Ivanpah Sets Record for Largest CSP Power Plant

by Tina Casey.

You’re going to be hearing a lot about this one: today, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz is officially dedicating the Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System. The massive new facility, now up and running at Ivanpah Dry Lake in California after a series of successful shakedown tests, has set a record as the world’s largest Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) plant of its type.

Renewable Energy. Ivanpah CSP plant courtesy of NRG.
Renewable Energy. Ivanpah CSP plant courtesy of NRG.

While the success of the Ivanpah CSP plant gains the US a claim to fame in the hotly competitive global solar tech market, here at home the massive project has gained notoriety for the whopping $1.6 billion loan guarantee it received from the Department of Energy’s much maligned (at least, by the usual maligners) Loans Programs Office.

We’ve also been keeping a close eye on the 392 MW project because of its A-list array of developers including the company NRG (known for its EV charging stations and freestanding solar canopies), BrightSource Energy, and of course Google, which put up a cool $168 million to help build it, as well as the global engineering firm Bechtel.

About That Ivanpah CSP Controversy…

Back in 2012 Representative Darrell Issa (R- CA), head of the House Oversight Committee, put the Ivanpah CSP plant on the hot seat over a flurry of emails between the company and the Energy Department, as part of an investigation of “preferred treatment” received by six alternative energy projects.

The Committee appeared to be anticipating a Solyndra-style financial collapse by some or all of those projects, including the Ivanpah CSP plant, but rumors of its death were premature, to say the least, and the investigation fizzled out.

For the record, financial risk is a feature, not a bug, of the DOE loan program, which started under the Bush Administration in a push to cement public-private partnerships into the US civic structure. Overall, the program has been a stunning success.

Congress had actually set aside a $10 billion loan loss reserve for the DOE loan program to cover anticipated losses, and as of last year those losses only came up to less than ten percent of that amount.

Ivanpah CSP Plant Powers Up

We’ve been following the Ivanpah project since shovels hit the ground in 2010, with completion expected late in 2013.

Sure enough, in March 2013 the passed its first “flux,” test, in which the plant’s thousands of heliostats (a fancy word for mirror), focused solar energy onto the boiler, bringing it just below the point of steam.

The next step was a shakedown of the plant’s steam pathways, and by September 2013 it was ready for a critical first “sync” test, which it also passed swimmingly (sync refers to synchronizing power output from the plant to the grid).

Earlier this month, various headlines suggested that the plant is now fully operational, but to the best of our knowledge it is still engaged in what is obviously a longer process than simply flipping a switch.

Nevertheless, given the success of the project so far, DOE is on pretty secure footing by going ahead with today’s dedication ceremony.

It’s also a good opportunity for DOE to tout the success of the loan program, which aside from the world’s largest CSP also includes one of the world’s largest wind farms, the first solar thermal storage project and the first power tower with solar thermal storage in the US, and some of the world’s largest parabolic trough CSP plants.

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This article, Controversial Ivanpah Solar Power Plant Sets Record, Settles Controversy, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Renewable Energy. Tina CaseyTina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

Natcore Will Make Black Silicon Solar Cells Cheaper

by Tina Casey.

Natcore Technology solar cells
Prices for renewable energy in 2013 continue to fall. Natcore Technologies creates new wafers at lower cost which will help to lower renewable energy costs in the near future.

The solar company Natcore Technologies is set to take a huge bite out of the cost of producing solar cells while reducing the amount of manufacturing-related hazardous effluents. The key is a new low temperature laser process that Natcore plans to introduce, which will eliminate the need for a high temperature diffusion furnace.

Natcore has been working with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and other partners to perfect its black silicon technology. Just around this time last year it announced that it completed the design of a complete low-cost black silicon solar cell production system at its New York facility, resulting in the potential for a 23.5 percent cut production costs according to an independent study cited by Natcore.

The Road To Super Cheap Black Silicon Wafers

The laser system could result in even greater savings.

