Posts Tagged ‘solar thermal’

New Concentration Solar Power Modules

The alternative sources of energy are perpetually evolving. Scientists and manufacturers are trying to come up with more beneficial products that are user friendly and efficient. Government is drawing policies that promote use of alternative sources of energy. Researchers, entrepreneurs and common people are devising their own ways to use clean and green sources of energy. We are reading nearly each day about some innovation in the area of alternative energy by one university or another. Newly, University of Lleida has designed a concentration solar power module that creates heat, cold and electricity. The unique feature of these solar power modules is that they can be integrated to façades or building roofs. People instrumental in this project are Daniel Chemisana who is a member of the research group in Agrometeorology and Energy for Environment, Manel Ibáñez and Joan Ignasi Rosell. Both Manel Ibáñez and Joan Ignasi Rosell are lecturers in University of Lleida.

The team has formulated a thermal-photovoltaic modular system having a solar concentration of ten suns. Solar concentration of ten suns implies only a tenth part of a standard system’s active surface is needed to create the same energy. This energy can be in the form of electricity, heat, or both at the same time. It is understood that the reduction in the surface of used solar cells can lead to reduction in price of solar panels. The added advantage is this new technology can generate cold by connecting a heat pump to the system. They have already requested a worldwide patent for this system.

How this research team was able to reduce the surface area without compromising on the amount of power generation? A stationary lens and a linear absorber plate are the main components of the concentrator system. Lens and a linear absorber plate help in concentrating the sunlight to generate energy. This concentration system is responsible for reducing the space that until now was needed with traditional plates. It is to be known that traditional plates move around in search of sunlight.

Rosell also emphasized about the architectural integration that is the USP of this module. These modules can be installed either on roofs or in façades, which will definitely cut down their visual impact. You can set up these plates on roofs, on the closure of concrete or brick blocks. They will act as a curtain wall in the façades or as a part of the railings in terraces. You can term them as your “building’s second skin”. This module is useful for residential buildings, companies or farms.

Why one should go for this model? According to Rosell aside from making a second skin for a building, this device also demonstrates the global efficiency of energy conversion. The conversion rate could rise above 60%. Researchers at University of Lleida are hoping that the product could be manufactured at commercial scale in a year if companies show positive response for this technology. The prototype has been funded by CIDEM and has the support of the University of Lleida Technological Springboard.

Solar Water Heater

Solar Water Heaters

Solar water heaters can be a cost-effective way to generate hot water for your home. They can be used in any climate, and the fuel they use (sunshine) is free.

solar water heating

Solar water heating is water heated by the use of solar energy. Solar heating systems are generally composed of solar thermal collectors, a water storage tank or another point of usage, interconnecting pipes and a fluid system to move the heat from the collector to the tank. This thermodynamic approach is distinct from semiconductor photovoltaic (PV) cells that generate electricity from light; solar water heating deals with the direct heating of liquids by the sun where no electricity is directly generated. A solar water heating system may use electricity for pumping the fluid, and have a reservoir or tank for heat storage and subsequent use. The water can be heated for a wide variety of uses, including home, business and industrial uses. Heating swimming pools, under floor heating or energy input for space heating or cooling are common examples of solar water heating. A solar water heating system can form part of a solar thermal cooling system, promoting efficient temperature control of buildings or parts thereof. During cool conditions, the same system can provide hot water.

solar water heater

In order to heat water using solar energy, a collector, often fastened to a roof or a wall facing the sun, heats working fluid that is either pumped (active system) or driven by natural convection (passive system) through it. The collector could be made of a simple glass topped insulated box with a flat solar absorber made of sheet metal attached to copper pipes and painted black, or a set of metal tubes surrounded by an evacuated (near vacuum) glass cylinder. In industrial cases a parabolic mirror can concentrate sunlight on the tube. Heat is stored in a hot water storage tank. The volume of this tank needs to be larger with solar heating systems in order to allow for bad weather, and because the optimum final temperature for the solar collector is lower than a typical immersion or combustion heater. The heat transfer fluid (HTF) for the absorber may be the hot water from the tank, but more commonly (at least in active systems) is a separate loop of fluid containing anti-freeze and a corrosion inhibitor, which delivers heat to the tank through a heat exchanger (commonly a coil of copper tubing within the tank).

