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In the Press

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Last Incandescent Bulb Manufactured in U.S.

With the arrival of the New Year, the United States saw the manufacture of its last incandescent light blub. Legislation begun by Congress in 2007 encouraged the eventual switch to Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFL) and Light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs for energy efficiency, by setting energy use standards for the 100-plus-year-old technology. The concept behind the law was to ease consumers into using the more efficient bulbs—traditional incandescents convert only about 10 percent of the energy they consume into light, the rest is given off as heat. For example, a typical 60-watt incandescent bulb emits about 900 lumens of light, which comes to approximately 15 lumens per watt of electricity. The new standard requires bulbs to produce at least 20 lumens of light per watt; by 2020 that number rises to 45 lumens per watt. A current CFL will do 50 lumens per watt or more, according to the National Resources Defense Council.

Because the new standards were technologically difficult to achieve, most manufacturers began phasing out their production of incandescent bulbs in 2012.

Retailers are expected to continue to sell incandescents until their stocks are depleted, as not everyone favors the newer designs.

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Big Utilities Stymied by Smart Grid Data, Says Forbes

According to an article on the Forbes.com web site, utility companies that have begun to incorporate the smart grid into their systems have little idea of what to do with the huge amounts of information generated. The smart grid is designed to transmit information about voltage, current and digital status measurements as often as 30 times per second at many points along the grid. However, the utility companies have no system for analyzing this much data. For now they are simply storing it. According to Forbes, electric utilities possessed 194 petabytes of data by 2009 (the entire collection of the Library of Congress is believed to amount to about 3 petabytes). A petabyte is 1000 terabytes. A terabyte is 1000 gigabytes.

Utility engineers are currently looking at ways in which their companies might utilize the information.

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European Nations Setting Records in PV Output

Germany and Italy recently set records in the amount of solar power generation for their countries, continuing a trend towards energy sustainability. These nations, which do not have the resources of coal and gas found in the United States, began to switch their reliance for power to renewables decades ago. As posted on solarserver.com, the German Federal Association of Electricity and Water (BDEW) reported that the nation's solar photovoltaic (PV) plants produced more than 5.1 TWh (terawatt hours) in July 2013, a new record for the nation and the world. This represents a 19% increase over the previous record of 4.3 TWh in June 2013, and a 42% increase from July 2012.

Italy reported 2.96 TWh during the month of July, meeting 9.9% of Italian demand. The country had the highest percentage of electricity production from PV of any large nation in 2012 at 5.7%, even higher than Germany. This has increased to 7.3% in the first seven months of 2013.

Although not yet at the level of Germany and Italy, the United Kingdom has set a goal of meet over 37% of the nations electricity demand via renewable energy by 2022, according to the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). Their report expects renewable energy output to more than triple to 123.4 TWh in 2022, from 40.7 TWh in 2012.

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Citi’s ‘Energy Darwinism’ Report Predicts Bright Future for Solar

Investment banking giant Citi has released a report titled “Energy Darwinism – the evolution of the energy industry,” which claims that coal and natural gas face uncertain futures, while wind, solar and other renewables will eventually become the dominant forms of energy generation—and much sooner than current predictions hold. According to Citi’s analysts, “Consumers face economically viable choices and alternatives in the coming years which were not foreseen 5 years ago.” In conjunction with a variety of graphical analyses, this is taken to mean that drops in the prices of renewables, especially solar, have threatened the dominance of fossil fuels in much less time than originally thought.

The report, targeted primarily at investors in the energy sector, notes that while fuel diversity should continue to exist, investors are advised to “consider the sea change that we believe is only just beginning.”

One of the keys to the coming changes is the ability to store renewably generated energy. Much investment is being made in that area of the technology. “The increasing levels of investment and the emergence of subsidy schemes which drive volumes could lead to similarly dramatic reductions in cost as those seen in solar, which would then drive the virtuous circle of improving economics and volume adoption,” according to the report.

