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By Richard M. Rosenblum, President and CEO of Hawaiian Electric Company | RenewableEnergyWorld:  Hawaii is one of the world’s premier travel destinations. However, if visitors look beyond the views of Diamond Head, Waikiki Beach, palm trees and the blue Pacific, they’ll see a renewable energy transformation under way that could be a model for others around the world.

Imported fossil fuel, mostly oil, supplies 90 percent of Hawaii’s energy for transportation and electricity – the highest in the United States. Skyrocketing and volatile oil prices have impacted the cost of electricity. Clearly, Hawaii’s dependence on oil, which powered these islands for nearly a century, is unsustainable.

Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) is part of a broad public-private partnership to develop a clean energy future for these islands. Our partners include Hawaii’s people, the state and federal governments and the business and academic communities. Virtually everyone in Hawaii has a stake in our efforts and a voice in our course forward. The goal: reduce Hawaii’s dependence on imported fossil fuel, lower and stabilize electricity bills for our customers, and protect our environment.

Whether it’s using “green” biofuels to produce power, leading the drive to adopt electric vehicles, drilling for more geothermal energy, integrating more solar and wind power, or testing the latest smart-grid advances, HECO and its subsidiaries are developing a broad portfolio of solutions to create a clean energy future for Hawaii.

What makes this more than a local “good news” story is that Hawaii is a perfect laboratory for developing new renewable energy technologies and the grid modernization needed to make them all work together.

Although it may not yet be apparent to everyone, our portfolio of renewables is growing. In 2010, the Solar Electric Power Association ranked HECO third in the United States for growth in solar power. Hawaii has more solar watts per customer than all but a few U.S. states. Read more

The Oregonian: Under overcast skies, Patti Jarrett learned she had a nearly ideal roof for the 3.29-kilowatt solar energy system she planned to lease. South facing. Good tilt. Little shade. An hour later, she wrote Sunlight Solar a check to install panels she contends will provide significant energy savings over the next 20 years.

Jarrett, 72, sits on the Growing Solar Clackamas County steering committee and is determined to persuade as many of her neighbors as possible to sign up for solar by April 15. “Energy conservation is really critical,” she said. “We have declining resources and this is such a wonderful resource.”

And it’s a good time to buy. Imported Chinese panels and cells have driven down prices. And while that’s also led to a drop in Energy Trust of Oregon cash incentives for solar, those incentives and state and federal tax credits still help lower the cost considerably. Community-based campaigns like the one in Clackamas make it even less expensive.

These campaigns, where neighbors buy or lease discounted solar energy systems in bulk as part of a limited-time offer, are lighting up the state from Portland to Pendleton. Beaverton just put solar on more than 250 homes. West Linn and Lake Oswego will soon launch a joint campaign. Gresham is gearing up for one, as is Eugene. Northeast Portland is in the midst of its second.

Oregon’s first community-initiated “solarize” model started in Portland in 2009 with the Southeast Uplift Neighborhood Coalition and Energy Trust of Oregon. Later, Portland took the program on, winning a two-year, $400,000 U.S. Department of Energy grant that expires in June. Additional campaigns in the city’s Southeast, Southwest, Northwest, Northeast and North sections helped Portland install a total of 1.5 megawatts of solar — enough to power 125 homes.

Communities from across the state and nation (including Boston, New York, Minneapolis, Seattle and San Jose) called Portland to learn about replicating the campaigns, prompting the city to create The Solarize Guidebook, a free online resource. Portland also decided to share its federal money, giving seed funding to Growing Solar Clackamas County and Solarize West Linn-Lake Oswego as well as some community organizations in Union County and in the Rogue and Willamette valleys.  Read more

By Ucilia Wang of Given the low interest rates and plummeting prices for solar energy equipment, it would seem a good time for investing in solar power generation. GE Energy Financial Services, for one, has been pursuing solar deals actively and on Wednesday it announced a $100 million equity investment in a solar power plant in Arizona.

The investment helps close the financing of the $550 million, 127-megawatt project being developed by LS Power, which also lined up debt financing from Prudential Capital Group, Banco Santander and others, GE said. LS Power has hired Fluor Corp. as a general contractor and operator of the project, which is set for completion in 2013 and will supply power to San Diego Gas & Electric under a long-term agreement. The project, called Arlington Valley Solar II, will rise about 40 miles west of Phoenix.

GE not only announced the deal in the Arlington Valley project, it also took the opportunity to tout its investments in solar over the past year. It called 2011 a record year and said it put up $1.4 billion in 48 – or 1 gigawatt’s worth – of solar power projects worldwide, including those in Canada, Australia, Portugal, Spain and Italy.

Solar power plant investments have taken off in the United States over the past three years as developers successfully secured permits and the federal and state governments provided policy and financial support to meet their clean energy and job creation goals. Read more

By Stephen Lacey, Climate Progress:
: Homeowners associations are notoriously resistant to solar, often banning roof-top installations that conflict with their aesthetic values. But what if you could install an invisible solar system on your home that no one knows is there?

