UCLA Scientist Develops Record-Setting Flexible Solar Cells

Monday May 7, 2012
Posted at 08:10

Thanks to one UCLA scientist, the future of solar power may be more flexible than you had imagined.

Yang Yang, a researcher with the university’s School of Engineering, announced on Feb. 13 that he had set a new power-conversion world record for his signature brand of cheap, flexible organic polymer solar cells. After integrating a new infrared-absorbing material into the polymer, Yang was able to record a power-conversion efficiency of 10.6 percent. The new world record, which was certified by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, eclipsed Yang’s previous organic polymer power-conversion efficiency world record of 8.62 percent set in July 2011.

Yang says that in five years, he fully expects to increase his solar cells’ efficiency to 15 or 20 percent, which would result in solar cells strong enough to power cars and cell phones. And since the organic polymer solar cells can be manufactured in thin, bendable sheets, the possibilities for use are almost endless. Not only could they be cut and pasted on an electric car’s roof or the back of a cell phone, but they could be hung in front of windows like roll-down shades or stuck on house rooftops.

Personally, we’re already looking forward to the rolled-up solar cell sheet that we can stick in the trunk of our car for instant battery power wherever we go. A few universal adapters that connect the sheet to the battery compartments or recharging ports in consumer electronics and the possibilities really will be endless.

Sources

UCLA Scientists Invent Cheap, Bendy Solar Panels That Could Charge Your Car, Phone,” LA Weekly, Feb. 13, 2012.

UCLA Engineers Create Tandem Polymer Solar Cells That Set Record For Energy-Conversion,” UCLA press release, Feb. 13, 2012.

U.S. Colleges Are Taking Charge of Energy Production and Costs by Going Solar

Friday January 13, 2012
Posted at 10:48

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Colleges and universities in the United States are managing their energy production while working to save money on monthly utility costs and decrease their carbon footprints by dramatically accelerating their adoption of solar power.

According to data released by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), U.S. schools have increased their installed solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity by 450 percent over the last three years. AASHE said that over the same period, the median size of the average solar installation project at U.S. schools increased six-fold.

The organization said that, as a result, solar installations at U.S. colleges and universities make up over 124 megawatts, or roughly 5 percent, of the total U.S. solar PV production of 956 megawatts. There are now 435 solar PV installations on 281 campuses in 42 states and provinces.

AASHE cited the University of San Diego and Butte College in California as two examples of the trend towards adopting solar power in higher education.

In 2010, the University of San Diego took advantage of federal and state incentives to install 5,000 solar panels on the roofs of 11 campus buildings with little upfront cost. The solar panels, which have a capacity of 1.23 megawatts and provide up to 15 percent of the campus’ electricity, are owned by a developer who sells the electricity they produce back to the university below market rates. Overall, the installations are estimated to save USD about $50,000 a year in utility costs.

When Butte College completed its third solar array earlier this year, it achieved the distinction of being the first institution in the United States to generate more electricity from solar than it uses. Although the college paid about $17 million — minus federal bonds and utility rebates — to install the 14,000 solar panels on parking and walkway canopies, the third installation produces 2.7 megawatts of electricity. Two previous solar PV installations on campus provide an additional combined 1.916 megawatts of electricity.

AASHE attributed the growth of the higher education solar sector, which is now worth over $300 million, to new financing options, federal and state incentives, and falling average installed per-watt solar costs — which, in the higher education sector, fell from about $10 in 2007 to about $6 in 2010.

Top 10 Biggest Solar PV Systems on U.S. Campuses

Here are the ten U.S. colleges and university campuses with the most total installed solar PV capacity, according to AASHE.

RankInstitutionTotal Capacity (megawatts)

1.

Arizona State University

11.341

2.

University of Arizona

6.428

3.

West Hills Community College District

6.0

4.

United States Air Force Academy

6.0

5.

Colorado State University

5.535

6.

Arizona Western College

5.105

7.

Butte College

4.616

8.

Los Angeles Southwest College

4.0

9.

William Paterson University of New Jersey

3.5

10.

Contra Costa College

3.2

Sources

U.S. Universities Are Going Solar,” Energy Efficiency News, Oct. 17, 2011.

U.S. Higher Education Solar Capacity Leaps 450 percent in 3 Years,” Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, Oct. 6, 2011.

Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, “Campus Solar Voltaic Installations Database.”

Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, “Solar Photovoltaic Installation @ University of San Diego.”

Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, “Solar Photovoltaic Installation @ Butte College.”

Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, “Top Ten Solar Photovoltaic Installations Lists.”

Energy-Efficiency Rebates and Services in Connecticut

If you’re a Connecticut electric customer and have your electricity delivered by Connecticut Light & Power (CL&P), you can take advantage of several energy-efficiency rebates and energy-efficiency services that are designed to help you save money off monthly electric bills.

All residential and commercial electric customers in the utility’s service territory are eligible for the energy-saving programs, even if they buy their electricity from an alternative supplier such as Spark Energy.

