Friday, August 29, 2008

China overtakes U.K over Renewable Energy Investment

China has displaced the UK in the top five most attractive countries for investment in renewable energy for the first time in the Ernst & Young country attractiveness indices’ five-year history, according to Ernst & Young.

The indices tracked and scored global investment in renewable energy in the first six months of 2008.

Ernst & Young writes: The UK dropped from fourth to sixth place in the all renewables index and from second to fifth place in the long-term wind index. The report shows that China is diversifying its energy supply by incorporating more sustainable sources into its rapidly expanding energy generation mix.

China invests heavily in renewables

Jonathan Johns, head of renewable energy at Ernst & Young, says that the Chinese success story has been driven, in part, by the government’s renewable energy policy which aims to generate 15% of the country’s energy from non-carbon sources by 2020.
“Investment in China has been boosted by the government’s energy policy, which secures renewable energy as a vital and important part of the country’s energy mix. China’s stellar growth in renewables can also be attributed to the speed at which it has built up its supply chain capability, to the point where it is likely to have nine gigawatts of manufacturing capacity in a few years,” Johns comments.

“China is also likely to become a significant exporter of wind turbine equipment in a few years, adding to its already strong presence in the solar industry.”

UK delays Energy Bill

The UK delayed the Energy Bill, which is still going through Parliament, causing the UK’s ranking to fall. This is a strong contrast to the speed at which Germany has addressed the challenges placed by the EU Renewables Directive. Germany has climbed up the index to second in both the all renewables and the long-term wind index, due to its coherent legislative framework, which includes the introduction of attractive tariffs to support its industry – making it fit to meet the challenge of the new EU Renewables Directive.
Johns believes that a further consultation period in the UK could lead to up to two years of relative inactivity, leaving just 10 years for the UK to establish a renewables infrastructure strong enough to meet its demanding 2020 target.

“To make the UK a world leader in attracting investment in this sector, and to avoid it slipping further down the index, the government needs to consider creating tangible incentives for investors, following the lead of Germany and the ambition of China,” he says.

Germany obtained 72.7 TWh of renewable energy production in 2006, while the UK obtained just 18.1 TWh. In terms of value for money, Germany wins, as the cost to the consumer is only 2.6 per kWh compared to 3.2p in the UK.
Rising cost of fossil fuels clouds the renewable energy market:

The rising cost of fossil fuels has created mixed fortunes for the renewables industry.
Johns says: “As renewable energy becomes more competitive versus fossil fuels, governments around the world are under increasing pressure to consider how they incentivise investment in renewables projects, and what impact this has on taxpayers.”

The actions taken by Germany regarding incentives have forced Spain, the US and the UK to start re-evaluating their models. Johns believes this has the potential to change the face of the investment landscape significantly. This will result in a major shift in how countries attract investment in the sector, depending on the incentives they offer and their value for money for the consumer in terms of the number of tonnes of carbon dioxide saved.

Country updates

The US retains the top spot on the all renewable indices, followed by Germany, India, China and Spain rounding out the top five. In addition to the UK and Germany, the report includes updates on the renewables markets in the US, India, Spain, Australia, Italy and Ireland.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

World Solar Market Growth 62% in 2007

World solar photovoltaic (PV) market installations reached a record high of 2,826 megawatts (MW) in 2007, representing growth of 62% over the previous year.

Germany's PV market reached 1,328 MW in 2007 and now accounts for 47% of the world market. Spain soared by over 480% to 640 MW, while the United States increased by 57% to 220 MW. It became the world's fourth largest market behind Japan, once the world leader, which declined 23% to 230 MW.

World solar cell production reached a consolidated figure of 3,436 MW in 2007, up from 2,204 MW a year earlier. Japanese producers continue to lose ground, only accounting 26% of global production. Chinese manufacturers raised their share from 20% in 2006 to 35% in 2007.
Despite polysilicon production for both solar and semiconductor use rising 30% in 2007, it remained the most capacity constrained part of the PV chain. 21 new entrants started manufacturing polysilicon during the year.

