Solar Panel Roads in Australia / Efficiency

Solar panel roads – today we’ll take a look at how research and trials for solar panel roads are going, and what the future looks like for solar highways. Will we ever see solar highways in Australia (or anywhere else, for that matter)? 

Solar Panel Roads

We’ve already written extensively about solar roads and the various trials they’re currently in the middle of:

However there are three main problems with solar roads at the moment – price, performance, and safety. It’s still exorbitantly expensive to come up (the price per kW of all the current solar roads is up to $~2000 per kilowatt) with these road solar cells which perform significantly worse than their roofed brethren. Since the panels don’t have a tilt and need to be housed underneath something strong and load-bearing, this cuts efficiency significantly. And if 5% of a panel is shaded, this can reduce power generation by up to 50%. It’s assumed that dirt, dust, and traffic will exacerbate this – so we need a way to make the initial panels cheaper and/or more effective if solar roads are ever going to be a real possibility. 

Solar Panel Roads in Australia

Solar Panel Roads in Australia
Solar Panel Roads in Australia? (source: solarroadways.com)

Would these solar panel roads work in Australia? News.com.au have a great article about solar road technology, where they  discuss how expensive the current trials are and what the future for this technology could be:

The article quotes Dr. Andrew Thomson, a solar researcher at Australian National University. 

“It’s a really attractive looking idea,” Dr Thomson said. But while “it’s technically feasible, it’s very expensive. I don’t really think there’s a market for it, the opportunity cost is very much against it”.

We’ll keep you updated with progress on how solar road resarch is going along – but perhaps it’s just not the best place to put solar panels as Dylan Ryan, lecturer in Mechanical & Energy Engineering at Edinburgh Napier University told news.com.au: “…solar roads on city streets are just not a great idea”

 

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Solar Victoria Scams – Residents Urged To Take Care

Solar Victoria Scams – the state government’s $1.3b solar power subsidy scheme has a lot of residents excited, but it’s also seen an influx of unethical ‘cowboys’ plying their trade.

Solar Victoria Scams – What to watch out for

Solar Victoria Scams
Solar Victoria Scams

“We have received alerts that scammers have been targeting Victorian households,” Solar Victoria’s website reads.

“Be alert to callers claiming to be from the Victorian government or Solar Victoria requesting bank account details.

“We will never ask you to provide personal details such as banking information over the phone.”

Premier Daniel Andrews was also quoted when he discussed the issue of Solar Victoria scams with reporters on Tuesday:

“If you’re being contacted by somebody, then that is not from the Victorian government, but I’m confident Consumer Affairs can handle this,”

Opposition energy spokesman David Southwick discussed a 72 year old pensioner who was conned:

“Despite telling the sales rep he was not interested in purchasing solar panels, the salesman let himself into John’s home and refused to leave until he signed up to a $9000 solar panel system on a financing plan he could not afford,” Mr Southwick said.

“What guarantees can you give that thousands of Victorians won’t end up with dodgy sales people knocking on the doors, phoning them, all hours trying to sign them up to solar panel deals that will leave them thousands of dollars worse off?”

Nigel Morris was quoted in the Solar Insiders podcast discussing what people’s attitudes are when there’s a rebate involved and how the scheme could impact solar companies, calling it a ‘classic solar coaster’:

“The government was going to give me something – I don’t really care why or how – and by god I’m owed it.

“Phones are ringing off the hook. People are ringing up saying ‘How do I get my tax back? How do I get my money? I don’t care about the solar panels. If you have to put solar panels on that’s fine, but tell me how I get that money.’

“So it’s causing a lot of angst … down in Victoria already, and almost a dead stop in solar sales.”

News.com.au is reporting that over 12,000 people have registered their interest for the Solar Victoria scheme. We’ll keep a close eye on how it goes and keep you updated!

Learn more about the Solar Victoria rebates by visiting the official website. And don’t agree to anything over the phone (or, even worse, a doorknocker)

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SolarReserve sign MOU for Aurora Project

American company SolarReserve have signed an MoU with Heliostat SA to manufacture and assemble the components for their solar tower and molten salt storage facility at Port Augusta.

