Posts tagged with "Solar Panels":

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California could require all new homes to install solar panels

On Wednesday May 9, the California Energy Commission will vote on whether or not to require solar panels on new homes. The standard is expected to pass and would apply to all single and multi-family homes up to three stories tall as of January 2020. Exceptions will be made for shaded structures or in situations where it is impractical to install panels and offsets can be used for other solutions, such as re-charging batteries like Tesla’s Powerwall. Homes will not have to reach net-zero status (that is, relying completely on the solar panels for all energy), but is still expected to San Francisco already requires solar panels on all new buildings under 10 stories tall—statewide about 15 to 20 percent of new single family homes rely on solar energy. As California is the world’s fifth largest economy, the massive sales-boost that would result in this measure should not only lower the cost of solar panels in the state, but across the U.S. Installing solar panels will make it approximately $25,000 to $30,000 more expensive to build homes than those built under the 2006 code. However, homeowners are expected to save $50,000 to $60,000 over 25 years. While some have pointed out that this could make California’s housing shortage situation even more dire by raising housing costs, the energy–saving benefits (and California’s increasingly wealthy population) may outnumber the naysayers. This is the most recent of California’s sustainability measures as it continues to push toward a more environmentally friendly future, including filing a lawsuit against the EPA from lowering vehicle emission standards.
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Solar panels get a much-needed design makeover

Let’s face it: no one has ever characterized a solar panel as being particularly attractive. In fact, they’re eyesores. While the environmental and business cases for photovoltaics are relatively easy to make, their aesthetic dimension has long been a losing proposition. “In states like California, solar is half the price of the local utility, even without subsidies,” explained Ido Salama, co-founder of Sistine Solar. “At the same time, it feels like all solar products look the same: they come in either black or blue, and, while solar panels work great, many people would describe them as ugly. At the very least, they look out of place on a roof,” he added. Rather than attempting to convince people to appreciate solar for what it is, Salama and company set out to build a solar panel that appeals to their sense of aesthetics instead. To that end, Sistine Solar introduced its SolarSkin technology—described on the company’s website as “solar with curb appeal”—in 2013 when its developers won the renewables track of the MIT Clean Energy Prize. Since launching SolarSkin, the company recently introduced its online Design Studio platform to allow anyone to design, customize, and price a solar installation.

How it works

Developed by MIT engineers, SolarSkin is a thin film specially coated with ultra-durable graphics and integrated onto high-efficiency solar panels. The technology employs selective light filtration to simultaneously display an image and transmit sunlight to the underlying solar cells with minimal loss in efficiency. The product is available in any number of colors and patterns, is compatible with every major panel manufacturer, and is available for both new and existing roofs. The end result is essentially a kind of camouflage for the typically drab photovoltaic panel. Sistine Solar’s new SolarSkin Design Studio is an online tool that allows architects, designers, and homeowners alike to design and order a customized solar system from a desktop computer or mobile phone. With a $99 refundable deposit, end users will receive a preliminary system design using LIDAR mapping, a detailed panel layout, guaranteed production figures, a realistic rendering, (where suitable image is available), and guaranteed delivery within 90 days. The Design Studio is intended to get customers more excited about solar, according to Salama. “Homeowners appreciate the transparency, customizability, and especially the ability to match their solar panels to their roof,” he said. “Architects and designers love it because for the first time, they have a product that allows them to showcase solar in a way never before possible—integrated, congruent, harmonious." In spite of the improvement to aesthetics, however, solar technology still faces a number of challenges in terms of market transformation. “Soft costs is one barrier,” he said. “Solar is so complex because every municipality has different rules when it comes to permitting solar.” Noting that it may take one to three days to physically install and wire up a solar system, Salama points out that it can take up to three months to get a permit. “If soft costs could be reduced—like streamlining the permitting process—we would see a radical transformation in adoption,” he suggested. Of course, affordable storage is an ongoing issue with solar technology. “When solar and storage become more economical than buying from the local utility, we will see a huge shift towards distributed generation and plenty of homeowners cutting the cord,” Salama predicted. Now that solar panels are eligible for a makeover, however, there’s one less hurdle to overcome—making the future of solar technology a little more attractive.  
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IKEA now sells solar panels and home battery packs

IKEA, the Swedish furniture giant known for selling cheap, do-it-yourself furniture, is now offering solar energy systems (only these products aren't quite cheap and definitely aren't D.I.Y.).