Meanwhile, thin film production more than doubled from 181 MW in 2006 to 400 MW in 2007, accounting for 12% of total PV production.

The PV industry raised nearly $10 billion in 2007. 84 identified financial transactions accounted for $7.5 billion in 2007, Of this amount, $5.3 billion came in the form of equity financing, while $2.2 billion came from debt financing.

The PV industry generated $17.2 billion in global revenues in 2007. The 320 page report concludes with three forecast scenarios, "Balanced Energy", "Green World" and "Production Led".

The scenarios address the key issues of market growth, supply capacity expansion, pricing through the PV chain, manufacturing costs and gross margins, together with the key commercial and policy challenges that will define the pathway of this industry over the next five years.
Ref: Solar buzz Market Report

Monday, August 25, 2008

A new process for Solar Power by Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Within 10 years, homeowners could power their homes in daylight with solar photovoltaic cells, while using excess solar energy to produce hydrogen and oxygen from water to power a household fuel cell. If the new process developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology finds acceptance in the marketplace, electricity-by-wire from a central source could be a thing of the past.

“This is the nirvana of what we’ve been talking about for years,” said MIT’s Daniel Nocera, senior author of a paper describing the simple, inexpensive, and efficient process for storing solar energy in the July 31 issue of the journal “Science.”

Until now, solar power has been a daytime-only energy source, because storing extra solar energy for later use is expensive and inefficient. But Nocera and his team of researchers have hit upon an elegant solution.

Inspired by the photosynthesis performed by plants, Nocera and Matthew Kanan, a postdoctoral fellow in Nocera’s lab, have developed a new process that will allow the Sun’s energy to be used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gases. Later, the oxygen and hydrogen can be recombined inside a fuel cell, creating carbon-free electricity to power buildings, homes or electric cars - day or night.

The key component in the new process is a new catalyst that produces oxygen gas from water - another catalyst produces valuable hydrogen gas.

The new catalyst consists of cobalt metal, phosphate and an electrode, placed in water.
When electricity from a photovoltaic cell, a wind turbine or any other source runs through the electrode, the cobalt and phosphate form a thin film on the electrode, and oxygen gas is produced.
Combined with another catalyst, such as platinum, that can produce hydrogen gas from water, the system can duplicate the water splitting reaction that occurs in plants during photosynthesis.
The new catalyst works at room temperature, in neutral pH water, and is easy to set up, Nocera said. “That’s why I know this is going to work. It’s so easy to implement,” he said.

Sunlight has the greatest potential of any power source to solve the world’s energy problems, said Nocera. In one hour, enough sunlight strikes the Earth to provide the entire planet’s energy needs for one year.
James Barber, a leader in the study of photosynthesis who was not involved in this research, called the discovery by Nocera and Kanan a “giant leap” toward generating clean, carbon-free energy on a massive scale.

“This is a major discovery with enormous implications for the future prosperity of humankind,” said Barber, the Ernst Chain Professor of Biochemistry at Imperial College London. “The importance of their discovery cannot be overstated since it opens up the door for developing new technologies for energy production thus reducing our dependence for fossil fuels and addressing the global climate change problem.”
Currently available electrolyzers, which split water with electricity and are often used industrially, are not suited for artificial photosynthesis because they are very expensive and require an environment that has little to do with the conditions under which photosynthesis operates.
“This is just the beginning,” said Nocera, principal investigator for the Solar Revolution Project funded by the Chesonis Family Foundation and co-Director of the Eni-MIT Solar Frontiers Center. “The scientific community is really going to run with this.”

The project is part of the MIT Energy Initiative, a program designed to help transform the global energy system to meet the needs of the future and to help build a bridge to that future by improving today’s energy systems.

MITEI Director Ernest Moniz said, “This discovery in the Nocera lab demonstrates that moving up the transformation of our energy supply system to one based on renewables will depend heavily on frontier basic science.”

