Archive for October 2007

Growth in the Spanish solar market exceeds expectations

October 30, 2007

Feed-in tariffs in Spain, initiated in 2004 to reach the European Union’s goal of increasing renewable energy use to 20 percent by 2020, guarantee energy produced by from renewable resources will be bought by local utilities at three times the normal market value for 25 years. The Spanish utilities have the obligation of giving renewable energy companies a connection point to the grid.

According to Reuters, these incentives have been instrumental for the growth of photovoltaic solar power plants in Spain, that is exceeding the government’s expectations. With the current momentum, Spain will be over its target for 2010 of 400 megawatts (MW) of photovoltaic (PV) power by next summer. By that time, the actual installed capacity might be somewhere between 800 MW and 1,200 MW, according to the Ministry of Industry.

At 1,200 MW, PV power would still only account for 0.4 percent of total power, so there is still a long way to go. Another weak spot in the market is the low penetration of small installations in homes, with big plants – from one to 25 megawatts – being far more typical.

Industry Ministry officials said that once there are 1,200 MW of PV solar power, the tariff rate will be reduced by 5 percent each year. Investors and politicians are optimistic that in six years the incentives will no longer be necessary. Costs are expected to fall as competition spawns cheaper, more efficient solar technologies allowing firms in the sector to sustain themselves at normal market prices, they say.

Originally uploaded by Steven2358

But it is not just photovoltaics, the solar market is expanding accross the board. In the last months, we have seen a non-stop string of announcements of projects and deals:

Deals and solar plants:

Who: Sunpower Corp. (PV, US), with financing from AIG Financial products (US) and 360 Corporate (Spain)
What: 18-megawatt solar electric power plant
Where: Olivenza (Badajoz province, Extremadura)
Generation: more than 32 million kilowatt-hours of power per year

Who: ICP Solar Technologies Inc. (Montreal, Canada)
What: agreement to provide US$ 770,284 in solar modules to Tejasol (Spain) in Spain, with a view to open offices in Madrid and pending orders amounting to US$ 18.5 million.

Who: Solel Solar Systems (Israel) and Sacyr-Vallehermoso Group (Spain)
What: agreement to build three solar thermal power plants
Total capacity: 150MW
Investment: US$890 million

Who: Solar parks of Extremadura, formed by Ecoenergías (Spain) and Deutsche Bank (Germany)
What: 40 MW solar plant by the name of Merida Solar 2008
Investment: 300 million euros (430.6 million dollars)
Generation: 72,3 GWh per year (for the needs of around 80,000 people, approx.)
Where: Valverde (Extremadura)

Who: City Solar (PV, Germany)
What: Three solar plants with a total nominal power of 26 MW between them
Where: Castile-La Mancha and Extremadura

Manufacturing plant openings and expansions

Who: Schott (solar panels and solar receivers, Germany)
What: a manufacturing facility for solar receivers (their second in Spain)
Where: Seville (Southern Spain)
Investment: approximately $28 million

Who: Conergy (PV, Germany)
What: solar PV structures manufacturing plant
Where: Daganzo (Madrid)

Who: SolFocus (Concentrating photovoltaics, US)
What: European Headquarters covering business development, marketing, engineering, R&D and field work for the European markets.
Where: Daganzo (Madrid)

A telling fact of the rapid expansion of the solar energy industry worldwide is how several of these companies have almost simultaneously announced parallel projects in another hot market, the United States. For example, Solel is developing the Mojave solar park for PG&E, a huge project (553 MW) and Schott (as recently covered) is also opening a US plan in California.


The house in the woods

October 24, 2007

And now for something completely different. After seeing all the technology displays during the Solar Decathlon, this low impact house in the Welsh countryside is a sort of back-to-basics counterpoint showing another way of thinking outside the box.


(Credits: Simon Dale)

Some key points of its design and construction:

  • Dug into hillside for low visual impact and shelter
  • Stone and mud from diggings used for retaining walls, foundations etc.
  • Frame of oak thinnings (spare wood) from surrounding woodland
  • Reciprocal roof rafters are structurally and aesthaetically fantastic and very easy to do
  • Straw bales in floor, walls and roof for super-insulation and easy building
  • Plastic sheet and mud/turf roof for low impact and ease
  • Lime plaster on walls is breathable and low energy to manufacture (compared to cement)
  • Reclaimed (scrap) wood for floors and fittings
  • Anything you could possibly want is in a rubbish pile somewhere (windows, burner, plumbing, wiring…)
  • Woodburner for heating – renewable and locally plentiful
  • Flue goes through big stone/plaster lump to retain and slowly release heat
  • Fridge is cooled by air coming underground through foundations
  • Skylight in roof lets in natural feeling light
  • Solar panels for lighting, music and computing
  • Water by gravity from nearby spring
  • Compost toilet
  • Roof water collects in pond for garden etc.