SolarReserve Commence Construction on Aurora Solar Thermal Plant

SolarReserve sign MOU for Aurora Project
SolarReserve sign MOU for Aurora Project (source: solarreserve.com)

SolarReserve announced on Tuesday that they’ll work with Heliostat SA to create 12,800 96 square metre glass mirrors for their Aurora Solar Thermal Plant. 

The solar thermal plant in Port Augusta, South Australia, was announced last August and received developmental approval back in January It is slated to be a $750m project but we haven’t heard any specifics as to updated pricing, and this information is the first news on the project since January of this year. 

According to the CEO of SolarReserve, Kevin Smith, the solar thermal power plant will comprise of approximately 12,000 mirrors, each the size of a billboard (around 100sqm), arranged in a circle over 600 hectares. The mirrors will focus light and heat to the top of a 227m tall tower to generate up to 150MW. This will result in over a million square metres of surface area for the project. 

“Aurora will provide much needed capacity and firm energy delivery into the South Australian market to reduce price volatility,” Mr. Smith said at the time. He elaborated today when discussing the deal with Heliostat SA: 

“We’re excited to have formed a long-term partnership with Heliostat SA and look forward to teaming up with them to bring manufacturing of our world-class heliostats to South Australian workers,” said Mr. Smith.

“SolarReserve is committed to supporting South Australia’s goals which will attract investment, create South Australian jobs and build an exciting and growing new industry.”

According to an article on RenewEconomy the project will create around 200 full time solar jobs for the area, with 650 to be employed during the construction phase. 

This project is a bit slow and new information is thin on the ground, so great to hear that it’s moving ahead. We’ll keep you posted as soon as there’s any new information on the solar thermal plant! 

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How to clean solar panels | Do you need to clean solar panels?

Today we’ll take a look on how to clean solar panels. It’s easy to DIY and can potentially have a large impact in the efficiency of your system! It can also be a big waste of time, so read this article before you get the ladder out!

Do you need to clean solar panels?

Solar panels are quite hardy and rainfall can help keep them fairly clean. With that said, there are a few things which can affect your solar system’s output – especially if you have a very small tilt (or none) on them or live in a particularly dry or dusty area. Any form of debris on top of the solar panels will effectively reduce the amount of electricity that panel can produce. And without getting too technical, depending on the quality of your solar panels, an obstructed panel can have a impact on end result, especially if they have little/no tilt or you’re using string inverters.

Some of the common issues are:

  • Dust
  • Animal droppings
  • Grime
  • Leaves
  • Sea Salt Residue (if you live by the ocean)

According to a study done by Google called ‘Should you spring clean your solar panels?‘, dirt alone is probably not worth worrying about, so cleaning tilted panels is not a massive issue for most people:

“Our data indicates that rain does a sufficient job of cleaning the tilted solar panels. Some dirt does accumulate in the corners, but the resulting reduction in energy output is fairly small — and cleaning tilted panels does not significantly increase their energy production. So for now, we’ll let Mother Nature take care of cleaning our rooftop panels.”

With that said, it’s a good idea to use some sort of solar monitoring tool to see if the output of your system is in line with the natural degradation you’d expect (check the product sheet of your panels to see what their efficiency warranty is like). If you have microinverters or DC optimisers you’ll be able to track panel performance on an individual level and can utilise that information to see if you need to bother cleaning the panels, and, if you do, which ones you need to clean. Google did experience an increase in output of 36% after cleaning some carport solar panels which lay flat in a sandy area. 

Those with string inverters will also see a bigger result from cleaning dirty solar panels as every panel on a discrete string will be affected by an underperforming panel. 

It’s generally not worth paying a professional mob to clean your solar panels, but if you think they have more than just a bit of dirt on them you can have a crack at it yourself – read on if you want to learn how to clean solar panels:

How to clean solar panels

Follow the steps below if you want to know how to clean solar panels. It’s easy! 

Step 1: Materials – You’ll need a hose (tap water is fine, you don’t need distilled/demineralised water although it’ll minimise streaking), (heavily diluted) mild detergent, and a soft brush/broom.

