By Ucilia Wang, Contributor
Glass or metal? That could become an increasingly important question for developers of concentrating solar power projects. A growing number of companies, from 3M to Abengoa Solar, are working on mirrors made of metals and polymer that aim to be lightweight and cheaper than the glass variety. 3M is doing a pilot-stage launch of its Solar Mirror Film, and it’s planning for a full commercial launch by the end of the year, said Daniel Chen, business development manager of 3M’s renewable energy division. “Saving time and material costs are the big advantages,” Chen said during a recent poster session at 3M’s headquarters in Minnesota. Metallic films “also are easier to transport – you can pack them densely and use aluminum locally” for project construction. Like GE and other titans in their industries, 3M is keen on winning a fat slice of the growing renewable energy market. The use of metal film, which is then laminated onto an aluminum backing, isn’t a new concept, and 3M launched a similar product in the 1980s. It lasted for 4-5 years before the entire market disappeared, Chen said. The company restarted the research in this area about two years ago, when the solar industry began to revive in earnest. Proponents say metal mirrors are suitable for all types of solar thermal power plant designs, including parabolic trough, power tower and stirling dish.
But replacing glass, a durable and highly reflective material with a long history of surviving the outdoors, won’t be so easy. Investors and utilities tend to prefer well-proven technologies over novel ones. The largest solar thermal power complex in the world, the 354-megawatt solar field in the Mojave Desert, was built between 1984 and 1991 with glass mirrors. “If you are going to finance these systems, banks want these things to last at least 20 years probably longer 30 years. Most glass products have some of that history,” said Mark Mehos, the program manager for concentrating solar power research at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado. Where is the Market? 3M just saw the completion of a 1.2-MW thermal project featuring its reflective film. Abengoa Solar completed the project in April under a contract from Johnson Controls, located at the Federal Correctional Institution Englewood in Littleton, Colorado, said Pete Thompson, sales manager for Abengoa Solar IST (Industrial Solar Technology). The system uses rows of parabolic trough collectors — 160 collector modules spanning about 22,720 feet — on 1.7 acres. The collectors concentrate and direct the sunlight to heat up tubes containing a mix of water and anti-freeze, which in turn transfer that heat to a 16,000-gallon water tank. The water is heated to up to 185-degree Fahrenheit and used for showers, cooking and laundry by roughly 1,000 inmates and employees. Metal mirrors are better and cheaper options than glass mirrors because a hot water system doesn’t need to achieve the kind of high temperatures that are necessary for electricity production, Thompson said. The project should cut natural-gas use for water heating at the prison by more than 50 percent per year, according to Spain-based Abengoa. 3M and other solar thermal technology companies are eyeing not just the industrial but also the electricity market, a potential mother lode. Gigawatts of solar thermal electricity projects have been proposed, particularly in California, Arizona and Nevada. In a solar thermal power plant, the heated fluid is used to generate steam, which then drives a turbine. If those projects are successful, they will help to create a large market for new technologies. But lining up investors for these projects has been a tough challenge for power plant developers.
So far, the federal government is willing to support two financially. Abengoa Solar recently won a $1.45 billion in federal loan guarantee for its 250-megawatt Solana project in Gila Bend, Ariz. Earlier this year, California-based BrightSource Energy won $1.37 billion in federal loan guarantees for its 400-megawatt Ivanpah project in the Mojave Desert of California. Aside from using 3M’s reflective film, Abengoa Solar also is developing its own alternative to glass mirrors. Back in 2007, the U.S. Department of Energy gave Abengoa $448,000 to work on a polymeric reflector (see DOE report). The company is working with Science Application International Corporation (SAIC) in Virginia to develop the new silver-lined aluminum mirrors.
Meanwhile, some companies already have launched commercial products. Alanod Solar, for example, has an aluminum reflector that has been used by customers such as Sopogy in Hawaii. Pennsylvania-based Alcoa, meanwhile, recently announced a field trial of a parabolic trough system at NREL using Alanod’s mirrors. A trough collector featuring Alanod Solar’s mirrors is shown at left. Skyline Solar in California used Alanod’s mirrors for its recently completed 80-kilowatt project in Nipton, Calif., said Andrew Sabel, Alanod’s North American marketing manager. In Skyline’s project, the reflectors aren’t heating fluid for steam production. Instead, they concentrate and direct the sunlight onto crystalline silicon solar cells for electricity production.