This project was funded by the National Science Foundation and by the Chesonis Family Foundation, which gave MIT $10 million this spring to launch the Solar Revolution Project, with a goal to make the large scale deployment of solar energy within 10 years.

Ref: Environment News Service (2008)

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Solar Cell Efficiency reaches 40.8% at NREL

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have set a world record in solar cell efficiency with a photovoltaic device that converts 40.8 percent of the light that hits it into electricity. This is the highest confirmed efficiency of any photovoltaic device to date.

The inverted metamorphic triple-junction solar cell was designed, fabricated and independently measured at NREL. The 40.8 percent efficiency was measured under concentrated light of 326 suns. One sun is about the amount of light that typically hits Earth on a sunny day. The new cell is a natural candidate for the space satellite market and for terrestrial concentrated photovoltaic arrays, which use lenses or mirrors to focus sunlight onto the solar cells.

The new solar cell differs significantly from the previous record holder – also based on a NREL design. Instead of using a germanium wafer as the bottom junction of the device, the new design uses compositions of gallium indium phosphide and gallium indium arsenide to split the solar spectrum into three equal parts that are absorbed by each of the cell's three junctions for higher potential efficiencies.

This is accomplished by growing the solar cell on a gallium arsenide wafer, flipping it over, then removing the wafer. The resulting device is extremely thin and light and represents a new class of solar cells with advantages in performance, design, operation and cost.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Energy efficient solar eneregy from Flexible Nanoantenna Arrays

Researchers have devised an inexpensive way to produce plastic sheets containing billions of nanoantennas that collect heat energy generated by the sun and other sources. The researchers say that the technology, developed at the U.S. Department of Energy's Idaho National Laboratory (INL), is the first step toward a solar energy collector that could be mass-produced on flexible materials.

While methods to convert the energy into usable electricity still need to be developed, it is envisioned that the sheets could one day be manufactured as lightweight "skins" that power products such as hybrid cars or iPods with potentially higher efficiency than traditional solar cells. The nanoantennas also have the potential to act as cooling devices that draw waste heat from buildings or electronics without using electricity.

The nanoantennas target mid-infrared rays, which the Earth continuously radiates as heat after absorbing energy from the sun during the day. In contrast, traditional solar cells can only use visible light, rendering them idle after dark. Infrared radiation is an especially rich energy source because it also is generated by industrial processes such as coal-fired plants.

The nanoantennas are tiny gold squares or spirals set in a specially treated form of polyethylene, a material used in plastic bags. While others have successfully invented antennas that collect energy from lower-frequency regions of the electromagnetic spectrum, such as microwaves, infrared rays have proven more elusive. Part of the reason is that materials' properties change drastically at high-frequency wavelengths.

The researchers studied the behavior of various materials — including gold, manganese and copper — under infrared rays and used the resulting data to build computer models of nanoantennas. They found that with the right materials, shape and size, the simulated nanoantennas could harvest up to 92 percent of the energy at infrared wavelengths.

The team then created real-life prototypes to test their computer models. First, they used conventional production methods to etch a silicon wafer with the nanoantenna pattern. The silicon-based nanoantennas matched the computer simulations, absorbing more than 80 percent of the energy over the intended wavelength range. Next, they used a stamp-and-repeat process to emboss the nanoantennas on thin sheets of plastic. While the plastic prototype is still being tested, initial experiments suggest that it also captures energy at the expected infrared wavelengths.

The nanoantennas' ability to absorb infrared radiation makes them promising cooling devices. Since objects give off heat as infrared rays, the nanoantennas could collect those rays and re-emit the energy at harmless wavelengths. Such a system could cool down buildings and computers without the external power source required by air-conditioners and fans.

More technological advances are needed before the nanoantennas can funnel their energy into usable electricity. The infrared rays create alternating currents in the nanoantennas that oscillate trillions of times per second, requiring a component called a rectifier to convert the alternating current to direct current. Today's rectifiers can't handle such high frequencies.

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