Thursday, May 31, 2012

How do you install a 300kW solar power plant in 2 days? See this video

How do you make money with solar energy?

One way is the way this video shows with the meter running backwards (where your electric utility account is credited for the electricity generated by your solar array).  In addition, you earn a certificate issued by the state which takes a monthly reading of the amount of power produced by your system at it's peak during the month.  You then sell your solar renewable energy certificate (SREC) on a market called the SREC market.  If you want to learn how, just ask your solar energy experts.  They make it very easy for you, and Mercury Solar Systems actually automates the whole process for you with  Typical 10kW household system generates 1 SREC per month and current trade value in Maryland for an SREC is $250.  That means you could earn $250/month, plus offset your own use or what you buy from the utility every month with a solar power plant!  Amazing isn't it?  Isn't MD, CT, DE, NJ, NY, MA, CA, CO, TX and about 38 other states that offer incentives for solar just the best places in the world to live?  You hear a lot about the failure of Solyndra and how that it was a dumb investment, yet the Federal Government subsidizes the oil companies by about $39 billion/yr or about 52% of all the incentives out there, another $9 billion goes to nuclear, another $6 billion to coal, another $6 billion to ethanol, and finally $6 billion set aside for solar.  The incentives like the 30% federal tax credit and bonus depreciation schedule allowing you to depreciate 60% of the total system cost (in addition to the 30% credit) in the year it is installed totals out to about $6 billion/yr, and helps your house, farm, office, plant become independent of distributed power from the utility company.  As battery technology advances (see recent post about the A123 Systems batteries used in the Chevy Volt and the implications of applying that technology as a standby backup on every home) and you see the possibility of energy independence that actually helps everyone in the community and the world.  You tell me where you'd rather see your tax money get invested?

Friday, May 18, 2012

US Tariffs on Chinese Solar Panels will not effect installation prices in the near term for smart installers

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Some solar installation companies have been crying that the sky is falling over the 31% tariffs that the US Commerce Department has imposed on Suntech, one of China's biggest photovoltaic cell maker and found that Trina, Yingli and other Chinese manufacturers that have captured a significant share of the US market should pay a 31% tariff for selling their products for less than fair value.  This all stemmed from a complaint filed by a US subsidiary of Germany's SolarWorld with the US federal government. 

Here's why it won't effect anyone interested in solar installations in the short term if they are partnered with the right solar energy company.  Smart solar energy companies that have invested in infrastructure, research and development and supply chain diversity are largely immune to disruptions from Chinese suppliers or any one supplier.  At Mercury Solar Systems, headquartered out of Port Chester, NY for example, they have multiple American, German, Korean and Chinese panel suppliers capable of filling orders as needed with a diversity in their supply chain specifically to avoid market disruptions that might effect one supplier or group of suppliers like the Chinese.

Mercury Solar Systems deploys a smart growth strategy and risk mitigation model within their management structure which has enabled them to grow and lead the industry's growth on the east coast. By employing top tier engineering and designers in house, Mercury Solar Systems keeps installation costs low while putting out a superior overall product that is bankable by investors, expertise sought after by other solar companies, electric utility companies looking for solar installation expertise and suppliers clamoring to try new technologies in the field with the NY State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA) which uses the Mercury Solar Systems headquarters in Port Chester, NY as their proving grounds for new technologies.  They currently have 10 different photovoltaic technologies and mounting configurations on the company's headquarters.  While other solar installers have exited the industry, face disruptions due to tariffs and see the sky falling, Mercury Solar Systems sees opportunity to differentiate and make smart growth decisions.  Mercury Solar Systems executives are regularly approached by smaller solar installation companies in states like Maryland who look to be acquired by Mercury Solar Systems as they expand their reach into new states.  The smart approach and focus on the solar installation business has given Mercury Solar Systems a leadership position in the industry that can easily weather any disruption to price from Chinese suppliers.

Mercury Solar Systems expert supply chain wizardry and software maintain a just in time inventory level that anticipates and prices in market disruption and variability from multiple suppliers as a redundant back stop to fill orders as needed.  According to one wizard, the key to affordable solar energy is in efficiencies from every step of the process including site optimization design (pre-sale), panel choices, size of inverters, length and type of conduit run (overhead, underground), as well as optimized design and engineering configurations for each specific site.  Most other solar installation companies either outsource or have to figure out on the job what will work with engineers and installers who lack the experience of Mercury Solar Systems engineers and installation teams.  The company has completed over 2000 different systems with  close to 35mW under operations and maintenance.  The company can easily claim there isn't a roof or ground mount system configuration they haven't already seen or already tested on the east coast.

