Category Archives: Solar Farms/Development

CPV in France

John Paul was in a different European country every day last week. Exhilarating, but probably exhausting.

On one of these days, he was in France meeting with SolarQuest, who we are partnering with on a medium-scale demo site in their home city, Aix-en-Provence. The regional newspaper La Provence wrote about the visit in this article, which gives an overview of the relationship between both early-stage companies. The article resolution isn’t great – apologies – but essentially, SolarQuest specializes in project development, we’ll supply Sun Simbas for a demo site, and we hope to grow the relationship beyond this.

It’s a fairly obvious point, but partnerships like this are key when trying to enter new markets – the business development, sales, commissioning, service and support resources and know-how can quickly become overwhelming. Regional partners that have these core competencies can be valuable tools for any solar energy start-up looking to expand.

A shorter write up from La Provence is available online, in better res, here: Morgan Solar: l’ami Canadien du SolarQuest.

I have to admit though, beyond knowing that the DNI is decent (5.7 kWh/ sq. m in the South), and that the government just put a 4-month moratorium on some solar projects while it drafts new FIT regulations, I don’t know a whole lot about the CPV or PV market in the country. Anything exciting going on that you know about?


This just in from the Photon Newsletter (Feb. 24, 2011): The French Government introduced a 500MW annual cap for photovoltaic installations and a 20% reduction of the feed-in-tariffs

(The Feb .22 Press Release from the French Government is here).



Ontario Test Site no. 3: a rooftop system, but not the Sun Simba Rooftop

Last week, our third test site in Ontario went up. Six Sun Simba panels. I really wish I could say where, but we can’t yet. Keep posted.

Sun Simba Test Site on Parking Garage Roof

View of Generation Two Sun Simba solar panels on a parking garage roof in winter.

For now, you can see it’s mounted on a commercially-available tracking system and supported by a particularly strong parking garage roof; this isn’t the Sun Simba Rooftop.

Six Sun Simba panels installed on a parking garage roof.

To recap, our first test site is just outside of our facility here at 30 Ordnance St. Actually, we recently installed the same tracker at Ordnance as above, and I haven’t yet posted photos to the blog (It looked like this before). Here’s one (just set up & pre-tracking) I really like:

Sun Simba panels mounted on commercial tracker, downtown Toronto

For those who follow us on Twitter, I had posted a link to the above photo there before. Yes, we were highly skeptical of tweeting before, but so far have found it’s pretty useful for finding out about industry info, policy changes, or funding opportunities like this one quickly, and for meeting some pretty interesting, active people, beyond the solar industry – which is also good.

Details of the second test site were posted here. That one also didn’t have location information. Again, can’t wait til we can share lots more data – not only location, but performance too.

Nic’s Thoughts on Environmentalists vs. Solar Farm Developers

On Monday, Emma blogged about the Sierra Club’s lawsuit to block the development of a solar farm on the basis that it presented a threat to the native plant and animal species in the area.  I don’t want to comment on the specific case as I have no special knowledge there, but it does raise an interesting question:

Do renewable energy projects deserve special consideration when considering their environmental impact?  Specifically, should the general, long-term benefit of something like reducing GHG emissions be considered when examining the local environmental impact of the project?

It’s not an easy question, and I’m not sure there’s a one size fits all answer.  It’s tempting to be reductionist and argue that not doing this will lead to more GHG-spewing fossil fuel plants.  I’m not sure I buy that, cancelling one solar project will probably just lead to a different solar project somewhere else.  Assuming that solar needs special exemptions from environmental impact assessments is assuming that there isn’t lots of non-virgin land (farm land where the soil salinity is too high from years of irrigation, farms that are in water starved areas, former industrial sites etc.).  The choice isn’t solar with environmental impact assessment exemptions or no solar at all.  There is a big difference between “Do we build a solar farm?” and “Do we build this solar farm here?”