Startup SkyFuel in Colorado also sells parabolic trough aluminum reflectors, which are lined with a silver film developed by NREL and commercialized by ReflecTech. SkyFuel also has received $435,000 from the DOE to design solar fields with Fresnel lenses and molten salt as the heat-transferring fluid, a design that the company said can achieve higher temperatures than Fresnel designs currently available. Mirror, Mirror On the Wall Are metallic film reflectors better than glass? Glass, in general, can reflect a higher percentage of light, particular if it’s thin. A glass reflector that is 1 millimeter or thinner could achieve 96 percent of reflectivity, Mehos said. Mehos sees metal mirrors as a more competitive alternative for building parabolic trough systems for now. For one thing, the glass sheets cut for parabolic trough collectors tend to be thicker, around 5 millimeters, so their reflectivity is lower, around 94.5 percent. Besides, making curved mirrors isn’t easy, so the number of suppliers is limited, which in turn can drive up the cost, Mehos noted. Plus, glass can be heavy and bulky to transport. In comparison, a power tower design can use flat and thinner glass mirrors, which are cheaper than curved ones. The mirrors in this setup concentrate and direct the sunlight onto the top of a central tower to generate steam, which is then piped to a turbine for electricity generation. 3M and other developers aim to close the reflectivity gap by tinkering with their recipes to create different coatings and by experimenting with different materials. 3M’s film comes with an acrylic top, below which lies a layer of silver, which is a good choice of reflective material. Underneath the silver is copper and other protective layers. The film is bonded to an aluminum substrate to form the collectors. The company uses an additive to make acrylic more resistant to UV-ray damage. A mirror’s effectiveness depends on its ability to reflect light. 3M’s film can achieve 94.2 percent of reflectivity, with 95 percent of specular reflectance, Chen said. Specular reflectance is a more specific measurement on how well the mirror can focus the light in a particular angle and minimize its dispersion, Mehos said. A higher specular reflectance is needed when the reflector tries to direct the light to a receiver that is farther away. As a result, mirrors for the power tower design – where the light has to be concentrated and directed to a central tower – would require a higher specular reflectance than the parabolic trough design. Although silver makes a good reflective material, it also needs special coatings from corrosion. It can be scratched by dust storms or even during cleaning, Mehos said. Developing a hard top surface to protect the silver is a key pursuit for companies such as 3M. Chen said 3M is developing a more abrasion-resistant film that it plans to roll out late next year. Alanod takes a different approach with its reflectors. The company forgoes using a silver-based laminate and opts to add other types of coatings directly on aluminum to boost the reflectivity of the aluminum. The coatings include a layer of silicon dioxide and titanium dioxide, Sabel said. On top of the oxide layers is a gel that hardens, and this secret sauce is crucial for achieving that necessary durable surface, Sabel added. Alanod has deployed its aluminum reflectors in field trials for the last five years. Sabel declined to say where, except that the mirrors are among traditional concentrating solar thermal systems. Alanod’s aluminum version is holding up against the glass variety, he added. Alanod’s reflectors can achieve 90 percent reflectivity and 88 percent specular reflectance. He said the measurements show what the reflectors could achieve when they are installed in the field. Reflective films, on the other hand, may have higher ratings, but they could lose some of the reflectance if they are not laminated onto the aluminum substrate correctly, Sabel said. “Glass breaks, and it cannot be used as structure members of the systems. So people are looking at metal mirror’s flexibility and light weight and [they] incorporated it into a structure element,” Sabel said. “With metal mirrors you sacrifice a few points of reflectivity but you get design flexibility.” Skyfuel’s reflectors also make use of a silver polymer film that goes on top of an aluminum substrate. The company’s spec sheet says the mirror’s solar reflectance and specular reflectance are both 94 percent.
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on the following debate:
By 2020 or earlier the installed costs for solar electricity systems will be reduced to US$1 per watt
Background: Due to strong incentives, mainly within the EU, global solar photovoltaic market has significantly grown during 2010, with the whole PV installed capacity having reached almost 40GW, or up 70% from nearly 23GW in 2009. The strong expansion in PV installations was mainly dominated by the European countries, with about 70% of the new solar power installations in 2010, with Germany leading the PV market accounting for almost 7GW and Italy with about 3GW, followed by Czech Republic (1.3GW), France (0.5GW), Spain (0.4), Belgium (0.25) and Greece (0.2). As for the main markets outside Europe, Japan PV market accounted for nearly 1GW, followed by the United States (0.8GW) and China (0.4GW).
The US administration and the Chinese government are both aiming at achieving price parity between solar electricity and fossil-based electricity without additional subsidies. Reaching this goal will establish the country’s technological leadership, improve the nation’s energy security, and strengthen economic competitiveness in the global clean energy race.
President Obama laid down a bold challenge to America in his State of the Union speech January 2011: “get to 80% clean energy by 2035.”
Ms. Eleni Despotou, Secretary General of the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (www.interpv.net): “PV electricity would see its generation costs dropping to a range of 5 to 12 c / kWh by 2020, making it highly competitive with all peak generation technologies, and as low as 4 to 8c/kWh in 2030, making it also widely competitive with most mid-load generation technologies.”
On the other hand we hear every day: “Solar is too expensive” or “Variable costs related to permitting, inspection and interconnection are killing the solar industry’s ability to achieve speed and scale”. .
Mr. Amnon Samid, CEO, The AGS group (www.AGSpower.com): “Encouraging investment only in PV systems will jeopardize the chances to develop a competitive solar thermal mini-grid distributed generation solutions for electricity production, that may enjoy the advantages of PV systems, but offers also storage capabilities and hybrid, co-generation and on-site power production options, occupying less expensive land for extended use, making it competitive with base load generation technologies, representing an alternative for new generation capacity in Sunbelt countries.”