Don’t use harsh chemicals, abrasive scrubbers or a pressure washer. These could damage the solar panels and reduce output further. 

Don’t clean your solar panels when they’re hot – do it first thing in the morning, when it’s overcast

Don’t fall off the roof (shocking, right?) Be careful and exercise fall prevention techniques.

Step 2: Try with the hose!  (Recommended pressure less than 690kPa) Use your garden hose to clean off the panels and see if that does the trick. You may not need to even get up on the roof. 

Step 3: Use a soft brush or broom. If there are any stubborn stains you can dampen a cloth and leave it on there to break it down.

Step 4: Rinse. Especially if you used detergent as it can leave behind a residue. 

In conclusion, wash your solar panels if you can see they’re dirty or you have data proving their efficacy is being compromised. Don’t just do it for the sake of it and feel free to wait for the next shower and see if that sorts things out! If you can, try to trim any trees anywhere near the panels. Any questions? Please ask in the comments section. 

We’ve also attached a vdieo from ‘DIY Dad’ on YouTube which has some good ideas about cleaning your solar panels using Windex Outdoor Glass and Patio Cleaner:

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AGL Solar – Company quits rooftop solar business.

AGL solar – the company announced on Tuesday that they will record a $47m loss from their residential rooftop solar installation business. 

AGL solar installation business to shut down.

AGL Solar Installations
AGL Solar Installations (source: aglsolar.com.au)

AGL bought the Rezeko brand around seven years ago and used its systems to install “proprietary residential solar”. They’ve now put out a press release advising that they will write down the company’s residential solar arm. 

With the imminent (2022) closure of their Liddell coal generator, it makes sense that the company are trying to diversify with regards to methods of energy generation. It’s a shame that this hasn’t worked out, and we’ll be interested to see how it affects AGL’s vision of renewable energy moving forwards. 

“We decided to withdraw from the direct installation of residential solar hardware after completing a comprehensive review of the business,” AGL Chief Customer Officer Melissa Reynolds was quoted as saying in an email to Renew Economy

“The review determined that the interests of our customers would be better served by moving to a different business model. Under this model we forward enquiries for residential solar hardware installation to our third-party partners which are experts in the installation of PV solar.

“AGL will continue to provide advice to customers on solar energy and energy plans.”

AGL was one of the country’s top 10 residential solar installers, and in the top five of commercial solar installers. It remains to be seen what the ramifications of this writedown are, but we’ll keep you updated with how things are going. What we do know is that their commercial solar installation arm will remain unchanged as it’s presumably much more profitable than the ‘race to the bottom’ we’re seeing domestic solar installers engaged in.

The company says its plans for virtual power plants in Adelaide and elsewhere will not be affected. 

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Victorian Renewable Energy Targets Reverse Auction

The first renewable energy auction in Victoria has had a fantastic result – with over 900MW of wind/solar energy to be generated as part of the Victorian Renewable Energy Targets.

Victorian Renewable Energy Targets Reverse Auction

A reverse auction was held to generate >650MW of energy. That goal has been hammered – with the auction ending up with 928MW of renewable projects to generate $1.1 billion of economic investment in regional Victoria and create more than 900 jobs, including 270 apprenticeships and traineeships. 

Victorian Renewable Energy Targets -The Hon. Lily D'Ambrosio MP (source: Wikipedia)
Victorian Renewable Energy Targets -The Hon. Lily D’Ambrosio MP (source: Wikipedia)

The six successful projects were announced by Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and Minister for Energy Lily D’Ambrosio at the Ararat Wind Farm today. Premier Andrews discussed this 

“It’s simple – greater supply of renewable energy means lower power prices and more jobs for Victorian families.”

“We’re making Victoria the capital of renewable energy and supporting the thousands of local jobs it creates.”

Lily D’Ambrosio was similarly effusive in praising the project, even working in a little jab at the Liberals who were trying to ‘shut this industry down’:

“Renewable energy creates jobs, drives growth, and protects our environment – and most importantly, helps drive down power prices for Victorian households and businesses.”

“In contrast to the Liberals who tried to shut this industry down, we’re backing renewable investment and renewable jobs.”