Experience tells us that, when we have an exception for something, it often becomes a loophole for something else.  If we say that we can build solar projects on virgin desert land, would that include solar thermal plants that heat water to improve the efficiency of a coal fired station?  What would the penalty be if you built that system and ran it on days where there were too many clouds for the solar part of the plant?  What other types of power plants could qualify for the “solar exemption”, and would that list tend to grow or shrink once the lobbyists got to work?

Yesterday, the New York Times reported that the EPA cancelled the permit for a major coal mine in Virginia.  I’ve said before that if it were up to me, there would be no exceptions for anyone for these sorts of things.  Either your project passes muster, or it doesn’t.  I want more solar, but I want good environmental management generally.  I want a level playing field with GHG emitting power sources, but I want to level it by taking away their exceptions and incentives, not winning new ones for solar.

Environmentalists: a new challenge to utility-scale solar?

I’d really like to hear what you think of the Sierra Club’s decision to sue the California Energy Commission over its approval of the 663.5 MW Calico solar thermal project in San Bernandino Country, California. One of the largest environmental NGOs coming up against a renewable energy project – seems hard to believe, no?

The lawsuit, filed December 30, 2010, charges that the CEC rushed the environmental review of Calico without fully considering the impacts on rare plant and wildlife species (such as the protected desert tortoise plodding along below), and without identifying adequate mitigation measures.

Photo: Desert tortoise roaming the Calico site.  Photo from BLM biological assessment, courtesy of the Mojave Desert Blog.

I suppose the suit isn’t as big of a shock – outspoken criticism of siting solar projects on undisturbed land emerged well before, and previous projects were blocked for similar reasons.  After BrightSource Energy announced its Ivanpah project, for example, the California Wildlands Conservancy responded by introducing legislation to ban renewable energy development on more than a million acres of the Mojave Desert – incidentally some of the land closest to transmission lines and the huge Southern California market.

(Governor Schwarzenegger then countered “If we cannot put solar power plants in the Mojave Desert, I don’t know where the hell we can put it [them].”)

As a card-carrying environmentalist whose also convinced of the need for large-scale, rapid renewable energy deployment, I admit this lawsuit has left me a bit conflicted: if climate change is a real, pressing, and to many, a livelihood-threatening phenomenon, which I believe it is, should there be special consideration of the  environmental impacts of renewable energy developments in the siting process? By special consideration, I mean in this case – allowing projects to be constructed on public BLM land, and giving developers permission to relocate protected species?

The answer from certain environmentalists has been a clear No – developers should exhaust the widely available rooftops and already-disturbed land before they move on to pristine desert. Some point to the fact that transmitting electricity from solar farms in the desert is inefficient – 10 to 15% of the electricity generated can be lost en route to urban markets. Desert ecosystems in SoCal are unique, irreplaceable, and highly fragile – no place for ‘industrialized solar farms’, it’s argued.

On the other side, Michael Kanellos, editor-in-chief of the popular cleantech news site Greentech Media, was vocal in his disagreement with the Sierra Club, titling his recent editorial on the decision, “Dear Environmental Community: Please Shut Up.” In Michael’s defense, he thinks the risks have been duly analyzed, and emphasizes that renewable energy generation has a zero sum relationship with fossil fuel generation – “Circumscribing solar and wind farms leads to only one thing: more natural gas, coal and nuclear plants”.

So, where do I stand? I think the best available technologies should be deployed at a scale that will meaningfully reduce GHGs. In doing this, some landscape changes are inevitable. But projects shouldn’t be developed in a way that will cause significant and irrevocable harm to the land or to species. For this reason, I actually think the Sierra’s lawsuit could be a good thing – in the best case, it would allow a closer look at the environmental impacts of all proposed solar projects in the SoCal deserts (from my count of the CEC’s website, there are over 3,500 MW proposed), and it would allow careful weighing of what changes are permissible.  As the NYT’s Green Blog notes, casinos, strip malls and subdivisions have permanently changed the SoCal deserts. There are better and worse reasons to alter these desert ecosystems.

Efforts such as Ivanpah’s tortoise monitoring program, and NREL’s study on how to restore habitat shaded by solar panels seem promising of mitigating harmful changes. There’s room for lots more.

