Oil to solar: Saudi Arabia to become solar power center, says minister

March 3, 2008

Solar Daily, via Agence France-Presse: Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, plans to become an expert in another, cleaner field of energy by investing in solar power, the country’s oil minister said in an interview released Sunday. “For a country like Saudi Arabia … one of the most important sources of energy to look at and to develop is solar energy,” Ali al-Nuaimi told French oil newsletter Petrostrategies. He added: “One of the research efforts that we are going to undertake is to see how we make Saudi Arabia a centre for solar energy research and hopefully over the next 30 to 50 years we will be a major megawatt exporter. In the same way we are an oil exporter, we can also be an exporter of power.”

Saudi Arabia produces more than 10 million barrels of crude oil a day. Nuaimi said that Saudi Arabia was also set to invest in carbon capture and storage programmes to develop technology allowing carbon dioxide to be extracted from the atmosphere and stored underground. “There are a lot of countries that are willing to cooperate with us,” he said.

At a summit in Riyadh last November, Gulf OPEC members pledged 750 million dollars (500 million euros) to a new fund to tackle global warming through financing research for clean technologies, with the emphasis on carbon capture and storage.

Solar Daily, via Agence France-Presse: Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, plans to become an expert in another, cleaner field of energy by investing in solar power, the country’s oil minister said in an interview released Sunday. “For a country like Saudi Arabia … one of the most important sources of energy to look at and to develop is solar energy,” Ali al-Nuaimi told French oil newsletter Petrostrategies. He added: “One of the research efforts that we are going to undertake is to see how we make Saudi Arabia a centre for solar energy research and hopefully over the next 30 to 50 years we will be a major megawatt exporter. In the same way we are an oil exporter, we can also be an exporter of power.”

Saudi Arabia produces more than 10 million barrels of crude oil a day. Nuaimi said that Saudi Arabia was also set to invest in carbon capture and storage programmes to develop technology allowing carbon dioxide to be extracted from the atmosphere and stored underground. “There are a lot of countries that are willing to cooperate with us,” he said.

At a summit in Riyadh last November, Gulf OPEC members pledged 750 million dollars (500 million euros) to a new fund to tackle global warming through financing research for clean technologies, with the emphasis on carbon capture and storage.

Saudi desert from space, NASA, Wikimedia Commons

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Eliminating coal from the electricity equation

March 1, 2008

This caught our eye — but would it work? From Energy Smart: … Very simply, 50% of US electricity comes from coal at this time. This is a serious portion of the overall US carbon load. It is also a major source of mercury and other pollutants worsening our lives. Now, the United States is referred to as the “Saudi Arabia of Coal”. So, how can we eliminate the US dependency on coal-fired electricity while improving the economy and not increasing dependency on foreign energy sources?

The United States’ greatest reserve of energy potential is not our coal, but our wasteful energy use patterns. Inadequate building standards (inadequate insulation, leakage, windows), inefficient appliances/electronics burning up vampire power, McSUVs and McMansions, etc …

Efficiency: The United States can achieve, without any leaps in technology required, a 20+% reduction in current electricity use via energy efficiency even accounting for projected economic growth over this time period. (If the United States becomes quite serious, with a “culture of conservation” joining aggressive efficiency, this is likly a serious understatement of what could be achievable.)

A shift in transport: A large-scale penetration of Plug-in-Electric Vehicles (PHEVs), Electric Vehicles (EVs), and electrification of rail helping to “end our oil addiction”. This would increase electricity use, perhaps in the range of 5%. A where are we moment. This 5% increase would mean a net 15% reduction from today’s electricity or 30% reduction in coal-fired electricity.

Combined-Heat-Power (CHP): One of the interesting challenges before us/US are all of the regulatory and such barriers that need to be changed so that “making the right choice is the easy and preferred choice” when it comes to energy issues. One of those obstacles are the obstacles that ’small’/’medium’ producers can face in selling to the grid. Many industries require significant amounts of heat. The energy burned for heat could be making electricity as well as that heat. But, other than it ‘not being how business has always been done’, selling excess electricity (and moving it around) isn’t necessarily easy. If we could change this non-technological barrier, these “heat” requirements could be combined with electricity generation (not just in industry, but in many large institutions related to, for example, their hot water heating). With sensible regulatory change, CHP could provide 5% of today’s electricity (low-end of potential). That 5% puts US to a 40% reduction of today’s coal power.

Renewable Power: Okay, it is time to take renewable power seriously. Very seriously. Wind Power is growing at 25+% per year. Solar is 40% and, from the contracts going out, actually looks to be accelerating. Ocean systems are emerging. And, there are some bright prospects for Geothermal.

Wind power penetration: 15+% penetration, now at a minimum of 70% elimination of today’s coal-fired electricity

Biomass/waste electricity: 10+% of today’s electricity, now at 90% elimination of coal.