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) SunShot Initiative aims to restore America’s once-dominant position in the global market for solar photovoltaic (PV), which has dwindled from 43% in 1995 to only 6% today. DOE estimates that if the installed costs for solar energy systems drop to $1 per watt — equivalent to a levelized cost of electricity of 5-6 cents per kilowatt hour — solar without subsidies would be competitive with the wholesale rate of electricity nearly everywhere in the U.S. The DOE intend to devote $200 million per year — to support a targeted roadmap to meet the SunShot goal by the end of the decade.
However, the “64 million dollar question” is:
Is it a realistic goal?
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Promoting and enabling the incorporation of innovative clean energy technologies into the grid.
Considering the short term of one to three years, what technology advances may be expected in the CPV sector? What conversion efficiencies might be achieved and costs/kW installed reached? And what, if any, are the technical and investment barriers which must be overcome in order to achieve these forecasts?
Jeroen Haberland, CEO, Circadian Solar
In the next three years lowering manufacturing costs will be crucial to the CPV industry. As well as the gains from adopting best practises and economies of scale, part of the cost reductions will come from advances in cell manufacturing techniques to lower the amount of material required in each cell. Exploiting increasingly optimised bandgap combinations, either by metamorphic growth or by layer transfer techniques, will produce cells with higher fundamental efficiency limits.
We expect the current trend of 1% annual increases in research cell efficiency, from the 2010 level of 42%, to continue, although advances in cells with more optimum bandgap combinations could deliver more significant increases. Production cell efficiencies meanwhile will most likely continue to lag behind world record research cell efficiencies by 2%-3%. Overall system efficiencies are expected to rise to around 32% by 2013. This will be driven not just by cell efficiency increases, but also by the combination of high efficiency optics, optimal concentration factor, innovative thermal management, high accuracy solar tracking and through automated precision assembly too.
Commercially, the emphasis will increasingly be placed on levelised cost of electricity (LCOE), rather than just system efficiency and system price/watt, since LCOE is the key determining factor in commercial payback and return on investment.
The key barrier to investment is ‘bankability’ — the requirement to guarantee to financiers the kWh energy yield from CPV systems over 25 years for a given investment in the plant. Without this, either the cost of finance will be very high, or there will be no finance. Publicly funded projects are one of the best/only ways to demonstrate bankability and well thought out incentives, such as feed-in tariffs, will be an important enabler for the industry to reach the economies of scale necessary to reduce system costs.
Carla Pihowich, Senior Director of Marketing, Amonix
The most important technology advances in CPV solar over the next three years will be performance improvements to III-V multi-junction cells and how they are integrated into CPV.
Amonix incorporated III-V multi-junction cells into our systems in 2007 leading to dramatic improvements in efficiency — currently 39% at the cell level, which translates into 31% at the module level and 27% at the system level. At these levels of efficiency, CPV has by far the greatest efficiency of any solar technology. In addition, as we have done in the past, Amonix will deploy performance improvements over the next year that will lessen the gap between cell and system efficiency. In the years to come, we expect multi-junction production cell efficiencies will reach 42% or higher using current or new high-efficiency cell designs.
On the question of cost, we believe that CPV offers greater potential for cost reduction than conventional PV technologies such as single-crystal silicon and thin-film PV, which are nearing performance limitations that will make it difficult for them to drop below their current installed system costs. In contrast, the CPV performance advantage has plenty of headroom and can achieve continual reductions in the levelised cost of electricity (LCOE).
Achieving the cell and system efficiencies is not without its challenges — cell performance must be effectively transferred to production environments, for example. But we believe these challenges can be managed. Bottom line, efficiency improvements combined with the future cost advantages of CPV over PV, the greater deployment flexibility — and the advantage of using no water compared with CSP systems — make CPV the best choice for utility-scale solar deployments in sunny and dry climates.
Nancy Hartsoch, Vice-President Sales and Marketing, SolFocus
In 2010 industry-leading CPV companies have become commercial, demonstrating scalable deployment, bankable products, and volume manufacturing. So what does lie ahead for CPV?
One way to describe CPV’s path over the next one to three years is that it will have a steep trajectory. CPV conversion efficiencies are on a steep upward path. System efficiencies of 26%+ today will continue to increase as CPV cell efficiencies move from 39% upwards to 45%.
Manufacturing costs for CPV systems are also on a steep trajectory, but going downward, as factories are ramped from manufacturing hundreds of kW to hundreds of MW per year. The upward efficiency trajectory combined with the rapidly declining manufacturing cost trajectory provides a very steep reduction in terms of the levelised cost of electricity (LCOE) for CPV in the upcoming three years.
In 2010 CPV won competitive bids around the world against other PV technologies because of its high energy yield resulting in a very strong value proposition, which will become even more commanding in the future. Bankability of the technology remains perhaps the biggest hurdle, however, this is rapidly changing through thorough due diligence on the technology and creative approaches to reduce the risk for developers.
Certification to industry standards for CPV combined with multiple years of on-sun performance and reliability data also contributes to the increasing adoption of CPV into large distributed and utility-scale projects around the globe.
