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Southern California Edison’s cutting-edge power lab | Inside Look!

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After California passed a law to lower its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels and source one third of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, Southern California Edison opened its Advanced Technology division.

ORANGE COUNTY, CALIF. — Welcome to the utility industry’s future – or at least that’s what Southern California Edison is hoping.

Here in a non-descript, 53,500-square-foot building, the $12 billion utility’s research team is testing everything from charging electronic vehicles via cell phone to devices that smooth out the power created by rooftop solar panels.

Those are some of the roughly 60 projects in the works at Edison’sAdvanced Technology division. It has a small $19 million annual budget, but its influence far exceeds that.

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The engineers from California’s largest utility are hatching plans to insure its survival – and maybe even the survival of the nation’s other big utilities, which are watching the project closely.

The lab was formed by Southern California Edison in 2009 after California passed a landmark law to lower its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels – and source one third of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

The result has been more electric vehicles here in the Golden State. And more solar and wind power, which has got the state’s utilities, and those nationwide, scrambling to adapt. Unlike traditional electricity, power from solar and wind sources fluctuates depending on the weather, making it tricky to manage on the grid.

Also the cost of solar power has come down so much that more homeowners are producing their own power and paying less to their utility.

Simply put: long term, utilities will need new sources of revenue.

In 2013, California’s three largest utilities sourced nearly 23 percent of their power from renewable sources, and Gov. Jerry Brown has called for a target of 50 percent by 2030. Twenty nine states have laws requiring more renewables, according to North Carolina State University’s Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency.

With so much “distributed” energy on the grid now, mainly from solar panels, says Accenture, the utility industry could see revenues fall by between $18 billion and $48 billion a year by 2025. That’s why some call it the utility “death spiral.”


There’s a reason why the lab’s work is getting a lot of attention: It is producing results and they share the work with utility officials and researchers from as far away as China. For instance, Edison’s work designing cyber security systems and developing uses for advanced energy meters have received high marks from other utilities, said Mark McGranaghan, a vice president at the Electric Power Research Institute.

Edison’s lab has emerged as a model for others, too. In 2013 The National Renewable Energy Laboratory opened its $135 million Energy Systems Integration Facility, which complements Edison’s research. The New York Power Authority is also working to establish a similar lab.

“The concept is really built off of learnings from Southern California Edison,” McGranaghan said. “They have taken so many people through their labs, it’s amazing.”


Edison is focused on energy storage, automation and digital communications that will improve the efficiency and reliability of the grid. That, the utility hopes, will result in new revenue as power demand flattens (more energy-efficient homes) and rooftop solar ramps up.

“There is only one provider of the wires, which is us,” said Ted Craver, CEO of Edison International, the utility’s parent company. “These new technologies are going to become much more prevalent and we, maybe immodestly, feel we are on the cutting edge.”

Many of those technologies have yet to be commercialized, but the market is booming. Smart grid spending will grow to $70.2 billion in 2023 from $44.1 billion in 2014, according to Navigant Research.

That’s why Edison built nine labs here.

In one room Edison researchers replicate a complete power grid. That was used to troubleshoot when Edison was working on a new transmission line to connect its grid with California’s other behemoth utility, Pacific Gas & Electric. In another lab, “smart” inverters are being tested that are capable of smoothing out the voltage sent to the grid by solar panels. These devices are common in Europe, but have yet to be rolled out widely in the United States.

“It’s a bit of the Wild West right now,” Doug Kim, director of the utility’s advanced technology group, said of the proliferation of new energy technologies.

Every year The Advanced Technology group solicits project proposals from the rest of the utility. Among them: a project that studied how large amounts of wind and solar power affect power restoration during blackouts; another tested different kinds of batteries to see how they perform when storing energy along the grid.


Many of the new technologies are taken for a test drive at University of California, Irvine, faculty housing. “The Irvine Smart Grid Demonstration,” a $79 million project launched in 2010 and funded in part by the U.S. Department of Energy, will wrap up later this year.

