September 19, 2011

News and Events

Rooftop Solar Power for U.S. Military Housing Supported by DOE

Photo of two workers on a roof with a solar panel.A new program will increase solar energy installations on military housing.
Credit: Craig Miller Productions

DOE announced on September 7 its offer of a conditional commitment for a partial guarantee of a $344 million loan that will support Project SolarStrong, which will install up to 160,000 rooftop solar installations on as many as 124 military bases in up to 33 states. The project is expected to be a record expansion of residential rooftop solar power in the United States. Under the project, SolarCity Corporation will install, own, and operate the photovoltaic (PV) systems. SolarCity expects the project to fund approximately 750 construction jobs over five years and 28 full-time operating jobs. Many of the jobs are expected to be filled by U.S. veterans and military family members, who will be recruited, trained, and employed to install, operate, and maintain the PV systems.

The project, which could create up to 371 megawatts of new solar capacity, includes the installation of residential rooftop PV systems on existing privatized military family residences and other privatized buildings, such as community centers, administrative offices, maintenance buildings, and storage warehouses. The project will provide low-cost renewable electricity to privatized military housing. It is expected to avoid more than 250,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. SolarStrong will have the added benefit of helping the Department of Defense, the single-largest energy consumer in the United States, secure its energy needs from domestic renewable sources that are independent from the utility grid, at no additional cost to taxpayers. DOD has a stated goal that 25% of all energy consumed by 2025 shall be supplied by renewable sources.

Project SolarStrong will be rolled out over five years, starting with a four-megawatt installation at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, with construction now underway. SolarStrong is expected to sell electricity produced from the installations. DOE’s Loan Programs Office has issued loans, loan guarantees or offered conditional commitments for loan guarantees totaling nearly $40 billion to support more than 40 clean energy projects across the United States. See the DOE press release and the Loan Programs website.

DOE Awards $43 Million to Spur Offshore Wind Energy

DOE announced on September 8 that it will award $43 million over the next five years to speed technical innovations, lower costs, and shorten the timeline for deploying offshore wind energy systems. The 41 funded projects across 20 states will advance wind turbine design tools and hardware, improve information about U.S. offshore wind resources, and reduce market barriers related to supply chain development, transmission, and infrastructure. The awards will help the United States compete in the global wind energy manufacturing sector while promoting economic development and job creation. Funding is subject to congressional appropriations.

Some projects will focus on three technical approaches to advancing offshore technology. Certain projects will advance the current state-of-the-art modeling and analysis tools for the design, performance assessment, system modeling, and cost assessment of offshore wind systems. Offshore wind system design studies will develop conceptual designs and assessments of offshore wind plant systems that enhance energy capture, improve performance and reliability, and reduce the cost of energy from integrated wind plant systems. And other projects will support the research and development of innovative rotor and control systems designs for advanced components and integrated systems to reduce capital costs of these systems by up to 50%.

Additional projects will focus on seven approaches to removing market barriers to offshore wind energy deployment. An offshore wind market and economic analysis will seek to reduce financing costs and increase investor confidence by supporting offshore wind market analysis to inform stakeholder decision-making regarding individual projects, industry issues, and energy policy. Also, three projects will work to expedite the permitting process by performing ecological studies and predictive modeling and validating innovative technologies for avian and bat studies. Another project will assess the current domestic supply chain infrastructure and recommend strategies for national manufacturing infrastructure development to support offshore wind deployment. Four projects will study the integration of offshore wind energy into the grid. Four projects will assess ports, vessels, and operations that will be involved with offshore wind energy efforts. And, eight projects will develop an accessible network of information on subjects including U.S. offshore wind resources, design requirements for offshore wind turbines, and environmental conditions affecting offshore wind energy systems. Finally, one project will evaluate the potential effects of offshore wind energy facilities on electronic navigation, detection, or communication equipment such as airborne radar, global positioning systems (GPS), shipboard radios, and SONAR. See the EERE press release, the list of winners, and the DOE Wind Power website.

Geothermal Energy Advanced by DOE’s $38 Million Backing

DOE announced on September 8 that it will award $38 million over three years for projects to accelerate the development of promising geothermal energy technologies. Thirty-two innovative projects in 14 states will develop and test new ways to locate geothermal resources and improve resource characterization, drilling, and reservoir engineering techniques. These advances will play an important role in achieving President Obama’s goal of generating 80% of U.S. electricity from clean energy sources by 2035.

