Dracula Technologies turns ambient light into energy with printed solar cells

A bat-shaped organic photovoltaic module from Dracula Technologies

A bat-shaped organic photovoltaic module from Dracula Technologies

Internet of Things devices are proliferating, making daily tasks more convenient for many people—but that comes at cost. The United Nations expects the amount of e-waste created globally to reach 52.2 million metric tons this year, and a sizable portion of that are dead batteries.

Dracula Technologies, a French startup that is currently exhibiting virtually at Computex, wants to help with its inkjet-printed organic photovoltaic (OPV, or organic solar cells) technology. Called LAYER (or Light As Your Energetic Response), Dracula Technologies’ OPV modules run indoors on natural or artificial ambient light, and can be used to power low-consumption indoor devices. Because they are printed and not made of silicon, the OPV modules’ shape is more customizable and, unlike many batteries, it does not use rare earths or heavy metals. Instead, the modules are created from carbon-based material.

In addition to being better for the environment, LAYER is also more economical—the company claims it can reduce the total cost of ownership by four times compared to batteries.

Dracula Technologies is currently working with manufacturers, including a partnership with Japanese semiconductor company Renesas Electronics and AND Technology Research (ANDtr) to create a self-powering, battery-less IoT device that can send messages through BLE to a mobile app.

Dracula Technologies was founded in 2011, after a project in collaboration with the CEA (Commissariat à l’énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives, or the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission), a public research organization. Chief executive officer Brice Cruchon saw the tech’s commercial potential and after six years of research and development, LAYER was launched through the Hello Tomorrow program for deep tech startups

So far, Dracula Technologies has raised a total of 4.4 million euros (about $5.4 million USD), including a 2 million euros round in 2016 from angel investors for a pilot line, and 2.4 million euros raised last year from MGI Digital and ISRA Cards, which Dracula Technologies is using to increase the production of its photovoltaic modules during its pre-industrialization stage. The company plans to move to its industrial phase in 2024, with the goal of producing millions of modules per year.

MGI Digital, a digital printing and finishing tech company, and ISRA Cards, which makes high-value electronic cards (like licenses or gift and loyalty cards), are Dracula Technologies’ industrial partners. It is also part of the Solar Impulse Foundation’s #1000 Solutions, a guide to green energy solutions that can be implemented on a large scale.

#clean-tech, #computex, #dracula-technologies, #energy, #europe, #france, #organic-photovoltaic-technology, #solar-cells, #solar-power, #startups, #tc

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Solar farms could double as pollinator food supplies

Solar farms could double as pollinator food supplies

Enlarge (credit: US Fish and Wildlife Service)

Pollinator habitats and solar farms may seem like ecologically great neighbors, but we still don’t understand very much about that relationship. A team of researchers recently published a paper surveying the ins and outs of keeping solar production alongside the kinds of plants that pollinators like bees and butterflies love. The paper notes that there’s a good amount of potential here, but more work needs to be done to fully understand the potential partnership.

“I think in some ways, it sounds like a no-brainer that we should be implementing pollinator habitats at these types of facilities. And on one hand, I agree with that, but I think it really does benefit us to figure out the most efficient ways to get these kinds of benefits out there,” Adam Dolezal, assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s department of entomology, told Ars.

More than 100 crops in the US rely on pollinators. However, around the world, the number of pollinators has been in decline. Habitat loss is a significant reason for the decline, though there are others, including climate change and invasive species.

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#bees, #pollination, #science, #solar-energy, #solar-power

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Aurora Solar aims to power the growing solar industry with a $250M round C

Aurora Solar had one of those pitches that seemed obvious in retrospect. Instead of going to a house and measuring its roof manually for a solar panel installation, why not use aerial scans and imagery of the whole region? That smart play earned them a $20M A round, a $50M B round, and now only six months later a massive $250M C as they aim to become the software platform on which the coming solar power expansion will be run.

The idea is simple enough to explain, but difficult to pull off. There’s lots of data out there about the topography, physical and infrastructural, of most cities. Satellite imagery, aerial lidar scans, light and power lines and usage data, and of course where and how the sun hits a given location — this information is readily available. Aurora’s innovation wasn’t just using it, but assembling it into a cohesive system that’s simple and effective enough to be used widely by solar installers.

“Aurora’s core value proposition is the fact that you can do things remotely much faster and more accurately than could if you traveled to the site,” explained co-founder and CRO Sam Adeyemo.

Having developed algorithms that ingest the aforementioned data, the service they offer is a very quick turnaround on the tricky question of whether a solar installation makes sense for a potential customer, and if so what it might cost and look like, down to the size and angle of the panels.

An interface showing a solar roof design and power savings.

Image Credits: Aurora Solar

“It’s not uncommon for the acquisition cost for a customer to be thousands of dollars,” said Adeyemo’s co-founder, CEO Chris Hopper. That’s partly because every installation is custom. He estimated that half the price tag of any setup is “soft cost” — that is, over and above the actual price of the hardware.

“If the quote is for $30K, what actually goes on your roof might be $15K, the rest is overhead, design, acquisition cost, yada yada yada,” he explained. “That’s the next frontier to make solar cost-competitive, and that’s where Aurora comes in. Every time we shave a few dollars off the price of an installation, it opens it up for new consumers.”

The company doesn’t do its own lidar flights or solar installations, so the $250M in funding may strike some as rather high for a company making software. Though I did my best to tease out any secret skunkworks projects under way at Aurora, Adeyemo and Hopper patiently explained that enterprise-scale software isn’t cheap, and the funding is proportional to their ambitions.

“The amount we raised speaks to the opportunity ahead of us,” said Hopper. “There’s a lot more solar to put on roofs.”

Aurora has been used for evaluating about 5 million solar projects so far, about a fifth of which end up being built, Adeyemo estimated. And that’s just a fraction of a fraction. Solar makes up about two percent of the U.S.’s power infrastructure, right now, but that’s on track to increase by an order of magnitude in the next 20 years.

The new administration has thrown fuel on the fire of the industry’s optimism, and whether or not something like the Green New Deal comes to fruition, the fundamentally different approach to environmental and energy policy mean there are more eyeballs directed at clean energy and consequently a lot of checks being written.

Aurora Solar co-founders Samuel Adeyemo (left) and Chris Hopper (right).

Image Credits: Aurora Solar

“It counts for a lot. With heightened awareness about climate change there will be more interest in ways to mitigate it,” said Adeyemo. He gave the example of Texas, which after the recent storms and blackouts had more inquiries per capita than anywhere else in the country. Renewables may be a charged issue in some ways, but solar power is bipartisan and broadly popular across the political spectrum.