IKEA has partnered with energy technology company Solarcentury to launch its Solar Battery Storage Solution, which features solar panels and home batteries, in the U.K. Solarcentury, one of the U.K.’s biggest solar panel providers, will produce the panels.

IKEA’s home storage battery works in the same way as Tesla’s Powerwall, storing energy generated from the solar panels instead of selling excess energy back to the grid. The home batteries are compatible with existing solar panels or as a part of a combined storage system.

There is a bit of a sticker shock for those used to IKEA’s affordable prices—the upfront cost for both panels and battery is £6,925 (about $9,034 in U.S. dollars)—but the company estimates customers will make their money back within 12 years and their electricity bills will be cut by up to 70 percent. 

Solar panels and home battery systems have been making big waves thanks to Tesla's recently-announced offering. While still expensive, IKEA's solar system has an advantage in that its starting price is much lower. Just the batteries will cost £3,000 (around $3,900) as opposed to Tesla's price of £5,900 (about $7,684). However, location, type of building, and size of roof, also affect the final cost.

“We believe IKEA and Solarcentury are bringing the most competitive package to the market yet so more people than ever before can profit financially and environmentally by producing their own energy,” Susannah Wood, head of residential solar at Solarcentury, said in a press release.

This news comes on the heels of two big announcements for the U.K.’s energy industry. Just last week, the U.K. government unveiled a plan that will allot £246m of funding (that's around $320.48 million) for battery technology research. British gas owner Centrica also revealed that it would be increasing its energy prices 12.5 percent, despite promises to lower costs.

If you live in the U.K., IKEA’s website offers a free estimate on how much installing its Solar Battery Solution will save you.

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Tesla’s solar roof will cost less than normal roofs

While the oil companies struggle to maintain their environmentally disastrous stranglehold on the market and the planet, there are some very realistic technologies that threaten to disrupt the status quo. One of the most dangerous for the oil companies is the Tesla solar roof, an off-the-shelf consumer system of tempered glass tiles. Last week, Tesla began accepting orders for the product and released pricing, which is comparable to normal asphalt roofing. The system is a mix of active solar tiles and inactive simple glass tiles, and as the percentage varies, so does the eventual cost. A 35 percent mix would cost $21.85 per square foot, and according to Consumer Reports, the tiles need to be under $24.50 per square foot to compete with normal tiles. That math doesn't even take into account the energy savings over time, which should allow the tiles to pay for themselves. Tesla released a savings calculator when they announced sales, and they are also offering a lifetime warranty. “We offer the best warranty in the industry—the lifetime of your house, or infinity, whichever comes first,” a Tesla rep told Inverse. https://www.instagram.com/p/BT7HVS3AZ4q/
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Indiana moves to revoke consumer solar energy incentives

Ironically coinciding with an announcement that Chicago plans to utilize more renewable energy, a bill has passed the Indiana legislature eliminating much of the financial incentive for individuals to install solar panels. The bill was pushed by Indiana’s investor-owned utility companies, who fear the growing popularity of the solar industry. Solar energy only accounts for less than 1% of the state’s power, but quickly falling solar panel prices—paired with their increased efficiency—is leading to their growing popularity. The bill is now in the hands of Governor Eric Holcomb. Currently, the state has four main solar energy incentives: a net metering program, the Renewable Energy Property Tax Exemption, the Indiana Sales Tax Incentive for Electrical Generating Equipment, and the Indiana Income Tax Deduction for Solar-Powered Roof Vents or Fans. The bill is specifically targeted at the net metering program. Energy customers that participate in net metering receive credit on their energy bills for the solar energy that they produce but do not consume. The bill would limit the rate at which credits are issued for net metering. Everyone who installed solar panels before 2018 would continue to receive credits at the current rate for the next 30 years. Those who install panels before 2018 and 2022 would only be able to collect until 2032. The 11 cents per kilowatt/hour credit would also be reduced to 3 cents per kilowatt/hour. Some are saying that the bill is unnecessary tough because the net metering program will only be in effect until over 1% of the state's energy comes from alternative energy sources, such as wind or solar. Others believe that the bill is directly aimed at encouraging consumers to buy into community solar programs, which the utility companies own. Community solar programs work by leasing solar panels, which are part of larger solar arrays, to consumers. This allows customers to use solar energy without having panels on their own roof, but it also keeps the utility companies in control of energy production. The bill was introduced by State Senator Brandt Hershman. The Senate voted 37-11 to pass the bill with changes made by the House.
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Tesla reveals slender solar panels that appear to float on roofs