(Credits: Simon Dale)
Simon Dale, the builder (along with his father-in-law) is a graphic arts designer and photographer. His pictures are mainly about landscapes and they are really beautiful, by the way, don´t miss them.

A look back at the Solar Decathlon 2007

October 23, 2007

So, the coolest little village this side of the Atlantic closed its doors last Friday. The Solar Decathlon ended with a German winner, the team from Technische Universitat Darmstadt.

They beat out 20 teams of architecture, engineering and business students from the United States, Canada, Germany, Puerto Rico and Spain to win the third annual event. The teams competed in ten different contests to design, build, and operate attractive and energy-efficient solar-powered homes.


Oak louvers on the Technishe Universitat Darmstadt’s solar powered home provide shading and privacy for visitors to the Solar Decathlon on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., Saturday, Oct. 13.
(Credit: Jim Tetro/Solar Decathlon)

Teams were granted $100,000 each to spend over about two years to design and build an 800-square-foot home powered entirely by solar energy, with off-the-shelf solar-electric panels. The homes did not use fossil fuels and yielded no carbon emissions. Normally, they include high-tech gadgets that allow comfort and convenience without compromising respect for the environment.

On top of that, each house had to produce enough extra electricity to power an electric car.

Although it could be well said that everybody was a winner here and all the houses had interesting ideas and cool features, the three ones that came out on top were:

1st: Technische Universität Darmstadt
TUD won the Architecture, Lighting, and Engineering contests. Darmstadt was, besides, one of seven teams to score an impressive 100 points in the Energy Balance contest.

2nd: University of Maryland
Maryland won the Communications contest and was second in Architecture, Market Viability, and Lighting. They were also one of the teams to score 100 points in the Energy Balance contest.

3rd: Santa Clara University
They scored 100 points in the Hot Water contest and also 100 points in the Energy Balance contest, and besides that they built a public-friendly and entertaining house tour that was praised by the jury. Funnily enough, they almost did not make it to the competition, as they had transportation problems on the way there.

The two teams I was tracking did not do too bad. The University of Illinois elementhouse was 1st in the “Comfort zone” “Market viability” contests and ended in 9th position altogether. The Madrid team (UPM) earned third place in the architectural portion of the competition and was fifth in the final score.

The success of the Solar Decathlon is manifested in how the houses in past competitions are being used or replicated. According to the US Energy Secretary Mr. Bodman in his closing ceremony and awards remarks, the winning 2002 University of Colorado house is now the core of a bigger house owned by the former president of the Solar Energies Industries Association. The Rhode Island School of Design house from 2005 is being installed as faculty housing at a private school in Portsmouth. The previous two University of Missouri at Rolla entries are being used as student housing. And the New York Institute of Technology’s 2005 house is permanently installed at the United States Merchant Marine Academy as a renewable energy research center

In that same speech, Mr. Bodman also announced that the Department is making up to $44.1 million available to support the commercialization and promotion of solar and energy efficient technologies. Up to $4.1 million of that funding will be used to establish centers that promote these technologies to the building trades and homeowners.

Some technologies he found worth noting were:

  • The translucent roof atop the Georgia Institute of Technology’s entry that employs a new technology already in use in large scale buildings around the world
  • The structural bamboo I-beams in the Santa Clara University house
  • The liquid desiccant waterfall that removes humidity with very little energy, greatly reducing the job of the air conditioner that the University of Maryland had on display in its house.
  • You may check out a short video of each of the 20 homes at Blue Egg, an eco-lifestyle media company.


    U.S. and Spain to Develop Solar Decathlon Europe

    October 18, 2007


    Casa Solar  (above and down below) from the UPM at Washington (pictures courtesy of Inhabitat)

    Press release from the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Public Affairs, Washington, D.C.