SCE’s take: If you can figure out ways to generate electricity at home, and use it more efficiently, you can cut costs related to new generation and transmission equipment.

“We threw everything in there that we could think of, thinking that maybe someday it was going to be real,” SCE’s Kim said. “Sure enough just about everything we are testing here is now real.”

Crista Lopes, a computer science professor, said the project cut her electric bill to zero in the summer. The utility outfitted her house with solar panels, about 50 LED light bulbs and new appliances like a “smart” refrigerator whose power usage she can track.


The stakes for the Irvine project are high. At the conclusion, Edison will make recommendations on smart grid technologies to the industry. The utility will then take the testing to a larger area – perhaps thousands of homes.

Of course, the industry will hear about the mishaps too. For example, Crista Lopes has a device that controls energy consumption when demand is high. That was great until she was without air conditioning for three hours during a heat wave; Edison planned the outage for just 15 minutes, but a system that worked in the lab failed to send the correct command.

But those stumbles are why the project is valuable, said Bob Yinger, the chief engineer. “We learn about what the issues are,” he said, “and manufacturers learn about how their products behave in the real world.”


By 2030, California Governor Calls for 50% Percent Renewables!

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Increasing the state’s electricity from renewable sources to 50 percent by 2030.

On Monday, California Gov. Jerry Brown gave theinaugural address for his fourth gubernatorial term. During the address he praised California’s progress during the last 40 years. He also used the speech to call for new environmental targets — most notably!

California first established a renewables portfolio standard (RPS) in 2002, accelerated it in 2006 and expanded it in 2011. Under the current law, all utilities and electricity providers must source 33 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020.

As Brown pointed out, California is a leader in renewable energy with the “most far-reaching environmental laws of any state and the most integrated policy to deal with climate change of any political jurisdiction in the Western Hemisphere.” Since the state is “on track” to meet its 2020 goal, it’s time for new challenges, including increasing the RPS because, as Brown put it, “These efforts, impressive though they are, are not enough.”

In addition to increasing the RPS, Brown proposed two other 2030 goals: reducing the petroleum used in cars and trucks by up to 50 percent, and doubling the efficiency of existing buildings and making heating fuels cleaner.

Brown envisions California enacting a “wide range of initiatives.” Those initiatives would include “more distributed power, expanded rooftop solar, micro-grids, an energy imbalance market, battery storage, the full integration of information technology and electrical distribution and millions of electric and low-carbon vehicles.” Launching those initiatives will require “active collaboration at every stage with our scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, businesses and officials at all levels.”

“We are at a crossroads … The challenge is to build for the future, not steal from it, to live within our means, and to keep California ever golden and creative,” Brown said.
Since California first created its RPS program in 2002, almost 200 new renewable energy projects have been built in the Golden State, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. Nearly three-quarters of those projects were built in counties with unemployment rates of 10 percent or higher.

Currently, the state is producing enough energy from renewable sources to power over 5 million homes, and that is expected to almost double by 2020. California also has the biggest market for solar photovoltaics (PV) in the U.S., according to a report released in released in September by the American Council On Renewable Energy (ACORE). The state accounted for 57 percent of the country’s capacity additions. On June 1, 2014, California broke the state record for utility-delivered solar electricity fed into the state’s grid.

Wind generation has also increased in the state. In 2013, wind generated more electricity in California than geothermal.

solar-perovskite | new material to enhance solar cells

Pervoskites Research | New material to enhance solar cells?

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Researchers at the University of Toronto have used a new material called perovskite that could make cheaper and more efficient solar panels and LEDs.

Pervoskites are good at absorbing visible light and have never been studied before in their purest form, as perfect single crystals.

Researchers used a new technique to grow perovskites and studied how electrons move through the material as light is converted to electricity.

A research team led by Professor Ted Sargent of The Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering at the University of Toronto and Professor Osman Bakr of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), used a combination of laser-based techniques to measure selected properties of the perovskite crystals.