With 150 MW forecast to be deployed in 2011, CPV has finally turned the corner on commercialisation and is moving forward into a market where its high energy yield with the largest energy output/MW installed has the potential to dramatically change the opportunity for the PV market. Add in the need for environmentally friendly technology and it provides an extremely low carbon footprint, along with low cost of energy, It becomes easy to forecast a major impact by CPV solar.
Andreas W. Bett, Deputey Director, Fraunhofer ISE
Concentrating PV and specifically HCPV technology is now ready to enter the market. I am aware this has already been said, but the difference is that there are now serious companies in the market.
They have set up production capacities which are in the two-digit MW range, and collectively the production capacity today is more than 150 MW. Two years ago it was less than 10 MW. This achievement is an important milestone for CPV and the first step to overcome their infancy.
In respect to technology advances, due to steady and continuous improvement for cells, optics and tracking CPV-system AC operating efficiency will eventually be 25% on an average. System efficiencies as high as 30% are possible, but it will take more than three years to achieve this goal. These high efficiencies, in combination with advancing along a steep learning curve, will lead to energy costs in the range of €0.10/kWh at sites with solar radiation of more than 2400 kWh/m²/year.
One has to take into consideration that for the moment the cost per installed kW is not an appropriate measure for CPV technology. This is simply because the corresponding rating standards for CPV are not yet established. Indeed, missing standards can be seen as one hurdle for CPV and a barrier for investors. Consequently, the financial side must learn more about CPV technology and the industry must teach and demonstrate reliability — a major obstacle today for bankability.
At present CPV struggles not so much with technology, but with funding. However, this barrier will soon be overcome, for example if guarantees can be provided by the CPV companies.
It is then that the growth and the technology development speeds up, leading to still lower CPV costs.
Hansjörg Lerchenmüller, CEO and Founder, Concentrix Solar
Leading players in the CPV sector continue to surpass record module and system efficiencies, leveraging optical and electrical expertise to optimise output from the world’s highest efficiency III-V cells.
CPV systems are typically twice as efficient as conventional PV systems, with current module efficiencies at 27% and expecting to break the remarkable 30% barrier in the near future.
At Soitec Concentrix we are currently working on the next generation of smart cell technology which is targeting cell efficiency of 50% – in turn leading to a system efficiency of more than 35%. Soitec’s patented Smart Cut™ technology, used for over a decade in the semiconductor industry, will provide crucial layer transfer expertise for the optimisation of the cell design.
The first results of the smart cell development programme will be available within the mentioned time period. In the long term, it will be integrated exclusively into Concentrix’ systems.
Prices for a full turnkey CPV power plant are today already below $4/watt and will go down to $3/watt in the coming years. Specific prices very much depend on size, the site of the power plant and timing. At the same time, it is well established that CPV technology provides some 40% to 50% more energy output than conventional PV and due to its use of dual-axis tracking, maintains a consistent, high output during periods of peak demand when energy prices are highest.
Given that we have already achieved a 27% module efficiency in production and that we have commercial plants of hundreds of kilowatts, we foresee no major roadblocks on performance reliability and cost for the CPV industry for driving down the levelised cost of electricity (LCOE) produced to reach grid parity levels.
Key issues from an investment point of view are a relatively quick return on investment and bankability. The scalability of CPV helps to address this — due to the modularity of the technology, the project size can be adjusted to the financial capabilities of the investors/banks and also energy is produced as soon as the first tracker is installed, helping to reduce the time delay normally associated with utility-scale solar power plants.
In terms of bankability, Soitec Concentrix have partnered with energy efficiency and sustainability company Johnson Controls, which will build, operate, maintain and provide lifecycle support for solar installations using Concentrix CPV technology.
The combination of the respective strengths of both companies will provide advantages, allowing the partners to accelerate and widen the successful installation of solar renewable energy utility-scale plants in high direct normal irradiation regions across the globe.
Eric J. Pail, Analyst, AltaTerra Research
Short-term advances in CPV systems will be mostly technical and focused on improving the cost/performance ratio. However, longer-term advances in market development may produce even greater economic value for the sector.
In the short term, high concentration PV (HCPV) systems will continue to see technology advancements in the efficiency of III-V multi-junction cells. Multi-junction cells are at the heart of high concentrating PV systems and are a key driver to reducing costs and increasing overall system efficiency. As a rule of thumb, for every percentage increase in multi-junction cell efficiency there is a 0.75%—0.8% increase in system efficiency.
Today, most HCPV systems use 38%—39% efficient multi-junction cells and have a system efficiency of between 24% and 35%. In 2011, multi-junction cell efficiencies are expected to rise to more than 40% and on to some 42% in 2012.
The increase in the number of multi-junction cell manufacturers and number of new cell technologies under development will help the CPV industry make steep efficiency improvements in the coming years.
Like any new technology, the CPV industry still faces the challenge of justifying financing from risk-averse financers in terms of ‘bankability’. In response, SolFocus, for example, has recently announced that Munich RE will offer an insurance policy to backstop SolFocus’s warranty. Meanwhile, Morgan Solar self-financed an initial 200 kW test project to demonstrate its technology. Certification standards — particularly IEC 62108 — are also helping to provide investors with assurance. As more and larger CPV projects come online and manufacturers take direct steps to address the issue, bankability should therefore become less of a problem.