The photovoltaic panels themselves represent less than 20% of the overall installation costs in typical commercial or residential installations on the east coast, and less than 33% on larger utility solar farm projects.  Installation companies that relied to heavily on Chinese suppliers with too little inventory to meet their current or near term demand will be most affected by the US tariffs imposed on Chinese suppliers.

As new and innovative solar technologies evolve, smart solar installation companies who are large enough in scale to attract research and development investment partners (like NYSERDA), investment bank capital, diverse suppliers, engineering, design, installation and sales talent won't be affected over the long term.  Those companies don't want to be in the panel manufacturing business nor too reliant on one technology or supplier because of the evolution and advancements like the new Absolute Black Silicon Cell which almost eliminates reflectance loss and captures 99.7% of the solar radiation compared to 96% reflectance from standard silicon cells as demonstrated in the video from Natcore Technology and featured on ABC

Technology will be the driving factor for the most efficient and lowest cost for customers as American and other country's panel manufacturers compete for the US solar market.   Market dynamics force industry consolidation among installation companies, engineering companies and panel manufacturers to align themselves strategically and embrace the newest technologies and efficiencies.   We are not that far off from reaching grid parity with distributed solar energy in certain markets ideally suited for it.  The evolution of efficiency gains bring the solar energy industry closer each year with or without subsidies, tariffs or the efforts of the American Petroleum Institute (and their wholly owned subsidiary, the GOP) to slow that advancement down. 
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Sunday, May 6, 2012

Coolest camping gift ever for father's day if he likes to camp and catch NASCAR from his tent

This is the 2 kilowatt flexible fabric photo-voltaic array that has to be one of the coolest solar gadgets in field shelters ever.  This thing is made by OK Solar Power Film and is sold to the military with a pretty hefty price tag, but not as much as you might think if you combine some ingenuity and purchase the thin film direct from the manufacturer.  There are a lot of pretty cool DIY solar PV thin film videos on You Tube which show how to make a solar panel with multiple cells soldered together by the tabs from one cell to the next.  That film is housed under glass and aluminum frames in your typical rectangular panel because of the practical implication and fragility of the PV film if not housed in something that keeps it from easily tearing.  This configuration looks pretty sturdy for the PV film sewn into the flexible cover.  I would think anyone could modify this with a standard tarp and apply the same principle of a DIY panel using clear (package tape) on the back side of the PV film cells to stabilize them, and a clear dimpled film or tape (which can better catch the light) for the top to provide a lighter than glass design application for the PV panel that goes on this configuration.   Clear mylar film can be purchased relatively cheaply from a Dupont supplier if you wanted to go to the trouble of manufacturing your own version of this PV tarp cover for your field shelter.  But why go to all that trouble making one for your custom needs, when OKSolar will ship you one like this in about 7 weeks of your order.  Their standard size is 22x40 feet which generates 2 kilowatts enough to power almost any modern low voltage amenity you would need or take in the field to stay in touch, powering your electronics.  This thing isn't light enough to pack this on your back, it comes in at a pretty hefty 1560 lbs of weight with all the poles and everything you see, but easily vehicle packed.  If you'd like a quote for OKSolar to build one for you, join our blog or click on this link to request a quote.

Friday, May 4, 2012

More innovative solutions to solar energy are on the way

This amazing breakthrough in harnessing nature's solar cells (extracting the proteins that cause photosynthesis in chlorophyll) and practically applying it to usable electricity is a dream that is one step closer to being realized thanks to MIT researcher Andreas Mershin in this exciting video.

I can see it now, a powdered substrate sprinkled onto existing asphalt shingles, then hosed down with a green goo substance that contains the protein extract from grass clippings that bonds with the powder, then hosed down by a polyurethane type epoxy that binds it all together.  You add in a couple of electrical tabs or leads into a battery bank, and you're roof is now a photovoltaic generation plant.

Hopefully scientists and engineers can one day make this dream efficient enough to be practical and real.  I hope to see that one day.  I am simply a huge fan of the Open Courseware at MIT and love the fact that they pioneered cutting edge research and education.  On a side note, it is nice to see Coursera a joint Ivy league schools initiative with Yale, Harvard, Stanford and others funding the iniative to provide free higher education curriculum like MIT pioneered with  OCW.MIT.EDU!