Entries in Solar Power (6)


Solar-Powered Cellphone Charging Stations Invade NYC

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- New Yorkers are currently adjusting to a spate of new amenities, such as Wi-Fi-enabled subway stations and a bike share program that residents in other cities have enjoyed for some time.

But new to the Big Apple this week, or anywhere else for that matter, are free cellphone charging stations in popular public places. The cool part? They’re solar powered and can charge a phone as fast as any wall outlet.

The portable chargers were purchased by AT&T and installed with the help of the city for a pilot initiative called Street Charge. According to Joe Atkin, CEO of Goal Zero, the solar innovation company that made the charger platforms with the Brooklyn design firm Pensa, Street Charge stations are in seven locations, including Central Park, Madison Square Park and Coney Island, and will soon expand to 25 locations across all five boroughs.

“We’re doing this pilot run through the fall,” Atkin said, “and we hope by that time it’s deemed successful.” If it is, Atkin hopes to roll out Street Charge across the U.S.

The Street Charge platform looks like a high-tech palm tree, with three long solar panels protruding from the top of a long metallic stem. Each platform has three charging stations and can connect with iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, micro-USB and USB devices.

Atkin first struck upon the idea of a portable, solar-powered energy source when Goal Zero was doing research in New York City after superstorm Sandy.

“We saw that so many people were left without power,” he explained, “and it gave rise to some innovation of how can we bring power to people in remote locations. And really, solar and portable battery systems are one of the best alternatives.”

Goal Zero heard that Pensa was designing the Street Charge platforms and asked if it could help. Pensa’s response, according to Atkin: “Yeah, how about build it?”

Mark Prommel, Pensa’s design director, said there was a dearth of options in between a folding panel on the side of a backpack and a hefty panel on top of a house: “There was a hole for something that was a simple and elegant solution that could be put in these different environments and feel comfortable there.”

Goal Zero contributed the battery systems and solar panels and, with the help of AT&T, brought it to market.

Why did they select New York City first?

“If you can make it New York, you can make it anywhere,” said Neil Giacobbi, AT&T’s New York public affairs director.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Five Tips for Homeowners Considering Solar Energy Systems

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Don't be fooled by high-profile solar U.S. companies going out of business. Solar system installations are booming and can still help you save on your heating or cooling costs.

The U.S. solar industry had its second-best quarter in history and is expected to install as much solar power in 2012 as the 10 years before 2010, the Solar Energy Industries Association reported Monday.

The industry installed 772 megawatts of solar electric capacity in the second quarter of this year, an increase of 125 percent over the same period last year.

Monique Hanis, spokeswoman for Solar Energy Industries Association, which represents 1,100 companies focused on expanding the U.S. market, said there are about 5,600 U.S. companies -- mostly small businesses -- in all 50 states that provide solar systems across.

This week, the industry is meeting in Orlando, Fla., for the Solar Energy Industries Association annual Solar Power International convention.

Solar system costs have come down dramatically over last few years -- 30 percent since last year -- in part because of the stiff global solar competition, she said.

According to research from the Solar Energy Industries Association, the average price in the second quarter for purchasing solar panels outright was $32,400 for an average-sized system.

Solar water heating systems cost $4,000 to $10,000 depending on the size and technology options.

Third-party financing programs, in major state markets like California, Arizona and Colorado, account for more than 70 percent of total 2012 installations.

Some states offer cash-back programs for installing solar systems on your home or business.  The rebates vary on territory, system size and can be based on performance over the course of five years on a fixed dollar per kilowatt-hour basis.  For residential properties, this can range from 3 cents to 30 cents per kilowatt-hour.

If you lease a solar system, you are locking in a certain rate that you are paying for your power generated by that solar system for 10 years or more.  That rate should be better than what you are currently paying for your electric bill.

Here are five tips if you are considering purchasing a solar system:

1. If you get at least five hours of unobstructed sunlight on your roof expanse each day and have high electricity rates you could be a good candidate for going solar, said Hanis.

2. There are two options for consumers: solar PV, or photovoltaic, and solar water heating.  Solar water heating is a popular choice for pool heating and the payback is often in the first couple years, Hanis said.  Consumer Reports tested solar water heaters in October 2010 and found none saved more than 32 percent over standard electric heaters.

3. Hanis said that consumers should request proposals from at least three contractors like for any home improvement project.  They should also check references and read contracts.

4. If you lease a solar system instead of paying for permanent installation, Hanis said consumers can often breakeven on the first day if there are fewer upfront costs to the installation.  However, consumers are often locked in for 10 years or more in the lease contract.

