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What’s in a Gigawatt?
Mar11

What’s in a Gigawatt?

In the power industry, the word “gigawatts” is thrown around like confetti during New Years. But if you’re like most people, you might only have a vague idea about what a gigawatt actually is. And, if we’re being honest, mostly likely the only reference for that power measurement is a mad scientist named Doc:   So let’s set the record straight and unravel the mystery of gigawatts…besides 1.21 of them being able to launch a 1988 Delorean back to the future.   Starting with the latin root “giga” we can deduce that: 1 gigawatt (gw) = 1 million kilowatts (kw) = 100 million watts (w)   One gigawatt also happens to power about 700,000 homes a day, each consuming a monthly average of about 911 kw according to the US Energy Information Association. To produce this much energy with coal takes about 4.7 tons of the stuff–about the same weight as an adult elephant. Luckily for us, people have stopped ignoring this dirty elephant in the room and are harnessing the cleaner and more affordable energy of the sun. In 2015, the Solar Energy Industries Association calculated the United States reached a total of 24.1 gigawatts of installed solar capacity. 24.1 Gigawatts! That’s enough energy to send Doc through the space time continuum 19 times. To put things in perspective, the US Energy Information Administration says the average nuclear reactor in the United States produces between 11,000 to 100,000 Megawatts of energy per a day. A facility like the Hoover Dam produces between 1 to 2 gigawatts of energy per a day depending on its water level (which has become increasingly low). US Bureau of Reclamation And about 5,000 hamsters running on a wheel will produce enough energy to power the average...

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What are Building-Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV)?
Oct11

What are Building-Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV)?

Some homeowners are turned off by how solar panels affect the appearances of their homes. Building-integrated photovoltaics – basically solar panels incorporated into the construction of new buildings – can eliminate the negative visual impact of traditional solar panels; improve appearance and boost resale value. The installed capacity of building-integrated photovoltaics is expected to boom over the next couple of years. A report by Pike Research, projects that the capacity will grow from 400 MW in 2012 to 2.25 GW in 2017[1] – roughly a five-fold increase worldwide. There are many different categories of BIPV today. Here are the most common ones: Thin-film solar panels integrated with a flexible polymer roofing membrane. Flexible thin-film solar panels integrated into roof shingles/tiles. Thin-film or crystalline-based solar panels mounted on the façade of a building. Semi-transparent solar panels that replace windows and skylights. Solar roof tilesImage credit: US Tile. The SOLÉ Solar Power Tile. Believe it or not, these roof tiles are actually covered in thin-film photovoltaic material. Read our in-depth article Which Solar Panel Type is Best? Mono-, Polycrystalline or Thin Film? to find out which of the various solar panel technologies is best in your situation. Generally, BIPV systems are less efficient and more expensive compared to traditional solar panels. However, if you want to seamlessly integrate solar panels with your home, and have the extra money that is required, building-integrated photovoltaics can be a great solution. Get in touch with our expert advisors at One Block Off the Grid to find out more. Are you eligible for extra incentives? In some places, additional incentives are available for BIPV-systems in addition to the standard feed-in tariff/net metering, rebates and grants. Search DSIRE (Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency) to see which incentives apply where you live. Although implementing building-integrated photovoltaics in the construction phase of a home makes more sense from a cost perspective, these systems can also be retrofitted into existing buildings. 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 Informative....

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Are solar panels tested for hail?
Aug01

Are solar panels tested for hail?

Are solar panels tested for hail, golf balls, or other kinds of impact? If solar panels are broken by some kind of impact, is this damage covered by the solar panel manufacturer’s warranty? If you’re about to drop thousands of dollars on a solar system that’s supposed to last a few decades, you obviously want to be confident that you’re not investing in equipment that could be ruined by one day of extreme weather.  It’s a valid concern. The ambiguity regarding hail resistance and impact testing for solar panels can be frustrating, so I spoke with a claims representative from a major solar panel manufacturer to get some clarification. The short answer is that there’s probably no manufacturer’s warranty that will cover this kind of damage, but any high-quality solar panel will have tempered glass that’s designed to take a beating and tested accordingly. If you’re worried about protecting your investment from this kind of damage, make sure that you pull a permit for the system and consult your property insurance provider.  There should be no problem getting the coverage you need if you go by the books. Back to the question about manufacturer’s warranty-  even though you likely won’t find a manufacturer’s warranty that covers hail damage, any reputable brand will test their solar panels to obtain industry-recognized quality certifications. In North America, these tests are a 5 ft·lbs impact of a 2 inch diameter ball of 1.18 lbs that’s dropped at a distance of 51 inches- no parts of the solar panel can be damaged to acquire this label.  If the solar panel has undergone this standardized testing successfully, you will see something like this in the specifications sheet. Quality Certifications from the Sharp ND-240QCJ specification sheet Because solar panel manufacturers usually sell to markets outside of the United States, modules are often subject to additional testing standards such as Europe’s “IEC.” Quality Certifications from Canadian Solar CS6P-240P specification sheet The European quality certificate specifically for hail is IEC 61215, which is circled in the image above.  Solar panels with this label were shot with frozen ice balls at varying sizes and speeds from an air gun. The most substantial of this IEC impact testing comes at 39.5 m/sec from a 203 gram ice ball.  The solar module must perform at a maximum of 5% degradation with no visible damage. If you live in an area that’s prone to hail storms, you should get solar panels that have been tested for impact and talk with your homeowner’s insurance company about your coverage options. That being said, if your system is going to experience hail that would dwarf...

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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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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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