year warranty with up to 3,000 charging cycles and 100% depth-of-discharge, making it one of the most attractive options on this list.

5. Watts Battery:

Watts Battery

Subtitled “Lego-like energy to meet your lifestyle”, Watts Battery is a novel, modular concept that tries (and succeeds) in simplifying energy storage for homes. Instead of one bulky box, one module of the Watts Battery is a tiny 1.2 kWh battery+inverter. Ten such modules can be stacked, quite literally, to reach a capacity of 12 kWh, making it the most innovative item on this list.

Each module supports up to 1 kW of solar power and provides 1.5 kW (3 kW peak) of continuous output. Like the Powerwall, it connects to the internet and provides real-time data on your mobile device. 

Watts Battery advertises its product by saying “no technician, no drilling, no additional connectors, or devices”, which certainly grabs our attention. And although setting up the first module might require some work, the entire system is pretty straightforward to set up, unlike Tesla or LG’s highly technical installations. 

Watts Battery offers a slightly lower warranty period of 7 years, but at over 2,000 lifecycles, which is not bad. Each block of the Watts Battery costs $2,000, making it slightly expensive, but the simplicity and low installation costs compensate for some of it.

6. Pika Harbor 6 Smart Battery:

Pika Harbor 6 Smart Battery

A bright-colored energy storage unit, just like its colorful name, the Pika Harbor is a DC-coupled, Li-ion, modular battery unit powered using 3-6 modules. You can use it for time-of-use optimization, demand charge management, and even zero-export applications, with up to 17.1 kWh of capacity.

The battery can provide up to 10 kW of continuous power when needed. With a decent round-trip efficiency of 96.5%, a depth-of-discharge 84.5%,  and a 10-year warranty, Pika just about keeps up with the competition.

Pika Energy is a Generac company and employs battery cells manufactured by Panasonic, and is quite reliable; however, the RMA process might pose a challenge for the same reason. The Harbor 6 costs up to $20,000 with installation and is more expensive than the Powerwall.

7. Electriq Power PowerPod 2:

Electriq Power PowerPod 2

Electriq Power is another company in the long list of Californian companies that “started-in-a-garage-and-grew-rapidly”. Electriq’s PowerPod 2 is an intriguing energy storage system that comes in 10, 15, and 20 kWh capacities and both DC and AC-coupled versions.

It uses an LFP battery and boasts all the smart features similar to the Powerwall, such as a smart app and real-time monitoring. The unit also comes with a 10-year warranty and promises at least 70% capacity by year 10.

It might not be gorgeous, but Electriq’s offering is one of the best-looking options on the list and even seems to have a personality of its own. Installing the PowerPod 2 costs between $13,000 and $19,000 and is just a bit more expensive than the Powerwall.

Conclusion

Tesla’s Powerwall, like most of its other products, is a thoughtfully designed energy storage product that deserves the tremendous popularity it has garnered. A reasonable price-point, reliable performance, and top-notch service set it apart.

However, the inability to purchase a Powerwall separately, relatively higher installation costs and a long waiting period forces, us to look at other options. 

The best Powerwall alternatives are a mix of legendary brands, like LG and Panasonic, and upcoming but ambitious brands that offer a lot more at a lot lower costs, such as Fortress and BigBattery, and finally, brands that reimagine product design, such as the Watts Battery.

Ultimately, there is no single winner in the never-ending battery storage systems race, and like any other complex piece of machinery, the best option is the one that suits your needs best.

Other Solar Generators You May Like

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Elon Musk Reiterates the Sun’s Ability to Power Absolutely Everything

Elon Musk Reiterates the Sun's Ability to Power Absolutely Everything

Aniket

Written by qualified solar engineer Aniket. Last updated:

“That free fusion reactor (sun) in the sky conveniently converts ~4 million tons of mass into energy every second. We just need to catch an extremely tiny amount of it to power all of civilization.” This was a tweet made on October 16, 2020 by the iconic businessman Elon Musk.

The tweet came in response to a tweet by another Twitter user who shared the news that solar is now officially the cheapest power source almost everywhere in the world. Musk is widely known as a champion for sustainable technology. His products include the world’s highest-selling electric vehicles, solar panels, solar roof tiles, re-usable rockets, etc. Since then, the tweet has been liked by over 32,000 people.

The Sun’s Potential

solar panels on the windows of each building

How much truth does Musk’s tweet have? Can an ‘extremely tiny’ portion of sunlight power all of civilization? The sun gives out tremendous amounts of energy, and a small portion of it reaches the Earth. This small portion is still a massive quantity, specifically 1.74 x 1017 watts or 174 quadrillion watts. That is a lot of zeroes and a lot of energy.

It is often said that even if only 1% of the land area is fitted with solar panels, it will generate enough power to satisfy the needs of the entire human population. As per data from Global Energy Statistical Yearbook, our total energy consumption in 2019 was over 23,000 TWh.

After some calculations, we can have a number for the size of solar plants to power the entire world. This number is 18 TW. Like Musk says, this is a “tiny” portion of the available 1.74 x 1017 watts.

The Safest Nuclear Generator

The interesting part is where Musk points out the sun to be a ‘fusion reactor’. This wording automatically draws a comparison with nuclear power here on Earth. It is now widely accepted that solar energy is better than fossil fuels such as coal and oil in terms of environmental impact and financial numbers. However, there is still some debate on whether nuclear power makes more sense than solar.

Nuclear power uses a fission reaction wherein heavy atoms such as those of Uranium are split, causing conversion of some of its mass to energy. This produces tremendous amounts of energy and is often termed as renewable, owing to the tiny amounts of fuel required per unit of energy generated.

The overall emissions from nuclear power are also quite low and comparable to that of solar. The major difference, however, is the fact that solar power is remarkably safer than nuclear power. Some events in the past of nuclear reactors subject to accidents have caused significant damage and have cost lives.

Inside the sun, a similar reaction takes place. Although the reaction is fusion, instead of splitting, atoms combine and generate power, it is ultimately a type of nuclear reaction. It is calculated that the sun will last for another 5 billion years, and it makes a lot more sense to use this far safer nuclear reactor than building new ones near societies.

Musk – The Constant Solar Advocate

solar panel farm in the desert

Musk’s love for solar is evident not only from his recent tweet. In 2019, Musk had tweeted about the amount of solar needed to power the USA. He tweeted the following: “Solar power is a Gigawatt per square km! All you need is a 100 by 100-mile patch in a deserted corner of Arizona, Texas, or Utah (or anywhere) to more than power the entire USA.”

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Solar energy farm producing clean renewable energy from the sun

The Era of Large-Scale Solar Plants Has Begun

The Era of Large-Scale Solar Plants Has Begun

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Written by qualified solar engineer Aniket. Last updated:

Barely a decade ago, a megawatt was a respectable number when it came to solar plants. A few hundred kilowatts were the norm in most places. In 2010, the world’s largest plant was less than 100 MW in capacity, which was an incredible feat.

