New approach for matching production and consumption of renewable electricity promotes large-scale integration of solar and wind power

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland is coordinating the BALANCE project, which brings together leading European research institutes in the field of electrochemical conversion. The project aims to demonstrate a technology that enables flexible storage of large amount of renewable power. Such technologies are needed for the further integration of additional wind and solar power. The European Commission funds the project by 2.5 million euros.
As the investment costs of solar and wind installation are decreasing, the most significant obstacle for further integration of renewable electricity is the imbalance between their weather-dependant production and the general power consumption. It is this issue that the BALANCE project partners aim to solve by further developing an electrochemical conversion technology called ReSOC (Reversible Solid Oxide Cell).

A ReSOC device uses electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gas by a high temperature electrolysis process, which is significantly more efficient than other electrolyser technologies today. What makes ReSOC particularly interesting, however, is the fact that the exactly same device can also be operated “in reverse” to produce power from the very same hydrogen gas it produced. Using the same device for converting power to a storable gas and for converting this gas back to power again enables very flexible usage of the device, thus increasing its operating hours as well as reducing it capital costs.  

Already today, the electricity market is being challenged when flooded by green electricity on a windy or sunny day. This causes the electricity prices to plunge or even go negative in some European countries. Because electricity cannot be stored as such and our current capacity to store it with hydropower or batteries is limited, the production of windmills and solar panels must at times be curtailed to avoid power grid failure. This issue will become more and more important as the production capacity of renewable electricity is growing rapidly.

With a flexible energy conversion technology, such as a ReSOC, it is possible to balance the power market. At peak production hours, power is converted into a chemical, which can be stored for later use or used as industrial feedstock. Similarly, during peak consumption hours or on a calm, cloudy day, the stored chemical is converted back to electricity at the same site. Therefore, a ReSOC unit supports the integration of wind and solar power with the current power system by providing a compact, affordable and flexible technology for the conversion and storage of renewable power.

The three-year project began in December 2016 and will receive EUR 2.5 million in EU Horizon 2020 funding (grant agreement 731224). It includes several leading European research institutes and universities in the field of electrochemical conversion, including VTT (FI), DTU (DK), CEA (FR), ENEA (IT), University of Birmingham (UK), TU Delft (NL), EPFL (CH) and IEn (PL).

Figure: Schematics of the ReSOC concept. It is the missing link between the power grid and the fuel or the chemical feedstock for the industry.
Figure: Schematics of the ReSOC concept. It is the missing link between the power grid and the fuel or the chemical feedstock for the industry.

Source: VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd, www.vtt.fi, Press release 6 March, 2017

5 Emerging Renewable Energy Sources to Watch Out For

In recent years, renewable energy has become more affordable. For this reason, most researchers have started looking for alternative sources to reduce the escalating costs of energy. The emergence of new sources of renewable energy is expected to result in a less polluted environment. Below are 5 renewable energy sources poised to make a difference.

1. Geothermal Energy

Geothermal power plants, unlike other energy sources, do not burn fuel. This significantly reduces the levels of pollutants emitted to the environment. Geothermal is drawn from the earth and can be used in many ways from large power stations to simple pumping systems. So far, various parts of the world are already tapping this energy. It is viewed as an affordable solution to reducing the dependence of fossil fuels. It has also been said to be a solution for health risks and global warming. In the future, geothermal power has the potential to be highly significant towards achieving a more sustainable and a cleaner energy system. Note that it is a means that has the capacity to supply a continuous baseload power. The future may also open avenues for the direct use of geothermal energy as a heating source for businesses and homes. http://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/index.cfm/data/index.cfm?page=geothermal_environment.

2. Solar

More than was the case in the 2000s, solar power is now a more cost-competitive power source. It is drawn from the sun without the emission of toxic pollution or global warming emissions. Today the solar industry is bigger than that of gas and oil construction. 

Solar This explosive growth has, in turn, created new jobs and offered employment in the renewable energy industry. Solar energy impacts the economy positively both directly and indirectly. People who have already started depending on this alternative have experienced a reduction in their use of traditional energy sources. This is what keeps natural ecosystems intact, reduces devastating oil spills, natural gas leaks, and taxpayer-funded cleanups. As it becomes more integrated with data analytics alongside other technologies, solar will become a major element in the next revolution. http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/our-energy-choices/renewable-energy/environmental-impacts-solar-power.html#.WBxCIC197IU.

