Archive for March 2008

Solar collectors that capture heat even in the shade

March 27, 2008

During the last edition of the Energy Trade show GENERA in Madrid, visitors wondered how the solar panels from the company Solar PST, from Galicia, managed to heat water to up to 122 °F degrees, considering they were located in an indoor facility.

“These thermodynamic panels absorb heat not only from solar radiation but from the surrounding air temperature as well” explained Pablo Fernández, the company CEO.

solar-pst.jpgSolar PST and its Portuguese partner Energie recently inaugurated Europe’s largest thermodynamic solar thermal collector manufacturing plant in the Portuguese village of Povoa de Varzím. Solar PST owns 35% of Energie, though the companies operate independently to some extent.

The factory sits on an area of almost 32,300 square feet, and provides equipment to Europe and America. The company is already planning to double its output in a matter of two years.

Based in the thermodynamic principles laid down by the XIXth century French physicist Nicolas Carnot, the technology behind these solar collectors is used for heating water for sanitary use, pools and central heating. It consists of a cooling fluid that gasifies when circulating in the solar panel, capturing heat from sunlight and the surrounding environment. The gas is then compressed and used to heat water by means of a heat exchanger.

The system offers many advantages: the panels may overlap in cases where space is limited and are not restricted to roofs, as they may also be attached to walls.  They do not need to be protected from wind, as they may also benefit energetically from it.  In areas with a rainy climate like Galicia (or most of Northern Europe, for that matter), their main advantage, though, is that they keep on working even on cloudy and cool days.

0731.jpgThe company sells in Italy, France, Belgium, Chile and the US (Miami). This year, it plans to expand to Greece and the UK. Typical clients for these solar collectors are swimming pools, hospitals, residential areas and hotels.

(Photo: Courtesy of Solar PST)

Solar PST is looking for new outlets for its technologies. Along with its partner Telemo Communications, it has deployed a first batch of a hundred solar phone booths around Spain. These are off-grid, standalone systems that not only get energy from the sun during the day: they also recharge at night.

Natural building blocks out of hemp

March 20, 2008

The hemp plant (Cannabis sativa L.) gets a bad rap because of its association with drugs, but it was already in use 8.000 years ago and is present today in a wide array of sectors ranging from medicines, body care products, and clothing to the automotive industry.

One promising application for this plant is as a building material for Bioclimatic architecture in the form of a brick.


The Spanish newspaper El Mundo reports about Cannabric (Spanish only), a company launched nine years ago by the German architect Monika Brümmer in Guadix, province of Granada. Her career project researching vegetable building materials led her to this hemp product, achieved through an arduous trial and error process.

(Photo: Courtesy of Cannabric)

This “eco-brick” is composed of industrial hemp, natural slaked lime and a mixture of minerals. The higher price this brick commands versus a traditional one is more than compensated by a series of advantages:

  • Growing hemp improves the condition of the ground. It is a robust and fast-growing plant that requires neither herbicides nor pesticides during its cultivation.
  • Industrial hemp has a very low thermal conductivity, producing a brick with vastly superior insulation properties against both cold and heat.
  • It produces no toxic by products and is fully recyclable
  • It absorbs sound and is non-flammable

It is a popular material in the cave houses typical of the area around Guadix, in Granada and it is also gaining ground in other regions around Spain, as it is especially suited to areas reaching extremes of temperature in summer and winter. It has even been used in the restoration of a monastery in the province of Palencia. Hemp bricks have also been used in projects in France and England.

Sener and Masdar form solar JV to develop CSP plants

March 15, 2008

The Spanish engineering group Sener  and Masdar, the company behind an eponymous $15 billion eco-metropolis set to be built in Abu Dhabi, have joined forces by creating a solar joint venture called Torresol Energy (Torresol: Sun Tower, in English).logo-torresol.jpg 

This JV will commence work on three solar power plants in Spain with an approximate combined value of $ 1.25 billion, one of which will be a CSP Central Tower Receiver System (Gemasolar 2006  -17 MW). In a solar tower, mirrors reflect light to generate heat at the tower top where steam is made to turn a turbine. The other two are 50 MW parabolic trough plants to be built in Seville and Cadiz.

Separately, MASDAR is developing CSP plants in Abu Dhabi, and their flagship plant “Shams 1” is expected to be completed in the fourth quarter of 2010.

Torresol´s goal is to reach an installed base in production of around 320 Mw over the next 5 years and to approach 1,000 Mw in 10 years. Currently, there are only about 500 megawatts of concentrated solar power in operation worldwide. 

Torresol will also try breaking into the U.S. market with tower systems in the Southeast.

In every new project Torresol Energy expects to introduce and test new technologies with the long term objectives of making CSP a very competitive and reliable technology.

In fact, Sener, besides an extensive experience in fields such as aerospace, has been working for almost a decade in the development of solar thermal power technology. 

sener.jpgThe company is presently designing and building, in a joint venture with ACS/Cobra,  three 50 MW parabolic through plants (Andasol) with molten salt storage in Southern Spain (Granada).

