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Morocco paying too much for solar power

Morocco is set to pay more for its solar power than far richer countries such as Germany and should switch tack to cheaper solar technologies that can compete better with wind, oil and coal.

The higher cost can probably be attributed to its choice of concentrated solar power (CSP), the competitiveness of which is being questioned as prices of rival photovoltaic (PV) technology tumble.

Morocco plans to install at least 2,000 megawatts (MW) of solar power capacity by 2020 at five sites, which it hopes will account for 14 percent of total power generating capacity by the end of the decade.

It will target both CSP and solar PV in its Moroccan Plan for Solar Energy, or “Solar Plan”, according to the Moroccan Investment Development Agency, but has so far veered towards more expensive CSP at one initial project near the southern city of Ouarzazate.

That contrasts with how developers in California have increasingly ditched CSP for PV over the past three years as a global manufacturing glut sent PV costs plummeting.

CSP uses parabolic or other types of mirrors to concentrate sunlight and create heat and steam to drive a turbine. It is a technology championed by power equipment producers in Spain, Morocco’s neighbour and one of its closest diplomatic allies.

Solar PV converts sunlight directly into electricity using a light-sensitive semiconductor such as silicon.

Morocco would do well to switch to PV, given a far more developed supply chain, commoditised end product and competitive power generation, especially given that the country’s economic troubles make it riskier to experiment with less widely used technologies.

Moroccan authorities anticipated the solar plan would cost $9 billion at its launch in 2009, according to data on the website of the north African country’s solar energy agency, Masen.

The plan will be part-financed by a $1 billion Energy Development Fund, including donations from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Morocco has raised additional funds for the first Ouarzazate project from institutions including the European Investment Bank, the French Development Agency (AFD) and the German development bank KfW.

The plan will be delivered through 25-year power purchase agreements (PPA) with independent power producers which earn a fixed rate per unit of solar power they generate.

The aim is to achieve greater energy independence: Morocco is one of the world’s most energy-poor countries, importing around 95 percent of its needs, according to the World Bank.

Energy accounts for more than a quarter of the country’s imports and contributed to a record trade deficit of $23.6 billion last year.

Sun-drenched Morocco wants eventually to export its solar energy to Europe.

The US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has developed an open-access database measuring solar irradiance calculated according to the sunlight captured by a panel tilted southwards, defined in units of kilowatt hours per square metre per day.

The NREL’s map shows a maximum “Direct Normal Irradiance” (DNI) in southwest Germany of 3.39, compared with 7.47 at Ouarzazate in Morocco. (See Chart 1)

It shows that the Moroccan project should achieve far more competitive power generation.

But Morocco announced last September that it had awarded a group led by Saudi International Company for Water and Power (ACWA) a $1 billion contract to build a 160-megawatt (MW) CSP plant, at 1.62 dirham ($0.194) per kilowatt hour.

ACWA last week confirmed further details including the award of construction contracts.

That is more support than for smaller PV installations in Germany, at 0.134 euros ($0.18) per kWh for projects up to 10 MW, and in Britain, at 0.115 pounds ($0.18) for projects above 250 kilowatts, both of which are over 20 rather than 25 years.

Germany has scrapped support for projects over 10 MW.

One way to compare costs of PV relative to CSP is using a measure called levelised cost of energy (LCOE), based on total lifetime costs and energy generation.

WWEA: 100 countries now using wind power 16 May 2013

The 2012 report by the World Wind Energy Association shows 100 countries are using electricity generated by wind turbines, with Iceland recently becoming the 100th nation to deploy wind power. However, the market’s overall growth rate of 19.2 % is the lowest rate in more than a decade, despite an annual turnover of €60bn, according to the report.

The association‘s World Wind Energy Report 2012 says global wind capacity has now reached over 282GW – 44.6GW was added in 2012 alone, the most ever added in a single year.

By end 2012, the total worldwide wind turbines installed can provide 580TWh per annum, more than 3% of global electricity demand. The share of offshore wind in the overall capacity increased to 1.9 %, from 1.5 % in 2011, the report adds.