The team was able to determine the diffusion length as well as mobility by tracking down the rapid motion of electrons in the material.

Riccardo Comin, a post-doctoral fellow with the Sargent Group said, “Our work identifies the bar for the ultimate solar energy-harvesting potential of perovskites. With these materials it’s been a race to try to get record efficiencies, and our results indicate that progress is slated to continue without slowing down”.

The efficiency of perovskite has climbed to over 20% in recent years, which is quiet close to the current best performance of commercial-grade silicon-based solar panels, which are mounted in Spanish deserts and on Californian roofs.

The light gets absorbed when it hits a sheet of perovskite, exiting the electrons in the material. These exited electrons travel easily through the material to electrical contacts on the other side where they are collected in the form of electric current.

The research team studied that if this sequence is carried out in reverse order, the perovskite will then release energy as light. By this, the material could be used to make more efficient LEDs.

The detailed research paper has been published this week in the journal Science.


Covering parking lots with solar panels! | Best idea in a long time?

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Solar-Covered-Parking-Lots.jpgSolar-Covered-Parking-Lots.jpgAmerica is a nation of pavement.

So what if there were a way to cut down on that heat, cool down the cars that are in these parking lots, power up those parked cars that are electric vehicles (like Teslas), and generate a lot of energy to boot? It sounds great, and there is actually a technology that does all of this — solar carports.

According to research conducted by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, most cities’ surfaces are 35 to 50 percent composed of the stuff. And 40 percent of that pavement is parking lots. That has a large effect: Asphalt and concrete absorb the sun’s energy, retaining heat — and contributing to the “urban heat island effect,” in which cities are hotter than the surrounding areas.

It’s just what it sounds like — covering up a parking lot with solar panels, which are elevated above the ground so that cars park in the shade beneath a canopy of photovoltaics. Depending of course on the size of the array, you can generate a lot of power. For instance, one vast solar carport installation at Rutgers University is 28 acres in size and produces 8 megawatts of power, or about enough energy to power 1,000 homes.

Solar carports have many benefits, ranging from aesthetics (yes, the things look very cool) to subtler factors. Like this: Not having to return to a hot car after spending three hours at the mall or a sporting event in the summer. In fact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy, being able to park in the shade in the summer is actually a substantial contributor to increased vehicle fuel efficiency, because it saves having to cool your car back up by cranking the air conditioner.

So what’s the downside here? And why aren’t solar parking lots to be found pretty much everywhere you turn?

In a word, the problem is cost.

“It’s the most expensive type of system to build,” says Chase Weir ofTruSolar, which rates solar projects based on financial riskiness. “A lot more engineering, a whole lot more steel, more labor, and therefore, it’s a relatively small percentage [of solar power]…but it is growing, and the cost to install a solar canopy today is less than the cost to install a rooftop just a few years ago.”

Still, there aren’t all that many right now. According to Scott Moskowitz of GTM Research, which released a study of the sector last year, by the end of 2014 there were an estimated 600 megawatts (or 2.5 billion dollars) worth of solar canopies installed in the U.S. In energy terms, though, 600 megawatts isn’t a very big number. Just consider: The Hoover Dam has a capacity of more than 2,000 megawatts, the world’s biggest coal plant is close to 6,000 megawatts, and even the world’s largest solar plant is 550 megawatts.

So at least for now, the market remains relatively niche. The carports seem to be particularly popular with large companies, which can afford them and where they can provide an impressive display at their corporate campuses. Thus, they’ve been installed by Munich RE, Dow Jones & Co., and Staples, among others.

They’ve also been used to adorn hotels, such as one just unveiled atthe Phoenician, a luxury hotel in Scotsdale, Arizona:
A solar array now sits atop a parking structure at The Phoenician in Scottsdale, Ariz., on Jan. 14, 2015. The project is the first of several planned as a result of a partnership between Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc. and NRG Energy and was unveiled on Jan. 14, 2015. The project will feature 2,000 photovoltaic solar panels totaling nearly 600 kilowatts. (Photo by Rick Scuteri/Invision for NRG Re New/AP Images)
And then there are other large-scale installers: One of the best known solar carports is at the Washington Redskins’ FedEx Field, where a gigantic solar array covering 841 parking spaces is able to generate enough power to cover “20 percent of the stadium’s power needs on game days and all of its power on non-game days,” according to Clark Construction, which installed it.