Last week, researchers announced they had produced the largest see-through organic solar module to date — a 170 square centimeter functioning module that is 14 times larger than the last iteration. The technology was produced through a collaboration with researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the organic solar company New Energy Technologies.

Organic solar technologies — often called plastic solar — utilize conductive polymers that allow for flexible cells and modules. Researchers are applying these unique polymers onto a see-through substrate that can be applied to glass:

Once electricity-generating polymers are applied to a material surface, the resultant effect is the production of an OPV cell. The prospect of SolarWindow™ products generating electricity on see-through glass is made possible by way of the unique architecture associated with this fabrication of the OPV device.

The technology was initially produced in a laboratory at the University of South Florida.

Research like this coming out of our nation’s laboratories is exciting. But we need to be extraordinarily cautious when evaluating the commercial viability of this technology.

Unlike traditional solar, commercial organic solar devices have very low efficiencies (4 to 5%) and a lifetime of a few years, currently hindering their market opportunities. For now, organic solar has not been able to break outside the portable power market (backpacks, canopies, consumer electronics) because of limited technological performance. Leading companies like Konarka, which scaled up manufacturing capacity quickly in the hopes of capturing a large market share, havefound it difficult to sell products beyond very niche applications.

The efficiency of this particular technology is extraordinarily low — about a half a percent. That’s no where close to where it needs to be for commercial success. The company developing the SolarWindow, New Energy Technologies, calls the record-breaking size “progress in addressing an important hurdle to commercialization – scale-up.”

Don’t be fooled by this slick messaging: This is an early piece of research that still doesn’t bring the technology anywhere close to commercial deployment.

And this brings us to a point we continually make on this blog. Supporting R&D for innovative technologies like this is extraordinarily important for the future of this country. But many of these lab-scale breakthroughs are not going to help us address our energy challenges today. The most dramatic impacts will come through proven, financeable, commercially deployable technologies — with incremental innovation being the primary driver to drive down costs.

So for the time being, convincing your homeowner’s association to approve solar is a far better option than waiting for this solar window to hit the shelves of your local home improvement store.

By Mark Brown of Wired UK:  We’ve all seen concentrated solar power (CSP) plants — those rows and rows of shiny mirror heliostats all crowded around a 100-metre-high pillar, like worshippers peering up at a towering god.

The orchestra of mirrors track the sun throughout the day, bouncing rays up at the central tower where the heat is concentrated, converted into electricity and piped into the national grid. Only a small handful of these plants — like PS10, in the Spanish desert region of Andalucia — exist around the world.

Their growth is restricted thanks to their sizable footprints. “Concentrated solar thermal energy needs huge areas,” said Alexander Mitsos, the Rockwell International assistant professor of mechanical engineering, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in a press release.

“If we’re talking about going to 100 percent or even 10 percent renewables, we will need huge areas, so we better use them efficiently,” he said in the release.

Mitsos and colleagues have come up with a new design for CSPs that reduces the required amount of land while boosting the amount of sunlight the heliostat mirrors collect. In perhaps the most beautiful example of biomimicry yet, it’s inspired by sunflowers.

The researchers at MIT, in collaboration with RWTH Aachen University in Germany, looked at the layout of current CSP plants. They put spaces between the mirrors and staggered them like seats in a movie theater. This pattern results in shadows being cast on some mirrors, reducing the reflection of light.

Mitsos’ lab developed a computational model to evaluate the efficiency of heliostat layouts — the system divides each mirror into discrete sections and accurately calculates the amount of light each section reflects at any given moment.

Mitsos and colleague Corey Noone used numerical optimization to fiddle with the placement of the heliostats. They brought the fanned-out layout closer together, building a spiral-like pattern that reduces land by ten percent without affecting efficiency. Read more

By MATTHEW L. WALD of the New York Times: If solar energy is eventually going to matter— that is, generate a significant portion of the nation’s electricity — the industry must overcome a major stumbling block, experts say: finding a way to store it for use when the sun isn’t shining.

That challenge seems to be creating an opening for a different form of power, solar thermal, which makes electricity by using the sun’s heat to boil water. The water can be used to heat salt that stores the energy until later, when the sun dips and households power up their appliances and air-conditioning at peak demand hours in the summer.

Two California companies are planning to deploy the storage technology: SolarReserve, which is building a plant in the Nevada desert scheduled to start up next year, and BrightSource, which plans three plants in California that would begin operating in 2016 and 2017. Together, the four projects will be capable of powering tens of thousand of households throughout a summer evening.

Whether the technology will be widely adopted remains to be seen, but companies like Google, Chevron and Good Energies are investing in it, and the utilities NV Energy and Southern California Edison have signed long-term contracts to buy power from these radically different new power plants.

