Archives for the month of: November, 2011

“I believe it is imperative that the government commit to clean energy innovation at a level similar to its research investments in health and defense.” –Bill Gates

In a recent editorial of Science magazine Bill Gates gave his full support for government investments in clean energy. His sentiments were akin to those of Bill Clinton, reported in a previous post.  The question they both address is this: In terms of the global clean energy economy, what does the United States bring to the table?

China surely brings their manufacturing strength and with the Chinese currently pumping out solar photovoltaic modules cheaper than ever, the U.S. may be hard-pressed to shoulder their way into the market if this was the only important consideration. However, both Gates and Clinton agree, the strength of the United States lies less in their manufacturing capacity and more in the great spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation that permeates American culture. This could surely be harnessed to foster the development of novel clean energy technologies.

“The United States is uniquely positioned to lead in energy innovation, with great universities and national laboratories and an abundance of entrepreneurial talent,” Gates explains. However, the potential seems yet to be realized. Investment in energy innovation is declining.  The U.S. is spending less money spent on energy R&D than many of its competitors.  So what then is the solution?

Gates does not believe this is something to be left up to the market. He emphasizes that “…developing major new technologies, where the time frames necessary for true innovation stretch past the normal horizons of patent protection, requires up-front investments that are too large for venture capital and traditional energy companies.” Essentially, his point is that the federal government needs to step up to fill the funding void.

Furthermore, the focus of government funding can be for long-term gain, not only in its strictest monetary sense, but also “gains” in our relationship with the environment, in job creation and social well-being. This is especially relevant in the clean energy economy with the looming threat of climate change as it is in the “long-term” where we will continue to face the consequences of the decisions made today.

Full article at: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/334/6058/877.full

-Erik Janssen

(Engineering Physics, MASc, Year 2 at McMaster University)

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Ontario’s Feed-In Tariff (FIT) program has been the driving force behind the province’s expanding renewable energy industry for more than two years.  The program is now up for its scheduled two-year review date. This is an important aspect of the FIT because it allows the policy makers to make necessary adjustments to the program as they learn from the successes and failures of the past two-years.

The biannual review also allows for tariff digression, one of the most important aspects of a successful FIT program. The idea motivating tariff digression is that the province is interested in making renewables a competitive economic investment; no more, no less. If it is not competitive then people won’t invest their money. If it is too lucrative then it wastes taxpayer money and it may also endanger the program.

The province is attempting to make the review process as open and transparent as possible and as such, it is welcoming suggestions from the general public. To have your say you can fill out an online survey at http://www.energy.gov.on.ca/en/fit-and-microfit-program/2-year-fit-review/ or you can send an e-mail to 2yearFITreview@ontario.ca. Ensure your submissions arrive before Dec. 14/2011.

It is a good time to reflect back: what are some of the the notable “successes and failures” of the FIT so far? Perhaps the most notable success has been job creation. Recall that the FIT is a part of the Green Energy and Economy Act and its purpose is not only to foster a sustainable energy supply but also to develop new green-collar manufacturing and engineering jobs as well. The liberals claim 20,000 new jobs have been created but the ambiguity over the word “job” makes this figure less meaningful and thus, open to criticism. What do they mean: full-time, part-time, temporary, long-term?

A third-party consulting agency working for Canadian Solar Industries Association (CanSIA) put the job creation in the burgeoning solar photovoltaic industry, only one form of renewable energy subsidized under the FIT program, at 8,200 PYE by the end of 2011. A PYE is a unit used to measure job creation and is equivalent to one person working full-time for one year. This figure seems commendable seeing that solar is planned to be 1.5% of the long-term energy mix where wind and bio-energy make-up the remaining 11.3% of non-hydro renewables. Looking at job creation from a different angle, the report also states that more than two new dozen solar module and inverter manufacturers have set up shop in Ontario since the FIT program’s inception. (See: http://www.cansia.ca/sites/default/files/economic_impacts_of_solar.pdf)

The road to a sustainable energy mix hasn’t been entirely smooth though. Ontario has come under fire from Japan and the European Union for being protectionist and violating international trade laws with the 60% Ontario content requirement for all FIT contracts. This is something yet to be fully battled out.

Another bump in the road concerned the issue of grid-capacity. A number of solar energy installation owners with signed FIT contracts invested the necessary the capital only to find out later that the grid in their area couldn’t handle the extra electricity. Some creative solutions were offered to this problem but capacity may continue to be an issue.

A simpler, more stream-lined, application process for small-scale contracts seems wanting as well.

However, despite the setbacks, the largest hurdle threatening the survival of the FIT has been surmounted already and that was the previous provincial election. For now the program seems well enough on-track and the present review process will likely improve upon it further.

-Erik Janssen

(Engineering Physics, MASc, Year 2 at McMaster University)

We’ve all heard about the potential for symbiotic relationships between electric cars and solar energy. It makes sense. Solar panels covert light energy to electrical energy and, if not connected to the electricity grid, that electrical energy needs to be stored. Why not store it in the battery of an electric car?

Taken to the far end of what might be possible perhaps one day the problem of solar energy storage can be solved via a nationwide fleet of electric cars plugged into the grid. When there is excess power, the batteries can charge and when power is needed, it can then be taken back from the batteries.

Maybe such a system will never be implemented but at least this relationship is starting to be explored. Solar power systems are now being used to charge electric cars right here in Canada. Check it out at:

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/skyfire-energy-solar-powers-albertas-first-net-zero-energy-car-2011-11-14

-Erik Janssen

(Engineering Physics, MASc, Year 2 at McMaster University)

Click on the link to watch the clip (fastforward to 3:30) http://watch.ctv.ca/the-daily-show-with-jon-stewart/#clip564848

-Erik Janssen

(Engineering Physics, MASc, Year 2 at McMaster University)

Welcome to the official blog of the NSERC Photovoltaic Innovation Network. Visit us regularly for the latest news and development in photovoltaics and sustainable energy. Everything from policy to politics to opinion…. you’ll find it here!

-Erik Janssen

(Engineering Physics, MASc, Year 2 at McMaster University)