On Monday, Tesla became the most valuable car company in America. The day before, the Californian company headed by Elon Musk unveiled a new "streamline" solar panel to continue its foray into the green energy market. The slender panels are designed to be aesthetically innocuous and attract customers who would otherwise be put off by shingles or a large blue grid. To achieve the look, invisible mounting hardware and front array skirts allow the panels to appear to float upon the roof. “I think this is really a fundamental part of achieving differentiated product strategy," said Musk in Electrek. Japanese tech giant Panasonic will manufacture the panels at their "Gigafactory 2" in Buffalo, New York. As part of a deal with Tesla, Musk's firm will be the only company allowed to use and sell the panels produced there. Tesla and Panasonic have an already established business partnership after the two worked together to produce batteries for Tesla's electric cars. As for the panels, the well-disguised mounting system was originally developed by fellow Californian firm, Zep Solar. That company, however, was bought out by SolarCity who they themselves were purchased by Tesla. As reported by Techcrunch, Zep co-founder Daniel Flanigan has taken the role of Senior Director of Solar Systems Product Design in Tesla's engineering department. If you want an even more discreet solar panel, look, Tesla does that too. Solar panel shingles with textured glass span the whole roof, and like the new panels revealed last week, work with Tesla's Powerwall battery to power homes "with a completely sustainable energy system."
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Tesla may build up to three more Gigafactories

Tesla announced last week that it has upgraded its Gigafactory 1 in Nevada and begun battery cell production in anticipation of the launch of the Model 3 electric car later this year. Tesla’s newest model is a four-door sedan designed for families and is expected to be the company's most affordable model, starting at $35,000. The development and manufacturing of the Model 3 are on track to begin production in July, having begun prototype testing earlier in February. Gigafactory 1 is also being adapted to accommodate the manufacturing of Tesla’s new solar roof system, which is expected to begin production later this year as well. The company is currently constructing a second factory, Gigafactory 2, a solar panel manufacturing plant, in Buffalo, New York, and expects to finalize the locations of Gigafactories 3, 4, and possibly 5, later this year. To learn more about the new Gigafactory, you can read Tesla's fourth quarter investor letter here or visit their website here. (Investor letter originally linked on Inhabitat.)
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State-wide Florida vote rejects anti-solar energy law

