Monday, April 30, 2012

Why the A123 Systems battery explosion in the test lab in MI is a good thing

I think another market exists for the A123 Systems, Inc. lithium ion battery power plant packs that are used to power electric vehicles.  If you didn't already hear about the explosion in the lab in MI, you may as well hear about it here.  While many may see the explosion (and I should mention an employee was injured, which is awful news) as a major setback, I see a major advancement in the safety of the technology coming from what is learned from such tests.  The company must have built these test facilities to put the battery power plant under incredible stresses to simulate operating in extreme environments of a vehicle, and determined that a recall was in order to protect from a faulty housing that causes volatile gases to leak out and ignite which caused the explosion according to news reports published last week.   While the battery maker's market is clearly electric vehicles, the industrial application of lithium-ion based power packs installed into a safer housing units in buildings, sheds, or on homes could be a viable solution to the noisy standby generator market as well.  This welcome capability puts the promise of solar energy even more closer to home for all of us with noisy gasoline powered generators that deliver cheap and reliable back up power.  Such a solution makes solar energy an even more viable option. 

While this technology is clearly in early stages of development, solar companies are said to be experimenting with different battery back up systems as an interesting alternative to the noisy standby gasoline, natural gas/propane or diesel back up generators that many businesses and homes currently use as standby backups.   I'm convinced we are that much closer to having safe continuous power at home from the technology offered by A123 Systems, Inc.

Related stories to A123 Systems, Inc. are below:

  • Over-Stimulus, EV Indifference a Lethal Mix for Battery Companies [National Legal and Policy Center]
    (Mon Apr 23 00:00:00 UTC 2012)
    The Obama Administration has over-stimulated the electric vehicle battery market, as companies inspired by the flow of federal stimulus support don't have enough customers for their products. The government promise of a coming electric car (and truck) revolution, thanks to moves such as President George W. Bush's signature to approve a $7,500-per-electric-vehicle tax credit and Congress's passage of the Recovery Act, instigated a buildup of capacity and inventory for batteries. Now putrid EV sales - including the newly introduced Ford Focus electric - have put their battery makers in peril, according to the Detroit Free Press. "A looming shakeout in the industry," the newspaper reported on Sunday, "which would likely include plant closures and layoffs, is also likely to touch off a fierce debate over whether federal and state government officials made a major error by using more than $1 billion in grants and tax credits to spur massive investments that are not yet needed." The latest ...
  • Infinite Taxpayer Money Needed for Electric Truck Company's Survival [National Legal and Policy Center]
    (Mon Apr 23 00:00:00 UTC 2012)
    Despite a new report out of the United Kingdom that says the future of the business is bleak without government subsidies, a three-year-old unprofitable electric truck company that received $32 million in U.S. taxpayer stimulus plans to raise more money via an initial public offering. Kansas City-based Smith Electric Vehicles was launched in January 2009, and despite its lack of track record and the inexperience of its leadership, the Department of Energy awarded the company $10 million in August 2009, and an additional $22 million in March 2010, for an electric truck demonstration program. The company was little more than a spinoff of a failed U.K. operation with the same name, owned by a troubled parent company called The Tanfield Group. In July 2008 - largely because of Smith-UK's shortcomings - Tanfield's stock price "collapsed" (scroll down at link) and was harming other holdings of its founder, Roy Stanley. Smith-UK's electric truck venture, part of the "green" energy economy eu...
  • Making the case for solar energy over other renewables

    A report in today's Wall Street Journal by Robert Lee Hotz about large wind farms causing increased ground temperatures as large turbine blades pull down warm air and churn up cooler air at the ground level shows a couple of interesting things about renewable energy impacts on the environment.  One is that there are impacts that will occur and have not yet been studied as to the potential adverse effects.  The study showed for the first time over a nine year study period by sensors on a NASA satellite (done by researches at University of Albany-State University of New York and and the University of Illinois that the average nighttime air temperature around the large scale wind farms (in TX with 2350 turbines) increased by 0.72 degree Celsius over time.  The study looked at the area air temperature when there were just a couple hundred wind turbines to a couple thousand.

    EPV (Electric Photo-Voltaic) or Solar arrays are the closest thing to nature that can impact an area where arrays are installed for the following reasons:
    1. They are usually going on existing structures so their impact is not in addition to some structure that doesn't already exist.
    2. They have no moving parts that can hurt or kill wildlife (birds are known to be killed or injured when flying into turbine blades)
    3. They mimic the natural photosynthetic process that basically gives the planet life, where plants create oxygen from synthesizing sunlight and carbon dioxide.
    EPV may not be as efficient in generating as much power as wind or hydro-electric turbines, but the trade-offs are pretty clear if you are looking to energize a smarter planet.  Municipalities and states (like Maryland) which are working toward mandating an ever increasing percentage of power come from renewables should consider the impact of the logical choices. 