Residential solar thermal installations fall into two groups: passive (sometimes called “compact”) and active (sometimes called “pumped”) systems. Both typically include an auxiliary energy source (electric heating element or connection to a gas or fuel oil central heating system) that is activated when the water in the tank falls below a minimum temperature setting such as 55°C. Hence, hot water is always available. The combination of solar water heating and using the back-up heat from a wood stove chimney to heat water can enable a hot water system to work all year round in cooler climates, without the supplemental heat requirement of a solar water heating system being met with fossil fuels or electricity.

Passive solar water heating systems are typically less expensive than active systems, but they’re usually not as efficient. However, passive systems can be more reliable and may last longer.

There are two basic types of passive systems:

Integral collector-storage passive systems

These work best in areas where temperatures rarely fall below freezing. They also work well in households with significant daytime and evening hot water needs.

Thermosyphon systems

Water flows through the system when warm water rises as cooler water sinks. The collector must be installed below the storage tank so that warm water will rise into the tank. These systems are reliable, but contractors must pay careful attention to the roof design because of the heavy storage tank. They are usually more expensive than integral collector-storage passive systems.

There are two types of active solar water heating systems:

Direct circulation systems

Pumps circulate household water through the collectors and into the home. They work well in climates where it rarely freezes.

Indirect circulation systems

Pumps circulate a non-freezing, heat-transfer fluid through the collectors and a heat exchanger. This heats the water that then flows into the home. They are popular in climates prone to freezing temperatures.

Other Considerations

Solar water heating systems almost always require a backup system for cloudy days and times of increased demand. Conventional storage water heaters usually provide backup and may already be part of the solar system package. A backup system may also be part of the solar collector, such as rooftop tanks with thermosyphon systems. Since an integral-collector storage system already stores hot water in addition to collecting solar heat, it may be packaged with a demand (tankless or instantaneous) water heater for backup.

When a solar water heating and hot-water central heating system are used in conjunction, solar heat will either be concentrated in a pre-heating tank that feeds into the tank heated by the central heating, or the solar heat exchanger will replace the lower heating element and the upper element will remain in place to provide for any heating that solar cannot provide. However, the primary need for central heating is at night and in winter when solar gain is lower. Therefore, solar water heating for washing and bathing is often a better application than central heating because supply and demand are better matched. In many climates, a solar hot water system can provide up to 85% of domestic hot water energy. This can include domestic non-electric concentrating solar thermal systems. In many northern European countries, combined hot water and space heating systems are used to provide 15 to 25% of home heating energy.

Selecting a Solar Water Heater

Before you purchase and install a solar water heating system, you want to consider the following:

The Economics of a Solar Water Heater

Solar water heating systems usually cost more to purchase and install than conventional water heating systems. However, a solar water heater can usually save you money in the long run.

How much money you save depends on the following:

  • The amount of hot water you use
  • Your system’s performance
  • Your geographic location and solar resource
  • Available financing and incentives
  • The cost of conventional fuels (natural gas, oil, and electricity)
  • The cost of the fuel you use for your backup water heating system, if you have one.

On average, if you install a solar water heater, your water heating bills should drop 50%–80%. Also, because the sun is free, you’re protected from future fuel shortages and price hikes.

If you’re building a new home or refinancing, the economics are even more attractive. Including the price of a solar water heater in a new 30-year mortgage usually amounts to between $13 and $20 per month. The federal income tax deduction for mortgage interest attributable to the solar system reduces that by about $3–$5 per month. So if your fuel savings are more than $15 per month, the solar investment is profitable immediately. On a monthly basis, you’re saving more than you’re paying.

Evaluating Your Site’s Solar Resource for Solar Water Heating

Before you buy and install a solar water heating system, you need to first consider your site’s solar resource. The efficiency and design of a solar water heating system depends on how much of the sun’s energy reaches your building site.

Solar water heating systems use both direct and diffuse solar radiation. Even if you don’t live in a climate that’s warm and sunny most of the time—like the southwestern United States—your site still might have an adequate solar resource. If your building site has unshaded areas and generally faces south, it’s a good candidate for a solar water heating system.

Your local solar system supplier or installer can perform a solar site analysis.

Sizing a Solar Water Heating System

Sizing your solar water heating system basically involves determining the total collector area and the storage volume you’ll need to meet 90%–100% of your household’s hot water needs during the summer. Solar system contractors use worksheets and computer programs to help determine system requirements and collector sizing.