Relatedly: I had said I’d earlier to post slides from an SPI presentation made by Jimmy Nelson, a University of California Berkeley PhD candidate, on the environmental benefits of CPV (the type of solar panel that will be deployed at many of the utility-scale projects discussed above). Here they are:

Quantifying the Environmental Impact of CPV

Nelson’s work, which relies on a sophisticated model called the SWITCH model (what that stands for is in the pres.), calculates that CPV’s higher efficiencies mean less water is used and less land is disturbed to generate the same amount of power.  CPV’s energy and GHG payback times are also under half those of conventional solar panels.

An Update:

On February 9, 2011, more than a dozen U.S. environmental NGOs wrote a letter to President Obama urging for a comprehensive, upfront process for siting, planning, and monitoring the environmental impact of renewable energy projects. The letter followed Obama’s State of the Union Address, made on January 25, 2011, during which he announced a target of producing 80% of U.S. electricity from clean energy sources by 2035.

Morgan Solar secures lease option for 25-acre solar facility in Antelope Valley, California

Following on yesterday’s post, more news about Morgan Solar’s plans to bring the Sun Simba technology to California: last night, the Lancaster City Council voted unanimously in favour of leasing 25 acres of City-owned property to MSI (City of Lancaster report here). An initial 200 kW pilot project will be installed at the Lancaster National Soccer Center.  Provided this meets performance metrics and deadlines, an additional 2 to 5 MW will be deployed on adjacent land.

Depending on its size, the larger solar farm will power approximately 500 to 1250  homes, working towards the regional utility’s goal of generating at least 20% of its electricity from renewables by 2017.

We’ll keep this blog updated on the progress of the Lancaster solar farm.

At Stage 1, this plot of land* may be the future home of 2 –  5 MW of Sun Simbas:

* A note on the land: The City of Lancaster has suffered fairly severe droughts in the past years, and so has responded by providing incentives to wind down agricultural activities in certain areas, in order to protect local water supplies. By building a solar farm at the proposed site, we won’t be taking away from otherwise good farmland.

Ontario Power Authority Releases New Ground-Mounted MicroFIT Rate

The Ontario solar industry seems to have uttered a collective sigh of relief.  The OPA just announced details of a new ground-mounted microFIT rate, which they had earlier proposed to cut from 80.2 ¢/kWh down to 58.8 ¢/kWh on July 2. Under the new rules, projects submitted before July 2, 2010 will still get the original 80.2 ¢/kWh; those submitted after this date will in fact get a bit higher than the proposed 58.8 ¢/kW cut –  $64.2 ¢/kWh.

The OPA’s response should give the industry the confidence to continue to invest in solar projects in Ontario.  The extent of this confidence is certainly evident by the 1,000 MegaWatts of solar module manufacturing capacity in the province announced so far, as compiled on August 11 by Tyler Hamilton.

*A note on Tyler’s article, in fact one of the responses to it: it’s true that we are still in start-up mode, and our big focus for the next several months is setting up test and demo sites.  These systems will be set up in Ontario (the first one went up last week) and California.

That said, we are now putting together packaged 10 kW microFIT and 100 kW FIT solutions for Ontario, which we expect to be able to deliver on in approximately one year.  We will announce on our website when we can begin to take orders for these.  For now – for those who didn’t meet the July 2 cut-off, or who have projects in the pipeline, we are confident we will have a highly cost-effective solution.

Sun Simba Test Site Install

After testing the panels at our office the day before, our engineers successfully installed the Simbas at the external test site on Friday (August 6). There was some holding of breath, particularly when the panels were hoisted mid-air by the crane (see below) and then fitted into the pole-mount. Overall, however, the install went smoothly.

This is the start of a major push on our test and demo sites – quite soon we’ll have much more expansive systems in place.

*Some have asked if we can say where this test site is.  Unfortunately at this time we can’t give the exact location due to protection of our IP.  However, we can say that the site is in Ontario.