The USA and China both installed around 13GW of new wind capacity. Record-breaking new installations in the US, most of which occured in second half of the year in a rush to avoid the anticipated expiration of the production tax credit incentive programme, made it the world’s largest market for new wind turbines in 2012.

Other key growth markets included India – which added 2.5GW in 2012 – and Poland, Romania and Sweden in Europe. Germany continued its role as the largest and most stable market in Europe with a cumulative installed capacity of 31GW, followed by Spain with 22.8GW. The UK meanwhile, took over Spain as the second largest European market for new turbines.

Overall, Asia accounted for the largest share of new installations (36.3 %), followed by North America (31.3 %) and Europe (27.5 %). Latin America saw 3.9 % of new global installations, while Australia/Oceania saw just 0.8 %. Africa, meanwhile, with 0.2 %, remains a tiny wind market.

While policy uncertainties in major markets represent a major barrier for wind penetration, WWEA said it expects a global capacity of more than 500GW by2016 and considers around 1000 GW possible by the year 2020.

Institution of Engineering and Technology Seeks World’s Brightest Engineering Innovations

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) has launched a worldwide search for the best engineering innovations via its awards programme – the IET Innovation Awards.

The Innovation Awards recognise excellence across 15 categories, which span the breadth of science, engineering and technology. The free-to-enter, international, annual awards scheme provides a unique opportunity for engineering innovators to showcase their brightest ideas.

The awards programme is now in its ninth year. It is open to any individual, company or organisation which is doing something that will introduce a step change and contributes to better ways of doing things, new products, enhanced performance or better value.

Nigel Fine, Chief Executive of the IET said: “These awards recognise the most outstanding innovations across science, engineering and technology celebrating the contribution made by engineers and technicians to enhance people’s lives everywhere.”

Entries are sought in the following categories:

Asset Management

Built Environment

Communications

Consumer Electronics Technology

Emerging Technology Design

Healthcare Technologies

Intelligent Systems, sponsored by Altran

Information Technology, sponsored by Accenture

Measurement in Action, sponsored by NPL

Model-Based Engineering, sponsored by MathWorks

Navigation and Surveillance Communications

Power / Energy, sponsored by National Grid

Start-up, sponsored by the ERA Foundation

Sustainability, sponsored by ABB

Vehicle Technologies

Each category of the Innovation Awards is independently judged by a panel of experts in that field, with the shortlist announced each October. Winners will be revealed at a celebrity-hosted glittering awards ceremony and gala dinner in London at The Brewery on 20 November.

To find out more about the Innovation Awards, sponsorship opportunities or to submit an entry, please visit www.theiet.org/innovation. The deadline for entries is 26 July.

SwissINSO launches coloured glass for solar panels

SwissINSO Holding Inc has developed Kromatix, coloured glass designed to improve the aesthetics and overall effectiveness of integrated solar energy panels.

The material was launched at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) at a press conference. It was designed and developed in collaboration with the university.

Kromatix glass is obtained by combining two different surface treatments: the deposition by vacuum plasma process of a coloured nano-scaled multilayered treatment applied to the inner side of the glass; and the modification of the glazing outer surface. These processes can prevent glare effects and hide the technical components of photovoltaic or thermal panels, the company said.

Moreover, thermal and photovoltaic panels equipped with Kromatix coloured glass reportedly produce the same energy as traditional panels, with negligible loss of efficiency.

“Thanks to more than ten years of research and development, of effective collaboration between EPFL and SwissINSO and investments amounting to several million euros, we have developed a coloured glass whose performance is almost equal [to] traditional glass. It is a real technological breakthrough in the field of solar panels,” said Professor Jean-Louis Scartezzini, director of the Solar Energy and Building Physics Laboratory at EPFL.

“This new technology allowing the manufacture of solar panels in a wide range of colours, opens new perspectives and a new paradigm in terms of architectural design and, of course, energy savings,” said Rafic Hanbali, CEO of SwissINSO.

Kromatix is available in blue, green, terracotta, grey and yellow and is applicable to surfaces of all types of residential or commercial building.