Today, solar plants are breaking all barriers of size and scale. As per data compiled by BloombergNEF, in 2019, a record total of 35 projects of 200MW or higher capacity were commissioned globally. Every 200MW requires about 3000 panels, making most of these plants in the vicinity of 2 square miles, which is gigantic. The reason for this is the economic advantage brought by scale. The larger the plant, the lower the electricity cost.

Economy of Scale

An important factor in developers’ choice of larger plants is the lower cost per watt of equipment. Solar panels and other solar equipment can be bought at incredibly low prices when buying in large quantities. Every month, shipping containers filled with solar panels cross the seas to create some of the world’s largest solar plants.

Besides the equipment, there are costs involved in legal, transmission, substation design, security, etc., which are comparable in large- and small-scale solar plants. This means bigger projects will have a lower investment cost per MW, which means the power price can be lower. Solar power prices have recently reached a record low, making it officially the cheapest power source nearly everywhere.

A Robust Investment

The only challenge encountered with large scale solar is setting them up in the vicinity of communities it can power. People are unwilling to have gigantic solar farms near their homes. As Bloomberg puts it, it’s a problem for renewables where people want cleaner and cheaper electricity, but they don’t want it next door.

With market uncertainty always existing for nearly every type of investment, solar stands in its own league as a more reliable and robust investment. The number of buyers willing to invest in solar has steadily increased. This includes but is not limited to pension funds and other similar institutional investors who want to match their long-term liabilities with the reliable returns solar provides.

In fact, the appeal of solar is so strong that not only was it the leading power source installed in 2019 (45%), but IEA predicts that solar will be the leading technology for the coming five years by a vast margin.

image shows the growth of renewable capacity 2019-2024 by technology

Renewable capacity growth 2019-2024 by technology (source – IEA)

Some examples of mega-solar power plants are:

  1. Benban solar park, Egypt – 1500 MW
  2. Dau Tieng 1 and 2, Vietnam – 420 MW
  3. Magdalena II, Mexico – 220 MW

Harry Boyd-Carpenter, head of energy for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, highlights the role of large scale solar by saying, “Now that people see renewables as cheap, they buy a lot of it.” He also adds, “Without doing large solar and wind projects, we won’t achieve the energy transition.”

The only challenge encountered with large scale solar is setting them up in the vicinity of communities it can power. People are unwilling to have gigantic solar farms near their homes. As Bloomberg puts it, it’s a problem for renewables where people wnt cleaner and cheaper electricity, but they don’t want it next door.

This does not pose a threat to large scale projects as developers still seem to be finding ways to build and commission hundreds of megawatts of solar power. Furthermore, it is not just large scale solar that is growing worldwide. Rooftop solar plants and even portable solar products are rapidly gaining popularity. In short, the future of solar looks bright.

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New Hybrid Solar Converter Harnesses Both Heat and Light at 85% Efficiency

New Hybrid Solar Converter Harnesses Both Heat and Light at 85% Efficiency

Aniket

Written by qualified solar engineer Aniket. Last updated:

Heat and light have always been two different aspects of solar energy. So far, we have only been able to harness both separately. There have been attempts to combine technologies or create new ones that can harness both heat and light, but they have either dropped performance or raised the costs.

However, a new and promising hybrid solar converter has recently been developed. This converter has a simple construction and can utilize both heat and light – with an admirable 85% efficiency. The converter can generate photovoltaic power as well as steam using thermal energy. This steam can then be used directly for space or process heating or converted to electric energy using a turbine.

How Does It Work?

Sunlight is a complex medium of energy reaching the Earth. The sun’s rays consist of a variety of wavelengths. Some of these are visible to the human eye and are responsible for generating electricity through solar cells. Some other wavelengths carry energy too, which usually cannot be harnessed using solar cells, and is lost as heat. PV panels thus have efficiencies in the range of only 20%.

Solar thermal devices, on the other hand, harness heat from the sunlight. Aside from the fact that they need to be exposed to sunlight, both technologies are completely different. This has made combining them tricky, and at times, futile.

showing the new hybrid converter

Tulane scientists build high-performing hybrid solar energy converter (source – Tulane University)

The new hybrid converter is a simple, satellite dish-shaped unit. At the center, a collecting component is suspended, which has multi-junction cells on the inside. The dish reflects sunlight on these cells. Multi-junction cells, unlike conventional cells, convert sunlight to electricity at an astonishing 40+% efficiency. These cells convert the visible and ultraviolet rays into electricity.

On the other end of the dish is a separate thermal collector. This energy receiver is a cup-shaped cavity with pressurized water inside it. Here, the sunlight’s infrared wavelength is captured, and water is heated to the point of conversion into steam. This way, unlike traditional solar devices collecting just one wavelength, the new converter captures multiple wavelengths, meaning higher efficiency.

The steam generated this way can reach temperatures of 248°C, taking the unit’s combined efficiency to over 85%. This is the first time a PV and thermal hybrid has been able to reach such high temperatures. Such high temperatures can be used in many industrial processes such as drying, curing, and sterilizing.

The Cost Factor

Novel technologies often promise added functionality but disappoint on the cost factor. The hybrid converter in question is quite promising on the cost aspect too. Researchers are confident that the unit can run for as low as 3 cents per kWh when it reaches the necessary commercial scale. This is already close to the record low prices photovoltaic energy has been generated at.

With such high efficiency and such low cost, this development might be one of the most important breakthroughs of this decade.

This hybrid converter is developed by researchers from the University of San Diego and the Tulane University, along with Boeing-Spectrolab and Otherlab. The project started in 2014 as a U.S. Department of Energy ARPA-E project and received funding of $3.3 million.

The team will receive follow-on funding from the Louisiana Board of Regents and Reactwell, a local commercialization partner. In the coming days, the team will continue to refine the technology and make the unit as suitable as possible for commercial applications. At that stage, pilot projects will be launched for further validation.

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McDonald’s Begins Its Solar Journey

McDonald's Begins Its Solar Journey

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Written by qualified solar engineer Aniket. Last updated:

Joining other business giants like Amazon and Google, McDonald’s has taken an important step in its solar journey by launching its first net-zero restaurant. The restaurant, located at the Walt Disney World resort in Florida, is a step toward the company’s science-based target of reducing emissions with the Paris Agreement in perspective.

The restaurant building employs 1066 rooftop PV panels along with walls made of photovoltaic glass. It also has a series of solar-powered streetlights and other energy efficiency measures such as passive ventilation. The massive 8024 square foot building is 100% solar-powered and will generate 600,000 kWh of emission-free energy annually. While this is a pilot project, McDonald’s aims to integrate solar power in the rest of its stores slowly.