3. Wind Power

Wind turbines use wind power to generate electricity. It is, in fact, one of the most sustainable ways to generate power since it does this without emitting toxic pollution to the environment. Wind is also naturally affordable meaning it is inexhaustible and readily available making it a viable alternative to fossils. The most outstanding objections to future wind power technology are concerns about the long-term effects on wildlife, habitats, and human health. Despite these challenges, wind power is rapidly growing with high rates. There is a high potential for wind facilities being located offshore where there are stronger winds and high reliability. http://telosnet.com/wind/future.html.


4. Biofuels

Biomass comes from the production of first generation biofuels derived from plant matter. These fuels rely on crops to produce energy. The global production of these fuels has in the past few years experienced a surge, with its demand being particularly strong. In the future, biofuel may be largely used in existing engines to clear harmful vehicle emissions. Since waste residue will always be easily accessible, there will always be a continuous source of renewable energy. http://biomassmagazine.com/articles/1672/biofuels-in-the-future.

5. Hydro Electric Power

This form of energy needs turbines which have to be powered by high amounts of flowing water. So far, it has seen an increased dependence around the world. However, it comes with the concern of altering the comfort of the wildlife and the ecosystem since rivers have in the past needed a dam installed in them. However, new innovations are being put into place to allow water to be released gradually to generate electricity. This method is more dependable because unlike wind and solar power, tides and waves are predictable and don’t diminish with cloud cover. http://spectrum.ieee.org/energy/renewables/future-of-hydropower.

While these may be the most pronounced renewable energy sources, there are others that may not have caught up. Body heat, for instance, may in the future be used to charge mobile devices. On a small scale, untested sources such as these could have some use in the renewable energy industries.

Jessica Kane is a professional blogger who writes for Econoheat., the world’s #1 leading waste oil heaters manufacturer.

What’s the Average Cost of Solar Across the US, With a Focus on New York and California? The Green Living Guy Investigates.

A solar installation crew hard at work in New York – photo courtesy of Kasselman Solar
A solar installation crew hard at work in New York – photo courtesy of Kasselman Solar

Solar has gone from being an expensive rarity to a common sight on rooftops in many places across the country. As a result, homeowners have switched from asking if solar is actually worth it to how much it costs.

Unfortunately, determining how much solar would actually cost for your home isn’t simple. To give homeowners a better idea of true prices out there, Green Living Guy decided to do some research!
First off, why is determining the cost of solar so difficult? There are several reasons for this:

1) Not all homes use the same amount of energy – this can even be true of homes that are right next to each other.

2) Different homes have different roof angles and receive different amounts of sun.

3) Rebates and incentives change from state to state, and even utility to utility.

4) Installers don’t tend to publish their prices, and pricing can vary widely from one installer to another for the same panels.

5) Prices have been dropping rapidly for the past ten years, making price studies from only a few years back completely inaccurate.

So how are homeowners supposed to know even a general ballpark for prices when considering purchasing solar? Well, we went looking better information, and we found several recent studies that help shed light on the actual cost of installing solar.

We looked at studies from both Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a federally-funded laboratory which does a large amount of research on all kinds of energy, and Solar to the People, an independent marketplace site that evaluates solar installers and publishes educational studies for homeowners.

The Lawrence Berkeley study looks at solar costs across the entire US, and is quite an in-depth study –

Here are our takeaways from the Lawrence Berkeley study:

1) Residential solar prices have dropped enormously across the country in the past decade

– Home solar prices have dropped roughly 55% from 2005 to 2015. The average price of an installed watt of home solar in 2005 was $9.04. In 2015 installing that same watt cost $4.05.

Image and data source: Tracking the Sun report by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, 2016
Image and data source: Tracking the Sun report by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, 2016

2) The prices that homeowners pay per installed watt of installed solar within states varies– as you can see in the graph below, people pay a wide range of prices for each installed watt. So prices vary not only ACROSS states (you can see that California prices in 2015 are almost 20% HIGHER than New Jersey prices), but WITHIN states – we were surprised to the extent that homeowners within a state paid such different amounts per watt of installed solar.

Image and data source: Tracking the Sun report by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, 2016
Image and data source: Tracking the Sun report by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, 2016

All this variation between states got us thinking – how much do installations cost overall versus just on a per-watt basis, and are there differences across regions WITHIN states?