Collector Area

Contractors usually follow a guideline of around 20 square feet (2 square meters) of collector area for each of the first two family members. For every additional person, add 8 square feet (0.7 square meters) if you live in the U.S. Sun Belt area or 12–14 square feet if you live in the northern United States.

Storage Volume

A small (50- to 60-gallon) storage tank is usually sufficient for one to two three people. A medium (80-gallon) storage tank works well for three to four people. A large tank is appropriate for four to six people.

For active systems, the size of the solar storage tank increases with the size of the collector—typically 1.5 gallons per square foot of collector. This helps prevent the system from overheating when the demand for hot water is low. In very warm, sunny climates, some experts suggest that the ratio should be increased to as much as 2 gallons of storage to 1 square foot of collector area.

Solar Water Heater Energy Efficiency

For a solar water heating system, use the solar energy factor (SEF) and solar fraction (SF) to determine its energy efficiency.

The solar energy factor is defined as the energy delivered by the system divided by the electrical or gas energy put into the system. The higher the number, the more energy efficient. Solar energy factors range from 1.0 to 11. Systems with solar energy factors of 2 or 3 are the most common.

Another solar water heater performance metric is the solar fraction. The solar fraction is the portion of the total conventional hot water heating load (delivered energy and tank standby losses). The higher the solar fraction, the greater the solar contribution to water heating, which reduces the energy required by the backup water heater. The solar fraction varies from 0 to 1.0. Typical solar factors are 0.5–0.75.

Estimating a Solar Water Heater System’s Cost

Before purchasing a solar water heating system, you can estimate its annual operating cost and compare it with other more and/or less efficient systems. This will help you determine the energy savings and payback period of investing in a more energy-efficient system, which will probably have a higher purchase price.

Calculating Annual Operating Cost

To estimate the annual operating cost of a solar water heating system, you need the following:

  • The system’s solar energy factor (SEF)
  • The auxiliary tank fuel type (gas or electric) and costs (your local utility can provide current rates).

Then, use the following calculations.

With a gas auxiliary tank system:

You need to know the unit cost of fuel by Btu (British thermal unit) or therm. (1 therm = 100,000 Btu)

365 × 41,045/SEF × Fuel Cost (Btu) = estimated annual cost of operation


365 × 0.4105/SEF × Fuel Cost (therm) = estimated annual operating cost

Example: Assuming the SEF is 1.1 and the gas costs $1.10/therm

365 × 0.4105/1.1 × $1.10 = $149.83

With an electric auxiliary tank system:

You need to know or convert the unit cost of electricity by kilowatt-hour (kWh).

365 × 12.03/SEF × Electricity Cost (kWh)= estimated annual operating cost

Example: Assuming the SEF is 2.0 and the electricity costs $0.08/kWh

365 X 12.03/2.0 X $0.08 = $175.64

Building Codes, Covenants, and Regulations for Solar Water Heating Systems

Before installing a solar water heating system, you should investigate local building codes, zoning ordinances, and subdivision covenants, as well as any special regulations pertaining to the site. You will probably need a building permit to install a solar energy system onto an existing building.

Not every community or municipality initially welcomes residential renewable energy installations. Although this is often due to ignorance or the comparative novelty of renewable energy systems, you must comply with existing building and permit procedures to install your system.

The matter of building code and zoning compliance for a solar system installation is typically a local issue. Even if a statewide building code is in effect, your city, county, or parish usually enforces it locally. Common problems homeowners have encountered with building codes include the following:

  • Exceeding roof load
  • Unacceptable heat exchangers
  • Improper wiring
  • Unlawful tampering with potable water supplies.

Potential zoning issues include the following:

  • Obstructing side yards
  • Erecting unlawful protrusions on roofs
  • Sitting the system too close to streets or lot boundaries.

Special area regulations—such as local community, subdivision, or homeowner’s association covenants—also demand compliance. These covenants, historic district regulations, and flood-plain provisions can easily be overlooked.