This investment in clean energy development is part of DOE’s comprehensive effort to reduce the cost of geothermal energy, making it more competitive with conventional sources of baseload electricity. Projects will perform feasibility studies before advancing to prototyping and validation, which will be conducted through laboratory-based research and field-testing. The selected projects will support DOE’s goals of lowering the cost and financial risk associated with confirming and characterizing geothermal resources and will help overcome key technical challenges to reservoir creation and the sustainability of enhanced geothermal systems. For example, DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory will predict changes in fluid flow through fractures and will improve current methods of estimating geothermal reservoir temperatures to enable subsurface imaging and reduce exploration costs. And, Impact Technologies of Tulsa, Oklahoma, will examine the feasibility of employing intense radiation technology to drill and seal off the walls of geothermal wells in order to reduce drilling costs. See the DOE press release and the Geothermal Technologies Program website.

DOE Awards more than $30 Million to Train Energy Efficiency Students

DOE announced on September 13 awards of more than $30 million for 24 universities in 23 states to train undergraduate- and graduate-level engineering students in manufacturing energy efficiency. Each school will receive $200,000 to $300,000 per year for up to five years to help university teams to gain training on core energy management concepts through DOE’s Industrial Assessment Center program. The program enables promising engineering students around the country to conduct energy assessments in a broad range of manufacturing facilities, providing skills and experience that prepares the students while helping local companies and factories to reduce energy waste.

Through these university-based centers, engineering students will receive extensive training in industrial processes, energy assessment procedures, and energy management principles, which will be put to use working directly with small and medium-sized facilities in the surrounding communities. Under the program, each Industrial Assessment Center will be expected to train at least 10 to 15 students per year and conduct approximately 20 energy assessments annually. In addition, each center will be expected to promote interaction with private sector partners. See the DOE press release and the list of award winners.

DOE Promotes Electric Vehicles in 24 States, D.C.

Photo of a sleek car.Owners of electric vehicles such as the Nissan Leaf should benefit from a DOE program designed to boost EV use.
Credit: Nissan

DOE announced on September 8 that 16 projects will support activities in 24 states and the District of Columbia to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) in communities across the nation. Seven additional projects in seven states will help prepare college students for careers designing and building advanced vehicle technologies.

DOE’s Clean Cities initiative, which builds partnerships to reduce petroleum use in transportation, will award $8.5 million to communities that will boost community planning for plug-in EVs and charging infrastructure. Funding recipients range from communities with extensive EV planning experience to those that are eager to begin but lack the resources to do so. These one-year projects will help communities address their specific needs, which include updating permitting processes, revising codes, training municipal personnel, promoting public awareness, or developing incentives, and each project will create a plan that will be publicly available so that other stakeholders can learn best practices. See DOE press release, the list of Clean Cities’ award winners, and the Clean Cities website.

DOE’s Graduate Automotive Technology Education (GATE) initiative will award $6.4 million over the course of five years to support seven centers of excellence at American colleges, universities, and university-affiliated research institutions. The awardees will focus on three critical automotive technology areas: hybrid propulsion, energy storage, and lightweight materials. By funding curriculum development and expansion as well as laboratory work, GATE allows higher education institutions to develop multidisciplinary training. As a result, GATE promotes the development of a skilled workforce of engineering professionals who will overcome technical barriers and help commercialize the next generation of advanced automotive technologies. For example, Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, will comprehensively train, educate, and equip the next generation of research scientists and engineers to address technical challenges and respond to opportunities unique to medium- and heavy-duty hybrid vehicles. See the list of GATE winners and the GATE website.

California Solar Power Plant Backed by $1.2 Billion DOE Loan Guarantee

DOE announced on September 13 that it had finalized a $1.2 billion loan guarantee to Mojave Solar LLC for the development of the Mojave Solar Project in California. When complete, the 250-megawatt solar generation project in San Bernardino County will increase the nation’s currently installed concentrating solar power (CSP) capacity by about 50%. Abengoa Solar Inc., the project sponsor, estimates it will fund more than 900 construction and permanent operations jobs.

The project will be the first U.S. utility-scale deployment of Abengoa’s latest solar collector assembly, a significant improvement over the prior generation of solar concentrating technology installed in the United States in the 1980s and 1990s. The collector, which was originally developed in connection with an award from the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, has a number of advanced features, including a lighter, stronger frame designed to hold parabolic mirrors that are easier and less expensive to build and install. The new heat collection element increases thermal efficiency by up to 30% over first generation CSP plants. The Mojave Solar Project will avoid more than 350,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually and is anticipated to generate enough electricity to power more than 54,000 homes. See the DOE press release.