For this part of our research, we turned to several studies that looked at two of the most popular places to install solar nationwide – California and New York. Lo and behold, it turns out that there are large variations within states, and you could be paying significantly more or less for solar than the state average depending on the region you live in.

We dug into Solar to the People’s study on the cost of solar panels in New York to understand how prices for home solar varied across the Empire State in the first six months of 2016. We were shocked to see the large variations you can see in the infographic below.

Image and data source – Solar to the People, 2016
Image and data source – Solar to the People, 2016

According to the data collected by Solar to the People, the average price for a home solar installation in New York state in the first half of 2016 was $16,426. Regional prices varied heavily for a full installation of home solar panels from a low of $12,361 in the Ithaca area to a high of $21,104 for solar on Long Island. The reasons for these price differences were primarily due the differences in state incentives. This incentive program is called the NY-Sun residential rebate program and is still available and going strong for upstate New York (where Ithaca is located), but is no longer available in Long Island. Long Island homeowners continue to go solar regardless, as they live in one of the highest cost areas for electricity in the country.
Of course, there’s no way we can discuss regional solar costs without looking at the reigning king of home solar installations, California. We looked at Solar to the People’s California study to get some insight into if there are regional differences in the cost of installing solar in California. According to the study, the average cost of a home solar installation in California in 2015 was $18,675.

Yet again, we saw there were sizable difference between the least and most expensive regions, though not nearly as large as New York. On average the highest-cost area for Solar in California was the Redding and Shasta / Cascades area at $20,698, and the least expensive was the Central Coast at $16,212. The differences in these prices seemed to be almost exclusively due to the size differences between installations in those two areas. The prices for home solar in the majority of the regions in the Golden State seemed to hover around the statewide average, like San Diego at $18,540 and Orange County at $18,866.

Image and data source – Solar to the People, 2016
Image and data source – Solar to the People, 2016

Hopefully our research has helped you understand a bit more about the national and regional costs of home solar installations! We think that knowledge is power that giving homeowners accurate information on solar is essential to help the renewable energy revolution keep on steaming ahead!

The Impact of Solar Power: Don’t Waste It

Every time I sit down to write about the energy industry these days, I simply can’t help myself.  
Each time, I want to start the article by slapping myself on the forehead and exclaiming: “Who’d
a thunk it?” The changes in the energy field are coming so fast and furious that pipe dreams from
just a decade ago are becoming a reality right before our very eyes.

Think about it like this. If you install a solar panel on your roof and put grid tie inverters to work,
you have done what generations of Americans never dreamed possible: Contributed to the national energy pool. 

Solar power 

I typed in “growth in wind power” in a Google search and the first two words I read were these “
wind industry.” Those two words were never linked together before. Now there is a “sun industry” and a “wind industry.” There is also a growing “tide industry,” from generators that harness the movement of the ocean. There is a “geo-thermal industry” that centers around harnessing underground heat and underground cooling. These were dreams 10 years ago. Now
they are industries.  

Wind power's growth is even more phenomenal. According to the Energy Department, wind power capacity installed in 2000 was 2.53 gigawatts across four states. By 2020 that is expected to reach 113.43 GW across 36 states. By 2050, it is expected to reach 404.25 GW in 48 states.
Here are some numbers to contemplate. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the growth in solar power generation in 2016 alone was projected to reach 119 percent. Wind power’s growth is even more phenomenal. According to the Energy Department, wind power capacity installed in 2000 was 2.53 gigawatts across four states. By 2020 that is expected to reach 113.43 GW across 36 states. By 2050, it is expected to reach 404.25 GW in 48 states.  

Electric cars, of course, is the frustrating industry that seems to be in a stall. In time, this will
revive itself, perhaps someday during the next White House administration. But President Obama did his best to push automakers into a new mindset and he certainly succeeded. As of 2013, cars on U.S. roads averaged a previously unheard of 23.6 miles per gallon. You see all those tiny cars out there. The land of trucks is turning into a land of tweaky, tiny cars. All to the better.  

Back to the solar panel and grid tie inverters….this works two ways. You can go off-grid by disconnecting (or simply not using) any electricity provided to you from your local utility. This has obvious benefits. Your electricity usage no longer supports the burning of fossil fuels that contribute dangerously to global warming. Your electric bills drop or disappear. All to the better. 