In the long term, it is the distinctive character of concentrating PV that will lead to greater commercial uptake. With sites in very sunny regions that make use of tracking, pedestal mounting and other distinctive features of CPV installations, the industry will lower costs through volume and more effectively create economic value by focusing on customers that prize or require particular features.
This article was originally published by the editors of RenewableEnergyWorld Magazine Dec 16 2010
Smart Grids and the Future of PrivacyThe transmission networks spanning nations to provide light, heat and electricity will soon undergo a radical transformation. Most of the world’s developed countries have invested in or plan to invest huge sums to implement smart energy infrastructures within the next two decades. The smart grid will revolutionize the way utilities and consumers measure and monitor electricity usage. This effort is expected to save money and aid energy conservation.
But the grid will also result in the creation of massive amounts of new data, data that can reveal intimate details about households and the people who live in them. The risk of exposure or misuse of such data creates a new set of concerns for consumers and privacy professionals. The smart grid will rely on smart meters, which will record household energy consumption and communicate it back to power providers. These new smart meters will replace the electromechanical meters that are attached to most households across the world today.
Smart appliances, which are being developed and sold by some of the world’s largest manufacturers, will enhance the intelligent grid, feeding smart meters with real-time information about electrical use down to the appliance level — smoothie at seven, treadmill at eight, for example. (According to a recent Zpryme report, the global market for household smart appliances is projected to reach $15.12 billion in 2015.) This precision will allow utility companies to analyze peak power usage times and set electric rates accordingly. In turn, households will gain a tool for more efficient management of their energy consumption, which they could use to lower costs and conserve energy.
For example, customers will have the ability to time their laundry chores for off-peak energy hours. When the grid, the meter, and the appliances are implemented and integrated, consumers will be able to fine-tune their energy consumption to get the best rates and utilities will be able to more effectively manage power distribution and identify and resolve problems remotely. The savings potential is expected to be massive.
The grid is also expected to help power suppliers prevent blackouts and brownouts by allowing for power distribution to be delivered more evenly and on a need-based schedule. Nations and utilities are investing in the development of the smart grid, and many companies have already deployed smart meters. But while those involved throw millions, even billions, toward the grid, cautioning voices are calling for privacy protections. “We are talking about implementing a very new type of network…a network that people are always attached to,” says Rebecca Herold, CIPP, founder of Rebecca Herold and Associates, LLC. Herold has led the U.S. National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) Smart Grid privacy subgroup since June 2009 and co-authored the NIST report on smart grid privacy, which is under review by NIST and expected to be published soon. The information collected on a smart grid will form a library of personal information, the mishandling of which could be highly invasive of consumer privacy,” said Christopher Wolf, co-author with Jules Polonetsky of a whitepaper published by the Future of Privacy Forum and the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario. “There will be major concerns if consumer-focused principles of transparency and control are not treated as essential design principles, from beginning to end.” Utilities are aware of the privacy concerns, according to Rick Thompson, the president of Greentech Media. “It’s absolutely on their radar,” he says, adding, “That doesn’t mean they have a full understanding or solution to solve that problem, but I think it’s an area that they are investigating heavily.” It’s an area worthy of investigation, according to many. Some say the smart grid will be “bigger than the internet,” which will result in an exponential increase of coveted, valuable and potentially identifiable data. “You come into new types of privacy issues because you are now revealing personal activities in ways that are not historically, or have not been considered to date as being personally identifiable information,” Herold says.
Beyond knowing how often the refrigerator opens or what time the garage door activates each morning, grid data may be a way of discerning when a household is empty or full, when family members go to bed at night or what time the kids come home from school. Marketers might want to tap into the data to find out when a household might be due for a new refrigerator or washing machine. Law enforcement might be interested in corroborating a story. An insurance company might want to know if a homeowner’s alarm was turned on when a burglary occurred. A divorce attorney might want to subpoena energy-use records to aid a case. Who owns the data? In a recent newspaper article, Simon McKenzie, the chief executive of a New Zealand electricity supplier, said in that country, where hundreds of thousands of smart meters are currently being installed, “We’re starting to see the retailers and network companies say: ‘Hey, there are a number of different ways that we haven’t even considered that we could utilize this data…to provide better service or solutions to customers.