Solar Manufacturer Gets $150 Million DOE Loan Guarantee

DOE finalized on September 8 a $150 million loan guarantee to 1366 Technologies, Inc. for the development of a multicrystalline wafer manufacturing project that could significantly drive down the costs of solar manufacturing. The project will be able to produce approximately 700 to 1,000 megawatts of silicon-based wafers annually using a manufacturing process called Direct Wafer. The innovative process could reduce wafer-manufacturing costs by approximately 50%, dramatically cutting the cost of solar power. The first phase of the project will be located in Lexington, Massachusetts and is expected to fund 70 permanent jobs and 50 construction jobs. The company is evaluating site locations for another planned phase, which they anticipate will fund hundreds of additional jobs.

The original development of the company’s Direct Wafer technology was supported with a $4 million grant from DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy program and a $3 million grant from DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. The innovative manufacturing process reduces four separate manufacturing steps into a single, low-cost continuous process and greatly reduces silicon waste by forming individual wafers directly from a bath of molten silicon. A thin sheet of silicon freezes inside the direct wafer furnace and is then removed and laser-trimmed to size. At full production, the entire wafer formation process is completed in just 25 seconds while conventional batch processing can take up to three days. See the DOE press release and the DOE Loan Programs Office website.

DOE Finalizes $90.6 Million Loan Guarantee for Colorado Solar Project

DOE announced on September 9 that it finalized a $90.6 million loan guarantee to Cogentrix of Alamosa, LLC. The loan guarantee will support the Alamosa Solar Generating Project, a 30-megawatt high-concentration photovoltaic (HCPV) power generation facility. Located in south-central Colorado near the city of Alamosa, it represents one of the first utility-scale, HCPV energy generation facilities in the nation. Cogentrix estimates the project will support up to 100 construction jobs.

The proposed facility will use innovative HCPV systems consisting of concentrating optics and multi-junction solar cell panels that are controlled by a dual-axis tracking system. The tracking system rotates and tilts the cells throughout the day so the surface of the solar panel maintains an optimal angle with respect to the sun. Cogentrix estimates the multi-junction solar cells are nearly 40% efficient, which is about double that of more traditional PV panels, making concentrated photovoltaic technology advantageous in areas with high amounts of direct sunlight, such as south-central Colorado. The facility is expected to produce enough clean renewable energy each year to power more than 6,500 homes, and it will avoid the emissions of more than 43,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. See the DOE press release.

Questions for a Nanoscientist

Seth Darling is a scientist at DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory’s Center for Nanoscale Materials. He builds new materials for solar energy, with the aim of creating cheaper and more efficient solar cells.


Question: How did you first get interested in science?

Seth Darling: I can’t remember back that far. I’ve been interested in science as long as I can remember. Yeah, all the way back to elementary school—I was certain I was going to be a scientist at that point. Chemistry was the plan for many years; all the way up even into college I was planning to do chemistry. And, now I do something that uses chemistry but is really chemistry and physics and materials science and nanoscience and all kinds of stuff all rolled up together.

Q: What do you like about that?

SD: It’s fun because you get to work with a very diverse group of scientists. Postdocs who work with me have degrees in electrical engineering and chemistry and material science. So it’s fun because you can really look at the interfaces between these different disciplines, which is where most of the interesting stuff is going on. It’s also very challenging because there’s just no way you can be an expert on all of those simultaneously, and so you always feel a little bit like you’re at the edge of your understanding. Which is challenging, but it’s also fun—you get to learn lots of new stuff all the time.

Q: What projects are you working on now?

SD: Most of what I’m working on now revolves around solar energy—photovoltaics, specifically. What we’re interested in are organic photovoltaics and photovoltaics that involve organic materials that might also involve inorganic materials—hybrids. We’re interested in those because they’re significantly lower-cost than current solar energy technologies, but right now the efficiencies are not high enough to be truly commercially relevant. So we’re doing the basic science to understand where the efficiency losses are, and how can they be improved. These are basic science questions, but are also very much geared towards the applied side—ultimately pushing commercial industry towards organic photovoltaics. That’s where most of our work lies.

To read the rest of the interview, see the Energy Blog post.


DOE Awards More Than $145 Million for Advanced Solar Technologies

DOE announced on September 1 that it has awarded more than $145 million for projects to help shape the next generation of solar energy technologies as part of its SunShot Initiative. Sixty-nine projects in 24 states will accelerate research and development to increase efficiency, lower costs, and advance cutting-edge technologies. The projects will also improve materials, manufacturing processes, and supply chains for a wide range of photovoltaic (PV) solar cells and components of solar energy systems. Some of these investments also support efforts that will shorten the overall timeline from prototype to production and streamline building codes, zoning laws, permitting rules, and business processes for installing solar energy systems.