South Korean researchers bring polymer solar cells closer to commercialisation

Researchers have demonstrated high-performance polymer solar cells (PSCs) with a power conversion efficiency (PCE) of 8.92% – the highest values reported to date for plasmonic PSCs using metal nanoparticles (NPs).

Korean scientists led by Jin Young Kim and Soojin Park, both Associate Professors of the Interdisciplinary School of Green Energy at the South Korean Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) have been working on improving PSC efficiency, which they said must reach at least 10% before the cells become commercially viable.

A polymer solar cell is a type of thin film solar cell made with polymers that produce electricity from sunlight by the photovoltaic effect. Most current commercial solar cells are made from a highly purified silicon crystal, but are expensive and complex to produce, raising interest in developing alternative photovoltaic technologies. Compared to silicon-based devices, PSCs are lightweight, important for small autonomous sensors, are potentially disposable due to solution processability, inexpensive to make, flexible, and customisable on the molecular level. They also have a lower potential for negative environmental impact, UNIST says, which is why they have attracted a lot of interest. Their promise of “extremely cheap” production and eventually high efficiency values has made them one of the most popular fields in solar cell research.

Despite these many advantages, PSCs are currently not efficient enough for large-scale applications and often experience stability problems. To maximise power conversion efficiency, light absorption in the active layer must be increased using thick bulk heterojunction (BHJ) films. However, the thickness of the active layer is limited by the low carrier mobilities of BHJ materials. UNIST researchers are therefore exploring ways to minimise the thickness of BHJ films while maximising the light absorption capability in the active layer.

The science

The research team employed what is known as the surface plasmon resonance (SPR) effect via multi-positional silica-coated silver NPs (Ag@SiO2) to increase light absorption. “The silica shell in Ag@SiO2 preserves the SPR effect of the Ag NPs by preventing oxidation of the Ag core under ambient conditions and also eliminates the concern about exciton quenching by avoiding direct contact between Ag cores and the active layer,” UNIST says. “The multi-positional property refers to the ability of Ag@SiO2 NPs to be introduced at both ITO/PEDOT:PSS (type I) and PEDOT:PSS/active layer (type II) interfaces in polymer: fullerene-based BHJ PSCs due to the silica shells.”

“This is the first report introducing metal NPs between the hole transport layer and active layer for enhancing device performance,” said Professor Kim. “The multipositional and solutions-processable properties of our surface plasmon resonance materials offer the possibility to use multiple plasmonic effects by introducing various metal nanoparticles into different spatial location for high-performance optoelectronic device via mass production techniques.” Professor Park added: “Our work is meaningful to develop novel metal nanoparticles and almost reach 10% efficiency by using these materials. If we continuously focus on optimising this work, commercialisation of PSCs will be a realization.”

Solaria Corp expands into China solar market

Solaria Corporation has begun building power plants in China, in order to meet increasing demand for large-scale solar projects.

“As China expands its deployment of solar energy, there is a big push toward increasing the efficiency and reliability of large-scale solar power plants,” said Solaria CEO Dan Shugar. “Solaria’s state-of-the-art solar photovoltaic module technology, reliable tracking systems, and expertise in large-scale project development will be of great value as China moves toward renewable power.”

Solaria is also establishing a high-volume modules manufacturing facility in China.

Solaria has already built many large-scale solar power plants in the US, Europe and Asia and plans to build several megawatt-size solar power plants in the Qinghai province and Inner Mongolia. One project under development is for CECEP Solar Technology Co Ltd, China’s largest solar power plant investor and operator. Other power plants under construction are for GD Solar, a subsidiary of China Guodian Corporation, and Huanghe Hydropower, a subsidiary of China Power Investment Corporation, two of China’s largest utilities.

Solaria’s PV modules can increase energy yield and provide reliable performance while matching form and fit of conventional modules. They can deliver up to 30% more energy than conventional fixed tilt systems. The Solaria STS-AZ module is a ground-mounted, single-axis vertical tracker that increases PV energy production while reducing design, installation and operating costs. The STS-AZ tracker’s use of materials, ease of procurement, installation, and reliability makes it a highly robust and cost-effective choice to maximize the ROI of solar projects.