How the Emission-Free Building Was Born

mcdonald’s new net-zero restaurant building

McDonald’s Unveils Net Zero Energy-Designed Restaurant at Walt Disney World Resort (source – McDonald’s)

The building, located at Florida’s Walt Disney World resort, was designed by Ross Barney Architects based in Chicago, and Florida-based architectural-cum-engineering firm CPH.

A total of 1066 rooftop solar panels will generate about 600,000 kWh of energy every year. Besides that, 192 photovoltaic glass panels were incorporated in the walls to add to the solar generation. A 1500 square foot outdoor seating area employs ‘Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV)’ by having a shed made of solar panels that generate up to 70,000 kWh of energy annually. A series of solar lights in the restaurant’s parking area adds up to the solar power produced and used.

But solar isn’t the only thing that allows the restaurant to cut down its emissions. A large, living wall covered with native plants keeps the space cool. A passive ventilation system with automatic louver windows helps regulate the temperature and humidity.

Next year, the restaurant will be trying to receive the ‘Zero Energy’ certification from the International Living Future Institute.

Chasing the Net-Zero Mark

In the spring of 2018, McDonald’s became the first restaurant company to set a science-based target to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. They announced a target of reducing the emissions from its restaurants and offices by 36% from a 2015 base year by 2030.

With this climate target, the company hopes to prevent 150 million metric tons of CO2 equivalents (CO2e) from being released into the atmosphere by 2030. This would be the equivalent of taking 32 million passenger cars off the road for a complete year or planting 3.8 billion trees and growing them for ten years.

By setting this target, McDonald’s aims to fulfill three important goals in the Paris agreement:

  • Goal 7 – Affordable and clean energy (specifically targets 7.2 and 7.3).
  • Goal 13 – Climate action (specifically target 13.2).
  • Goal 17 – Partnerships for the goals (specifically targets 17.16 and 17.17).

The new zero energy restaurant, opened at the Walt Disney World resort, is one major step toward their 2030 target.

While the restaurant is undoubtedly an important step towards the 2030 target, it is not the first step, and not even the largest. In 2018, the company opened its then flagship restaurant in Chicago with solar panels. The massive 19,000 sq. ft. building had a variety of eco-friendly features, from a thousand solar panels to trees and natural lighting through 27-foot tall windows.

In 2019, McDonald’s invested in large scale renewable plants. These plants, including both solar and wind, generate enough power for about 2500 McDonald’s restaurants. The plants will prevent a staggering 700,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions from going into the atmosphere.

According to the company website, it has also made substantial progress in the European market towards reducing emissions. Almost a dozen countries, including Austria, France, Germany, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, The Netherlands, and UK/Ireland are close to sourcing all their energy through renewable sources.

It will be interesting to see how McDonald’s will replicate the energy efficiency measures across the tens of thousands of their restaurant buildings worldwide.

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The Australian Breakthrough

This Australian Breakthrough Promises A New Era of Printed Solar Panels

Aniket

Written by qualified solar engineer Aniket. Last updated:

A new technological breakthrough in Australia’s Newcastle University promises to usher in a new era for printed solar panels. The team, led by physics Professor Paul Dastoor, has succeeded in producing ultra-thin, flexible printed solar panels. These panels can be pasted on any surface to generate electricity.

For decades, traditional solar panels with bulky and rigid components have been the norm. Their rigid front glass and metal frame make the panels less versatile. They also require additional mounting structures made of metals, which increases the weight as well as cost of the systems. The new development may be the key to more versatile and cost-effective ways of harnessing solar energy, and thus in a more widespread manner.

Lighter, Cheaper, Simpler

printed solar cells at an exhibition in Sydney.

Printed solar cells at an exhibition in Sydney (Source – University of Newcastle)

While conventional solar panels are primarily constructed from silicon, the flexible panels developed by this team are made from organic polymers. For many years, researchers have been trying to develop cheap, printable panels, but this might be one of the few successful results.

The production of these panels is remarkably simple. Liquid organic polymers are laid on top of sheets of materials. The best part is that this can be done using everyday printers, like printing a picture on paper. This creates a solar panel that is merely 0.075 mm thick, as compared to traditional solar panels which often reach up to 1.5 inches in thickness – this is truly groundbreaking.

There is also a huge difference in the weights – while regular solar panels weigh around 50 pounds, the printed solar panels in question are astonishingly light at just a few grams. Additionally, these panels can be pasted on nearly any surface using a special adhesive. This also eliminates the cost and weight involved in the mounting structures and ballasts.

Owing to all the above factors, the panels developed by Professor Dastoor and his team are inexpensive. They cost between $7 and $10 per square meter, which is quite low compared to the cost per surface area of regular solar panels.

Room for Improvement

Traditional solar panels might be bulky and costlier, but thanks to the huge amount of engineering and precision manufacturing work that goes into it, they have reached impressive efficiencies as well as lifespans.

The printed solar panels might have some advantages over traditional solar panels, but their biggest disadvantage is their low efficiency. Currently, while silicon-based solar panels work with efficiencies around 20%, the printed solar panels are yet not able to reach the 1% mark.

Production of printed solar panels

Production of printed solar panels (source – ABC News)

The research team, however, is confident that the technology will become more efficient in the coming years – efficient enough to be commercially viable.

Applications

Though the printed panels in question are not highly efficient, their remarkably low cost means it can make solar power accessible to everyone.

As per the researchers, in the near future, printed solar technology could be developed to fit almost any surface to power urban lighting, roadside water pumps, disaster shelters, caravans, camping equipment, etc.

Though the efficiencies aren’t exciting yet, Professor Dastoor envisions a different business model for the printed solar panels. Instead of purchasing the panels, he believes a better model for customers will be to buy a plan, like a mobile phone plan.

In such a case, the panel providers will charge the customers for electricity and paste panels all over their roof. The price will be lower than their existing bills, and every time a better version is developed, the company will swap the older version for the new one.

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Norwegian Design Displays the Future of Solar Powered Factories

Norwegian Design Displays the Future of Solar Powered Factories

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Written by qualified solar engineer Aniket. Last updated:

The word ‘factory’ often evokes images of large, dull buildings. A Norwegian furniture factory is about to shatter that image with their new factory design. The design involves abundant greenery surrounding the building, but more importantly – a sustainable design that employs 1,200 solar panels churning out 250,000 kWh to power the operations.

The company, named ‘Vestre’ has planned to create a hypermodern and sustainable manufacturing facility located in 74 acres of greenery. The building, titled ‘The Plus,’ will be designed by Danish architectural firm Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and is touted to achieve BREEAM Outstanding – the highest environmental certification of the Nordic region. The new factory will help Vestre cut their carbon emissions by a laudable 50%.