Projects are in six general categories. Projects in the Extreme Balance of System Hardware Cost Reductions category will include research and development of new balance of system hardware, or solar system components including power inverters and mounting racks (but not solar panels or cells). For example, Amonix of Seal Beach, California, will develop new dual-axis tracking systems specifically for concentrating PV systems. Project in the Foundational Program to Advance Cell Efficiency category will combine both DOE and National Science Foundation resources in a joint program that aims to eliminate the significant gap between the efficiencies of prototype cells achieved in the laboratory and the efficiencies of cells produced on manufacturing lines. Solar Energy Grid Integration Systems—Advanced Concepts projects will develop electronics and build smarter, more interactive systems and components so that solar energy can be integrated into the grid at higher levels.

Transformational PV Science and Technology—Next Generation Photovoltaics II projects will fund applied research into technologies that greatly increase efficiency, lower costs, create secure and sustainable supply chains and perform more reliably than the current PV technologies. The Reducing Market Barriers and Non-Hardware Balance-of-System Costs category awards will provide funding to create tools and will develop methods to reduce the cost of non-hardware components for installed solar energy systems. And, the SunShot Incubator will fund two tiers of transformational projects for projects in California and Vermont. The first accelerates development of new technologies from concept to commercial viability. The second level of funding supports efforts that shorten the overall timeline from laboratory-scale development to pilot-line manufacture. For example, Halotechnics, in Emeryville, California, will develop a thermal energy storage system operating at 700°C using a new high-stability, low-melting-point molten salt as the heat transfer and thermal storage material for concentrating solar power applications. The SunShot Incubator program is an expansion of DOE’s PV Technology Incubator program, launched in 2007, which to date has funded $60 million in projects that have been leveraged into $1.3 billion in private investment.

The SunShot Initiative seeks to make solar energy systems more cost-competitive, without long-term subsidies, by reducing the cost of these systems about 75 percent by the end of the decade. Achievement of the SunShot Initiative goals will encourage rapid, widespread adoption of solar energy systems across the United States. See the DOE press release, the awards by statePDF, the awards by categoryPDF, and the SunShot Initiative website.

DOE Awards up to $12 Million to Support Drop-In Biofuels

DOE announced on August 31 that it would invest up to $12 million to fund three small-scale drop-in biofuels projects in Illinois, North Carolina, and Wisconsin. Drop-in biofuels are fuels that can supplement or directly replace existing gasoline, diesel, and jet fuels. The projects seek to accelerate research and development that will lead the way toward affordable, clean alternatives to fossil fuels and will diversify our nation’s energy portfolio.

Using innovative thermochemical processes, the projects will help improve the economics and efficiency of turning biomass into biofuels and other products. These processes use heat and catalysts to convert biomass, in a controlled industrial environment, into liquid and gaseous intermediates that can then be chemically converted into fuels and other products. The funding further diversifies DOE’s research and development portfolio in a breadth of fuels and chemicals derived from domestic cellulosic biomass, such as grasses, wood, and agricultural residue.

Selected recipients include LanzaTech of Roselle, Illinois, which will develop a cost-effective technology that converts biomass-derived ethanol into jet fuel using catalysts, thus driving down fuel cost; the Research Triangle Institute of Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, which will integrate a thermochemical process that produces a bio-crude intermediate from biomass with a hydroprocessing technology that upgrades the bio-crude into gasoline and diesel; and Virent Energy Systems, Inc. of Madison, Wisconsin, which will convert biomass into oxygenated chemical intermediates using an innovative thermochemical technology and will then upgrade the intermediates to a hydrocarbon. See the DOE press release and the DOE Biomass Program website.

DOE, USDA, and U.S. Navy Seek Input from Industry to Advance Biofuels

DOE, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the U.S. Navy jointly announced on August 30 the next step in the creation of a public-private partnership to develop drop-in advanced biofuels. Drop-in biofuels are fuels that can supplement or directly replace existing gasoline, diesel, and jet fuels. The agencies issued a request for information (RFI) that lays out the Obama administration’s goals. It seeks specific ideas from industry about how to leverage private capital markets to establish a commercially viable industry for biofuels that can replace other fuels. The information will help accelerate the development and use of biofuels.