New premium photovoltaic module: Black half-cell module and new frame concept from Bosch Solar Energy

Bosch Solar Energy is launching a new premium module onto the market.

New generation of cells with half-cell design and innovative module materials improve output

High mechanical stability and new frame with multiple installation options for pressure loads of up to 7200 Pa

Arnstadt – This black model was first exhibited at Solarexpo in Italy at the start of May to very positive acclaim. Limited numbers of the black module with the new generation of cells and innovative frame concept have been available since the start of May.

Bosch Solar Module c-Si M 60+ S – more output and improved product design

Module output of up to 285 watts is assured by a new generation of cells with a black half-cell design and a burned-in anti-reflection coating on the micro-structured,toughened front glass, which enables greater light absorption. A highly transparent encapsulant foil provides more exposure to light, while innovative structured cell connectors reduce electrical and optical losses in the module and therefore also increase output.

The new premium module consists of 120 half monocrystalline high-performance solar cells in time-tested quality of the Arnstadt plant. The cells measure 156×78 mm and therefore allow more efficient use of the module surface area. Reliability tests that far exceed the standard requirements have confirmed the durability and long-term stability of the new module.

New frame allows easy and fast installation and maintenance

The black premium module has a new frame featuring many innovations which particularly facilitate installation and maintenance of the modules. Optimized ergonomics ensure easier handling during installation. The use of a central bar improves the stability of the frame, allows a variety of mounting options and enables the module to withstand pressure loads of up to 7200 Pa.

Drainage corners have also been incorporated into the design of the module frame. These allow rainwater to flow away at the corners and therefore improve self-cleaning of the module, lessening soiling and moss in the lower section – frequent causes of reduced output. The drainage corners also provide additional grounding options.

Innovative white half-cell module begins series production in summer 2013

Limited numbers of the new black premium module are currently being produced at Arnstadt. Series production of a half-cell module with white and silver components is to commence this summer. Because the white rear encapsulant is more reflective than the black encapsulant, this module will have an even greater output of up to 290 Wp.

Bosch Solar Energy is exhibiting the new black premium photovoltaic module, the white high-output module and the new frame concept at this year’s Intersolar trade show in Munich – at booth 270, hall A2 – from June 19 to 21.

Information on Bosch’s withdrawal from the field of crystalline photovoltaics

On March 22, 2013, Robert Bosch GmbH announced that it will pull out of the crystalline photovoltaic business field by the beginning of 2014. The aim is to sell the business outright or in individual sub-divisions, if possible.

Activities at Bosch Solar Energy are continuing at present, support for business partners is assured, and known contacts remain available as contact persons.

The Bosch Group’s Solar Energy division is a leading supplier of photovoltaic products. From small-scale plants for family homes to finished large-scale photovoltaic projects, Solar Energy offers high-quality solar cells and modules for photovoltaic power generation. The division also develops top-quality turnkey solar power plants. In this area, Solar Energy handles the building of solar power plants, from initial planning to turnkey handover.

Dutch Technology Turning Waste into Green Gas Goes Global

NETHERLANDS – The MILENA technology to produce green gas, electricity or fluid fuels from waste and biomass, developed by leading Dutch energy institute ECN, will be applied on a global scale in the next few years. ECN has signed a license agreement with Dutch company Royal Dahlman, which will implement this technology in various countries and across many different projects.

With innovative MILENA gasification, various kinds of waste and biomass can be converted into high energy gas. In ECN’s testing facility wood and agricultural waste from soya or rice was used. The gas MILENA produces can be converted to a) electricity through combined heat and power stations or gas turbines, b) into bio diesel and other transportation fuels or c) into biogas for the grid. Thus, MILENA helps solve both waste and energy problems.

To remove tar from the gas ECN has developed “OLGA” technology. Royal Dahlman uses both technologies. In the Dutch city of Alkmaar a testing plant has been constructed for the gasification of waste. Meanwhile in India, a testing facility has been built to generate electricity from agricultural waste. And finally in the UK the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) has selected Royal Dahlman to design the most cost effective waste-to-energy plant, combining MILENA and OLGA.