The Role of Solar

Planned design of ‘The Plus’

Planned design of ‘The Plus’ (source – Vestre)

The planned design of the new factory involves installing 1,200 solar PV panels on the roof. Installed at the optimum orientation, these panels will generate a total of 250,000 kWh of emission-free energy every year.

Coupled with heat exchangers and geothermal wells, this will reduce the building’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% as compared to conventional factories of similar size. Besides this, the building will also recycle and reuse 90-95% of the water used in production.

The factory will also use electric trucks from Tesla for logistics requirements. Combined, the solar panels and other energy efficiency measures make the building’s energy requirements 90% lower than conventional buildings of a similar size.

Diagram Showing Solar Panels Powering Production and Electric Trucks

Diagram Showing Solar Panels Powering Production and Electric Trucks (source – Vestre)

The Plus’s design has thus managed to achieve a rating of A in energy efficiency (G being the lowest and A being the highest).

For this reason, Vestre mentions the upcoming factory building as ‘Paris-proof’, meaning it will meet all the requirements set out in the Paris Agreement’s climate accord.

Norway’s Renewable Landscape

Norway has been leading the renewable energy charge for quite a while now. It is Europe’s largest hydropower nation and has over 90% of its energy come from hydro energy. Despite that, the nation has made significant progress in solar energy.

Being located closer to the Northern pole than most countries on the planet, Norway has limited solar resources. However, it is one of the notable manufacturers of solar power equipment, from cell wafers to solar panels.

More Than Just a Green Building

The Plus’s Rooftop Section

The Plus’s Rooftop Section (source – Vestre)

Vestre’s plan to build what they term ‘the world’s most environmentally friendly factory’ comes with a fivefold objective.

Along with aiming to build a sustainable building, it also aims to create a space that attracts tourists from all over the world in their 74-acre public park and visitor center. This 30-hectare park will be filled with elements of Nordic culture as well as adventure. Imagine camping in thoughtfully designed natural space – you can even use solar camping gear for a complete emission-free camping experience.

The factory campus will not only allow visitors to enjoy the green campus surrounding the facility, but also experience the factory itself. Covered with transparent glass panels from all sides, visitors can roam around the facility and are able to view the production procedures. Visitors can also visit the rooftop space, which is said to be another unique experience in itself.

The new design also aims to inspire more people to engage in the ‘green shift’ by catering for school visits to the sustainable facility.

The new facility will create between 30 and 70 new jobs and according to the company, will be a model for inclusive workplaces.

The building is designed by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), who has also designed the Google Headquarters, and has respectable experience in designing energy efficient buildings.

References

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New Jersey’s Largest Community Solar Project

New Jersey's Largest Community Solar Project to Sit on Industrial Roofs

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Written by qualified solar engineer Aniket. Last updated:

The concept of community solar farms is becoming increasingly more popular in recent years. An interesting story in this regard is that of New Jersey’s community solar plants. The unique thing about these community solar plants is that they will not take up public land. Instead, the plants will be installed on New Jersey’s industrial rooftops.

New Jersey has plenty of industrial facilities with open rooftops that are perfectly suited for solar PV plants. As a part of the New Jersey Community Solar Energy Pilot Program, a total of 20.35MW will go on the roofs as part of the first round.

A Joint Effort

In a first for New Jersey, the entire capacity of the plant will not be installed at a single location on the ground. It will be installed on 4 large industrial rooftops, located in Perth Amboy, Teterboro and Woodridge.

Industrial Rooftops That Will Host the Community Solar Plants

Industrial Rooftops That Will Host the Community Solar Plants (Source – NJBiz)

At 20.35 MW, the project will cover 26% of the first-round capacity. Once installed, the solar panels will cover a million square feet spanning across the multiple roofs. The project has been awarded by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities to Solar Landscape. The industrial buildings which will host the solar plants are owned by Duke Realty.

Over half (51%) of the energy generated from the PV plants will be sold to low and moderate-income households. The plants will generate 250 million kWh over 20 years and will also prevent a staggering 9000 tons of carbon emissions from being added to the atmosphere.

Interestingly, it is not just sustainable energy that will be brought to the residents through this partnership. Developer Solar Landscape will provide solar energy job training and professional certifications to individuals from these communities, as a part of its operations. This makes the initiative even more ‘community centered’ in its approach. As Duke Realty’s Megan Basore puts it – “We want to have a positive impact on the communities we serve and the world in which we live.”

About the New Jersey Clean Energy Program

Concept of New Jersey Clean Energy Program’s Community Solar

Concept of New Jersey Clean Energy Program’s Community Solar (Source – NJ Clean Energy)

As stated before, the concept of microgrids and community solar is becoming more and more relevant in the recent times. The greatest benefit of community solar plants is that domestic users of electricity can consume solar energy without installing panels on their roofs. For consumers who do not have sufficient roof space or the correct orientation/shade free areas, community solar is a boon.

The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (NJ BPU) identified this benefit and launched a 3-year pilot program titled ‘New Jersey Clean Energy Program’ in early 2019. By the end of the year, the board had granted conditional approvals to 45 applications of community solar projects for the program’s year 1.

As mentioned earlier, the differentiating factor is that this solar program will focus on utilizing large rooftop spaces instead of ground areas. The program’s brochure states that ‘Community solar encourages local clean energy development that is tied to the communities without compromising the preservation of open space or protected lands in New Jersey.’

There are a few conditions to which projects can apply for the program, as follows:

  1. Project size cannot be larger than 5 MW
  2. Each project must have minimum of 10 subscribers
  3. No more than 250 subscribers per MW

As NJ’s community solar program moves forward and experiences success, we expect more and more projects as such to come up all over the country in the coming years.

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Indian Developer Secures World’s Largest Solar Order

Indian Developer Secures World's Largest Solar Order

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Written by qualified solar engineer Aniket. Last updated:

While the concept of gigawatt-scale solar projects seemed surprisingly huge only a few years ago, it seems to have become more common in recent times. The latest evidence of this is the 8GW solar capacity awarded to Adani Green, part of which will be a 2GW single solar plant, the new largest solar plant among all the solar sites in the world.

The novel ‘Manufacturing-linked solar tender’ was launched by the Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI). The 8GW solar arrays will be spread throughout India. Adani will also set up the manufacturing of 2GW of solar cells and modules, as per the tender. With 6 billion dollars and 400,000 jobs directly or indirectly created; this is world’s largest solar bid.

A Big Stride Forward

solar energy corporation of india (SECI)

Last year in November 2019, SECI put forward the manufacturing-linked solar tender, where a cell-module manufacturing facility along with a power generation plant was obliged to follow.