On August 16, the three departments announced private sector investments of up to $510 million during the next three years to produce advanced drop-in aviation and marine biofuels. The main objective of this government-industry partnership is the construction or retrofit of several domestic advanced drop-in biofuel refineries at either commercial or pre-commercial scale. These facilities will produce drop-in advanced biofuels meeting military specifications, will be located in geographically diverse locations for ready market access, and will have no significant impact on the supply of agricultural food commodities. Responses to the RFI are due on September 30. See the DOE press release and the RFI Web page.

DOE, Interior Award Nearly $17 Million for Advanced Hydropower

DOE and the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) announced on September 6 that they had awarded nearly $17 million in funding over the next three years for research and development projects to advance hydropower technology. Sixteen projects in 11 states were selected through a competitive grant process for their ability to contribute to the development of innovative technologies that produce hydropower more efficiently, reduce costs, and increase sustainable hydropower generation.

These projects will advance sustainable renewable energy generation from small (less than 30 megawatts) hydropower resources. They will also enhance the environmental performance of hydropower, test innovative technologies for hydropower development at low-head (less than a 30 foot drop) sites such as irrigation canals and non-powered dams, and spur deployment of pumped storage hydropower. By allowing utility operators to pump water up to a dam or impoundment during periods of low electricity demand and release water during times of peak electricity demand, pumped storage hydropower improves the reliability of electric grids and helps increase the use of variable renewable energy resources such as wind and solar power.

The selections announced focus on four approaches to advancing hydropower in the United States. Sustainable Small Hydropower will research, develop, and test low-head, small hydropower technologies that can be quickly and efficiently deployed at existing non-powered dams or constructed waterways. Sustainable Pumped Storage Hydropower projects will spur deployment of advanced pumped storage hydropower in the United States. Environmental Mitigation Technologies for Conventional Hydropower will include projects designed to develop innovative hydropower technologies that will enhance environmental performance while increasing electricity generation. And Advanced Hydropower System Testing at a DOI Bureau of Reclamation Facility will support system tests of innovative, low-head, small hydropower technologies at a non-powered site owned by the Bureau of Reclamation. Energy cost reductions demonstrated at this site could be replicated at other Bureau of Reclamation sites. See the DOE press release and the full list of award winners.

ASES National Solar Tour Shines on

Photo of people entering a house which has solar panels on the roof.Local tours of solar houses are being offered throughout the United States on or about October 1.
Credit: MSB Energy Associates

Solar energy will shine as the American Solar Energy Society (ASES) hosts its 16th annual ASES National Solar Tour on October 1. The nonprofit association of solar energy professionals and advocates bills the event as the world’s largest grassroots solar event. This year, it and its partner organizations will coordinate tours of innovative green homes and buildings that are scheduled in 35 states on or around October 1. ASES estimates that more than 160,000 participants will visit some 5,500 buildings in 3,200 communities across the United States as part of the tour.

For example, in Washington, D.C., tour organizers have arranged to have more than 100 solar and energy efficient homes on a self-guided tour during two days, October 2 and 3. The homeowners, architects, builders, and others will answer questions. Some tours, such as the 3rd Annual Middle TN Solar Tour near Nashville, Tennessee, will take place on another weekend. The Tennessee tour is on October 8. See the ASES Tour website for the dates, fees, and registration requirements for various tours.

Alternative Vehicle Initiatives Rev Up at Ford, General Motors

Photo of car with a large T-shaped battery displayed in front of it.Ford and GM are planning to add new alternative fuel vehicles to their existing fleets. The GM fleet currently includes the Chevrolet Volt, shown here with a replica of its battery pack.
Credit: GM Corp.

The Ford Motor Company and General Motors (GM) will pursue separate new initiatives to further develop their respective alternative vehicles. Ford announced on August 22 that it will collaborate equally with Toyota Motor Corporation on an advanced new hybrid system for light trucks and SUVs. Then, GM announced on August 25 that it will team with Korea-based industrial LG Group to jointly design and engineer future electric vehicles LG is a battery cell supplier for the extended-range electric vehicle (EV) Chevrolet Volt.

The Ford-Toyota partnership will focus on a hybrid powertrain for greater fuel efficiency to a new group of truck and SUV customers. The system could be ready for use later this decade on rear-wheel drive vehicles. The carmakers will independently integrate the new hybrid system in their future vehicles. See the Ford press release.

GM expects to expand the number and types of EVs it makes and sells by using LG’s proven expertise in batteries and other systems. Teams of GM and LG engineers will work on key components, as well as vehicle structures and architectures. Vehicles resulting from the partnership will be sold in many countries. See the GM press release.

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