”MILENA is the missing link through which biomass may be converted into a usable gas. The problem of biomass gasification has always been its low efficiency. We have solved that with MILENA,” commented Ruud van den Brink of ECN. ”Compared to other technologies it’s suitable for the gasification of various wastes and biomasses. The gas it produces can be used to make biogas, but also bio diesel.”

Royal Dahlman has a lot of clients who want to use the gas in combined heat and power stations to generate electricity. In the future the company also hopes to turn the gas into transportation fuels or chemical products. ,”Power can be generated by wind turbines or solar panels. To make diesel or gasoline from renewables you need carbon-based biomass or waste. Royal Dahlman intends to use MILENA and OLGA technology in both the electricity and fuel markets,” said Jan-Willem Könemann of Royal Dahlman.

Solar’s Great Recovery: Photovoltaics Reach $155 Billion Market in 2018

The solar crisis will become a boon, as record low prices boost demand, more than doubling the market to 61.7 GW – with China emerging as the largest market, Lux Research says.

BOSTON, MA – May 21, 2013 – The solar photovoltaic (PV) market is poised to rise from the ashes of its 2011 crisis to grow to $155 billion in 2018, as market forces engineer a turnaround to a healthy 10.5% compound annual growth rate (CAGR), says Lux Research.

In the most likely scenario, the PV market will grow at a modest clip to 35 GW in 2013 before rapidly ramping up to 61.7 GW in 2018.

“Manufacturers’ nightmare is turning into a long-term boon for the industry. Record low prices pushed gross margins to near zero or below, but they’ve made solar installations competitive in more markets,” said Ed Cahill, Lux Research Associate and the lead author of the report titled, “Market Size Update 2013: Return to Equilibrium.”

“Supply and demand will come back into balance in 2015, easing price pressure, returning manufacturers to profitability and restoring the industry to equilibrium,” he added.

Lux Research analysts used a detailed levelized cost of energy (LCOE) analysis in 156 separate geographies, accounting for 82% of the world’s population, to determine the viability and competitiveness of solar in each market. Among their findings:

U.S., China, Japan, and India will take over where Germany and Italy left off. With an 18% CAGR to 10.8 GW of installations in 2018, the United States will emerge the world’s second-largest market. But China will leapfrog it, growing over 15% annually to 12.4 GW in 2018.

Utility-scale installations to grow the fastest; commercial the largest. Utility-scale solar, the smallest segment in 2012 at 8.6 GW, will grow the fastest to 19.9 GW in 2018 as developing markets turn to PV. Globally, commercial applications reign supreme as markets like the U.S. and Japan move to large rooftop installations.

Opportunities abound for cheap IP. Struggling start-ups present opportunities to acquire intellectual property at record low prices. A case in point: Hanergy acquired Miasolé – which in 2012 announced the leading CIGS module efficiency at 15.5% – for only $30 million after investors had pumped $500 million into the firm.

Register for a complimentary Lux Research webinar, “Reaching the Light at the End of the Tunnel: The Coming Resurgence of the Solar Industry,” on June 25 at 11:00 EDT.

The report, titled “Market Size Update 2013: Return to Equilibrium,” is part of the Lux Research Solar Systems Intelligence and the Solar Components Intelligence services.

Saudi Arabia Looks to NREL for Solar Monitoring Expertise

Saudi Arabia is planning to move aggressively into renewable energy, with plans to install more solar and wind power in the next 20 years than the rest of the world has installed to date.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is working with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) for training and expertise in measuring its solar resource.

The importance of setting up networks to gauge and predict the strength of solar radiation in varying meteorological conditions convinced the Saudis to choose NREL as a partner.

Nine Saudi engineers spent nine days at NREL last month, studying and discussing topics as theoretical as Ångström’s law and the scatter-absorption ratio for the atmospheric effects on solar radiation, and as practical as the effect of sandstorms on solar panels. NREL experts also engaged the Saudi staff with topics including waste-to-energy, geothermal technologies, calibrations, and solar resource forecasting.