To find out what’s needed for local compliance, contact the following:

  • Your local jurisdiction’s zoning and building enforcement divisions
  • Briefly describe your intended construction, asking for other relevant ordinances/codes that might be in effect.
  • Find out if there are any additional local amendments or modifications to the regulations in effect.
  • Ask how to determine whether you are located in a historic district, flood-plain area, or any other special category regulated by a government body.
  • Ask where you may find pertinent ordinances/codes (local library, government office, etc.).
  • Read pertinent sections of the regulations, making photocopies of information you wish to file for future review and design/installation analysis.
  • Ask if they have any ordinances, provisions, or covenants that may affect the design and installation of the system.
  • Copy and file pertinent sections for reference.
  • Homeowner’s, subdivision, neighborhood, and/or community association(s)

Installing and Maintaining the System

The proper installation of solar water heaters depends on many factors. These factors include solar resource, climate, local building code requirements, and safety issues; therefore, it’s best to have a qualified, solar thermal systems contractor install your system.

After installation, properly maintaining your system will keep it running smoothly. Passive systems don’t require much maintenance. For active systems, discuss the maintenance requirements with your system provider, and consult the system’s owner’s manual. Plumbing and other conventional water heating components require the same maintenance as conventional systems. Glazing may need to be cleaned in dry climates where rainwater doesn’t provide a natural rinse.

Regular maintenance on simple systems can be as infrequent as every 3–5 years, preferably by a solar contractor. Systems with electrical components usually require a replacement part or two after 10 years.

When screening potential contractors for installation and/or maintenance, ask the following questions:

  • Does your company have experience installing and maintaining solar water heating systems?
    Choose a company that has experience installing the type of system you want and servicing the applications you select.
  • How many years of experience does your company have with solar heating installation and maintenance?
    The more experience the better. Request a list of past customers who can provide references.
  • Is your company licensed or certified?
    Having a valid plumber’s and/or solar contractor’s license is required in some states. Contact your city and county for more information. Confirm licensing with your state’s contractor licensing board. The licensing board can also tell you about any complaints against state-licensed contractors.

Searched Solar Info

Solar Energy History

The History of Solar Energy

A History over two thousand years old, solar energy has been a part of human life for a long time. Man has used solar power in its passive form to dry food and clothing and to warm homes for most of our history. The sun is the most potent and plentiful form of physical energy in our immediate existence. Of all the forces in the Universe the star is by far the most captivating and powerful. Our own star the “Sun” may be small by Universal standards but it is a giant star by our standards. So large that it accounts for over 99% of our solar systems mass and it’s power can be felt far past our own Earth orbit.

In just 40 minutes the amount of solar energy the sun emits that strikes the earth has the potential to power every electric outlet on the planet… for a year! Understanding the facts about our sun is a great way to understand solar energy. And understanding the history of solar energy development is a good place to begin. I hope you find the following informative and entertaining!

Humans learned how to harness solar energy in more sophisticated ways around 700 BC. Here’s the Solar Energy History timeline.

7th Century B.C.

Around 700 B.C. it was learned that a beam of sunshine targeted through a piece of glass could create enough heat energy to start a fire if the ray were focused onto something flammable.

3rd Century B.C.

By third century B.C., the Greeks and Romans were reflecting the sun’s rays from mirrors to ignite ceremony torches.

2nd Century B.C.

In the 2nd century BC, Archimedes, using copper shields, reflected a beam of sun onto an enemy wooden warship in the harbor and set it ablaze. Whether the story is true or false it has since been proved that it can indeed be done with the materials of that era.

For the next 1000 years man was contented to employ the power of the sun for the intentions of starting fires, passively heating abodes and drying out food and hides.

Over these early years in Solar Energy History, cultures learned to orient their dwellings and communities to face the sun (south) and exact fullest advantage of it’s heating energy. The low hanging sun would warm up the adobe brick or stone face of the building in winter and radiate it’s heat into the domicile well into the evening.

1st to 4th Century A.D.

1st to 4th Century Romans used passive solar to heat bathhouses. Glass windows facing the south allowed the sun’s rays to penetrate and warm the bathhouse, and then prevented it from escaping.

6th Century A.D.

Passive solar heating was becoming better understood and for the next several hundred years sun-rooms appeared on the south side of many Roman homes. The heat collected in the glass sun-room was allowed in to warm the home when the doors between the sun-room and home were opened.

1050 to 1300 A.D.