All programs are supported by the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund and administered by CL&P unless otherwise noted.

Home Energy Solutions program

Under the Home Energy Solutions (HES) program, a specialist will perform an energy assessment of your home, whether you rent or own, and provide information on ways you can lower your energy bills. HES specialists often look at how your home is sealed against air leaks, how your appliances use energy and how efficient your lighting is. There are three HES programs, including a basic and advanced energy assessment, and an assessment for low-income households.

Quality Installation and Verification program

Not every air conditioner, heat pump or furnace has been installed correctly. In fact, ENERGY STAR estimates that more than half of all HVAC systems suffer from poor performance due to installation issues. The Quality Installation and Verification (QIV) program ensures that your HVAC equipment is installed for the best performance and reliability, which can lead to lower energy bills, increased reliability, longer equipment life, improved indoor air quality and improved comfort.

ENERGY STAR–qualified retail products

Electric customers are eligible for rebates on ENERGY STAR–qualified lighting products and appliances through the utility’s ENERGY STAR Retail Products programs. The programs provide retail incentives and markdowns, which are offered on “marked” products in stores that have already been discounted. Products include lighting fixtures, CFL and LED light bulbs, clothes washers, dehumidifiers, dishwashers, refrigerators/freezers and air conditioners.

Residential new home construction rebates

When building a new home, utility customers can take advantage of the Residential New Home Construction Program. The utility will provide a program manager to help you through the application process and ensure that you receive all your eligible program benefits. Eligibility requirements for the programs mandate that a new construction incentive application must be submitted before a home is insulated.

Multi-family properties

The multi-family program helps owners of new constructions or existing buildings that house multiple tenants participate in various energy-efficiency rebate and services programs offered by utilities. Buildings are considered multi-family if they have more than three connected units, mixed use within the same building, or if they fall under the control of a property manager, association or housing authority. Examples of eligible buildings include apartment complexes, dorms and assisted living facilities.

High efficiency HVAC system rebate

CL&P offers a $250 cash rebate for qualifying energy-efficient central air conditioning systems or heat pump systems. Qualifying systems must be installed by March 1, 2012 and may garner additional incentives by participating in the QIV program.

Heat pump water heater rebate

You may be eligible for a $400 cash rebate if you replace your old, inefficient electric water heater with an efficient heat pump water heater. Qualifying systems must be ENERGY STAR-qualified with an Energy Factor of 2.0 or greater and must be installed before December 31, 2011.

Ductless heat pumps and geothermal systems

Utility customers who are heating their homes with electric baseboards or wall heaters, or who are building new homes and want a better way to control the temperature, can benefit from noticeable energy savings by installing energy-efficient ductless heat pump systems or geothermal systems. Systems are eligible for substantial rebates from CL&P in additional to significant federal tax credits.

Solar photovoltaic systems

Residential, nonprofit and governmental utility customers interested in installing solar photovoltaic (PV) systems in their homes or buildings are eligible for rebates from the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund (now part of the Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority) that cover a percentage of installation and equipment costs. Rebates are offered through designated participating solar PV installers.

Midnight turn-off option for street lights

If you have streetlights on your property, owned either by you or CL&P, you may receive a rebate from the utility if you agree to install a programmable photocell that will ensure the street lights operate only between dusk and midnight.

For more information about energy-efficiency rebates and service programs for CL&P customers, visit the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund at www.CTEnergyInfo.com, the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund at www.ctcleanenergy.com or call 877-WISE-USE (877-947-3873).

Sources

Connecticut Light & Power, “Home Services and Rebates.”

Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund

Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority

Google Ends Homeowners’ Search for Solar Power (Sort Of)

Tuesday October 18, 2011
Posted at 08:18

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Internet giant Google has announced a partnership with a financing agency that will help homeowners pay for the installation of solar power systems that will help save energy and lower monthly electric bills.

Google has set aside $75 million to create a fund with Clean Power Finance that will help 3,000 homeowners finance the installation of solar power systems. According to Rick Needham, Google’s Director of Green Operations, the fund is intended to help homeowners overcome the initial costs of solar installation, which are daunting and can prevent people from adopting solar technology. Solar systems typically cost between $30,000 and $40,000, Needham said.

With typical solar panel installations, homeowners generate their own electricity and draw from the grid — and pay for — only what they need. If electric customers produce more power than what they use, they can sell it back to the grid.

However, under the financing plan from Google, homeowners won’t own the solar panels or any of the hardware, Google will. Instead, homeowners will be required to buy the power generated by the panels at a fixed monthly rate, which is supposed to be cheaper than their current rate and covers things like maintenance.

The fund brings Google’s total investment in green energy to $850 million. The company previously invested $280 million in solar power company Solar City, $100 million in a wind farm project and $168 million in a solar tower plant.

Sources

Google Helping Homeowners Get Solar Power with $75 Million Investment,” Digital Investment, Sept. 28, 2011.