” The full potential of smart grids has yet to be realized, McKenzie told The New Zealand Herald. But should retailers and other entities have access to the data? That is a question being examined on a global scale. In response to the McKenzie’s comments, New Zealand Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff said that companies need to be transparent about what information is being tracked and collected. “People need to be able to make fully informed decisions before agreeing to the new technology,” Shroff said. Others call for limited use of the data gleaned from smart grids. “The risk with a rich new data source is the temptation to use the information for more than originally intended,” Australian Privacy Commissioner Karen Curtis told those attending a smart infrastructure conference earlier this year. That’s why it will be crucial to answer the question of who owns and has access to consumers’ energy usage data, which could reveal existing and emerging types of personally identifiable information, Herold says. It’s a familiar question for privacy pros, who have grappled with it in other areas of practice, but perhaps less familiar for utilities. In a recent study, GTM asked utility companies who owns the granular data collected by smart meters — the utility company, the consumer, or a third party. The results showed a decided lack of consensus. “The interesting thing is that it was pretty well split evenly between those three options,” said GTM’s Rick Thompson. Of the companies surveyed, 39 percent said the data belonged to the consumer, 29 percent said the utility itself owned it, and 32 percent were unsure. [Chart from Greentech Media’s 2010 North American Utility Smart Grid Deployment Survey] The president of an advocacy group for the smart grid industry is more decided on the topic. “The consumer should always have access to that data,” says Kathleen Hamilton, president of the GridWise Alliance, which counts more than 100 companies and organizations as members. “I think the consumer is going to be the owner of that data,” Hamilton said. “But I think what consumers don’t understand is that when they give their data to others, if there aren’t privacy provisions in place, they can use the data in ways that either the consumer may not agree with or think appropriate.” That’s a worry many can relate to and a debate that must play itself out soon, as 70 percent of North American utility companies polled for the aforementioned GTM survey indicated that smart grid projects were either a “strong” or “highest” business priority between now and 2015. Governments keen to the potential have invested heavily in smart grid infrastructures.
In the U.S., President Obama allocated $3.4 billion in national stimulus monies to utility companies last year to encourage development of smart grid technologies. The European Parliament’s passage of the 3rd Energy Package last year will outfit 80 percent of EU electricity customers with smart meters by 2020. In Sweden, smart meters are now mandated by the government. The U.K., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, parts of Asia, Denmark, and the Netherlands have all reported plans to build intelligent grids. And the Chinese government has allocated $7.3 billion to grid projects in 2010. It is clear that the potential privacy pitfalls loom large. Less clear is the best solution to prevent them. “I think there are still a lot of questions out there about what the correct solution might be,” says GTM’s Thompson, predicting that solutions will vary based on the regulations of various regions. Like other areas of data privacy, regulation is a word that could divide the debate in the months and years to come. Some predict smart grid privacy issues to be bigger in Europe than other places due to the strength of the bloc’s Data Protection Directive. So far in the U.S., regulation has focused primarily on securing the grid infrastructure from cyber-attack. For example, the Grid Reliability and Infrastructure Defense (GRID) Act, introduced in April, charges the FERC with safeguarding the transmission grid from cyber-threats. The bill also tasks FERC with enforcing privacy measures, stating: “the Commission shall protect from disclosure only the minimum amount of information necessary to protect the reliability of the bulk power system and defense critical electric infrastructure.” The House passed the bill in June, but the Senate has yet to vote. Other bills have focused on ensuring that consumers have access to the data their homes’ meters produce. In March, Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA), chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, introduced The Electric Consumer Right to Know Act (e-KNOW), legislation to ensure consumers have access to free, timely and secure data about their energy usage. It also calls for the FERC to develop national standards for consumer energy data accessibility, to help utilities and state regulatory agencies formulate their policies, according to Markey’s website. State lawmakers have begun drafting their own legislation. In Colorado, a state where smart meter implementation is already widespread, Senate Bill 10-180 calls for the creation of a task force to recommend measures to “encourage the orderly implementation of smart grid technology” in that state. The bill says that one of the issues the task force must determine is the potential impacts on consumer protection and privacy. A call for standards Privacy experts say the lack of legal protection surrounding the smart grid is concerning. They are calling for standards. “In the absence of clear rules, this potentially beneficial smart grid technology could mean yet another intrusion on private life,” Jim Dempsey of the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) said in a March filing to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which held a three-day hearing that month to explore smart grid policies. “The PUC should act now, before our privacy is eroded,” Dempsey wrote. The CDT teamed with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) on the filing, urging the CPUC to adopt “comprehensive privacy standards for the collection, retention, use and disclosure of the data” gleaned from the smart grid. The National Institute of Standards and Technology smart grid privacy subgroup, which Herold leads, has released two drafts of the privacy chapter “Smart Grid Cyber Security Strategy and Requirements.” The document includes a privacy impact assessment and addresses possible risks the smart grid presents — including cyber attacks, data breaches and the vulnerability of interconnected networks’ increased exposure to potential hackers. The draft says that while most states have laws in place regarding privacy protection, those laws do not necessarily relate to the types of data that will be within the smart grid, and many existing laws are specific to industries other than utilities. The group recommends that provisions be included within privacy laws to protect the consumer data held by utility companies. The final NISTIR 7628 Version 1 is expected soon, after which it will be submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Minimize, destroy, build privacy in As with other privacy debates, those pushing for smart infrastructure privacy protections espouse mantras often heard in data protection circles-data minimization, data destruction and privacy by design. Utilities should minimize the amount of household data collected and should keep it for the shortest amount of time possible, advocates say, in order to minimize the risk associated with storing such data. Ontario Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian agrees. In her whitepaper, she also cautions that privacy concerns must be considered early in the planning stages in order to mitigate the risks surrounding the revealing data meters collect. By designing privacy into the grid, “we can have both privacy and a fully functioning smart grid,” Cavoukian wrote in a Toronto Star Op-Ed. The government of Ontario has committed to the installation of smart meters in every home and business by the end of 2010 and Cavoukian has partnered with major utilities to develop “gold standards” for building privacy into grid projects. Some privacy advocates point to Ontario’s Hydro One as a utility company setting the standard for baking privacy provisions into its policy before deploying smart meters. Rick Stevens, director of distribution development at Hydro One says the protection of consumer’s information was built into smart meters’ designs based on Ontario’s privacy regulations.
