News Article | September 12, 2016
Remember what happened with computer chips in the 80s? It seemed then like they got faster and cheaper every week. Breakthroughs were reported with dizzying regularity. Something similar is happening with solar cells and panels. Just last week, MIT and Masdar Institute announced they had created a new solar cell that was 35% efficient and less expensive than other high-efficiency cells. A few days ago, a team at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) claimed it has beaten the MIT/Masdar achievement by creating a solar cell that is 36.4% efficient. That number is approximately double that of the typical solar cell used in residential solar panels today, and more efficient than anything except triple-junction and four-junction solar cells. In design, the individual calls resemble the ultra-expensive cells used in space applications. The new solar cell is currently being tested in a lab environment. As we know, getting new technology out of the lab and into commercial production is a process fraught with pitfalls and setbacks, so we’ll have to see where this one lands. A prototype has been tested by the Fraunhofer Institute, an independent lab based in Germany. That’s where the 36.4% energy conversion rate was verified. A new company called Insolight is planning to use the new cells to make high efficiency solar panels that can compete with existing residential solar arrays. The key to the Insolight cell is a thin, transparent plastic concentrator that goes over the cell and acts like a lens to focus solar energy onto the relatively tiny but super-high-performance solar cells. “It’s like a shower,” says Insolight CEO Laurent Coulot. “All the water goes down one small drain. There’s no need for the drain to cover the entire floor of the shower.” Because of the concentrator, the Insolight panels can use fewer cells per panel, which helps keep costs down. The concentrator also allows the cells to track the sun during the day, optimizing the capture of solar energy. Insolight, co-founded by Laurent Coulot and Florian Gerlich, chose to base its work on existing technology. Insolight panels use standard mounting systems, which lowers system costs when compared to the proprietary rack systems required by some advance solar panel designs. They offer the best of both worlds — the high efficiency of expensive solar cells and the cost of conventional units. This is an exciting time in the history of solar power. Today’s panels are already 10 times cheaper and more efficient than they were a decade ago. With every breakthrough, the economics in favor of renewable energy get more compelling and the case for fossil fuels becomes harder and harder to make. Drive an electric car? Complete one of our short surveys for our next electric car report. Keep up to date with all the hottest cleantech news by subscribing to our (free) cleantech newsletter, or keep an eye on sector-specific news by getting our (also free) solar energy newsletter, electric vehicle newsletter, or wind energy newsletter.
Below are the key takeaways from the week in solar, grid edge, energy storage, and other energy news. 1 Irked Installer This week SolarCity was barred from participating in Nevada utility commission dockets on net metering. SolarCity argued it represents the state's 32,000 existing solar customers and therefore should be part of the discussion. The public utilities commissioner disagreed, however. (story) Amendment 4 The ballot initiative passed this week in Florida that will exempt solar projects on commercial and industrial properties from both the state's tangible personal property tax and the ad valorem real estate taxes. (story) $150 Million The price GCL-Poly, a Chinese firm that produces solar polysilicon and wafers, paid to purchase SunEdison's high-efficiency monocrystalline silicon wafer business, a business unit once valued in the billions of dollars. (story) $20 Million The series C funding round for off-grid solar startup Bboxx, which currently has 36 retail outlets in the two East African countries. French energy giant, Engie, lead the investment round. (story) $6.8 Billion The value of the proposed Pepco Holdings-Exelon merger. This week, Julia Pyper provides an autopsy of the campaign against the merger that was orchestrated by a small group of advocates. (story) 33 Million Advanced Meters The number that Enel plans to deploy across Italy by 2020. Enel announced this month that it will also start to build out a 600-mile fiber-optic network in Venice this fall, with its sights set on eventually bringing fiber to 220 cities across the country. (story) 23 Million Customers The number in Europe served by utility RWE Electric. This week, RWE acquired grid-scale solar and storage provider Belectric to help expand its revenue streams beyond the traditional production and sale of electricity. (story) $299 The price of a new home energy aggregation device from Massachusetts-based startup Sense. The device promises to sample energy data 1 million times per second, and then convert that data into granular information about what’s on and off in the home for consumers. (story) 4.3 Gigawatts The forecasted microgrid capacity in the U.S. by 2020, according to a new report from GTM Research. (story) Jeff St. John examined the report's findings in depth this week as only he can. (story) 1991 The year Sony released its first commercially available lithium-ion batteries. Sony is now exiting the battery business, having sold its technology to Murata Manufacturing. This week, Julian Spector considers why early adopters of lithium-ion manufacturing are exiting the market. (story) 201 Megawatts The capacity of projects that won U.K. National Grid's first-ever enhanced frequency response tenders. Eight different vendors were awarded tenders as part of the program. (story) €40 to €200 per Megawatt-Hour The estimated levelized cost of energy for a new underwater pumped hydro storage system being developed by Germany's Fraunhofer Institute. (story) Wind XI The name of MidAmerican Energy's 2-gigawatt wind project to be built in Iowa. The project was approved by the Iowa Utilities Board this week, and when it fully comes on-line in 2019, it will be the largest wind project in the U.S. (story) 3.2 Gigawatts The capacity of the proposed Hinkley Point C nuclear plant in Britain. Last month officials pulled back on approving the project, with reports that the government is now looking for ways to shut it down. This week, Jason Deign asks whether solar thermal can help replace the nuclear capacity if the Hinkley Point C project does not get approved. (story)