    Today U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Alexander Karsner and Spain’s Undersecretary of Housing Fernando Magro Fernández signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to collaborate in the development of a Solar Decathlon Europe competition in 2010. The Solar Decathlon is a competition which challenges university-led teams to build the most attractive and efficient solar-powered homes, held on the National Mall in Washington, DC.

    Under the MOU signed today, the DOE will assist in developing a similar event in Europe. “The twin challenges of increasing energy security and confronting climate change are global in nature – the solutions will require multilateral action. DOE’s Solar Decathlon is supporting a new generation of student engineers, architects, designers, and communicators, while demonstrating that solar energy technologies are available here and now,” Assistant Secretary Karsner said. “With three successful Solar Decathlons to show, the Department of Energy looks forward to lending our expertise to encourage the same innovation and entrepreneurial spirit across the Atlantic and around the world.” 

    Under the non-binding MOU, both countries will exchange information regarding rules, scoring, judging, safety, and site and team selection for a Solar Decathlon Europe event. Spain’s Housing Ministry will establish a framework for a European edition of Solar Decathlon in collaboration with DOE. The initial plans call for the Solar Decathlon Europe to take place on years in which a Solar Decathlon is not taking place in the United States. Both nations will contribute members to an oversight committee, which will approve plans and activities, and evaluate success of the program.

    “We have great hope that the development of a European edition of the Solar Decathlon competition, to take place in Madrid in 2010,” Spanish Undersecretary of Housing Fernando Magro said.

    “This event not only furthers the ties between the United States and Europe but it will also further foster the development and use of energy efficient and sustainably developed housing throughout the world.” 1598632279_4cec441235_o.jpg

    Three Solar Decathlon events have been held in the United States since 2002. DOE’s Solar Decathlon will continue to be held in the United States; the fourth event will be held in Washington, DC in fall 2009.

    This year, more than 100,000 people are expected to tour the solar village. DOE’s Solar Decathlon is open to the public through Saturday, October 20, 2007.   For full event information and high-resolution photos, visit the Solar Decathlon website.

    The Solar village comes to life

    October 12, 2007

    The newest neighborhood in Washington has sprung to life. 20 University teams are showcasing on the National Mall their energy-independent homes, equipped with technological advances that provide maximized energy efficiency.


    The Solar Decathlon (see our previous coverage here) is a bi-annual competition in ecological design and engineering. Judging will take place on October 17th and competition winners will be announced on October 19th. The entire event is open to the public with tours, workshops, and awards ceremonies for the most promising and practical showings. It is a part of the Solar America Initiative, which seeks to make solar energy cost-competitive with conventional forms of electricity by 2015.

    There have been two prior competitions, in 2002 and 2005. The reigning champion is the University of Colorado that, having won twice, remains the team to beat. This year´s edition brings more teams, including the first participation from the M.I.T. and a German university, Darmstadt.

    The Illinois team comes from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Residents of Chicago that miss the contest will have a second chance to visit their house, at the Greenbuild Expo later in November (7-9).

    Though my alma mater does not compete xespanasolar05.jpg(Complutense), I can take solace in the fact that my hometown will be represented through the Universidad Politecnica de Madrid (UPM). It is the second time they participate in the competition. In their debut, the UPM presented a Mediterranean-style house, Magic Box. This time round, their project has been called Casa Solar

    The team has been very active in making it known. It offers the possibility of a virtual tour at its website, it has been showcased at a Real State Show in Spain, Sima, and it even has a presence in Second Life, for seasoned netizens.

    According to Sergio Vega, the director of the Solar Decathlon project for the Universidad Politecnica de Madrid: “The Solar Decathlon is an opportunity for Spain to demonstrate its expertise in the area of sustainable living. This year, we’ve applied these advancements to an American-style home to create not only an eco-friendly structure but one with all the modern conveniences that make it truly livable.”

    Casa Solar contains a system of ‘smart’ foundations and double-paned windows with an interlayer of air that allows for intelligent control of its features. Additional elements include:

    — A technical floor equipped with phase-changing gels which allows for natural cooling and heating of the house

    — A Photovoltaic Array system by Isofoton captures solar energy on the 800 square foot roof and converts it into electricity

    — A system of window shades that prevent the loss of energy accumulated inside the home during the night, as well as systems of localized complementary insulation

    — A waste collection system that is easily accessible from the kitchen counter which facilitates the separation of different types of waste with little effort. Separating waste makes it easier and cheaper to recycle.