Model of Torresol Central Tower Receiver, courtesy of Torresol

SENER will own a 60 percent share of Torresol Energy, with MASDAR owning the remaining 40 percent.

Overview of WIREC 2008 (Part 2) – The business conferences

March 10, 2008

From the standpoint of attendance at least, I would venture that the Business conferences at WIREC were a success. Rooms were packed, with people standing at the back and sometimes even along the aisles. I attended the ones about the US Market & Policy Drivers in the fields of Solar PV, Solar CSP and Wind energy.

In the Solar PV presentation, we were updated on the likely scenarios for the renewal of tax incentives for the industry, with the best case one involving an 8-year extension of the Investment Tax Credit (ITC), through the bill H.R. 5351. The next vote will be in April. 

One of the panelists was Adam Browning, from Vote Solar. He mounted a spirited defense of the policy measures followed by the US to boost the solar market, as a cost-effective solution. I think he was expecting a heated debate about this option vs. “feed-in tariffs”, as he joked about hoping to have a “calm discussion” about it. This probably was because of the spirited rebuttals to his article in “Renewable Energy World” some weeks ago. This time round, though, the audience did not inquire about this issue at the alloted time for Q&A.

In fact, we might get to contrast both systems at work here in the States (feed-in tariff versus Marginal incentives). A side event at WIREC featured Congressman Jay Inslee (D-Wash) who has announced that he will soon introduce a Feed-in tariff bill to the House of Representatives.

There was also talk about “The Carbon Principles“. Some important financial institutions have set tighter conditions for financing coal-fired plants and offer guidelines for lenders about criteria to use when financing renewable energy projects. This could mark a turning point for the industry to achieve maturity.

Overview of WIREC 2008 (Part 1)

March 9, 2008

Back from the Washington International Renewable Energy Conferences, I will try to give you a summary of things seen and heard. It was a ministerial-level summit with a co-located trade show and a very complete program of conferences and side-events.

One conclusion would be that, far from a consensus, there are radically different views on what is going on. On one hand, you have people saying that all this hype won´t amount to much and that, like BP CEO Hayward said, renewable energies will not really make a dent in our energy mix at this rate, and others, like Vinod Khosla, arguing that the change is definitely coming and will be faster and deeper than what we realize.

I finally could attend the first plenary session of the event and, as I imagined, Khosla´s intervention, was the most interesting in the panel. Even though he had to rush, he expounded on how forecasts usually fail to predict accurately the extent and speed of the expansion of new technologies, mostly because of lack of imagination. His complete presentation may be viewed here.

From Power-gen Renewable Energy show to WIREC 2008

March 1, 2008

This year the number of events in the renewable energy industry in the US seems to have exploded; sometimes, it feels like one could be attending one seminar, convention or gathering of some kind every week of the year.

powergen-re.jpgEven though we do not have the time or means for such feats, this is a busy period for us regarding shows, as we attended last Power-Gen Renewable Energy show at Las Vegas (booth 108) and will be present again next week at WIREC 2008, the Washington International Renewable Energy Conference.

The former changed venue this year, from Mandalay Bay hotel to Rio. Next year´s edition will also bring changes, as it will now be known as Renewable Energy World Conference & Expo. Our very own Brian Gaylord was interviewed for the Inside RE show podcast with Stephen Lacey from Renewable Energy World. His is the last interview in the program.

It was a momentous week, with an announcement from Abengoa Solar about its new huge plant in Arizona on the last day of the show and the Nevada Solar One solar plant dedication ceremony by Acciona, on Friday 22nd, with Apple founder Steve Wozniak and former NASA astronaut Dr. Sally Ride among the guests.

wirec.jpgI do not know if anything that exciting will happen next week at WIREC, but I will be there to let you know if it does. We are going to have a little booth (#536) at the show and will be attending every conference of interest about market developments in the US.

WIREC has a institutional side, with Ministerial meetings between Government delegations from all over the world and a business side, the Trade Show and business conferences.

I will be focusing on the latter. Even though listening to Vinod Khosla talking about the transition to renewables in the first plenary session would undoubtely have been great, there are only so many hours a day. I still might give it a try, the temptation is too great.

Injecting funds to boost organic farming in Andalusia

March 1, 2008

Farmers in Spain will be able to dramatically reduce pesticide residues on their fruit and vegetable produce with the help of a huge government investment.

vacaloura.jpgA $ 448.5 million investment package will encourage 20,000 farmers in Andalusia to introduce natural predators to control pests, rather than use conventional pesticides.

As a result, the supply of ‘clean’ Spanish produce to European supermarket shelves is expected to boom.

“We are 100 per cent committed to producing quality fresh fruit and vegetables while respecting the environment…we are pleased to be able to offer support and inject vital funds,” said Isaías Pérez Saldaña of the Andalusian regional government.

The investment has helped to finance the launch of Hortyfruta (Spanish only), the non-profit organisation charged with coordinating the reduction of pesticide use in the region.

María José Pardo, general manager of Hortyfruta, said: “The launch of Hortyfruta will bring about a step change in the drive to introduce clean farming as the standard in Andalusia. As one of the world’s largest agricultural producers we regard it as our responsibility to champion best practice.”