Around 1050 AD to 1300 is the period of the Anasazi cliff dwellings. Built in South facing cliffs with natural stone overhangs these communities were warmed in winter by the low hanging sun but the stone overhang provided much needed shade on hot summer days.


1767 saw the first major solar discovery since the beginnings of solar energy harnessing.

Swiss scientist Horace de Saussure, in the mid 1700′s, fashioned the world’s first solar cooker.

Using a wooden box with a black cork bottom and placing three separate sheets of glass over it and finally insulating it, he was able to maintain an internal temperature of 230 degrees Fahrenheit. Hot enough to boil water and cook a meal!

Solar cookers of today closely resemble Saussure’s invention.


By the 1800′s, discoveries were being made much faster. By the latter part of the century as little as three years would pass between discoveries.

Edmond Becquerel a French Scientist discovered the photovoltaic effect in 1839. He was the first to discover that light intensified the amount of electricity generated between two electrodes. His findings were considered interesting, but were not pursued.

From 1860′s to 1880′s

the first solar powered engines were produced and put to use.
Auguste Mouchout was the first man to patent a design for a motor running on solar energy. Receiving funds from the French monarch, he designed a device that turned solar energy into mechanical steam power and soon operated the first steam engine. He later connected the steam engine to a refrigeration device, illustrating that the sun’s rays can be utilized to make ice! He was awarded a medal for this.

His groundbreaking research was cut short though. The French renegotiated a cheaper deal with England for the supply of coal and improved their transportation system for the delivery thereof. Mouchout’s work towards finding an alternative was no longer considered a priority and he no longer received any funding from the monarch.


Willoughby Smith experimented with the use of selenium solar cells after discovering it’s sensitivity to light while testing material for underwater telegraph cables.


William Adams wrote the first book about Solar Energy called: A Substitute for Fuel in Tropical Countries. He and his student Richard Day experimented with the use of mirrors and were able to power a 2.5 horsepower steam engine. His design, know as the Power Tower concept, is still in use today.


An American inventor Charles Fritz turned the sun’s rays into electricity. His selenium solar cell had a conversion rate of only 1-2%. But was another huge milestone in solar energy history!


Charles Tellier, a Frenchman who is known as the father of refrigeration, experimented with a non-concentrating/ non-reflecting solar motor. He installed the first solar energy system for heating household water on top of his own roof. However, his desire to pursue his refrigeration interests led to him to abandon all solar energy experiments.


John Ericsson, an American immigrant from Sweden wrote these powerful words: “A couple of thousand years dropped in the ocean of time will completely exhaust the coal fields of Europe, unless, in the meantime, the heat of the sun be employed.” He dismissed Mouchout’s work and also developed a solar powered steam engine, very similar in design to Mouchout’s.


History saw the first commercial solar water heater patented by Clarence Kemp an inventor from Baltimore.


Aubrey Eneas formed the first Solar Energy Company – The Solar Motor Co. They sold the first Solar Energy system to Dr. A.J. Chandler of Mesa, Ariz for $2,160. It was destroyed less than a week later by a windstorm. They sold a second one to John May, but that one too, was destroyed by a hailstorm shortly afterwards. This led to the company’s downfall.


Henry Willsie recognized the need to store generated power and built 2 huge plants in California. He was the first to successfully use power at night after generating it during the day. Even so, he was not able to make a sale and his company too folded.

1906 – 1914

Frank Shuman’s company, Sun Power Co, built the largest and most cost-effective solar energy system covering 10,000 square feet plus. Although it produced a lot of steam it did not produce enough pressure. Together with E.P. Haines he then formed Sun Power Co. Ltd. They built an irrigation plant just outside of Cairo, but unfortunately it was destroyed during the Great War.


Calvin Fuller, Gerald Pearson and Daryl Chaplin of Bell Laboratories accidentally discovered the use of silicon as a semi-conductor, which led to the construction of a solar panel with an efficiency rate of 6%.


The first commercial solar cell was made available to the public at a very expensive $300 per watt.

1950s – 1960s

Space programs employed solar technologies. In 1958 the Vanguard I was launched. The first satellite to use solar energy.


The Energy Crisis ! (OPEC oil embargo). A bit of solar energy history we are all familiar with. Suddenly it became important to find an alternative form of energy as we realized just how reliant we really are on non-renewable, finite resources like coal, oil and gas for our existence.