    The house has been designed with the concept of “Market viability” very much in mind, a new area the contest organizers are evaluating this year. Casa Solar has the advantage of its building flexibility as it has all the facilities ‘packages’ for the home together in a core, a sort of “technological backpack” which acts as a thermal buffer and is located in the coolest area of the house.

    See a detailed profile of each of the teams at this pdf file (Competition program)

    My two cents on Solar Power Expo 07´ (2nd penny)

    October 8, 2007

    It has taken me longer than I expected to get back to the comments on the Solar Power Conference and Expo – my apologies. It is a bit late now, but, anyhow, I thought I might as well wrap it up.

    One of the booths where we stopped during our visit to the show was Schott´s, a company that provides the receivers for the solar troughs at Nevada Solar One and at some California solar plants. Schott is part of the Carl Zeiss Foundation and, besides their solar division, they are involved in a bit of everything, from the lenses for giant telescopes to advanced optical technology. They told us about their plans for expansion in the US, involving a new PV manufacturing facility that will increase their production by more than 60 MW. The new plant will also produce receivers for concentrated solar power (CSP) plants, a market where they sure have a lot of room to grow.

    In the effort to drive costs down, different companies presented products looking to minimize installation procedures for solar installations, like Sharp, with their OnEnergy system. The idea is to go to turnkey or packaged solutions, making things easier for consumers and installers.

    We had some interesting talks with the people from Borrego Solar and GroSolar, but for us, a must was a visit to the booth of Siliken, a Spanish manufacturer of solar modules that is seeing a tremendous growth in the last few years, boosted by the incentives in place in the Spanish solar markets and their ambitious attitude. The latest step in their expansion is the opening of a pv plant in California, for the manufacturing of the modules right here. Those plans are well under way, so I will be able to inform you more in detail as the project progresses.

    The conferences were also packed, with people standing in the aisles and the back of the auditorium. We were particularly interested in the ones related with Concentrating solar power, where representatives from Solucar Power were among the panelists. Utility-scale projects using concentrating solar power (CSP) – or solar thermal – offer sun-drenched regions such as the US Southwest, Florida, Spain or Australia high levels of carbon-free power production to feed into the grid. And, to keep the buzz going, FPL announced a mega-deal with Ausra to build at least 1,000 MW of solar thermal plants in the next five years (with a view of reaching a goal of 1,500 MW in seven years).

    sunflower.jpgTwo next stops for the CSP industry are the World Solar Power Conference (24-25 October) and the Concentrated Power Summit (5-7 November), both in Seville, home to Europe´s first commercial CSP plant.

    All in all, we saw a tremendous progress for the show. It started with an attendance of 1,100 people in 2004, a number that has jumped to around 11,000 visitors this year. Next year´s edition will take place in San Diego, with a view to triple this year´s exhibiting space.

    The best way to summarize the mood in the air those days would be to the tune of George Harrison: “Here Comes the Sun”.

    My two cents on Solar Power Expo 07´ (1st penny)

    October 1, 2007

    As promised, I will dwell a little on the things I saw at Solar Power Conference and Expo. First of all, it was incredibly crowded. In fact, so crowded that the hotel where I was supposed to be staying at told me they were sold out and did not have the room I´d reserved one month and a half ago !!! (I ended up in Cypress – 20 min. away; Incredible, to stick with publishable words…)

    The lines for registration were a mile long on Tuesday. The Long Beach Convention Center, the venue for this year for the event is not too big (at least, compared to McCormick Center in Chicago, the venue I am most used to). The big booths were in the space in the Convention Center, but there was also exhibition space at the Hyatt hotel, contiguous to the Center.

    Representatives from Southern California Edison and PG&E told us about the success of the California Solar Initiative (CSI) in the state. This $3 billion solar program launched in January includes rebates covering about half the cost of a typical $20,000-plus solar power system. Although the utilities gloated about the long lists of reservations, some installers and designers present at the show actually commented that the feed-in tariffs system prevalent in Germany and Spain present an advantage over the CSI: their simplicity.

    The CSI process involves a set of requirements to boost efficient design that in practice reduce the paybacks (a bit because of the shade calculated for your system, a bit because of the estimated sunlight in your area…, etc.) and may increase uncertainty. Anyway, there is no denying that the program is an incredible boost to solar power in a state that already produces 70 of all US solar energy.

    (to be continued…)