5. If you think you may sell your home, there may be components in the contract that allow you to transfer the lease to the new owners or to buy out the system that you were previously leasing.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Los Angeles County Approves Construction of a Massive Solar Site

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- After resolving a code conflict dealing with certification and health and safety requirements, the public works department, First Solar Inc. has restarted their August 2011 construction of a solar power plant according the LA Times.

The construction will be hiring up to 400 workers, and the site will be located in the northern part of the county on a 2,100-acre property previously used for agriculture.

The 230-megawatt power plant will hopefully provide 75,000 homes with electricity when they are set to open in 2013.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


‘Absolute Black’ Solar Panels Absorb Almost All Sunlight

Natcore Technology, Inc.(NEW YORK) -- Solar panels are an environmentalist’s dream; they harness limitless electricity from the sun with no air pollution or carbon dioxide emissions.  But they’ve had a hard time competing with coal, natural gas, oil and other sources of energy.  So can that change?

A company called Natcore Technology says it may be on to something.  It reports it has developed “absolute black” silicon wafers for solar panels that will absorb 99.7 percent of the visible light falling on them.  The most efficient solar panels devised up to now have been able to absorb 96 percent.  In a business where every photon counts, Natcore said the difference could be important.

“One of the ways this matters,” said Chuck Provini, the company’s CEO, “is that there isn’t a whole lot of difference between the electricity you get on a sunny day versus a cloudy day.  Diffused light won’t matter that much.”

The new panels, Provini said, will be safer to produce and help drive down the price of solar energy.

“Black silicon will improve power output and reduce cost -- the two things that matter most,” he said.

“Solar has changed a lot in the last few years,” said Monique Hanis of the Solar Energy Industries Association in an email.  “As of 2011, there are 100,000 Americans working in solar [according to The Solar Foundation's 2011 Jobs Census] at 5,600 companies across all 50 states, including many small business.  Solar installations doubled in 2011 and there are enough projects in the pipeline to power two million households.”

Solar power remains a small part of the nation’s energy mix, but high oil prices give it new visibility.  Natcore hopes to be making solar panels from its new wafers in four to six weeks.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Pleading the Fifth: Solyndra Execs Stonewall Congress

David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The two top executives of the bankrupt solar power company Solyndra sat stone-faced before a Congressional committee Friday and invoked their Fifth Amendment rights, rather than explain how they blew through $535 million in taxpayer money.

"Let me just warn you and the other folks involved in this taxpayer rip-off," Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) told the Solyndra executives.  "We're not done.  No we're not."

The decision of Solyndra CEO Brian Harrison and Chief Financial Officer W. G. Stover to repeatedly refuse to answer questions about Solyndra's Energy Department loan guarantee was the latest twist in an unfolding investigation into the failure of the California solar panel manufacturer, which just one year earlier had been touted as a model of President Obama's green jobs program.

The Obama administration had selected Solyndra as the first to receive a loan under a program designed to provide government support to companies that would create jobs while generating energy from cleaner sources, such as solar, wind and nuclear.  President Obama personally visited the Solyndra complex, hailing it as a leader in this emerging field.

In August, though, Solyndra abruptly shut its doors, laying off 1,100 workers.  And within days it declared bankruptcy. Friday's hearing was the second in two weeks by the House Energy and Commerce Committee's investigative subcommittee, intending to unwind the deal and understand how signs of Solyndra's financial trouble had been overlooked by the Department of Energy.

"I want to ask Mr. Harrison if he thinks the American people who invested over a half a billion dollars deserve to know what happened to that money?" Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) asked the two executives.  Both declined to answer, invoking their Fifth Amendment rights.

"I don't understand what's self-incriminating about a yes or no answer to whether the American people deserve to know what happened to over a half a billion dollars of their money," Barton said.

For just over an hour, the two men continued to remain mum.

Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) appeared annoyed, asking the men to explain their "plan to pay back the taxpayers $535 million you owe them."

"And when will you pay them back? Mr. Harrison?" he pressed to no reply.

Democrats said they, too, were puzzled by the silence of executives who just months earlier had sent a memo to Congress describing the company as "ramping" up its production, "competitive" with foreign rivals, and "on track" to hit its financial targets for the year.

The document obtained by ABC News, entitled "Exceeding Expectations: Solyndra Today," appears to have grossly distorted the company's actual financial standing.  Since Solyndra sent the document to Congress on June 23, followed by a mid-July letter and personal visit making more claims about its financial strength, the company has not only declared bankruptcy, it has been raided by the FBI.

"When Mr. Harrison was in my office in July he said that Solyndra's future was bright, with sales and production booming," said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).  "I 'd like to know why he told me that in July and then filed for bankruptcy one month later.  Unfortunately I will not get an answer today."