Solar energy history was made as the price of solar cells dropped dramatically to about $20 per watt.

1980 – 1991

A Los Angeles based company called Luz Co. produced 95% of the world’s solar-based electricity. They were forced to shut their doors after investors withdrew from the project as the price of non-renewable fossil fuels declined and the future of state and federal incentives was not likely.

The chairman of the board said it best: “The failure of the world’s largest solar electric company was not due to technological or business judgment failures but rather to failures of government regulatory bodies to recognize the economic and environmental benefits of solar thermal generating plants.”


There is a renewed focus as more and more people see the advantages of solar energy and as it becomes more efficient and more affordable.

Governments across the world offer financial assistance and incentives.

Solar electric systems are now used to power many homes, businesses, getaways, and even villages in Africa.

We see solar cells powering anything from household appliances to cars.

Solar power as a movement is gaining popularity among the people as awareness of it’s great benefit to us is being spread.

Solar Energy Facts


General facts

  • Solar Energy production is better for the environment than conventional forms of energy production.
  • Solar energy has many uses other than electricity production. For instance heating of water with solar thermal energy, water treatment through solar distillation and chemical production through solar reaction.
  • Solar energy can be used to heat swimming pools, power cars, power phones, radios and other small appliances.
  • You can cook food with solar energy.
  • Solar Energy is becoming more popular each day. The world demand for Solar Energy is currently greater than the supply.

Facts about Solar Energy usage:

  • Solar Energy is measured in kilowatt-hour. 1 kilowatt = 1000 watts.
  • 1 kilowatt-hour (kWh) = the amount of electricity required to power a 100 watt light bulb for 10 hours.
  • According to the US Department of Energy, an average American household used approximately 888-kilowatt hours per month in 2009 costing them $94.26.
  • About 30% of our total energy consumption is used to heat water.

Facts about Solar Energy systems:

  • A typical home solar system is made up of solar panels, an inverter, a battery, a charge controller, wiring and support structure.
  • A 1-kilowatt home solar system takes about 1-2 days to install and costs around $10,000 USD, but can vary greatly and does not take into account any incentives offered by the government.
  • A 1-kilowatt home solar system consists of about 10-12 solar panels and requires about 100 square feet of installation area.
  • A 1-kilowatt home solar system will generate approximately 1,600 kilowatt hours per year in a sunny climate (receiving 5.5 hours of sunshine per day) and approximately 750 kilowatt hours per year in a cloudy climate (receiving 2.5 hours of sunshine per day).
  • A 1-kilowatt home solar system will prevent approximately 170 lbs. of coal from being burned, 300 lbs of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere and 105 gallons of water from being consumed each month!
  • About 40 solar cells are usually combined into a solar panel and around 10-12 panels mounted in an array facing due North to receive maximum sunlight.
  • An average solar system usually comes with a 5-year warranty, although the solar panels are warranted for 20.
  • Relying on the battery back up, a solar energy system can provide electricity 24×7, even on cloudy days and at night.
  • Solar panels come in various colors.
  • Solar energy can be collected and stored in batteries, reflected, insulated, absorbed and transmitted.

Sun related Facts about Solar Energy:

  • Sunlight travels to the earth in approximately 8 minutes from 93,000,000 miles away, at 671,000,000 miles per hour.
  • Our sun is also the main source of non-renewable fossil fuels (coal, gas and petroleum), their energy was originally converted from sunlight by photosynthesis over millions of years.
  • Solar energy is responsible for weather patterns and ocean currents.
  • Clouds, pollution and wind can prevent the sun’s rays from reaching the earth.
  • The sun accounts for about 99.86% of the total mass of our Solar System.
  • Sunlight on the surface of the Earth is attenuated by the Earth’s atmosphere so we receive only 1,000 watts per square meter of its power in clear conditions.