In Florida, solar power advocates defeated a major amendment cleverly crafted to thwart the expansion of solar energy within the Sunshine State. Amendment 1, known as Solar Energy Subsidies and Personal Solar Use, was rejected last week after it failed to accumulate the 60 percent of voter support required to pass. There was a particularly heated battle around this bill, given the use of rhetorical spin encouraged by Sal Nuzzo of the James Madison Institute—a think tank with close ties to Florida utilities and funding from Koch Industries, who also financed the amendment’s sponsor group, Consumers for Smart Solar. According to Christian Science Monitor, Nuzzo was caught on tape encouraging what he called “‘a little bit of political jiu-jistu’” that would “use the language of promoting solar” while building in “protections for consumers that choose not to install rooftop [panels].” With current net metering policies that exist in every state, including Florida, utilities companies are required to purchase excess energy from solar-powered homes, offsetting the cost of power taken from the grid at night. The amendment “establishes a right under Florida’s constitution for consumers to own or lease solar equipment installed on their property” a right Floridians already have, but only in order “to generate electricity for their own use.” If passed, residents would not be able to sell their cheaper, excess electricity back to the grid. Utilities companies argue solar homes—in selling their excess energy to the grid—make use of transmission lines and grid infrastructure without paying a fair share, according to Mother Jones. This amendment would've also ensured that the cost of maintaining the grid wouldn't be shifted onto non-solar users. The amendment also didn’t seek to legalize leasing solar panels through third party groups (such as SolarCity and Sunrun) which have installed approximately 72 percent of residential solar in the nation since 2014, according to Greentech Media. Florida residents must continue to go through one of the four existing utilities companies, which maintain exclusive rights to selling power in Florida, to arrange for solar power. When the Nuzzo recordings leaked toward the end of October, it gave the opposition the boost it needed to defeat the amendment. It became clear that the amendment was “an attempt to destroy all free market energy in the state along with solar energy in general,” Tory Perfetti, chairman of Floridians for Solar Choice told The Huffington Post. Moreover, according to the legal brief filed by Earthjustice, if passed, “solar users could end up paying twice as much as other customers pay to buy power from the utilities.”  Former Florida senator and governor Bob Graham blasted Amendment 1, Jimmy Buffett recorded a video about it, and Elon Musk tweeted about it, calling it a “calculated attempt to deceive Florida voters about solar.” While solar expansion in the Sunshine State still has a long way to go, the amendment’s rejection was a bullet dodged.
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Elon Musk unveils new Solar Roof, Tesla Powerwall 2, and Powerpack 2

On October 28, surrounded by houses topped with solar roofs designed by SolarCity and Tesla, Elon Musk discussed Tesla’s latest products: a Solar Roof, the Powerwall 2, and Powerpack 2. “The goal is to have solar roofs that look better than normal roofs, last longer, provide better insulation, and actually have an installed cost that is less than a normal roof plus electricity. So why would you buy anything else?” he said at a press event. The solar roofs are comprised of glass tiles with photovoltaic cells underneath; the tiles are hydrographic printed to resemble four classic roofing materials: French slate, Tuscan, Smooth, and Textured. Each is printed differently so that each tile is a “special snowflake” Musk quipped. Musk also explained the improvements that the new Powerwall 2 and Powerpack 2 have over their predecessors. The Powerwall 2, meant for single-family homes, has double the energy storage of the first home battery Tesla created, with a usable capacity of 13.5 kWh and 90 percent efficiency. It can also be scaled up to combine nine Powerwalls into one storage unit. The Powerpack 2, meant for commercial use, is limitlessly scalable, and Tesla is currently working to supply utility company Southern California Edison with 80 MWh of battery storage—the largest lithium-ion battery storage project in the world, according to Tesla. During the day, the photovoltaics charge up the batteries, which then dispense energy throughout the building until the next morning. Each Powerwall 2 can provide a two-bedroom home with one day of power, so service wouldn’t lapse even on a (hypothetically) pitch-black day. Musk discussed the world’s current dire 404 parts-per-million C02 levels in Earth's atmosphere as vertically climbing since the 1950s. Now that solar roofs are available at a competitive price point (the cost of Tesla’s solar roofs has not yet been disclosed, but Musk said that it would be less than the cost of a standard roof plus the money saved on energy) in a variety of styles, Musk hopes that the four to five million new roofs installed in the U.S. each year can be solar powered, effectively taking millions of people off of the grid. “The whole purpose of Tesla is to bring about sustainable energy,” Musk said. Combining the solar roof with the storage Powerwall or Powerpack and a solar car means a whole household can have an integrated, off-the-grid system. In short, Musk wants to do for solar roofs what Tesla did for electric cars and turn a niche product into an aspirational mass consumer item. And if these solar panel systems are as affordable, beautiful, and seamless as he says, then the future could be sunny indeed. Watch the full video below:
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In San Francisco, new research suggests that density, not solar panels, is the surest path to a green city