One crucial role of the plants will be complementing solar panels, which produce electricity directly from sunlight. When the panels ramp down at dusk or on cloudy days, the plants will crank up, drawing on the stored thermal energy.

That job will become more important if photovoltaic panels, which have plunged in price lately, become even cheaper and sprout on millions of rooftops. As the grid starts depending more heavily on solar panels or wind turbines, it will need other energy sources that can step in quickly to balance the system — preferably ones classified as renewable.

Most utilities are trying to generate as many kilowatt-hours of renewable energy as they can to meet stiffer state requirements on incorporating more alternative energy, said Kevin B. Smith, the chief executive of SolarReserve. Read more

David Nogueras from OPB news:  The Oregon Military Department is making a big investment on green energy.  The agency is building a million dollar solar instillation east of Christmas Valley.  The array is part of the agency’s plan to produce as much energy as it uses.

The Backscatter Radar Site used to consume massive quantities of electricity when the Air Force used it to scan the horizon for incoming targets.

Now the Oregon Military Department wants to use that same infrastructure to send  power back to the grid.

The agency helps equip and train the Oregon National Guard.

Stan Hutchison chief of planning and programming for the National Guard.  He says the agency is committed to meeting what it calls “net zero for energy” by the year 2020.

Read more:

What a neat project! A friend at Nature Conservancy told me about this project. In far flung places in the Sudan, they have trouble with access to power for medical facilities. That means they might not be able to run equipment needed for surgery or might not have lights to operate at night, or might be in the middle of surgery and lose power. These solar suitcases give them enough power to run equipment and keep lights on so they can treat patients

ANCHORAGE (Oct. 11) —
Members of the East High Solar Club on Wednesday, Oct. 12, will donate the first of two solar suitcases to the Alaska Sudan Medical Project. The portable equipment, built by students, can be used as stand-alone systems to power lights, communications equipment, computers, or to charge batteries.

This is an innovative project that gives Alaska students an opportunity to learn about physics while providing hands-on lessons about the globally important issues of alternative energy and humanitarian aid.

You are invited to attend the presentation of the suitcases to Bret Burroughs of the Alaska Sudan Medical Project at 3 p.m. in Room NW1 at East High School. Students from the East High Solar Club will be present to explain how they build the suitcases and demonstrate how they work.

More information is available from Solar Club advisor Russell Hood at (907) 382-4049, or for

From When Google throws its considerable influence into a new arena, people tend to notice. When that influence comes with $280 million, well, people may start to act.

That’s what the iconic Internet giant hopes is the result of its new partnership with SolarCity. Google has now entered the residential solar industry with its largest investment into the renewable energy industry. And they did so by partnering with another Silicon Valley company that is changing the way we do business.

San Mateo-based SolarCity offers its customers the opportunity to purchase full residential solar rooftop installations. It’s the company’s other model, however, that led to the partnership with Google. SolarCity offers different leasing and power purchase options for customers who don’t want to take the financial plunge of buying the installation upfront. Instead, SolarCity owns the equipment, and the homeowner trades in a higher monthly energy bill for a lower bill and solar lease payments.

Benjamin Cook, vice president of project finance at SolarCity, said the deal will allow his company to “provide financing to thousands of homeowners at or below the cost they currently pay for electricity.”

The funding will open opportunities for homeowners in the 10 areas its serves — Arizona, California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Texas.

“Google is setting an example that other leading American companies can follow,” said Lyndon Rive, CEO of SolarCity. “The largest 200 corporations in the U.S. have more than $1 trillion in cash on their balance sheets. Investments in solar energy generate returns for corporate investors, offer cost savings for homeowners, create new, local jobs for jobseekers, and protect the environment from polluting power sources. If more companies follow Google’s lead, we can dramatically reduce our nation’s dependence on polluting power.” Read more

We have long sunny summers but cold dark winters and because of those cold dark winters you would think solar panels wouldn’t be practical in Alaska.

By Brett Shepard of KTVA-TV: We’ve all heard weather myths such as you should open your windows if a tornado is coming, which of course is not true. Now, we may not have to worry about tornados in Alaska, but there are plenty more weather myths floating around.

Energy prices continue to soar worldwide which has many governments and corporations to seek out alternative energy sources.  But the weather plays a big part into whether these growing alternative energy sources are practical. We have long sunny summers but cold dark winters and because of those cold dark winters you would think solar panels wouldn’t be practical in Alaska.

So do solar panels work in Alaska?

“Solar panels in Alaska are very practical for most people, especially as an alternative form of energy,” said Ralph Harrison, sales manager of Alaska Battery.

“Arguably during the winter they don’t do real well, but then during the summer we get upwards of ten sun hours a day.  So we actually get more production than they do in Washington state or Oregon for about four and a half to five months out of the year.”

If you look around you’ll see more and more panels popping up around the state.  Businesses such as The Alaska Railroad are using them and homeowners like Mark Absher in Girdwood are enjoying the benefits of solar power. Read more

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