Other Interesting Facts about Solar Energy:

  • In one hour more sunlight falls on the earth than what is used by the entire population in one year.
  • A world record was set in 1990 when a solar powered aircraft flew 2522 miles across the United States, using no fuel.
  • Fierce weather cost the world a record $130 Billion in the first eleven months of 1998- more money than was lost from weather related disasters from 1980 to 1990 ($82 Billion).
  • Researchers from the Worldwatch Institute and Munich Re blame deforestation and climate change from Earth warming for much of the loss. The previous one-year record was $90 Billion in 1996. Source – Associated Press, November 28,1998.
  • About 2 billion people in the world are currently without electricity.
  • Accounting for only 5 percent of the world’s population, Americans consume 26 percent of the world’s energy.
  • Electric ovens consume the most amount of electricity, followed by microwaves and central air conditioning.
  • Third world countries with an abundance of sunlight and a population currently without electricity, represents the fastest growing market for solar energy, with the largest domestic market being the utilities sector.
  • Shell Oil predicts that 50% of the world’s energy will come from renewable sources by 2040.

World’s Largest Solar Power Project Planned

Gujarat, a state of India, is quite eager to opt for alternative sources of energy. It began as a small dream. The Gujarat government visualized only 500 MW of solar power generation by 2014. But this humble goal may now be increased to 3,000 MW. The Gujarat Government is undertaking a $10 billion project and it will hold the distinction of the world’s largest solar power facility in India. This project will be backed by former U.S. President Bill Clinton. The 3,000oMW project will get help with logistics and financial support from the William J Clinton Foundation. This foundation is a charitable organization founded by the former President. The foundation and the Gujarat government signed a preliminary agreement on Sept. 8, 2009.

Recently a memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed by Mr S. Jagadeesan, Principal Secretary, State Energy Department, and Mr Ira Magaziner, Chairman of the Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI). Jagdeesan stated, “The Clinton Foundation will help us in bringing manufacturers and power generators and also in providing access to international funding at cost-effective interest rates. They are facilitators. We will invest in the infrastructure.” The project would be allotted a 10,000 hectares of land spread across three locations within an area of 150 square kilometers (58 square miles) in Gujarat.

The Clinton Climate Initiative which is a part of the foundation will aid in identifying producers of solar thermal equipment. Jagdeesan said, the manufacturers will be selected in three to four months. The Gujarat government will establish the solar parks in special economic zones. They will focus on in developing manufacturing facilities close to the generation site to cut down prices.

The project would be finished in the time span of five years. Gujarat Government along with CCI will try to arrange cheap funds from multilateral agencies such as the Asian Development Bank. The state government will also try to incorporate hybrid plants in the project that use both solar energy and natural gas to generate power.

When there is sunshine we’ll generate using solar and when the sun is not shining we’ll generate using natural gas,” Jagdeesan said. “Gas is available to us in Gujarat. We will provide gas connectivity.”

The proposed solar energy park will cover an area of approximately 5,000 hectares. The solar site will be in the cities of Banaskantha, Patan, Surendranagar and Kutch. This area is generally an infertile desert land and an ideal site for harnessing solar energy.

In January, the State Government had announced a solar energy policy to harness the potential of the inexhaustible source, and has allotted a capacity of over 700 MW to 34 national and international developers for setting up solar power plants in the State.

According to the MoU signed with the CCI, the State Government would look after identification of land and supply the infrastructure for setting up the solar power plants. It would request national and international developers to set up these plants on chargeable basis for the infrastructure produced. The power made by these installations would be purchased by the State power utilities.

The projected 3,000-plus MW solar power installations would create over 5,200 million units of energy. They will of course help in cutting down carbon-dioxide emission to the extent of 5.2 million tonnes annually. This project is also expected to bring forth employment opportunities for over 20,000 people.

SunCatcher Power System Ready For Commercial Production

Stirling Energy Systems (SES) and Tessera Solar worked together and have come out with their treasured device called SunCatchers(TM). They exhibited their four freshly designed solar power collection dishes at Sandia National Laboratories’ National Solar Thermal Test Facility (NSTTF). SunCatchers are the new dishes that will be utilized on commercial-scale by 2010. Chuck Andraka, who is the lead Sandia project engineer, shares his enthusiasm about SunCatchers, “The four new dishes are the next-generation models of the original SunCatcher system. Six first-generation SunCatchers built over the past several years at the NSTTF have been producing up to 150KW of grid-ready electrical power during the day. Every part of the new system has been upgraded to allow for a high rate of production and cost reduction.”

The basic principle of any energy production is always the same. Here also the basics are what we have read in our school textbooks. The SunCatchers have precision mirrors attached to a parabolic dish to focus the sun’s rays onto a receiver. This receiver transmits the heat to a Stirling engine. The engine is a closed system filled with hydrogen. Here the hydrogen gas heats and cools and we know that with heating and cooling of gases, its pressure rises and falls. This pressure gradient drives the piston inside the engine, producing mechanical power. Now this mechanical power goes into a generator and electricity is produced.