Although the tender initially garnered some criticism owing to its ambitious numbers, it did find bidders after a couple of revisions. Another highly interested bidder is Azure Solar, a Delhi-based company who has been awarded 4GW plant + 1GW manufacturing.

Adani had initially submitted their interest for 4GW plant and 1GW manufacturing but ended up doubling those numbers and is receiving what now has become the world’s largest single order. This doubling was done under the ‘green shoe’ option provided by the tender.

An Unmissable Impact

As Adani Green sets the stages of the solar plants and manufacturing unit, it will not only bring employment to 400,000 people, but also offset 900 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in its lifetime.

As recent as 2012, with just a gigawatt of total capacity, India was not seen in the solar race. However, in the following years India accelerated its solar energy portfolio to become one of the key contributors to global solar capacity.

Today, the total installed capacity in India is slowly inching close to 40GW, which is a respectable number. Adani’s winning of SECI’s solar award is an important milestone in the nation’s solar timeline. This not only makes the commodity trading conglomerate one of the largest solar companies in the world, but also the one with the nation’s largest solar capacity.

With recent developments, the company is poised to achieve its ‘25GW by 2025’ goal.

Timeline

According to the company, the first 2GW of solar generation capacity will come online by 2022. The 2GW manufacturing facilities will also be set up by 2022, and the next chunks of power plants will come up incrementally by 2025.

References

  1. Solar Energy Corporation of India – Solar Energy Corporation of India Limited
  2. Ultra Mega Power Projects – Power Finance Corporation
  3. India Solar Current Status – Ministry of New and Renewable Energy

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Engineers working on equipment control in solar power plants, pure energy, renewable energy

A Post-Pandemic World and A Solar Energy Revolution

A Post-Pandemic World and A Solar Energy Revolution

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Written by qualified solar engineer Aniket. Last updated:

Hardly any global event in the past 100 years has changed world views and priorities like the Covid-19 pandemic. Like many other sectors, the energy sector will likely never be the same. Many experts and institutions are voicing the fact that solar will emerge as the leading energy source after the pandemic has subsided.

One of the reasons for this is the fact that people have woken up to the vulnerability to unfortunate events of a global scale. The threat of climate change now feels more real than ever before. Additionally, the steep drop in solar prices will accelerate the shift even more.

Awakening

A study was conducted at Stanford by the Global Carbon Project, under scientist Rob Jackson. It showed that daily emissions worldwide have dropped by about 17% after Covid-19 struck. When asked about this, Jackson said that people marvel at how easily the air cleared when we stopped driving cars. “The environment is resilient, and people are too. Good things may come from Covid-19″.

Not far from Jackson, Dan Shreve, an energy research director at Wood Mackenzie was quoted saying, “My impression is that we are going to have a future that will be more decarbonized than we could have imagined three months ago. And in the end, this health and economic crisis will push us to a cleaner path forward.”

Though the solar sector, like any other, took a hit due to the pandemic, it showed signs of sparked interests too. In some places, enquiries of solar products went up, along with bicycles and other green products.

Financial Sense

According to many other experts like Jackson or Shreve, the coming years will indeed need, and boost, a solar energy revolution. The cause for this is not just regular people seeking more resilient homes in possible recurring tough times, but also businessmen looking for more reliable investments.

As Shreve says, “Folks looking for a safe haven in a turbulent market may continue to turn to this sector”. After all, once a system is installed or a PPA is signed, the panels are guaranteed to generate power and revenue for three decades, unless the sun disappears! What’s more? An investment in solar creates 2.8 times more jobs than an equivalent investment in fossil fuels.

If that is not enough, solar has also become dramatically cheap in recent years. An exponential fall in prices has made it the most common-sense power source. Solar plants regularly have bids in the range of 4 cents/kWh. Solar is not just cheaper than coal power, it is cheaper than coal itself!

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three scientists investigating solar power to turn carbon dioxide into renewable fuel

Solar Power to Turn Carbon Dioxide into Renewable Fuel

Solar Power to Turn Carbon Dioxide into Renewable Fuel

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Written by qualified solar engineer Aniket. Last updated:

Swedish researchers from the Linköping University might be closer to a major breakthrough related to climate change and solar energy. The new study was published in ACS Nano. Results of the research indicate that it is possible to convert carbon dioxide into usable fuel that includes methane.

The methane obtained from this reaction can be used in vehicles adapted to use gaseous fuels. Other products of this reaction include carbon monoxide and formic acid. Both can be further processed so that they can be used as fuel or used directly for industrial applications.

Two Birds with One Stone

Rising levels of carbon dioxide and the consequent impact on the planet’s habitability have been a major issue in the recent decades. Reducing the level of CO2 in the atmosphere while fulfilling the ever-increasing demand of energy is possibly the greatest challenge of the 21st century. Trying to act on one of these puts a limit on the other.

This research is special in the sense that it might allow us to do both. Converting CO2 to a usable fuel requires energy. Using traditional fossil-based energy for this makes the whole process nearly pointless. However, using solar energy will allow us to reduce the CO2 levels without pumping more CO2 in the atmosphere.

Why Solar?

A major motivation for Linköping University’s Jianwu Sun and his colleagues was to imitate what plants do. Specifically, converting carbon dioxide and water to oxygen and high-energy sugars, which they use as ‘fuel’ to grow. A major energy source they use for this process is solar energy in its raw form, also known as photosynthesis. The researchers aim to do something similar – using solar photovoltaic instead of photosynthesis.

Image showing conversion of CO2 using solar powered photoelectrode

conversion of CO2 using solar powered photoelectrode (Source – ACS Nano)

Since the reaction can yield fuel usable for transportation, this would mean using solar energy for vehicles in an indirect manner. Currently, solar power cannot be used for widespread vehicle technology as it cannot match the power density of fuels like gasoline. However, the research conducted by senior lecturer Sun and his colleagues might be able to change this.

Being able to convert CO2 without having to wait for plants to grow to their full size can allow reducing larger than ever amounts of CO2. This has the potential to help nations and organizations reach their emission reduction targets within the deadlines. Add to the equation the rapidly dropping solar prices, which makes the research outcome even more important.

The researchers have used a novel method of combining graphene, an extremely thin and flexible material with silicon carbide. Using these two, they have created a photoelectrode that can use solar energy to convert carbon dioxide into renewable fuel.

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panoramic view of a group of solar panels

Ambitious International Solar Power Export Plan Moves Ahead

Ambitious International Solar Power Export Plan Moves Ahead

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Written by qualified solar engineer Aniket. Last updated:

A first of its kind project that carries solar-generated electricity through an undersea cable will soon be a reality. A 2,360-mile cable will carry power generated by a PV plant in Australia, all the way to Singapore. A route survey for the cable will soon begin.