The $250M round, led by Coatue and with participation from previous investors ICONIQ, Energize Ventures, and Fifth Wall, allows the company to go both broad and deep with their product.

“Historically we’ve been more of a design solution; the next phase is to broaden that into a platform that covers more of the process of going solar,” said Hopper. “We don’t believe this is going to be a niche market — going from 2 to 20 percent and beyond, that’s a huge endeavor.”

The co-founders would not be more specific than that scaling a SaaS company requires significant cash up front, and during the push to come they can’t be worried about whether or when they’ll need to get more capital.

“The first five years of the company were quasi-bootstrapped… we’d raised like a million bucks. So we know what it’s like to grow a company from that perspective, and now we know what it’s like to really need the capital to scale the business,” said Adeyemo. “If you want to be the platform for a significant percentage of the energy capacity of the country… you gotta tool up.”

What exactly tooling up comprises we will soon find out — the company is planning to announce more news at its upcoming summit in June.

#aurora-solar, #funding, #fundings-exits, #greentech, #recent-funding, #renewable-energy, #solar, #solar-power, #startups, #tc

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Apple commits to build “grid-scale” energy storage in California

Apple announced Wednesday that it will build a “grid-scale” energy-storage project in California capable of storing 240 megawatt-hours of energy. The storage will work closely with the 130-megawatt solar farm the company already built to power daytime energy needs at its headquarters in Cupertino. Additionally, Apple says that 110 of its manufacturing partners are moving to 100 percent renewable energy as part of a commitment by Apple to make its supply chain and products carbon neutral by 2030.

The project is intended to store energy so the energy produced by the solar farm can be used during the night as well as during the day, and Cupertino says the project will store enough energy to “power over 7,000 homes for one day.” Apple plans to share some of what it learns from the project with other companies, executives have said.

Apple’s own corporate footprint is already carbon-neutral, the company says, but it will be a longer and more challenging road to bring its various manufacturing partners and suppliers along with it. Apple’s newsroom post offers details about how Apple works with suppliers to reduce their carbon footprints:

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#apple, #energy, #lisa-jackson, #solar-power, #tech

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The economics of covering California’s water system with solar panels

Lots of California's water delivery system is exposed to the air.

Enlarge / Lots of California’s water delivery system is exposed to the air. (credit: NSF)

A major factor driving the growth of solar power in the US has been the economics of large, utility-scale solar projects. The scale of plants ensures that their developers can buy components in bulk, use larger, more robust hardware, and install everything efficiently. That’s in major contrast to most distributed installations, like rooftop solar.

But these installations do come with downsides. They often occur on undeveloped land, which can offset some of their positive contributions to climate change, especially if the land that has to be cleared was sequestering carbon. Ideally, it would be better to find a way to mix the best features of both—use previously developed sites, but on a scale that puts them on par with dedicated installations.

One of the solutions that has been floated (pun intended) is to put the panels on reservoirs. Reservoirs are large and already developed, and there’s a side benefit of floating the panels onto the water: it cuts down on evaporation, potentially enhancing the value of the reservoir. Now, researchers have examined an alternative: covering all of California’s open-air aqueducts, which supply one of the most productive agricultural regions on the planet, with photovoltaics.

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#california, #energy, #green, #photovoltaics, #renewable-energy, #science, #solar-power, #water-use

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Swell Energy’s new deal in New York shows how the company plans to spend the $450 million it’s raising

Back in December, Swell Energy said it would be raising $450 million to support the development of distributed power projects in three states. Now, with the announcement of a deal between the venture-backed startup and New York City’s utility, ConEd, industry watchers can get a glimpse of what those projects may look like.

The Los Angeles-based company has a new residential solar plus energy storage program for homeowners in Queens that’s going to be rolled out in partnership with ConEd.

It’s a project that will create solar-powered home batteries for eligible ConEd customers.

New York is actually targeting the rollout of 3 gigawatts of installed energy storage capacity by 2030 with a goal of moving the entire state’s electricity grid to zero emissions by 2040.

With the ConEd project, the city is hoping to create backup power for customers in Queens that they can tap independently of the energy grid’s own resources, which should free up power for customers that don’t have the energy storage tech.

Homeowners that participate in the project may qualify for incentives that lower the cost of the systems, which are initially being offered to residents of Forest Park, Glendale, Hunters Point, Long Island City, Maspeth, Middle Village, Ridgewood, Sunnyside, and parts of adjacent neighborhoods in Queens.

The New York virtual power plant differs from other initiatives from Swell in that it provides available capacity to specific distribution circuits on the grid to reduce customer demand on circuits during network overload periods, according to a Swell spokesperson.

With the virtual power plant, ConEd won’t need to build out new transmission and distribution infrastructure, but can still ensure network reliability. It’s what’s called a “non-wires solution” to the demand problem, Swell’s spokesperson said.

By contrast, the company’s Hawaii projects provide system-level capacity and frequency regulation and the California program with Southern California Edison, provide demand-response capacity for baseload energy management and overall load growth in the area where they’re operating.

#articles, #california, #electrical-grid, #energy, #hawaii, #los-angeles, #new-york, #new-york-city, #renewable-energy, #solar-power, #southern-california-edison, #spokesperson, #tc, #thomas-edison

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Mainspring Energy launches its flexible fuel generator with a $150 million NextEra Energy contract

Mainspring Energy, the developer of a new generator technology that use fuels like biogas and hydrogen, has unveiled its Mainspring Linear Generator, with a $150 million contract with NextEra Energy Resources.

The company’s technology represents a significant step in the transition to a zero-carbon power grid given its ability to shift between traditional natural gas sources and alternative fuel sources like biogas and hydrogen.

So far, the company’s generators are under contract with a national supermarket chain that’s using the company’s tech at 30 of its grocery stores. The company began shipping pilot units in June and will begin commerical statements in mid-2021 according to a statement.

The company’s tech was initially developed at a thermodynamics lab in Stanford University where co-founders Shannon Miller, Matt Svrcek and Adam Simpson were working. Its design enables the rollout of generators that can replace traditional diesel and be used to improve the resilience of industrial sites against natural disasters.

Their linear generator, which the company said differs from engines, microturbines, and fuel cells, is a device that converts motion along a straight line into electricity using heat or chemical energy. In Mainspring’s case, a low temperature reaction of air and fuel drives magnets through copper coils to produce electricity.

It’s the combination of the design and control software developed by the company that allows its equipment to produce high-efficiency, dispatchable power, without the nitrogen oxide emissions associated with other generators, the company said.

The technology caught the eye of investors like Bill Gates and Vinod Khosla’s eponymous investment firm Khosla Ventures, along with some oil and gas companies like Equinor and utilities like American Electric Power. To date, Mainspring, which used to go by the name Etagen, has raised well over $80 million in financing.