How this new SunCatcher is different from former ones? It is around 5,000 pounds lighter than the original. This SunCatcher is round in shape instead of rectangular. The round shape of the SunCatcher allows for more efficient use of steel. It has improved optics, and consists of 60 percent fewer engine parts. The current design also has fewer mirrors i.e. 40 instead of 80. The mirrors are developed using automobile manufacturing methods. The reflective mirrors are of parabolic shape similar to the hood of a car. These improvements create the obvious effects in the form of high-volume production, price reductions, and easier maintenance.

Steve Cowman, Stirling Energy Systems CEO, says “The new design of the SunCatcher represents more than a decade of innovative engineering and validation testing, making it ready for commercialization. By utilizing the automotive supply chain to manufacture the SunCatcher, we’re leveraging the talents of an industry that has refined high-volume production through an assembly line process. More than 90 percent of the SunCatcher components will be manufactured in North America.”

Sandia’s contribution to this project is rather significant. They have come out with a new device to determine how well the mirrors work in less than 10 seconds. Originally they had to wait for at least one hour to know about the same.

Andraka also points out the environmental advantages of the manufacturing procedure of the SunCatchers, “They have the lowest water use of any thermal electric generating technology, require minimal grading and trenching, require no excavation for foundations, and will not produce greenhouse gas emissions while converting sunlight into electricity.”

First Hybrid Solar Power Station

Weizmann Institute produced a milestone in the field of alternative energy in association with AORA. AORA is a leading Israeli solar energy technology company. It launched the world’s first hybrid solar thermal power station at Kibbutz Samar in southern Israel. During the inaugural launch of the powerhouse, guests from other countries such as Spain, Switzerland, Austria, Chile and Australia were also in attendance. Yehoshua Fried, who is the chief executive officer of the AORA, thanked American investor Meir Reiss and Canadian Director of Corporation and Consultant to Management, Zev Rosenzweig, for trusting in his dream.

Fried had believed in alternative source of energy a long time ago but he was waiting for the right kind of atmosphere to give his dream a concrete shape. Now we can see that concentrating solar power (CPS) stations can supply environmentally-friendly power 24 hours a day. AORA’s station is named as “Power Flower” because of its unique yellow tulip design. This power station is situated in an area of half an acre of land and has thirty tracking mirrors (heliostats).

Each of the thirty heliostats tracks the sun and reflects its rays toward the top of a 30 meter-high tower. This tower contains a special solar receiver along with a 100 kilowatt gas turbine. This receiver utilizes the solar energy to heat air to a temperature of 1,000 degrees Celsius. Now this heat energy is steered into the turbine, which converts the thermal energy into electric power that will be fed directly into the national grid.

The new environmental friendly power station does not use water as steam operated turbines do, and it can be built in several months rather than the years it takes to build other solar power stations. This power station mainly utilizes solar energy, but it can also be run on other alternative fuels, including bio-gas, bio-diesel and natural gas. They obviously act as backup plan. When sunlight is poor at night or on cloudy days the power station would be able to create enough electricity to distribute. This power station has also incorporated the modular system to its biggest advantage. This makes it possible to buy and operate as many 100-kilowatt modules as needed. A great advantage of the module system is that this system can continue its operation even if one or many modules need repair. “The size and relative price of this solar power system means it can be implemented in local as well as large-area installations,” Fried explains.

We can see that until now solar technology development was confined to small units or residences or commercial complexes. But now we can develop hybrid solar power stations to meet our energy needs. Small-scale solar thermal technology will produce 100 kW of on-demand power and 170 kW of thermal power. They are utilizing the gas turbine for improving space and energy efficiency. This will minimize the requirement of mirrors and save space. Yuval Susskin, Chief Operations Officer at AORA has plans to execute his plans in many countries.

AORA is aiming to set up power stations for small, community-sized scale that would be practical and less costly. Susskin shares his views, “There is a chasm in the industry — between massive solar thermal [arrays] in the desert and small photovoltaic in the home because there is nothing that satisfies community-sized scale solar. No one is working on providing solar power to nearby homes.