NREL and its partner Battelle will support the installation of more than 50 monitoring stations in the Middle East kingdom this year to measure the solar resource and gauge the best spots for solar power plants and will also train local Saudis to operate and maintain the instruments and stations.

It’s a crucial part of Saudi Arabia’s plan to spend billions of dollars over the next two decades to install more than 50 gigawatts of renewable power in the country and meet at least 30% of its electricity needs with solar energy by 2032. That’s more gigawatts of renewable energy than were installed in the entire world as of 2012.

The overarching goal is to double electricity capacity by 2030 and have half of that energy originate from renewable sources such as wind, solar, and geothermal. The kingdom is expected to write a number of large contracts in 2013 alone.

Determined to Diversify

Why Saudi Arabia? Why does a nation that has huge oil reserves want to become a leader in renewable energy?

“Saudi Arabia is determined to diversify its energy sources and reduce its dependence on hydrocarbons,” said Wail Bamhair, the project manager for the Saudi team that visited NREL. “Renewable energy isn’t just an option, but absolutely necessary. We have the means to build renewable energy, and we need to do it.”

Because Saudi Arabia is lacking in coal and natural gas, it uses a tremendous amount of energy to desalinate water and heat turbines to bring electricity to homes and businesses. Electricity is particularly in high demand during the Saudi summer when temperatures routinely top 110 degrees Fahrenheit and air conditioners are rumbling. Economists have suggested that a big move into renewable energy can strengthen Saudi Arabia’s economy and free up millions of extra barrels of oil for export. Bamhair said that while Saudi Arabia has a lot of sun, it also has challenges such as a variable climate, sandstorms, and even the occasional snowstorm in the northern regions. He shared photos he took of a sandstorm that in a few short minutes plunged an afternoon into darkness along a busy thoroughfare near the capital, Riyadh.

“We are working hand-in-hand with experts from NREL and Battelle who have these amazing minds,” Bamhair said. “We are looking for them to build our human capacity. We are here to see, to learn, and to transfer the knowledge.”

Forty years ago, Saudi Arabia had a population of about 5 million mostly nomadic people. Now, it’s home to 27.5 million people, and most live in cities, including Riyadh, Jeddah, and Dammam.

Building a New City to Support Renewables

Saudi Arabia has envisioned a new organization to bring together researchers and manufacturing facilities for the renewable energy push. It is called the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy, or K.A.CARE. Nancy Carlisle, director of NREL’s Integrated Applications Center, and her team also are assisting the Saudis by providing expert insight into lab design and how it can integrate with the city.

“The king and the kingdom recognize that it’s important to look at non-fossil energy sources,” said Tom Stoffel, NREL’s group leader for Solar Resources and Forecasting.

 The Saudi government is paying for the projects. In NREL’s case, the parties will sign “Work for Others” agreements in which the American taxpayer pays nothing, but the general knowledge learned can later be used again to help improve renewable energy technologies in the United States.

Saudi Arabia and NREL have worked together before. In the 1990s, NREL helped launch research centers for the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology that was established in 1977.

The new partnership grew out of a visit by Saudi officials in 2010, which included a typical guest tour of the Solar Radiation Research Laboratory at NREL’s Mesa Top facilities. Stoffel noticed his visitors were paying very close attention. “At the end of the tour, one of them asked us if we could help put 100 to 200 monitoring stations in the kingdom,” Stoffel said. “After I picked up my jaw, I said, ‘Yes, that’s what we do.'” NREL is the site of an annual internal gathering to recalibrate solar radiometers and maintains the calibration standard for the United States.

Solar Monitoring Key to Knowing Resource, Engaging Stakeholders

Saudi Arabia eventually decided to put the project out for bid. NREL, partnering with Battelle, won the contract.

“The kingdom is tapping into our expertise on climatology, geography, and population density to make the best decisions on where to put the monitoring stations and the solar power plants,” NREL Senior Engineer Stephen Wilcox said.

“They wanted to do this quickly because they need to demonstrate to stakeholders and potential investors a kingdom-size capacity for renewable energy,” Stoffel said. NREL’s measurements “will help decide where to put a central photovoltaic power plant, or a concentrating solar power plant of a particular size,” he added.

