Apr 10, 2012

As most of the northern hemisphere is swathed in a warm spring, it’s time that solar really starts to shine, and thus far it has. The U.S. recently announced plans to go green with renewable energy projects. And while some U.S. relations with China have been testy, parts of the two countries are working together as China increases the amount of solar it has domestically. That’s just the big stuff that’s happening.

The U.S. Army recently announced that it would work on developing power-purchase types of agreements to implement $7 billion in renewable energy projects on bases and elsewhere. The Army, through its Energy initiative’s Task Force, is seeking to source about 25 percent of its electricity from solar, wind, geothermal and other renewable energy sources by 2025. That would amount to procuring 2.5 million megawatt hours of renewable energy annually.

While relations over some solar manufacturers in the U.S. and China are strained, others are working with China. A recent case study byHarvard Business School is looking into Natcore Technology’s manufacturing relationship with Zhuzhou City in China, where much of its manufacturing using unique liquid-phase deposition will take place. The case study looked into how the company structured its agreements in China to protect its intellectual property and more.

China’s Xiamen University made the news recently as well. The university is installing the first DC-current microgrid in the country. It’s integrating a renewable-powered microgrid into School of Energy Research. The pilot project is being installed through partnerships with U.S. companies and organizations including Nextek Power Systems, People Power Company, Intel and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL).

Solar thermal and concentrated solar technologies have taken a backseat of late as the falling prices of photovoltaics have dominated solar news. But that may be changing. For instance, SolarReserve, which is building some of the world’s largest concentrating solar tower projects in California, recently got approval to move forward with two 100-megawatt systems in Colorado’s San Luis Valley.

Solar water heaters, another use of the sun’s thermal energy, have never taken off in the U.S. But a new pilot project in North Carolina is seeking to change that and thus far is showing good results. Progress Energy, a North Carolina utility gave 150 customers $1,000 toward a solar hot water heater and after studying the results, the utility found that on average, the participants cut their water-heating costs by 63 percent or $235 annually. Such projects could help spread the adoption of solar hot water heaters in the U.S.

A lot of the news in solar still surrounds the use of third-party ownership options for homeowners. And companies are able to bring those costs down as people get more familiar with them. For instance, California-based HelioPower was installing third-party financed systems on homes for an average price of $5.55 per installed watt. It was the lowest-cost installer in a recent PV Solar Report, which uses state data from the California Solar Initiative (CSI) to determine how much solar is being installed.

April 10, 2012