Those six farms are:

  • Berrybank Wind Farm west of Geelong, which will produce 180MW
  • Carwarp Solar Farm south of Mildura, which will produce 121.6MW
  • Cohuna Solar Farm north-west of Echuca, which will produce 34.2MW
  • Dundonnell Wind Farm north-east of Warrnambool, which will produce 336MW
  • Mortlake South Wind Farm south of Mortlake, which will produce 157.5MW
  • Winton Solar Farm near Benalla, which will produce 98.8MW

According to the official press release on the Victorian Government website, more than $1.3b will be invested for solar panels, solar hot water, and battery schemes. This will help over 700,000 households via the Solar Homes scheme which will go ahead with a re-elected Andrews Labor government. 

If you’re interested in reading more about the solar battery rebates in Victoria please click. 

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Solar Battery Rebates in Victoria | Solar Homes Program

Solar battery rebates in Victoria will be rolled out as part of the Andrews’ government’s $1.34b Solar Homes program. The program also includes half price solar panels for 650,000 households and a $1,000 discount on solar hot water installation for 60,000 households. 

Solar Battery Rebates in Victoria – Solar Homes Program

Solar Battery Rebates in Victoria
Solar Battery Rebates in Victoria (source: solar.vic.gov.au)

Victorian home owners who fit the criteria (it’s means tested) will get a 50% rebate to install battery storage. The rebate will be capped at $4838 in the first year and will slowly decrease to $3714 by 2026, factoring in the inevitability that prices will decrease and energy storage technology will improve. The Age are reporting that this policy will cost an estimated $40m, with around 10,000 Victorian households expected to take advantage of the fantastic subsidy offer. 

According to the SBS, it’s part of Labor’s wider plan to increase renewable energy use and decrease the cost of living – with the plan being to work with energy distributors and invest $10m to help ‘renewable-proof’ the state grid over the next ten years. 

“This is a game changer for Victorian families fed up with big corporations that have been price gouging and ripping consumers off,” Premier Daniel Andrews said.

“Only Labor will put solar panels, solar hot water or solar batteries on 720,000 homes – saving Victorians thousands of dollars on their electricity bills with renewable energy.”

Solar Homes Victoria Subsidy Breakdown

We’ve previously written about Labor’s half price solar for Victorians scheme- looks like there are some great plans coming to fruition for the state. 

Solar Panels – $1.2b for 50% of solar system installation costs for 650,000 homes.

Solar Hot Water – $60m for $1000 subsiddies to install solar hot water.

Solar Batteries – $40m for 50% of solar battery installation costs for ~10,000 homes.

It’ll be very interesting to see how these solar battery rebates work in Victoria and if the other states (especially the ones with a high solar panel update) follow suit. Watch this space – we’ll keep you updated! 

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Solar and Wind Farms in the Sahara Desert

New research in Science magazine shows that installing solar and wind farms in the Sahara Desert could generate massive amounts of electricity and turn parts of the desert green for the first time in over 4,500 years. 

Solar and Wind Farms in the Sahara Desert

The Sahara Desert (source: Wikipedia)
The Sahara Desert (source: Wikipedia)

Atmospheric scientist at the University of Maryland, Eugenia Kalnay, has been working on this theory for over ten years, postulating that the darkness of solar panels won’t reflect the sunlight – helping heat up the surface of the land – which will in turn drive air upwards into the atmosphere (which, in turn, generates rain). 

Dr. Kalnay talked one of her post-doc researchers into creating a computer simulation where 20% of the Sahara is covered with solar panels. They also tried a simulation where the desert was covered in turbines to generate renewable energy from wind. The simulation was successful – with rainfall in the desert increasing by a large enough amount so that vegetation could return to the Sahara.

“It is wonderful!” Dr. Kalnay was quoted as saying in an article by NPR. “We were so happy because it seems like a major solution for some of the problems that we have.”