Wilcox and NREL colleague Michael Dooraghi have already set up three solar measurement stations in Saudi Arabia as part of an initial training and outreaching event, including one in Riyadh, one just outside Riyadh, and one near where the new city will be built, about a 45-minute drive from the current K.A.CARE headquarters in Riyadh. Tripods holding several solar monitoring instruments are anchored either in the ground or on heavy concrete ballasts.

“It’s important that they know precisely what the solar resource is so the financial stakeholders can know exactly what kind of return to expect,” Wilcox said. “The more uncertainty in the measurements, the more uncertainty there is in the analysis. They could either make $100 million or lose $100 million based on how well the measurements are taken.”

Some of the stations will be research quality, using instruments similar to the best ones at NREL.

Others will be self-contained stations that are powered by photovoltaics (PV) and placed farther into the deserts or even some of the lesser-known areas of the kingdom. Crews will stop by every week or two to do maintenance on those stations.

A third type of station will be simpler yet, measuring just a subset of the factors that the larger stations measure. Those stations, though, play a crucial role in getting the whole climactic picture, including determining the role of microclimates and the impacts of large clouds passing by central solar power stations.

“We’re trying to put together the best measurement network in the world,” Wilcox said.

Mapping and Monitoring All Over the Globe

NREL’s solar and wind resource assessment teams have mapped these renewable energy resources in several countries around the world.

For Saudi Arabia, the resource mapping will help officials decide where to put the large stations and where to distribute the smaller ones.

The data the stations collect can also be compared to other data NREL has collected around the world in its solar and wind integration studies. These data will be incorporated into the K.A.CARE Renewable Resource Atlas, currently under development by Battelle as part of the same project, and will be available online for researchers and others to use. Among the information will be data on solar radiation, the solar spectrum, temperature, dust levels, humidity, and wind speeds.

“They need to know about variability to maintain a stable grid – and that means making good predictions about what the next three minutes, the next hour, the next three days are going to look like,” Wilcox said.

The fact that the Saudi king can order a huge nationwide project has its advantages. The United States and other countries can learn rather quickly what a full-scale embrace of renewable energy will look like in terms of planning, cost, and avoiding surges on the electricity grid or other mistakes.

Dr. Maher Alodan, head of the Research, Development, and Innovation Team at K.A.CARE, said last year that the project is a crucial one. Identifying primary sources of energy is a critical first step. “Undertaking such a project will require a comprehensive study that can only be carried out successfully if we know the specific geographic locations, and most importantly, the quality of solar radiation, and the factors that may affect the available resource.”

At NREL last month, Bahmair said: “Our dream is to move Saudi Arabia to the first rank of nations in terms of sustainable energy. We have the smart young people, but we are looking to NREL and Battelle to share their expertise.

“This is the time for it,” Bamhair added. “And NREL is the right facility to help us move forward. They are opening the door – and we have to walk through it.”

Concentrating Solar Power to Play Critical Role

The Saudis also plan to make a big leap into concentrating solar power (CSP), the cousin of solar PV technology. In fact, 25 of the 41 gigawatts of planned solar energy will come from CSP.

PV panels convert photons from the sun directly into electrons for electricity, but only work when the sun is shining. CSP technologies use mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight onto receivers that collect the sun’s heat. This thermal energy can then be used to drive a steam turbine that produces electricity.

CSP can store that heat in molten salts for up to 15 hours and can thus team with PV to help bring electricity to homes and businesses when it’s most needed – in the evening hours when the sun has set, but the appliances, TVs, and air conditioners are still in demand. NREL’s recent paper on that capacity, Enabling Greater Penetration of Solar Power via Use of CSP with Thermal Energy Storage, has sparked renewed interest in the two solar technologies sharing the load.

“The first project – installing the monitoring stations – is important for the CSP piece, too, because CSP depends on knowing the measure of clean-sky radiation,” NREL’s Scott Huffman said.

NREL will be overseeing the installation of the solar monitoring stations. The K.A.CARE Renewable Energy Atlas will be ready for access by late summer, with the full monitoring network in place before the end of the year.

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