    Solar energy is not free to install, but it is very cost effective, and damn near makes the cost of power free once installed and the equipment is fully depreciated.  There are no moving parts to be damaged or to damage the environment, and companies that know what they are doing and can provide the engineering expertise to builders, installers and building owners can rapidly deploy solar cost savings into a business model that is cash flow positive.  The leading companies in engineering solar solutions (like Mercury Solar Systems out of NY) have demonstrated for clients that solar can be and is actually a profit center for a business with structures exposed to sunlight that don't have solar arrays generating power and selling that power to the grid at standard offered rates.

    A solar company like Mercury Solar System that can leverage their economic scale to get the costs of various arrays down to their lowest price point from manufacturers, and with lean US engineering processes and low overheads provide local jobs, training to roofing contractors and local electrical contractors to install solar systems.  Solar energy is truly the most viable alternative renewable energy source we have in our modern world and can turn around our economy.  The American Petroleum Institute can either fight renewables or embrace the "all of the above" strategy espoused by the Obama administration.  The fact is their partnership is imperative for the success of solar.  BP Solar is a key strategic researcher and supplier of innovative EPV solutions that show they are part of the global solution on energy.

    Friday, April 20, 2012

    Mercury Solar Systems is among the nation's best solar experts according to Raj Dwivedi and others

    I recently had a chance to visit Mercury Solar Systems in Portchester, NY and interview various senior leaders at the company and get a view of 10 different technologies in use today across the country generating solar power with different levels of efficiencies.  Every system that has been commercially built and installed in the US is on the roof of the company's headquarters, and is connected with a Locus monitoring system that also feeds in weather info in real time to a large 40" monitor in the lobby feeding real time data as to the power being produced by each array.  Solyndra's array is probably the most innovative in their tubular solar panels that are really light weight and efficient.  It is good to see that Mercury Solar Systems has positioned themselves on the east coast of the US as the premier authority that understands the solar system engineering, design, installation and provides ongoing operations and maintenance for any kind of system available.  Many solar companies have already gone out of business, but Mercury fixes and maintains other systems installed by their competitors.  Mercury Solar Systems has continued to grow by some 870% reaching the list of one of the 10 fastest growing solar energy companies in the US according to Inc. magazine and over 2000 installations under their belt in commercial, residential and in large utility solar farm projects.  Subsidies spawned the industry with incentives for both commercial and residential customers, but the facts are clear that solar is a solid investment even without the subsidies that provide parity to owners within 4 or 5 years just on pure economics of the power the solar arrays produce for their owners. 

    Commercial trade contractors including construction companies, HVAC, electrical subcontractors,  roofing companies and builders of all variety would be wise to establish a relationship with the experts at Mercury Solar Systems representatives who can help them with solar installations for their customers by providing the system engineering, design and provide all the components with an unprecedented economy of scale and buying power from all major manufacturers of Photo-Voltaic film products, inverters, rack mounting systems and electrical knowledge. 

    Contact Raj Dwivedi through email  or call at 410-992-2646 for information related to this article or before selecting a contractor or solar installation company.  A lot of the larger ones in Maryland have already shuttered their doors (including BP Solar's exit from the industry), or have approached Mercury Solar Systems to be acquired because they lack the access to compete with the engineering and design expertise as well as the master electricians and solar expertise.  

    Tuesday, April 17, 2012

    Solar City has been hiring Marines possibly for their expertise in mobile solar power generators using lithium ion batteries

    The costs on these solar generators at half a million dollars are too high the way the Marines are configuring them to run their COC's and with the high capacity lithium-ion batteries to be practical for residential or commercial use.  However, it is interesting to note that Solar City who has been on a hiring spree to hire returning veteran and in particular Marines to act as sales reps for their residential system is experimenting with similar battery types as used on the Tesla motors power plants as home battery backup generators to replace the noisy gasoline, diesel or natural gas standby generators used by most people around the US.  We hope they get the costs down, but the interesting thing about solar is that it can be completely a net-zero cost to the homeowner or business if they can wait long enough to achieve the return on investment.  The subsidies offered by the states and federal governments in the US certainly speed the recovery of costs into the ROI formula, but from a sheer practicality stand point, solar energy is evolving to replace noisy and dirty energy backup solutions.

    Solar Energy Bulls Lessons from Apple

    Will US solar energy installers survive without government subsidies?  This video and analyst compares the industry to the technology industry and draws similarities with Apple's early innovations and how the US Solar industries may have to act to survive.

    Monday, April 16, 2012

    Solar Energy In The News

    Solar Energy In The News
    Multiple energy companies are scrambling to keep up with the demand for solar energy installations in time to take advantage of favorable solar renewable energy credits.  Follow the link to see some recent installations at McCormick and Postal Service facilities as well as the Washington Capitals.  Solar pays for itself in 5 years with Solar energy credits and less than 10 years without them.  It is the only power source that drives the cost of energy to zero when you find a host site that has enough exposure to the sun to generate net zero.  This means the building's solar array generates less energy than the solar array produces and sells back to the utility grid.