Brad Plumer at Vox anaylzes the data to show that if, for example, the city of San Francisco built housing to accommodate 10,000 current Bay Area residents (i.e. those living in more wasteful, suburban environments), the city could save 79,000 metric tons of CO2 per year, three times the amount of CO2 that the solar panel legislation could save.
If this was applied to the U.S., Plumer reasons, the effect could be tremendous, although decreasing housing costs, along with increasing supply, would be the only way to ensure that green (or green-er) city living is available to a broad range of individuals.
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Harvesting the Sun: Japan building world’s largest floating solar farm

March 11 marks the five-year anniversary at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan. After the disaster, officials have been on the hunt for alternative energy solutions. Now, Japanese electronics firm Kyocera has begun construction on what will be the world's largest floating solar farm, just outside Tokyo. The Yamakura dam power plant will use more than 50,000 solar photovoltaic panels covering nearly 2 million square feet. Japan is a country short on space, so energy solutions that aren't built on land are a welcome sight to many. As the Guardian recently reported, the country is increasingly dependant on imported fossil fuels, to the detriment of its carbon footprint goals. The solar array is being constructed upon a reservoir with hopes of providing enough energy for roughly 5,000 homes when finished in 2018. Despite its size, the plant is comparatively small to land-based solar farms. Expected to produce 13.7MW when complete, this more than 28 times smaller than the 392 Ivanpah Solar Power Facility in San Bernardino, CA. According to Kyocera TLC Solar, "the project will generate an estimated 16,170 megawatt hours (MWh) per year — enough electricity to power approximately 4,970 typical households — while offsetting about 8,170 tons of CO2 emissions annually. This is equal to 19,000 barrels of oil consumed." "With the decrease in tracts of land suitable for utility-scale solar power plants in Japan due to the rapid implementation of solar power, Kyocera TCL Solar has been developing floating solar power plants since 2014, which utilize Japan’s abundant water surfaces of reservoirs for agricultural and flood-control purposes," the firm added.
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Bike path in pieces: Skeptics dismiss Dutch solar bike path SolaRoad as inefficient “cash grab”

Naysayers have rained criticism on Dutch Solaroad solar bike path system. In the first six months of operation, it reportedly overshot energy production expectations to the collective glee of engineers. However, self-described “scientists” are taking it down with numerical rhetoric, namely the cost and inferior production capacity relative to rooftop solar panels. Last year’s pilot test ate up $3.2 million in investor funding for a 230-foot stretch of concrete, and SolaRoad remains tightlipped on the cost per square foot. As electrical engineering vlogger Dave Jones pointed out in a short emission to his EEVBLOG YouTube channel, mounting solar cells in the same vicinity on a roof curved optimally towards the sun would yield twice the output. Writer Pete Danko demystifies the calculations in an article posted to Breaking Energy, writing: “If you were to put 1300 square feet of [solar panels] on rooftops in Amsterdam, it would add up to 16 kilowatts of capacity (based on 1kw per 80 square feet)." Danko then uses a PvWatt’s calculator by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to compute solar output in the winter months from November to April in the Netherlands versus a rooftop in sunny San Jose, California during the same period. In Amsterdam, the power capacity comes to about 4,600 kwh in lackluster sunshine, while no-quit California rays churn out 10,000 kwh for the same rooftop coverage. Does all the pooh-poohing of SolaRoad get any more intellectual than Why didn’t you put these on the roof instead? The tempered glass-coated concrete modules have been known to break due to climate. In its first month of operation, a 3.3-foot patch of the 230-foot stretch was deactivated due to breakages, although the remainder of the path remained operable. Sten de Wit, a physicist involved in the development of SolaRoad, defended the idea of a solar-powered bike path in an interview with AFP. “The idea is that we have approximately 140,000 kilometers (87,000 miles) of road, which is much bigger than all the rooftops put together. We have 25,000km (15,543 miles) of bike paths in the Netherlands,” he said. The only trouble is that bicycles and solar power don’t really have a lot in common.