Laurence Mackler, who founded the solar carport installer Solaire Generation, says his company has now installed 50 megawatts worth of carports nationwide and has seen costs steadily decline over time. But he also emphasizes that there’s still a financial problem — one that has limited the growth of solar carports significantly.

“Everyone says to me, that’s a great idea, why doesn’t everyone do it,” says Mackler of solar carports. “And I have to say, well, because the economics work in certain states.”

That conclusion was reaffirmed by a 2014 market research report on solar carports by GTM Research, which found that they are mainly springing up in Arizona, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New York and most of all California, which is more than half of the total market. For the most part, the report notes, that’s because these states offer an array of state financial incentives to support their development.

“Because carport projects are more expensive, they have a generally higher reliance on state level incentives,” says report co-author Scott Moskowitz, a solar analyst with GTM Research. “So the markets in which those exist, there is going to be a higher concentration of carports.”

Clearly, the most important state is California, where according to GTM Research, solar carports have been supported both by the California Solar Initiative and also by the Division of the State Architect, which oversees construction on many public buildings. Moskowitz says that as costs of installation continue to decline, he does expect the solar carport market to expand into other states, too.

So in sum: Putting solar atop pavements, with cooled down cars sandwiched in between, sounds like an energy no brainer. Maybe in the future, it’ll also be a financial one.


Renters in California | Solar power shines on apartments!

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Millions of apartment dwellers and home renters across California will soon be able to go solar, under programs authorized Thursday by state utility regulators.

Though any residential customer can sign up, the effort is geared toward utility customers who don’t own the roof overhead or may not want to tack on solar panels to their property. In some instances, homes are overshadowed by trees and other buildings, or rooflines may simply face the wrong way.

Power customers who sign up with the state’s investor-owned utilities would help ensure the construction of additional solar power plants to meet their energy needs.

“The program gives customers the option to meet up to 100 percent of their electricity needs with renewable energy,” explained state Utilities Commissioner Mike Florio. “Customers have the options to purchase from a pool of renewable resources or from a specific renewable project. Giving customers this option is a good thing and I hope the program will be well-subscribed.”

Homeowners in San Diego are flocking to rooftop solar, and dramatically reducing their utility bills in the process. Those solar customers are credited at the full retail rate for electricity they deliver to the grid, though reforms are pending that would rein in the incentives.

Under the new solar programs, utility customers who opt in may pay more than they would otherwise for electricity, a spokeswoman for the state utilities commission said.

Amber Albrecht of San Diego Gas & Electric said that “the price is going to be based on the cost of the solar energy project, which could be a higher energy rate.” She said rates could benefit from economies of scale as more customers join.

A representative for SunEdison, a major U.S. solar provider with headquarters in Belmont, predicted low participation in the program and a failed market.

“The complexity of the bill credit system for the program destroys the value proposition for the customer,” said Dan Lieberman, community solar solutions manager for SunEdison.

Florio said the commission had to follow legislation prohibiting new solar subsidies paid for by nonsolar customers. The utilities commission approved the program 5-0.

“Today’s decision is not the final word,” Florio said. “We will be flexible and consider modifications.”

Under the rules, SDG&E plans to roll out two new customer options. One, called Sunrate, would let customers buy solar energy through SDG&E from various solar projects located in San Diego, Imperial and southern Orange counties.

Another option, Share the Sun, would allow customers to acquire power produced by a specific, nearby solar energy system to cover all or part of their electricity use. Those customers would receive a bill credit for the value of the solar power their portfolio produces.

Separately, state subsidies have helped at least 39 low-income housing complexes in the San Diego region add rooftop solar since 2008.