    Thursday, April 12, 2012

    Making Money With Solar

    Add value to your property by installing a solar array.  Making money with solar power is entirely possible when you own the array and receive the renewable energy credits, and factor the cost savings from generating your own power - reducing your need to purchase that power from the utility grid.  The average return on investment is 5 to 7 years depending on your current cost of power without subsidies and with state subsidies even faster as early as 3 to 4 years with state subsidies.  Solar energy is one of the only investments that guarantees the owners a double digit return on their investment, and pools of PPA (power purchase agreements) are going to be hitting the market soon if they are not already on the market (much like mortgage backed sercurities hit the market).  Solar energy puts the owners of arrays in a profit center as owners of a power plant generating power that allows any host site that has sun exposure to sell the power at the public standard offered service rate which has largely been a monopoly by utility companies and wholesale suppliers who now face competition from clean renewable sources.  Maryland moved one step closer to mandating that 2% of all power in the state come from renewable sources by the year 2020 instead of 2022 (which passed in the state senate 37-9).  Germany already pulls in 3% of their power from solar systems currently and plans to get to 25% by 2050.  They are so far north that even they can harness the sun.  There is an abundance of solar energy that can be harnessed from daylight no matter where on the planet you reside, and there are breakthroughs occuring in technology that make hydro or solar the perfect option for small and medium commercial enterprises to turn their buildings, or open spaces and fixed facilities into profit centers with solar arrays or other renewable power station sources that can benefit with subsidies. 
    For more information on your power choices and savings or financing options, call Raj Dwivedi at 301-892-0207 or reach him at for objective evaluation of your solar energy system engineering and design or your contractor's capabilities. 

    Monday, April 9, 2012

    Greenbelt Community Solar LLC PPA for Non-Profits

    Greenbelt Baptist Church is the most recent host site for a 20kw solar array built at the project direction of my neighbot Frank Gervasi (who has built many homes in Greenbelt NorthRidge and is an extraordinary guy. His family building and construction business has been a beacon of small business success in Greenbelt for over 30 years, and Frank and his company are to be profiled by author Raj Dwivedi in ther next edition of the entrepreneurship field manual How To Compete series coming out in 2012. The fact that Greenbelt Community Solar was able to provide a structure for the host church to install a solar array is testament to the commitment Greenbelt as a community has to clean renewable energy sources. Read the frequently asked questions about Greenbelt Community Solar LLC

    Tuesday, April 3, 2012

    Photovoltaic Fabrics Combine Cloth with Solar Cells

    Photovoltaic Fabrics Combine Cloth with Solar Cells

    YOUR sweater could one day provide all the power you need to run your MP3 player, mobile phone or palmtop computer-as long as you're not standing in a darkened room, that is. The idea comes from scientists in Germany, who have developed synthetic fibres that generate electricity when exposed to light. The researchers say the fibres could be woven into machine-washable clothes to make the ultimate in portable solar cells.
    The discovery may provide a big boost for developers of wearable computers, who've been plugging their devices into mini fuel cells or plain old batteries. A sail made of solar fabric might even be able to provide power for a boat's electronics, says Martin Rojahn of the Institute of Physical Electronics at the University of Stuttgart.
    Just like the photovoltaic cells found in many pocket calculators, the new wires work by sandwiching three layers of non-crystalline "amorphous" silicon between two conducting electrodes. The top layer is doped with electron-rich impurities while the bottom layer contains electron-poor dopants. The layer sandwiched in between is not doped. When photons hit the surface layer, they displace electrons that then flow through the middle layer to the electron-poor layer. This current can be used to power devices or charge batteries.
    Rojahn, Markus Schubert and Michail Rakhlin developed their photovoltaic fibres while trying to deposit amorphous silicon on curved surfaces. They found that by depositing different layers around a fibre, they could build up the photovoltaic sandwich in cylindrical form. "Any substrate that looks like a cylinder, from wires to fibre-optic cables, will work," says Rojahn-provided it can withstand the ultraviolet radiation and 100 C temperatures used in the deposition process.
    One of the biggest challenges facing the German team is creating contacts with each strand in a fabric, says Chris Chapman, development director of ElectroTextiles in Buckinghamshire-a company which specialises in making electronic devices out of fabric. "The thing that scuppers most things with fabrics is getting power in and out of it," he says.
    Rojahn, who will present his findings at the Materials Research Society conference in San Francisco next week, admits there are a number of issues that need further work.
    Solar cells based on amorphous silicon are less efficient than their crystalline cousins, but they still have many advantages, says Rojahn. Besides being flexible, amorphous silicon is about a thousand times better at absorbing sunlight than the crystalline form. "Amorphous silicon is also much cheaper than crystalline silicon," he adds.
    As far as fashion sense is concerned, colour shouldn't be a problem, explains Rojahn. Although the fibre is transparent, it can be made to take on different colours by adjusting the thickness of a transparent protective coating. "Depending upon the thickness of the layer, it could be made to look blue, brown or greenish," he says. So let's hope that either blue, brown or green is the new black.
    Author: Duncan Graham-Rowe
    New Scientist issue 14th April 2001