The Sahara Desert solar farm in the simulation is gigantic – bigger than the entire continental United States. It’d be able to generate 400% of the energy the world currently requires. Would there be a way to install high-capacity transmission lines to transport this power across seas and land? It’s certainly a fantastic concept that seems straight out of a science fiction novel, but technology is increasing at such a pace that ideas like this are, whilst admittedly still in nascent stages, potentially viable. 

Take a look at our articles on printable solar panels/cells to see how, if room wasn’t an issue, how much cheaper large-scale solar could be with lower efficiency panels. 

More great information for solar cell technology. Just a thought experiment at this point but it’s exciting to see what the future could hold for renewable energy in the Sahara Desert! 

 

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Euroa microgrid: community solar to avoid summer blackouts.

The Euroa Environment Group is leading a $6 million grassroots project which will see 589 kW of new solar panels and up to 400 kW of energy storage installed to create a local Euroa microgrid. This will help avoid the summer blackouts which have plagued the small north-east Victoria city in recent years. 

Euroa Microgrid in combination with Mondo Power and Globird Energy

Euroa Microgrid
Euroa Microgrid Diagram (source: Mondo Power via abc.net.au)Mon

The EEG (Euroa Environment Group) is a local collective formed to help the issue of constant blackouts in the small city. They’ve now got a huge $6m project which will see the EEG partner with Mondo Power, Globird Energy, and 14 local businesses in Euroa who will install the technology, creating a microgrid in the city which means the town will have greater electricity supply reliability, and will also reduce local demand for electricity during peak times.

The Andrews Labor Government has also given a $600,000 solar grant towards the project, which is currently underway.

Shirley Saywell, president of the EEG and local business owner, has discussed the reasons they’ve taken this path:

“We believe that unfortunately we’re not getting good leadership from our Federal politicians, and I believe it’s up to grassroots organisations to drive the renewables charge,” she said.

“There’s no one simple answer to coal, and I think that’s not well understood.”

“Leadership is coming from groups like ours because we understand there is a range of solutions, and there’s not one simple solution. It’s about being clever about what’s available to us.”

 This sort of community solar is also a hot topic of discussion for Australia’s politicians:

Jaclyn Symes, Member for Northern Victoria, discussed how this could impact future decisions for other towns suffering from unreliable power supply:

“Everyone is becoming more educated around the opportunities and the options for reducing reliance on coal,” Ms Symes said.

“I expect that lots of people will be watching with interest about how this works and what savings people will see, and what types of reliability of power improvements can be generated as well.”

We’ll keep you updated with any news from this microgrid and how it helps Euroa traverse the 18/19 summer. 

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Printable Solar Panels / Cells – A Primer.

Printable Solar Panels – at some point it may be possible to use a simple desktop inkjet printer to print your own solar cells. We’re a while off that yet, but with great advancements in the technology over the last couple of years, let’s take a look at what the future holds for printed solar cells!

Printable Solar Panels

Printable Solar Panels - University of Newcastle
Printed Solar Cells – University of Newcastle (source: abc.net.au via University of Newcastle)

We wrote last week about the University of Newcastle and their foray into printed solar cells – today we’re going to take a bit of a deep dive into the situation and see where we can expect this technology to go in the next few years. 

The University of Newcastle are reporting that their latest tests in Newcastle brings them “about two years” away from launching their product onto the commercial solar market. Leading the charge has been University of Newcastle physicist Professor Paul Dastoor, who created the electronic inks which are used to print the flexible solar panels.

The process is According to the ABC, semi-conducting ink is printed on a transparent plastic sheet for the first layer, and then layers are printed on top of the other, until the cells are about 200 microns thick. For reference, human hair is around 50 microns. After that, a “top contact layer” is done again, reel-to-reel, using a technique known as sputter coating, according to Professor Dastoor.

They estimate the cost of their modules at less than $10 per square metre which is extremely cheap – the main problems are the efficiency of the printed solar panels and ensuring there’s enough space for them as it’ll take quite a lot of room on a roof. They use a lot of plastic to manufacture as well so looking at ways to recycle the waste of printed solar cells is extremely important. For that reason, in six months Professor Dastoor and his team will pull the printed solar cells off the Melbourne roof they’re currently on and investigate ways to minimise environmental waste. 

 

 

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