Back to the solar panel and grid tie inverters....this works two ways. You can go off-grid by disconnecting (or simply not using) any electricity provided to you from your local utility. This has obvious benefits. Your electricity usage no longer supports the burning of fossil fuels that contribute dangerously to global warming. Your electric bills drop or disappear.
But not so fast. Two of the least understood – and almost never predicted – phenomena in the energy market is that improvements in the efficiency of appliances, motors and heating and cooling units have become one of the most important contributors to the stall in national demand growth for electricity. People are not using few electronic devices, but just the opposite.  

Nevertheless, our devices – televisions, radios, refrigerators – are so much more efficient than before that utility companies are scaling back on new coal and oil-burning plants more than
anyone anticipated. That’s all to the better, too.  

The second phenomenon – the flip side of efficiency – is waste. Let’s imagine that half the people in the country went off-grid. They simply produced their own electricity. Well, they are either going to produce too much or too little electricity and the obvious option is to produce too much because too little means sacrificing quality of life. So, off grid consumers will produce too much and allow the excess to go unclaimed. Once their private batteries are full, their solar panels will be idle. The sun will shine and energy harvesting will stop.

This is inherently a wasted opportunity. Users who stay connected to the grid will benefit themselves, by selling their excess to the utility company, and they will benefit mankind and the planet, but lowering the need to produce electricity with fossil fuels.

Just taking your home off line or off grid seems sensible, but it under-utilizes the impact an individual could have on the planet. 

Top 6 US Cities for Living a Green Lifestyle

Living a green lifestyle means managing your waste, recycling efficiently, making environmentally-friendly transportation choices, buying local and organic goods, utilizing alternative forms of energy and reducing your overall carbon footprint. Going green becomes easier when you’re surrounded by a community that works together and supports each other to make the right choices. Here are six of the top U.S. cities that will compliment your green lifestyle.

New York City, New York

With 56 percent of commuters using public transportation, the majority of New York City residents are passing on carbon emitting means of transportation and implementing green options into their everyday lives. If you’re considering moving to the city or want to move into a green apartment, ForRent.com can lead you to LEED certified buildings with roof gardens, central-air filtration, a natural gas-fired cooling system, energy efficient elevators or solar shades, just to name a few.

Austin, Texas

Although an ambitious goal, the city aims to be carbon neutral by 2020 meaning the entire city will be powered on strictly clean energy. This, along with their 206 parks, 12 preserves, 26 greenbelts and 50+ miles of trails, means the city of Austin is serving as a great role model for residents while providing them with tons of green space to make use of.

Chicago, Illinois

This city is considered one of the first pioneers of sustainable practices, beginning in 1909 with city planner Daniel Hudson Burnham, who provided the city with a long-term plan that balanced urban growth and protecting the lakefront. More recently, the Chicago Green Roof Program has converted more than 2.5 million square-feet of city roofs to green spaces that support plant life.

Seattle, Washington

Many residents here have installed or plan to install solar panels on their homes thanks to the city’s incentive program that promotes energy conservation. Seattle also participates in city-wide composting of food scraps and yard waste, regulated by the Seattle public utilities department, eliminating 20-30 percent of waste that would normally end up in landfills.

San Francisco, California

This city has fine tuned their recycling program and has even added an artistic twist with an artist-in-residence at the recycling facility who creates work to inspire residents to continue recycling and properly manage their waste. Most residents living in the city do not use personal vehicles thanks to San Francisco’s numerous bike lanes, great public transportation system and overall walkability. For those who might need to utilize a vehicle every once in awhile; ride-sharing is a great way to get around while carpooling with others or you can hail one of the city’s hybrid cabs. As of the recent election, the entire state of California has banned plastic bags. However, San Francisco was the first U.S. city to adopt the ban and continues to serve as a great example for other cities going green.

Portland, Oregon

Deemed the most bikeable city in the U.S., Portland encourages their residents to skip gas-powered travel and provides them 200 miles of dedicated bike lanes to ensure their safety. For Portland residents, sustainability starts within their homes and many residents install container gardens, make their own cheese, keep bees, care for their own chickens and so much more. Even if you decide to dine-out in Portland, restaurants offer vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, locally sourced and organic options.

If you’re looking for a city that not only embraces, but also makes your eco-conscious lifestyle easier, any of the above six are great choices.