« Siemens and Valeo to form joint venture in high-voltage electric powertrains | Main | Outokumpu and Fraunhofer Institute develop lightweight stainless steel battery pack for EVs; up to 20% weight reduction » The all-new Buick LaCrosse Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV) made its global debut at the 2016 Buick Day event in Shanghai, where the award-winning Buick Avista concept was also shown for the first time in China. Both models will be appearing on the Buick stand at Auto China 2016 in Beijing, which begins on 25 April. A major component of SAIC-GM’s Drive to Green strategy, the LaCrosse HEV adopts the same design language and technological advances as the recently introduced all-new LaCrosse. The advanced hybrid powertrain is basically the same as that used in the 2016 Malibu Hybrid, with the exception of some minor calibration and final drive ratio changes to better suit local and segment preferences. (Earlier post.) GM’s leadership in electrification technologies, now and in the future, are coming to Buick in China. In fact, over the next five years, we will roll out more than 10 new energy vehicles in China, including several models for Buick. That includes full hybrids, plug-in hybrids and extended-range electric vehicles. The LaCrosse HEV is powered by a 1.8L SIDI engine that is paired with an electric variable transmission and a 1.5-kWh high-performance lithium battery unit. It features numerous advanced technologies such as an electronic climate control compressor, electronic power steering, exhaust thermal energy recycling, and active grille open and close that maximize its efficiency. The LaCrosse HEV offers comprehensive fuel economy of 4.7 L/100 km. This represents a 35% decrease in fuel consumption from the LaCrosse with eAssist that is powered by a smart hybrid powertrain. The LaCrosse HEV accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in 8.9 seconds. SAIC-GM also released the all-new “Buick Blue” logo for the brand’s green product lineup at Buick Brand Day. The introduction of the LaCrosse HEV and “Buick Blue” logo represents Buick’s focus on upgrading its conventional powertrains and promoting green technologies.
The biggest prize will be rich, heavily industrialised Baden-Württemberg, Germany's third-most-populous state with close to 11 million inhabitants. The state is somewhat of an anomaly. In 2011 elections, just weeks after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the Green Party swept to power there in a political earthquake mainly caused by nuclear Angst, bringing Germany its first Green premier, Winfried Kretschmann. But what looked like a one-off could firmly establish the strongly pro-renewables Greens as the dominant force in the southwestern state that for decades had been a stronghold of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU). Thanks to the immense popularity of Kretschmann, the Greens have been leading in all opinion polls this month, with 32-33.5% of voter preferences, while the formerly much bigger CDU can expect to get 28-30%. It would be the first time the Greens have become the strongest party in a state election. The Social Democrats (SPD) - which five years ago had only slightly fewer votes than the Greens and are their junior coalition partner in the state - are now looking at a disastrous 13-16% of the vote, while the anti-refugee Alternative for Germany (AfD) party is expected to enter the state parliament for the first time with 11-13%. The Free Democrats (FDP), which still haven't shaken off their pro-nuclear stand entirely, but which count former Fraunhofer ISE head Eicke Weber as a candidate, can also hope to enter parliament. If opinion polls are right, Kretschmann can either continue his coalition with the Social Democrats or try a coalition with the CDU, to which he has warmed up in recent years. During his term in office, the premier has pushed for a pro-renewables overhaul in policy at utility EnBW, which is owned by the state and some of its municipalities. EnBW, despite struggling from the burden of having to pay for the nuclear exit and declining profit margins at its fossil generation, has advanced faster than other utilities in embracing green power and making a profit from it. The utility, despite being headquartered in the inland state, has become a major investor in offshore wind, and today it handed a consortium led by Engie unit Cofely Fabricom a contract for the substation at its 497MW Hohe See project in the North Sea. Onshore, moderate-wind Baden-Württemberg, with 144MW added last year, is still a laggard among the states, but wind expansion at least is picking up after a dismal 21MW was added in 2014. The government says it first had to reform zoning rules that had previously impeded the build-up of onshore wind, and it expects expansion to gain pace now. In any case, Baden-Württemberg's policy is in stark contrast to that of neighbouring Bavaria, another southern industrial powerhouse, where the conservative government has gone out of its way to put stones in the way of the energy transition, with, among other things, a distance rule for onshore wind that has killed off almost all new projects. In the Bundesrat, Germany's upper house that represents the states, Kretschmann has been vociferous in defending renewables and trying to stop the CDU-SPD federal government from slashing support for renewables too much. Elections will also be held on Sunday in Rhineland-Palatinate (four million people) and Sachsen-Anhalt (2.2 million people). In those states the Green party is expecting losses, as it lacks a popular leader like Kretschmann. In Rhineland-Palatinate the CDU is in a tight race with the SPD, which has run the state with the Greens as its junior partner. In the eastern state of Sachsen-Anhalt, the CDU is in the lead, but the right-wing populist AfD may come in second. If the AfD performs strongly in all three states, pressure for Merkel to change her pro-immigrant stand will grow; some in the CDU may even call for her to step down. The importance of these state elections goes way beyond the regional level and may show a dramatic shake-up of Germany's party system.