Dubbed ‘The Sun Cable Project’, this ambitious project is backed by two of the most prominent billionaires from Australia. Software giant Atlassian’s co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes, along with Fortescue Metals’ Andrew Forrest – are funding the project with multi-million sums. The survey order was awarded to Guardian Geomatics, while the project will be undertaken by Sun Cable.

‘Sunshine to Asia’

Sun Cable describes the project as ‘Sunshine to Asia’ in one of its press releases. Singapore currently relies on imports of Liquid Natural Gas for about 95% of its energy requirements. As such, it is vulnerable to variations in the oil and gas markets. The Sun Cable project will fulfill a fifth of Singapore’s total energy requirements.

Australia’s political relations with Singapore and geographical location will allow for the High-Voltage-DC (HVDC) cable to be a successful project. The total project cost stands at an astounding $13.1 billion. There are plans to link the cable to Indonesia as well.

Sun Cable’s CEO David Griffin hopes that the financials for the project will close around 2023 and the commencement will be in 2027. In a statement, Andrew Forrest has said that “Australia has the potential to be at the center of our region’s transition to clean energy”. Meanwhile, while speaking at Atlassian’s Sydney office, Cannon-Brookes said that Australia should be a superpower in a carbon-constrained world of technology.

Tennant Creek in Australia’s Northern Territory will house solar panels that spread over 15,000 acres. The plant will also have a battery-storage system to support continuous operation. The total power capacity is slated to be 3GW.

The plant will also use 5B’s modular mounting structures, which come prefabricated with 6-panels clamped in each rack. The rapid-deployment structures will significantly reduce the time required to install the panels.

showing 5Bs Maverick mounting systems

Renewable Electricity for Australia, Singapore and Indonesia (source – Sun Cable)

Blessed with plenty of sunshine for a good part of the year, Australia can rapidly move up on the solar installed capacity numbers. In the recent years, it has even started to act in that regard. Besides the Sun Cable project, Pilbara’s ‘Asian Renewable Energy Hub’ is another highly ambitious Australian project which plans on having a 15GW hybrid solar and wind energy plant.

References

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the largest solar plant in the world

Britain’s Largest Solar Plant Gets Green Signal

Britain’s Largest Solar Plant Gets Green Signal

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Written by qualified solar engineer Aniket. Last updated:

With a total of nearly 900,000 solar panels, the 350 MW Cleve Hill Solar Park will be the UK’s largest solar plant. The plant will be housed on a 900-acre site and will power over 90,000 homes. It is one of the few solar farms of this size to employ a battery storage system, making it a more reliable power plant.

The plant costs £450 million and does not rely on any government subsidies. Owing to its size, the plant is also aiming to be the cheapest power producer in the country. It is poised to provide an annual £1 million in revenue to the Swale and Kent councils.

Greener Times

In the summer of 2019, the UK became the first major economy to pass a net-zero emissions law. The new target requires the UK to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050. The UK’s emissions have already dropped by 27%, despite a 72% growth in economy.

The new Kent solar plant will help the UK to accelerate toward the net zero goal. At the same time, it will also create many direct and indirect jobs. The developer of the plant has created an ‘Outline Skills, Supply Chain and Employment Plan’ that will help secure local economic benefits from the solar plant.

The plant is poised to start construction by Spring 2021. The first phase will take 18 months and includes a solar park and a habitat management area. Phase two will include the construction of the energy storage facility, and will take about six months to complete.

There have been concerns from the local community about loss of biodiversity, but the developer has assured that the project will increase the biodiversity by up to 65%, thanks to the installation of open grassland and Meadow areas, hedgerows and woodland.

More Details on the Plant

Image showing location for the solar plant on a map

Location fo the Plant on a Map (source – Kent Online)

The plant is unique in the way the panels will be placed. Instead of traditional south facing panels, this plant will have an East-West orientation which will allow maximizing of space. In addition to that, some of the panels are mounted as tall as 4 metres high, considering the risk of flooding.

The approval for the new 350MW plant was given by Alok Sharma, The Secretary of State for Business, Environmental and Industrial Strategy. The developer is a partnership between two companies – Hive Energy and Wirsol Energy. Hive is also the developer of the Southwick Estate solar plant, which was then (2015) the UK’s largest solar plant.

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Could Solar PV Farms be the Answer for End-of-Life EV Batteries?

Could Solar Plants Be the Answer for End-of-Life EV Batteries?

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Written by qualified solar engineer Aniket. Last updated:

Solar PV plants and Electric Vehicles are deemed to be the undeniable future of energy and mobility. However, each of these have their share of limitations. Electric vehicles come with batteries that do not last beyond a decade, and solar plants suffer from intermittence due to the day-night and seasonal cycles.

However, a study by an MIT team might be able to tackle both problems with a single solution. A paper by the researchers titled ‘Technoeconomic model of second-life batteries for utility-scale solar considering calendar and cycle aging’, shows promising economics for giving EV batteries a second life. They achieved these results by working on a hypothetical solar plant model that uses new batteries vs used EV batteries.

What It Means for the Respective Sectors

The researchers were aware beforehand that used EV batteries would suit the solar plants even after being deemed unusable for electric vehicles themselves. The reason for this is that solar plants do not demand as rigorous and as uneven performance from batteries like vehicles do.

With every passing year, both the installed capacity of solar and the number of EVs on roads is increasing at a rapid rate.

As time passes, solar power will replace more and more conventional power. But one of the obstacles in a total reduction of fossil-based power is the reliance of solar plants on conventional grid power for dark hours.

On the other hand, as EVs multiply, there will soon be a multitude of used batteries posing questions on disposal and lifetime costs incurred.

The ability to use end-of-life EV batteries in solar plants means an economic boom as well as a technical solution to the cost and intermittence problem. As solar plants evolve to suit communities independently, this could be an important milestone.

Approach Used in the Study

This team of current and former researchers of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology analyzed a virtual 2.5MWp located in California. They studied the economics of multiple scenarios:

  1. Building just the 2.5 MW solar plant,
  2. Building the plant with new lithium-ion battery system, and
  3. Building the plant with used EV batteries toward their life’s end

As expected, the plant with new battery bank showed the least promising net return on the investment. This is natural, given the significant costs of lithium-based batteries.

showing schematic of a Lithium-ion car battery pack

Schematic of a Lithium-ion Car Battery Pack (Source – Bloomberg)

Interestingly, the case with repurposed EV batteries used for solar energy storage showed net returns that were acceptable and feasible. The only catch is that the battery prices should be lower than 60% of their original cost, which does not seem to be a big challenge.

However, it is not as straightforward as it sounds, according to researcher Ian Matthews. There might still be some challenges associated with this approach, primarily that of screening the batteries. But for now, the modeled case provides excellent results for the location of California and should possibly also work for many other parts of the world.