In its approach to energy generation without the need for more complex mechanical systems or catalysts, Mainspring is akin to other startups like the Robert Downey Jr. and Bill Gates-backed Turntide Technologies that are trying to provide more elegant, software enabled solutions to motors and generator technologies.

Mainspring’s generators achieve their low capital and maintenance costs through use of standard materials, only two moving parts, and an innovative air bearing system that eliminates the need for oil, the company said. It operates without the use of complex mechanical systems or expensive catalysts.

The company also touted its ability to spin up and spin down in response to conditions on the energy grid, which means that it can pair well with solar power or battery storage.

“One of our customers’ key drivers, in addition to carbon savings, is to save cost from their current grid prices,” said Miller, in a statement. “Our products can provide substantial savings to commercial customers on their electricity costs with a typical Energy Services Agreement. In this energy-as-a-service scenario, customers pay nothing up front and realize annual savings starting in the first year.”

Mainspring’s first commercial product is designed for a rated output of 250 kW and packaged in a standard 8′ x 20′ container, according to a statement. Those packages integrate two of the company’s125 kW linear generator cores, working in tandem, and combines UL-listed grid-tie inverters and auxiliaries into a turn-key package, the company said. Future configurations will provide higher power output to serve industrial businesses, data centers, hospitals, smart cities, and utility grid-level applications.

“Many commercial and industrial customers as well as utilities want clean, reliable power generation, with the capability to switch to 100% renewable fuels like biogas and hydrogen as they become available,” said NextEra Energy Resources President and CEO John Ketchum, in a statement. “Mainspring is able to integrate clean onsite generation with both renewables and the grid and we’re pleased to support bringing this innovative product to market.” 

#alternative-energy, #american-electric-power, #articles, #bill-gates, #biogas, #electrical-grid, #electricity, #energy, #energy-storage, #fuel-cells, #khosla-ventures, #oil, #oil-and-gas, #renewable-energy, #solar-power, #stanford-university, #tc, #turntide-technologies, #vinod-khosla

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Pure nonsense: Debunking the latest attack on renewable energy

Image of wind turbines.

Enlarge / Miraculously, the video at issue did not accuse wind turbines of causing cancer. (credit: Pictures Alliance / Getty Images)

Our editor-in-chief obviously hates me. That’s the only conclusion I could reach after he asked me to watch an abysmal attack video targeting renewable energy—a video produced by a notorious source of right-wing misinformation.

But despite its bizarre mishmash of irrelevancies and misdirection, the video has been widely shared on social media. Perhaps you’ve seen it, or maybe you just to want to be ready when a family member brings it up in an argument. What, if anything, is true in this farrago of bad faith?

Yes, it’s awful

The video is hosted by “Prager University.” My only previous exposure to the organization’s videos had been this excellent one on the Confederacy by Colonel Ty Seidule, a professor of History at West Point who has since been placed on the Pentagon commission that will examine bases named after Confederate generals. Seemed legit!

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#energy, #green, #renewable-energy, #science, #solar-power, #wind-power

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Use today’s tech solutions to meet the climate crisis and do it profitably

Five years ago I landed the Solar Impulse 2 in Abu Dhabi after flying around the globe powered solely by solar energy, a first in aviation history.

It was also a milestone in energy and technology history. Solar Impulse was an experimental plane, weighing as little as a family car and using 17,248 solar cells. It was a flying laboratory, full of groundbreaking technologies that made it possible to produce renewable energy, store it and use it when necessary in the most efficient manner.

The time has come to use technology again to address the climate crisis affecting us all. As we enter the most crucial decade of climate action — and most likely our last chance to limit global warming to 1.5°C — we need to ensure that clean technologies become the only acceptable norm. These technologies exist now and they can be profitably implemented at this crucial moment.

Hundreds of clean tech solutions exist that protect the environment in a profitable way,

Here are just four innovations from our solar-powered plane that the market can start using now before it’s too late.

From insulating the cabin to insulating our homes

The building sector is one of the largest energy consumers in the world. Next to a reliance on carbon-heavy fuels for heating and cooling, poor insulation and associated energy loss are among the main reasons.

Inside Solar Impulse’s cockpit, insulation was crucial for the plane to fly at very high altitudes. Covestro, one of our official partners, developed an ultra-lightweight and insulating material. The cockpit insulation performance was 10% higher than the standards at the time because the pores in the insulating foam were 40% smaller, reaching a micrometer scale. Thanks to its very low density of fewer than 40 kilograms per cubic meter, the cockpit was ultra-lightweight.

This technology and many others exist. We now need to ensure that all market players are motivated to make hyperefficient building insulation their standard operating procedure.

From propelling an electric aircraft to propelling clean mobility

Solar Impulse was first and foremost an electric airplane when it flew 43,000 km without a single drop of fuel. Its four electric motors had a record-beating efficiency of 97%, far ahead of the miserable 27% of standard thermal engines. This means that they only lost 3% of the energy they used versus 73% for combustion propulsion. Today, electric vehicle sales are soaring. According to the International Energy Agency, when Solar Impulse landed in 2016, there were approximately 1.2 million electric cars on the road; the figure has now risen to over 5 million.

Nevertheless, this acceleration is far from enough. Power sockets are still far from replacing petrol pumps. The transport sector still accounts for one-quarter of global energy-related CO2 emissions. Electrification must happen much more quickly to reduce CO2 emissions from our tailpipes. To do so, governments need to boost the adoption of electric vehicles through clear tax incentives, diesel and petrol engine bans, and major infrastructure investments. 2021 should be the year that puts us on a one-way road to zero-emission vehicles and puts thermal engines in a dead end.

An aircraft microgrid can work for off-grid communities

To fly for several days and nights, reaching a theoretically endless flight potential, Solar Impulse relied on batteries that stored the energy collected during the day and used it to power its engines during the night.

What was made possible with Si2 on a small scale should guide the way to future-proofing power-generation systems that are made up entirely of renewable energy. In the meantime, microgrids, like those used in Si2, could benefit off-grid systems in remote communities or energy islands, allowing them to abolish diesel or other carbon-heavy fuels already today.

On a larger scale, we are looking at smart grids. If all “stupid grids” were replaced by smart grids, it would allow cities, for example, to manage production, storage, distribution and consumption of energy and to cut peaks in energy demand that would reduce CO2 emissions dramatically.

Energy efficiency in the air and on the ground

Solar Impulse’s philosophy was to save energy instead of trying to produce more of it. This is why the relatively small amount of solar energy we collected became enough to fly day and night. All the airplane parameters, including wingspan, aerodynamics, speed, flight profile and energy systems, had therefore been designed to minimize energy loss.

Unfortunately, this approach still stands out against the inefficiency of most of our energy use today. Even though the IEA found energy efficiency improved by an estimated 13% between 2000 and 2017, it is not enough. We need bolder action by policymakers to encourage investors. One of the best ways to do so is to put strict energy efficiency standards in place.

For example, California has set efficiency standards on buildings and appliances, such as consumer electronics and household appliances, estimated to have saved consumers more than $100 billion in utility bills. These measures are as good for the environment as they are for the economy.

Si2 was the future; now, it should define the present

When we used all these different innovations to build Solar Impulse, they were groundbreaking and futuristic. Today, they should define the present; they should be the norm. Next to the technologies mentioned above, hundreds of clean tech solutions exist that protect the environment in a profitable way, many of which have received the Solar Impulse Efficient Solution Label.

Just as for the Si2 technologies, we must now ensure that they enter the mainstream market. The faster we scale them, the faster we will set our economy on track to achieve the Paris Agreement goals and attain sustainable economic growth.

#aerospace, #biotech, #column, #consumer-electronics, #electric-vehicle, #energy, #greentech, #opinion, #renewable-energy, #solar-energy, #solar-power, #tc, #transportation, #venture-capital

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Chamath Palihapitiya’s SPAC for Sunlight Financial is another sign of a renewables boom

Former Facebook employee and current enfant terrible of high finance Chamath Palihapitiya is making news again with a $1.3 billion twofer SPAC and PIPE deal into the solar energy financing company, Sunlight Financial.

Sunlight Financial is essentially a lending company that gives solar installers a way to provide loans to homeowners to finance solar power and battery installations and other home improvement projects.

While it may be another indication of the Roaring ’20s come back to haunt global financial markets in the lead-up to a catastrophic meltdown of the global financial system, there’s at least some method to the madness with Sunlight.

That’s because there’s a lot of tailwinds behind a business that’s lending money to provide better access to solar power, energy storage and energy efficiency upgrades.

The investment, alongside Coatue, Franklin Templeton and BlackRock, will value the lender at $1.3 billion. A healthy figure, but one that’s not astronomical, especially given the $705 million in financing that Sunlight Financial has raised over its history, according to Crunchbase.

As Alex Wilhelm noted earlier today, Sunlight Financial would have likely tapped public markets sooner or later, given a pretty solid financial performance — even during the pandemic:

Looking at the numbers, it’s somewhat clear that the company could have gone public in a year or two; another year’s growth, and it would have had enough revenue to pursue a traditional debut. Via this SPAC-led deal it will get out sooner and have more cash while it scales. Perhaps that is the value of the SPAC here for Sunlight.

Sunlight also has the benefit of being a publicly traded renewable energy play at a time when those companies are in short supply and high demand from institutional investors.

Over the course of 2020, big money moved to find ways to support businesses that can help mitigate the effects of climate change or slow the rapidly warming temperatures on the planet.

“Industry commitments to mitigate climate change risk is providing investors with visibility that there is momentum among decision-makers to drive change,” said Richard Manley, the managing director and head of sustainable investing at CPP Investments, in an interview last year. “There’s an appreciation within the public markets that the exciting transition solutions either within core operating subsidiaries or investments in the VC arms of corporate companies haven’t provided public equity investors the really focused opportunities they’ve wanted.”

With the launch of Palihapitiya’s latest SPAC, that trend seems set to continue in 2021. As Rob Day, a longtime investor in climate tech wrote in a direct message late last year:

“[The] current wave [of SPACs] is because over the past 24 months the institutional investor universe has come fully into believing that climate solutions are going to be a major growth area in the 2020s and beyond, but they weren’t seeing options available to them for investing into,” according to Day.

“The available publicly traded ‘green’ companies were already getting really bought up, and the private equity options were underwhelming as well (smallish in the case of VC, low returns in the case of large-format projects). Throw in a Robinhood market of retail investors with a lot of enthusiasm for EVs and such, and you have a nice recipe for this to happen.”

#articles, #energy-storage, #facebook, #finance, #franklin-templeton, #private-equity, #solar-power, #spac, #special-purpose-acquisition-company, #sunlight, #tc

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Residential renewable energy developer Swell is raising $450 million for distributed power projects in three states

Swell Energy, an installer and manager of residential renewable energy, energy efficiency and storage technologies, is raising $450 million to finance the construction of four virtual power plants representing a massive amount of energy storage capacity paired with solar power generation.

It’s a sign of the distributed nature of renewable energy development and a transition from large scale power generation projects feeding into utility grids at their edge to smaller, point solutions distributed at the actual points of consumption.

The project will pair 200 megawatt hours of distributed energy storage with 100 megawatts of solar photovoltaic capacity, the company said.

Los Angeles-based Swell was commissioned by utilities across three states to establish the dispatchable energy storage capacity, which will be made available through the construction and aggregation of approximately 14,000 solar energy generation and storage systems. The goal is to make local grids more efficient.

To finance these projects — and others the company expects to land — Swell has cut a deal with Ares Management Corp and Aligned Climate Capital to create a virtual power plant financing vehicle with a target of $450 million.

That financing entity will support the development of power projects like the combined solar and battery agreement nationwide.

Over the next twenty years, Swell is targeting the development of over 3,000 gigawatt hours of clean solar energy production, with customers storing 1,000 gigawatt hours for later use, and dispatching 200 gigawatt hours of this stored energy back to the utility grid.

It has the potential to create a more resilient grid less susceptible to the kinds of power outages and rolling blackouts that have plagued states like California.

“Utilities are increasingly looking to distributed energy resources as valuable ‘grid edge’ assets,” said Suleman Khan, CEO of Swell Energy, in a statement. “By networking these individual homes and businesses into virtual power plants, Swell is able to bring down the cost of ownership for its customers and help utilities manage demand across their electric grids,” said Khan. “By receiving GridRevenue from Swell, customers participating in our VPP programs pay less for their solar energy generation and storage systems, while potentially reducing the risk of a local power outage, and keeping their homes and businesses securely powered through any outages.”

Along with the launch of the virtual power plant financing vehicle, Swell is also giving homeowners a way to finance their home energy systems through Swell. They need the buy-in from homeowners to get these power plants off the ground, and for homeowners, there’s a way to get some money back by feeding power into the grid.

It’s a win-win for the company, customers, and early investors like Urban.us, which was seed investor in the company.

 

#alternative-energy, #articles, #california, #ceo, #electrical-grid, #energy, #energy-efficiency, #energy-storage, #los-angeles, #renewable-energy, #solar-power, #tc

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SunCulture wants to turn Africa into the world’s next bread basket, one solar water pump at a time

The world’s food supply must double by the year 2050 to meet the demands from a growing population, according to a report from the United Nations. And as pressure mounts to find new crop land to support the growth, the world’s eyes are increasingly turning to the African continent as the next potential global breadbasket.

While Africa has 65% of the world’s remaining uncultivated arable land, according to the African Development Bank, the countries on the continent face significant obstacles as they look to boost the productivity of their agricultural industries.

On the continent, 80% of families depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, but only 4% use irrigation. Many families also lack access to reliable and affordable electricity. It’s these twin problems that Samir Ibrahim and his co-founder at SunCulture, Charlie Nichols, have spent the last eight years trying to solve.

Armed with a new financing model and purpose-built small solar power generators and water pumps, Nichols and Ibrahim, have already built a network of customers using their equipment to increase incomes by anywhere from five to ten times their previous levels by growing higher-value cash crops, cultivating more land and raising more livestock.

The company also has just closed on $14 million in funding to expand its business across Africa.

“We have to double the amount of food we have to create by 2050, and if you look at where there are enough resources to grow food and a lot of point — all signs point to Africa. You have a lot of farmers and a lot of land, and a lot of resources,” Ibrahim said.

African small farmers face two big problems as they look to increase productivity, Ibrahim said. One is access to markets, which alone is a huge source of food waste, and the other is food security because of a lack of stable growing conditions exacerbated by climate change.

As one small farmer told The Economist earlier this year, ““The rainy season is not predictable. When it is supposed to rain it doesn’t, then it all comes at once.”

Ibrahim, who graduated from New York University in 2011, had long been drawn to the African continent. His father was born in Tanzania and his mother grew up in Kenya and they eventually found their way to the U.S. But growing up, Ibrahim was told stories about East Africa.

While pursuing a business degree at NYU Ibrahim met Nichols, who had been working on large scale solar projects in the U.S., at an event for budding entrepreneurs in New York.

The two began a friendship and discussed potential business opportunities stemming from a paper Nichols had read about renewable energy applications in the agriculture industry.

After winning second place in a business plan competition sponsored by NYU, the two men decided to prove that they should have won first. They booked tickets to Kenya and tried to launch a pilot program for their business selling solar-powered water pumps and generators.

Conceptually solar water pumping systems have been around for decades. But as the costs of solar equipment and energy storage have declined the systems that leverage those components have become more accessible to a broader swath of the global population.

That timing is part of what has enabled SunCulture to succeed where other companies have stumbled. “We moved here at a time when [solar] reached grid parity in a lot of markets. It was at a time when a lot of development financiers were funding the nexus between agriculture and energy,” said Ibrahim.

Initially, the company sold its integrated energy generation and water pumping systems to the middle income farmers who hold jobs in cities like Nairobi and cultivate crops on land they own in rural areas. These “telephone farmers” were willing to spend the $5000 required to install SunCulture’s initial systems.

Now, the cost of a system is somewhere between $500 and $1000 and is more accessible for the 570 million farming households across the word — with the company’s “pay-as-you-grow” model.

It’s a spin on what’s become a popular business model for the distribution of solar systems of all types across Africa. Investors have poured nearly $1 billion into the development of off-grid solar energy and retail technology companies like M-kopa, Greenlight Planet, d.light design, ZOLA Electric, and SolarHome, according to Ibrahim. In some ways, SunCulture just extends that model to agricultural applications.

“We have had to bundle services and financing. The reason this particularly works is because our customers are increasing their incomes four or five times,” said Ibrahim. “Most of the money has been going to consuming power. This is the first time there has been productive power.”

 SunCulture’s hardware consists of 300 watt solar panels and a 440 watt-hour battery system. The batteries can support up to four lights, two phones and a plug-in submersible water pump. 

The company’s best selling product line can support irrigation for a two-and-a-half acre farm, Ibrahim said. “We see ourselves as an entry point for other types of appliances. We’re growing to be the largest solar company for Africa.”

With the $14 million in funding, from investors including Energy Access Ventures (EAV), Électricité de France (EDF), Acumen Capital Partners (ACP), and Dream Project Incubators (DPI), SunCulture will expand its footprint in Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Zambia, Senegal, Togo, and Cote D’Ivoire, the company said. 

Ekta Partners acted as the financial advisor for the deal, while CrossBoundary provided additional advisory support, including an analysis on the market opportunity and competitive landscape, under the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Kenya Investment Mechanism Program

#africa, #agriculture, #alternative-energy, #articles, #co-founder, #east-africa, #economist, #electricity, #energy, #ethiopia, #financial-advisor, #food, #food-supply, #food-waste, #kenya, #nairobi, #new-york, #new-york-university, #renewable-energy, #senegal, #solar-energy, #solar-power, #tanzania, #tc, #uganda, #united-nations, #united-states

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Renewable power represents almost 90% of total global power capacity added in 2020

Bucking the slowdown in most of the power sector caused by responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, renewable energy actually grew in 2020, and will represent about 90% of the total power capacity added for the year, according to the International Energy Agency.

A surge in new projects from China and the US led the charge for renewable power, which will account for almost 200 gigawatts of additional power generating capacity around the world, according to the  IEA’s Renewables 2020.

Big additions came from hydropower, solar and wind. Wind and solar power generating assets are expected to jump by 30% in both China and the US as developers take advantage of incentives that are set to expire.

The agency predicts that India and the European Union will also jump in and add an additional 10% of renewable capacity — marking the fastest period of growth for the industry since 2015.

These supply additions are in part due to the commissioning of projects delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which disrupted supply chains and put a stop to construction.

“Renewable power is defying the difficulties caused by the pandemic, showing robust growth while others fuels struggle,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA Executive Director, in a statement. “The resilience and positive prospects of the sector are clearly reflected by continued strong appetite from investors – and the future looks even brighter with new capacity additions on course to set fresh records this year and next.”

Throughout the first ten months of the year, China, India, and the EU have boosted auctioned renewable power capacity by 15% over the year ago period. Meanwhile, shares of publicly traded renewable equipment manufacturers and project developers have been outperforming most stock indices and the overall energy sector, the agency noted.

Much of this success, the agency noted, will require continued political support to work. Expiring incentives could reduce demand, but if governments provide some certainty around the continuation of subsidy programs, solar and wind additions could jump by another 25% by 2022.  With the right policy, solar photovoltaic installations could reach a record 150 gigawatts by 2022, which would be a 40% increase in just about three years.

“Renewables are resilient to the Covid crisis but not to policy uncertainties,” said Dr Birol, in a statement. “Governments can tackle these issues to help bring about a sustainable recovery and accelerate clean energy transitions. In the United States, for instance, if the proposed clean electricity policies of the next US administration are implemented, they could lead to a much more rapid deployment of solar PV and wind, contributing to a faster [decarbonization] of the power sector.”

If the agency’s predictions hold, renewable energy could become the largest source of electricity worldwide by 2025, according to Dr. Birol.

“By that time, renewables are expected to supply one-third of the world’s electricity – and their total capacity will be twice the size of the entire power capacity of China today,” Birol said in a statement.

#articles, #china, #electricity, #energy, #european-union, #india, #renewable-energy, #solar-power, #tc, #united-states

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Jackery’s solar generator system helps you collect and store more than enough juice for off-grid essentials

Portable power is a very convenient thing to have on hand, as proven by the popularity of pocket power banks for providing backup energy for smartphones and tablets. Jackery’s lineup of battery backups offer an entirely different, much greater level of portable energy storage, and when combined with the company’s durable and portable solar panels, they add up to an impressive mobile solar power generation solution that can offer a little piece of mind at home for when the power goes out, or a lot of flexibility on the road for day trips, camping excursions and more.

The basics

Jackery sells the Explorer 1000 Portable Power Station and SolarSaga 100W Solar Panels I reviewed separately, but it also bundles them together in a pack ($1,599.97) with the power station and two of the panels in a ‘Solar Generator’ combo, which is what I tested. The Portable Power Station retails for $999.99, though it’s the top of the line offering and there are more affordable models with less capacity. The station itself offers a 1002Wh internal lithium battery, and 1000W rated power with 2000W surge power rating. IT has two USB-C outputs, one standard USB, one DC port like you’d find in your car dash, and three standard AC outlets. It has an integrated handle, a tough plastic exterior and a built-in LCD display for information including battery charge status and output info.

The Explorer 1000, on a full charge, can provide up to 100 chargers for your standard iPhone, or up to 8 charges of a MacBook Pro. It can power an electric grill for 50 minutes, or a mini fridge for up to 66 hours. It can be recharged via a wall outlet (fully charges in 7 hours) or a car outlet (14 hours), but it can also be paired up with the 2x SolarSaga panels for a full recharge in around 8 hours of direct sun exposure – almost as fast as you’d charge it plugging git into an outlet at home (it takes double the time, or around 17 hours, when using just one).

As for the solar panels, they each retail for $299.99, and fold in half for greater portability, and feature integrated pockets and stands for cable storage and easy setup anywhere. Each ways less than 10 lbs, and they offer both USB-C and USB-A direct output for charging up devices without any battery or power station required. It’s worth noting that they’re not waterproof, however, so you should exercise some caution when using them in inclement weather.

Image Credits: Jackery

Design and features

The Jackery Portable Power Station is a perfect blend of portability, practicality and durability. Its internal powerhouse will keep you going for days in terms of mobile device power, and it weighs only a relatively portable 22 lbs, despite packing in a massive battery. The range of output options built-in mean you can connect to just about any electronically-powered device you can think of, and three AC outlets mean you can power multiple appliances at once if you want to spend your juice on running a lightweight outdoor kitchen – albeit not for a super long time at that kind of power draw.

Jackery’s Explorer series features durable and attractive (insofar as any utility device is ever that attractive) exterior impact-resistant plastic housings, and they definitely feel like they don’t need to be treated with kid gloves. The display is legible and clear, and provides all the info you need at-glance in terms of reserve power, and power expenditure for connected devices, as well as charging info when plugged in.

The many charging options are also super convenient, and that’s where the SolarSaga 100W panes come in. These fold up to roughly the size of a folding camp side table, and have integrated handles for even easier carrying. They’re also protected outside by a tough polycarbonate shell, and the panels are resistant to high temperatures for max durability. They come with included output converter cables for connecting to USB A and USB C devices, and can be used with the adapter included with the Power Station to charge that either in tandem with one another, or on their own.

Around back you’ll find an adjustable kickstands, which allow you to angle the panels towards the sun across a range of positions for maximum energy absorption. Between these and the Explorer power stations, you have everything you need to set up your own fully mobile solar energy power generation station in just a few minutes and with minimal effort.

Image Credits: Jackery

Bottom line

In actual use, the Jackery Explorer 1000 Portable Power Station provides so much backup power that it was hard to expend it all through general testing. You really do have to plug alliances like my Blendtec blender in to make a dent, and even then I got roughly 12 hours of usage or more out of it. This is a great solution for taking some selective on-grid equipment off-grid while on camping trips, like a TV, small fridge or a projector, and it’s an amazing thing to have at home just in case of power outages, where having your own backup options can make the difference between getting through a productive workday or staying in touch with family.

The SolarSaga panels are an amazing complement to the Explorer, and truly turn this into your own mini green energy power generation station. Even if you’re not convinced on the expense and necessity of converting your home to solar power, using something like Tesla’s Powerwall, for instance, this is a nice way to power a cooler in the backyard effectively for ‘free’ when it comes to energy costs, or to extend the useful life of the Explorer on trips when you’re away from the grid over the course of multiple days.

#articles, #energy, #gadgets, #hardware, #iphone, #jackery, #rechargeable-battery, #review, #reviews, #smartphones, #solar-panel, #solar-power, #tc, #usb

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Thanks to COVID-19 emissions and coal use may have peaked in 2019

If analysts from BloombergNEF are right, then all of the world’s most greenhouse gas polluting days are behind it, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A sharp drop in energy demand caused by the global response to the coronavirus pandemic will remove 2.5 years of energy sector emissions between now and 2050, according to the latest New Energy Outlook from BloombergNEF.

The latest models from the analysis firm tracking the evolution of the global energy system show that emissions from fuel combustion will likely have peaked in 2019.

The company’s models show that global emissions declined roughly 20% as a result of the international response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and while those emissions will rise again with economic recoveries, BloombergNEF’s models never see emissions reaching 2019 levels. And from 2027 emissions are projected to fall at a rate of 0.7% per year to 2050.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance chart predicting declines in global emissions. Image Credit: BloombergNEF

These rosy projections are based on the assumption of a massive construction boom for wind and solar power, the adoption of electric vehicles, and improved energy efficiency across industries.

Together, wind and solar are projected to account for 56% of global electricity generation by mid-century, and along with batteries will gobble up $15.1 trillion invested in new power generation over the next 30 years. The firm also expects another $14 trillion to be invested in the energy grid by 2050.

The rain on this new energy parade could come from India and China, which have long been reliant on coal power to keep their national economies humming. But even in these colossal coal consumers the Bloomberg report sees good news for people who like good news.

They expect coal-fired power to peak in China in 2027 and in India in 2030. By 2050, coal is projected to account for only 12% of global electricity consumption. But even with the surge in renewables gas-fired power ain’t dead. It remains the only fossil-fuel to continue to grow until 2050, albeit at an anemic 0.5% per-year.

No one should break out the champagne based on these projections, though, because the current trajectory still sees the globe on a course to hit a 3.3 degrees Celsius rise in temperature by 2100.

“The next ten years will be crucial for the energy transition,” said Bloomberg New Energy Finance chief executive, Jon Moore. “There are three key things that we will need to see: accelerated deployment of wind and PV; faster consumer uptake in electric vehicles, small-scale renewables, and low-carbon heating technology, such as heat pumps; and scaled-up development and deployment of zero-carbon fuels.”

And a three degree rise in temperature is bad. At that temperature huge swaths of the world would be unlivable because of widespread drought, rainfall in Mexico and Central America would decline by about half, Southern Africa could be exposed to a water crisis and large portions of nations would be covered by sand dunes (including chunks of Botswana and a large portion of the Western U.S.). The Rocky Mountains would be snowless and the Colorado River could be reduce to a stream, according to this description in Climate Code Red.

“To stay well below two degrees of global temperature rise, we would need to reduce emissions by 6% every year starting now, and to limit the warming to 1.5 degrees C, emissions would have to fall by 10% per year,” Matthias Kimmel, a senior analyst and co-author of the latest report, said in a statement.

 

#energy-consumption, #energy-efficiency, #greenhouse-gas, #renewable-energy, #solar-power, #tc

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Greed may be good when it comes to solar power

Image of a rooftop solar install.

Enlarge (credit: Jeff Martin/DOE)

Based purely on economics, there should be a lot more solar panels on roofs in the United States. With the dramatic plunge in the price of panels, solar systems have become competitive with the cost of electricity in a growing number of states, leaving the question of sun exposure to be the primary driver of whether adoption makes sense. Yet photovoltaic-equipped houses remain a rarity in the US, despite many states pushing for the adoption of renewable energy.

So why isn’t that push working? To try to find out, a small team of researchers worked with a non-profit that promotes solar installs, helping test out two different message. One message focused on self-interest and emphasized the economic benefits of installing panels. The other was what’s termed “pro-social,” meaning it emphasized that installation of solar would bring benefits to the community. As the researchers found, self-interest was king—even after the promotion was over. But self-interest did have a side benefit in that the systems that were installed tended to get the most energy out of their panels.

Scripting Solarize

The work relies on a program called Solarize. Solarize runs town-level programs that include a single installer that provides the entire town with a group rate. Program ambassadors also run pro-solar programs within the town, encouraging adoption. These programs were the ones targeted by the researchers, who arranged an experiment based on the message delivered by these ambassadors. Some towns received messages that focused on self-interest, like “save thousands by installing solar.” Others were more community-focused—“Our community is doing something together to have more clean energy,” for example. The researchers worked with the program in Connecticut (one of the researchers is at Yale), which has expensive electricity.

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#economics, #green, #human-behavior, #renewable-energy, #science, #solar-power

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Sunrun’s $3.2 billion Vivint Solar bid challenges Tesla’s energy ambitions

Tesla’s 2014 acquisition of SolarCity turned the electric vehicle manufacturer into the undisputed largest player in residential solar, but that lead has steadily eroded as its major competitor, Sunrun, surged ahead with more aggressive plans. Now with the $3.2 billion dollar acquisition of the residential solar installation company, Vivint Solar, Sunrun looks to solidify its place in the top spot.

From Tesla’s very early days Elon Musk has tried to define the company as an energy company rather than just a manufacturer of electric vehicles. When Tesla made its $2.6 billion bid for SolarCity the move was viewed as the culmination of the first phase of its “master plan,” which called for Tesla to “provide zero emission electric power generation options.”

Now that plan faces a major test from a publicly traded competitor that’s focused solely on providing residential solar power and the ability to lower costs for its panels through greater efficiencies of scale, according to analysts who track the solar energy sector.

Sunrun will be freaking big,” Joe Osha, an analyst at JMP Securities, told Bloomberg News. “They are clearly looking for ways to get scale and efficiency.”

Indeed, the combined companies will save roughy $90 million per year thanks to operational efficiencies, according to a statement from Sunrun. And the economies of scale will give the companies even more leverage when they contract with utilities on feeding power into the electric grid.

As Sunrun acknowledged in the announcement of its acquisition of the Blackstone-backed Vivint, the combined customer base of 500,000 homes represents over 3 gigawatts of solar assets. That figure still is only 3% penetration of the total market for residential solar in the United States.

Sunrun had already edged out Tesla for the top spot in residential solar installations and together the two companies account for 75% of new residential solar leases each quarter, according to data from Bloomberg NEF.

“Americans want clean and resilient energy. Vivint Solar adds an important and high-quality sales channel that enables our combined company to reach more households and raise awareness about the benefits of home solar and batteries,” Sunrun CEO and co-founder Lynn Jurich said in a statement. “This transaction will increase our scale and grow our energy services network to help replace centralized, polluting power plants and accelerate the transition to a 100% clean energy future.”

Even as Sunrun’s $1.46 billion stock (and the assumption of about $1.8 billion in debt) creates a massive competitor to Tesla’s solar business, there’s an opportunity for Tesla to sell more batteries through its residential solar competitor.

Sunrun and Vivint will likely be pushing their customers to add energy storage to their solar installations and that means using either Tesla’s Powerwall batteries or its own Brightbox batteries manufactured in partnership with LG Chem .

Investors have responded to Sunrun’s latest maneuver by pouring money into the stock. Sunrun’s shares were up over $5 in midday trading.

Image Courtesy: Yahoo Finance

“Vivint Solar and Sunrun have long shared a common goal of bringing clean, affordable, resilient energy to homeowners,” said David Bywater, Chief Executive Officer of Vivint Solar, in a statement. “Joining forces with Sunrun will allow us to reach a broader set of customers and accelerate the pace of clean energy adoption and grid modernization. We believe this transaction will create value for our customers, our shareholders, and our partners.”

#alternative-energy, #analyst, #articles, #blackstone, #chief-executive-officer, #elon-musk, #energy, #energy-storage, #lg-chem, #player, #solar-power, #solarcity, #sunrun, #tc, #tesla, #united-states, #vivint, #yahoo

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The Sun Exchange raises $3M for crypto driven solar power in Africa

South Africa based renewable energy startup Sun Exchange has raised $3 million to close its Series A funding round totaling $4 million.

The company operates a peer-to-peer, crypto enabled business that allows individuals anywhere in the world to invest in solar infrastructure in Africa.

How’s that all work?

“You as an individual are selling electricity to a school in South Africa, via a solar panel you bought through the Sun Exchange,” explained Abe Cambridge — the startup’s founder and CEO.