In conventional solar cell manufacturing, materials are added to the surface of the cell (a process called doping) by melting them on in a furnace, which involves a considerable amount of waste heat. Typically, the furnace reaches temperatures of up to 900 degrees centigrade.

In contrast, laser doping focuses all of its energy on localized points. It takes less than a millisecond, wasting far less energy and minimizing the risk of damaging the solar cell.

According to Natcore officials, the process will also eliminate hazardous materials used in the conventional production process, including silane and phosphorous oxychloride.

Natcore isn’t saying what laser it is using, but it has identified a company that it is working with to custom-make a system for their R&D facility.

Don’t Forget Black Metals!

Black silicon refers to silicon wafers etched with billions of nano-sized holes per square inch. That creates a new level of efficiency, as described by NREL:

The holes and silicon walls are smaller than the light wavelengths hitting them, so the light doesn’t recognize any sudden change in density at the surface and, thus, don’t reflect back into the atmosphere as wasted energy. The researchers controlled the nanoshapes and the chemical composition of the surface to reach record solar cell efficiencies for this ‘black silicon’ material.

The wafer is not actually colored black, but the nanoholes make it appear darker. It’s worth noting, by the way, that Natcore has some competition in this area, for example from Germany’s Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft institute.

Meanwhile, researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have been working on a “black metals” process that deploys the plasmonic effect to harvest energy from a greater span of the solar spectrum.

The basic concept is similar to black silicon, but instead of using nanoholes, the structures in black metal are pillar-like nanofilaments.

Projects like these demonstrate that solar tech has yet to find its bottom cost, as efficiencies continue to rise and production costs fall.

As for the “soft costs” of a solar installation including labor and third-party financing, those are also being addressed by new Department of Energy initiatives such as the Most Affordable Rooftop Solar Prize.

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This article, Natcore Aims To Make Black Silicon Solar Cells Even Cheaper, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Tina CaseyTina Casey Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

Improving Solar Cell Efficiency — New Method Developed

by Nathan

A new method of improving solar cell efficiency, one that builds upon earlier research into the class of materials known as quasi-crystals, has been developed by researchers at the University of York and the University of St Andrews.

A quasi-random structure to maximise performance of a thin film silicon solar cell. Image Credit: Dr Li Juntao
A quasi-random structure to maximise performance of a thin film silicon solar cell.
Image Credit: Dr Li Juntao

The new method allows for highly efficient broad-band light trapping in thin films — more light is captured within the film than with other methods, maximizing absorption and electricity generation.

The University of York provides the details:

The new method builds on research into a class of materials known as quasi-crystals, which offer advantages in terms of the spectrum of light they are able to capture. However, the problem with these structures is that their properties are difficult to tailor towards specific applications as they lack the design tools available with periodic structures such as regular gratings.

To solve this problem, the researchers created a new structure called a quasi-random structure, which combines the rich spatial frequencies associated with quasi-crystals with the high level of control afforded by periodic structures.

Emiliano Martins, from the School of Physics and Astronomy, University of St Andrews, explained: “The control of propagating light is a crucial aspect in photonics. Here, we demonstrate that by a careful design of their Fourier spectra, quasi-random nanostructures can achieve such control very efficiently.”

Martins developed the idea of the quasi-random structure in cooperation with Dr Thomas F Krauss, an Anniversary Professor in the Department of Physics at the University of York. Dr Krauss stated: “Applying our nanophotonics design ideas to such an important area as solar cells is essential for improving the competitiveness of renewable energy generation.“

Collaborating author Dr Juntao Li, from the State Key Laboratory of Optoelectronic Materials and Technology, Sun Yat-sen University, China, noted: “Other than solar cells, our design can also be used in many light trapping areas, like LED and DFB lasers. “

The new research was just published in the journal Nature Communications.

About the Author

For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts; for all is vanity. – Ecclesiastes 3:19