References

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A New Breakthrough in Ultra-Thin Solar Cells

A New Breakthrough in Ultra-Thin Solar Cells

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Written by qualified solar engineer Aniket. Last updated:

When one hears the word solar, an image of vast fields or roofs with rectangular blue panels likely comes to mind. But that is about to change. A new, ultra-thin and ultra-flexible solar cell has been developed and tested. This same research was undertaken at the Monash University, the University of Tokyo and the RIKEN institute in Japan.

Although flexible solar cells aren’t a new invention, this development is exciting for two main reasons. This cell’s efficiency is significantly higher than earlier developments, at 12.3%. For a cell with thickness that is only a tenth of a human hair (3 microns), it is a big achievement. Secondly, this is an Organic Solar Cell (OSC) which means it is environmentally friendly and cheaper to produce.

A New Milestone?

All the previous attempts at creating ultra-thin solar cells have resulted in prototypes with a few serious drawbacks:

  1. Ultra-thin or flexible cells had very low efficiencies, often below 10%, where conventional silicon-based cells have been climbing to 20% efficiency or more.
  2. They degraded fast under sunlight. Where traditional crystalline silicon cells lasted at least 25 years, thin cells would wear out much earlier due to exposure to heat and oxygen.

This research seems to have solved the two problems above. The cell developed in question has respectable efficiencies. Though not at par with regular solar cells, considering their ease of manufacturing, 13% could still be a great number to have.

These cells do not need the manufacturing of several bulky items and assembling them in specialized facilities. Producing them could be as simple as continuous printing!

On the durability part, the cell is a promising advancement. It has a degradation rate of less than 5% for nearly 5000 hours of atmospheric conditions. In total, the cell claims a shelf life of over 11 years and power generation capacity for a decent 20,000 hours.

How It Was Achieved

Interestingly, the procedures in achieving this breakthrough did not employ entirely new processes. The crucial stage was the use of a non-fullerene acceptor (NFA) as well as the post-annealing heat treatment of up to 150 degrees Celsius.

Opening New Possibilities

showing an ultra-thin and ultra-flexible solar cell

Flexible Solar Cell that Could Revolutionise Future Wearable Technology (source – Monash University)

Putting the excitement of the lab results aside, what matters in the end for any development are the implications in the real world. Silicon-based, rigid solar panels have ruled the industry, while ultra-thin solar has not been taken seriously for its lack of performance and longevity. However, this research establishes a new possibility for the near future.

Disappointingly, crystalline solar is unsuitable for applications that are portable and demand flexibility. This applies mainly to wearables. An entire backpack made of a solar power generating surface, for example, is no more unimaginable.

With mass production, ultra-thin solar cells might reach incredible levels of cost-effectiveness. It might, at some point, not be a surprise to see over half of the objects exposed to sunlight sporting a power generating layer!

References

  1. Organic Photovoltaics Research – US Department of Energy
  2. Flexible Solar Cells – ScienceDirect

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Amazon Closer to Going Total Solar

Amazon Closer to Going Total Solar

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Written by qualified solar engineer Aniket. Last updated:

Amazon has made quite a leap in their solar PV energy consumption, as they have decided to build 5 new utility-scale solar projects in the US, China and Australia. In over two decades of business, Amazon has gone a long way as far as size is concerned. With that growth came a requirement of increasingly massive amounts of energy.

Last year, Amazon pledged to go 100% solar, joining the league of giants such as Facebook, Microsoft and Google. Keeping up with their promise, this year Amazon put together a plan for installing a total of 615 MW in three different countries. This would serve over a million kWh of energy to the company every year.

How It Matters

It is assuring to think that online shopping might be greener, but the harsh truth is that data centers and other facilities of companies like Amazon or Google require massive amounts of electricity. To put that into perspective, Amazon has about 91 renewable energy plants worldwide, sized at 2300 MW and generating a staggering 6.3 million MWh of energy annually – and yet this powers far less than 80% of their operations. This would be enough energy to power about 113,000 American homes every year.

a renewable solar power plant

The following is a break-down of where and how the new 615 MW of solar projects will be installed:

  1. 100 MW in Shandong, China
  2. 105 MW in New South Wales, Australia
  3. 200 MW in Ohio, USA
  4. 80 MW in Ohio, USA
  5. 130 MW in Virginia, USA

This will be Amazon’s 12th renewable energy project in the commonwealth of Virginia, and second (as well as third) in Ohio. It is the company’s first ever such project in China, and second in Australia.

According to the company’s press release, ‘these projects will supply renewable energy for the fulfillment centers and AWS data centers that support millions of customers globally’. It is also said to be a step toward ‘Achieving the Company’s Climate Pledge commitment to meet the Paris Agreement 10 years earlier and reach net zero carbon by 2040.’

Besides the 2040 net-zero target, the company also has a target of reaching 80% renewable energy by 2024, and 100% renewable energy by 2030. After the addition of the new 615 MW, Amazon’s total will stand at close to 3000 MW, generating enough power that is equivalent to the needs of nearly 700,000 American homes. It will be interesting to see how early Amazon and other companies can reach their 100% targets, especially now that solar has officially become the cheapest energy source!

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Image of the earth behind a row of solar panels

Finally, a Map That Shows Solar Energy Sites Worldwide

Finally, a Map That Shows Solar Energy Sites Worldwide

Aniket

Written by qualified solar engineer Aniket. Last updated:

For the first time, we have access to a globally open dataset of solar power sites worldwide. Four researchers from the University of Southampton published a report in the Nature journal and have worked on the ‘Harmonised global datasets of wind and solar farm locations and power’ article.

According to the authors, this vast information will help global land planners to make informed decisions while allotting resources to renewable energy projects.

Currently, the considerations in the decisions of new projects include land suitability, along with technical and socio-economic constraints. Although this has generally seemed sufficient, the researchers argue that these are insufficient indicators and the mapping will address this shortcoming.

Implications of a Global Solar Map

In just a decade, solar energy has grown exponentially. Without a doubt, this has ushered in a promise of a cleaner future and slashed energy costs worldwide. However, as new solar power plants that cover hundreds of acres come up every few months, experts are becoming increasingly interested in how multiple aspects of the society are affected.

showing distribution of solar power plants worldwide

Distribution of Solar Power Plants Worldwide (Source – Nature)

As solar and wind energy become mainstream and require vast land areas, more questions will be raised about the biodiversity loss that may occur, in comparison with fossil-based energy. So far, there hasn’t been a global dataset to find metrics on such questions – this study might hold the key to solve it.

According to the researchers at Southampton, “Sufficient location data would allow researchers to interrogate the socioeconomic drivers of renewable energy infrastructure siting at a global scale to produce probability surfaces for energy development”.