Earlier this week, a Solyndra spokesperson said in a statement that both Harrison and Stover would be "unable to provide substantive answers to the Subcommittee's questions," and said that "present circumstances require both gentlemen to exercise their Fifth Amendment rights."

The statement added that Solyndra is unaware of any wrongdoing by company officials related to the loan guarantee "or otherwise," and is cooperating with federal investigators.  "The company believes that the record will establish that Solyndra carefully followed the rules of the competitive application process, starting in December 2006 under the Bush administration and continuing under the Obama administration."

The subcommittee's investigation into the massive federal loan to Solyndra had already been underway for months.  In March, ABC News, in partnership with the Center for Public Integrity's iWatch News, began reporting on simmering questions about the role political influence may have played in Solyndra's selection as the Obama administration's first loan guarantee recipient.

Damien LaVera, an Energy Department spokesman, has told ABC News that politics never entered the decision to grant the loan, or restructure it earlier this year.  LaVera said the department decided it was worth trying to redo the terms to try and salvage the government's initial investment.

"[P]olitical or optical considerations took a backseat to putting the company and its workers in a better position to succeed and repay the loan," he said.

On Wednesday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee escalated its inquiry into the deal by seeking information from Solyndra's prime investors -- including Oklahoma oil billionaire George Kaiser, a bundler of campaign contributions to the president in 2008.

That quest for information could shift the spotlight from DOE to the big money players behind Solyndra: Kaiser's Argonaut Private Equity, and another group, Madrone Capital Partners.  Madrone is affiliated with the Walton family, founders and WalMart and major Republican donors. Kaiser and other investors get to recoup the $75 million they invested earlier this year before the U.S. government recoups taxpayer money in Solyndra's bankruptcy proceedings.

The House committee said it sent letters to Argonaut and Madrone seeking documents on the $535 million loan guarantee, the investors' $75 million financing this year -- and any communications with the Obama administration, including telephone calls between the White House and companies.  Kaiser has not responded to interview requests from iWatch News and ABC News since March.

The June memo and July letter both appeared to be efforts to counter claims that the company was in financial trouble, saying they were providing "the most accurate and up-to-date information."

The letter, signed by Solyndra CEO Brian Harrison, said, among other things, that the company had just completed a "record quarter for shipments," and that it was using "American innovation and ingenuity to compete on the global solar market."  Later, Solyndra would blame competition from China for its downfall.  Solyndra declared bankruptcy on Aug. 31.

Congressional investigators have also released a copy of a Sept. 10, 2011 email from an attorney for Solyndra to staff of the House Energy and Commerce Committee stating that the company's CEO "will appear voluntarily and answer the Committee's questions on any day the Committee chooses."

Just days later, an attorney for Harrison, the Solyndra CEO, wrote back to say his client would not answer any questions from the committee, and planned to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights when he appears before the committee Friday.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Solar Power Company Plans Giant Tower in Arizona

Courtesy EnviroMission(PHOENIX) -- In the desert of western Arizona, a power company proposes to build the world's tallest chimney -- a 2,600 foot tall tower that would be the centerpiece of a giant non-polluting power plant that makes electricity from the heat of the sun.

The project has been started by an Australian company called EnviroMission, which says it hopes, by the time it is finished with construction in early 2015, to provide enough electricity to power the equivalent of 200,000 homes.  The tower would burn no fuel, and nothing quite like it has ever been tried in America before.

In fact, nothing quite like it has been tried anywhere else in the world, aside from a small test project in Spain.  The finished tower would be the second-tallest structure on the planet, just a hundred feet shorter than the Burj Khalifa luxury skyscraper in Dubai.  It would be twice as tall as New York's Empire State Building.

"It would be conceited to say we have the solution," said Chris Davey, the president of EnviroMission's U.S. operations in Phoenix, "but it's a reasonable energy alternative."

When one mentions solar power, most people probably think of so-called photovoltaics -- those big, flat panels that have been used to power spacecraft, but so far have been considered too expensive for large-scale commercial use.  EnviroMission plans something very different.

Its design consists of a giant, round greenhouse-like structure, under which air would become trapped and get very hot -- around 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

Hot air naturally tries to rise, so it would rush toward the tall tower in the center.  On the way, it would pass through any of 32 turbines, whose turning blades would run generators and create electricity.

"It's a very favorable operation," said John Drum, a member of the local county board of supervisors.  "It'll bring quite a few jobs to our county, and when it's done there will be 40 to 50 people to run it."

It would also draw attention to this isolated place, which is off state route 95, north of Quartzsite, Arizona.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio