Growing lettuce in a solar-powered greenhouse By Emiliano Bellini on Mar 19 2021, 12:01pm
Scientists in the United States have analyzed how semitransparent organic solar cells placed on the roof of a greenhouse may impact crop production. They assessed, in particular, how solar power generation may affect lettuce crops and found that the plants not only grow unhindered but also that the solar cells reduce overheating in the greenhouse. Read more »
By Emiliano Bellini on Mar 19 2021, 10:31am
Hydrogen transportation and submarine power lines have been compared by an international research team to find out which may be the cheapest option to connect for energy exchange regions separated by the sea. According to their findings, the hydrogen shipping alternative does not present very good prospects of applicability in the future, unless some disruptive technological breakthroughs are made. What makes compressed and liquified hydrogen ships still attractive, however, is that they can export energy almost anywhere, and that electrolysis and liquefaction plants are relatively easy to expand compared to marine cables.
Storm season has the US solar industry looking to protect assets from costly hail damage
The destructive potential of hail on solar arrays has only been fully realized in the last two years. In this series, pv magazine talks with experts in storm modeling, risk insurance, and damage mitigation to learn how solar arrays can survive nature’s wrath.MARCH 19, 2021 TIM SYLVIA
The solar industry is increasingly aware of the potential for severe damage due to hail storms.
Image: 40799, pixabay
From pv magazine USA
In May 2019, the solar industry was faced with a disaster unlike anything ever seen before, when a massive hailstorm passed through West Texas. In the path of the storm sat 174 Power Global’s 178 MW Midway Solar Project, bolted to the ground and pointed to the sky on 1,500 acres near Midland.
Once the storm had passed, the industry learned that it had left behind the largest weather-related single-project loss in its history. More than 400,000 of the plant’s 685,000 Hanwha Q cell modules were damaged or destroyed; insurance losses totaled $70 million, and most everyone involved endured at least a few sleepless nights.
The event served as a wake-up call to the industry. It completely reshaped how weather risks are modeled, how project owners and operators mitigate against potential damages, and how underwriters insure projects against natural disasters.
How was it that the solar industry didn’t see this coming? The answer may be simpler than you might think. Although hailstorms are not new to the wide-open spaces of West Texas, solar projects are especially solar fields on a massive scale like Midway Solar.
It’s more common for solar projects to suffer catastrophic damage from wildfires. After all, much of the early solar market was focused on California, a state with high annual wildfire risk. Once development began to expand to the Southeast, hurricanes, high wind events, and flooding became of more concern.
In short, the rapidly growing industry wasn’t properly prepared for catastrophic hail because it had never before dealt with it.
Predicting the storm
Now that hail is a known danger, one step to mitigating it as a threat is to know now only where these storms happen but how often. The hail modeling sector has grown rapidly in the two years since Midway. And to better understand the evolution, pv magazine sat down with Peter Bostock and John Sedgwick of VDE Americas. The company provides technical due diligence and engineering services for solar power and energy storage systems.
The two said that historic hail threat prediction models were both general and minimal in nature, with developers relying on basic heat maps to locate what areas had severe hail potential. The two quickly realized that this approach would not be nearly enough, and that modeling needed to be done on a granular, site-specific basis.
“Even at a given location, there’s a size distribution,” said Bostock. “And if you map larger locations, there’s a broader spread to that location.”
To better understand what a future hail event could look like in a specific area, VDE has developed a tool that blends data from human storm spotters as well as from doppler radar.
Spotter data is useful because it can provide tangible context as to the size of the hail as well as its concentration and distribution. Spotter data are typically limited to high-population areas and common travel routes. Neither case applied to the Midway solar project in the expanses of West Texas.
Doppler radar also is used as it scans and tracks weather data constantly, typically at an 11-degree angle towards the sky. This means that the scanning elevation is higher as the distance increases from the radar center. This is better for tracking hail, which forms high in thunderstorms. The radar scans storm conditions and can offer rough predictions of hail size, but even these predictions are not always accurate.
But by overlaying spotter data with radar feedback data and finding correlations between the two, Bostock said that the radar data can be corrected for the likely size and concentration of the hail in real-time, providing a more accurate risk evaluation.
VDE used this approach to develop a tool that can predict the return interval, the likelihood of a certain type of hail occurring, and the expected size of hail across different locations.
As a result, Sedgwick came to the conclusion that preventing another Midway may be easier than first thought.
“When we initially started looking at it,” he said, “we certainly said ‘Oh my God, this situation is horrible.’”
VDE started by looking at how insurance companies addressed the problem from a top-down basis. That meant insurers looked at their actual losses and then used that dollar amount to calculate insurance rates, Sedgwick said. Instead, VDE elected to look at the issue from a different angle, using physics, trigonometry, and impact energy.
Sedgwick and Bostock said that by applying appropriate mitigation elements, operational elements, and equipment installed with appropriate stow management, the effects of hail can be significantly mitigated.
“What that tells me is that the issue is not as horrible as when we first started looking at it,” Sedgwick said.
Some 70% of solar insurance losses in the last 10 years have occurred since 2017, according to a report released by insurer GCube in early March. That reality has caused the insurance market to harden significantly over the past 18 months, with premiums increasing by as much as 400%.
That hardening may actually benefit the industry, however. Experts who spoke to pv magazine pointed to the Midway catastrophe as an “eye-opening” event for the industry, with other storm events exposing what the GCube report referred to as “the weaknesses of a ‘soft’ and sometimes naïve insurance market.”
GCube asserted that the insurance sector hardening is a sign that the market is in a stronger position to provide coverage for the long haul for the solar energy sector.
For example, some insurers have begun to offer specific hail insurance programs, called parametric insurance. These programs trigger coverage when a measurable hailstorm event occurs that exceeds a predefined threshold. The trigger for coverage and payout is determined by the size of the largest hail that falls on the solar project site.
These policies are defined by their fast payout times, a factor that has long been a hindrance of natural disaster insurance for solar projects. The new policy designs mean that payments can occur anywhere from a week and 10 days after a storm, and without traditional on-site claims adjustments.
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In a blog post for insurer Marsh, Michael Kolodner, U.S. power and renewables industry practice leader, outlined three criteria for insurers and PV developers to consider when trying to minimize hail risk.
First is modeling, as Kolodner stressed the importance of understanding each location’s relative exposures as well as the need to assess the frequency and severity of hailstorms to generate credible loss scenarios.
Second, he outlined the value of understanding what hardware should be used in hail-prone regions, specifically the value of trackers. While more expensive upfront, he said that trackers can mitigate a significant amount of hail damage, leading to overall lower losses in an extreme event and a lower long-term levelized cost of energy.
Third, Kolonder said that the market is quickly changing and with it the need for stakeholder communication.
Surviving the storm
While modules have been the focus of PV hail damage and take the brunt of collisions with the icy projectiles, mitigating damage to a system does not start with the module, but with the tracker.
For industry NEXTracker, this mitigation comes in the form of NX Navigator, a software and smart control system that includes a hail function. This function moves the entire solar array to a safer, 60-degree stow angle.
Kent Whitfield, VP of quality at NEXTracker has found that there is a generally negative correlation between hail size and wind speed, which may seem counterintuitive when thinking about a big storm. However, in severe hail storms with particularly large ice balls, those balls fall more vertically. By stowing the solar panel, it becomes easier to stop the hail from striking the module face straight on.
When it comes to smaller hail balls in higher wind events, the industry is better prepared, due to its experience with hurricanes. That means solar systems and their trackers, have been designed to mitigate damage due to gale-force winds. As a result, they are, already well suited to handle the winds that can accompany small-ball hail storms.
As might be expected, the issue for modules has always been with repeated, large impacts. For individual impacts, many module faces can withstand a single stroke from an ice ball upwards of 40 millimeters (mm) in diameter, or around the size of golf ball, according to Whitfield, as well as up to 11 strikes of 25 mm hail. By stowing modules, not only is the risk of module face-strikes reduced, but the system is not further compromised by the increased wind speed.
The shortcomings of testing
On the hardware side of things, solar modules are designed to meet IEC 61215 and IEC 61646 standards, both of which test a module’s resistance to lab-produced, 25 mm hail. While this may show that the module can survive a pelting with up to 11 individual strikes, Bostock and Sedgwick said that the return interval for such a storm is once every year or two in West Texas.
What’s more, storms in Texas can generate hail much larger than the 25mm testing standard. That brings modules into a realm beyond their tested parameters.
Bostock and Sedgwick also have found that natural hail forms differently than hail generated in a lab. Natural hail generally forms as oblate spheroids, with some variety in shape from ball to ball. More uniform spherical balls are routinely used in laboratory test settings. Natural hail also typically has a lower density (especially when it comes to large hail) than lab-made ice balls of the same diameter. This results in lower energy upon impact than a lab-made hail of the same diameter.
The difference between natural and lab-made hail is not necessarily a bad thing. If the hail used for testing proves to be more destructive on impact and the module still survives, then developers may have greater confidence when it comes to using the product in the field.
It’s all about finding the right size and conditions for testing extreme hail impacts. “There’s a need for module manufacturers to assess what happens in real life when hail meets module and to do that in a much more thorough way than to just simply pass the necessary IEC tests,” said Bostock.
The reason that lab tests required for PV modules do not reflect the reality of hail in Texas and other states is simple: the tests weren’t developed with those areas in mind.
In an interview with pv magazine, NEXTracker’s Kent Whitfield said that the tests were designed when PV largely was economically viable only in California. As far back as 1977, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab recommended that developers looking to bring PV projects to the Great Plains states should prepare for hail up to 38mm in diameter or larger–50% or larger than today’s testing standards–occurring every six to eight years.
“Accepting the way that PV modules are tested today for hail might not be the right thing to do going forward,” said Whitfield. “What we as an industry need to consider is some sort of a differentiation.”
Whitfield said he expects the industry to take an “all-in” approach, in which it takes a collective look at existing testing standards and modifies the severity thresholds in a way that does not penalize all modules.
One last aspect that current testing doesn’t adequately account for is the non-visible damage that modules can suffer during a hail storm. A row of modules may appear unaffected for days or even weeks after the event, but the storm could have caused damage and microcracks at the cell level. Such damage wouldn’t initially be visible, but result in a host of performance issues.
While such damage may be difficult to test for, its cause is well known: kinetic energy. To Whitfield, the solution is ensuring a proper stow strategy that redirects and reduces a hail stone’s kinetic energy on impact. Mitigating and redirecting that energy effectively could reduce the impact damage of hail of all sizes.
In the end, cell-level damage mitigation comes down to monitoring in the weeks or months after a storm. And keep in mind that the mere presence of a microcrack doesn’t necessarily mean anything; it’s how that crack responds to natural heat fluxes and movements during operation that may manifest into a potentially harmful problem.
To Whitfield, the continued expansion of solar energy arrays into extreme hail-prone regions opens possibilities for the module industry. For example, module manufacturers could produce hail-resistant modules specifically for hail-prone areas. Those panels could undergo even more rigorous testing, qualifying them for a special tag or specification that the panels are suited for hail-prone regions.
As solar projects continue to be deployed in hail-prone regions of the U.S., then manufacturers may adjust their manufacturing processes to produce more resilient, that can survive a storm and then get back to the business of generating clean energy from the sun.
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U.S. solar industry comes ‘roaring back,’ breaks multiple records in 2020
Here are the brand-new stats and forecasts from the Solar Energy Industries Association and Wood Mackenzie.MARCH 19, 2021 JOE BEBON
Image: arbyreed, flickr
Despite all the challenges of 2020, the U.S. solar industry broke several records.
The U.S. Solar Market Insight 2020 Year-in-Review report, released by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and Wood Mackenzie, found that the industry installed a record 19.2 GW of capacity last year. That was a 43% increase from 2019 and bested the market’s previous annual record of 15.1 GW set in 2016.
California, Texas, and Florida were the top three states for annual solar capacity additions for the second straight year. In 2020, 27 states installed over 100 MW of new solar capacity, a record.
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Annual residential solar deployment rose 11% from 2019, reaching a record 3.1 GW. However, the report said this was lower than the 18% annual growth in 2019, as residential installations were impacted by the pandemic in the first half of 2020.
Annual non-residential installations fell 4% from 2019, with 2 GW installed in 2020. The report said the pandemic impacted this segment, too, through delayed project interconnections and prolonged development timelines.
For the second year in a row, solar led all technologies in new U.S. electric-generating capacity added, accounting for 43% in 2020.
The U.S. solar industry also saw its biggest quarterly gain ever in the fourth quarter, adding 8 GW of new capacity. For perspective, the market added 7.5 GW of capacity in all of 2015.
The report said there was a historic 6.3 GW of utility-scale projects installed in the fourth quarter of 2020, bringing the annual total just shy of 14 GW. The report said that 5 GW of new utility solar power purchase agreements were announced during the quarter. That brought the volume of project announcements in 2020 to 30.6 GW and the full utility-scale contracted pipeline to 69 GW.
For the first time, Wood Mackenzie also released a long-term forecast as part of the U.S. Solar Market Insight report series. By 2030, it expects that the total operating U.S. solar fleet will more than quadruple, installing a cumulative 324 GW of new capacity to reach a total of 419 GW.
Michelle Davis, senior analyst from Wood Mackenzie, said the two-year extension of the investment tax credit at the end of 2020 will drive greater solar adoption and led to a 17% increase in deployment in the report’s 2021-2025 forecast.
“After a slowdown in Q2 due to the pandemic, the solar industry innovated and came roaring back,” said SEIA President and CEO Abigail Ross Hopper. She said that the forecast shows that by 2030 the equivalent of one in eight American homes will have solar.
To learn more about SEIA’s plans and industry outlook, read a recent pv magazine USA one-on-one interview with Ross Hopper here.
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March 17, 2021byCreators.com
Robots Are Coming for Millions of Blue-Collar Jobs
CEOs urgently need euphemisms to soften the image of their constant hunt for ways to kill jobs and funnel more money to themselves and top investors.byJim Hightower
Ford F150 trucks go through robots on the assembly line at the Ford Dearborn Truck Plant on September 27, 2018 in Dearborn, Michigan. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
Some people find hunting for sport to be abhorrent, so hunters have come up with euphemisms to make what they do sound gentler on the ears of the nonhunting public. For example, animals aren’t killed; they’re “harvested.” And dead prey is not gutted but “processed.”
Corporate America has taken note of this verbal ploy and is now adopting it, for CEOs urgently need euphemisms to soften the image of their constant hunt for ways to kill jobs and funnel more money to themselves and top investors. Their urgency is that they’re now pushing a huge new surge in job cuts—this time targeting college-educated, white-collar professionals! Their weapon is the same sort of neutron bomb they’ve used to dispatch millions of blue-collar workers: robots.
But that term has a very bad reputation, so robots have been relabeled with a nondescript acronym: RPA, “robotic process automation.” These are not your grandfather’s old bots merely doing repetitive mechanical tasks. Sophisticated automatons armed with artificial intelligence have quietly moved up the corporate ladder to take over cognitive work that had been the niche of such highly paid humans as financial analysts, lawyers, engineers, managers and doctors.
McKinsey, the world’s biggest corporate strategy consultancy, calculated in 2019 that the emerging revolution of thinking robotics would displace 37 million U.S. workers by 2030. Now, seeing the current corporate stampede to impose RPAs on U.S. workplaces, McKinsey analysts have upped their projection to 45 million job losses by 2030.
This is more than just an incremental extension of a long, slow automation process. It’s a transformative Big Bang, presently ripping through America’s workforce at warp speed with no public or political attention, and most of the vulnerable employees have no idea of what’s coming.
Corporate executives, boards and investors do know, however, for they’ve been rushing furtively in the past year or so to implement RPA initiatives. The New York Times reports that a survey of executives last year found that nearly 80% of them have already put some forms of RPA in place, with an additional 16% planning to do so within three years. Yes, that’s 96% of corporate employers. Sales of the new-age automation software are booming, turning little-known providers like UiPath and Automation Anywhere into multibillion-dollar behemoths intent on radically shrinking the job market here and elsewhere. McKinsey, the world’s biggest corporate strategy consultancy, calculated in 2019 that the emerging revolution of thinking robotics would displace 37 million U.S. workers by 2030. Now, seeing the current corporate stampede to impose RPAs on U.S. workplaces, McKinsey analysts have upped their projection to 45 million job losses by 2030.
Returning to the hunting analogy, professional jobs requiring human-level judgement have been presumed to be beyond the range of robotic firepower. But, as one economist who studies labor now notes, with the mass deployment of RPA technology, “that type of work is much more in the kill path.”
The corporate vocabulary does not include the phrase “job cuts.” Rather, such unpleasantness is blandly referred to as “employment adjustment.” Moreover, terminations are hailed as universally beneficial—they’re said to “streamline” operations and “liberate” the workforce from tedious tasks.
Now, though, corporate wordsmiths are going to need a new thesaurus of euphemisms to try glossing over the masses of job cuts coming for those in the higher echelons of the corporate structure. Don’t look now, but an unanticipated result of the ongoing pandemic is that it has given cover for CEOs to speed up the adoption of highly advanced RPAs to replace employees once assumed to be immune from displacement. As one analyst told a New York Times reporter, “With R.P.A., you can build a bot that costs $10,000 a year and take out two to four humans.”
Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, many top executives feared a public backlash if they pushed automation too far too fast. But, ironically, the economic collapse caused by the pandemic has so discombobulated the workplace and diverted public attention that corporate bosses have been emboldened to rush ahead, declaring, “I don’t really care. I’m just going to do what’s right for my business.” While the nationwide shutdown of offices and furloughing of employees has caused misery for millions, one purveyor of RPA systems approvingly notes that it has “‘massively raised awareness’ among executives about the variety of work that no longer requires human involvement,” The New York Times says. He cheerfully declares, “We think any business process can be automated,” and his firm advises corporate bosses that half to two-thirds of all the tasks being done at their companies can be done by machines.
Conventional corporate wisdom blithely preaches that all new technologies create more jobs than they kill, but even those Pollyannaish preachers are now conceding that this robotic automation of white-collar jobs is being imposed so suddenly, widely and stealthily that losses will crush any gains. “We haven’t hit the exponential point of this stuff yet,” warns an alarmed analyst. “And when we do, it’s going to be dramatic.”
Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, writer, public speaker, and author of the books “Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow“ (2008) and “There’s Nothing in the Middle of the Road But Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos: A Work of Political Subversion” (1998). Hightower has spent three decades battling the Powers That Be on behalf of the Powers That Ought To Be – consumers, working families, environmentalists, small businesses, and just-plain-folks.