The report projects that while coal and oil have seen their most profitable days go by, we are now in the “golden age” of natural gas (mostly in the United States—nations with small amounts of natural gas, such as in Europe or Australia, are moving even more quickly towards renewables). Renewables continue to take a larger share of the energy market. By 2100, the report notes, coal will be phased out almost completely as an energy source, and oil will be reduced to about 10% of the market.

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Smart Money Invested in Energy Storage

The next big boom in the solar industry could be that of energy storage, if one watches the investment practices of major corporations and wealthy individuals. According to a CleanTechnica report, big money investors such as Bill Gates and Vinod Khosla, as well as companies like Citi, are upping their shares of solar energy storage firms. Khosla, for example, is investing in Varentec, a US company that is developing smart technology to  link storage devices and renewables, and lead to what he describes as “cost-effective, intelligent, decentralized power grid solutions.” This only makes sense. The solar industry has seen rapid improvement in solar panel efficiency, and systems have shown that when solar is delivered via a direct current system (such as Nextek’s) there is much less power loss than in traditional AC systems. The missing link has been energy storage, which would allow solar to be used when the sun’s rays are not available, and to become a greater part of the smart grid through distributed generation—feeding power to additional users on an as needed basis.

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New Solar Cell Design May Dramatically Improve PV Function

Physicists at North Carolina State University say they have found a way to increase the energy handling capacity of solar cells, a discovery that could dramatically improve photovoltaic cell function and productivity in solar panels. As reported on the NC State web site, the new technique improves the connections between stacked solar cells, which should improve the overall efficiency of solar energy devices and reduce the cost of solar energy production. The new connections can allow these cells to operate at solar concentrations of 70,000 suns worth of energy without losing much voltage as “wasted energy” or heat.

By inserting a very thin film of gallium arsenide into the connecting junction of stacked cells the physicists say they can virtually eliminate voltage loss without blocking solar energy, according to Dr. Salah Bedair, a professor of electrical engineering at NC State.

Photovoltaic energy companies are interested in using lenses to concentrate solar energy, from one sun (no lens used) to 4,000 suns or more. But if the solar energy is intensified to 700 suns or more the connecting junctions used in existing stacked cells begin losing voltage. And the more intense the solar energy, the more voltage those junctions lose, thereby reducing the conversion efficiency.

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India’s Green Homes Qualify for Lower Mortgage Rates

Homes that are certified as energy-efficient in India will qualify for lower home loan rates following an agreement between the nation’s Indian Green Building Council (IGBC) and National Housing Bank (NHB). As reported by BusinessToday.com, the memorandum of understanding was designed primarily to enhance and promote the adoption of energy efficient and green homes concept in India.

This gives homebuyers in that nation a compelling reason to seek energy-efficient homes. Should such a policy be adopted in the U.S., it could save average homeowners many thousands of dollars over the life of a mortgage. For example, for a $300,000 home with an interest rate one-quarter percent lower, a homeowner will pay more than $15,000 less over the life of a 30-year mortgage.

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The Roadways of the Future Could be Part of the Smart Grid

It may be a long road to Scott Brusaw’s vision of the future, but he believes the nation’s 28,000 square miles of paved roads could be turned into a power generating, microprocessing part of the smart grid that solves a variety of energy and driving situations. As reported by Engineering.com, Brusaw heads a company called Solar Roadways, and has designed what he calls the “Intelligent Electric Road,” built with a construction method that includes three main layers, each of which has a distinct purpose.

The top layer has a glass panel that absorbs sunlight and projects LED light in every direction to help with night vision.

The middle layer contains a microprocessor that senses loads from the road surface, and sends communication about conditions to the rest of the grid. It also has a heating element that will keep ice and snow off of road surfaces.

The bottom layer is part of the smart grid, transmitting power up and down the road with the possibility of fiber-optic cables and leaky cables to bring internet access and eliminate the need for cell phone towers.

The roads would be non-petroleum based (unlike asphalt), and eventually would be far more economical to build. Since they would be constructed of interlocking hexagonal segments, they would be much easier to repair as well.

Perhaps best of all, since they are creating electrical energy, they could dynamically power electric cars on the move, reducing or eliminating the need for plug-in charging.