“The regulations certainly set the context for the project,” Stevens said. “We’re just really ensuring that we bake those protections into the product that we put out there. Given that this is new technology, we’re going to be very careful to protect consumer interest as we roll these out. I know we, as an industry, take it very seriously.” Hydro One has 1.1 million meters already deployed, and at least 700,000 of them are currently reporting data back to the utility on an hourly basis. Stevens says that, as a rule, the utility does not sell customers’ data to third parties and would only share data after obtaining written authorization customers.
The president of LinkGard Systems, an Armenian software maker, says his company’s Energy Management System, which is currently being tested in the U.S., was built with privacy in mind. “It is our strong belief that the utility company has no need to control individual appliances in a residence or a commercial location,” said Hovanes Manucharyan. “The same effect can be achieved by using solutions that don’t require the customer to expose their private energy usage information….We feel that this model is friendlier towards privacy since the utility doesn’t need to acquire, store and manage potentially private data from a customer.” Hovanes said the stronger regulatory framework of the EU could result in slightly different implementations of smart grid technologies in that market. Beyond PII We haven’t yet heard a debate on whether our garage-door-opening habits qualify as personal data, but it’s a question that privacy experts say should be answered. “People have to realize it’s a new type of network,” says Herold. “It’s ‘always on,’ passively collecting information about people in their homes. It’s more than just PII, it’s personal activities,” she adds. This is what concerns a California man who staged a dramatic protest recently when Pacific Gas & Electric attempted to install a smart meter at his home. Calling it an “unconstitutional invasion of his privacy,” he locked his existing meter, saying, “PG&E needs to be stopped in their tracks here.” Education needed But smart meters are being rolled out in many places, and typically without protest.
Indeed, though smart grids are certainly on the radar of utilities and governments, most consumers are in the dark. According to a recent Harris Interactive poll, 68 percent have never heard of the smart grid and 63 percent “draw a blank” about smart meters. Experts say that will change. “You are going to see a lot more awareness over the next 24 months,” says Greentech Media’s Rick Thompson, “but in terms of becoming a true household name, I’d say that’s still three to five years out.” Thompson says utility companies are just starting to understand the importance of launching educational campaigns aimed at consumer awareness. A newly formed coalition of companies and organizations — the nonprofit Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative — hopes to increase consumer awareness in the area. “The grid is not really smart unless the consumers are able to be active participants,” said Katherine Hamilton of the GridWise Alliance, one of the founding members of SGCC. Hydro One’s Stevens says building consumer awareness by communicating the cost-savings potential and environmental benefits is what helped make his company’s transition to smart meters successful in Ontario. “For the most part, it’s been positive,” Stevens said. “I think the reason for that is the type of information we’ve been able to provide to customers.” Stevens said, however, given his company’s success with smart meters, that the only reason to have increasing regulations in the future would be if issues arise that require them. When asked whether utility companies’ self-regulatory efforts will be sufficient to stave off regulations, Herold said it’s important to consider just how many different players will be involved in the smart grid, including non-energy sector companies creating applications and appliances. “Self-regulation is a good goal, but when you start looking realistically, how do you ensure entities consistently provide protections throughout the entire smart grid if you don’t establish requirements they must all follow?” Herold asks. She points to the health care and financial industries as evidence that regulations are often necessary. “It’s always important, in dealing with privacy, to not only take what we know from past experiences, but also have our minds open to possible impacts going forward.” Some say that having the right people on board will help companies avoid issues. “One of the key things utilities should be doing today is training and hiring privacy professionals,” says Future of Privacy Forum Director Jules Polonetsky, CIPP. “Data enables the grid, but could also be its Achilles’ heel, if companies don’t have the experts in place to help shape decisions as the grid is being built.” Stevens agrees, saying that it’s in the utility industry’s best interest to maintain consumer privacy protections moving forward. “It’s a necessity,” he says. “Otherwise, it’ll backfire on us.”
This article was originally published in the July 2010 edition of the International Association of Privacy Professionals’ member newsletter, The Privacy Advisor.
1. You will have to compete not only with current parabolic troughs and Fresnel linear reflectors, but also with mini CSP on one hand, and on the other hand – mini towers central receivers and parabolic dish that employ high temperatures (~1000ºC) and much higher efficiencies than parabolic troughs.