Solar (PV, CSP, hot water (displacing electric water heaters)); Ocean (tidal, current, wave power); Geothermal; other …: 10+% of today’s electrical demand, now at 110% of today’s coal-fired electricity…..

Image of coal from US Geological Survey and Mineral Information Institute, Wikimedia Commons


BP may sell off green energy interests

March 1, 2008

This Is Money (UK): BP today indicated it could put its $7bn wind and solar energy businesses up for sale. In a startling volte-face from the ‘Beyond Petroleum’ future envisaged by his predecessor Lord Browne, chief executive Tony Hayward today signalled green energy will no longer be a BP priority.

In a long-awaited strategy statement – in which unambitious oil production targets sent shares in the company falling, down 8½p at 558p – Hayward put a price on its alternative energy businesses and strongly hinted that investors are invited to come and take a look.

‘We intend to grow this business predominantly for its equity value,’ said Hayward. ‘Taking stock-market valuations for similar companies, we estimate it is already worth between $5bn and $7bn. As we go forward we will be looking at how best we can realise that growing value for shareholders.’

Analysts said BP’s options on the business range from an outright sell, through inviting co-investors to help fund the business into the future, to a spinoff via a stock-market flotation in which it may or may not keep a stake. The business could also be broken up, as Vivienne Cox, BP’s alternative energy boss, who was demoted in a Hayward reshuffle last year, broke down the valuations of the alternative energy segments.

BP’s solar business, which is active in the US, Australia, Spain and Germany, is currently producing 800 megawatts of electricity – the output of a medium-sized traditional power station. But with over 160 installations and the rush on investment worldwide in the sector in recent months, Cox has set a value of between $2.1bn and $3.9bn.

BP’s less-developed wind business is worth between $1.8bn and $2.1bn, said Cox. BP has done little in the UK, but has a land bank which it says could produce 15,000 megawatts of electricityin Europe, India, China and in the US (at one of America’s largest wind farms, in Colorado).

Other businesses under Cox’s wing include the development of hydrogen fuel cells and gas-fired power stations, including a BP site on the south coast, and they could be worth another $1bn. The decision was seen as a further attack on the legacy of Browne, who Hayward replaced last May after the peer was forced to resign in a perjury scandal.

In 2000, to some derision, Browne replaced the longstanding BP shield with the company’s current floral motif. In an attempt to emphasise BP’s green credentials, he said BP could in future stand for Beyond Petroleum. By 2005, Browne ordered the formation of BP Alternative Energy and gave the brief to Cox.Since then BP has invested $1.5bn in green energy projects.


Solar poised to heat up

February 29, 2008

Environmental Research Web: The projected global market for photovoltaic solar energy in 2012 is 11 GW, compared to 2.3 GW in 2007. That’s according to Winfried Hoffmann, president of the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) and chief technology officer of Applied Materials’ Solar Business Group. Hoffmann was speaking at the EPIA’s 2nd International Conference on Solar Photovoltaic Investments held in Frankfurt, Germany, on 19 and 20 February.

Grid-connected systems will make up a large part of this market, with Germany, the US and Spain leading the way. The EPIA’s projections assume that adequate public policies are put in place or consolidated. “Public support will be required until solar photovoltaic electricity reaches grid parity by becoming cost competitive with retail electricity prices, firstly in more sunny countries such as Italy or Spain and progressively throughout Europe by 2020,” said Hoffmann.

In 2010, the EPIA predicts that production capacities will be 18 to 20 GW, with thin film products taking about a 20% share. While silicon-based systems have higher efficiencies – at 12 to 21% – and so can output more power per square metre, thin film products, which are up to 10% efficient, are less expensive per peak watt.

“The main bottleneck in the development of silicon-based products in recent years has been a shortage of raw material,” says the EPIA. “Nevertheless, many new players have entered this market and new production plants are being set up. Therefore its availability is increasing and supply should meet demand from 2009 onwards.”

In 2007, for the first time more silicon was assigned to the solar industry than to the semiconductor industry. “This temporary situation of shortage has lead many companies to invest in other technologies such as thin-film or to increase the supply of raw material,” says the EPIA.

This image shows the Sun as viewed by the Soft X-Ray Telescope (SXT) onboard the orbiting Yohkoh satellite, NASA Goddard Laboratory for Atmospheres, Wikimedia Commons


New NanoMarkets report projects printed electronics market will reach $30.1 billion in 2015

February 27, 2008

PRNewswire: Markets for displays, signage, lighting, RFID tags, sensors, solar panels, batteries and other products manufactured using printing technology will reach $30.1 billion by 2015 according to a new report from NanoMarkets. The report, Printable Electronics Market Outlook: An Applications-Based Assessment, notes the progress that the printed electronics industry has made in the last few years and goes on to project which printed electronics applications will generate the most revenues in the next seven years. Details about this report are available at http://www.nanomarkets.net. Key points from this report:

— Printed electronics products are now in full-scale production. E-paper displays and RFID antennas are being routinely printed and such products are expected to generate $5.6 and $12.6 billion in revenues respectively by 2015. E-paper, in particular, has emerged as something of a killer application for printed electronics, demonstrating that printing technology can produce complex electronics products that can generate real revenue. NanoMarkets analysts also expect that as improved manufacturing equipment and materials become available further product opportunities will emerge.