“Our platform meters the electricity production of your solar panel. Arranges for the purchasing of that electricity with your chosen energy consumer, collects that money and then returns it to your Sun Exchange wallet.”

It costs roughly $5 a panel to get in and transactions occur in South African Rand or Bitcoin.

“The reason why we chose Bitcoin is we needed one universal payment system that enables micro transactions down to a millionth of a U.S. cent,” Cambridge told TechCrunch on a call.

He co-founded the Cape Town headquartered startup in 2015 to advance renewable energy infrastructure in Africa. “I realized the opportunity for solar was enormous, not just for South Africa, but for the whole of the African continent,” said Cambridge.

“What was required was a new mechanism to get Africa solar powered.”

Sub-Saharan Africa has a population of roughly 1 billion people across a massive landmass and only about half of that population has access to electricity, according to the International Energy Agency.

Recently, Sun Exchange’s main market South Africa — which boasts some of the best infrastructure in the region — has suffered from blackouts and power outages.

Image Credits: Sun Exchange

Sun Exchange has 17,000 members in 162 countries who have invested in solar power projects for schools, businesses and organizations throughout South Africa, according to company data.

The $3 million — which closed Sun Exchange’s $4 million Series A — came from the Africa Renewable Power Fund of London’s ARCH Emerging Markets Partners.

With the capital the startup plans to enter new markets. “We’re going to expand into other Sub-Saharan African countries. We’ve got some clear opportunities on our roadmap,” Cambridge said, referencing Nigeria as one of the markets Sun Exchange has researched.

There are several well-funded solar energy startups operating in Africa’s top economic and tech hubs, such as Kenya and Nigeria. In East Africa, M-Kopa sells solar hardware kits to households on credit then allows installment payments via mobile phone using M-Pesa mobile money. The venture is is backed by $161 million from investors including Steve Case and Richard Branson.

In Nigeria, Rensource shifted from a residential hardware model to building solar-powered micro utilities for large markets and other commercial structures.

Sun Exchange operates as an asset free model and operates differently than companies that install or manufacture solar panels.

“We’re completely supplier agnostic. We are approached by solar installers who operate on the African continent. And then we partner with the best ones,” said Cambridge — who presented the startup’s model at TechCrunch Startup Battlefield in Berlin in 2017.

“We’re the marketplace that connects together the user of the solar panel to the owner of the solar panel to the installer of the solar panel.”

Abe Cambridge, Image Credits: TechCrunch

Sun Exchange generates revenues by earning margins on sales of solar panels and fees on purchases and kilowatt hours generated, according to Cambridge.

In addition to expanding in Africa, the startup looks to expand in the medium to long-term to Latin America and Southeast Asia.

“Those are also places that would really benefit from from solar energy, from the speed in which it could be deployed and the environmental improvements that going solar leads to,” said Cambridge.

#africa, #alternative-energy, #articles, #berlin, #bitcoin, #ceo, #east-africa, #electricity, #energy, #latin-america, #m-kopa, #m-pesa, #mobile-phones, #nigeria, #renewable-energy, #richard-branson, #series-a, #solar-energy, #solar-power, #south-africa, #southeast-asia, #steve-case, #tc, #the-sun-exchange, #united-states

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New material releases hydrogen from water at near-perfect efficiency

Image of the setting Sun.

Enlarge (credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis)

Solar energy is currently dominated by photovoltaic devices, which have ridden massive economies of scale to price dominance. But these devices are not necessarily the best choice in all circumstances. Unless battery technology improves, it’s quite expensive to add significant storage to solar production. And there are types of transportation—long-distance rail, air—where batteries aren’t a great solution. These limitations have made researchers maintain interest in alternate ways of using solar energy.

One alternative option is to use the energy to produce a portable fuel, like a hydrocarbon or hydrogen itself. This is possible to do with the electrons produced by photovoltaic systems, but the added steps can reduce efficiency. However, systems that convert sunlight more directly to fuel have suffered from even worse efficiencies.

But a Japanese group has decided to tackle this efficiency problem. The team started with a material that’s not great—it only absorbs in the UV—but is well understood. And the researchers figured out how to optimize it so that its efficiency at splitting water to release hydrogen runs right up against the theoretical maximum. While it’s not going to be useful on its own, it may point the way toward how to develop better materials.

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#energy, #green, #hydrogen, #materials-science, #renewable-energy, #science, #solar-power

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Google data centers watch the weather to make the most of renewable energy

Google’s data centers run 24/7 and suck up a ton of energy — so it’s in both the company’s and the planet’s interest to make them do so as efficiently as possible. One new method has the facilities keeping an eye on the weather so they know when the best times are to switch to solar and wind energy.

The trouble with renewables is that they’re not consistent, like the output of a power plant. Of course it isn’t simply that when the wind dies down, wind energy is suddenly ten times as expensive or not available — but there are all kinds of exchanges and energy economies that fluctuate depending on what’s being put onto the grid and from where.

Google’s latest bid to make its data centers greener and more efficient is to predict those energy economies and schedule its endless data-crunching tasks around them.

It’s not that someone at Google looks up the actual weather for the next day and calculates how much solar energy will be contributed in a given region and when. Turns out there are people who can do that for you! In this case a firm called Tomorrow.

Weather patterns affect those energy economies, leading to times when the grid is mostly powered by carbon sources like coal, and other times when renewables are contributing their maximum.

This helpful visualization shows how it might work – shift peak loads to match times when green energy is most abundant.

What Google is doing is watching this schedule of carbon-heavy and renewable-heavy periods on the grid and shuffling things around on its end to take advantage of them. By stacking all its heavy compute tasks into time slots where the extra power they will draw is taken from mostly renewable energy sources, they can reduce their reliance on carbon-heavy power.

It only works if you have the kind of fluid and predictable digital work that Google has nurtured. When energy is expensive or dirty, the bare minimum of sending emails and serving YouTube videos is more than enough to keep its data centers busy. But when it’s cheap and green, compute-heavy tasks like training machine learning models or video transcoding can run wild.

This informed time-shifting is a smart and intuitive idea, though from Google’s post it’s not clear how effective it really is. Usually when the company announces some effort like this, it’s accompanied by estimates of how much energy is saved or efficiency gained. In the case of this time-shifting experiment, the company is uncharacteristically conservative:

“Results from our pilot suggest that by shifting compute jobs we can increase the amount of lower-carbon energy we consume.”

That’s a lot of hedging for something that sounds like a home run on paper. A full research paper is forthcoming, but I’ve asked Google for more information in the meantime; I’ll update this post if I hear back.

#data-centers, #earth-day, #google, #greentech, #hardware, #solar-power, #wind-power

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