2. You should not start with utility scale market, but segment the markets in a manner to allow a conservative (at least in the beginning) step-wise penetration, beginning with industrial or commercial customer demonstration, moving to utility demonstration and in parallel off-grid applications; next moving to distributed applications supplying grid support, and finally into the larger scale central peak power generation market. This approach will allow you to gain familiarity with the solar industry and bring costs down as annual production volume increase, and will allow utilities to gain confidence in your systems.
3. If you choose as target market the distributed generation and not necessarily large utility scale solar power plants, you could present a potential for more closely track demand and potential growth in loads; meet reliability requirements with fewer megawatts of installed power and spread construction costs over time after first module output has started, hence capital risks and amount of initial investment may be reduced.
Thermal storage technologies are designed to improve the availability and dispatchability of a solar thermal power facility — thereby enhancing its overall value. In the long run, thermal storage will help integrate more solar power into the generation mix by enabling CSP facilities to shoulder a greater component of the daily power demand in many regions of the world.
Some innovative ideas are under development lately; beside the integration of compressed air energy storage into a modular Brayton cycle based on dish + solar air receiver to heat air above 1000ْC, the ideas of using a solid medium for thermal storage is coming up again. The German Aerospace Centre (DLR) and others are executing significant work, investigating the cost and performance of utilizing concrete or ceramic materials for thermal energy storage. The DOE is encouraging companies to look at cost savings in terms of efficiency improvement, new technology and materials. Several companies are trying to solve the drawbacks of state-of-the art molten salt storage technology by using gas as heat transfer fluid that enters unique modular structures without mixing that may cause turbulences. The existing ‘competitors’, beside the molten salt solution that is promoted also by Solar Reserve, are also low cost and widely available storage materials, like natural rocks or concrete composites, that seem to be more attractive for storage with parabolic trough based on oil (despite the issue of energy loss). It seems that ceramic storage materials, modular designs and charging and discharging concepts may have a potential for cost reduction, however, those concepts are not ready yet for scaling up to commercial pilots; it requires still more lab work, like verification of physical and dynamic numerical simulation to optimize the designs as well as the operating strategies.
The market potential for storage is huge and the target price is < €20/kwh ~26USD/kwh, (for example in the DLR’s WESPE program, funded by the German government for developing efficient and cheap sensible storage material based on unique geometric arrangement of the heat exchanger tubes in the storage volume), while the current cost of storage based on molten salt is ~€40/kwh (Andasol).
Currently only 2.5% of the capacity of the U.S. grid is able to be stored, compared with 10% in Europe and 15% in Japan, which in the event of a grid failure could mean trouble for the U.S. This is why Professor Donald Sadoway at MIT received US $7 million from U.S. Energy Agency ARPA-E), $4 million from French oil company Total and support from the U.S. Defense Agency DARPA.
The goal of Sadoway’s research is to bring the cost of large scale energy storage facilities in line with the cost of natural gas plants. He said that in order to do this, incredibly large liquid metal batteries will need to be built and the facilities will need to be used in much the same way that flywheel storage plants are expected to be used, as frequency regulators that are capable of dispatching energy quickly in the event of an emergency. The basic principle behind the technology is to place three layers of liquid inside a container: Two different metal alloys, and one layer of a salt. The three materials are chosen so that they have different densities that allow them to separate naturally into three distinct layers, with the salt in the middle separating the two metal layers — like novelty drinks with different layers. The energy is stored in the liquid metals that want to react with one another but can do so only by transferring ions — electrically charged atoms of one of the metals — across the electrolyte, which results in the flow of electric current out of the battery. When the battery is being charged, some ions migrate through the insulating salt layer to collect at one of the terminals. Then, when the power is being drained from the battery, those ions migrate back through the salt and collect at the opposite terminal. The whole device is kept at a high temperature, around 700°C, so that the layers remain molten. While each of these technologies has a lot of lab work left before it’s ready for field testing on a large scale, chemistry professor Dr. Dan Nocera and the company he helped found Sun Catalytix are working to commercialize a catalyst that can be used to split water.
The basis of Sun Catalytix’s technology is a cobalt phosphate catalyst that Nocera said is more efficient at splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen than other materials. He said that the catalyst can work within normal ambient temperatures and with water sources as diverse as tap water and water straight out of the Charles River in Boston. While commercial electrolyzers that split water to make hydrogen already exist, Nocera said that they’re far too expensive and require a significant amount of energy to run. Sun Catalytix is in the process of testing an electroylzer that is built with its proprietary catalyst that can be manufactured using PVC plastic. A completed 100-watt system would work like this: solar PV panels would power an electrolyzer, which would then produce hydrogen that would be stored in tanks and then used as fuel for a fuel cell for electricity or to power a hydrogen vehicle. Nocera said that three liters of water a day could power a home. He said the ultimate goal of the Sun Catalytix system is use cheaper solar panels and fuel cells (still a stumbling block) to implement systems like this in the developing world where there is little-to-no electricity generating infrastructure in place and where three liters of even low-quality water per day could dramatically increase the quality of life of the people living there. Development of the technology is being financed by more than $1 million from Polaris Venture Partners. Nocera said that he expects a working prototype to be completed in the next 5-8 years and that the company has already been approached by solar companies interested in having their panels used in the system.
Source: Renewable Energy World