— Printing also seems certain to have a major role in the manufacturing of next-generation photovoltaics with novel CIGS and nanoparticle inks being used to create low-cost, high efficiency solar panels on flexible substrates. Projected sales for printed solar panels will reach $2.5 billion by 2015. Printed electronics will also make a contribution to energy savings through printed OLED lighting, an emerging cost effective approach to solid state illumination. This type of lighting is expected to reach $1.7 billion in sales by 2015.

— Printing is no longer viewed as a wholesale fabrication technology. Instead, it is increasingly seen as an essential tool for manufacturing the new generation of flexible and large area electronics products. As products move from the lab to the fab, manufacturers are combining fabrication technologies, printing certain layers while using more conventional, sputtering, deposition and even optical lithography approaches on other layers.


Harvesting wind far from shore

February 27, 2008

Ecogeek: …A Norwegian company called Sway is developing a deepwater system that will allow turbines to be situated farther out to sea where winds can be steadier and stronger, and where the turbines are hidden from all save a few passing ships. “The SWAY® system is a floating foundation capable of supporting a 5MW wind turbine in water depths from 80m to more than 300m in some of the world’s roughest offshore locations.” This could allow wind farms to be farther off shore where they would be out of sight.

Off-shore wind turbines have needed to be situated in relatively shallow waters to be able to have sufficient footings to anchor and support them. This new deep-water turbine uses a floating tower to support the turbine, and is anchored to the sea bed with a single tension rod. Because the turbine body floats itself, the rod only needs to help the structure resist the forces of wind and waves, but does not need to support the entire structure.

The SWAY concept, which is covered by several patents, is based on a floating elongated pole extending far below the water surface with ballast at the bottom part. Since the center of gravity in this manner is placed far below the center of buoyancy the tower has sufficient stability to resist the large loads and weight from the wind turbine placed on top of the tower.

The more compelling part of the Sway system is that it keeps the tower upright against the wind forces that would otherwise overturn it. (The wind pressure on the rotor for a 5MW turbine is approximately 60 tons.) The Sway tower maintains a nearly vertical configuration, and only tilts less than 1 degree from its equilibrium position in storm conditions so as not to lose power.

There is some added cost in situating these turbines further from shore and from the end energy users. But the tradeoff with political acceptability and availability of wind may make these turbines more than useful for providing wind power. Sway wind-power towers could also be used near off-shore oil and gas rigs, and provide clean power for their operation, instead of the diesel generators these platforms utilize presently.

Diagram from Sway’s website


Nickel oxide coating greatly improves solar cell performance

February 26, 2008

Solar Daily reports on some potentially significant photovoltaic research: …A team of Northwestern University researchers has developed a new anode coating strategy that significantly enhances the efficiency of solar energy power conversion. A paper about the work, which focuses on “engineering” organic material-electrode interfaces in bulk-heterojunction organic solar cells, is published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

This breakthrough in solar energy conversion promises to bring researchers and developers worldwide closer to the goal of producing cheaper, more manufacturable and more easily implemented solar cells. Such technology would greatly reduce our dependence on burning fossil fuels for electricity production as well as reduce the combustion product: carbon dioxide, a global warming greenhouse gas.

Tobin J. Marks, the Vladimir N. Ipatieff Research Professor in Chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and professor of materials science and engineering, and Robert Chang, professor of materials science and engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, led the research team. Other Northwestern team members were researcher Bruce Buchholz and graduate students Michael D. Irwin and Alexander W. Hains.

….The Northwestern researchers employed a laser deposition technique that coats the anode with a very thin (5 to 10 nanometers thick) and smooth layer of nickel oxide. This material is an excellent conductor for extracting holes from the irradiated cell but, equally important, is an efficient “blocker” which prevents misdirected electrons from straying to the “wrong” electrode (the anode), which would compromise the cell energy conversion efficiency.

In contrast to earlier approaches for anode coating, the Northwestern nickel oxide coating is cheap, electrically homogeneous and non-corrosive. In the case of model bulk-heterojunction cells, the Northwestern team has increased the cell voltage by approximately 40 percent and the power conversion efficiency from approximately 3 to 4 percent to 5.2 to 5.6 percent.

The researchers currently are working on further tuning the anode coating technique for increased hole extraction and electron blocking efficiency and moving to production-scaling experiments on flexible substrates.

Electron shell illustration of nickel atom, “Pumbaa,” Wikimedia Commons