Similarly, according to the members of this project, a recent study suggested that small-scale deployment of solar energy led to lower biodiversity loss as compared to large-scale deployment. Although solar has proved to be far less harmful to the environment than its fossil-based counterparts, it is important to know which type of solar deployment is better. This global mapping technology will prove to be a crucial tool in determining such values.

How They Did It

Technically, it would be very difficult and complex to locate each solar or wind energy plant in the world through methods which do not involve satellite mapping. An important highlight of the project is its use of the free OpenStreetMap (OSM) platform. OSM includes map data built using contribution from millions of users.

The goal was to include accurate search values to have consistent and precise data extraction. Think of this as describing an animal on a search engine so that the engine can return the maximum amount of correct information related to that animal. For this, they used an existing database and randomly selected 50 solar plants and 50 wind sites worldwide. Specific keys and values were attached to this test dataset.

Mapping the number of plants worldwide was only the first step of the project. It was equally important to map the sizes of projects. For instance, a solar plant might be at the installed capacity of 100MW and another could be more than a GW. Their socio-economic and environmental effects will be hugely different. For this, they used areas of polygons (sites) to derive installed capacity information, among other more complex factors.

image showing distribution of solar power plants worldwide

The Global Distribution of Solar and Wind Installations (Source – Nature)

Applications of the Data

The mapped data can be used for the following purposes, as per the developers:

  1. Analyzing the land impact of current infrastructure
  2. Measuring progress towards global goals
  3. Informing future energy planning scenarios

Of course, this data can prove to be instrumental in many other ways, of which we will find out as time progresses and solar energy becomes more common.

References

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Somebody holding up a perovskite solar cell

A Solar Cell Material That Might Change the Future

A Solar Cell Material That Might Change the Future

Aniket

Written by qualified solar engineer Aniket. Last updated:

The word bithiophenylethylammonium might look confusing. Well, it is a material that might have just become the key to high-efficiency solar power. When added to the surface of a perovskite, bithiophenylethylammonium stabilizes it, which is something scientists have been trying to achieve for years now.

Perovskite is a synthetic compound which can be used with other materials to build a solar cell. Unlike traditional silicon cells, perovskite cells have the potential to operate at very high efficiencies. Its unstable nature has been a huge obstacle for its commercialization for over a decade, but researchers might have finally cracked the code.

More About the Research

Research led by a team from the Purdue University and aided by several other high-ranking institutions published their findings in the Nature journal on April 29, 2020. The research revolves around halide perovskite, a flexible material which has been known to perform as good as or better than traditional silicon solar cells. However, it is an unstable material and does not last.

The research found that adding bithiophenylethylammonium, a bulky material molecule to the perovskite’s surface inhibits the ion movement and reduced degradation of the material. This makes it suitable for high-performance, long-life solar panels. Additionally, it could make perovskite solar cells comfortably withstand temperatures up to 100 degrees Celcius, which has been highly desirable for a long time.

An illustration of adding bithiophenylethylammonium to perovskite

An illustration of adding bithiophenylethylammonium to perovskite (Source – Purdue University/Enzheng Shi)

What sets halide perovskites apart from traditional solar materials is flexibility. The material can be turned into paste or paints and applied to a base to produce a flexible solar panel. This could eliminate the glass, frame and other bulky and expensive components, making solar panels durable, flexible and much cheaper than they are today.

According to Purdue’s Asst. Prof. Letian Dou, perovskites have developed a lot in just over a decade than silicon solar tech has done in six decades. Another Assistant Professor, Brett Savoie, says this research can allow us to combine the best of two different perovskites to make a much more useful material, which has been unheard of so far.

Enzheng Shi, a postdoc researcher and team member in the research team at Purdue, says that this will “Bridge the gap between layered halide perovskites with two-dimensional materials, such as graphene, boron nitride and transition metal dichalcogenides”. He also stressed that that these findings “Represent critical fundamental insights into the stabilization of halide perovskite semiconductor materials and provide a new materials platform for future applications such as complex and molecularly thin superlattices, devices, and integrated circuits”. As his comment suggests, this research not only opens new possibilities for solar technology but also for other electronics, such as better computer chips.

A solar material that is highly efficient, yet cheap and durable might just be the key to powering the majority of the world by solar. Perovskites have been a frontrunner in the race to better solar materials, and record efficiencies of close to 30% have already been achieved in laboratories. This research might soon bring the benefits of perovskite solar from the lab to the market.

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Birds eye view of a large solar plant

A New World Record for the Cheapest Solar Plant in the Land of Oil

A New World Record for the Cheapest Solar Plant in the Land of Oil

Aniket

Written by qualified solar engineer Aniket. Last updated:

Abu Dhabi, an oil rich country, is building the world’s largest solar plant. This is a great proof of the inevitable transition to solar. But it is not just the size of the solar plant that widens our eyes, it is also the price bid per unit of energy that breaks all records.

The Al Dhafra solar plant is a 2 GW plant expected to be completed in 2022. The plant has received a record-low bid at 1.35 US cents per kWh (On a levelized cost of electricity – LCOE basis).

The state-run Abu Dhabi Power Corporation (ADPower) will be purchasing this electricity when the plant is completed. The lowest bidder, among the total five, is the consortium of Chinese solar giant JinkoSolar and French energy company EDF.

Shifting to a Cleaner Future

For the longest time, Abu Dhabi has been a leader in oil reserves. Its embassy website mentions a staggering 92.2 billion barrels of oil in reserves. The last few years, however, have proved to be the dawn of solar power’s dominance in the nation’s energy landscape.

Noor Abu Dhabi Solar Plant (Source – Gulf News)

Noor Abu Dhabi Solar Plant (Source – Gulf News)

One of the examples is the Noor Abu Dhabi solar plant. At 1.2 GW, it is already the world’s current largest single solar plants, and also built by a partnership that includes JinkoSolar.

The Al Dhafra plant will power more than 150,000 homes and will prevent 1.6 million tons of carbon dioxide from going into the atmosphere. This is the equivalent of removing 720,000 cars from the road. It will also more than double the country’s total solar capacity.

The Emirates Water and Electricity Company (EWEC), a subsidiary of ADPower (Abu Dhabi Power Corp.), had invited bids last year for the project. Out of 48 EOIs, 24 were selected to bid, and 5 consortia placed bids last year. EDF + JinkoSolar’s bid at AED 4.97 fils/kWh, or USD 0.0135/kWh, stands the lowest and might continue to be so. For reference, this is 44% lower than Noor Abu Dhabi’s bid just three-years ago. This is a landmark for an energy source that has been considered expensive for a long time.

It is not just Abu Dhabi in the Middle East that can boast of its leap in solar power. In fact, as far as pricing goes, multiple countries have competed for the title of cheapest solar power. Notable among these are Dubai and Saudi Arabia.

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