(Reuters) - Silicon Valley’s hoodie-wearing tech entrepreneurs are the poster kids of innovation. But the innovators who are really changing the world are more likely to wear labcoats and hold government-related jobs in Grenoble, Munich or Tokyo. That's the conclusion of Reuters’ Top 25 Global Innovators – Government, a list that identifies and ranks the publicly funded institutions doing the most to advance science and technology. Topping the list is France's Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), for its research into areas including renewable power, public health, and information security. Rounding out the top three: Germany’s Fraunhofer Society and Japan’s Science and Technology Agency. On a country-by-country basis, the United States leads the list, with six organizations ranked (France and Japan each have four, and Germany has three). The Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) is the top U.S. finisher, placing fourth. The rankings were compiled by the Intellectual Property & Science division of Thomson Reuters, which used proprietary data and analysis tools to examine patents and research papers from the past eight years to find the governmental organizations most likely to change the world. A separate ranking of similar data from universities was published last year. (Reuters.com/most-innovative-universities) It took a government agency to put a man on the moon, and even in the age of the Internet, governments are still moving science and technology forward. They do pure research that private companies often find it hard to justify and afford, and make discoveries that launch entire industries: publicly funded organizations split the atom, invented the Internet, and mapped the human genome. There are 16,000 technicians, engineers and researchers in 10 government-run centers throughout France working on the next great innovation. They’re all a part of CEA, a public research institution specializing in nuclear and renewable energies, defense and security, as well as information and health technologies. Established by General Charles de Gaulle at the end of World War II, the organization represents France in the nuclear sector, promoting safe and responsible use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. CEA ranks first among government research institutes in part because its researchers apply for and receive significantly more patents than most government organizations - an indication that their research has strong potential for commercial value. Those patents are also frequently cited by outside researchers, showing that CEA has a big impact on R&D efforts at other organizations. CEA receives the majority of its funding from the French government, and works closely with national agencies on projects ranging from building nuclear-powered naval vessels to improving the nation's cybersecurity. But it also has more than 500 industrial partners, and its research has led to the creation of 115 spinoff companies since 2000, including Paris-based biopharmaceutical company Theranexus, which is working on advanced treatments for psychiatric disorders. The second most innovative institution on the Top 25 Global Innovators – Government list also focuses on developing technology that can help fuel private industry. Germany’s Fraunhofer Society is Europe's largest applied research institution, with 24,000 staff members in 67 institutes and research units. Public sector funds account for only about a third of its annual budget; most of the Society's research is funded by contracts with industry. European institutions account for nine out of 25 ranked institutions, more than any other continent. Asia comes in second with eight institutions, including third-place finisher the Japan Science & Technology Agency, or JST. An independent administrative institution under the government's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, it works primarily with academia, industry and other international research institutions. Three JST scientists won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2014 for inventing efficient blue-light-emitting diodes, which have enabled bright, energy-saving white-light sources. HHS, the top-ranked government innovator in the U.S., is a cabinet-level department of the federal government tasked with protecting the health of American citizens. Although primarily known as a regulatory and service agency, the department's 11 operating divisions include some of the nation's most active centers of scientific research, including the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Food and Drug Administration. (Patents filed by these institutions list the name of their parent agency, so for the purposes of this list, Thomson Reuters ranked HHS instead of its subsidiaries.) Also on the list: The United States Navy and the United States Army. Like HHS, these military service organizations aren’t best known for science, but they perform a wide range of basic and applied research in pursuit of their mission. More than 60 researchers have won a Nobel Prize for work funded by the Office of Naval Research since it was established in 1946. The United States Army Laboratory, established in 1992, has developed products such as advanced coatings to shield vehicles from chemical warfare, which are now used to protect monuments, sculptures and artworks. To compile the ranking, the IP & Science division of Thomson Reuters began by identifying more than 500 global organizations - including universities, nonprofit charities, and government-funded institutions - that published the most articles in academic journals. Then they identified the total number of patents filed by each organization and evaluated each candidate on factors including how many patents it filed, how often those applications were granted, how many patents were filed to global patent offices in addition to local authorities and how often the patents were cited by other patents. Candidates were also evaluated in terms of the number of articles published by researchers in academic journals, how often those papers were cited by patents and how many articles featured a co-author from industry. Finally, they trimmed the list so that it only included government-run or funded organizations, and then ranked them based on their performance. (Full methodology: Reuters.com/global-innovators-government/methodology.)