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New Software Models Solar Power Output and Increase Grid Stability
Oct30

New Software Models Solar Power Output and Increase Grid Stability

Solar power is notorious for being one of the most fluctuating sources of renewable energy. Predicting how much solar energy will be available just for the next couple of hours is hard. However, having the ability to do so has several benefits, the major one being better stability on the power grid – including data centers, as well as every other appliance that relies on it. A small team of engineers at the University of California in San Diego has now released software that is capable of easily modeling fluctuations in solar radiation caused by weather changes. The software only needs input from one sensor, called a pyranometer, and data from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration models to work. In other words, the software will be able to foresee fluctuations at low costs. The software is based on the solar variability law that was developed by graduate student Matthew Lave at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego. The code is already in high demand for the development in solar power plants – especially those that operate under requirements set by the Puerto Rico Power Electric Power Authority – new utility-scale power plants has to commit to limiting changes in power output to 10 percent per minute. This is potentially a problem for solar power plants where fluctuations might be significantly higher – a change in output of more than 70% in per second is possible. Having the ability to predict solar radiation and the output of our solar panels will give us enough time to do something about incoming fluctuations and smoothen out rapid changes. It will be interesting to see how successful the software will be in making solar power less of a fluctuating source. The capacity of renewable energy on the grid is increasing every single day. It is clear that something needs to be done about stability, as our old base-load energy sources are becoming more and more obsolete. _________________ Guest Post by Mathias Aarre Maehlum. Mathias is doing a Masters in Energy and Environmental Engineering. In his spare time he writes about solar power and other sources of renewable energy at his blog Energy...

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Siemens is Still in Solar

If you were to google “siemens solar” right now, you’d probably see a number of damning headlines regarding Siemens’ role in the solar industry.  This last Monday, the 22nd of October, Siemens AG made the announcement that Siemens Solar & Hydro division of Siemens Energy will be discontinuing its solar business.  The news comes only a few years after Siemens acquired Solel, an Israeli solar thermal company. Siemens has modified their focus in renewable energy and intends to center their attention to Wind and Hydro. Many reporters have jumped to conclusions about Siemens recent announcement, proclaiming that Siemens is no longer in the solar business.  Recent headlines imply that the company is no longer doing business in the solar industry.    Siemens will keep on producing products for both commercial and residential solar, just not through Siemens Solar & Hydro division of Siemens Energy. When I spoke with a Siemens representative regarding this matter, I learned that despite the commotion, it’s business as usual for Siemens Low and Medium Voltage Division. Outside of the energy sector, the company will still offer solar thermal and photovoltaics including generators, steam turbines, grid technology, and controls systems (outside of the Energy Sector). Siemens Low and Medium Voltage division will continue to produce Siemens products such as their solar safety switches, solar meter combinations, and siemens microinverters.   Their announcement doesn’t change the Solar PPA program from Siemens Infrastructure and Cities sector, Building Technologies Division....

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30-Year-Old Solar Panel Meets Original Specs
Oct23

30-Year-Old Solar Panel Meets Original Specs

Martin Halloway, a green building designer, had been living without electricity for five years before he purchased his first solar panel in 1980.  This exact module, an Arco Solar 16-2000, 33-watt solar panel, was manufactured in 1979 and continues to produce power today. Image Credits: www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/  A couple of years ago, Halloway decided to bring the solar panel down from his roof after 30 years and test it out.  It was an unusually crisp, clear day of about 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Halloway’s solar panel was designed for a 12-Volt battery (Max. Voltage of 16VDC), so he tested the module by connecting it directly to 12-Volt loads.   Halloway’s first test was connecting a 35 Watt, 12 Volt incandescent light bulb.  The light bulb lit up, passing test number one.  Halloway says that his Fluke multimeter showed the voltage of the module at 14.93 Volts with a full load of 2.015 amps. Next, Halloway connected the Arco Solar Panel to a 4.5 amp, 12 Volt blower. The blower drew a full 2.5 amps from the thirty-year-old module, which is actually higher than the module’s factory specifications. When Halloway called up the manufacturer to share the exciting news, they were surprised but explained how this was probably due to the cool weather during this test. The cooler temperature must have made for a 10% increase in performance. Warranties generally cover a solar module for up to 25 years at 80% nominal output.  To be considered effective by most manufacturers, a solar panel has to operate at least 80% of its rated peak output. So even when some older modules may not reach that 80% mark of the rated peak output, they can continue to produce smaller amounts of energy for years after their warranties are up.  This Arco solar panel, however, far outlived its warranty and is certainly working well into its old age. With the improvements to solar panels since 1979, how long into the future will some of today’s solar panels be functional?...

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New World Record Efficiency for Solar Cells
Oct15

New World Record Efficiency for Solar Cells

Thanks to researchers at EPFL`s Institute of Microengineering in Neuchatel, Switzerland, a new world record efficiency of 21.4% has been set for solar cells. This feat was done with HIT solar cells (heterojunction with intrinsic thin layer), and is by far the highest conversion efficiency ever achieved with the substrates that were used. Image credit: EPFL PV-lab These types of solar cells basically combine the best of monocrystalline and amorphous silicon. The team has applied a tiny film of amorphous silicon, not more than one hundredth of a micron thick, onto traditional monocrystalline wafers. This increases the effectiveness of the sensors, which ultimately boosts electrical output. The research was recently presented by professor Cristoph Ballif, director of the Photovoltaics Laboratory (PV-lab), at the European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference and Exhibition in Frankfurt, Germany. The theory behind solar cells based on heterojunction technology has been around for quite some time now. The main work of the Swiss research team has been to optimize the interface between the different silicon types. They have come up with a process that uses p-doped silicon, which is the most common and cheapest type of crystalline silicon. By adding an ultrathin layer of amorphous silicon, the conversion efficiency of monocrystalline silicon has been pushed from 18-19% alone, to 21.4% with the hybrid solar cell. The process has been validated Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE) in Germany. The research paper is set to be published by the IEEE Journal of Photovoltaics. Although the technology is still years away from being ready for the market, the innovation marks an important leap forward in the solar industry. Meyer Burger, one of the companies involved in the development of the process, has begun the work of commercialization machines that are capable of assemble the heterojunction sensors. “Within three to five years, we expect to reach a production cost of $100 per square meter of sensors” estimates Stefaan De Wolf, one of the researchers at PV-lab. I`m curious to see if this innovation is just as exciting a couple of years down the line, and if it will actually help bring the cost of solar panels down.   _________________ Guest Post by Mathias Aarre Maehlum.  Mathias is doing a Masters in Energy and Environmental Engineering. In his spare time he writes about solar power and other sources of renewable energy at his blog Energy...

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Tesla’s Solar-Powered EV Charging Stations
Sep28

Tesla’s Solar-Powered EV Charging Stations

Tesla Motors recently revealed their first six solar-powered “Supercharger” stations for the all-electric Model S sedan.   Strategically located off major California highways, these charging stations have an output of 90 kW to power the sedan’s 85 kWh (or 60kWh) battery, providing 3 hours on the road at 60 miles per hour from only 30 minutes of charging.   The grid-tied solar-powered Supercharger stations can send excess power back into the grid.    Tesla’s six Supercharger stations are located throughout California, making a road-trip from LA to San Francisco possible.   Tesla CEO Elon Musk intends to build vast network of 100 Supercharger stations by 2015.  These Supercharger stations will be conveniently located at shopping destinations and restaurants.      Tesla’s all electric vehicles charge for free at the Tesla Supercharger stations.  Though most EVs cannot charge at these stations, it isn’t clear whether future non-Tesla vehicles will be allowed to use these charging stations....

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