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Wasted Energy in the U.S. Could Power Entire Countries

The electrical power wasted by equipment known as miscellaneous energy loads (MEL) in the United States is enough to provide the power needs of nations like New Zealand, Mexico and even Australia, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). Those two billion devices, which do not fit into traditional energy-use categories such as refrigeration, HVAC or lighting, could be made to use 40 to 50 percent less energy by upgrading their technology.

The people at Nextek Power Systems hasten to add that powering most of these devices from a DC power system that is up to 8 percent more efficient than AC grid power, would make that goal much more easily achievable, and improve the power savings to well past the 50 percent mark. As much as 80 percent of electronic devices in the U.S. now run semiconductors (which only use DC power), making the strategy much more attractive, since DC systems also save 10 to 30 percent of the power lost to heat through conversion from AC.

The ACEEE’s full report can be downloaded for free at http://aceee.org/research-report/a133.

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Severe Weather Appears to be Driving Move to Microgrids

Whether you accept the phenomenon of global warming as the cause of more severe storms across the U.S. or not, the fact that more powerful weather incidents are occurring with increasing frequency can’t be disputed. Many of those storms cause major power outages, and that appears to be driving a new consumer move towards building microgrid electrical power generators. A DC Microgrid is an electrical system that creates, distributes, stores and consumes direct current electricity to power a wide variety of equipment. A microgrid can be isolated and self-sustaining, which means it would not be affected when the AC grid experiences a power outage.

According to the web site FierceEnergy.com, the State of Connecticut has authorized construction of up to 27 microgrid sites as of early 2013, in response to Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011, and a rare blizzard that hit the east coast in October 2011, both of which led to massive power outages.

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Microgrids Could Include Desalinization Capabilities, Thanks to New Electrochemical Technique

Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Marburg in Germany have developed a desalinization technique that uses an electrochemical process instead of physical membranes, making it possible to remove the salt from water with the power of a single store-bought battery. Eventually the science could be incorporated into small microgrids, thus addressing two major issues that face many impoverished communities around the world: lack of electrical power and poor quality water for drinking and farming. The desalinization works at a microscale level. The researchers apply a small voltage (3.0 volts) to a plastic chip filled with seawater. The chip contains a microchannel with two branches. At the junction of the channel an embedded electrode neutralizes some of the chloride ions in seawater to create an “ion depletion zone” that increases the local electric field compared with the rest of the channel. This change in the electric field is sufficient to redirect salts into one branch, allowing desalinated water to pass through the other branch.

The process is called electrochemically mediated seawater desalination. It’s patent-pending and is in commercial development by startup company Okeanos Technologies.

Although the technique is only 25 percent effective so far, the researchers are confident they can improve it to the 99 percent required for potable water.

If so, the minimal power requirement for the process could be added to the types of microgrids, such as Nextek’s STAR portable solar generator, that have been developed to bring electrical power to isolated, economically-disadvantaged communities around the world.

According to estimates, about a third of the planet’s population lives in water-stressed areas that have access to abundant seawater, but not to the energy infrastructure or money necessary to desalt water using conventional technology. As a result, millions of deaths per year in these regions are attributed to water-related causes.

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DC Power Networks Poised for Spectacular Growth

Ready for some spectacular growth? According to a new report from Navigant Research, the total worldwide capacity of direct current (DC) distribution networks will surpass 2.3 gigawatts (GW) by 2025, up from just 196 megawatts (MW) in 2013. In that same period, revenue generated by DC networks is expected to grow nearly tenfold, from $2.8 billion annually in 2013 to $24.1 billion by 2025. The market for DC networks is being fueled by a variety of factors. Two of the more basic drivers are the fact that as much of 80 percent of energy end uses require DC power, and that DC networks eliminate power loss through AC-to-DC conversion.

Of course there are other factors, such as DC’s 8 percent greater efficiency in midrange voltages, and its safe-to-touch 24VDC applications for lighting and other home and office uses. That last factor allows for far greater layout flexibility, as well as ease of installation and repair.

If you think the future will be bright, that’s probably because it will be powered by DC systems.

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